Monday July 25th, 2016

This week, we were only two minutes from history. Two minutes from a feat that had not been seen in the previous 9,141 matches of Major League Soccer. Then Joevin Jones spoiled it.

In any other context, the Seattle Sounders defender’s hopeless effort from distance in the 88th minute against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday might not have seemed like anything special. But on that steamy evening at Children’s Mercy Park prevented the Seattle Sounders from becoming the first team in MLS history from going an entire game without registering a single shot–on target or otherwise. 

I’ve been watching MLS, at various levels of professionalism, since the league’s inception. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen a team so thoroughly listless in its play as the Sounders were in Sunday’s 3-0 loss. Perhaps no single play sums this up better than Dom Dwyer’s second goal. 

Forwards pouncing on bad back passes is nothing new, of course. But even within that sad, ignominious genre, this goal is something special. The weight of Zach Scott’s pass is off, but so is the direction. and so is the energy level of Scott and Tyrone Mears (the supposed recipient) in the immediate aftermath. For that matter, even Dwyer was slow to react! The ball seems to just sit there, baking in the Wyandotte County sunshine, for about three split seconds longer than it ever should in a top-level soccer game, before Dwyer finally said “fine, I’ll get it.” 

It may seem like I’m pouncing on an outlier here, and that the entirely of Seattle’s performance couldn’t be fairly judged against that play. I assure you that is not the case. This was a disastrous showing in a season full of them, and at this point Seattle’s biggest dilemma might be figuring who or what to blame for the current debacle. 

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Could it be the heat? Perhaps. Fieldside temperatures in Kansas City reached 106 degrees. Meanwhile, the Seattle area has only occasionally touched low-80 degree temperatures this summer. But then, hot temperatures in MLS are nothing new, the Sounders have lost plenty of games recently in more forgivable climates, and ultimately these players are professionals for whom effort shouldn’t be negotiable.

U.S. national team strikers Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris played 90 minutes on Sunday but you would barely know it watching the game. The midfield didn’t show much inclination to close people down, and for that matter neither did the defense. In the 62nd minute, SKC’s Connor Hallisey failed to capitalize on this when he first-timed a shot when he had time to take a touch and pick a spot to place his first MLS goal. Normally, no...but this incident took place on the edge of the six-yard box. The Sounders simply quit. 

So...could it be the coach? Sigi Schmid is the only boss this team has ever known at the MLS level, and maybe after seven years at the helm his message is finally beginning to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps the problem is higher up the food chain. General manager Garth Lagerwey has assembled a roster that hasn’t done enough to cover the losses of Obafemi Martins up top, or Roman Torres at the back, and a midfield that crumbles anytime Osvaldo Alonso isn’t on the field (as he wasn’t on Sunday).

As with most things in life, the solution to complete disaster isn’t singular. Many things have worked against Seattle’s chances in recent weeks (save for the outlying 5-0 win over a second-string FC Dallas), and many of those same things came to a head on Sunday night. At the very least, Seattle avoided being part of an unpleasant bit of history. 

Offensive player of the week: Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact

Didier Drogba got the headlines because of his hat trick, but Piatti fed him two of those goals on a silver platter and scored one himself in the Impact’s 5-1 rout of the Philadelphia Union. When he’s on his game, Piatti is among the cream of the crop of playmakers in MLS, and it’s not just because of his assists. Check out his perfect first touch before assisting on Drogba’s third: 

Or the ridiculous blind-side lofted chip right to the feet of the winger, before gathering himself at the top of the box and finishing with aplomb for his goal: 

Other players in MLS may get more headlines and land on more highlight reels, but very few conjure more little bits of magic over the course of a game than Piatti does in top form. 

Defensive player of the week: Alex Muyl, New York Red Bulls 

It may be against the rules to choose a non-defender for this award, and even more against the rules to go with an attacking midfielder. But of the action I saw this weekend, no player impressed me with his defensive workrate as much as Muyl, the 20-year-old homegrown product that will see increased time with the Red Bulls with Lloyd Sam shipped off to D.C. United. Muyl was a dynamo in the Red Bulls’ 4-1 win over NYCFC, executing Jesse Marsch’s high pressure to perfection and making subtle attacking contributions as well. He never allowed NYCFC to get comfortable. I’m excited to see more. 

