MLS Power Rankings Week 17: New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers win big to cap the league's Rivalry Week.
With the Women’s World Cup and Copa América going on at the same time and the Gold Cup coming up, Major League Soccer needed something compelling to ensure it wouldn’t be buried on the virtual news stacks.
Rivalry Week delivered a couple of matches the league could be proud of at least in terms of buzz and atmosphere, most notably on Sunday in New York and Portland. Raucous crowds packed Yankee Stadium and Providence Park, and the Timbers Army treated the national television audience to another stunning tifo display ahead of a big win for the home team.
A couple lopsided results besides the Portland Timbers’ 4-1 win over the Seattle Sounders stand out from the scoreboard: the LA Galaxy dismantled Portland 5-0 just four days before it bounced back, with the Galaxy then getting bounced by the San Jose Earthquakes, 3-1.
Here are a few reflections on the past week in MLS play:
Rivalry Week still growing
While it’s a great marketing tool, and some of the matchups do fall into the category without a second look, MLS’s rivalries are clearly still developing. The fans seem to be into it, packing venues such as Stanford Stadium for San Jose’s win over LA, but the feeling isn’t quite there on the field yet.
Real rivalries grow organically, fed by time and history, and two decades of MLS franchise existence in the longest cases just isn’t enough; think of the great English derbies that have been around since the earliest days of the game.
The most obvious exception to this argument is in the Pacific Northwest, where the triangle among Portland, Seattle and the Vancouver Whitecaps was nurtured in the lower divisions and previous American leagues for decades. When the franchises were granted access to MLS, it brought those feelings back, but those three cities have been playing each other under the same names for twice as long as MLS has existed.
Nagbe shows signs of life in big Cascadia win
Darlington Nagbe gave Portland an early lead against short-handed Seattle with his net-ripping strike from distance, adding an assist later to secure a 4-1 win. The game was an important reminder that Nagbe can still be a difference maker, and when he delivers, his team tends to do well.
He’s never been primarily a goalscoring forward, but it was just the second goal in 53 league appearances for a guy who used to dazzle on a weekly basis with his ability in the final third. Those moments don't come as often as they used to, but the Timbers could really use more of them with Diego Valeri still trying to shake off an ACL tear at age 29.
More than giving Portland one-off wins, when Nagbe plays to his highest level, it usually coincides with the Timbers playing the style coach Caleb Porter instilled two years ago. The league needs more of that kind of attacking football, which Porter's newfound practicality doesn't always deliver.
Galaxy come back to Earth–for now
LA manager Bruce Arena doesn’t typically sugarcoat things for the media. His comments are a 3-1 loss to the Earthquakes remained true to that pattern.
“You can use all your theories that you want,” he told reporters after the game. “We just couldn’t do anything simple and right, [starting] from giving away the ball leading to their first goal. From that point on, we were no good.”
Arena’s frustrations with his team are understandable, as it hasn’t really sustained a high level of performance despite sitting fifth in the overall league table and smashing Portland, 5-0, on Wednesday. LA hasn’t won more than twice in a row this season yet, but its season-long five-game streak came well into the second half of 2014, so Arena’s men are still ahead of their usual schedule for peaking.
Might Pirlo have any second thoughts?
After being spotted at Yankee Stadium with Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo seems to be closer than ever to signing with New York City FC. It would be interesting to know their true feelings after watching their future team (or potential future team still, in Pirlo’s case) lose 3-1 to the New York Red Bulls in person, though.
Coach Jason Kreis questioned his team’s work rate after the game, but the structure has been even more questionable so far this year. Besides David Villa and goalkeeper Josh Saunders, it seems like most of the players are still trying to figure out what their best position is and how that fits into what Kreis wants from the group despite the club hitting its best run of league form entering Sunday's rivalry clash.
NYCFC mathematically reached the halfway point of their league season on Sunday, but the third time the Red Bulls and NYCFC meet on Aug. 9, Pirlo and Lampard could both be in the lineup with Villa. That game could provide a good measuring stick of how far the team has come since its typical expansion struggles.
Week 17 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: David Ousted (Vancouver Whitecaps)
DEFENDERS: Fabinho (Philadelphia Union), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls)
MIDFIELDERS: Matías Pérez García (San Jose Earthquakes), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
FORWARDS: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers), Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew)