Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Wednesday Takeaways: What we learned from Week 31's action

Shout out to the brave souls who assembled all manner of screens on Wednesday – 12 games in five hours, an entire matchday on a weeknight – to soccer bong the entirety of MLS Week 31 in one sitting.

Let’s try to sort through it all together. Week 32 is breathing down our necks already.

Comeback (x3) in the West!

Guess who crept above the Audi MLS Cup Playoff line? The Vancouver Whitecaps, who took the field in Portland knowing they had to win their first Cascadia away game since 2018 to keep pace with the Western Conference pack.

Everybody is scoreboard watching this time of year, and Vanni Sartini and his players had to have been aware that their direct competitors for the final three playoff spots (LAFC, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United … more on them in a second) had picked up three points. When the ‘Caps went down 2-0 just before halftime – it could have been more, the Timbers were cooking – it seemed like maybe the game (and perhaps this season) was asking for a bit too much.

Turned out the game was asking for, who else, Brian White (plus Bruno Gaspar and Leonard Owusu, but we’ll save them for a long discussion on Extratime). Lucas Cavallini got the start, his first in nearly a month, but Sartini went to his bench at the hour mark to bring on the man who has been nothing short of a talisman for these ‘Caps.

Two minutes later, before he even touched the ball, White saw Deiber Caicedo carrying the ball down the gut and ran Timbers central defender Dario Zuparic straight into no-man’s land. White’s corner route opened the skinny post for Caicedo, and the Colombian waltzed in for a simple finish. Movement unbalances defenses. MLS ought to give second assists for runs like that.

Twelve minutes later, Gaspar somehow wrapped his foot around a ball at the endline that had no business making, resulting in a decent scoring chance. White circled around at the back post, posted up his marker and put a no-doubt header past Steve Clark to make it 2-2. It was his 11th goal in 1,578 minutes. By my math, the ‘Caps are currently paying between $36,363 and $45,454 in GAM per goal, depending on the performance-based incentives baked into this summer’s trade between the Red Bulls and Vancouver.

Pretty good deal, huh?

It got even better for the Whitecaps when Josecarlos Van Rankin dove in (again) and gave up a penalty kick that cost the Timbers a point (again). Cristian Dajome made sure he got the foul, and he didn’t miss the spot kick. Vancouver are now 6-2-2 under Sartini. Against all odds, they're a fun team above the playoff line.

Things change quickly in this league, just ask Real Salt Lake, who didn’t even play on Wednesday and are now BELOW the playoff line. They’ve got a game in hand, but now have no choice but to take all three points in Chicago on Saturday. In a macro sense, just six points and 0.2 PPG separates the Timbers (4th) from LAFC (9th). Every matchday is going to shuffle the deck until Decision Day on November 7.

Speaking of LAFC, Bob Bradley’s team picked up their own comeback 3-2 road win in Frisco thanks to Newcomer of the Year contender/favorite Cristian Arango, who scored a hat-trick to take his goal tally to 11. The Colombian’s done it in just 1,048 minutes. Without him, the Black & Gold are nowhere near the playoff line. And yet, here they are, three points below with Carlos Vela back in training and … OK, OK! I’ll stop, but crazier things have happened.

Meanwhile, FC Dallas got the dreaded “e” next to their name in the standings to make it three-for-three in Texas. For just the fifth time in club history, they won’t have a shot at MLS Cup.

Finally, shout out to Minnesota United, who overcame a howler from the otherwise excellent Tyler Miller to pick up a second consecutive win. The Loons are (obvious take alert) more dangerous when Emanuel Reynoso, Robin Lod, Franco Fragapane and Adrien Honou are on the field together. This Reynoso assist is pure magic.

Huge relief for Minnesota then that Reynoso will be available against LAFC on Saturday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

Special players do special things

I’ve been tracking the Revs’ history chase for a couple months now. Here’s where they stand…

  • FORM: 3-2 W at DC, 6-0-2 in past eight games and one loss since July 7
  • POINTS RECORD: 69 points (72 is LAFC record) with three games remaining … 78 points max, 4/9 to set new record
  • PPG PACE: 2.23 ppg vs. 2.11 for 2019 LAFC

I’ve already pronounced New England the Supporters’ Shield winners, which they haven’t yet clinched but will soon, and I expect them to own the points record, too. Wednesday night’s comeback win (sense a theme?) in D.C. took a good bit of the stress out of their quest to make history.

The Revs are great, historically so, because their special players have made special plays all year long. It's the Bruce Arena way, and it usually works unless injuries get in the way.

Adam Buksa (14 goals) is a special player. His flick header to tie the game at 1-1 and backheel assist to provide the game-winner to Gustavo Bou (15 goals, also a special player) helped seal the win. Carles Gil is a special player. He’s not a one-trick assist/chance creation pony. That golazo showed once again why he’s the presumptive MLS MVP. Matt Turner is a special player who has been in a mini-slump. He made special saves to preserve another one-goal win.

Meanwhile in Nashville

Hany Mukhtar is certainly special, but nobody else could make a play. That’s been the story of too many Nashville games this season, which leads to a stat like this…

Handicapping the Eastern Conference pack

There’s enough chaotic energy to go around for both conference playoff races to be bonkers. Here’s your quick rundown of the East bubble’s Wednesday night…

  • Atlanta United let NYCFC hang around and Gudmundur Thorarinsson made them split the points with a slick free-kick goal in the 90th minute.
  • D.C. United don’t have as many special players as New England, but they’re still clinging to a playoff spot.
  • Montréal put in another organized, dogged and sometimes creative performance to pick up a point in Orlando that kept them above the line.
  • The Red Bulls, who now have a game in hand, were NYCFC and Montréal losses away from the perfect night.
  • Columbus blew a 1-0 lead in Nashville, but are still just three points out with four games remaining.

What better way to decide this than head-to-head matchups? We’ve got NYCFC vs. D.C. United, Crew vs. Red Bulls and Toronto FC vs. CF Montréal coming up this weekend. Atlanta United are off. By the time the weekend ends – let’s just say there’s a winner in the Bronx, plus Montréal and the Red Bulls win – they could be below the playoff line.

Nutty stuff.

Battle for the Wooden Spoon!

It’s officially a three-horse race, with FC Cincinnati’s grip tightening heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Austin FC lost to San Jose, 4-0, leading to a question about whether the players have quit, which got a testy response from head coach Josh Wolff.

Toronto FC lost 3-0 to Inter Miami. No gut punches there, just struggling teams getting bad results.

Then there's Cincy, who ran themselves ragged trying to get a win for their home fans against the Fire and instead saw Tyler Blackett's 90’+1' equalizer negated by Luka Stojanovic’s 90’+3' winner. Here’s how interim manager Tyrone Marshall experienced that moment.

I feel for Marshall, and I feel for those supporters. It’s been a tough year (again … for the third time).

God bless #MLSAfterDark, and God bless this MLS marriage

Wednesday night in Houston. Playoff dreams dead. Wedding proposal. Kevin Cabral. Just watch the video with the sound on. It’s a journey. I wish that happy couple more good fortune and timing in their marriage than in popping the question!