22MLS_TheDailyKickoff-MIA-Higuain

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The Recap

COLUMBUS CREW (1) VS. PORTLAND TIMBERS (1)

What happened: The same thing that happens just about every other Crew game. Columbus went into stoppage time up 1-0, but Santiago Moreno’s 90+5’ minute equalizer from distance stunned the Crew and set off celebrations in Miami and Atlanta.

What it means: The Crew could have been four points ahead of Atlanta with a game in hand and two points ahead of Inter Miami. Instead, they’re two points ahead of Atlanta with a game in hand and dead-even with Inter Miami, which technically puts them in eighth place considering Inter Miami have three more wins than Columbus.

The number you're about to hear over and over down the stretch is “the Crew have allowed 15 goals when leading or tied after the 75th minute.” Portland’s result didn’t quite resonate the same way the Crew’s did, but it did put Portland into fifth place instead of sixth place and kept them three points ahead of eighth-place RSL.

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D.C. UNITED (2) VS. INTER MIAMI CF (3)

What happened: Christian Benteke scored his first D.C. United goal, but Inter Miami got a brace from Leo Campana and a stoppage-time winner from Gonzalo Higuain to pick up a critical 3-2 win.

What it means: Inter Miami survived their easiest remaining game. And even if it took a little more work than they probably would have liked, that won’t matter in the standings. They’re even on points and games with Columbus, but the Herons are above the line thanks to the wins tiebreaker. With Leo Campana back and Gonzalo Higuain playing the way he’s playing, Inter Miami have to be feeling good about their chances.

LAFC (3) VS. HOUSTON DYNAMO FC (1)

What happened: Two first-half penalties from Carlos Vela and a goal from Ryan Hollingshead sent LAFC past Houston.

What it means: We’re dead-even in the Supporters’ Shield race. LAFC and Philadelphia have 64 points after 32 games. LAFC have the advantage though thanks to having 20 wins compared to Philly’s 18.

Assorted takes from the weekend that was

This international break is well-timed. Each team in the league has two or three games left and we get a chance to let the dust settle so we can take stock of what every team needs to do over the last couple of weeks of the regular season to make something special happen. And we get a little buildup in the process. There’s still a ton to decide once MLS returns in full.

Until then though, let’s take a look back at the weekend that was.

Columbus…why?

It’s spectacular at this point. It’s like they actively hate winning? Maybe they’re the unluckiest team of all time? I don’t know, honestly. The choices they’re making and/or the higher powers they’ve angered are the wrong ones though.

This stat from Matt Doyle’s Sunday column is an all-timer: “They have now conceded 15 goals when leading or tied after the 75th minute, and just 21 in all other scenarios.” That’s performance art. As entertaining as it is though, it’s highly detrimental to their playoff chances. And it directly allowed Inter Miami to pass them in the playoff race over the span of a week.

They allowed an 82nd-minute goal to Gonzalo Higuain on Wednesday that delivered a 2-1 loss to the Herons. Then, of course, allowed a 95th-minute equalizer to Portland on Sunday. It felt appropriate a few hours later when Inter Miami took hold of seventh place on a stoppage-time winner from Higuain.

Doyle (parking the bus, conservative tactics) can help you understand some of the why behind all this better than I (Caleb Porter needing to carry Madame Zeroni up the mountain? aliens???) can. But understanding the why won’t change the fact the Crew have won just three times in their last 13 games in part because they’ve been unable to address the problem.

Inter Miami might do this, huh?

The folks in Miami won’t mind the Crew’s tendency to collapse one bit, especially while they’re busy finding late winners via Gonzalo Higuain. Yes, Gonzalo Higuain. He scored in the 82nd minute against the Crew and 94th minute against D.C. United to deliver six crucial points to the Herons in the past week. He’s been phenomenal for the last couple of months, scoring 11 times in 13 appearances since July 13.

Higuain kept the Inter Miami life raft afloat in Leo Campana’s absence and now he’s still doing most of the paddling toward land with Campana back by his side. That’s with plenty of help from Alejandro Pozuelo, of course. Higuain, Pozuelo and now Campana again are a heckuva attacking front to deal with. And with the Crew spiraling and a game-in-hand advantage on Atlanta, it feels like the Herons are going to get this done.

What Chris Henderson and Phil Neville have done as an organization to get this team in this scenario is remarkable. The Herons have survived a full reset along with sanctions that limited that reset to put together their most cohesive and effective product yet. It might just, improbably, get them over the line. They close the year with already eliminated Toronto, Orlando City, and "already locked into second place and ready to rest on Decision Day" CF Montréal.

Are NYCFC back?

Before the Campeones Cup, we talked about how it could end up as a rejuvenating moment for an NYCFC team that desperately needed it. It’s not that I didn’t believe it, it’s just that it was one of a whole handful of possible outcomes. NYCFC seem to have avoided all of those though and headed straight toward “season-changing trophy win.”

After looking as sharp as they have in months against Atlas midweek, they came out and handled an excellent Red Bulls side from the very first minute. They avoided the doomsday scenario where they lost out and missed the playoffs and have all but assured their place in the postseason. There’s still a little work to do to earn a home playoff spot, but they may have just turned the corner here.

They have two big tests after the international break against Orlando and Atlanta, but if they can keep their momentum going beyond the break, then NYCFC absolutely have the firepower to go on another playoff run.

A quick shoutout to Sporting KC

But mostly a shoutout to Erik Thommy and William Agada. They’ve both been phenomenal since they arrived and SKC have become the league’s most outstanding spoiler team. They demolished Minnesota this weekend, 4-1, thanks to a goal from Thommy and a brace from Agada. They still have plenty of holes to fix in their lineup, but they’ll be an easy pick for a rebound season in 2023.

Someone poke Seattle with a stick

Are they…are they dead? I’m too afraid to say anything definite, but it seems like they might be. For the first time in the history of the sport, we might see a playoff that doesn’t include the Sounders. After their 2-1 loss to Vancouver, they’re four points below the seventh-place Galaxy and have three points between them and the playoff line with three games to go. That’s a huge mountain to scale quickly.

I won’t believe they’re dead until we’re watching the first kick of the playoffs, but the odds they come back from this one are as low as they’ve ever been.

Atlanta ran out of time (probably)

The Five Stripes couldn’t get the ball past Andre Blake. It happens. To their credit, they put together maybe their most complete game of the season against the Union on Saturday. They finally got healthy, finally found a consistent lineup and they’ve finally looked like the team we thought we might see at the beginning of the season. If you extended the season by about a few more games, then you’d be wise to bet on them making the playoffs.

As it is though, it’s likely too little too late. They need a little too much luck the rest of the way to have any confidence in their playoff chances. They need to win their last two games and have Inter Miami and Columbus choke over their final three games. But at least Atlanta are finally getting proof of concept for Gonzalo Pineda’s tactics and their roster as a whole. Like SKC, they’ll be a favorite for a rebound year in 2023.

Playoff Cincy

Cincy are going to make the playoffs. And all thanks to Brenner.

What a season, huh?

Other Things

McKenzie, Palmer-Brown added to USMNT roster for pre-World Cup friendlies: Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown have been added to the US men's national team roster for this month's pre-World Cup friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia, US Soccer announced Sunday. Both center backs were called up by head coach Gregg Berhalter as replacements for the injured Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic) and Chris Richards (Crystal Palace).

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Good luck out there. Strike it clean.