The heavy hitters came to play in MLS Week 30, with multiple big-name players coming through with goals as the playoff race winds down, writes Liviu Bird.
The most recognizable names showed up big in Major League Soccer this week. Foreign stars Didier Drogba, Sebastian Giovinco, Frank Lampard, David Villa, Steven Gerrard, Giovani dos Santos, Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins and vital U.S. internationals Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore all scored for their teams as the penultimate month of the 2015 regular season closed.
It’s hard to sum up the chaos of the just-passed week of play. Of the top 10 teams in the Supporters’ Shield standings, only the LA Galaxy and Portland Timbers pulled off a victory. Only one team–the New York Red Bulls–has clinched a playoff spot so far with four weeks to go, although four others came into the weekend with a chance.
A rising star, Orlando City SC rookie forward Cyle Larin, also put one (and then two more) away to finally break the MLS rookie goalscoring record. The expansion Lions sit just behind Drogba’s Montreal Impact and Giovinco’s Toronto FC in the Eastern Conference standings, looking for a way to get into the playoffs at the last minute.
Let’s dive into some of the details a bit further. Here are a few thoughts on some of a wild week’s highlights:
Red Bulls stay atop East despite big loss
Sure, the Red Bulls are already in the playoffs, but hosting in the first round is anything but a given. Despite a loss, the team was let off the hook in a big way when the two teams directly below it, the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution, also lost.
Larin stole the show with his hat trick, his second of the season that took him two strikes beyond Damani Ralph’s old goals record for a rookie with 14 on the year.
On the other end, young center back Matt Miazga picked up two yellow cards in a bizarre lack of composure that has become something of a pattern for him in pressure situations.
It sets up a big game on Saturday, as the Red Bulls host Columbus in a battle for first in the East. Of course, if they draw, the Revs could also take the top spot with a win against the lowly Chicago Fire. While all three teams are virtually assured a postseason berth, nobody wants to slip low enough to fall into that play-in game.
Giovinco breaks scoring record of his own
One Designated Player to bring his “A” game to MLS his entire first season has been MVP candidate Giovinco. Toronto FC’s infamous mark of failing to reach the playoffs in each year of its existence finally looks in legitimate danger to fall, and it’s primarily his doing.
Again on Saturday, even after TFC went down 1-0 and 2-1 against Chicago at home, the Atomic Ant dragged his team back into it. First, he pulled off the most delicate of chips from an impossible angle to make it 1-1, then fed Michael Bradley for the second equalizer before Altidore finished off the three-point haul with his winner.
After this weekend, Giovinco is the first in MLS history to score 20 goals with 10 assists in the same season, and he also has the record for his 35 combined goals and assists. Goalscoring may not be the end of any MVP discussion in soccer, but it’s becoming more obvious he deserves it for an astounding first year in MLS.
Seattle misses big opportunity
Sporting Kansas City rested nine regular starters against the Seattle Sounders, due to a combination of Matt Besler and Benny Feilhaber’s yellow-card suspensions and having the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday. SKC still finished with more shots (12-9) and only narrowly lost the possession battle (53.6-46.4%) against a nearly full-strength Sounders side.
Seattle put out its strongest lineup in recent memory even with Chad Marshall on the bench and central defensive partner Román Torres out with a longterm injury. After taking the lead in the first half and conceding a 79th-minute equalizer to Dom Dwyer off the bench, Sunday’s result can only be seen as a disappointment.
A win would have temporarily put the Sounders second in the West, no small feat after its streak of two wins in 11 games that preceded their current five-game unbeaten run.
It can’t be too disheartening just to be in their current position after such a midseason lull, but Sunday’s home game against the Galaxy could go a long way toward illuminating and informing the team’s mentality to close out the season.
Long-time RSL streaks coming to an end
Playing its fifth game in 15 days in competitions spanning North America, Real Salt Lake finally succumbed for the first time in September with a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Matías Pérez García scored in the 87th minute, though teammate Quincy Amarikwa looked offside on the play and Pérez García immediately received a second yellow card for ripping off his shirt in the celebration.
