Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a match-winner on his first start for the LA Galaxy, while Atlanta and NYCFC showed what's possible in this league in continuing to prove their credentials to cap MLS Week 7.
MLS is a weird place.
We're seven weeks into the new season, and both two-time reigning conference champions sit at the bottom of their respective tables. Of course, that doesn't tell the whole story. While the Seattle Sounders have been plagued by injuries and been generally awful to start the campaign (not for the first time–beware the summer surge), Toronto FC's last-place standing can be explained away by three letters: C-C-L. With all of the club's focus put on winning the Concacaf Champions League and a roster capable of taking advance of MLS's forgiving schedule and league structure, the Reds haven't quite gone all-in on MLS play just yet.
And while the two teams from whom we've come to expect excellence are stumbling, two more are rising to take their place. Atlanta United and NYCFC put on a tremendous display in Sunday night's Week 7 capper at a packed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, dazzling with their skill and going at one another to show to both Toronto and Seattle that they've got true competition at the mountaintop.
In addition to Atlanta-NYCFC, here's the best from the weekend in MLS:
I. He did not have to jump very 'skyhöga'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the match-winner on his first start for the LA Galaxy, barely leaving the ground to head home the lone tally over former Man United teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger in a 1-0 triumph over the Chicago Fire.
The goal came a day before Ibrahimovic's announcement that his chances of playing in the World Cup are "skyhöga," which means, sky high (although that might not mean what most think it means!).
His vertical leap on this goal may have been a couple of inches.
II. Ring the bell
NYCFC capped a fantastic week with a sensational match against Atlanta United, and it earned its fourth point of the week thanks to this stunning strike from Alex Ring.
NYCFC has proven all season that it has way less of a reliance on David Villa to produce in order to find success, and going into Atlanta on short rest and emerging with a point thanks to a full team effort is a testament to that.
This game was fantastic, apart from the highlights (and the VAR-overturned goal from Darlington Nagbe, which would have been a beaut). And with Atlanta's marquee winter signing Ezequiel Barco just getting his feet wet after his debut off the bench, the battles between these two sides can only get better. We're very much looking forward to the June 9 rematch and any potential playoff matchup after that. The East is very much turning into a crop of haves and have-nots, and these two are right at the top of the former.
That was the match of the season for the reasons above ⬆️ but it was also an indication of what this league represents.— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) April 16, 2018
NYCFC and Atlanta United (the two best teams in the league right now) just just gave us a glimpse into the future...
...and it’s really bright.
III. Carlos Vela's signature move
If one is an accident and two is a coincidence, then the next time Carlos Vela does this, we'll have to officially call it a trend.
*Let the record show, that neither of these first two was an accident or a coincidence. That left-footed curler is downright lethal.
IV. Cristiano Mueller?
Orlando City's Chris Mueller is a confident rookie, and he's off to a solid start in MLS. But the Cristiano Ronaldo celebration for his goal Friday night against the Philadelphia Union? For real?
V. The Roldan brothers have the same number of goals as the Dos Santos brothers
The Seattle Sounders are finally on the board after three scoreless and lackluster performances, and it was an awkward goal off a long throw-in that cracked the door open.
But Cristian Roldan turned in a beauty to make it two and help the Sounders to their first point of the season on a day when he and his brother, rookie Alex Roldan, started together for the first time. And Alex factored into the goal-scoring sequence! What a moment for their family.
Tough result after a decent performance, time to build and reflect on the good and bad. Thanks for all your support, travel safe.— Cristian Roldan⚽ (@CristianRoldan) April 15, 2018
Also, very proud of @Alex_Roldan8 on his first career start as a professional ! Thought he was excellent today. pic.twitter.com/8UBcaVsuMZ
VI. Portland finally returns home
After five matches away from Providence Park, as it undergoes renovations, the Portland Timbers finally enjoyed a home game–and the success that comes along with playing in front of their difference-making home fans.
Portland blew a 2-0 lead last time out, and it raced out to the same advantage this time around thanks in part to a dynamite strike from Alvas Powell.
The Timbers withstood Darwin Quintero's first MLS goal and held on for an important three-point haul to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Part of the whole "MLS is a weird place" moniker is that there are teams who struggle early, only to turn it on and become a force entering the postseason. With a backloaded home schedule and a talent-laden squad figuring things out under a first-year manager, Portland would certainly qualify for that distinction. Stay tuned.
VII. DCU's lengthy defense
Score a goal 43 seconds in? Check.
Play defense for 89+ minutes to earn a first win of the season? Check.
It was a bit of a unique day for D.C. United under unique circumstances, playing a one-off at the Naval Academy's Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. It was the second of two "home" games before the opening of Audi Field in July, and while D.C. took four points from the two matches, it'll surely be more than ready to open the doors on its long-awaited permanent home.
VIII. Toronto F-C-Team
No, Toronto FC was not putting its best foot forward into this match at Colorado with a Concacaf Champions League final first leg vs. Chivas looming on Tuesday.
IX. Does the mascot provide the tactics, though?
The San Jose Earthquakes are a very inclusive bunch.
X. Kaku's brilliance, sadly seen by not that many
The New York Red Bulls are playing some of the best soccer in MLS, and in Kaku have a player capable of pulling off the spectacular. It's a shame more of their fans weren't there to witness it on Saturday.
XI. The Revs may have lost, but their fans are winners
That fan is a hero and that tifo is terrific. So what if FC Dallas waltzed into Foxborough and left with a 1-0 win?