MLS Power Rankings, Week 20
 
  • 1
    1Colorado Rapids
     
    last week: 1
    record: 10-2-8
    A win against FC Dallas would have been nice, but when Victor Ulloa scores a goal like he did, sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and accept your fate. At this point, anything that extends the Rapids’ ridiculous unbeaten run (now tied for fourth-longest in league history at 15 games) makes it hard to bring them down off the top spot in these rankings.

  • 2
    2LA Galaxy
     
    last week: 2
    record: 9-3-8
    The Galaxy scored early at Portland, instantly taking the crowd a little bit out of the game before clinging to a one-goal lead. It was a professional performance from the Galaxy, who got good performances from names big (Robbie Keane, Jelle Van Damme, Gyasi Zardes) and small (Emmanuel Boateng, Brian Rowe).

  • 3
    3FC Dallas
     
    last week: 4
    record: 12-6-5
    A point on the road at a tough place to play against one of the league’s elite teams is nothing to sniff at. Ulloa’s goal aside, FC Dallas created several good chances in this game while also remaining disciplined in defense. The reported imminent transfer involving Fabian Castillo might unsettle this team going forward, but its depth is such that even if he leaves it won’t be a death sentence for FCD’s 2016 MLS Cup hopes (though it will hurt quite a bit).

  • 4
    4New York Red Bulls
     
    last week: 6
    record: 9-9-4
    A 4-1 win over NYCFC isn’t just good for morale reasons, it also places the Red Bulls firmly in the race for top spot in the Eastern Conference. Bradley Wright-Phillips continued his great form against the blue half of New York with a brace, and Sacha Kjlestan’s two assists establish him as the league leader in that category.

  • 5
    5New York City FC
     
    last week: 3
    record: 9-7-6
    NYCFC looked nothing like the side that has been rocketing up these rankings in the last several weeks, as it lost 4-1 to rivals New York Red Bulls in the latest installment of the Hudson River Derby. Tommy McNamara’s outstanding goal was the lone bright spot for NYCFC, which let frustrations get the better of them on the field and off–coach Patrick Vieira was sent off in the first half, and David Villa, R.J. Allen, Federico Bravo, and Ethan White will all be suspended next week due to either yellow card accumulation or ejections.

  • 6
    6Montreal Impact
     
    last week: 9
    record: 7-5-8
    It figures that the moment worry starts to build about the form of Didier Drogba, the Ivorian breaks out with a hat trick and all seems to be right again in Montreal. The Impact were fantastic on Saturday thanks in large part to Piatti (as explained above), and could jump to the top of the Eastern Conference with a few more performances like this one.

  • 7
    7Portland Timbers
     
    last week: 5
    record: 7-7-8
    Just when the Timbers seemed to be gaining a bit of momentum with a nine-match unbeaten run, they were dealt a double blow over the weekend. A 2-1 loss at home to a Western Conference rival is bad enough, but defensive linchpin Nat Borchers suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in the game and is now out for the season.

  • 8
    8Philadelphia Union
     
    last week: 7
    record: 8-7-6
    Are the wheels coming off the Union bandwagon? Jim Curtin’s side enjoyed a strong start to the season and a nice lead in the East, but a 5-1 loss to Montreal is just the latest in a bad run for Philly (which was also dumped from the U.S. Open Cup on PKs mid-week). If it’s just a bad run of form, they’ll be hoping to snap out of it soon.

  • 9
    9Toronto FC
     
    last week: 10
    record: 7-7-6
    The TFC side we were supposed to see this season finally made another appearance after a prolonged slump, beating D.C. United 4-1 in a game that featured a hat trick from Sebastian Giovinco. Perhaps the most impactful bit of positivity might be the return of Jozy Altidore from injury. If he’s able to be a reliable second option to Giovinco in the last third of the season, TFC may be in business.

