Minnesota United opened the doors to its sensational new home, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela continued to deliver for their respective L.A. teams and Ezequiel Barco came through at last for Atlanta United in MLS Week 7.
From the brand new, to the brilliant, to the boneheaded, MLS Week 7 featured a little bit of everything.
The weekend was headlined by the opening of the league's newest soccer-specific stadium in Minnesota, which treated match-going supporters to a six-goal thriller. Two of the league's hottest teams continued their winning ways, boosted by their in-form stars, while one big-money star for Atlanta showed what the fuss was all about with a match-winning performance off the bench.
Elsewhere, confusion and frustration regarding the implementation of VAR plagued clubs in the Pacific Northwest, while the weekend wrapped up with an act of lunacy, with Red Bulls' star Kaku blasting a ball into the stands at full power out of frustration.
Here were the most notable happenings from the weekend across MLS:
I. Welcome home, Minnesota United
Minnesota United finally opened the doors to the stunning Allianz Field on Saturday, inaugurating the league's newest state-of-the-art venue. It looks beautiful both inside and out, and the field appeared to be pristine despite a very on-brand springtime blizzard that hit the Saint Paul area in the build-up to the weekend. Perhaps the nicest touch–and no it's not the 96 beers on tap, but, also, well played–was this one, which acknowledged every person who created the venue.
Clubs often try to cultivate a culture of community ownership, and it doesn't get more meta than this, literally putting the names of the builders on the stadium itself.
The community aspect spread to the stands, where the Loons' faithful acknowledged the past eras of Minnesota soccer in a wonderful celebration of the sport in the state.
Those same fans weren't treated to three points, a disappointment that Ozzie Alonso, who scored the first goal of the stadium's history, acknowledged in his postgame remarks to ESPN, but they were treated to three goals from each side in a wild 3-3 draw vs. NYCFC. They were also treated to what will have to go down as the worst own goal of the season, courtesy of Sean Johnson.
There figure to be many fireworks to follow at one of North American soccer's true new gems.
.@MNUFC opens its stunning new stadium this weekend, and @Kyndrasports joins Planet Fútbol TV to explain the significance for soccer in Minnesota and beyond.— Planet Fútbol (@si_soccer) April 12, 2019
Watch more with a FREE https://t.co/BZeW0yrbh3 trial: https://t.co/oPFBz03Mf2 pic.twitter.com/jmdJwyLx5a
II. ZLAtan, VeLA keep pace in L.A.
LAFC and the LA Galaxy saw each other and called on Saturday, each winning 2-0 with their superstars having a hand in all of the goals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice for the Galaxy, while Carlos Vela had a goal and an assist in their respective wins vs. Philadelphia and Cincinnati.
It's a shame there won't be an El Trafico (or as Bob Bradley would prefer, LA Clasico) until July 19, because the indirect game of one-upmanship between the two has been a joy to watch. After promising to break every record MLS has, Zlatan has scored at least one goal in all four of his appearances this season–none as emasculating as his leap over Auston Trusty for a wonderful header that opened the scoring vs. the Union.
His six goals are second only to Vela, whose eight goals and five assists lead MLS in both categories. He's been a tough man to stop all season, and he's a foundational reason why LAFC boasts an unbeaten record through seven games (6-0-1) and what's by far a league-best goal differential of +16.
III. Battle of repeated MLS Cup foes goes to Seattle
Like LAFC and the Houston Dynamo, the Seattle Sounders are one of MLS's remaining unbeaten teams after an impressive win over a surging Toronto FC side. The 2016 and 2017 MLS finalists turned in one of the best games of the young season, going back and forth and having it come down to the wire. Stefan Frei's diving save to rob Alejandro Pozuelo of a stunning equalizer (that might've been covered on the post by Cristian Roldan anyway) and help from the woodwork later on in stoppage time allowed Seattle to hang on for the win, setting up a can't-miss showdown vs. LAFC next weekend.
The bigger-picture takeaway may be the continued emergence of the Jozy Altidore-Pozuelo dynamic. The Spanish playmaker assisted on two more goals for the American forward, who has scored in all four of his appearances since his return from injury and has five goals already on the young season. His return to form, full with a dynamic sidekick, may make TFC the team to beat yet again in the East.
IV. A serendipitous substitute
Ezequiel Barco hasn't done much to justify the $15 million transfer fee Atlanta United dropped to sign him, but Saturday was a start. The 20-year-old Argentine was pressed into action in New England after an early injury to Eric Remedi, and he promptly delivered, with his two-goal effort giving the defending MLS Cup champs their first win of the season. His second goal was the eye opener and the type of play that made you see what Atlanta's front office saw when courting him. The right-footed curler bent the laws of physics while curving inside the far post and let Atlanta leapfrog New England to climb out of the Eastern Conference cellar.
