It was another crazy week in Major League Soccer, where two or more goals separated teams in six of nine matches. And one of the closer games, the Chicago Fire’s 1-0 win over the Seattle Sounders, saw one of the league’s bottom teams knock off another close to the top.
Personnel losses, through injury and international call-ups, made the usually close matches in MLS even more chaotic and unpredictable. Results included the New York Red Bulls’ 4-1 win over the New England Revolution, the Montreal Impact beating the Columbus Crew, 3-0, and New York City FC drawing Toronto FC, 4-4.
Teams across the league primarily felt the strain of losing players to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, with all but two teams sending men to the tournament. D.C. United had the week off, but the New England Revolution lost despite having all of its national team players available (minus an injured Jermaine Jones, of course).
Here are a few thoughts on the week in MLS:
Squad depth continues to be tested—and exposed
The midseason MLS slog is in full swing, and with the Gold Cup nearing the end of the group stage, almost every MLS team has been affected by call-ups. In total, according to pre-game notes provided by the league and its teams, 39 players missed out on games this week for national team duty.
FC Dallas and Toronto FC were hit hardest, missing five players each, while the Revs didn’t lose any. In the most impacted match, Dallas’ 2-0 win over Orlando City SC featured two teams missing a total of seven players. Designated Players also missed out, including Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wondolowski.
Those losses become more crucial with the usual injuries that hit at this time of year.
The Lions played with just four non-goalkeepers on the bench because of Kaká’s suspension and various injuries, and the Seattle Sounders have played five straight games, scoring just twice, without both Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey (not to mention the Gold Cup also claiming Marco Pappa and Brad Evans).
Giovinco takes center stage Yankee Stadium
A dramatic game between NYCFC and Toronto FC wove back and forth and was eventually settled as a 4-4 draw on Sunday. The match featured eight goals, four penalties and a hat trick in a nine-minute span (although not a lot of defending) in one of the most memorable matches of the season.
Sebastian Giovinco continued his first-season rampage through MLS by scoring the first hat trick in TFC franchise history, which started with a penalty and followed a previous attempt from the spot that he missed. After polishing off a quick three goals in the first half, he added one last piece of magic to assist what should have been the winning goal in the 82nd minute, but Patrick Mullins scored two minutes later to tie it for good.
This match was the latest example in MLS showing that high-scoring games can be highly entertaining, even if the quality of play still lacks in some aspects. That missing piece at Yankee Stadium was the defending on both sides, as Giovinco exploited multiple gaps in the home team’s defense, while Warren Creavalle’s dismal clearance gifted Mullins his late strike.
Gerrard plays while Lampard heals
It was just a friendly, but Steven Gerrard finally joined his LA Galaxy teammates on the pitch on Saturday. Meanwhile, across the country, Frank Lampard was ruled out of making his New York City FC debut with a calf injury picked up in training.
Gerrard played in attacking midfield during the first half of a 2-1 Galaxy win over Club América. He showed glimpses of his superior vision and soccer IQ that have hardly waned at age 35. He’s not completely settled yet, but as that comfort increases, he should only play more of a role for LA.
“It was good to get 45 minutes under my belt, and I'll keep getting better and better, and the more I get used to my teammates, I'll improve," Gerrard said after the game. He’ll have time to adjust before the Galaxy really hit their stride in the playoffs, if the team follows past years’ form, where he could be a big difference-maker.
And it certainly helps to be reunited with former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane, who scored this peach of a goal against América:
Rapids and RSL leave action for late
Speaking of wild games, the Colorado Rapids and Real Salt Lake played a relatively calm encounter until the last 11 minutes plus stoppage time, when all four goals were scored. With the 3-1 win, Colorado only needs to avoid losing by more than one goal in the last match between the two to win the Rocky Mountain Cup for just the second time since 2006.
Sebastian Jaime scored the go-ahead go for RSL in the 79th minute, but Drew Moor quickly equalized two minutes later. Jaime then saw a straight red card in the 84th, and the Rapids scored twice in stoppage time to win the match. Charles Eloundou, off the bench in the 73rd, provided two assists and hit the post before Jared Watts scored the team’s second.
The end of the match was another nightmare for RSL in a season that has had too many already. The team now sits next to last in the Western Conference, its lowest placement since being at the bottom after a poor start to the 2010 season—but this time feels far more frustrating and serious, since it isn’t following an MLS Cup win a few months earlier.
Week 19 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City)
DEFENDERS: Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Raúl Rodríguez (Houston Dynamo), Drew Moor (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS: Cristián Maidana (Philadelphia Union), Vincent Nogueira (Philadelphia Union), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Lloyd Sam (New York Red Bulls)
FORWARDS: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)