There is no revenge for Super Bowl LI—not for the Atlanta Falcons and certainly not for owner Arthur Blank. It was too important, too historic and too brutal ever to be wiped away. Compared to that debacle, an MLS regular season game is insignificant.
But the 7-0 beatdown administered by Blank’s Atlanta United on Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution—while not revenge—certainly will reverberate. Last Wednesday’s game was a crossroads for both teams.
For the Revs, it kicked off a humiliating four-day stretch that culminated in coach Jay Heaps’s firing (announced Tuesday morning). For Atlanta, it cemented the expansion side as the team to watch during the MLS stretch run.
The Supporters' Shield’s destination is academic at this point. It’s bound for Toronto either this week or next. And the squads jostling for the final couple playoff spots in the West are mediocre.
But Atlanta—this is a bold, fast, dynamic side that scores beautiful goals and draws massive crowds, and it has games in hand over the Eastern teams above it. A home playoff game, perhaps even second place, are at stake. Atlanta’s rise will be the story in the weeks to come.
The 7-0 rout and Heaps’s subsequent dismissal also highlighted the respective commitments to their soccer teams made by Blank and Kraft. And while Blank can’t afford to be smug—that highlight is no Lombardi Trophy—United fans can afford to feel pretty good about their team’s direction. No expense was spared in making Mercedes-Benz Stadium as much a downtown home for the soccer club as it is for the Falcons. A state-of-the-art, dedicated soccer training facility is up and running. United’s academy won a title in its first season and already fields potential pros. And the commitment to scouting and signing top foreigners, from coach Gerardo Martino to the likes of Miguel Almirón and Josef Martínez, is clear.
Kraft and the Revs have none of that, and they had a 20-year head start. And so Atlanta rises and New England falls in this week’s ranking:
1. Toronto FC
After demolishing LA (absent Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore), the Reds are just five points away from the Shield. Wins on Wednesday against visiting Montreal and then at New England would lock up TFC’s second trophy of 2017.
2. New York City FC
Toronto won’t be caught, and NYCFC now must hold off Chicago and Atlanta to avoid the MLS Cup playoff knockout round. Andrea Pirlo notched his second assist of the season in Saturday’s 1-1 tie at Colorado.
3. Seattle Sounders
Glass half-full: Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Dallas extended the Sounders’ club-record unbeaten streak to 13 games. Half-empty: That’s a run of four straight draws, and punchless Colorado is the only other club shut out by FCD in the past 3.5 months.
4. Sporting Kansas City
SKC enters the U.S. Open Cup final unbeaten in 19 home games in all competitions (12-0-7), dating back to a CONCACAF Champions League loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in September 2016.
5. Atlanta United FC
Josef Martínez became the third player with in MLS history with hat tricks in consecutive league games, following Robbie Keane and Eddie Johnson, and the fifth with three hat tricks in a single season.
6. Vancouver Whitecaps
The Caps snatched a stoppage-time tie with Columbus when former Crew midfielder Tony Tchani scored two minutes into stoppage time. Vancouver is on a 4-0-2 run and into first in the Western Conference.
7. Portland Timbers
Diego Valeri, now a serious MVP candidate, became the first MLS player to score in eight straight league games in Saturday’s setback to RSL. His 18th goal tied the MLS single-season record for a midfielder and the single-season club mark.
8. New York Red Bulls
An inability to finish early chances against Philadeliphia forced coach Jesse Marsch to bring Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Philips off the bench just three days before the U.S. Open Cup final in Kansas City. NYRB still had to settle for one point.
9. Columbus Crew SC
Columbus’s 3-0-3 streak is its longest unbeaten run in five years. Kekuta Manneh had a goal and an assist in Saturday’s 2-2 at Vancouver, his former club.
10. Real Salt Lake
RSL is 6-2-3 since the end of June and defeated Portland, 2-1, on Saturday. Playoff-position rivals San Jose, Houston and FC Dallas, however, have games in hand.
11. Chicago Fire
Nemanja Nikolic tied the Fire record for regular season goals with his 18th in Saturday’s 3-0 rout of D.C. He draws even with Ante Razov, who tallied 18 in 2000.
12. San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes have won two of three and are back in the playoff hunt. Chris Wondolowski is one goal behind third-place Jaime Moreno on MLS’s all-time regular season list, and San Jose visits D.C. this weekend.
13. Houston Dynamo
Houston’s 0-3-1 run is its worst of the season, and the Dynamo have been shut out in consecutive matches. They face NYCFC in Hartford on Saturday.
14. FC Dallas
The winless run is now nine, and the Shield holders now have slipped below the MLS playoff line. Times are desperate in Dallas. “We have to keep fighting. It’s what we are,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “The league is that tough. The league has become that hard for us this year.”
15. Minnesota United FC
So that’s why they drafted him first overall. Abu Danladi’s 89th-minute stunner lifted MNU to a 3-2 win in Montreal. It was the UCLA product’s sixth goal this season. United is on a 2-1-1 run.
16. Orlando City SC
Saturday’s bonkers 3-3 tie in Atlanta featured Dom Dwyer’s first two goals for Orlando since returning to the club in a blockbuster trade with SKC two months ago.
17. Philadelphia Union
Andre Blake was spectacular in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena, posting a season-high eight saves on the way to his eighth shutout of the season. Philly has tied four of its past five.
18. Colorado Rapids
It’s the late show with Dominique Badji. The Senegalese forward struck in the 92nd minute to lift Colorado over Houston on Sept. 9, then scored in the 88th in Saturday’s 1-1 tie with NYCFC.
19. New England Revolution
Last week featured two losses, 10 goals against and a ridiculous three red cards, and this one began with Heaps’ ouster. It won't get easier. Interim coach Tom Soehn’s first game in charge is vs. TFC.
20. Montreal Impact
Four straight defeats elicited a statement from owner Joey Saputo, who said, “Our team’s latest performance has clearly fallen short of our expectations …. Rest assured that this message has been conveyed to the technical staff and the players.”
21. LA Galaxy
The Galaxy fell back to Earth after their heady 1-0-1 stretch and now face a difficult road trip to Atlanta, Kansas City and Houston. They’ll miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
22. D.C. United
After being overwhelmed in Chicago, D.C. coach Ben Olsen began to look toward 2018. “We need to see who we are going into next year, so there’s a certain amount of evaluation going on for the rest of this year and that evaluation includes me,” he said.