Late scores, great goals and a series of head-scratching results marked MLS's Week 2, writes Liviu Bird in his Power Rankings.
More late drama permeated Major League Soccer in the second week of the new season. Ten goals were scored in the 70th minute or later across the league’s 10 matches this weekend, including three game-winners.
After Orlando City SC’s two-goal stoppage-time comeback in Week 1, recent Colorado Rapids acquisition Marco Pappa stunned the LA Galaxy with a 95th-minute winner on Saturday. The Rapids’ 1-0 win over LA clearly delighted struggling coach Pablo Mastroeni, who ripped off his suit jacket and threw it to the ground in celebration on the bench.
The team on the other end of Orlando’s comeback, Real Salt Lake, put away a late result of its own against the Seattle Sounders. In his team’s home opener, Jámison Olave scored on an 86th-minute header to give RSL a 2-1 comeback win.
The Montreal Impact and Houston Dynamo had no such trouble in their matches, defeating the New York Red Bulls 3-0 and FC Dallas 5-0, respectively. The Red Bulls’ Supporters’ Shield defense is off to a shaky start following two losses to open the season, and reigning top Western Conference seed Dallas fell apart after a solid win of its own last week.
Jordan Smith of the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Chicago Fire’s Michael Harrington both earned the week’s only red cards for poor first-half tackles. Vancouver lost again, 2-1 to Sporting Kansas City, as Dom Dwyer got off the mark with a couple good finishes before Smith’s sending-off, while Chicago managed to hold Orlando to a 1-1 draw after neither team could score following the incident.
Meanwhile, the New England Revolution and D.C. United gave the league its first scoreless draw of the season, though the Revs heavily out-shot and out-possessed D.C. on Saturday. The next day, New York City FC took a 2-0 lead over Toronto FC in the first half but couldn’t hold it, as TFC came back for a 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium.
Capping off a week that included some bizarre results, the San Jose Earthquakes were up 2-0 on the Portland Timbers until Jack McInerney’s consolation goal with one minute left.
It finished 2-1 in San Jose’s favor, even though the Earthquakes left two Designated Players, Innocent Emeghara and Matías Pérez García, on the bench the whole game.
Read on for some more highlights from Week 2 of the MLS season:
Coach’s Corner: Chicago tactical flexibility
In his short time as Chicago manager, Veljko Paunović has instilled a sense of belief and a new tactical understanding that led to an undefeated preseason. The Fire has just one point from two games so far in the regular season, but the flexibility it has shown in the past couple months could be important later in the season.
As teams shift players around to account for injuries, international duty and loss of form, being able to play more than one system becomes more important. Chicago has moved between a 4-2-3-1 and 5-3-2 already so far, depending on the opponent, location and game situation.
The Fire started Week 1 against NYCFC with a four-back arrangement. Chicago couldn’t take as many liberties moving forward, though, or risk getting too stretched in transition moments as NYCFC won the ball.
The central midfielders had to split farther apart to compensate and fill spaces defensively, leaving a gap ahead of the back line and central defenders with a dilemma about how to support if a runner checked off the front line.
NYCFC’s three central-most players, David Villa, Mix Diskerud and Thomas McNamara, overloaded the channel against fewer numbers due to the lack of compactness.
Chicago moved to five backs in the second half against NYCFC and started that way against Orlando on Saturday, until Harrington was sent off. With three central defenders, the Fire had easier cover built into the team’s starting shape.
If a forward checked back, a central defender could follow him without giving up as much in behind, as the other two could slide over to cover much easier, and the near-side wingback could tuck in. It allowed the central midfielders more freedom in attack, while also compensating for the lack of team compactness while they recovered toward their own goal.
The resulting influence on the opposition across the two weeks showed why NYCFC created five chances in the central zone on top of the penalty area in the first half, while Orlando mustered two. With easier access to that area (“Zone 14” in tactical parlance), 13.9% of NYCFC’s actions occurred there, while just 7.4% of Orlando’s did.
Chicago pushed Orlando wider, forcing lower-percentage passes in most situations. It’s impossible to tell what would have happened over the balance of 90 minutes without the red card, but look for Chicago to switch between its two systems as games dictate, depending on the opponent’s strengths and whether the Fire has more or less of the game or a lead to protect.
Attacking Player of the Week: Andrew Wenger, Houston Dynamo
It’s been a long road for Wenger, the first pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. Recently traded to the Dynamo after bouncing from Montreal to Philadelphia, he hasn’t made as much of an impact on the pro level as he did in a stellar college career.
Saturday, he put up just the third multi-point game of his MLS tenure, assisting twice and scoring once in a blowout against Dallas. His goal put a cap on an outrageous first half-hour, in which the Dynamo went up 4-0.
Wenger dipped a pinpoint cross between two defenders and onto David Horst’s head in the sixth minute for Houston’s first goal, followed by a smart cutback cross into Ricardo Clark’s path at the top of the penalty area in the 23rd.
Finally, he made an incisive third-man run from the right wing and got a fortuitous bounce off two defenders to score in the 27th.
He might have needed a touch of luck to get the goal, but it was a just reward for his service on the first two and potentially what Wenger needed to kick-start a breakout season in MLS.
Two-goal scorers Chris Pontius, also making a new start with the Union; Dom Dwyer and David Villa receive honorable mentions this week. Dwyer’s first goal, a long-distance bomb from outside the penalty area on a one-man counterattack, would have been the easy pick for Goal of the Week if not for Quincy Amarikwa's long-range chip that will be one of the best of the entire season. Sebastian Giovinco also scored one and assisted the other for Toronto.
Defensive Player of the Week: Andre Blake, Philadelphia Union
Given the No. 1 jersey at the start of the season, Blake has turned in two more than solid performances for Philadelphia in between the sticks to begin 2016. The Jamaican international finished with six saves on Saturday against the Crew, only conceding a consolation goal with just a couple minutes to go.
He’s shown impressive range in his shot-stopping ability already. Late in the first half, he pushed a close-range shot beyond the far post from low to his left, getting down into an area that taller goalkeepers generally struggle to protect.
He also made saves higher to both sides late in the game, though he couldn’t keep out Kei Kamara’s upper-corner header from a corner kick.
Like Wenger, Blake was also a first overall pick in the draft (2014) and the first goalkeeper to be selected first. After the revolving door of gloved guardians that was the Union goal in the last couple years, the coaching staff seems to finally have settled on the solution that was obvious to many on the outside.
Marcelo Sarvas, now of D.C., and the three players tasked with defending centrally for the Impact, Calum Mallace in midfield and Víctor Cabrera and Laurent Ciman in central defense, receive honorable mentions. Sarvas ran the D.C. attack with his distribution, also putting in five successful tackles, five interceptions and six loose-ball recoveries in a scoreless draw.
Cabrera, Ciman and Mallace collectively ensured Montreal’s shutout of the Red Bulls, protecting their own goal brilliantly while also distributing well. It’s hard to separate the three performances in terms of their level and importance to the team, but the three men combined for 21 recoveries, 12 clearances, 16 interceptions, 12 tackles won and only one lost.