Didier Drogba wasted no time making an impact, and Seattle got a huge win in an abbreviated MLS Week 27.
It was a short week in Major League Soccer due to the FIFA international break, but that didn’t damper the drama and energy for the players and teams still playing. FC Dallas, in particular, unleashed its full stable of hungry youngsters to great effect.
Of course, not every household name was off playing for his country. Former international Didier Drogba scored three in his first MLS start, while Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey dueled in a close match in Seattle, won by the suddenly resurgent Sounders. Despite there being only five games played, each one provided its own talking points and highlight moments.
The league certainly needs to re-evaluate its stance on playing through the FIFA windows (more on that below). Still, at this point in the season, mostly everybody at least has a good chunk of weekly training time under his belt, and it takes a full squad of focused players to win a trophy in a parity-driven MLS.
Less than two months remain before the fun really starts in the playoffs. Here’s how everything stacks up after this past week:
International breaks continue to be an issue
Maybe it’s because the league has seen more big-name signings this year than in years past. Maybe it’s the two-team expansion spreading talent underneath the internationals across a bigger landscape.
Either way, MLS really needs to stop playing during FIFA windows.
This is a drum that will continue to be beaten until change is actually made, and the pushback this year has been stronger than any other in recent memory. And why not?
Refusal to adhere to the FIFA calendar is one of the most obvious—and easily fixable—problems with the league’s scheduling.
As it is, this week offered up a watered-down schedule with just half the league in action. Despite the implications of lower attendance that come with playing midweek games to cope with missing weekend fixture dates, MLS should consider that a stronger, full-strength product on those days would be better than what was on display this past weekend.
Drogba's major impact
As soon as he was healthy and fit enough to start, Drogba turned into a difference-maker for the Montreal Impact, who are going to need one to make the playoffs. Games in hand don’t necessarily mean wins, and the Impact, with Mauro Biello on the bench in place of ousted manager Frank Klopas, needed to snap a four-game winless streak on Saturday before that perceived advantage quickly disappeared.
Enter Drogba, whose only previous MLS appearance totaled a half-hour off the bench before a toe injury sidelined him. Even after his team threw away two first-half leads and went down a goal early in the second, the former Chelsea man delivered what he was signed to do.
Two goals in four minutes around the hour mark sunk Chicago for good and completed his hat trick, which included a goal with his left foot, right foot and head. Not bad at all, especially considering the culture shock some of his big-name foreign compatriots have experienced in MLS this season.
FCD youngsters shine on road
In the last game of the week, FC Dallas pulled off a 3-0 win despite being out-possessed by a margin of 35% and out-passed 553-269 by the Columbus Crew.
Making the win even more impressive was Óscar Pareja’s decision to play a starting XI with an average age hovering in the early 20s.
Both teams needed points to climb up the table and move closer to securing a decent starting point for an elusive charge through the playoffs. Both missed players on international duty. Both were riding decent streaks that they wanted to continue.
The team with less experience, on the road and working against the run of play came out on top decisively. For those who have been clamoring for MLS coaches to have more faith in their younger players, Dallas and Pareja have again been a beacon of hope, with Sunday’s result exemplifying exactly why.
Playoff drama won't be going away
Nearing the end of the regular season, every week will have matches in which both teams involved need as many points as they can get to secure a playoff spot or solidify their positioning for the postseason. After the abbreviated slate of games this week, both conferences are as close as ever.
In the Eastern Conference, things look a little clearer as the top four places in particular are all but set. But in the West, the top eight spots are separated by just eight points, and the San Jose Earthquakes in seventh are just three points off the Seattle Sounders in fourth.
Those two come up against one another on Saturday, and the two teams between them in the standings (the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City) also play each other in proverbial six-pointers.
Back in the East, fifth-placed Toronto FC could close the currently three-point gap on the New England Revolution in fourth with a win.
Week 27 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Jesse González (FC Dallas)
DEFENDERS: Chris Tierney (New England Revolution), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Atiba Harris (FC Dallas)
MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Nigel Reo-Coker (Montreal Impact)
FORWARDS: Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Conor Casey (Philadelphia Union), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)