After a record-setting weekend of goalscoring, how does MLS shape up? Liviu Bird sets the scene in his Week 22 MLS Power Rankings.
An explosive Saturday set the record for most goals in one day in Major League Soccer. It included a 6-4 win for D.C. United over Real Salt Lake and a 5-2 victory for Orlando City SC against Columbus Crew SC.
United States national teamers didn’t have much to do with it, though, as Clint Dempsey’s return couldn’t stop the Seattle Sounders’ losing skid. Jozy Altidore saw a straight red card in Toronto FC’s 3-1 loss to the New England Revolution, which Michael Bradley missed through injury. DaMarcus Beasley did have a good game, but the Houston Dynamo couldn’t pull out a win against Sporting Kansas City, and Kyle Beckerman managed to score for RSL in a losing effort.
Sunday began a little less excitingly with a goalless draw, but the week closed out with a 2-0 victory for the Chicago Fire over FC Dallas. It was a team at the bottom of the table beating a team at the top, reinforcing once again that anything can happen in MLS.
Here are a few thoughts on a high-scoring round of games:
Crunching goal numbers after crazy Saturday
The 39 goals in MLS play on Saturday set a new high mark for a single day, surpassing the 30 scored on May 28, 2011. Don’t jump to any conclusions based on that one day about the quality of attacking or defending in the league just yet, though.
MLS games have averaged 2.65 goals per game in 2015 after last week’s play. According to numbers provided by the league to SI.com, goalscoring had actually been trending negatively until the past few weeks, but it’s now exactly as it has been the last 11 years—in which MLS has seen an average of 2.65 goals per game.
Strangely, with 7.7 percent of all games ending in goalless draws so far (17 of 220), 2015 would have the second-highest mark in league history in that category if the season ended now. The shutout rate is slightly higher than last season’s at the moment, with 123 of a possible 440 blank spots—remember, both teams can finish a match with a clean sheet.
What does it all mean? In terms of qualitative analysis, these numbers have to be put in the proper context. But quantitatively, it would appear this is just another average season in a league that produces consistently wild results due to its parity.
D.C. shows resilience in wild 6-4 win
In the result everybody will be talking about after this week, D.C. won a 6-4 slugfest against RSL that just kept producing goalscoring opportunities. The shot count finished 22-17 in United’s favor, with RSL clearing 29 balls to D.C.’s 23.
Those are crazy numbers, and anybody who’s a fan of defensive, tactical soccer should skip the game tape on this one. Neither team tracked runners or took care of individual assignments very well, and the level of chaos couldn’t have been much higher.
Conceding four also ruined D.C.’s record of being close to the best in the league in terms of goals against—but the team also scored six, including three straight after going down 2-0 in the first 21 minutes.
No team in MLS history had come back from consecutive 2-0 deficits to win before D.C. did it the past two weeks.
Ben Olsen’s coaching philosophy seem to mostly emphasize grit and work rate, but his team has some of the best mental fortitude in the league. D.C. doesn’t often play attractive soccer, but until opponents figure out how to beat its head-banging style consistently, it has little impetus to change besides the heartburn-inducing stress that style inflicts on the technical staff.
Larin ties rookie goalscoring record with plenty of games to go
Canadian international Cyle Larin scored twice on Saturday after his hat trick the previous week, tying Damani Ralph’s 12-year-old record of 11 goals in a rookie season. Ralph won the Rookie of the Year award for his efforts, and Larin seems to be on track to do the same.
Just as importantly, Larin’s outburst ended Orlando’s three-game league losing streak as the Lions’ expansion season continues its up-and-down trajectory. The team went winless in all competitions in July, but a packed August schedule means a repeat this month would be tragic for its playoff hopes.
To keep winning, Orlando will rely on its No. 1 SuperDraft pick to maintain his good form. Only twice when he has scored has the team lost (strangely, one of those was last week, when he scored three), and he now leads the team in scoring over Kaká.
For a franchise that struggled to get production out of its front line early, Larin’s emergence will be a welcome sight.
Sounders’ tailspin continues despite Dempsey return
In his return from CONCACAF Gold Cup duty, Dempsey had very little say in a 3-0 Seattle loss to Cascadia rival Vancouver. However, manager Sigi Schmid said after the game that he never expected a full selection of players to magically fix his team’s problems.
