Couldn’t catch all 19 games across MLS this week? Here’s a few things you need to know.
Kings in the North
Toronto FC are the 2017 MLS regular-season champions, an achievement they ensured with a pulsating 4-2 win over the Red Bulls in front of a loud, adoring crowd at BMO Field. They’re still focused on winning MLS Cup and bagging an unprecedented "treble," but the Reds’ capture of the Supporters’ Shield marks a delirious milestone for a club that not so long ago was a league-wide punchline.
“What we’ve done is guaranteed that the last game we play this season will be in our stadium,” captain Michael Bradley told the Toronto Sun postgame. “I think every single one of us likes our chances of playing here in this stadium in front of our fans with our season on the line.”
TFC, NYCFC, Atlanta and the Chicago Fire had already booked their Eastern Conference playoff spots and on Saturday they were joined by Columbus Crew SC, who very quietly have become a perennial postseason contender: They’ve qualified in seven of the past 10 seasons.
Vancouver stunned everyone by conjuring up – while resting several starters – a textbook “smash-and-grab” 1-0 road win at Sporting KC, breaking the hosts’ 24-game home unbeaten streak to become the Western Conference’s first playoff qualifier. All it took was 30 clearances, three blocked shots, seven saves by reserve goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic, a SKC penalty kick off the woodwork and this scarcely believable one-time finish by Erik Hurtado:
The Black Panther 2, starring Alberth Elis
They still have to hustle to make the postseason, but the Houston Dynamo remain one of the most entertaining teams in MLS week in, week out. On Saturday we saw La Panterita prowl the pitch at BBVA Compass Stadium yet again, as Alberth Elis lived up to his nickname with a catlike leap for the Orange’s opening goal of a key 2-1 win over Minnesota. Then the Honduran took his already-strong celebration game to another level with a swaggy nod to a Marvel Comics icon:
Another darned fun side to watch lately: Real Salt Lake. After a woeful start to the year, they’ve surged down the stretch like a team on fire, fueled by Mike Petke’s attitude, their flashy young talent and the leadership of a few grizzled vets like Kyle Beckerman.
“KB5” doesn’t score goals often, but they tend to be memorable. And so it was with his 95th-minute equalizer to snatch victory out of the hapless LA Galaxy’s hands out in SoCal:
Gordo, Gordo, Gordo
Speaking of vets long in the tooth and long on personality, one of the best supersubs in MLS history was at it again out in Commerce City, Colorado, where the Rapids dealt what might be a killer blow to Montreal’s flickering playoff hopes. The Impact looked to have gutted out a 1-1 road draw, only for Alan Gordon to do what he’s done on myriad occasions over the past 13 years:
Alberg sighting in Philly
Ah, the curious case of Roland Alberg. The Philadelphia Union’s Dutch No. 10 is an unquestioned talent whose goals-per-90 minutes stats rank among the league’s elite. Yet he's only started nine games this season and just now reached 2,000 minutes of play after almost two years in MLS, dogged by doubts about his fitness and commitment.
But then he does something like this, putting the sword to the defending MLS Cup champs:
ATL UTD finding playoff mode?
We here at WYM are generally disinclined to spend any more time than is absolutely necessary on scoreless draws, for obvious reasons. But the 0-0 between New England and Atlanta at Gillette Stadium got our attention, because it marked the latest clean sheet for a team that’s mostly turned heads for scoring goals by the truckload.
Atlanta United appear to have quietly found their defensive footing just in time for the home stretch. They’re now tied with TFC for second-fewest goals conceded in MLS, and that’s bad news for anyone they meet in the playoffs.
The Week 30 slate started back in midweek and it was eventful. I won’t try to tell you about eight games in one paragraph. But I do urge you to check out the most memorable moments of a hectic night, starting with the glimpses of vintage Kaká that powered Orlando City’s 6-1 whipping of New England, the end-to-end Atlantic Cup clash between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United with a dramatic ending – and this Save of the Year candidate from Stefan Frei in the Seattle Sounders’ impressive win over their rivals from Vancouver: