The international break was over and all the players returned to their club teams for Major League Soccer action this weekend. Teams on a roll this year continued their impressive form while other previous front-runners are beginning to hit worrying form. Once again, Week 16 in the MLS had interesting story lines sprinkled throughout.
David Villa takes on the Sounders and wins
In torrid weather at Yankee Stadium, New York City FC had their captain to thank as they found two second half goals to get all three points against Seattle Sounders FC. It was the Sounders that found the breakthrough on a water-logged pitch right at the end of the first half when Cristian Roldan got onto a pass from Clint Dempsey and finished into the far corner to give Seattle the lead. The goal had been against the run of play, and in the second half, the home side capitalized on their dominance. Early in the second half, Oneil Fisher conceded a dubious penalty which David Villa converted from the spot by placing it right down the middle. In the 77th minute, Villa completed the comeback when he placed his shot into the far corner after Jack Harrison had found him unmarked at the back post. It was no less that Villa had deserved after hitting the crossbar in the first half and coming close on numerous occasions after that.
After losing to their rivals, the New York Red Bulls last time out, this win against a potential playoff team was a welcome one for NYCFC. Villa was at his very best but those around him were playing at a very high level throughout the match as well. Seattle on the other hand, are falling further down the Western Conference table primarily due to their offensive woes. Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro have not found the form that helped them push the Sounders to their first ever MLS Cup last year and it's beginning to hurt the Sounders chances of picking up away points this season.
The Rapids find a way past the Timbers
With the way this season has been going, not many would have bet against Portland Timbers when they traveled to face the Colorado Rapids this past weekend but the underdogs prevailed and picked up a 2-1 win over the Timbers after going down by a goal initially. The Rapids almost took the lead in the ninth minute when a giveaway allowed Dominique Badji to get the ball and bear down on goal but his shot was blocked by Lawrence Olum and when the ball came to Badji again, his header did not have enough to power to beat Jake Gleeson in Portland's goal. From then on, it was all Portland as one of the in-form teams in the league steadily began to pick apart a Rapids defense that had been struggling all season long. The pressure paid off in the 18th minute when Sebastián Blanco cut inside on his right foot and curled the ball past Tim Howard who could only stand and watch a magnificent goal. Portland tested the Colorado goal constantly and Howard had to be at his very best to keep the scoreline at just 1-0 to the visitors. The second half was a different story as the home side found some rhythm and Badji made up for his earlier miss by producing a cheeky lob to equalize for the Rapids in the 51st minute. As Colorado turned the screws on Portland, they had to rely on Gleeson to make some good saves to keep them in the game but in the 89th minute, Alan Gordon produced another late act to give the Rapids all three points when he flicked his header past Gleeson.
The win against Portland makes it four home wins in four for Colorado as they look to reshape their season while they can take advantage of being at home in this stretch. Having Howard back certainly helps their defense and of Gordon can continue to make an impact as a substitute like he has done this season, the Rapids may not stay at the bottom of the conference for much longer. Portland rested their star players during the midweek US Open Cup but it did nothing to aid them when they traveled to Colorado. Head coach Caleb Porter may need to rethink his strategy if the Timbers want to get more away wins this season than they did last year.
An on-song Atlanta United proves too strong for Columbus
A much-anticipated return of Josef Martinez proved to be a great platform for Atlanta United FC as they ran out as 3-1 winners against Columbus Crew SC. In Martinez' absence, Héctor Villalba proved to be a capable deputy and he started things off for Atlanta in the 16th minute when he pounced on the ball and finished well when he was one-on-one with the goalkeeper after Yamil Asad had won the ball at the top of the Columbus penalty area. Federico Higuaín equalized for the visitors in the 26th minute after some loose defending allowed him to get onto the ball and finish from about six yards out. Miguel Almirón restored the lead in the 67th after running up the field for almost 40 yards and finishing low past Zach Steffen in Columbus' goal. The scoring didn't stop there as in the 88th minute, Martinez announced his return with a powerful finish at the near post to end a great day out for Atlanta.
When Atlanta's attack is in full flow, their Designated Players produce some scintillating soccer for the neutral to watch. The return of Martinez, who had been out through injury since April, will only elevate an already exciting Atlanta attack especially if he finds his touch in front of goal again. Columbus, on the other hand, needs to figure out how to win away from MAPFRE Stadium. Of the nine games they've played away from home, the Crew has lost seven of those games and if they want to make the playoffs this yea, that statistic needs to change.
