Alejandro Pozuelo wasted little time in showing why Toronto FC was so adamant to sign him, while a number of rising teenage talents continued to prove their worth in MLS.

By Avi Creditor
April 01, 2019

An MLS weekend bookended by Panenkas featured plenty of action, highlights and weather-influenced results in between.

A pair of early themes developing in the league continued to play out over the weekend. There's last year's MLS Cup finalists struggling again, with Atlanta and Portland having combined for three points through seven matches played. There's also a series of American teenagers making the most of their chances, with FC Dallas's Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira, Sporting Kansas City's Gianluca Busio and the Phildadelphia Union's Brenden Aaronson among the batch of rising talents getting prime playing minutes and making the most of them.

Stellar strikes from Designated Players and unfortunate own goals also featured heavily over the weekend, one in which SKC scored seven goals, LAFC tallied five and Houston and Dallas each netted four as the Western Conference's best raise the bar for one another.

But Week 5 began and ended with MLS's newest star and one of its established ones chipping from the penalty spot, and that's where will begin and end our weekly look back at the most notable happenings around the league:

I. Pozuelo Panenkas and chips his way into Toronto's heart

Toronto FC had a plan all along, and it was worth the wait. Alejandro Pozuelo's arrival was everything TFC's brass hoped it would be as it searched for the replacement for Sebastian Giovinco. It'll take a season's worth–or multiple seasons' worth–of production to fill those shoes, of course, but the start couldn't have gone any better.

Pozuelo, reportedly the third-most expensive signing in league history, was a magician in a 4-0 win vs. NYCFC Friday night, with two goals and an assist in a talismanic role at BMO Field. That he told the club's president Bill Manning before the match that he'd hit a Panenka if given the chance from the penalty spot and then did just that is nothing short of sensational. That he then managed to top that with his delicate chip into the upper 90 grew the legend even more. TFC supporters would've accepted a promising performance in a win. Instead, they were treated to a show.

There's a natural inclination to extrapolate Pozuelo's performance and consider how lethal he'll be over the next seven months, but that will all play itself out. If nothing else, TFC has a proper playmaking fulcrum again, and that's something it desperately needed in order to get back to the peak it snowballed from a year ago.

II. The Pomykal hype train is leaving the station

Paxton Pomykal's breakthrough season continues with FC Dallas. It was not just the two goals vs. Real Salt Lake over the weekend–his first as a professional–but the way he commanded and carried the midfield. The 19-year-old was a revelation yet again, given the keys by new manager Luchi Gonzalez to run the show, and he helped himself against a 10-man RSL side by passing at a 58/63 (90%) clip while covering tons of space and remaining active both in and out of possession.

The upcoming U-20 World Cup could be his chance to show his skills on a global stage while shooting up the growing list of MLS youngsters attracting attention overseas.

III. Who knew Carlos Vela could do this with his left?

Oh, that's right. Everybody. That the Mexican star has turned this into a habit, and at this point defenders have to know he's going to look to curl from his left when given the chance. Much like with Arjen Robben, at a certain point you need to do everything you can to force him right and take your chances that way.

With six goals and three assists for the league's best team through five games, Vela's early MVP candidacy is off and running.

IV. Sporting KC Germany-Brazils Montreal

There may still be a contingent of folks thinking that Sporting Kansas City needs to sign a proper striker to become a more complete side, but you wouldn't know it based on the thrashing it delivered the short-handed Montreal Impact Saturday. A 7-1 beatdown at Children's Mercy Park was the ideal way to enter this week's Concacaf Champions League semifinal first leg vs. Monterrey, with an array of attacking talent riding some positive momentum.

Krisztian Nemeth's hat trick paced the rout and Johnny Russell added two of his own, while the 16-year-old Busio and Chilean veteran Felipe Gutierrez scored as well. Roger Espinoza and Gerso Fernandes each assisted on two goals in the stat-stuffing victory, which will send SKC to Mexico for Thursday night's first leg feeling quite good.

V. This. Was. March. 

This is also an egregious travel and double dribble on Marco Fabian, but Philadelphia Union fans will forgive him after contributing a goal and an assist in his return from suspension on a rainy night in Cincinnati. With Fabian a difference maker, David Accam building on his multi-goal game last weekend with another tally and 18-year-old Brenden Aaronson continuing to play the part in the midfield, there's reason for optimism an Unionville. Just stick to soccer, Marco.

