One of the subtle joys of watching a whole lot of any sport is actually something fairly simple: seeing something in that sport which you may have never seen before (or, at least, seen very rarely). By that measure, Week 17 was one of the most exciting and notable weeks of Major League Soccer so far this season. There were goals scored in unexpected ways (from unexpected people), coaches fired despite a positive result, a refereeing decision reversed (without the use of that pesky VAR) and a good old fashioned last-minute equalizer.
Sound like a lot? It was. Here's this week's XI:
I: Ike's bike
You might assume that the 6-foot-2, lanky frame of Sporting Kansas City central defender Ike Opara would get his goals the standard way for men in his position: Headers off corner kicks. Of course, Opara has scored a few that way, but he proved on Saturday that he’s capable of goals that are way more spectacular.
That, plus Opara’s long-range stunner vs. Minnesota United earlier this month, means that both of Opara’s goals this year have come in unusual ways for a center back. In both cases, they served as winners, this time in a 2–1 victory over LA.
II: Dempsey breaks Portland hearts (again)
Clint Dempsey has been a thorn in the side of the Portland Timbers ever since he signed for Seattle, and he added another example of why on Sunday night. With the Sounders down 2–1 and down a man away from home to their fiercest rivals, Dempsey delivered the tying goal in stoppage time:
A few notable things about this goal: One, central defender Roman Torres, of all people, is the one delivering a pinpoint cross. Two, take special note of the clean dispossession midfielder Christian Roldan manages, which set up the entire scoring play. Three, Dempsey came off the bench in this game, having played for the Sounders earlier in the week. Not a bad option to being in, eh, Brian Schmetzer?
III: A good sport
D.C. United’s Luciano Acosta was issued a straight red card for this innocuous-looking challenge on Philadelphia’s Haris Medunjanin. Surprising, but not unheard of:
What happened next, though, is something we here at The MLS XI have never seen before. Medunjanin pleaded with the referee to rescind Acosta’s red card...and then referee Sorin Stoica actually rescinded it. Medunjanin explained his reasoning after the match:
The good karma paid off for Medunjanin and the Union; they won 1–0. Andre Blake made this save to preserve the win:
Here’s how D.C. United coach Ben Olsen reacted:
Seems pretty appropriate, to be honest.
IV: Accam, Accam, Accam
Between Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty, and MLS leading scorer Nemanja Nikolic, it’s been frighteningly easy this season to overlook the contributions of David Accam to the Chicago Fire’s resurgence in MLS. It’s a lot harder to do that now. The Ghanaian put forth one of the best individual performances of the season on Saturday, netting a hat trick and adding an assist in Chicago’s 4–0 demolition of Orlando City. His first goal was flashy:
His second was composed:
His assist to Nikolic was visionary:
And his final effort was a well-earned and well-taken PK:
V: Jack Harrison is very good
NYCFC got their first away win in the Hudson River Derby, and this wonderful goal from Jack Harrison is one of the reasons why:
On his left foot, facing away from goal, and still buries it in the upper 90 of the far post. Not bad, kid.
VI: An excellent national anthem, part II
Earlier this season, the Houston Dynamo were playing in a game that featured technical difficulties for the national anthem singer. As a result, the fans in Atlanta took over, and the result was awesome. Well, it happened again, to Houston again, this time in their home stadium. This time, the Dynamo’s own fans got in on the anthem singing. And once again, the result was awesome.
The lesson here is that national anthem singers are overrated.
VII: This goal was not enough
Marco Ureña scored this nice goal from a difficult angle on Saturday night, and it turned out to be enough for a San Jose win over Real Salt Lake.
It was not, however, enough to save coach Dominic Kinnear's job. The San Jose boss was fired on Sunday after two and a half seasons at the club, despite the Quakes sitting in a playoff position in the Western Conference.
VIII: Instant impact
Once one of the most electric young talents in the league, Kekuta Manneh has struggled to find his feet since being traded from Vancouver to Columbus earlier this season. It looks like that struggle might be over. Manneh came on as a sub in the 69th minute with Crew SC down 1–0 to Montreal, scored a goal in the 70th minute to make it 1–1, then notched an assist to Ola Kamara to make it 2–1 in the 72nd. That, my friends, is what one might call “a pretty good use of a substitution.”
Check out Manneh’s goal, but pay special attention to the long ball by Federico Higuain that sets the whole thing up:
X: Fly like a Loon
Minnesota United displayed impressive fortitude to come back from 2–0 down in the second half to draw 2–2 with Vancouver on Saturday. Defender Jerome Thiesson scored the equalizer, and his celebration was very on-brand for his team:
IX: Tifo of the week
MLS dubbed this week “Rivalry Week,” and supporters came through with some quality tifos all around the league. I especially liked this one from Houston, which manages to poke fun both at FC Dallas’ away jerseys and their lack of an MLS Cup:
XI: Martinez freezes Colorado, nearly burns self
Josef Martinez had pretty much the entire Colorado defense on skates before scoring the only goal in Atlanta’s 1–0 win over the Rapids:
He followed up that very nice play with an almost-disastrous celebration:
Seems like maybe it’s time we re-think the role of giant fireballs in MLS goal celebrations.