Week 27: NYCFC keep surging, Orlando fall short and Timbers leave it late

There were no playoff verdicts handed down in Week 27, but there was plenty of playoff intrigue across the five-match slate:

Portland Timbers 2, Sporting Kansas City 1

This one felt like a playoff match from beginning to end.

After two first-half penalty shouts which had Timbers manager Giovanni Savarese apoplectic at halftime – the Professional Referee Organization determined that a no call was the correct outcome on both plays – SKC’s Benny Feilhaber silenced the crowd with a spectacular cross-turned-goal that stunned the Timbers … only minutes after his teammate Daniel Salloi missed an empty net.

But the Timbers were relentless. And just when it looked like the match was set up for the visitors to escape with a priceless three points that would allow them to catch Portland in the standings, late goals by Jeremy Ebobisse and Brian Fernandez flipped the script with the winner coming deep in stoppage time

The win saw the Timbers (43 points) leapfrog Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy (42 points) into the playoff zone with the Galaxy now on the outside looking in. With 5 of their last 6 at home, it’s hard to see the Timbers missing out on the playoffs now.

Portland's remaining away game? In Kansas City on Sept. 29. If Peter Vermes’s squad (37 points) can manage another mini-run before then, that grudge match could prove pivotal if they're to keep their eight-year playoff qualification streak alive. 

NYCFC 2, New England Revolution 1

Sure, NYCFC’s current winning streak is now up to five matches (they’ve won 8 of their last 10). And they’ve also hopped into the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand over second-place Philly following their Week 27 win, 2-1, over New England.

But what’s been most impressive about the 2019 version of NYCFC is their will to fight and grind out wins when they’re not at their best. Saturday was one of those days, especially without injured top scorer Heber.

In recent seasons, it was often left to their superstar David Villa to carry the team on his back to get the Cityzens back into a game. This year it’s a team effort and it was evident against a visiting New England team that defended stoutly after going up a goal and down a man early. Even the typically stoic Jesus Medina -- who scored twice off the bench for NYCFC -- was visibly fired up.

Revs fans – and there was a large contingent at Yankee Stadium – will feel hard done by the 8th minute Antonio Delamea DOGSO red card, but there was no argument on the stoppage-time penalty kick that led to NYCFC’s winner -- the only blemish on an otherwise spectacular performance by Revs center back Andrew Farrell.

With three of their next four in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, NYCFC can solidify their claim to the East No. 1 seed. Meanwhile, the Revs have a HUGE Week 28 match in Orlando against a direct competitor for a playoff spot.

Orlando City 2, LAFC 2

Orlando failed to capitalize on New England’s loss and were held to a home draw by undermanned league leaders LAFC team missing several starters, as well as MVP frontrunner Carlos Vela (injury).

Although the Week 27 version of LAFC lacked the crisp movements, speed of play, and verticality that we’ve grown accustomed to in 2019, they still had Diego Rossi and Adama Diomande who combined for the big play when they needed it -- a well-crafted, 78th-minute equalizer just when it looked like Orlando had the three points all sewn up.

The Lions, who received inspired performances from Ruan and Cristian Higuita, thought they had scored the goal to extend their lead to 3-1 early in the second half (watch video below). But it didn’t count after Benji Michel was judged to have fouled the ‘keeper on an aerial challenge in the lead-up – a call that Orlando dispute.

“When the officials look back at their performance, they’ll be disappointed,” head coach James O’Connor said in a postgame interview, during which he let an expletive slip. “Really disappointed not to get the three points.”

So Orlando (35 points) are four points out of a playoff spot with four matches remaining, making the Week 28 home game against New England (39 points) a virtual must-win.

LAFC will have to wait yet another week to clinch the No. 1 spot in the West. The Supporters’ Shield party will take a while longer.

FC Cincinnati 1, Toronto FC 5

Orlando got more bad news on the night with Toronto exploding for five goals in Cincinnati to open a bit of a cushion between them and their pursuers (and with a chance to extend it with their game in hand).

TFC were simply better at Nippert Stadium and even without Jozy Altidore, they had more quality across the field. Pozuelo & Co. were able to pick apart a makeshift Cincinnati center back pairing of Nick Hagglund and career left back Greg Garza. And they made it look easy, capitalizing on every Cincinnati mistake.

The locals may have only scored a single goal to prevent the shutout, but that penalty kick conversion meant everything to Emmanuel Ledesma, who was in tears after the ball hit the net.

Colorado Rapids 2, Seattle Sounders 0

Unlike FC Cincinnati, the Rapids are not thinking about 2020 just yet after winning in manager Robin Fraser’s home debut to make it a perfect two victories from his first two matches in charge.

Fresh off bleaching the hair on his head (and on most of his face), Rookie of the Year candidate Andre Shinyashiki (below) was honored with a standing ovation from the home crowd after scoring both goals in a 2-0 win to sink a depleted Sounders squad that was rarely a threat.

The result keeps the Rapids’ faint playoff hopes alive – they’re 10 points away with five matches to play – while also further muddling an already jumbled Western Conference playoff picture by preventing the Sounders from jumping ahead of the pack.

Entering Week 28 there are now seven Western Conference teams (No. 2 through No. 8) within four points in the standings.