September is here, and in MLS, summer's fade means that the final sprint to the finish line is nigh. That was eminently reflected in an intense Week 27. Let's take a look ... and remember to Go Gold this month!
Leaders take lickings
Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls have been the class of MLS all year, and have lately been running neck-and-neck at the top of the standings, a yard or two ahead of the rest. That gap shrank this weekend, though, as both sides lost road games at Eastern Conference counterparts – D.C. United and the Montreal Impact, respectively – who sit further down the table, tightening up the postseason pack a bit.
Argentinean playmakers were at the heart of both upsets: FFSW (Foremost Friend of Señor Wayne) Luciano Acosta bagged a clinical brace for D.C., while Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti orchestrated his famously European-flavored club’s vintage display of SPAT (Set Pieces and Transitions) superbly.
Right back in the thick of it
Not so long ago, the fullback role was a soft spot across MLS, compared to the quality found in other positions. The rise of GAM and TAM and other MLS roster investment seems to have stoked some evolution, though, and right backs were influential across the league in Week 27.
One of the key cogs in the Impact’s 3-0 defeat of the Red Bulls was new arrival Bacary Sagna, and not just because of his goal: The French veteran was sturdy in defense and willing to toil up and down the flank on both sides of the ball. In Columbus, Harrison Afful helped Crew SC knock off slumping New York City FC with a very well-struck ping from distance. The versatile Paul Arriola did good work for D.C. in his first MLS start at right back.
Who’s in, who’s out
Despite their loss on Saturday, the Red Bulls became the first MLS team to officially qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs, thanks to New England’s inability to defeat Portland at home. It’s the ninth straight postseason for RBNY, and they’ll be joined soon enough by Atlanta, who failed to clinch in D.C. on Sunday but will bag their second straight qualification in the weeks ahead.
At the other end of the spectrum, condolences and better luck next year to the San Jose Earthquakes, eliminated from contention for the playoffs after their second loss in as many weeks to the Vancouver Whitecaps. At least the Quakes can take solace in having stunned Western Conference-leading FC Dallas for the second time in a month.
Father and son
Drama hung thick in the air at BMO Field, where Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley and his father Bob, head coach of LAFC, faced off against one another for the first time. The pathos got even heavier when Bob’s Black & Gold side dealt a potentially crippling blow to the playoff hopes of Michael's Reds, with a 4–2 road win driven onward by a virtuoso outing from Carlos Vela:
Jozy Altidore did his best to spark a late comeback bid, but as has so often been the case for TFC this year, it was too little too late after some crippling defensive breakdowns.
Massacre at La Mormonera
We all knew the LA Galaxy’s trip to Salt Lake was a true six-pointer with massive postseason implications in the West. Even all that could hardly prepare us for the genuinely weird night that would unfold at Rio Tinto Stadium, where …
Jonathan dos Santos banged home a golazo 33 seconds after kickoff, a duck invaded the pitch, RSL’s young defense threw a blanket over Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Damir Kreilach bagged a hat trick and Albert Rusnak hammered an absolute worldie of a volley, the exclamation point for a stunning 6-2 drubbing that puts the wind in RSL’s sails while devastating the Galaxy.
It was a good week for:
*Philadelphia Union, who took four points from two road trips down the Eastern Seaboard to consolidate their position in the East
*Chris Wondolowski, who hit paydirt in Wednesday’s riveting Quakes upset of FCD, to run his career regular-season total to 142 goals, pulling him to just three back of Landon Donovan’s all-time record.
At a time of year when every moment is critical and surprises can turn the league on its head, who’s the wildest of wild cards? My vote goes to D.C. United.
The Black-and-Red emphatically shook off a slumplet of two straight losses by ambushing Atlanta United at Audi Field Sunday night, shutting down Josef Martinez about as well as anyone has all season and showcasing that dynamite Wayne Rooney-Lucho Acosta combo up front.
They’re still looking at a dogfight to get into the playoffs – their Sept. 29 meeting with Montreal looms LARGE in the playoff race – but with Rooney’s presence coaxing the best out of his teammates and AF turning into a really tough place to visit, they can beat anyone on their day. And that makes them quite a menacing proposition indeed.