The mid-season friendlies are officially over, the All-Star game is in the rearview, the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup are both long gone. Week 22 in MLS can fairly be considered to be the start of the stretch run of the season, with teams either trying to secure playoff seeding, or fighting to make the playoffs at all.
This is the best part of the regular season, and it kicked off a week that saw plenty of history happen. We cover a lot of those historic events in this week’s XI:
I: VAR lives!
More than any of the highlights listed here, Week 22 of the 2017 MLS season will be remembered as being the week when VAR was introduced to the league. As it turned out, there were only two official reviews, both of which came right after goals, and both of which canceled goals that should not have stood.
First, the history-maker. The first VAR review in MLS history took place at Talen Energy Stadium between the Philadelphia Union and the Chicago Fire. It canceled out a goal by Maximilliano Urritti because of a foul by Cristian Colman on Union goalkeeper John McCarthy in the buildup.
File that whole factoid away for use at future MLS trivia games, and see it for yourself:
The other video review of the week came in Sunday’s game between the Portland Timbers and LA Galaxy. Gyasi Zardes’ handball seemed to elude everyone (including the match commentators in this clip), but the sharp-eyed VAR saw something wrong, alerted the center ref to it, and the call was correctly reversed. Howard Webb will be proud.
II: He hasn’t done this already?
It’s amazing to think that, given all the goals David Villa has scored in MLS since his arrival, he hadn’t scored a hat trick. That is, until this weekend. Villa was electric on Sunday in the Hudson River Derby, scoring all three goals in a 3–2 win against the Red Bulls.
His late PK won it, but the second strike was the pick of the litter. Look at this run:
Afterwards, even Mikey Lopez had questions for Villa.
Also, usually this would be its own item, but there isn’t enough room for that this time around. Congratulations, NYCFC supporters, you have made the Tifo Of The Week:
III: Diego Valeri is good
We’re pretty sure we’ve written some varation of that headline before in a previous edition of The XI this season, but it appears to still be very true judging from the Argentine’s long-range blast against the Galaxy on Sunday:
That wasn’t the first time he got the best of Jermaine Jones in the 3–1 win:
IV: Go outside
Matt Polster took the above advice.
That was the opening goal in the Fire’s 3–1 win over New England, which makes it a club record nine games in a row that Chicago has won at home.
Gee, if only there was a Chicago-themed GIF involving the number nine that I could post right now OH WAIT.
V: Watch two men beat Dallas
One man is CJ Sapong. The other is Ilsinho. Together, they carved up the FC Dallas defense en route to a surprising 3–1 win:
As if that wasn’t enough, both were heavily involved in the Union’s gorgeous opener:
VI: Welcome back, Jacob
Jacob Peterson had a career year with Sporting Kansas City in 2016, but that performance wasn’t enough for him to be brought back as the team allowed him to explore free agency, where he eventually signed with Atlanta United.
His time in Atlanta hasn’t been quite as fruitful so far, but at least he made his former team pay.
Peterson’s stoppage-time strike at Children’s Mercy Park is his first goal since the second game of the season, and it came in his first appearance since March. Not a bad way to pop back on the scoresheet.
VII: The 6-foot-7 guy scored with his foot
Axel Sjoberg has been an excellent defender with Colorado, known for his aerial prowess thanks to his large frame.
I’d imagine it’s pretty rare that Sjoberg scores a goal with his foot, but that’s what he did (and with quite a nice volley, too) in Colorado’s 2–2 draw with Vancouver. Just look how long his windup takes!
VIII: You should probably close down Clint Dempsey in the box
Otherwise he will do this:
That was the last goal in what was a dominant 4–0 win for Seattle at Minnesota United.
IX: Action Jackson-Hamel
Anthony Jackson-Hamel has been the breakthrough player of this Montreal Impact season so far, and he added another chapter to that story with yet another late game-winning goal. This one secured a 2–1 come from behind victory over Oolando City.
X: Someone check on Tommy Thompson
I think Chris Wondolowski may have dealt him a serious blow by body-slamming him after setting up the Earthquakes’ second goal in a 2–1 win.
XI: DC United could have had a good win
But then this happened.
That’ll be the ugliest goal Toronto scores all year, but they’ll take it. Meanwhile, at least D.C. snapped a six-game losing streak with that 1–1 draw.