  • 10
    10Real Salt Lake
     
    last week: 8
    record: 8-6-7
    Coming back to get a positive result is nice, but Friday’s 1-1 home draw against San Jose will still probably count as a disappointment. Salt Lake had numerous chances to get all three points but couldn’t capitalize, leaving the club still in search of its first win in a month.

  • 11
    11Vancouver Whitecaps
     
    last week: 11
    record: 8-8-6
    You’d think that a 0-0 draw against the Houston Dynamo might indicate that this game featured an improved defense from Vancouver. You’d be wrong. David Ousted was forced into action time and time again in this game, making a handful of incredible saves to keep his team in the game.

  • 12
    12New England Revolution
     
    last week: 13
    record: 6-7-8
    The Revolution gave the Chicago Fire plenty of gifts, but ended up capitalizing on one themselves as they got a late goal in a 1-0 win. The victory is the latest in a string of three positive results for the Revs, who also made it to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals on Wednesday. The lack of production production from a talented corps of forwards is still concerning, though.

  • 13
    13Sporting Kansas City
     
    last week: 15
    record: 9-10-4
    As explained above, Sporting KC was the beneficiary of playing a Seattle team that appears to have completely given up, so it’s hard to put a whole lot of stock in its 3-0 win...especially when it could have been won by many more. Dom Dwyer’s two goals might be the jolt the team’s attack needs to hold playoff position in a tough Western Conference, though.

  • 14
    14D.C. United
     
    last week: 12
    record: 5-8-7
    D.C. United was forced to play backup goalkeeper Travis Worra due to a wrist injury to Bill Hamid, and he performed as well as you could expect a keeper to play in a 4-1 loss. Worra made six saves on the night but was beaten by a pair of brilliant Giovinco free kicks, part of 20 total shots he had to consider over the course of 90 minutes.

  • 15
    15Orlando City SC
     
    last week: 14
    record: 4-5-11
    It seemed from the start of the season that Orlando would have a chance to be this season’s draw kings, and that has proven to be the case as the team earned its 11th tie of the campaign against Columbus on Tuesday. In the last game before Jason Kreis takes charge, Orlando fought back from 2-0 down to even things at 2-2, with Kevin Molino instrumental. It’s not a win, but it’s something to build upon as the club heads into a new managerial era.

  • 16
    16San Jose Earthquakes
     
    last week: 16
    record: 6-6-8
    The biggest positive to take away from this week for San Jose is that Chris Wondolowski finally ended his scoring drought. Outside of that, a point away from home at RSL is a good, positive result, but Dominic Kinnear’s side is still looking for its first away win of the season. One, maybe two of those, and San Jose is right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

  • 17
    17Columbus Crew SC
     
    last week: 17
    record: 3-7-10
    Federico Higuain made his return for the Crew, but Columbus allowed two second-half goals from Orlando in a 2-2 draw at home. Ola Kamara continued his outstanding form with yet another goal (albeit on a PK), but Columbus, an MLS Cup finalist a season ago, might be too far back in the standings to make a serious playoff push at this point.

  • 18
    18Houston Dynamo
     
    last week: 19
    record: 4-9-7
    Erick “Cubo” Torres is finally getting some extended time on the field, but even though he looked dangerous he couldn’t find a breakthrough as Houston drew 0-0 with Vancouver. Interim coach Wade Barrett has the team playing better in the post-Owen Coyle era, but results have yet to come.

  • 19
    19Chicago Fire
     
    last week: 18
    record: 4-10-5
    The Fire were so close to earning a useful draw on the road before Sean Johnson came out to grab a corner kick, missed the ball, and allowed an easy header into the net for a 1-0 loss at New England. The result will hurt even more considering that Chicago had multiple good chances to score in this game

  • 20
    20Seattle Sounders
     
    last week: 20
    record: 6-12-2
    Read the top of this story. Need I say more?

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