Andrea Pirlo announced his arrival in Major League Soccer with a typically cerebral half-hour performance on Sunday, having a hand in both of New York City FC's late goals in a wild 5-3 win over Orlando City. Overall, it was another attack-minded week in the league, with multiple players scoring multiple goals and eight teams putting away three or more. In all, 39 goals were scored in the last three days, and more than one team blew a multiple-goal lead.
David Villa and Cyle Larin scored two and three goals, respectively, in a crazy eight-goal encounter that saw NYCFC defeat Orlando City, 5-3. Michael Barrios also scored twice for FC Dallas in a 4-1 demolition of the Portland Timbers.
There's more firepower on the way, too. Didier Drogba could soon join the league as its newest big-name signing, while Frank Lampard's long-awaited debut remains in the cards. Giovani Dos Santos, fresh off a CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph with Mexico, is slated to join the LA Galaxy now that his international duty is complete.
The league's starpower will be on display Wednesday night, when MLS takes on Tottenham in the All-Star Game. Here are a few thoughts on the last week before the summer showcase:
A Pirlo Party in entertaining debut
NYCFC and Orlando kicked off the 2015 season by facing each other in their first matches as MLS franchises. Sunday’s was also an entertaining, albeit far more explosive, game.
While Kaká nearly made for an identical finish–instead of equalizing on a free kick at the death like he did in March he hit the post with his effort Sunday–it was his ex-AC Milan teammate who wound up in the spotlight.
Pirlo’s debut took most of the attention, as the Italian has already seemed to change his team’s dynamic. Manager Jason Kreis’s efforts to instill a passing style similar to what he had at Real Salt Lake were proving to be futile up to this point, but having Pirlo changes everything.
“We’ve been playing the ball way too long and we haven’t really played the ball right,” fellow Designated Player David Villa said after the game. “Now, there will be no more long ball, when Pirlo is in the game.”
Winning streak propels Dallas back to top
FC Dallas is back at the top of the overall league table after a resounding 4-1 win over Portland (and one that was devoid of a postgame fracas between Óscar Pareja and Caleb Porter). It was the team’s fifth win in a row, giving it the longest streak of the season and its first to reach a handful of games since 1999.
Pareja’s team has proven to be particularly ruthless in the attacking third, with Mauro Díaz’s playmaking ability setting up Fabián Castillo and—when he’s not on international duty—Blas Pérez to finish. Couple that with Dan Kennedy and Matt Hedges’s leadership in the back, and Dallas seems to be a quietly well-rounded team.
Still, a season-long four-game winning streak at about this time last year didn’t lead to the kind of playoff success that such a run would indicate is possible. Maintaining focus in the last 10 or so rounds of the season will be crucial for Dallas to shed the label of an inconsistent team in crunch time.
RSL nets important home win
After a couple of months in a downward spiral, Real Salt Lake is just three points out of a playoff spot. A second 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City at home this season on Saturday gave the team three victories in a row (in all competitions) and some newfound confidence. And all this despite the club dealing influential striker Alvaro Saborio to D.C. United.
“This locker room is buzzing right now,” goalkeeper Jeff Attinella said after the game. After a dreary season until the month of July, it’s a welcome change in a locker room not terribly accustomed to losing in recent years.
Losses by the four teams directly in front of RSL enhanced that feeling and helped the club close that gap. After being depleted by injury, international call-ups and inexperienced players making mistakes, RSL is inching closer to full strength and getting results, although buyer beware: A treacherous run of games follows in August (D.C., Vancouver, Portland, Seattle, Dallas).
All-MLS final four set in Open Cup
In non-MLS play, four of the league’s teams advanced to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals with wins over the last couple weeks. Sporting Kansas City, the Chicago Fire and the Philadelphia Union won this week, while RSL advanced out of its quarterfinal last week.
For the latter three of those teams, the Open Cup could provide a chance to either salvage something out of a rough season and potentially kickstart a run into the playoffs. Playing knockout games in midseason provides good insight into the kind of mentality and execution it takes to win those games later.
However, if squads aren’t adequately prepared and rotated, it could also put extra strain on tired bodies that leads to injury when they’re least affordable. RSL also has CONCACAF Champions League coming up, as well as a number of players who have already proven to be injury-prone this year, so balance will be key.
Week 21 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Jeff Attinella (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS: Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Raúl Rodríguez (Houston Dynamo), Chris Korb (D.C. United)
MIDFIELDERS: Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Mauro Rosales (Vancouver Whitecaps), Kwadwo Poku (New York City FC), Michael Barrios (FC Dallas)
FORWARDS: Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), David Villa (New York City FC)
1. FC Dallas
RECORD: 11-5-5 | This week 4-1 vs. Portland
Dallas picked up its fifth straight win to give the franchise its longest streak in 16 years, climbing to the top of the league table with games in hand on the three teams immediately trailing Óscar Pareja’s men.
2. Vancouver Whitecaps
RECORD: 11-8-3 | This week 3-1 vs. San Jose
The Whitecaps comfortably dominated San Jose at home to jump back into second place in the West and keep pace with Dallas and D.C. in the Supporters’ Shield lead.
