Warshaw: Pondering the possibilities after Wednesday's MLS action

There were three MLS games on Wednesday, and plenty of talking points coming out of the action. A few items I'm pondering after the midweek slate:

Is it possible that...

Josef Martinez can push Carlos Vela for the Landon Donovan Most Valuable player award down the stretch? With two goals in the 2-0 win at FC Cincinnati, Martinez has now scored in 15 straight games(!) and has 26 goals on the year.

Okay, probably not. Vela has broken the combined goals and assists record and been the best player on the presumed Supporters’ Shield winner. When you put up numbers like that, as we saw with Josef last year, you will win MVP.

I’m a diehard, though, for the fact that if the award is titled “valuable,” then I’m going to vote for the player who adds the most value to the team. “Where would this team be with an almost-All Star player instead of the mega star?” It seems to me that LAFC, the most methodical machine in league history, would still win Supporters’ Shield with an almost All-Star instead of Carlos Vela.

I’m not sure Atlanta United would have either of their trophies this year or be close to the top of the table without Josef Martinez. They’ve slugged through more games than they’d like to admit, and Josef has either scored himself or emotionally pushed the team forward. He did it again on Wednesday, scoring twice against the run of play to bail Atlanta from blushes. The Venezuelan taken his already record-breaking game to another level. It’s been phenomenal to watch... 

He won’t win MVP this year, but he’s ahead of third place by a wide margin.

Is it possible that...

FC Cincinnati could play spoiler down the stretch? 

Yes, absolutely. With more efficient finishing, Cincinnati could have taken at least a point off of Atlanta. They aren’t a rollover at this point. Ron Jans has dropped their lines into a tight 4-5-1, making them tough to break down. All three of their remaining games will have meaning for their opponents, and someone will drop points against them.

Is it possible that...

Josh Sims is the attacker that the New York Red Bulls have needed? The midseason signing set up RBNY's first goal in the 2-0 win at Providence Park and caused the Timbers trouble all night. Sims is not as high profile as Red Bulls fans might have hoped – the former England U-20 international has gotten most of his minutes the last two years in the English Championship – but he could have the attributes that the team has needed. He's aggressive and combative enough to play the Red Bulls' style, and he provides the pace, directness and 1-v-1 threat that the team had been missing. TBD on whether he is all what Red Bulls need, but he certainly makes them better. 

Is it possible that...

Portland could blow this? Heading into the All-Star Game, it looked like they were a favorite to get a top-four seed. Since then, they are 4-4-0. They enter the last four games of the season (with a game in hand) below the playoff line.

My gut still says they will get in: No way the Portland Timbers lose that many home games in a row. 

But it's definitely concerning that the Timbers have the worst home record of every Western Conference team in playoff contention this year. They also haven't lost those games banging down the door; they've mostly looked disheveled. Maybe most concerning, they haven't shown progress recently. It won't get any easier this weekend, either, as Minnesota United come to town on Sunday.

Is it possible that...

Michael Barrios will decide the Western Conference playoff race? Dallas got a huge point in the 0-0 draw at Seattle, but they need to find a couple more. They are behind San Jose on the first tiebreaker, and you have to imagine that Portland will get at least one win. In Wednesday night's game, Luchi Gonzalez opted to use Barrios at center striker and have Dallas play on the counter. The tactic itself worked; Dallas limited Seattle's chances and found space in transition. Barrios has a certain type of speed and directness that's particularly troubling to teams on the break. He's someone who always feels on the brink of magic; it's just up in the air on whether it comes out. With NYCFC at home and then a trip to Colorado coming up next, I would expect Dallas to deploy a similar plan in the next two games. You can bet Barrios will be dangerous. If Barrios creates an end-product, Dallas could climb to fourth place; if he doesn't they will fall out.

Is it possible that...

Joevin Jones, the real Joevin Jones, is back? The player who returned for the Sounders this year has not been the same best-left-back-in-the-conference caliber he was when he left prior to 2018. It hasn't been a big issue since the Sounders have Brad Smith, who has been one of the best left backs in the league. That makes it easy to forget how good Jones was, and what he could offer this Sounders team at his best. What would this team be like with an in-form Jones opposite Jordan Morris, or an in-form Jones coming off the bench to change a game?

He showed glimpses on Wednesday. Right now, the Sounders are at a pure talent deficit compared to other teams in the West. That changes if Jones hits his stride.

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