The Standings Entering the Week
Round eighteen began with the overall standings holding at the top of the table and changing slightly right below that. Toronto FC retained first place, while the Chicago Fire, NYCFC, Sporting KC, and Orlando City also retained second, third, fourth, and fifth place respectively. The changes in the table from week seventeen came from the teams placing below them, who all saw movement between weeks.
Columbus jumped up from tenth place to sixth when they won and had other results go their way, and both Houston and Portland fell a single spot to settle at seventh and eighth. Rounding out the top ten were FC Dallas and Atlanta United, who moved from eighth and eleventh.
The bottom of the table was filled by Colorado, who fell from nineteenth, along with RSL, who fell from eighteenth, and Montreal, which slid three spots from seventeenth to twentieth. Notably, the fall in the standings for the Rapids marks them returning to last place after finally breaking a streak of six straight weeks in twenty second.
New York City FC vs Minnesota United
There were good vibes around NYCFC coming into this match. Their last one was a derby win on the road for the first time against the Red Bulls, and David Villa’s form has been something for their fanbase to be excited about. It would take a little bit of time for NYCFC to sort everything out, though.
Christian Ramirez poached his tenth goal of the season when Johansen couldn’t hold onto a save of a long ranged shot from Johan Venegas, but maybe it was better for NYCFC that things started like this. It put some pressure on them and forced their attack to push themselves, and they would eventually draw even before taking control completely.
Ben Sweat, one of the heroes of the recent Hudson River Derby, turned an ordinary run into a goal when he cut back inside the box and held onto the ball for long enough to lay it off to fellow defender Alexander Callens, who finished the equalizer attempt thirty eight minutes in.
After the equalizer, NYCFC wouldn’t look back and would dominate the match. David Villa notably picked up goal number fifty two with NYCFC, after entering the box surrounded with about three defenders when the shot was taken, but the real driving force in the win was the midfield, which held Minnesota to thirty four percent possession.
Chicago Fire vs Vancouver Whitecaps
Vancouver has been a mixed bag this season, but the Fire left no doubt when they rolled into first place in the eastern conference with a 4-0 victory. It would also take a TFC loss, of course, but Chicago made sure to do their own job and not slip up on their chance to capitalize.
One of the stories of the season has not just been the Fire getting good again, but Nemanja Nikolic and his rise to the top of the scoring table, and he continued that run with a brace that had two goals in the fourteenth and sixteenth minutes.
And while the first one could be called more of a poacher’s goal because of the way the ball was delivered into the box and shot before the defenders could react much, Nikolic did show his one on one skills on the second when his run ended with him beating Jake Nerwinski, who put up something of a standing challenge but couldn’t turn in time to do much defensively.
Arturo Alvarez also made it 3-0 with one of the better volleys that we’ve seen so far, shooting off of Matt Polster’s cross before the ball could touch the ground. The Fire did experiment a bit with tactics this time out, playing Juninho and Schweinsteiger deep with Polster playing higher up, and the tweak kept Vancouver from getting into the long passing game while letting the Fire attack the Whitecaps outside defense.
Michael de Leeuw also capped the match off with a goal that broke a scoring drought that had been going from the start of the season and that had involved missing some close chances in the past.
FC Dallas vs Toronto FC
It seemed like the Impact sapped more of TFC’s energy in the last match than Toronto would like to admit, and the Reds slipped out of first place with a poor showing in Dallas. It was both a case of a good Dallas and a bad Toronto, with one big mistake forcing TFC to play from behind for the entire match.
That mistake was the defense leaving Drew Moor on an island against Maynor Figueroa, allowing the Dallas attacker to get deep into Toronto territory before laying the ball off into open space for Roland Lamah.
Toronto wouldn’t be able to recover and get the equalizer. Mauro Diaz fed Roland Lamah the ball for another attacking run, and this time, Lamah completely burnt Chris Mavinga and then put the ball past Alex Bono.
Marky Delgado would have the goal in the second half that would bring TFC within one, but Max Urruti would cut the comeback attempt short in the seventy eighth minute with the dagger. There were multiple things you could choose to focus on with this result, but really, it seems to have come down to Toronto FC lacking organization and Dallas matching up well with that by having some unselfish teamwork and good coordination up top.
Sporting Kansas City vs Portland Timbers
SKC welcomed the Timbers to the Blue Hell on national TV, with a match on Saturday and on Sunday being broadcast nationally this weekend instead of two on Sunday. Both teams were missing players because of the Gold Cup, though, including Sporting KC missing their popular striker, Dom Dwyer.
