David Ousted saved two penalties to help the Vancouver Whitecaps take the top spot in the MLS Power Rankings after week 16.
Games are starting to come in droves for Major League Soccer teams. A full weekend schedule awaited after all 17 American teams played U.S. Open Cup matches in midweek, and next week’s fixtures don’t get any lighter.
The league has been trying to cut down on midweek games because of poorer attendance numbers, but Wednesday features seven league games, followed by nine on the weekend. This will be the first time the majority of MLS teams will be in action twice in one week.
Before then, though, MLS returned to full swing after a light week to prepare for Open Cup participation. The new competition helped some teams build momentum—including the LA Galaxy, who won two games by wide margins—but it seriously hurt others, such as the Seattle Sounders.
Here are a few thoughts after Week 16 of the MLS season:
MLS dominant in Open Cup, with two exceptions
Only Seattle and the Portland Timbers’ Open Cup kerfuffle featured two MLS teams; the rest of the round’s 16 matches pitted one of the country’s top-tier teams against a lower opponent. On all but two occasions, the MLS team emerged as the winner.
Those two exceptions are notable, as both one United Soccer League and one North American Soccer League team defeated an MLS opponent. The expansion Charlotte Independence, its team stocked with a good number of players who played in MLS and coached by former MLS coach Mike Jeffries, defeated a second-string New England Revolution lineup.
The biggest noise came from the Big Apple, though, where the New York Cosmos continued their bid for NYC dominance with a shootout win over New York City FC despite Kwadwo Poku’s two goals.
The Cosmos set up another all-New York matchup with the Red Bulls in the round of 16.
The Independence and Cosmos are trying to become the first non-MLS team in an Open Cup final since the Charleston Battery made it in 2008—and the first to win the competition since the Rochester Rhinos in 1999.
Tough week for Seattle, but Portland rising
Portland’s big week in two competitions came partly at the expense of its biggest rival in the Emerald City. A comfortable 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo followed two extra-time goals in a wild game featuring three Seattle red cards–including one to Clint Dempsey that rules the U.S. national team captain out of action through the end of the month.
Seattle's miserable week continued on the weekend with a 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps still sit higher in the standings, but since a disappointing 1-0 loss in Toronto in late May, the Timbers have quietly climbed the table.
“I challenged them that things needed to change—things needed to be better,” manager Caleb Porter said after defeating Houston.
The Timbers have outscored their opponents 10-2 in the five games since then, heading into a tough week at LA and against Seattle again.
Galaxy making their annual climb?
Perhaps it took going down an early goal to an amateur team to wake up the Galaxy. PSA Elite, the last remaining non-professional team in the Open Cup, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on Wednesday, but LA responded mightily and won 6-1.
Robbie Keane bagged a hat trick, and the team could consider itself satisfied despite the early blip. Considering the continuation of the goalscoring frenzy over the weekend, maybe LA owes its SoCal neighbor a hearty thank you.
The Galaxy hadn’t won a league game in three efforts, and besides consecutive wins over the Dynamo and Real Salt Lake, had hardly won since mid-April. On Saturday, five players scored to give LA a 5-1 win over the Philadelphia Union and announce that the team might be ready to start its annual run toward the top of the table.
Ousted, displaced Whitecaps get it right
After stumbling in the first match of their monthlong exile from B.C. Place for the Women’s World Cup, the Whitecaps have won two tough road tests in MLS. They defeated LA, 1-0, two weeks ago before dispatching the Red Bulls, 2-1, on Saturday.
This latest match was the wildest of the Week 16 slate, featuring two penalty saves by David Ousted and two misses by reigning Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Cuban-born 19-year-old Kianz Froese capped it with his first professional goal that proved to be the winner.
Vancouver’s isn't quite as long as Toronto FC’s road streak to start the season while it waited for BMO Field renovations to finish, but TFC did offer a valuable lesson on how to handle such a stretch. If you can come away with a decent record, the reward of playing several important matches at home late in the season could be worth it.
Week 16 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps)
DEFENDERS: Jorge Villafaña (Portland Timbers), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), R.J. Allen (New York City FC)
MIDFIELDERS: Baggio Husidić (LA Galaxy), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Matías Pérez García (San Jose Earthquakes), Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS: Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Rolfe (D.C. United)