3. Sporting Kansas City
RECORD: 9-4-6 | This week 1-2 at Real Salt Lake
SKC only took one point (at home) from three games against RSL this season, finishing the season series with two 2-1 losses at Rio Tinto Stadium. The latest took away from Benny Feilhaber's gorgeous strike.
4. Los Angeles Galaxy
RECORD: 9-7-7 | This week 0-3 at Houston
Shockingly, LA hasn’t won a league game on the road yet, holding an 0-6-5 record, and its whopping minus-13 goal difference away from home is just one goal better than New England’s as worst in MLS.
5. D.C. United
RECORD: 11-7-5 | This week 3-2 vs. Philadelphia
D.C. pulled off the comeback after going down two goals in the first five minutes, scoring twice in the final half-hour to defeat the Union. New striker Alvaro Saborio kickstarted the effort with his first goal for his new club.
6. Toronto FC
RECORD: 8-7-4 | This week 3-3 at Columbus
Jozy Altidore marked his second game back from the Gold Cup with a penalty goal to give TFC a draw in a crazy match that saw the Reds come back from three down to earn a point.
7. Portland Timbers
RECORD: 9-8-5 | This week 1-4 at Dallas
Fanendo Adi scored a consolation penalty in a heavy loss to Dallas, but seeing him argue briefly with Gastón Fernández and new signing Lucas Melano over who would take it capped a bizarre night for Portland.
8. New York Red Bulls
RECORD: 8-6-5 | This week Off
The Red Bulls may not have had a league game, but they had a busy week, falling to the Philadelphia Union in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals in penalties before beating Chelsea and Benfica in the International Champions Cup.
9. Columbus Crew
RECORD: 8-7-7 | This week 3-3 vs. Toronto
It’s getting dangerously close to “broken record” territory to mention this again, but Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay both scored for Columbus—but Crew SC collapsed in the second half and gave up a three-goal lead.
10. New York City FC
RECORD: 6-9-6 | This week 5-3 vs. Orlando City
Andrea Pirlo became the latest superstar to officially set foot on an MLS pitch with his 33-minute appearance against Orlando; now, NYCFC is just waiting for Frank Lampard to finally do the same.
11. Montreal Impact
RECORD: 7-8-3 | This week 1-0 vs. Seattle
Laurent Ciman did it all for Montreal against the Sounders, stifling their attacks with another stellar defensive performance before scoring on an 88th-minute header to steal three points late. With Didier Drogba potentially on the way, things are looking up for the Impact.
12. Seattle Sounders
RECORD: 10-10-2 | This week 0-1 at Montreal
It’s difficult to quantify how disruptive to its season Seattle’s seven-losses-in-nine slump will be, because once Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey return, it will likely turn around quickly.
13. Real Salt Lake
RECORD: 7-7-8 | This week 2-1 vs. Sporting Kansas City
After three wins in a row, RSL seems to have regained some of its swagger, helped by Joao Plata’s return to the goalscoring charts in the last two matches after a lengthy injury.
14. Colorado Rapids
RECORD: 5-6-9 | This week Off
The Rapids took the week off, but Denver becomes MLS central in the next few days as Dick’s Sporting Goods Park hosts the 2015 All-Star Game against Tottenham Hotspur.
15. Orlando City SC
RECORD: 6-9-6 | This week 3-5 at NYCFC
Despite Cyle Larin’s hat trick, the Lions left Yankee Stadium disappointed after conceding a handful on the opposite end in a second-half breakdown to lose their third game in a row.
16. New England Revolution
RECORD: 7-9-7 | This week 2-2 at Chicago
The Revs are still in the playoff places with a four-point gap, but they need to reverse their recent skid a bit faster if they plan on staying there much longer with Montreal and Orlando lurking close behind.
17. Houston Dynamo
RECORD: 7-8-6 | This week 3-0 vs. LA
Cubo Torres is finally a Dynamo player, and his debut was the crowning moment in a big win over the Galaxy on Saturday at home.
18. San Jose Earthquakes
RECORD: 7-9-4 | This week 1-3 at Vancouver
After starting in the United States’ shootout loss in the Gold Cup third-place match, Chris Wondolowski flew across the continent and amazingly started again for the Earthquakes in Vancouver.
19. Chicago Fire
RECORD: 5-11-4 | This week 2-2 vs. New England
The Fire came back from a 1-0 deficit to take the lead against the Revs, but they conceded just two minutes after Răzvan Cociș’ goal and had to settle for a point at home. It also looks like they'll have to settle for Plan B in the attack, reportedly signing Gilberto after shipping Drogba's MLS rights to Montreal.
20. Philadelphia Union
RECORD: 6-12-4 | This week 2-3 at D.C.
It started brightly but fell apart for Philly in the nation’s capital, as C.J. Sapong scored seconds in and Sebastien Le Toux added a quick second, but the Union still lost. The silver lining is their advancement to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.