The 2018 All-Star Game presented by Target is behind us, the domestic cup competitions are soon to be decided and the season's home stretch begins with Week 23. Let's dive in.
Roll on, Rose City
First off, a tip of the cap is due to the Portland Timbers. The Rose City crew dispatched the Philadelphia Union – who rested several starters ahead of their U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Chicago on Wednesday – 3-0 at Providence Park to run their unbeaten streak to 15 games.
That ties Portland’s MLS club record and puts them four away from matching the all-time record. The Timbers are in rarefied air and this run powerfully underlines the striking work coach Giovanni Savarese has done in barely six months on the job.
You may be familiar with the #PeakMLS hashtag, typically used to celebrate (or lament) examples of this league being its truest, quirkiest, weirdest self. This weekend brought a classic example of the concept when the lowly San Jose Earthquakes – to date winners of only two league matches this season, both against Minnesota United – strode into Toyota Stadium and knocked off Western Conference leaders FC Dallas with a stunningly assured performance.
Last year’s best visited this year’s frontrunners in the opening game of the weekend, and despite another two goals from Golden Boot winner-in-waiting Josef Martinez, Supporters’ Shield leaders Atlanta United were pegged back in the dying minutes by reigning champs Toronto FC to settle a 2-2 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
After a nasty Concacaf Champions League hangover and ensuing months of woe, TFC are finally looking like themselves again lately, clambering up the table fingerhold by fingerhold. If they can get there, Saturday’s result will be recalled as a signpost along the way.
“Everybody wants to hand the mantle over to Atlanta, but we’re not ready to give anything up,” Reds coach Greg Vanney said postgame.
Meltdown in H-town
The Houston Dynamo’s unexpected run to the Western Conference Championship stage of last year’s postseason was powered in large part by their utter dominance at home; La Naranja won just one regular-season road game but were an untouchable 12-1-4 at BBVA Compass Stadium.
This year they’re a mediocre 6-4-2 in the Bayou City, with Saturday’s grisly 1-0 loss to Sporting KC probably the low ebb, marked by a whopping three red cards and a halftime ejection for coach Wilmer Cabrera. They’ve lost their mojo at home, and it looks like it might torpedo their season.
On the bright side, SKC’s brightest star was 16-year-old debutant Gianluca Busio, one of the youngest players ever to appear in MLS and one to watch closely in the weeks and years ahead.
Gianluca Busio in #HOUvSKC:— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) August 5, 2018
2 chances created
1 post hit
34/38 (89%) passing
2 fouls won
The 16 year old #SportingKC midfielder became the 3rd youngest player ever to start an #MLS game, and had the winning assist on a superb flick.
Quality. 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/Rrzrw8sQjs
You’ve got to hand it to the Minnesota supporters groups, who are proudly carrying on their rooting traditions amid their club’s drastic evolution across leagues and home stadiums. The Loons faithful greeted the Seattle Sounders with a truly epic tifo display contrasting Emerald City native Jimi Hendrix with proud Twin Cities product Prince…
Which probably only made it more painful to watch MNUFC blow a 1-0 lead by conceding two injury-time goals, allowing the Sounders to sneak out of TCF Bank Stadium with a 2-1 win that could prove devastating to the Loons’ playoff hopes.
My MLS App condensed match of the week pick was not a difficult one this time around, thanks to the chaotic, end-to-end, defense-optional 3-3 shootout that unfolded between Orlando City and the New England Revolution down in central Florida.
Ebbs, flows, soft goals, solo golazos, defensive howlers, Video Review incidents, red cards – this one had a lot going on and it’s worth your time, even if it led Revs coach Brad Friedel to speak of losing hair out that was already long gone from his cueball-smooth cranium.
Ironically, sometimes soccer can bring a special sort of tranquility from a particularly savage strike of the ball – a strange sense of peace at witnessing an act of violence committed by a foot against an inflated sphere of polyester and butyl.