Monday September 21st, 2015

The pressure’s on in Major League Soccer, which just saw its second managerial firing since the 2015 season began. Frank Yallop is out as Chicago Fire head coach, joining former Montreal Impact boss Frank Klopas on the ignominious list.

Funny things happen when the playoffs come into view on the horizon. Not many are stranger than Steven Gerrard taking off a couple days of training and flying about 10 hours each way to sit in the Champions League studio for BT Sport in England, though.

Some of the results on the field over the past week have been just baffling. Struggling expansion team New York City FC pulled off a two-win week. The New England Revolution got a big win over the New York Red Bulls, then turned around and lost by three goals to the Impact. The Red Bulls bounced back from the loss to win at Portland and become the first team to clinch a 2015 playoff berth. Finally, all three teams at the top of the Western Conference lost by two or three goals.

That’s parity for you.

With just over a month remaining in the 2015 MLS season, here are some thoughts:

Pirlo, Giovinco meet again; Gerrard goes back to England

Andrea Pirlo and Sebastian Giovinco, who once played for Juventus together, found themselves on opposite sides as NYCFC defeated Toronto FC, 2-0, on Wednesday. After a slow start to his MLS career, Pirlo turned in two assists to outdo Giovinco in his MVP-candidate debut year (Giovinco bounced back nicely with two goals and an assist against the Colorado Rapids over the weekend).

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Meanwhile, another former European star turned some heads by returning to England in midweek to commentate on Champions League games. Gerrard then returned and played 90 minutes as the LA Galaxy lost to Real Salt Lake.

It’s not a great look for one of the most important players on a team chasing the Supporters’ Shield title to take time off from his team and make such an arduous return trip.

It probably would have been explained away easily if the Galaxy pulled out the result, but a 3-0 loss to RSL only makes that decision look more baffling.

Yallop fired after poor season in Chicago

It seems like it’s been a long time coming, but the Fire parted ways with Yallop and his assistants after another loss on the weekend and installing Brian Bliss as head coach for the time being. Yallop won just 13 of 63 league games with the team, which has come under a lot of scrutiny this year.

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Nelson Rodríguez, a former MLS executive currently working for U.S. Soccer, was also announced as the team’s new general manager. His last MLS job was running Chivas USA after MLS acquired the team, so he has some experience in dire situations.

Chicago has won just twice in the second half of the year, and it currently has a three-game losing streak and four-game winless run going.

Whoever comes in as Yallop’s permanent replacement is going to have a tough task of reversing this year’s results.

Cascadia Cup never fails to provide entertainment

For the first time since 2011, the Seattle Sounders took home the Cascadia Cup after a 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s been a crazy season series between those two, with Seattle winning 2-0 and 3-0 on the road and Vancouver defeating the Sounders 3-0 at CenturyLink Field.

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Of course, this mini-competition has plenty of quirks within it. No team has clinched the trophy at home in the Pacific Northwest’s MLS era; it’s been won primarily on the road, except when the Whitecaps won it in 2013 after a game in which the team wasn’t involved.

In any case, the win leaves Seattle firmly within the playoff picture and perhaps with an outside chance of catching Vancouver at the top of the overall league table, with Sigi Schmid guiding the club through its summer doldrums and back toward its best form.

For the Whitecaps, it was a missed opportunity to climb farther above LA and FC Dallas, both losers on the weekend.

D.C.’s decline presents opportunity for others

The Columbus Crew defeated D.C. United in the nation’s capital on Saturday to temporarily jump to the top of the Eastern Conference with its fifth win in the last seven games. Meanwhile, D.C. has been moving the exact opposite direction, with four losses in the last five with the postseason fast approaching.

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Since winning a wild 6-4 match against RSL on Aug. 1, D.C. has only managed to score four goals in six games. In that span, Kei Kamara alone has scored six for the Crew and keeps creeping toward the single-season goalscoring record.

Columbus seemed like a dark-horse candidate to make noise in the East since the start of the year, especially with Kamara’s lethal ability in the penalty area.

The Red Bulls have been the obvious best team in the league in the second half of the year—and clinched a playoff spot with their win on Sunday—but Columbus isn’t far behind, meaning their game in two weeks could be one of the best of the season.

Week 29 Best XI

GOALKEEPER: Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

DEFENDERS: Damien Perquis (Toronto FC), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Damien Perrinelle (New York Red Bulls)

MIDFIELDERS: Gonzalo Pineda (Seattle Sounders), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Tranquillo Barnetta (Philadelphia Union), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Juan Manuel Martínez (Real Salt Lake)

FORWARDS: Devon Sandoval (Real Salt Lake), Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders)

MLS Power Rankings, Week 29
  • 1
    1New York Red Bulls
    last week: 1
    record: 14-8-6 | This week: 1-2 at New England, 2-0 at Portland
    Two goals right before halftime in Portland lifted the Red Bulls back to the top of the East and into the first official playoff berth in the league after a loss to New England saw the Revs temporarily go first.

  • 2
    2Columbus Crew
    last week: 3
    record: 13-9-8 | This week: 2-1 at D.C.
    The Crew jumped out to a 2-0 lead in D.C. and held off United’s comeback, also taking over first place in the East until the Red Bulls beat Portland.

