With the sideshow of the FIFA presidential election and officials being arrested in Zurich, it’s been difficult to keep focus on the field this week. Nonetheless, Major League Soccer rolled on with 13 games, doing its best to remind fans that the game itself is still most important.
Several of those games offered drama of a much friendlier kind, as the first 15 minutes and last 15 minutes of games provided a combined 13 goals. One goal or fewer separated the teams in nine of this week’s matches.
Here are a few thoughts on a typically close 13th round of MLS action:
When Dallas loses, it loses big
After three 1-0 games on Wednesday, Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas played one of the least dramatic games of the week, with SKC winning 4-0.
It’s been a rough second half of May for Dallas, which is now winless in three matches.
Óscar Pareja’s team has only lost four games this season, but three of those were by wide margins: Friday’s 4-0 loss, the same result against the Colorado Rapids and a 3-1 loss to the Portland Timbers. The other came against the Montreal Impact, 2-1, to kick off the current winless streak.
Dallas has been streaky the last couple years in general, rattling off consecutive wins followed by similar droughts. It’s a risky way to try to win in MLS, considering that one bad game usually means playoff elimination—and a cold streak at the wrong time precludes making the postseason entirely.
Sounders learning to grind out results
After a frustrating scoreless draw against Sporting KC last week, the Seattle Sounders found a way through two other defensive teams with contrasting approaches this week. The Rapids conceded early and couldn’t muster a response, while the New York Red Bulls’ high-pressure system waned late in the game.
Despite not playing at 100 percent of its potential in any of the last three games, this stretch has still been an important learning moment for Seattle this season. Sigi Schmid’s team took its lessons from the SKC draw and didn’t let two more home games slip by without finding a way to win them.
The Sounders have figured out how to win when they don’t play well—and they haven’t really wowed the league yet besides their 3-0 first-week win.
In the process, Seattle has amassed the league’s best goal difference by a wide margin at plus-10.
Four-goal MLS Cup rematch ends in a draw
On a slippery turf field at Gillette Stadium, the LA Galaxy and New England Revolution traded blows to draw 2-2. It was their first meeting since the 2014 MLS Cup final, and they scored all four goals in a chaotic first half.
Bruce Arena summed it up well in his halftime TV interview, saying he didn’t think either team really had much control over proceedings. It went the exact opposite direction in the second half, with neither squad wanting to concede again, and the exciting start gave way to a lethargic finish (An exciting start that included this peach of a back-heel assist from Jose Villarreal to Gyasi Zardes):
The best MLS games from a neutral’s standpoint this year have often been those back-and-forth affairs where neither team can really put its stamp on the tempo and flow. However, the team that figures out how to take games by the scruff and smother opponents’ momentum in this sea of parity will find the consistency that winning championships requires.
Nearly half of week’s matches decided in last quarter-hour
Oftentimes, the toughest thing to do in leagues where the teams are as closely packed as MLS is close out games. This week proved no different, as six of the 13 games were decided by goals in the last quarter-hour.
Of the 308 goals in league play so far, 63 have come in minute 76 or later, the most of any 15-minute span by at least 10 goals over the other time frames. In one of the crazier finishes of the season, Sam Cronin and Jack Jewsbury traded late strikes as the Portland Timbers conceded an equalizer to Colorado and then went ahead again just before the final whistle.
It was also a busy week in the first 15 minutes of games. Fans not in their seats at the start of seven of the games might have missed early goals—including all three game-winners on Wednesday.
Week 13 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
DEFENDERS: Fabinho (Philadelphia Union), Kevin Ellis (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC)
MIDFIELDERS: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Gershon Koffie (Vancouver Whitecaps), Gastón Fernández (Portland Timbers)
FORWARDS: Marco Pappa (Seattle Sounders), Kennedy Igboananike (Chicago Fire), Krisztian Németh (Sporting Kansas City)
Seattle hit first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings for the first time this season since Week 1 after grinding out two difficult wins at home.
After two straight losses, the Whitecaps are right back near the top of the Western Conference following an important home win over RSL.
After a midweek loss to the Timbers, D.C. did what it couldn’t do two weeks prior and beat Philadelphia, albeit the match was at home this time.
Lloyd Sam scored in the first half, but the Red Bulls couldn’t make it stand as the game-winner after conceding twice in the second, including in stoppage time, at CenturyLink Field.
The Galaxy earned a win at home and a draw on the road in an adequate four-point week, and LA will be even better once Robbie Keane regains full fitness.
Sixth-year head coach Peter Vermes earned his 100th win in all competitions for the only team he’s managed in an emphatic win over Dallas. It marked the third time this season–and second in three games–that Sporting KC scored four goals.
Dallas was on the receiving end of its second four-goal defeat of the season, but it was only 1-0 before Zach Loyd saw his second yellow card, just before halftime.
After narrowly losing its first game in a renovated BMO Field, Toronto has gone 3-0 at home—and didn’t lose its one match on the road since then, either.
One win in its last four games and just two in its last 10 has Salt Lake precariously near the bottom of the West, just four points ahead of Colorado—but also just two out of a playoff spot.
Redemption is a silly narrative because no regular-season win can make up for losing a final the year before, but the Revs would have gladly taken a victory over LA after scoring in the fifth minute on Sunday. The club will surely hope that Jermaine Jones's groin injury won't keep him out long.
The Earthquakes outshot Toronto 17-14 but only put two efforts on target, including Chris Wondolowski’s penalty for an early equalizer, as they failed to test Chris Konopka in goal.
Portland beat D.C. with a solitary goal in the fifth minute, followed by giving up an equalizer in the 89th against Colorado before Jack Jewsbury scored late into stoppage time for the Timbers’ second win of the week.
Columbus relinquished the lead it earned against Orlando in the 89th minute despite Michael Parkhurst’s early red card, wasting a good chance for its first win in three games. Kei Kamara has hit double figures in goals already, with 10 in 12 matches.
Pedro Ribeiro returned early from a hamstring strain to salvage a point against 10-man Columbus with his last-minute golazo from 25 yards.
The bland draw against NYCFC, just-below-.500 record and even goal difference tells the story of Houston’s season so far: a team that hasn’t really been exceptionally good or bad.
The Fire’s first win in five games kept it above the red line in the standings and gives it hope for another good run of results; last time Chicago won, it was part of a three-game streak of victories.
The Rapids couldn’t build on last week’s win over the Whitecaps, losing two one-goal games this week despite keeping both Portland and Seattle fairly close throughout 90 minutes.
With a second win this month over D.C., the Union could have done what seemed nearly impossible at the beginning of May and jumped into a playoff spot in the East.
The Impact’s spot in the league hierarchy is still difficult to judge because of its minimum of three games in hand on conference opponents, but those matches don’t mean anything if Montreal can’t get results.
David Villa scored his first goal in over a month, doing so from the penalty spot, but NYCFC’s winless streak extended to 11 games as it conceded again in the first half-hour—its nine goals against in that time frame is highest in MLS.