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.
Best soccer tifos from around the world
Galatasaray fans display a sensational "Rocky" tifo ahead of their clash against rival Fenerbahce. It didn't inspire a victory, though. The Turkish rivals played to a 0-0 draw.
Borussia Dortmund fans channel their 1963 cup triumph over Benfica ahead of the teams' second leg in the Champions League round of 16 at Signal Iduna Park.
Hapoel Be'er Sheva fans turn to Moses for tifo inspiration, with his splitting the Red Sea illustrating how "impossible is nothing" in their Europa League series against Besiktas.
Fans of Tunisia's Club Africain display this pointed tifo at a friendly against PSG, whose Qatari owners have pumped millions and millions into the club.
U.S. fans in Columbus, Ohio, make a "One Nation, One Team" statement ahead of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying match against Mexico on November 11, 2016.
Germany fans display their heart for the team colors ahead of a World Cup qualifier against Czech Republic in October 2016.
Italy fans spell out their support for the Azzurri ahead of a massive World Cup qualifier vs. Spain in October 2018.
Iceland fans keep up their world-famous passion for the national team during a World Cup qualifier against Turkey in October 2016.
Fans in the United Arab Emirates set their sights on reaching the 2018 World Cup in Russia during a qualifying match vs. Australia in September 2016.
Colombia fans send a massive jersey around the stadium during a World Cup qualifier vs. Venezuela in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn to Game Of Thrones for inspiration in a game against the Cascadia rival Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
Djurgardens fans go all out in Sweden for a match against AIK in September 2016.
Zulte Waregem fans prepare Kortrijk for the absolute worst in this Belgian top-flight match in September 2016.
Seattle Sounders fans turn their pop culture reference to Poltergeist in March 2016 ahead of the season home opener against Sporting Kansas City.
The Timbers Army doubles down on their Eastbound and Down theme, adding another wrinkle during the club's MLS Western Conference final first leg vs. FC Dallas on November 22, 2015 at Providence Park.
Fans make a French flag tifo at Wembley Stadium during the singing of Le Marseillaise ahead of England's friendly vs. France, which took place days after the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Timbers Army referenced Eastbound & Down's Kenny Powers with their "Cup Bound and Down" tifo for the Portland Timbers' MLS playoff elimination game against Sporting Kansas City on October 29, 2015.
Brondby IF fans display a gladiator holding up a lion's head during the team's Danish Alka Superliga match against FC Copenhagen, whose logo is a lion's head, on September 27, 2015.
New England Revolution fans equate Jermaine Jones to Indiana Jones on their quest to capture the 2015 MLS Cup on September 26, 2015.
New England Revolution fans display a Lion King theme in honor of Orlando City FC's first visit to Gillette Stadium on September 5, 2015.
Red Bulls fans take a shot at NYCFC's two summer arrivals, 37-year-old Frank Lampard and 36-year-old Andrea Pirlo, ahead of their third MLS meeting of 2015.
Germany fans in Cologne salute their World Cup champions ahead of a friendly against the United States in June, 2015.
Real Madrid fans went all out prior to the second leg of the 2014-15 Champions League semifinal vs. Juventus.
Lazio fans display a stunning eagle tifo ahead of the Rome derby against AS Roma in their penultimate Serie A match of the 2014-15 season.
Barcelona fans bid farewell to veteran midfielder Xavi with this banner at his last league game at Camp Nou before he departs for Qatari club Al Sadd.
Fans at Anfield pay tribute to Steven Gerrard in his final home match as a Liverpool player in May 2015.
Juventus fans state their case to beat Real Madrid in the 2014-15 Champions League semifinals and reach the final in Berlin.
Fans at Benfica's Estadio da Luz remind rival Porto who the Primeira Liga reigning champion is during an April 2015 match in Portugal.
New York Red Bulls fans send a pointed message to their NYCFC counterparts prior to the teams' first MLS meeting in May, 2015.
Inter Milan's Curva Nord announces its presence ahead of the April 2015 Derby della Madonnina–the annual clashes between city rivals Inter and AC Milan.
Bayern Munich fans implore their club to (translated) "Never give up" in the Champions League quarterfinal second leg vs. Porto. Bayern then turned a 3-1 first-leg deficit into a 7-4 aggregate win and a place in the semifinals.
Dortmund fans commemorate their 1997 Champions League trophy in the club's clash vs. Juventus–the opponent on the wrong side of that title bout.
Portland Timbers fans speak out against homophobia with this tifo in a 2013 match against Chivas USA
Atletico's supporters display a banner reading "Atleti crushes" before the Spanish league match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid,
Borussia Dortmund fans put on a remarkable display ahead of a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second leg match.
Brondby IF fans unveil a tifo ahead of a match in Denmark against Randers FC.
FC Barcelona fans display a huge banner in memory of former head coach Tito Vilanova.
Galatasaray fans support their team during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Borussia Dortmund and Galatasaray at the Turk Telekom Arena in Istanbul.
The American Outlaws unveil a huge tifo ahead of a 2014 World Cup send-off match between the USA and Turkey at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Marseille's supporters use paper sheets to create an "OM" (Olympique de Marseille) tifo at the beginning of the French L1 football match between Marseille and Genoble.
Seattle Sounders fans display their tifo that shows coach Sigi Schmid playing cards and holding a Royal Flush before a match against the Portland Timbers.
Panathinaikos Athens fans display a banner during the UEFA Europa League match against Dynamo Moscow.
Fans of the Saudi Al-Hilal team celebrate after the scoring of a goal against Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor.
Seattle Sounders fans unveil a tifo inspired from the “Build a Bonfire” chant, featuring Sounder players holding torches on horseback ahead of a game against the Portland Timbers.
Fans of Hertha BSC before the Bundesliga match between Hertha BSC and Werder Bremen in Berlin.
Sporting Kansas City fans channel their inner Mario ahead of the 2013 MLS Cup final vs. Real Salt Lake.
Brondby IF fans.
Thousands of Barcelona fans hold up cards to spell out "Barca! Orgull," which translates to "Barcelona pride" ahead of a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at Camp Nou.
Fans raise a tifo celebrating “Community, Club and Country” ahead of a CONCACAF Gold Cup match between the USA and Belize in Portland, Oregon.
Vitesse fans unfurl a massive Eagle banner at the Dutch Eredivisie match against Ajax at the GelreDome.
Valencia fans drape a banner featuring a king for a Copa del Rey ("The King's Cup) match against Atletico Madrid.
Juventus fans make a statement in Turin in a match vs. Inter Milan.
Dortmund fans put on another strong display at a Bundesliga match against Mainz 05.
German fans boast the newest star earned by the national team, symbolizing its 2014 World Cup triumph, at a Euro 2016 qualifying match in Dortmund.
Real Madrid fans make a point to display the club's 10 European championships ahead of the October 2014 clash against rival Barcelona at the Bernabeu.
San Jose Earthquakes fans unleash a massive tifo to mark the opening of Avaya Stadium, MLS's newest soccer-specific venue, in March 2015.
Barcelona fans show all who the real 12th man is ahead of the March 2015 Clásico vs. Real Madrid.
Ahead of a clash with Mexican foe Monterrey, Tigres players are treated by this message by its fervent supporters.
Standard Liege fans have a pointed message for Steven Defour, who departed the club for Belgian rival Anderlecht.
Orlando City fans mark their club's inaugural MLS game vs. fellow expansion side New York City FC with a statement that the Lions' "reign begins now."
Real Madrid fans salute Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo after he captured the most prestigious individual prize in world soccer again.
Vitesse fans pay homage to Operation Market Garden ahead of an Eredivisie match against SC Heerenveen.
Sevilla's fans deploy a giant banner in the stands before the UEFA Europa league final match between Benfica and Sevilla.
Fans in Liverpool’s Kop End at Anfield commemorate those lost in the Hillsborough disaster.
Lyon fans during a game against Saint Etienne.
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)
1. Los Angeles Galaxy
RECORD: 14-9-8 | This week 3-2 vs. FC Dallas
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.
2. New England Revolution
RECORD: 13-10-8 | This week 1-1 vs. Philadelphia
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.
3. Seattle Sounders
RECORD: 14-13-4 | This week 1-1 at Sporting Kansas City
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.
4. New York Red Bulls
RECORD: 14-9-6 | This week 2-5 vs. Orlando City
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.
5. Montreal Impact
RECORD: 12-11-6 | This week 2-1 vs. Chicago, 2-0 vs. D.C.
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.
6. Columbus Crew
RECORD: 13-10-8 | This week 1-2 vs. Portland
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.
7. Toronto FC
RECORD: 13-13-4 | This week 3-2 vs. Chicago
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.
8. Vancouver Whitecaps
RECORD: 15-12-3 | This week 1-2 vs. NYCFC
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.
9. FC Dallas
RECORD: 14-10-5 | This week 2-3 at LA
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.
10. Portland Timbers
RECORD: 12-10-8 | This week 2-1 at Columbus
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).
11. Real Salt Lake
RECORD: 10-12-8 | This week 0-1 at San Jose
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.
12. New York City FC
RECORD: 10-14-7 | This week 2-1 at Vancouver
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.
13. Orlando City SC
RECORD: 10-13-8 | This week 5-2 at Red Bulls
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.
14. Houston Dynamo
RECORD: 11-12-8 | This week 1-0 vs. Kansas City, 3-2 vs. Colorado
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.
15. Sporting Kansas City
RECORD: 12-9-9 | This week 0-1 at Houston, 1-1 vs. Seattle
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.
16. San Jose Earthquakes
RECORD: 12-12-7 | This week 1-0 vs. Real Salt Lake
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.
17. D.C. United
RECORD: 13-12-6 | This week 0-2 at Montreal
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.
18. Philadelphia Union
RECORD: 9-15-7 | This week 1-1 at New England
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.
19. Colorado Rapids
RECORD: 8-12-10 | This week 2-3 at Houston
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.
20. Chicago Fire
RECORD: 7-18-6 | This week 1-2 at Montreal, 2-3 at Toronto
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.