- LAFC proved to be a rude and rowdy guest as the Portland Timbers re-opened Providence Park, while Bruce Arena returned to the sidelines in a familiar place, Josef Martinez scored like an MVP and Zack Steffen said goodbye to Columbus to headline MLS Week 14.
Week 14 in MLS was, in many different ways, about returns.
There were the Portland Timbers, returning home for the first time after 12 games on the road while renovations to their home stadium were completed. There was Bruce Arena, returning both to the sideline as coach and to Los Angeles, where he enjoyed so much success with the Galaxy. There was the continued return to form for the greatest goal-scorer in a single MLS season and the greatest goal-scorer in the league's history. And, after a week hiatus, there's the return of this column.
Here's a look back at what stood out the most from MLS in Week 14:
I. Welcome home, Portland
The renovated Providence Park looks absolutely fantastic, with club owner Merritt Paulson calling the occasion the best day of his tenure with the Timbers during a halftime interview with ESPN (lest we forget that the Timbers have won MLS Cup, but to each his own, and who are we to dictate that?).
The stadium didn't need a refurbishing to be one of the league's most iconic venues, but it is larger and more modern, making for an even greater spectacle than before. Whether it translates into long-term success for the Timbers remains to be seen, but what a beautiful sight it was to see MLS in the Rose City once again.
II. LAFC, the enchanted party crasher
Having LAFC as the opponent for the home opener is akin to LSU football welcoming Alabama for its homecoming game. It's far from a handpicked gimme, no matter how amped the home crowd is. And that's precisely how things played out. Jeff Attinella played the part of over-generous house guest in gifting the on-fire Carlos Vela the opener, and LAFC maintained control throughout the 3-2 victory.
This was all despite a resurgent second half from Portland and sizzling new DP signing Brian Fernandez–who pulled off this stunner to pull the hosts within a goal prior to an ending marred by physicality, snippiness and bad blood.
Prior to all of the action, the Timbers Army, as they do, unfurled a wonderful tifo before the match–something that LAFC was able to respond to in kind after the final whistle.
It's a shame these clubs won't meet again during the regular season, but if they do see each other in a one-off playoff bout, look out for the fireworks.
III. Arena's victorious return to the sidelines
Bruce Arena was named New England Revolution head coach over two weeks ago, yet apparently took his time in actually assuming the role, not openly committing to a start date on the sidelines. Well, that day came Sunday, in the comforts of his former home stadium.
In his first match since that loss in Trindad & Tobago, Arena did what he used to do with regularity: win in L.A. The Revs went into Dignity Health Sports Park, survived a Zlatan Ibrahimovic bicycle kick and a late flurry and won again, 2-1, to move to 2-0-2 since Brad Friedel's firing (with interim coach Mike Lapper steadying the ship before Arena's debut). When Arena's hiring was announced, plenty of questions were asked regarding whether he could succeed in today's MLS, at a club that spends at a fraction of the level of the Galaxy. He's at the very least passed the first test and has his first win as a coach since the triumph over Panama that all but paved the way for the USA to qualify for Russia 2018. All but.
IV. Zlatan rides his bike
You didn't think we'd just casually mention Zlatan's bicycle kick without actually showing it, did you?
Of course, the rub is that it came in a loss, and it's not even in the top two of his highlight-reel goals in MLS, but at a certain point you just have to admire the audacity and execution, regardless of the circumstances. What a goal.
V. Zack Steffen's farewell to Columbus
Zack Steffen will be leaving the Columbus Crew for Manchester City shortly, and he played his final match at Mapfre Stadium on Saturday. From the fan tributes to Caleb Porter's locker room speech after a 2-2 draw vs. NYCFC–who, ironically, are owned by his future employer! Awkward...–it was a wonderful occasion for the USMNT No. 1.
VI. Wait, Jurgen wanted to do WHAT?
From one U.S. goalkeeper to a predecessor: Anyone watching the Red Bulls-Real Salt Lake local home broadcast was treated to a jaw-dropping story. MSG Networks' Shep Messing casually told a tale that former U.S. men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann–allegedly–wanted to bench Tim Howard before the Belgium game in the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup and had to be convinced by assistants (who Messing says relayed this story to him) otherwise up until the final minute before ultimately relenting.
