Nine weeks into the season and the race for a playoff spot continues to experience twists and turns in Major League Soccer. From D.C. United taking all three points away to Atlanta United FC, FC Dallas and Portland Timbers as well as Seattle Sounders and the New England Revolution, all playing out thrilling draws in front of fans. It was another unforgettable week in the MLS.
D.C. United perform the perfect smash and grab
No one expected the scoreline that came out of Atlanta on Sunday afternoon as the MLS wrapped up its weekend action. A United team that was wracked with injuries was not supposed to come away from facing a red-hot Atlanta team with a 3-1 win but that is what exactly happened. It could have been a different story altogether had Héctor Villalba taken the two big chances that had come his way in the first three minutes of the game but Billy Hamid made two critical saves to keep his team in it. Atlanta's early pressure did tell has Kenwyn Jones headed home the opening goal in the ninth minute. Atlanta continued to push but could not find the edge in front of goal to close the door on D.C. United. Those misses would end up haunting Atlanta as D.C. found their footing 25 minutes in and grabbed an unlikely equalizer through a Michael Parkhurst own goal. The home crowd was silenced momentarily but they were stunned into as they watched the away side take the lead in the 35th minute when Luciano Acosta capitalized on a mistake by Leandro González Pirez. Things went from bad to worse in the second half for Atlanta as D.C. United grabbed their third of the day in the 56th minute through Sebastian Le Toux. No matter what Atlanta did after that, they could not find a way through a now-resolved D.C. United team even with most of the possession and the game petered out with Lamar Neagle almost grabbing a fourth in stoppage time if not for a Parkhurst intervention on the goal line.
Billy Hamid, Kofi Opare, and Luciano Acosta were the chief protagonists but credit has to go to the entire D.C. team who survived Atlanta's early onslaught and stood strong to see out the win. They will take a lot of confidence going into next week's match and as Acosta gains more match-fitness, the better this United team will be. Atlanta, on the other hand, will look back to their early dominance with disappointment as they failed to capitalize on what they had been given. Head coach Gerardo Martino will also need to find an alternative to his usual tactics when they fail as Sunday showed that Atlanta can become unstuck if you do not give them any space behind to run into.
FC Dallas remain the only undefeated team
FC Dallas knew they would have a tough task in front of them when they hosted the Portland Timbers and they did. The home team had to come back twice to end the game in a 2-2 draw after the Timbers had nudged ahead in the match. The Timbers took the lead in the 30th minute when Fanendo Adi met David Guzmán's free-kick in the penalty area and nodded it home. Former Timbers man, Max Urruti, drew Dallas level in the 61st minute when he glided past some Timbers' players at the top of the box before firing his effort past a diving Jeff Attinella. Sebastián Blanco put Portland ahead again in the 71st minute after he cut inside onto his left foot and finished well from inside the 18-yard area. Portland could not keep Dallas out though and after a few attempts to level the score, Tesho Akindele was on hand to do just that in the 80th minute when he finished from closer range after Urruti's ball had found him in the box.
It was a great match to watch for the neutral as both teams were committed to showing all the various ways they could attack, whether it be individual brilliance like with Urruti or Blanco or on the counter. The Timbers remain on top of the Western conference and although they were missing Diego Valeri, Blanco did a very good job as his backup. FC Dallas is not far off from Portland and will look back on this game as a solid point at home.
Late goals are becoming a theme for the Sounders
A 3-3 draw as it stands always means that a game was action-packed but in this particular game, it was the nature of the draw that will grab all the headlines as the Seattle Sounders scored three late goals to come back and tie the game against the New England Revolution. Daigo Kobayashi shocked the home crowd with a thumping effort from outside the box in the 15th minute to give the Revs the lead. Juan Agudelo then made it two in the 26th minute after a good attacking sequence allowed Kelyn Rowe to put in a great cross for Agudelo to head home. Agudelo made it three in the 54th minute as New England caught the Sounders out on the break and it looked like the home side were heading towards a disappointing loss. The players had other ideas though and Nicolás Lodeiro started the comeback off with a goal in the 75th minute that deflected off of Delamea and wrong-footed the goalkeeper. Will Bruin, who continues his rebirth in Seattle, was the next name on the score sheet as he met Joevin Jones' cross in the 85th minute to put the Sounders within one of New England. The comeback was complete in the 88th minute when Gustav Svensson nodded on Lodeiro's delivery to an unmarked Osvaldo Alonso who could not miss from close range.