“It’s never going to be that easy,” Schmid said. “I think I tried to caution people who thought, 'OK, everybody’s back, so then it’s a snap of the fingers and it’s going to all happen again.' That’s not the way it works.”
And he’s right. With Seattle’s current lack of cohesion and execution, it would be difficult to expect results no matter which players are on the field.
If the Sounders aren’t careful, the season could quickly slip away—they’re already in sixth place in the Western Conference, having lost eight of their last 10 games, and a match at LA comes next.
A skid like that in itself isn’t tragic: New England lost eight in a row and nine of 10 in midseason last year only to make it to the MLS Cup final. The Revs only lost once in their last 12 to close out 2014, though, and the Sounders only have 11 games to pull together some semblance of momentum before the playoffs.
Week 22 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Adam Kwarasey (Portland Timbers)
DEFENDERS: Corey Ashe (Orlando City SC), Pa Modou Kah (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jeff Larentowicz (Chicago Fire), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United)
MIDFIELDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Klještan (New York Red Bulls), Chris Rolfe (D.C. United)
FORWARDS: Charlie Davies (New England Revolution), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC)
Pa Modou Kah became Vancouver’s latest unlikely goalscorer with a brace in Seattle, following Mauro Rosales, Kendall Waston and Matías Laba’s first goals of the season in the last two matches.
United trailed 2-0 against RSL but came back to win the fourth 10-goal game in MLS history and the first since 2004; only a 7-4 LA win over Colorado in 1998 featured more.
A lengthy winless streak away from home for LA came to an end with a three-goal outburst in the second half in Denver, where the Galaxy won their last away match before the drought. Next up for the Galaxy: Working Giovani Dos Santos in the mix.
Despite a massive edge in possession, Dallas couldn’t reverse an early 1-0 deficit and even conceded while up a man late in the game against lowly Chicago.
Sporting KC should have been given a very late chance to win a gritty game against the Dynamo, but referee Jorge González didn’t call an obvious handball in the box on Luis Garrido in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Shaun Wright-Phillips became the latest import to make an immediate impact when he drew a penalty and assisted brother Bradley’s game-winning goal against the Union on Saturday.
The Timbers moved ahead of Seattle in the standings with the lone point, but it could have easily been all three if Diego Valeri hadn’t hit the crossbar with a 75th-minute penalty.
In a confrontation in which he kicked out at José Gonçalves, Altidore picked up his second straight-red of the year after his outburst directed at the referee in the U.S.’s friendly against Switzerland.
Montreal won for just the second time on the road as it came up with a one-goal victory at Yankee Stadium courtesy of two goals from Ignacio Piatti. Adding Didier Drogba to the mix figures to only help Montreal's fortunes going forward.
Columbus scored in the opening and closing moments against Orlando, but the Lions managed five goals in between Crew SC’s strikes to end Columbus’ three-game unbeaten streak.
Frank Lampard finally made his debut with NYCFC, but it came in a losing effort and with limited minutes as he continues to battle a calf injury that kept him out of full training until the day before the match.
Cyle Larin has scored five goals in Orlando’s last two games, including two against Crew SC on Saturday, to tie the MLS rookie goalscoring record with 12 games left in the season.
New England scored twice in the final 10 minutes of the first half, bookending Altidore’s red card, to sink Toronto and continue the Revs’ reversal of a five-game losing streak that ended three matches ago.
It just keeps getting worse for the Sounders, who have lost eight of their last 10 games and continue to lose players to injury; Osvaldo Alonso left Saturday’s game late even though it reduced the team to 10 men.
By conceding six in D.C., RSL became the first team in the Western Conference to give up 30 goals this season; its 33 is worst in the conference and sixth-worst in the league.
The Rapids’ best run of the season, three wins in a row, ended as they couldn’t make a one-goal lead at halftime stick against the Galaxy.
Ricardo Clark equalized for Houston late on before the Dynamo lost Nathan Sturgis to a red card and clung on for a draw at Sporting Park in a physical match.
Chicago ended Dallas’ five-game winning streak and prevented it from jumping to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings, not to mention climbing off the bottom of the table itself, with a 2-0 win.
The Earthquakes’ winless streak reached five after neither San Jose nor Portland could find a goal on Sunday in a drab encounter.
After signing with Philadelphia, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta conceded a penalty less than a minute inside his debut for a clumsy trip from behind on Shaun Wright-Phillips.