The struggling teams struck back in Major League Soccer in Week 11.
The Montreal Impact routed Real Salt Lake 4-1 for its first win after a deep CONCACAF Champions League run; wobbling Orlando City routed the defending champion LA Galaxy 4-0; and the Philadelphia Union scored in stoppage time to defeat first-place D.C. United 1-0. Even 10-man NYCFC battled back from a 2-0 hole to salvage a point off the Chicago Fire. Those results personified more MLS unpredictability, as no team sits farther than five points out of a playoff place nearly three months into the season.
As the Galaxy learned with its shorthanded lineup in Orlando, any team can win, especially if the opponent doesn't play to its full potential. To the Galaxy's credit, they manned up and made light of the poor showing with this "highlight" reel:
Elsewhere, in one of the league’s pre-eminent mini-competitions, the Seattle Sounders extended their lead in the Cascadia Cup, showcasing their forward depth to nab a win north of the border.
Here are a few thoughts on the 11th week of the 2015 MLS campaign:
Being an expansion team isn’t supposed to be easy
With the resources and infrastructure in place between the two new teams in MLS this year, a lot was expected heading into the season. Don’t forget, though, that expansion teams have–save for a select few–always struggled in the league.
Even after Orlando City SC’s explosion against the Galaxy, the Lions and New York City FC have just four combined wins in 22 matches in their first season. Since the champion Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion made the playoffs in 1998, the Seattle Sounders are the only team of eight expansion franchises to do so in their first season.
Orlando City president Phil Rawlins is under no illusion, preaching patience and support for manager Adrian Heath.
The struggles might have caught NYCFC coach Jason Kreis by surprise—he admitted, “I didn’t realize it would be this difficult” after losing to Seattle on May 3—but the team has shown good character to fight through red-card adversity in its last two matches, even if it hasn’t won since Week 2.
Montreal finally brings CCL form to MLS
The Montreal of the Champions League made a rare league appearance on Saturday, burying the league’s previous regional finalist, Real Salt Lake, 4-1. The Impact went up two goals in the first 20 minutes and added a third before halftime, effectively sealing the result less than 45 minutes into the game.
The same kind of dynamic attacking movement between Ignacio Piatti and Andrés Romero, with Dilly Duka popping up interstitially, picked apart the RSL defense. Jámison Olave looked slow to react all game, and Elías Vásquez conceded a penalty for the second straight week, but Piatti hit the post with his effort.
Montreal’s attacking explosion eclipsed its output from the previous five league games combined, when the Impact scored three times.
With between three and six games in hand on the rest of the league, Montreal still has plenty of time to make up the difference in points, now just five out of a playoff spot.
Sounders take Cascadia Cup advantage
The Sounders have a two-point edge over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Cascadia Cup after their 2-0 win at B.C. Place on Saturday, despite playing one less match in the competition than both Vancouver and the Portland Timbers. The victory was also Seattle’s first win at B.C. Place (though they won their only match at Empire Field in 2011).
Obafemi Martins didn’t even travel with the team due to a tibial contusion that gave him trouble throughout the week, leaving coach Sigi Schmid to give Chad Barrett another chance in the lineup. He scored both goals and talked after the game about the reality of playing behind Martins and Clint Dempsey.
“We have Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey up top,” Barrett told the Seattle Times. “I’m not an idiot. … Playing time had been a bit scarce for me and I told [Schmid], ‘I don’t know if you lost faith in me, but give it back to me and I’ll reward you.’ ”
With his brace, the journeyman forward again proved his value in providing depth on an MLS roster.
D.C. slips, but still remains at the top
Character and tenacity don’t lack for D.C., a team that reflects coach Ben Olsen’s personality well. It’s not often a pretty game when United is involved, but opposing teams almost never leave RFK Stadium in a good mood.
After going down an early goal against Orlando on Wednesday, D.C. scored in the 70th and 79th minutes to pull out its second late win over the Lions already this season. United also hasn’t lost at home in any competition since last June, 19 games ago.
United narrowly lost to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday in their second nationally televised game of the week, 1-0 at PPL Park, but still remain neck-and-neck with FC Dallas in the Supporters' Shield race.
D.C. had been the most ruthless team so far in terms of taking advantage of its opportunities until Sunday’s loss. Fellow challengers Dallas and the New York Red Bulls canceled each other out in a scoreless draw on Friday, while Vancouver lost and the New England Revolution could only get a point at home against Toronto FC—all with a chance to jump to the top.
Week 11 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
DEFENDERS: Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders), Felipe Martins (New York Red Bulls), Kaká (Orlando City SC)
FORWARDS: Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo), Chad Barrett (Seattle Sounders), Andrés Romero (Montreal Impact)