While SKC was missing Dwyer, Portland was in somewhat worse position roster wise because of having injuries. They had five players out and two players questionable at the time of the match according to the most recent MLS injury report, and three of their players that were out play defensive positions. Notable midfielder Diego Chara was also out with a hamstring injury, while SKC had zero injured players other than a questionable Benny Feilhaber who ended up playing anyway.
Somehow, despite the injury problem, Portland had the first lead in this one when Diego Valeri was found on an attacking run and the defense held back too much to avoid him getting into the box and into a better playmaking position. He wouldn’t get into the box, but he would use the space to get great placement on a shot from range that put the visitors up 1-0.
They wouldn’t carry the lead too deep into the match, with SKC salvaging something in the sixtieth minute when Roger Espinoza booted the ball into the box for Daniel Salloi to do something with, and the substitute forward accelerated past his defender and beat goalkeeper Jack Gleeson in a one on one.
Beyond the equalizer, though, the Timbers wouldn’t roll over and park the bus. They would have some good possession and capped that off with Valeri feeding the ball to Adi in the seventy second minute, who attacked the box and drew a controversial penalty kick.
Valeri would be the penalty taker, but in front of the Cauldron, the pressure would be a bit too much and the kick would go almost directly into Melia’s hands and would be deflected up and then cleared out of the box.
SKC’s last gasp extra time appeal for a PK would be denied after Portland’s own extra time attack ended with them fouling and giving up possession, and neither side would be able to come out with a win. But the result did mean that SKC had extended their home undefeated streak to eighteen matches, a very impressive accomplishment.
Montreal Impact vs D.C United
This one was a strange one. DCU visited Montreal and from the looks of the stats, you would think that they would come away winners by a decent margin, or at least by a goal. They had an 83% passing accuracy and also put up nineteen shots, but the actual result was somehow a 2-0 win for the Impact, which really shows how good Montreal is at the ‘absorb pressure and hit back harder’ style of play that they’ve become known for.
It might have went differently if United could have scored early, but their small slew of chances in the opening ten minutes would all fall short because of a lack of composure or because of the compact Impact formation stifling their attack.
Twenty minutes in, D.C would lose the chance to get the initial lead from their attacking pressure. Blerim Dzemaili kept up a run of hot form with a goal that was kind of similar to the one that Valeri scored against Kansas City. Both goals had the same story: star midfielder gets left in too much space, decides to buy a ticket to the lottery instead of looking for a play in the box. Dzemaili’s one was somewhat more impressive, though, with it coming from longer distance.
After their goal, the Impact pushed forward more and came out of the compressed formation that had both their midfield and defense standing in their own half more often than not, and miscommunication from the DCU back line ensured that Duvall would be onside for a scoring run set up by Dzemaili’s chip. Twenty three minutes in, Montreal was up 2-0.
Montreal didn’t have Ignacio Piatti, because of an adductor injury, but it didn’t seem to affect the match very much. If anything, Piatti being gone forced other players to step up and play faster, which is something that the Impact coaching staff will have to think about. Benching Piatti wouldn’t be a solution to improve their form, once he’s healthy again, but getting the team to play like they did when he was missing would.
While Chicago took the top spot in the east, the loss sent D.C United to last place, where they have eighteen points compared to New England’s twenty and Montreal’s twenty one.
Columbus Crew vs Atlanta United
Atlanta fans will be happy about the result here for multiple reasons. Not only did their team get the win, but they snapped a streak of being winless on the road since April 22nd.
Both teams came out swinging in the opening part of this one, also. Miguel Almiron was in good position during a two versus two attack eleven minutes in, but his angled shot would bounce off of the post despite beating Zack Steffen. Just one minute later, Ola Kamara would set up Justin Meram for a decent shot, but it would be deflected into the air by Kann.
Atlanta was the one who would actually put a chance into the back of the net, despite both sides attacking early. The opening goal actually came off of a mistake clearing a punt from Alec Kann, and the ball ended up in open space where it was practically on a platter for Hector Villalba to scoop up and run with. Steffen tried to jump in front of the shot and nearly got a block on it, but it wouldn’t matter in the end.
It looked like Atlanta was just the faster and more daring team, and it also looked like Villalba could have had a hat trick on a better day. Fifty nine minutes in, he would have a chance to double the lead on a counter attacking chance, but the ball would be just wide. He’d still come home with a brace, however, after scoring again when Josef Martinez knocked the ball backwards to where he was lurking in an open area and waiting for a chance like that one.