VI. This stat is staggering but true

That's referring to an Inter Milan win over Torino in October 2016, with de Boer struggling yet again to replicate his success with Ajax earlier in the decade. Atlanta United fans have come crashing back down to earth after the elation of December's MLS Cup victory, and the patience with their new manager is already wearing thin, given the standard they've come to know in their two years of existence. The weather conditions in Columbus, which caused the match to be temporarily halted, certainly didn't help Saturday night, but then again, neither did the defending two minutes in that caused the club to fall behind by a goal that quickly.

Four games into its title defense, Atlanta sits in last place in the Eastern Conference. The flip side of that equation is that it's only three points out of the playoff places, so there's still time to get it right and a bigger margin for error in the coming weeks. This is not what Atlanta's braintrust and fanbase will stand for, though. Atlanta's already positioned itself as a club that operates along the lines of most European teams. Having a quick trigger on a managerial hire seemingly gone wrong would only strengthen that approach.

VII. This isn't even the most ridiculous thing Wayne Rooney has done to Orlando

But it's certainly close. Orlando City fans are still smarting from Rooney's track-back, tackle, assist combination deep into stoppage time of a pivotal win last season. What he did Sunday was far less dramatic but just as impactful. First, he draw a phantom foul on Dom Dwyer, leaping away from the Orlando forward's studs as he slid toward Rooney's legs. On the ensuing free kick, Rooney curled home from an outrageous angle–for all intents and purposes, it was an Olimpico.

VIII. An all-South Korean turning point

Never in MLS had multiple South Koreans played against one another, so history was in the offing in Seattle's 0-0 draw vs. Vancouver, when the Sounders' Kim Kee-Hee went head-to-head with the Whitecaps' Hwang In-beom. And as fate would have it, the two factored into the match's most pivotal moment. 

Kim's heroic sliding block of Hwang's close-range chance preserved the draw for Seattle in stoppage time–but not until VAR overruled referee Robert Sibiga's initial call for a penalty kick on the play.

IX. Revs respond to some pointed criticism

Brad Friedel had some interesting words to describe his players' lack of success, taking a page out of the Jurgen Klinsmann playbook last week with some of the same talking points the former U.S. manager used to flaunt. Whether he's being truthful or not, this is a side he's now had the opportunity to shape for over a year with players that supposedly suit his wishes as a coach, so the continued lack of success has to fall on his shoulders as well.

Regardless of his methods, there was a proper response by the players. A much-changed side beat Minnesota United 2-1 for a first win of the season, sparked by goals from unlikely sources, as Brandon Bye scored just the second goal of his MLS career, while Jalil Anibaba tallied his first league goal since 2015. Whatever it takes to change the middling club's fortunes.

X. Colorado outscores Houston, manages to lose 4-1

The answer to that riddle is that two of Colorado's goals were scored into its own net. Axel Sjoberg and Keegan Rosenberry had the dubious honors of turning Alberth Elis balls into their own goals in the heavy loss, which was sandwiched by a Memo Rodriguez goal assisted by Elis and then an Elis goal of his own on a banner day for La Panterita. 

The struggles go on for Colorado, meanwhile, one of four teams in the Western Conference yet to register a win with an early separation of haves and have nots starting to form. 

XI. Even when Zlatan doesn't score it's amazing

A year to the day of his unforgettable MLS debut against LAFC, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was out to commemorate the feat with another addition to his ever-growing highlight reel.

That this almost came off is nothing short of amazing. He got on the board anyway, albeit under much more standard conditions–two penalty kicks. Both were drawn under controversial circumstances, but a traditional hit low and to the corner and a Panenka were all the Galaxy needed in a 2-1 win over Portland to cap the week.

In true Zlatan fashion, though, he managed to draw laughs while simultaneously and seriously throwing a teammate under the bus following the match. Jorgen Skjelvik surely should've done better with a late cross that would've closed the door on the win and given Ibrahimovic a hat trick. Instead, he airmailed what should've been a ball played to feet, and Ibrahimovic, who had apparently promised his son a hat trick, was not pleased.

The list of players who can get away with something like this begins and ends with Zlatan.

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