It was a sloppy game all around, as it usually is when RSL and San Jose meet, and that play summed it up perfectly. Unfortunately for Salt Lake, the loss could prove to be costly, as it couldn’t really afford any slip-ups in the last two months of the year to make the playoffs.
The gap now sits at six points with four games to go, while San Jose is just one point back of sixth place.
It’s cruel for a team that hasn’t lost in a month, but the result ensures RSL’s streak of seasons with at least 15 wins ends at five, and the accompanying 50-point mark is also in serious jeopardy. Most importantly for the team at this point, the longest active streak in the league of seven playoff appearances could also be coming to an end.
Week 30 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: André Blake (Philadelphia Union)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Ethan White (Philadelphia Union), Wandrille Lefevre (Montreal Impact), Amadou Dia (Sporting Kansas City)
MIDFIELDERS: Frank Lampard (New York City FC), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC)
FORWARDS: Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)
All three of the Galaxy’s Designated Players scored in a big home win over Dallas after LA hadn’t scored in 279 minutes heading into the game.
The Revs couldn’t make Lee Nguyen’s penalty stand as the winning goal, conceding an equalizer in the second half to squander its latest chance at first place in the East.
Even a nearly full-strength Seattle lineup couldn’t win in Kansas City, where Obafemi Martins gave the Sounders the lead by scoring in his fifth consecutive game.
Amid a tight race, the Red Bulls somehow stayed on top of the East despite losing at home by a pretty wide margin to a team currently outside the playoff places.
Didier Drogba has scored seven goals in just over 400 minutes since joining Montreal, good for a league-leading 1.31 goals per game among players with at least a full game played.
The Crew missed a big opportunity at home vs. the Timbers but could be first in the East for the first time this season if it beats the Red Bulls, unless New England also pulls off a victory.
Sebastian Giovinco continued his MVP-worthy season, and Jozy Altidore scored the winning goal as TFC came from behind twice to win at home against the Fire.
Vancouver might be feeling the effects of a congested late-summer schedule, having dropped three of its last four league games and three straight in all competitions.
Dallas hasn’t had a very consistent lineup in the last two months, and it’s showed with five losses in eight games since the start of August and form as streaky as Óscar Pareja’s current selection is consistent.
Fanendo Adi’s two-goal game lifted Portland over the Crew, broke the Timbers’ four-game winless streak and set a single-season record for the team in the MLS era (12).
A tough loss to the Earthquakes marked the first time RSL has failed to win in September despite playing five games in just over two weeks. Nick Rimando's continued heroics only stood up for so long, with a late, deflected goal spoiling his top-notch effort.
Perhaps dinner with Carlo Ancelotti in Vancouver sparked something in Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo’s performance, as both played well in NYCFC’s win over the Whitecaps the next day.
Cyle Larin finally got the rookie goalscoring record pressure off his back while scoring his second MLS hat trick, as well as his second on the road against a New York team.
A big two-win week for Owen Coyle’s men leaves them just three points behind Portland for the last playoff spot in the West, but they've got tough games against Dallas, Seattle and Vancouver to close out the season.
It’s been a while since SKC lost just four of its first 22 games this season; in the eight matches since then, Kansas City has won just once and keeps slipping dangerously close to the red line in the standings. It has a chance to lift silverware midweek when playing for the U.S. Open Cup title at PPL Park.
The Earthquakes are far from out of it after their narrow win against RSL, and their last three games of the season (against Vancouver and Kansas City and at Dallas) look winnable based on each team’s recent form.
D.C.’s fall from the top of the East has been astonishing, and a team fans have grown so accustomed to seeing fight for every result has been strangely subdued in its current six-game winless streak.
Likely the Union’s only chance at salvaging something out of the 2015 season comes Wednesday, when it hosts the U.S. Open Cup final for the second straight year.
Sitting at the foot of the table in the West, the Rapids are playing like a team with nothing left to play for, having lost three of its last four and winning just three games since the start of August.
The losses keep on coming for Chicago, and the two this week make it five in a row, even after firing coach Frank Yallop last week.