- The Portland Timbers are the hottest team in MLS, while injuries and rumor uncertainty have thrown some wrenches into both the red and blue sides of New York.
As teams around MLS prepare to lose players for the World Cup and the transfer window opens across Europe, we're approaching the time when the contenders will separate from the pretenders and when some contenders may lose key pieces–either for a few weeks or for good.
The New York Red Bulls certainly qualify for much of the above, as a 3-1 win in Atlanta cemented their status as contenders even further. Bradley Wright-Phillips's pair of headers four minutes apart secured arguably the most impressive result of the weekend, but it wasn't all smiles after the final whistle. The club accomplished the victory while surrounded with rumors involving Red Bulls sister club RB Leipzig, its coach and a star midfielder, and it was left with plenty to worry despite the win after a serious-looking injury–and a potential second one to that star midfielder in said transfer rumors–further complicated matters.
Another club securing contender status is the Portland Timbers, who have reeled off five straight wins and are beginning to resemble the team most expected in the preseason, and that's where will begin our tour of what stood out the most from MLS in Week 12:
I. Chant matches moment
The Portland Timbers are the hottest team in MLS after a club-record fifth straight win, and their triumphant moment synced up with the Timbers Army perfectly. As the fervent supporters chanted "You Are My Sunshine," Samuel Armenteros dented the back of the net with his thunderbolt of a game-winner vs. LAFC–opening his MLS account in the process–before promptly joining said supporters by taking his place on the capo stand. Talk about serendipity:
The Timbers have found their stride under first-year manager Giovanni Savarese, who is quieting anyone who doubted his credentials as Portland limped through the start of the season. Then again, anyone questioning anyone's credentials based on MLS performance in March and April likely hasn't seen enough MLS to understand just how this league works. The Timbers boast too much skill and talent to not get it right, and after working out some of the kinks under Savarese and getting some key players back from injury–not to mention getting to enjoy their home confines after five matches on the road to start the season–they're right back on course.
And as if Portland's win over LAFC wasn't satisfying enough, this club kept doling out Ls in the form of excellent social media-ing.
II. Vela's corner
LAFC may have come up short at Providence Park, but Carlos Vela yet again showed that he's got an extra income stream, with the upper left-hand corner of goals paying him rent on a weekly basis. He absolutely owns that space. His left-footed curlers are dangerous, unstoppable and a big reason why he's challenging for top goalscorer honors in his maiden MLS season.
III. Vieira's successor-in-waiting?
The rumor mill is abuzz that Patrick Vieira is bound to leave NYCFC–but not for Arsenal. OGC Nice is the destination where French media have the manager headed, to replace the departed Lucien Favre, though there's been no official word of the sort just yet. It's clearly not an ideal set of circumstances for NYCFC, which is currently locked in a battle with Atlanta United for the top spot in the East and figures to factor into the Supporters' Shield hunt based on its fine form.
Well, have no fear, NYCFC fans. Vieira's potential successor is meticulous in mimicking his every motion.
IV. Thoughts with Kemar Lawrence
The incident looked nasty, and the fallout even worse. While New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence was awkwardly falling to the ground, he took a ball off the face and went down in a heap. Stand-in goalkeeper Ryan Meara–playing in place of injured ironman Luis Robles, whose 183-match consecutive games-played streak was snapped–wasted no time in calling on the medics, and the Jamaican international stayed immobile on the ground for many minutes as the concern grew in Atlanta's Mercedes Benz Stadium.
That Lawrence moved his arms in shaking manager Jesse Marsch's hand prior to being stretchered out to a local hospital was encouraging, and we can only hope the news gets better from there regarding his condition.
The first indications are at least promising:
V. More Red Bulls injury woe
Tyler Adams wasn't included on the U.S. men's national team's initial roster for the upcoming friendlies, but he's a candidate to be one of the many expected additions after the USMNT plays Bolivia and heads to Europe for a week. At least he was, before he exited with an injury simultaneously as Lawrence was being tended to on the field. Adams was holding the outside of his right knee and looked dismayed as he was consulting with Marsch. Of course, it's possible that he was also shook by what he'd just seen on the field in what happened to Lawrence, but the sight did not bode well for Red Bulls fans, despite their club being up 3-1 in a tough place to win.
