Zlatan Ibrahimovic couldn't reproduce his heroics off the bench, while video replay altered the most anticipated MLS match of the weekend in a huge way.
With seven teams out of action, due to a combination of rescheduled matches to accommodate the Concacaf Champions League semifinals and scheduled bye weeks, there were a pair of pressing questions entering MLS Week 6.
First, of course, surrounded Zlatan Ibrahimovic. What could the super Swede do for an encore after his LA Galaxy debut? And the second revolved around Atlanta United vs. LAFC, a meeting of two of the league's newest, big spending clubs. Which star-studded team on the rise would emerge victorious in this anticipated clash?
The answers both underwhelmed, unfortunately for the neutral fan. The Galaxy once again found themselves facing a multi-goal deficit before Ibrahimovic came on, yet there were no sensational "OH COME ON!" moments to be had. And in Atlanta, video replay reared its head early and late in a match-altering way.
Outside of those two clashes, Orlando City offered more late drama, two unbeatens still remain and an aspiring U.S. men's national team goalkeeper had a gaffe to forget.
Here was the best of the week in MLS:
I. Zlatan, the sequel
After everything Zlatan Ibrahimovic did in his 20-minute starring cameo last week, there was a thirst and desire for more all week in the build-up to the LA Galaxy's Sunday night clash vs. a Felipe Gutierrez-less Sporting Kansas City. Well, not shockingly, it was less eventful, and like a classic Hollywood flick, the sequel didn't live up to the obscene expectations.
It started off as more of the same. The Galaxy again found themselves in a hole before Zlatan could step on the field, this one a deficit that grew to 2-0 with Johnny Russell scoring a great goal as Ibra was waiting by the fourth official to check in.
And like against LAFC, again the Galaxy came to life immediately after he came on, this time with half an hour to go. Suddenly Romain Alessandrini rocked the woodwork with a blast, and moments later he forced one of the 10 saves Tim Melia would make. In the 77th minute, Zlatan ripped a laser from long range that forced Melia into an awkward parry.
In the 81st, he tested Melia from long range again. In the 83rd he rifled in a long-range free kick into Melia's gut. The match became largely one-way traffic with Ibrahimovic on the field. Was some of that due to SKC content to nurse a multi-goal lead? Sure. But there's no denying the Zlatan effect. For the Galaxy's sake, they'll hope that he can actually enter a game in which they're not trailing.
Things will naturally trend toward a more normal set of circumstances as Ibrahimovic settles in. After Zlatan announced his arrival in sensational fashion, he spent the week getting to know the L.A. sports scene, spending time with the NHL's Kings, NBA's Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal, but the most notable meeting of all came on gameday, when he met a certain former teammate and MLS-owner-to-be.
II. VAR alters Atlanta United-LAFC
If this play happens two years ago, Atlanta United goes down to 10 men in the first minute, is forced to claw its way back against a powerful, well-drilled opponent and probably loses. Instead, it happened in the VAR era of MLS. So Chris McCann was let off the hook, Atlanta stayed at full strength and eventually overpowered LAFC to the tune of a 5-0 rout in an anticipated matchup of two of the league's most exciting, burgeoning teams.
Yeah, LAFC didn't quite agree with the unique decision.
It got worse for LAFC (and VAR supporters), when Miguel Almiron was granted a penalty thanks to another questionable video replay decision. At the time, Atlanta led 2-0, but this call was the impetus for the blowout. Almiron converted, was gifted another when Joao Moutinho handled a free kick in the box and was sent off and Romario Williams tacked on another to account for the lopsided 5-0 tally.
Oh, how different this game would have been had McCann's red card stood.
III. A prolific first quarter century
This is an impressive number, Josef Martinez.
IV. Definitely the best comeback from 2-0 down anywhere in the world this weekend
Oh, except that one in Manchester. Orlando City was left for dead at home against Portland, but three goals in the final 10 minutes turned a loss into a win, gave Orlando City its second straight thrilling set of three points and left the Timbers kicking themselves for throwing away points that have been hard to come by under new manager Giovanni Savarese.
Rookie Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan and Dom Dwyer all scored between the 80th and 87th minutes to flip the script.
Dwyer, in particular, has been a lightning rod since returning to action for Orlando last weekend, with three goals in his first two games, and it was his slipping, sliding, spinning 87th-minute winner that completed the process of turning the match upside-down.
If the early part of this season is any indication–between the opening night heroics vs. D.C. United and last week's 4-3 thriller vs. the Red Bulls–you do not want to turn off an Orlando City match at any point.
V. Save, or XFL race for possession?
Remember in the old XFL, when instead of traditional coin tosses each team had a player sprint to claim the ball? Well, FC Dallas goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer and Colorado Rapids forward Joe Mason did their best impression, scrambling to get to this wayward rebound of a saved shot as it trickled toward the goal line. Full marks to Maurer for not falling over the line with the ball.
VI. RSL responds
Real Salt Lake manager Mike Petke questioned his team's mentality after a loss to Toronto FC last week, and his players responded by topping Vancouver 2-1. Forget about the fact that Marcelo Silva likely should've seen red for his flying, reckless, two-footed challenge into Kei Kamara. Luis Silva and Jefferson Savarino handled the scoring, and RSL's mentality shrugged off a stoppage-time goal Brek Shea to get back in the win column. RSL might not be the best or most consistent team in the league, but with the outspoken Petke at the helm and a mixture a young talent with veterans who date back to MLS 1.0, it is certainly worth your attention.
VII. Zack Steffen, noooooooo!
As a fellow Terp, it pains me to throw Columbus Crew and ex-University of Maryland goalkeeper Zack Steffen into the spotlight for the wrong reasons, but you just can't be making plays like this out of the back.
Yeeeeesh. There's still plenty to love about Steffen's game, and he'll rightfully remain in the U.S. national team conversation for the 2022 cycle, but this was a forgettable moment, and one that gifted the league's reigning Golden Boot winner a golden opportunity–and Chicago's only shot on goal all night.
VIII. A late equalizer to stay undefeated
It's weird to think that FC Dallas is one of the last two unbeaten teams in MLS given that its start has been rather underwhelming (especially compared to that of fellow unbeaten NYCFC), but Cristian Colman made sure FCD maintained that 0 in the L column (and improved to 1-0-3) with this 89th-minute dagger, complements of a vintage assist from Mauro Diaz.
IX. Hit em where it hurts
As if the 4-0 drubbing the New England Revolution put on the Montreal Impact Friday night wasn't bad enough. But don't try Foxborough-made maple syrup, though. Vermont, sure.
X. Slow motion for me
Watching a goal develop in slow motion is quite the experience. Often, plays develop so fast that it's hard to appreciate each movement, each step that leads to a goal. Not in this case, thanks to the Philadelphia Union's social media team (just leave the volume off unless you like the sound of a dying raptor).
XI. Meet LAFC's new $30 million recruiting tool
It's certainly easier to recover from 5-0 drubbings and 3-0 blown leads if you've got this to come to every day.
I mean, just look at this place. And the state-of-the-art Banc of California Stadium is slated to open in three weeks, too. LAFC may be coming off a pair of demoralizing losses, but there is a ton to look forward to for the black and gold. Who wouldn't want these kinds of accommodations?