The rest, of course, is history. Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando remained on the bench, Howard made a World Cup-record 15 saves and nearly backstopped the U.S. to the quarterfinals. Just when you think you'd heard it all.
VII. Wondo can't stop scoring
Speaking of the Belgium game: Chris Wondolowski! Ever since his four-goal game to break Landon Donovan's MLS all-time goal record, Wondo can't be stopped. He's rediscovered his clinical scoring form, tallying another goal in San Jose's 1-1 draw vs. D.C. United. He's now scored in three straight games (seven goals in total) after season-opening slump that didn't appear to have an end in sight. So much for that.
Gregg Berhalter was in attendance at Audi Field with the U.S. national team training ahead of Wednesday's friendly vs. Jamaica there in nearby Annapolis, Md., but don't expect a late international swan song for Wondo. Those days are, rightfully, over. It's still worth admiring what the now-36-year-old forward continues to do on a domestic level. His record sits at 151 and counting.
VIII. Josef Martinez awakens
Last season's MVP and the league's single-season scoring record holder, Josef Martinez, had been rather pedestrian to start the 2019 campaign. With five goals in his first 12 games, Martinez embodied plenty of Atlanta United's struggles in the transition from Tata Martino to Frank de Boer. He's doubled that total in his last three games (over an eight-day span!), though, and suddenly is back in the mix among MLS's top scorers.
Two stoppage-time goals vs. Minnesota United on Wednesday night appeared to point him in the right direction, as it carried over into an efficient brace vs. Chicago on Saturday. These were the only two shots Martinez took all game.
IX. Here comes ... Colorado?
One of the hottest teams in MLS is the Colorado Rapids. Wait ... what?!
Yes, the same Rapids team that endured an eight-game losing streak and pulled the plug on the Anthony Hudson experience has now gone 3-0-1 in its last four games, the latest a 3-1 win over another club that made an in-season coaching change, FC Cincinnati. There was plenty of skepticism when coaching duties were passed along–in the interim, at least–to Conor Casey, but the club has responded wonderfully, and two of his subs Saturday night combined for two goals and an assist. With reports of a tight budget limiting the coaching search, you wonder if the club will stay the course while things are trending in a positive direction.
X. Forgetting Chad Marshall (is tough)
Since Seattle Sounders center back Chad Marshall retired due to a litany of injuries, the Western Conference power hasn't found things easy on the defensive side of the ball. Marshall was low-key one of the most valuable players in the league when healthy, and in the two games since he's retired, the Sounders have lost both and given up five goals–the same amount they had conceded in the last six matches combined.
Club GM Garth Lagerwey went out and signed Ecuadorian center back Xavier Arreaga, but he–in his first start for the club–and Brad Smith both were responsible for own goals in a 2-1 defeat to FC Dallas Saturday night.
That double-own-goal feat is clearly an anomaly–according to MLS, it's just the fifth time in league history that a club has scored two own goals in the same game–and big things are expected out of Arreaga in the back, but he'll be gone for the duration of Copa America, and he'll be joined in Brazil by linchpin attacking stars Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay) and Raul Ruidiaz (Peru). With Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris potentially gone to the Gold Cup as well, that means it's next man up all over the field for a club that had enjoyed an uncharacteristically brilliant start to the season but now finds itself facing adversity.
XI. Trusty the process
Is there a more perfect last name for an athlete playing in Philadelphia than Auston Trusty's? The 20-year-old center back displayed his attacking skills Sunday, dealing Minnesota United its first home loss at the new Allianz Field with his late, tiebreaking goal.
The deft strike allowed the Union to remain atop the Eastern Conference, where its numbers still pale in comparison to those of their Western Conference counterpart. Whereas the Union have a very respectable 28 points through 16 games and a goal differential of +10, LAFC is just on another level. Bob Bradley's side has 37 points in the same number of games, with an outrageous +26 goal differential and 11 more goals scored than the next closest team, which is the Union. Perhaps Porter wasn't being that hyperbolic in calling LAFC the Man City of MLS after all.