It was another fantastic night in front of a vociferous Sounders crowd and they got to watch the fight in their team come to fruition with that performance. Questions will be asked by both head coaches as to how they conceded so many goals, with Brian Schmetzer surely unhappy with how his team was cut open so easily earlier in the game and Jay Heaps will be disappointed with how quickly his team collapsed in the latter stages of the game. Overall, Schmetzer will probably be the happier of the two as his team had to dig deep to find a way back into this game and they showed a great aptitude to never give up.
Orlando roll on in the East and top the conference
A 2-0 victory for Orlando City over the Colorado Rapids made it their fifth consecutive home win of the season and put them on top of the Eastern conference after nine weeks. The home side had to wait a long time for their first goal but once it came, it was worth the wait. Carlos Rivas got the ball near the edge of the area and turned around to blast a powerful shot into a goal in the 70th minute, away from the despairing dive of Rapids' goalkeeper Zac MacMath. The returning Kaká then wrapped things up in stoppage time when he put in the rebound from Cyle Larin's effort to give Orlando a well-deserved two-goal margin.
The Rapids are missing the services of Tim Howard but that does not negate how terrible their run of form has been of late. Orlando is in great form themselves but Colorado did not put up much of a fight as Kaká and company put in a solid performance at home to bring them to six wins in seven matches so far this season. The Rapids do not have much time to figure out their concerns but they will need to find a remedy soon or they will be out of playoff contention, one season removed from almost making the MLS Cup last year.
Sporting bounce back with a big win over Real Salt Lake
After an unexpectedly poor performance last week from Sporting Kansas City, Peter Vermes' men came back and soundly beat Real Salt Lake by three goals to nil. Once upon a time, this was one of the more heated rivalries in the MLS but RSL's misfortunes of late have made the rivalry tamer than it has been in recent seasons. Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer were back on song as Feilhaber executed a lovely curling effort in the 17th minute to put Sporting 1-0 up. Dwyer then added the second of the night in the 51st minute when he sent in a low piledriver that beat the goalkeeper and then Dwyer was the architect when he played Gerso Fernandes in late in the game for Sporting's third and final goal.
RSL will look to their injury table as the source of their loss this week as Nick Rimando, among others, could not play due to injuries but their inability to plan for Feilhaber, who most know is the cog in Sporting's wheel, was inexcusable. Feilhaber took advantage of the time and space afforded to him to keep the momentum going for Sporting and also create good opportunities with pin-point passing from midfield. If he can continue to be on song, and Dwyer carries on finding the back of the net, Sporting will be headed to the playoffs this year.
- Jack Harrison starred as New York City FC staged a late recovery against the Columbus Crew to win 3-2. In the absence of their main man David Villa, Harrison opened the scoring in the eighth minute and then got the winner in the 76th minute. In between Harrison's goals, Federico Higuaín and Ola Kamara had put Columbus with goals in the 29th and 49th minutes, and then Yangel Herrera drew NYCFC level in the 64th minute.
- The New York Red Bulls did enough against the Chicago Fire to eek out a 2-1 win over their Eastern conference counterparts. Bradley Wright-Phillips got his fourth of the season in the 37th minute but Nemanja Nikolić pulled Chicago level again in the 59th minute after finishing off a great Dax McCarthy pass. Kemar Lawrence then found what was the game-winning goal in the 71st minute to give the Red Bulls a big win.
- Toronto FC's hot streak at home continued as they overcame the Houston Dynamo 2-0 thanks to a brace by Jozy Altidore. Not only was Toronto's attack on beat but their defense stepped up to quieten a very good Dynamo attack that features the likes of Eric Torres. In short, it was a good win by Toronto against a Dynamo side that tends to be tricky for most opposition.
- Minnesota United's woes came back this week as they went down to a 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. Florian Jungwirth scored off a scramble in the box in the 54th minute after a corner kick had been sent in and pushed goalwards by Chris Wondolowski. That was enough for the Earthquakes who picked up another three points on the road and left Minnesota-rooted to the bottom of the table again this season.
- Both the LA Galaxy and the Philadelphia Union were looking for three points this weekend but neither team had any luck in front of goal as they finished up with a 0-0 draw between them. Both goalkeepers, Brian Rowe and Andre Blake were effective when called upon, but the finishing from both teams was woeful and will need to improve as the season progresses.