Monday July 13th, 2015

It was another crazy week in Major League Soccer, where two or more goals separated teams in six of nine matches. And one of the closer games, the Chicago Fire’s 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders, saw one of the league’s bottom teams knock off another close to the top.

Personnel losses, through injury and international call-ups, made the usually close matches in MLS even more chaotic and unpredictable. Results included the New York Red Bulls’ 4-1 win over the New England Revolution, the Montreal Impact beating the Columbus Crew, 3-0, and New York City FC drawing Toronto FC, 4-4.

Teams across the league primarily felt the strain of losing players to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, with all but two teams sending men to the tournament. D.C. United had the week off, but the New England Revolution lost despite having all of its national team players available (minus an injured Jermaine Jones, of course).

Here are a few thoughts on the week in MLS:

Squad depth continues to be tested—and exposed

The midseason MLS slog is in full swing, and with the Gold Cup nearing the end of the group stage, almost every MLS team has been affected by call-ups. In total, according to pre-game notes provided by the league and its teams, 39 players missed out on games this week for national team duty.

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FC Dallas and Toronto FC were hit hardest, missing five players each, while the Revs didn’t lose any. In the most impacted match, Dallas’ 2-0 win over Orlando City SC featured two teams missing a total of seven players. Designated Players also missed out, including Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wondolowski.

Those losses become more crucial with the usual injuries that hit at this time of year.

The Lions played with just four non-goalkeepers on the bench because of Kaká’s suspension and various injuries, and the Seattle Sounders have played five straight games, scoring just twice, without both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey (not to mention the Gold Cup also claiming Marco Pappa and Brad Evans).

Giovinco takes center stage Yankee Stadium

A dramatic game between NYCFC and Toronto FC wove back and forth and was eventually settled as a 4-4 draw on Sunday. The match featured eight goals, four penalties and a hat trick in a nine-minute span (although not a lot of defending) in one of the most memorable matches of the season.

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Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco scores hat trick in nine minutes

Sebastian Giovinco continued his first-season rampage through MLS by scoring the first hat trick in TFC franchise history, which started with a penalty and followed a previous attempt from the spot that he missed. After polishing off a quick three goals in the first half, he added one last piece of magic to assist what should have been the winning goal in the 82nd minute, but Patrick Mullins scored two minutes later to tie it for good.

This match was the latest example in MLS showing that high-scoring games can be highly entertaining, even if the quality of play still lacks in some aspects. That missing piece at Yankee Stadium was the defending on both sides, as Giovinco exploited multiple gaps in the home team’s defense, while Warren Creavalle’s dismal clearance gifted Mullins his late strike.

Gerrard plays while Lampard heals

It was just a friendly, but Steven Gerrard finally joined his LA Galaxy teammates on the pitch on Saturday. Meanwhile, across the country, Frank Lampard was ruled out of making his New York City FC debut with a calf injury picked up in training.

Gerrard played in attacking midfield during the first half of a 2-1 Galaxy win over Club América. He showed glimpses of his superior vision and soccer IQ that have hardly waned at age 35. He’s not completely settled yet, but as that comfort increases, he should only play more of a role for LA.

“It was good to get 45 minutes under my belt, and I'll keep getting better and better, and the more I get used to my teammates, I'll improve," Gerrard said after the game. He’ll have time to adjust before the Galaxy really hit their stride in the playoffs, if the team follows past years’ form, where he could be a big difference-maker.

And it certainly helps to be reunited with former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane, who scored this peach of a goal against América:

Rapids and RSL leave action for late

Speaking of wild games, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake played a relatively calm encounter until the last 11 minutes plus stoppage time, when all four goals were scored. With the 3-1 win, Colorado only needs to avoid losing by more than one goal in the last match between the two to win the Rocky Mountain Cup for just the second time since 2006.

Sebastian Jaime scored the go-ahead go for RSL in the 79th minute, but Drew Moor quickly equalized two minutes later. Jaime then saw a straight red card in the 84th, and the Rapids scored twice in stoppage time to win the match. Charles Eloundou, off the bench in the 73rd, provided two assists and hit the post before Jared Watts scored the team’s second.

The end of the match was another nightmare for RSL in a season that has had too many already. The team now sits next to last in the Western Conference, its lowest placement since being at the bottom after a poor start to the 2010 season—but this time feels far more frustrating and serious, since it isn’t following an MLS Cup win a few months earlier.

Week 19 Best XI

GOALKEEPER: Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City)

DEFENDERS: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Raúl Rodríguez (Houston Dynamo), Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids)

MIDFIELDERS: Cristián Maidana (Philadelphia Union), Vincent Nogueira (Philadelphia Union), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Lloyd Sam (New York Red Bulls)

FORWARDS: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)

MLS Power Rankings, Week 19
  • 1
    1Sporting Kansas City
    last week: 1
    record: 8-3-6 | This week: 1-0 at Vancouver
    A big away win in Vancouver, thanks to Kevin Ellis's goal, gave SKC its fourth win in five games and reduced the gap between first and sixth places in the West to two points while extending the distance between sixth and seventh to five.

  • 2
    2Los Angeles Galaxy
    last week: 2
    record: 8-6-7 | This week: Off
    Next time it takes the field in league play, LA should have Steven Gerrard available, as he officially became eligible on Wednesday and played in a 2-1 win over Club América on Saturday.

  • 3
    3FC Dallas
    last week: 7
    record: 9-5-5 | This week: 2-0 at Orlando
    Mauro Díaz’s playmaking often steals the headlines, but Fabián Castillo has made his own case for being Dallas’ most important player, having played in every game except an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Kansas City.

  • 4
    4Portland Timbers
    last week: 3
    record: 9-7-4 | This week: 0-3 at Philadelphia
    The Timbers have only lost twice since late May, but both have been heavy defeats, first 5-0 in LA and now 3-0 in Philly.

  • 5
    5D.C. United
    last week: 6
    record: 10-6-5 | This week: Off
    Even with three weeks off, D.C. would not have been able to be caught at the top of the East, such is the gap between United and the rest of the field.

  • 6
    6Vancouver Whitecaps
    last week: 4
    record: 10-8-2 | This week: 0-1 vs. Sporting Kansas City
    In their homecoming after vacating B.C. Place for the Women’s World Cup, the Whitecaps lost their second match in a row and missed a chance to potentially go back to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings.

  • 7
    7Seattle Sounders
    last week: 5
    record: 10-8-2 | This week: 0-1 at Chicago
    In five matches without big guns Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, Seattle has won once and lost four times while being outscored 8-2.

  • 8
    8Toronto FC
    last week: 9
    record: 7-7-3 | This week: 4-4 at NYCFC
    Sebastian Giovinco and TFC’s first half went from awful to astounding, as he turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead at halftime at Yankee Stadium, but the Reds couldn’t hang onto it and settled for a point.

  • 9
    9New York City FC
    last week: 10
    record: 5-8-6 | This week: 4-4 vs. Toronto
    Attacking prowess aside, NYCFC needs some serious help in the back line as it threw away a 2-0 lead at home against the Reds, only to have a point rescued twice in the second half.

  • 10
    10Columbus Crew
    last week: 8
    record: 6-7-6 | This week: 0-3 at Montreal
    It was a former ally who buried Columbus on Saturday, as Dominic Oduro scored twice to give the Impact their second win of the year over the Crew.

  • 11
    11Montreal Impact
    last week: 14
    record: 6-7-3 | This week: 3-0 vs. Columbus
    The Impact still haven’t quite caught up to the rest of the East in terms of matches played, so despite being in eighth in the standings, Montreal is actually fourth on points per game.

  • 12
    12New York Red Bulls
    last week: 13
    record: 7-6-5 | This week: 4-1 vs. New England
    The Red Bulls exploded for three goals in the first 12 minutes against New England, including two from Bradley Wright-Phillips, back in his usual center-forward position.

  • 13
    13Orlando City SC
    last week: 11
    record: 6-7-6 | This week: 0-2 vs. Dallas
    Not much went right for Orlando on Saturday, between losing Sean St. Ledger to injury, conceding a penalty right before halftime before missing one of its own and Luke Boden being sent off in second-half stoppage time.

  • 14
    14San Jose Earthquakes
    last week: 12
    record: 7-7-4 | This week: 0-2 vs. Houston
    For a team that plays with such high energy and athletic fervor, it’s not bound to go well when San Jose comes out as flat and lethargic as it did against Houston on Friday.

  • 15
    15Philadelphia Union
    last week: 17
    record: 6-10-4 | This week: 3-0 vs. Portland
    The Union had a fair amount of success against Cascadia teams this season, losing to the Whitecaps early before rattling off wins against Seattle and Portland in the last three matches.

  • 16
    16Colorado Rapids
    last week: 18
    record: 4-6-9 | This week: 3-1 vs. Salt Lake
    Colorado conceded the opening goal in the 79th minute but followed it up with an equalizer two minutes later and, after opposing goalscorer Sebastián Jaime’s red card, two more to win it in stoppage time.

  • 17
    17Houston Dynamo
    last week: 19
    record: 6-7-6 | This week: 2-0 at San Jose
    The Dynamo won just their second game on the road after putting two past a San Jose team that entered Friday’s match having conceded the lowest number of goals in MLS play.

  • 18
    18Chicago Fire
    last week: 20
    record: 5-9-3 | This week: 1-0 vs. Seattle
    Chicago got its first win over the Sounders with a stoppage-time strike by Jason Johnson, off the bench to score his second for the Fire immediately after Seattle had a free kick blocked on the opposite end.

  • 19
    19Real Salt Lake
    last week: 15
    record: 5-7-8 | This week: 1-3 at Colorado
    It’s starting to look a little desperate for RSL, who has won just once since thumping NYCFC at home in late May and relinquished a 1-0 lead with a total breakdown late against the Rapids.

  • 20
    20New England Revolution
    last week: 16
    record: 6-9-6 | This week: 1-4 at Red Bulls
    The Revs’ five-game losing streak is approaching their eight-game skid last year—which also fell in midseason and was followed by a 10-2-2 record to close the regular season and a run to MLS Cup.

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