Nico, Lucho, Ibra and the races for 6: What you missed in Week 31

October, Major League Soccer’s month of truth, is here. And you can tell.

Tighten up

Sometimes the hoary old phrase “six-pointer” really is unavoidable.

Like on Sunday, when the New York Red Bulls took aim at the assumption that Atlanta United are Supporters’ Shield winners-in-waiting, thumping the Five Stripes to close the gap between the league’s two front-running teams to one point with three games apiece to go. This was a vintage RBNY performance, achieved without stars Bradley Wright-Phillips and Tyler Adams, and it should also shoehorn them into the heart of every MLS Cup conversation.

We were even treated to some old-fashioned postgame pettiness between the head coaches.

The Ibra Show

Most of us had already counted out the LA Galaxy, left aghast at their slipshod defending and massive over-reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they slumped to a seven-game winless skid.

Yet here they stand, still alive in the playoff race thanks to two straight 3-0 victories over Western Conference foes, including one on Saturday night over Vancouvertwo points back of sixth-place of Real Salt Lake and poised to pounce if the Utah side drops a few points in their final three games.

LA are still Ibra-dependent, but there are worse addictions to have: The big Swede has scored four goals in his last three games and now has 20 strikes – many of them spectacular – in just 24 appearances. He’s MLS’s second-leading scorer, behind only Josef Martinez, and with 0.96 goals per 90 minutes, is creeping up to the prolific Atlanta striker’s absurd 1.03 G/90. Will we have have to reconsider the MVP debate just like we are doing with the Galaxy’s playoff hopes?

Destruction in D.C.

They’ve been steadily climbing the table since Audi Field, the downtown home that’s becoming a fortress, opened in mid-July. And on Saturday night D.C. United emphatically crossed a big threshold in their unlikely midseason makeover.

The Black-and-Red’s delirious, Lucho Acosta-engineered 5-0 rout of the Montreal Impact – the team currently in possession of the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final 2018 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs berth that D.C. crave – was a jaw-dropping display of surgical finishing that broke new ground in its defiance of the expected goals statistic…

And it also signaled a sea change in the race for the postseason. Now United, not the Impact, control their destiny, and if they maintain their current pace, that new place on the Southwest D.C. waterfront might even get to host a playoff game or two.

Fading blues

Why be so bold as to suggest that the East’s No. 6 seed would advance that far up the postseason bracket? Because the team that D.C. would currently meet in the Knockout Round are third-place New York City FC, and things are looking quite off-color for the Cityzens lately. Yes, they did dispatch the Chicago Fire at midweek, paced by one of the lovelier goals of the week, a slick passing sequence finished with aplomb by Alex Ring:

But then they let themselves get ambushed by the Loons in Minnesota on Saturday. And so NYCFC are 2-5-4 over the past two months, shrouded in a downcast collective vibe that suggests things just aren’t clicking in the locker room like they used to. If coach Dome Torrent doesn’t figure things out quickly, winter is coming for the blue half of New York.

Nico had a day

With shiny new objects like Atlanta United and Ibrahimovic and Audi Field around, national audiences should take care not to lose track of established performers like Nicolas Lodeiro. The Uruguayan who powered the Seattle Sounders’ back-to-back runs to the MLS Cup final looked capable of making it three in Saturday’s superb showing against the Colorado Rapids:

If you want to beat Seattle in a big game, you need a smart plan to limit Lodeiro’s influence (easier said than done). And with the Rave Green’s remaining regular-season slate maybe the softest among playoff teams (Houston twice, Orlando, San Jose), he’s may just keep runnin riot.

More Quakes heartbreak

It’s been a year to forget in San Jose, to put it politely. And it’s probably a sign of how deep the Earthquakes’ woes run that a new man in charge, interim head coach Steve Ralston, has overseen markedly improved play only to experience new and agonizing ways to lose games:

This week it was the Houston Dynamo who piled on the pain, spotting the Quakes a 2-0 lead before shaking off their U.S. Open Cup championship hangover and storming back to a 3-2 victory, a spooky deja vu of San Jose’s recent comeback loss to Atlanta. At least Wondo Watch rolls on.