  • 3
    3New England Revolution
    last week: 2
    record: 13-10-7 | This week: 2-1 vs. Red Bulls, 0-3 at Montreal
    The week started promisingly for the Revs, beating the Red Bulls to go top of the conference, but they couldn’t sustain that potential in a flat performance against the Impact.

  • 4
    4Seattle Sounders
    last week: 8
    record: 14-13-3 | This week: 3-0 at Vancouver
    The Sounders won the Cascadia Cup for the first time since 2011 with a win over the Whitecaps, but more importantly, Seattle also opened up a five-point gap on San Jose in seventh place.

  • 5
    5Vancouver Whitecaps
    last week: 4
    record: 15-11-3 | This week: 0-3 vs. Seattle
    It’s been a bizarre season series between the Whitecaps and Sounders, and Vancouver was on the wrong end of another lopsided—although justified—result on Saturday.

  • 6
    6Los Angeles Galaxy
    last week: 5
    record: 13-9-8 | This week: 0-3 at Salt Lake
    LA is now winless in three matches after its four-game winning streak ended, and it doesn’t look great when one of its most important players flew back and forth from England to commentate in midweek.

  • 7
    7FC Dallas
    last week: 6
    record: 14-9-5 | This week: 1-3 at Kansas City
    With Vancouver losing, Dallas’ loss in Kansas City becomes a missed opportunity to take over first in the West and first in the Supporters’ Shield standings.

  • 8
    8Montreal Impact
    last week: 11
    record: 10-11-6 | This week: 1-1 at San Jose, 3-0 vs. New England
    The Impact took on two teams that have been in good form and came out with four points, including all three in an emphatic home win over the Revs.

  • 9
    9Toronto FC
    last week: 10
    record: 12-13-4 | This week: 0-2 at NYCFC, 3-1 vs. Colorado
    Toronto isn’t really in danger of missing the playoffs unless something truly strange happens, but a franchise that has never made the postseason should probably make sure of that standing against teams such as NYCFC and the Rapids.

  • 10
    10Real Salt Lake
    last week: 14
    record: 10-11-8 | This week: 3-0 vs. LA
    Don’t count RSL out of the playoffs just yet; three wins in the last four, including a big one over the Galaxy, leave Jeff Cassar’s men–including brick-wall goalkeeper Nick Rimando–with hope.

  • 11
    11Portland Timbers
    last week: 7
    record: 11-10-8 | This week: 0-2 vs. Red Bulls
    Two quick goals undid the Timbers at home in an important match, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as Portland is winless in matches in which it trails at halftime this season.

  • 12
    12Sporting Kansas City
    last week: 13
    record: 12-8-8 | This week: 3-1 vs. Dallas
    SKC can finally breathe a little easier after winning for the first time in six games on Friday, ending Dallas’ three-game winning streak in the process.

  • 13
    13San Jose Earthquakes
    last week: 9
    record: 11-12-7 | This week: 1-1 vs. Montreal, 2-3 at NYCFC
    If San Jose doesn’t make the playoffs, it will look to this week’s poor results as the final nail in the coffin in what has been an inconsistent season.

  • 14
    14D.C. United
    last week: 12
    record: 13-11-6 | This week: 1-2 vs. Columbus
    After another late-season loss, D.C. hasn’t won in five games and has only won three of its last 11 dating back to a draw at Toronto in late June.

  • 15
    15New York City FC
    last week: 20
    record: 9-14-7 | This week: 2-0 vs. Toronto, 3-2 vs. San Jose
    For just the second time this season, NYCFC turned in two victories in a row, shooting the team up the standings to just two points outside the playoffs, albeit having played three more matches than Montreal.

  • 16
    16Orlando City SC
    last week: 17
    record: 9-13-8 | This week: 1-0 at Chicago
    It might not be too late for the Lions to make the playoffs, as Orlando’s two consecutive wins leave the team just one point behind Montreal, and the two teams face off on Oct. 3.

  • 17
    17Philadelphia Union
    last week: 18
    record:  9-15-6 | This week: 2-0 vs. Houston
    With a win over the Dynamo, Philadelphia is still only three points outside the playoffs, but that’s likely more of a moral victory at this point than an actual door-opener to the postseason.

  • 18
    18Houston Dynamo
    last week: 15
    record: 9-12-8 | This week: 0-2 at Philadelphia
    A flat two-goal loss in Philly all but eliminated Houston from playoff contention, leaving the team six points adrift with games remaining at Dallas and Vancouver and at home against Seattle.

  • 19
    19Colorado Rapids
    last week: 16
    record: 8-11-10 | This week: 1-3 at Toronto
    The Rapids have been by far the least productive attack this season, scoring 27 goals in 29 matches, leading the team to reportedly renew coach Pablo Mastroeni’s contract—but also hire him an “offensive-minded” assistant.

  • 20
    20Chicago Fire
    last week: 19
    record:  7-16-6 | This week: 0-1 vs. Orlando
    The hammer finally fell after the Fire’s 1-0 loss against Orlando, with coach Frank Yallop and staff getting fired and former MLS executive Nelson Rodríguez taking over as general manager.

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