What. A. Weekend.
Is it just me, or did MLS serve up more gems than usual this weekend? Here’s a rundown of the moments that rose above the rest.
Take me to church
Let’s start at the end: Sunday’s tripleheader of national-television action delivered most everything a viewer could ask for. Toronto FC and New York City FC swapped haymakers in a match that both sides clearly treated as a barometer for their postseason ambitions (more on that in a moment). Streaking Seattle and FC Dallas capped the evening with a tense, tetchy faceoff between two West contenders who know each other all too well.
In between, D.C. United and Orlando City SC gave us a true clash for the ages at rainy Audi Field. This nail-biting 3-2 classic had everything, which makes it the easy choice for my MLS app must-see condensed match of the week. But if you watch nothing else from this barnburner, make sure to savor the incredible, iconic game-winner that Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta stitched together deep in injury time:
“No matter what else happens during the rest of Rooney's stint at DCU he has already created a legendary moment for this club,” wrote one commenter on the Washington Post’s recap, which about sums it up.
When the red mist descends
Technically, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi gets much of the credit for NYCFC’s potentially massive road win at BMO Field, as it was his long-range howitzer that vanquished a proud and persistent 10-man TFC side in the dying minutes.
Jozy Altidore, however, earned a fair chunk of credit for the visitors’ victory when he shockingly lost his composure just 11 minutes after the opening whistle, lashing out at Alex Callens after the two clashed over the ball near the touchline to earn a straight red card. It was a stunning mistake by a player whose return from injury has sparked TFC of late.
Similar gaffes were also influential in Colorado and D.C. San Jose’s Shea Salinas uncharacteristically flew off the handle to earn an ejection for delivering a nasty elbow to Dillon Serna right in front of referee Alan Kelly, while Orlando’s Cristian Higuita got busted for an off-the-ball swing at Yamil Asad that was spotted by Jose Carlos Rivero and his crew.
Three costly lapses in judgement, three losses for their teams.
Down go the Timbers
Who saw this one coming?
The Vancouver Whitecaps, despite missing Alphonso Davies to injury and carrying midweek mileage both physical and emotional from Wednesday’s gut-punch draw in the first leg of the Canadian Championship, strutted into Providence Park and dealt the Portland Timbers their first home loss of 2018, breaking the hosts’ 15-game unbeaten streak. And just like D.C.’s Acosta, Cristian Techera headed home the winner despite being the shortest player on the pitch:
Verily, Vancouver remain one of MLS’s enduring enigmas.
The Whitecaps were one of five away teams to claim all three points in enemy territory (along with Philadelphia, NYCFC, Sporting KC and the New York Red Bulls), while another two picked up road draws (Montreal, Minnesota). That’s a striking degree of away success at this time of year, particularly given the league’s tradition of home-field advantage – only four teams have a winning record in their road matches at present.
The ‘Caps adeptly executed a defend-and-counter strategy, while others exploited opposition errors. What other factors did you see? Theories in the comments section below, please.
Big first goals
Here’s another huge way to put the wind in your team’s sails during the dog-days stretch run: Scoring from unexpected sources.
BWP’s Bulls step up
Ding dong, there’s a new Supporters’ Shield front-runner!
Yes, Atlanta United (who were off in Week 24) are still tops in the league when looking at the race in total points. But in terms of points per game, a more pertinent metric for many of us, the Red Bulls are now No. 1 at 2.04 ppg, led as usual by the relentless scoring, and history-making, of Bradley Wright-Phillips.
They’ve done it somewhat quietly, tailing Atlanta in the long shadows that organization casts. But RBNY have earned their lofty spot. They're 8-2-0 since June 13 and seem to have navigated a midseason coaching change more or less smoothly.
Late show with Gyasi
While a bitter blow for the hard-working Houston Dynamo, who were moments away from a laudable road draw in the wake of their exhausting U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory on Wednesday and felt that an offside flag should have been raised on the play, Zardes’ technique to settle and finish in one fluid motion was lovely: