A mammoth 12-game Wednesday saw mixed fortunes for last year's trophy winners, a new leader emerge in the Western Conference and the youngest goalkeeper to start a match in MLS history.
Here are your takeaways.
I’d recently started doing something I don’t usually let myself do. I started worrying about the Philadelphia Union. I know, I know. I’m not going to pretend like it was a smart decision. I’m not proud. But sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Are we not all human?
Anyway, they heard me talking and now I look pretty stupid. Because after looking a bit lifeless as of late and with their lone DP seemingly leaving the team, they slammed their foot on the gas Wednesday and completely disposed of Toronto FC by the end of the first half. Any energy and verve that had been missing in a string of games where the Union only won once in their last seven showed back up in full during the first half of their 3-0 win over Toronto Wednesday.
“That was us tonight,” Jim Curtin said after the game. From what I can tell, I’d agree. At least it’s the version of the Union I actually want to see.
At their best, their endless collection of midfielders are controlling the game and allowing their forwards and outstanding fullbacks to thrive. Tonight looked a little closer to that. And all it took was Jakob Glesnes scoring a goal with the back of his head while spinning through the air. He’s frankly never scored a more boring goal. But tonight it may have kickstarted the Union back to life.
Philadelphia soothed my worries tonight. And in a way, Columbus did the same. And by that I mean, Columbus absolutely did not do that. They made them far, far worse. But it’s nice to have the balance I guess?
Look, I’m pretty on record already about Columbus’ struggles. They’ve generated chances at a wildly low rate and their defense has been saved every now and then by a little luck and Eloy Room. Tonight, neither of those things could save them. D.C. United played them off the field, took a break for a bit, and then woke back up just to make sure that Columbus didn’t stumble into a point. Hey, at least Columbus actually created enough chances to score twice? Losing 4-2 is technically an improvement on losing 4-1.
Those issues are there. And there’s only so much you can pin on missing pieces when other teams across the league are equally (or more) injured. You’d just expect a little more from last year’s MLS Cup winner, especially when everyone else figured the Crew had a chance to improve this year. Instead, things are going backward. Midway through the season, the Crew have a negative goal differential and are barely in a playoff spot.
Sporting KC absolutely throttled LAFC in the first half. LAFC had a few chances of course, but all SKC had to do was weather the storm and wait for LAFC to make a mistake. It came in the form of three LAFC players nearly colliding with each other at the top of the box as the ball trickled out to Alan Pulido who rolled the ball into an empty net. I don’t know why LAFC seem to hate LAFC like they do. But I do know that Sporting are always very eager to capitalize on it.
As soon as LAFC’s Tristan Blackmon earned a red card in the last meeting between these two teams, it just seemed obvious that SKC were about to hit another gear and power LAFC out of the game. As soon as the ball rolled to Pulido tonight, you knew SKC were about to do the same. LAFC are just missing whatever it is their missing that keeps them from doing what they need to do to win games. Whether it's individual mistakes, multiple individual mistakes happening at once or plain bad luck, this team is missing something that’s equal parts hard to explain and totally crippling.
Meanwhile, SKC are pretty much the opposite. They’ve caught Seattle in the standings and it’s getting harder and harder to not consider Sporting the best team in the West. They attack at speed over and over, and just batter you and batter you until something breaks. Sometimes it happens early like it did in tonight's 4-1 win and they can kill a game off in just a few short moments. Even if they're without Gianluca Busio, this team is and is going to continue to be a force.
Columbus are going to get the brunt of the focus. Just how it is. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that D.C. United are playing exciting and effective soccer while earning more and more credibility with their underlying numbers and their spot in the standings. Most importantly, let’s not lose sight of the fact that they play with hate in their heart.
Look at how ruthless and crass this goal is. It’s beautiful.
Losadaball has transformed this team into something that should be very, very frightening for the rest of the East. At its purest, it makes the other team look like they’ve simply forgotten how the sport is supposed to work. And right now, it has D.C. in a playoff spot that I’m not really expecting them to give up for any extended period of time the rest of the way.
Hernan Losada summed it up well when he got asked about D.C.’s lack of All-Stars.
“It’s painful because there are many on our team who deserve to be there,” Losada said. “Maybe it’s due to the fact D.C. wasn’t good enough the last couple years and lost a little bit of respect. Little by little, with this big heart and fighting spirit, we're coming back.”
Atlanta United came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a point at CF Montréal. That would be a more encouraging lede if it didn’t mean that Atlanta still haven’t won a game since May 15. But at the very least they can take solace in the fact that Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno have each scored in two straight games and looked like the DP and TAM players they are.
Josef just returned to the lineup, but Moreno has been looking outstanding for the last few games. If he and Josef continue to thrive and link up, they just might be able to continue to drag Atlanta United to a point or three here and there. The speedy transition play between the two that earned Atlanta United the game-tying penalty almost looked a bit like Atlanta United, didn’t it?
The problem is that the rest of the group continues to falter. DP center back Alan Franco still looks a ways away from earning that kind of valuation and Santiago Sosa suddenly has Roy Kent legs. There are still so many kinks to work out with this team and they’re running out of time to do it. Maybe the reported signing of Gremio’s Ferreira can help change things around, but it’s just hard to be optimistic right now. Even after a result that should make this team feel a little better.
Full credit to them though. Even without that optimism, this team hasn’t given up.
A quick shoutout to Gabriel Slonina, who became the youngest keeper to ever start an MLS match when he took the field for Chicago tonight. If you’ll remember real quick, Chicago faced NYCFC, a team that very recently beat other teams by scores of 5-0 and 4-1. I would have politely asked if I could become the youngest starter in history some other time.
But Slonina went out and helped his team earn a clean sheet. Then he dropped a full-on Disney speech in his post-game presser.
Not bad kid. Not bad.