Summer is officially over. The air is getting crisper, the sunsets coming sooner. Can you smell the playoffs?
Players across MLS certainly can, and they showed us in Week 30.
Last Chance Saloon
“Turn out the lights, the party's over,” goes the chorus of the famous old Willie Nelson song, a line once used by NFL quarterback turned broadcaster Don Meredith to signal when a game had effectively been decided. And the sad song might as well be playing in a growing list of MLS locker rooms at this time of year as postseason aspirations fade from possibility.
The New England Revolution dropped two points at home in a 2-2 draw against second-from-bottom Chicago. The Vancouver Whitecaps handed all three to visiting FC Dallas, conceding two set-piece goals in a 2-1 loss. And then there’s Toronto FC.
It looks like the reigning champs have hit the canvas for good. TFC lost 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena on Saturday afternoon, a one-two punch with their Campeones Cup loss to Tigres UANL. And if we thought Wednesday’s game was evocative of TFC’s fall from grace, the manner in which they conceded RBNY’s two scruffy strikes served up an even more dispiriting tableau.
Ride the lightning
Another team clinging to the ledge for dear life in Week 30 were the LA Galaxy, who still face long odds but will live to fight another week or three as they knocked off the Seattle Sounders 3-0 in a game that was nowhere near as assured a performance as the scoreline might suggest.
Galaxy won 3-0 tonight but my god... I marvel at their back line's porousness. Ballwatching, shapelessness, multiple runners left open in the box - they're a highwire act every single game pic.twitter.com/9tM4mtlJBT— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) September 24, 2018
LA’s defense generally remains a hot mess and a lot has to go right for them to beat good teams. That said, given the chance to peg back the team occupying the Western Conference’s sixth and final Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs slot, the seventh-place Galaxy did what they had to do on Sunday. It was their first win since July 29 and they’ll need a few more in their final four matches: Vancouver, at Sporting KC, at Minnesota, Houston.
Even with October looming, only a select few teams can consider themselves safe from the playoff line and free to focus on higher goals – and the Philadelphia Union might have just ascended into that group. Though Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final date with the Dynamo beckons, the DOOP squad took all six points available to them in Week 30 with a stunning late midweek win at red-hot Seattle and Sunday’s rainy 2-0 home win over Sporting KC.
West-leading SKC were dispatched by a reserve-heavy Philly squad, highlighted by Jay Simpson’s sudden step out from the shadows, which was in turn aided by two assists from perhaps the Union’s most irreplaceable piece, Alejandro Bedoya. If Jim Curtin and his men can keep this up with an Open Cup triumph, who knows how much momentum they’ll have gathered by the time the postseason kicks off?
Above the clouds
Even further up the table, Atlanta United and the Red Bulls remain head and shoulders in front of the rest of the league, handling their business and flashing their strength in depth via the likes of Julian Gressel (great goal!) and Derrick Etienne Jr. (maybe even greater goal!)...
Both teams banked maximum points this week ahead of their head-to-head clash at Red Bull Arena on Sunday (1 pm ET | ESPN — Full TV & streaming info). Front-running ATL can effectively put one hand on the Supporters’ Shield with a win or draw; an RBNY victory, on the other hand, would shrink the Five Stripes’ lead to one point with three games apiece remaining and set up a tense sprint to the finish. The problem for the Red Bulls: Linchpin striker Bradley Wright-Phillips picked up a controversial yellow card for dissent on Saturday, suspending him for the weekend ahead:
Life isn’t fair
Shield-winning campaigns are built on nights like the one ATLUTD experienced out in San Jose on Wednesday, the wildest game in a week with several of them and maybe even the weirdest of the entire year in MLS:
It was a viciously cruel outcome for an Earthquakes team that looked transformed for the better in their first game under interim head coach Steve Ralston, and were poised to take a 4-1 lead before Chris Wondolowski’s goal was waved off by a Video Review decision. Alas for the Quakes, if anyone can turn a 4-1 deficit into a 4-3 win, it’s Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron.
Set pieces, etc.
It’s a time of year when small details matter more than ever, and few elements of the game reflect careful planning than well-executed set pieces. If you’re good on restarts, you have a chance to steal goals, and results, no matter how the run of play is unfolding or how much talent is on the other team.
You may have noticed how many key goals were conjured from free kicks and corner kicks in Week 30: Philly’s winner vs. SKC, Walker Zimmerman’s brace of soaring headers for LAFC, both of Dallas’ tallies in the win at Vancouver. And then there was this clever bit from Shkelzen Gashi, who hoodwinked Columbus’ Zack Steffen and forced Crew SC to sweat out a narrow home win over the Colorado Rapids: