MLS Week 27: Atlanta wins in stadium debut; Toronto nears shield - Sports Illustrated

The MLS XI, Week 27: Welcome Home, Atlanta; Give Toronto FC the Supporters' Shield

Atlanta opened the doors to the stunning new Mercedes Benz Stadium, while Diego Valeri can't stop scoring and the Western Conference is dominated by Cascadia after another weekend in MLS.
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MLS's 27th week of 2017 is in the books, and the top of the Western Conference has an awfully Cascadian look to it.

Portland, Seattle and Vancouver top the circuit out west after each secured points to strengthen their places on the right side of the playoff line. In the East, it was more of the same for Toronto FC, which is closing in on adding to its Canadian Championship with a piece of league silverware–and a heavy favorite status for MLS Cup.

The weekend also brought us an introduction to the newest home arena in the league, with the sensational new Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta opening its doors for MLS play for the first time, and that's where we'll start our whiparound of the best of the best from MLS Week 27:

​I. Welcome home, Atlanta

Atlanta United began play at its stunning new stadium Sunday, and it gave its boisterous fans something to cheer about with a 3-0 win over flailing FC Dallas. You always have to like the home team on occasions such as these, and with over 45,000 of Atlanta's supporters bringing their stands game from Bobby Dodd to Mercedes Benz, it's no surprise that United was just a little up for the match. Think the city of Atlanta was ready for the game? A former United States president even took in the sights.

On the field, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Josef Martinez and Greg Garza scored, Brad Guzan was strong in keeping a clean sheet, and Atlanta strengthened its place just over the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.

The club has a back-loaded slate of home games thanks to some construction delays and a front-loaded away slate. If its advantage on turf is anything like what it showed on Sunday, then Atlanta, with two games in hand on most of its competition, could be adding playoff games to the inaugural season ticket package. 

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II. Give Toronto FC the Supporters' Shield

It's not mathematically secure yet, but Toronto FC's comprehensive win over San Jose, coupled with NYCFC's home loss to the Portland Timbers, means the Supporters' Shield is as good as TFC's. Toronto, which became the first team to clinch a playoff berth, is nine points clear of second-place NYCFC with six games to go, hasn't lost since July 1 (a span of 10 league games) and has a pretty cushy schedule down the stretch. 

Patrick Vieira might have conceded the Shield to TFC a few weeks ago as a bit of a mind game, but his club took care of backing up its manager's word in slipping up after a midweek triumph over Sporting Kansas City.

III. Jozy Altidore has plenty to be proud of

Sure, there's his excellent double against San Jose–giving him four goals in three matches and tying his career-high single-season goal total in MLS with 13. The goals were also his 50th and 51st in the league.

But there's also the feat accomplished by his reported significant other, Sloane Stephens, who captured the U.S. Open women's championship in sensational fashion. Altidore was in attendance in New York for some of Stephens' run but couldn't attend the final, given it was held at the same time as TFC vs. San Jose. He was told of her final win during Toronto FC's romp and discussed it in an atypical halftime interview.

Bravo to all!

IV. Diego Valeri cannot be stopped

The Portland Timbers midfield maestro tied an MLS record, scoring in his seventh straight league game. There are a number viable MVP candidates this season in the league, and Valeri is as worthy as any of them. Meanwhile, Andrea Pirlo...what are you doing?

The loss was a rare one at home for NYCFC, with the club falling to 10-2-3 at Yankee Stadium this season, while Portland won away from home for the fourth time this season and rocketed up to first place in the Western Conference.

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V. Nemanja Nikolic gets re-started

Remember when Nikolic was going to ease his way to the MLS single-season scoring record? Turns out, it's not that easy to do. The Chicago Fire star had 16 goals in his first 18 games, firing a warning shot at Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who all hold the mark with 27 goals. He then promptly followed that up with a nine-game scoring drought. Well, that drought ended with his equalizer against the New York Red Bulls (check out the sick assist from Michael de Leeuw!), which matched Wright-Phillips' effort and salvaged a 1-1 draw for a team trying to reclaim its early-season form. Chicago is comfortably in the playoff picture, but, like Nikolic, not nearly as feared as it was a couple of months ago. There's still time for that to change, of course.

VI. Nguyen-ing

Can the New England Revolution sneak into the playoffs? The dormant Eastern Conference team has the intriguing attacking pieces to play with anyone, it just might be a case of too little, too late. If they do make it, they'll have Lee Nguyen to thank after his game-winner in the 69th minute against Montreal, which is also trying to claw its way into the playoff picture.

Of course, if they don't make it, they can look at the atrocious 0-10-3 mark away from Gillette Stadium.

VII. This is what Orlando had in mind

Orlando City's attack hasn't been as prolific as the club may have hope it'd be after dealing for Dom Dwyer in a midseason blockbuster, but Dwyer and Cyle Larin connected for a sweet finish to open the scoring in a 2-1 win over D.C. United.

Meanwhile, this is an EXCELLENT Mario Kart reference for this sweet Yoshimar Yotun move.

VIII. This is not how you defend

Sean Franklin is a much better defender than this. Unfortunately for him, it's been that kind of year for D.C. United, and he served this on a platter to Giles Barnes.

IX. This is how you deliver a diving header

Vancouver's Yordy Reyna did the honors with this perfectly timed bullet header in the Whitecaps' 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake, one that was the eventual game-winner to help send the Canadian squad five points clear of the playoff line.

With a game or two in hand on the trailing competition, Carl Robinson's side is up to 41 points and has things going their way in the push to the postseason. In fact, with three games in hand on first-place Portland (44 points) and two on second-place Seattle (43), the Whitecaps could have a top seed for the playoffs in their sights.

X. Impact of Harvey, Irma

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have caused plenty of devastation across Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and their tentacles reached the MLS family. Orlando City couldn't return home after beating D.C. United, with the airport closed, and instead was slated to go to Atlanta for an entire week leading into its match next weekend at Atlanta United.

The Houston Dynamo, meanwhile, played at BBVA Compass Stadium for the first time since Harvey, giving plenty of thanks and well wishes to the people of their city. They couldn't deliver on the field, falling 1-0 to Colorado on a stoppage-time goal by Dominique Badji, but there are more pressing things on the minds of the Dynamo faithful these days.

XI. Seattle's son steps up

Seattle and the LA Galaxy were headed for one of those classic MLS results. Team on 11-match unbeaten run falls to struggling side fresh off 10-match winless run. Sigi Schmid's side was minutes away from pulling that off in the manager's return to Seattle with the Galaxy, only for recently re-acquired forward and Tacoma, Washington, native Lamar Neagle to spoil the ending. 

Neagle's 85th-minute equalizer off the bench salvaged a point for the Sounders, improved their unbeaten streak to 12 games and sent LA to another demoralizing result in a season full of them.