V. A very MLS result
The Columbus Crew had won four of five matches and ascended to first in the Eastern Conference, with those four wins coming via clean sheet. The Montreal Impact hadn't won in their last three matches–not coincidentally lining up with Ignacio Piatti's absence–those being a 7-1 loss to Sporting KC followed by a pair of 0-0 draws. Montreal was without Piatti again, yet found a way to a 1-0 win, with Harry Novillo scoring his first MLS goal to get the job done.
MLS is getting more and more into the sports gambling sphere as leagues navigate the new terrain, but you're nuts if you bet on MLS games.
VI. Durkin gets his shot
Much has been made of D.C. United midfield prospect Chris Durkin remaining just that–a prospect without the regular minutes befitting of a young and capable player. The Athletic recently reported that D.C. denied him a loan to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, but if it's not going to give him the opportunity to play in a crowded D.C. midfield, then what's the point? Well, it would appear that he's in D.C.'s current plans in some facet, after all.
With D.C. playing a third game in a week, Ben Olsen rotated his squad and gave the 19-year-old his shot–and he delivered.
Now the only question is whether more minutes are on the way.
VII. You can feel the frustration in VAncouveR
The Vancouver Whitecaps were so close to their first win of the season, nursing a late 1-0 lead over the Chicago Fire before the VAR gods struck against the Whitecaps–again.
A dubious handball call on Doneil Henry allowed Nemanja Nikolic to level the game from the penalty spot, turning that lead into a 1-1 draw.
It's not the first time VAR has foiled Vancouver's plans this season, either. But, hey, at least they're in the lead in one table.
VIII. The frustration isn't exclusive to Vancouver; Sincerely, Portland
The lack of consistency at what is and isn't a call–specifically as it relates to handballs–continues to confound those across the league. While Henry's infraction was penalized after a VAR review, Ryan Hollingshead's apparent handball in second-half stoppage time was not. Instead of having the chance to tie FC Dallas 2-2, the Portland Timbers succumed to a 2-1 defeat, their fifth straight loss in what's been a brutal season-opening road trip while their home stadium's renovations are completed.
Goalkeeper Jeff Attinella minced words in hopes of avoiding a fine but couldn't fully bite his tongue–er, not tweet–during his postgame apology to the fans, something that's become somewhat of a trend in Portland these days.
I don’t have the words (or the money) to talk about the call. It was clear and obvious to everyone except the one person who matters. We won’t stop working until we get this thing right, I can promise you all that. As always, thanks to the fans who made the trip 👊. #RCTID— Jeff Attinella (@Jeff_Attinella1) April 14, 2019
IX. Real Salt Lake GOT to do something different
Oh, how very topical.
And it worked! RSL's 2-1 win over Orlando City snapped a four-game losing skid and got the club back on track. The ante has been raised for Friday night's lineup reveal in Cincinnati.
X. Sporting KC begins the road back
Gianluca Busio isn't remotely close to old enough to have a hangover, so Sporting Kansas City's CCL semifinal hangover simply didn't apply to the 16-year-old. Busio scored in a third straight MLS match to salvage a point for Sporting KC, which was headed toward a 2-1 loss to the Red Bulls before securing the 2-2 draw.
We've seen CCL heartbreaks have residual impacts that can last the duration of a season (just ask Toronto FC) so Sporting KC stopping the bleeding and picking up the pieces is an optimistic sign for its league fortunes going forward.
XI. The boneheaded play of the week
There's not much competition here, with full respect to Sean Johnson's own-goal exploits. With the Red Bulls looking to clear and potentially embark on a game-winning counter, DP playmaker Kaku was livid that Vincent Bezecourt couldn't find him down the sideline, with his pass instead getting deflected and put out for a throw-in. Kaku, in his frustration, lashed at the dead ball, kicking it at the first row of supporters.
There's no line of thinking or any array of excuses that justify his actions, and the subsequent red card was wholly deserved–as the multi-game suspension that should surely follow will be as well. All you need to know about how ridiculous it was is the sight of Kaku's own teammates checking in on the fan he needlessly endangered.
The Red Bulls aren't exactly playing with a big margin for error these days after three losses that preceded the draw with SKC, and now they'll be short a key figure–one who was in line to have a gorgeous game-winning assist before Busio's equalizer–for next week's trip to New England and almost definitely more beyond that.