With the win, Atlanta moves four points clear of the playoff line in the eastern conference, which is really impressive when you look back at how Orlando and NYCFC did when they first joined the league and when you look over to the other conference and see Minnesota struggling in their own first season.
Colorado Rapids vs Houston Dynamo
The Dynamo were shockingly winless away from home entering this match, and after it… They’re still winless away from home, after falling to a then last placed Colorado side. It was a 3-1 scoreline too, rather than an especially close one, and that just goes to show what one of Houston’s biggest weaknesses this season is. If they did have some away wins, they would likely be in position to catch Sporting KC in first and their derby rivals from Dallas in second.
The Rapids attack is also one of the worst ones in the league statistically, with only fifteen goals in sixteen matches played before this one, so it was especially surprising that the scoreline was 3-1 and not something like 1-0.
You could say that their turnaround in the goal scoring department was behind the efforts of Dominique Badji, who became the heart and soul of the Rapids attack with two assists. As far as positives for Houston go, Cubo Torres kept up form with his equalizing goal just before the end of the first half, where he made something of an average cross from A.J DeLaGarza by getting between the defenders and then beating Tim Howard.
The Rapids just played with more speed though, and their second goal was another case of their forwards outrunning Houston’s defenders. Badji should have been covered by the two defenders that were around the box when he went on his run that would cause the second goal, but his pace let him run right through them and find time to send the ball across the face of the goal where it could be easily tapped in.
The third goal would come off of defensive mistakes, too, when Kevin Doyle drew two defenders to him after getting the ball from Dominique Badji, and the Houston defense seemed to forget that Marlon Hairston was making a wide open run next to him. All it took was one simple pass to set up the goal, which would end up being the dagger that sent Houston to a 0-7-2 record away from home.
San Jose Earthquakes vs Los Angeles Galaxy
The California Clasico was the late night game for east coast viewers, and it didn’t disappoint. This edition of the derby took place at Stanford Stadium, giving the Quakes slightly more home field advantage and somewhat more pressure than if they were playing at Avaya, but they would actually spend most of the match playing from behind.
Jelle van Damme opened up the scoring, but maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing for rookie manager Chris Leitch in his first clash with the Galaxy. His team would have to play with a fire under them instead of parking the bus with a lead or keeping back to avoid being the first one to go down, and the urgency might have been the reason why the Quakes out shot LA 15-7 despite being down until late.
They also held nearly seventy percent of the possession, which shows that they really were the better team that night and that the early Galaxy goal was a spark of brilliance rather than the story of the match. While we’re talking stats, you might also want to note that they passed the ball 570 times to LA’s 249, which stemmed both from their higher possession and the Galaxy giving the ball away at times with a lower passing accuracy.
Quakes vet Chris Wondolowski was the one to draw San Jose level, and it would take until the seventy fourth minute for that moment to arrive. David Bingham, the San Jose goalkeeper, actually had a lot to do with this goal. He sent the ball deep enough on a goal kick for Wondo to win in the box, before cutting back and taking the shot that would guarantee them at least a point.
The winner came from Shea Salinas, who found a lot of room on the right side of the box during extra time while the Galaxy defenders were focused on San Jose’s numbers in the middle. Before they could rotate towards him when the pass came in, he had placed the shot just under the crossbar for the dramatic winner.
Philadelphia Union vs New England Revolution
The Union had the nationally televised Sunday game of the week, and they definitely showed their talent in front of the national audience. They got off to a very fast start, with C.J. Sapong drawing and then converting a PK only four minutes into the match for his ninth goal of the season.
Philly had less possession in this one, with forty four percent compared to fifty five percent from New England, but the Union generated more pressure with the possession that they were able to get. The teams were even in the shots department with ten each, but when it comes to on target shots, the Union had six of them and the Revs only had three. Obviously, they also converted on two of those shots, while New England had all three saved.
Notably, C.J. Sapong is really breaking through as a quality forward and it’s starting to show statistically. While he scored nine goals last season, he’s already at that mark now, and it’s still only mid season. He’s definitely going to surpass his previous scoring record of nine goals, which he achieved in both Philadelphia and Kansas City.
It’s also important to remember that the Revolution were missing starters. Kelyn Rowe was away for the Gold Cup, Diego Fagundez was serving a ban for a red card. Still, those players aren’t defenders, and having them on the pitch might not have kept the Union attack from having a pretty good day and scoring three goals.