That the injury occurred as Adams' name started to make the rounds in the rumor mill regarding a potential move to RB Leipzig (where Marsch, reportedly, is being considered as the replacement for exiting manager Ralph Hassenhutl), only heightens the level of disappointment. We'll wait for an official diagnosis before issuing an appropriate reaction, but Adams' initial one did not look promising.
VI. Who needs Rooney?
How about D.C. United, hitting the road, looking electric and seizing points in dominant fashion? Granted, it came against a San Jose Earthquakes side that entered the weekend with a woeful 2-5-2 mark, but points are points, and D.C. needs each one it can get while continuing its whirlwind road trip before opening Audi Field.
And while the speculation continues to bubble that the club will shell out an obscene amount of money to sign Wayne Rooney from Everton, the product churned out by midfield talents Zoltan Steiber, Yamil Asad and Luciano Acosta gave D.C. the dynamic element it was expecting to see entering the season.
VII. The ultimate throwback
May is for commemorating "Throwback Night," as the Earthquakes showed Saturday and as Sporting Kansas City will next weekend. But no team is apparently committed to the cause quite like the Columbus Crew. A center back named Lalas, with big hair, scoring off a header from a corner kick in New England? That's just straight-up vintage.
VIII. A 100th-minute equalizer
That's certainly not a minute number you see in your average regular-season box score. But the Vancouver Whitecaps made sure it appeared thanks to Kei Kamara's last-gasp penalty, one that salvaged a 2-2 draw against FC Dallas with the latest stoppage-time goal in MLS history.
It was Vancouver's second 2-2 draw of the week, and the third time it came from behind to salvage one in eight days after Yordy Reyna's 64th-minute equalizer against San Jose on Wednesday and Kendall Waston's 94th-minute equalizer against Houston a few days prior. If nothing else, the trio of results will instill a sense of belief in a Whitecaps team that has endured an inconsistent first 13 games to the season.
XI. Toronto FC, Orlando City provide narrative fodder
There's been a budding sense that Toronto FC would eventually figure things out, while Orlando City will only be taken seriously after it beats a quality opponent. Well, after Toronto's 2-1 win over Orlando on Friday night, those two narratives converged.
It was the unlikely heroics of Ryan Telfer, a local, 24-year-old, product who has earned top-flight playing time for the first time in his career this season, that secured the victory. His volley came minutes from full time, after Cristian Higuita had given Orlando a lifeline and an equalizer at BMO Field.
For Toronto, the win snapped a two-game skid, while it dealt Orlando its second straight loss on the heels of a six-game winning streak. That streak included triumphs over a CCL-focused Red Bulls, still-ironing-things-out Portland and then strugglers Philadelphia, San Jose, Colorado and Real Salt Lake. So there's a reason there was skepticism of Orlando entering this stretch against tough foes. The Lions will have a chance to answer their doubters next month, with three road games in 11 days, including one at NYCFC on June 2.
X. Rimando reads the riot act
Real Salt Lake conceded four goals to a Philadelphia Union team that had scored just eight in 10 games entering the weekend, and its veteran goalkeeper was none too pleased with the result–particularly the effort he put forth and that of the defenders ahead of him.
We’ll keep working and will figure this out. Defensive mentality has to change especially on the road. More bite, more tackles, and less goals against. Could of been worse with my slip up🙋🏽♂️. On to the next.— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) May 20, 2018
Rewatched the game and IMO defense has ALWAYS won games, defense gets results & defense has always won championships. The recipe for results has always been the defensive core of a team, passion, balls, and effort. Our roster is who we are but we need to find this in us.— Nick Rimando (@NickRimando) May 20, 2018
RSL, which has been the most inconsistent team in the league this season in terms of alternating wins and losses, returns to the site of its greatest triumph and Rimando's heroics–Seattle, 2009 MLS Cup–with a chance to heed its field general's call.
XI. Elis, Dynamo make a statement
Alberth Elis and the Houston Dynamo exited the team bus Sunday wearing T-shirts that read "Santa Fe We Won't Forget" – a nod to the tragic school shooting that took place at nearby Santa Fe High School and a show of support to those impacted in the Houston area.
Elis, known as La Panterita, then let his play do the talking, bringing the Dynamo back from a 2-1 deficit en route to a 3-2 win in Chicago. His penalty kick leveled things up before his unassailable pace (and Oscar Boniek Garcia's hustle to set him up) did the rest on the winning counterattack, vaulting Houston into the playoff places in the process.
It was a strong closing statement to pair with a poignant opening one. Well done, Panterita, and well done, Houston.