Real Salt Lake halt slump, win against Minnesota
Two losses in a row had sent Real Salt Lake sliding toward the bottom of the Western conference but that ended with a 1-0 win over Minnesota United FC the past weekend. Yura Movsisyan got the winner in the 84th minute but the home side could have easily taken the lead before then. Minnesota's Bobby Shuttleworth faced a constant barrage throughout the game and was almost unbeatable for most of the match. When he could not get to the ball, Shuttleworth had his defender Sam Cronin to thank when his last-ditch tackle stopped a certain goal from Luis Silva earlier in the match. In the end, RSL had enough quality in them to find a way past Shuttleworth and get the three points they desperately needed.
A big reason for their turnaround this past weekend for RSL was the play of youngsters Brooke Lennon and Justin Glad. Their youth and inexperience have been exposed a few times this season but the talent is there for all to see in the US U20 internationals and it seems as though head coach Mike Petke remains confident in their abilities as he continues to put them in the starting eleven. Minnesota continues to struggle as many expected the expansion team to do. They have flashes of brilliance here and there but ultimately, the other MLS teams around them have too much experience and quality for them to overcome. It will be a long season for United fans if things continue on as they have been.
Orlando and Montreal play out a 3-3 thriller
In front of a boisterous crowd, Orlando City SC and the Montreal Impact provided us with the game of the weekend as they traded goals before finishing at 3-3. Orlando was without the services of Cyle Larin due to a league suspension for a DUI charge but they had no problem finding the back of the net in this game. Matías Pérez García opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he got onto the end of a Kaká cut back but the Impact responded eight minutes later when Ignacio Piatti found Blerim Džemaili making a late run into the box and the Hungarian powered home his effort into the near corner. Carlos Rivas gave Orlando the lead in the 23rd minute when goalkeeper Evan Bush rebounded Will Johnson's effort into Rivas' path. In the second half, Piatti stepped to the fore as he produced a brace to pull Montreal ahead of the home side. His first goal came in 58th minute when he peeled away from his marker and was picked out by Džemaili. The Italian executed a clinical finish to put the Impact back on level terms. Then on the restart, awful defending allowed Piatti to sneak through and finish into an empty net to give the Impact the lead early in the second half. Hassoun Camara could have extended the lead in the 70th minute but his initial effort was saved by Bush and his follow-up hit the post and bounced away from any Montreal player in the area. The Impact was made to pay for that miss in the dying seconds of the match when Jonathan Spector headed into the far corner from a set piece to tie things up for Orlando very, very late.
The game had everything most people would want to see in a soccer game except good defending. In particular, Spector's last gasp equalizer made up for his error on Montreal's first goal when he allowed Piatti to strip him of the ball deep in his own half. He wasn't alone in the woeful defending aspect of the game during this encounter but it made for thrilling stuff to watch as the goals continued to come at a rapid pace. Neither head coach will be happy with the way their teams defended but they will appreciate the clinical finishing by their teams when they were presented with chances in front of goal.
Alessandrini is the hero again for the Galaxy
Not much may have been known about Romain Alessandrini by the average soccer fan when he joined the LA Galaxy during the offseason but he is proving to be worth every cent. The Frenchman was the hero once again for Los Angeles when he found a late goal to tie things up at 2-2 against the Houston Dynamo at the StubHub Center. Houston was the first team to get on the scoresheet when Clément Diop couldn't handle a fierce shot from DaMarcus Beasley and Mauro Manotas was the first to the rebound to knock it in from close range. The Galaxy found the tying goal in the 35th minute when Alessandrini played in Emmanuel Boateng on the counter and the midfielder rounded the goalkeeper before putting the ball into an empty net. Houstons quick transitional play gave them the advantage again in the 74th minute when Alberth Elis dinked the ball over Diop after Houston had gotten forward quickly on the break. With time running out, the ball came out wide to Bradford Jamieson IV who played in a low cross that Alessandrini met at the far post to tuck home from close range. The Dynamo players appealed for offside but the goal stood and Alessandrini picked up his seventh goal of the season.
Not only has Alessandrini been scoring goals for the Galaxy but he has been their main creative force as well, with seven assists in 14 appearances. Not much has gone right for LA this year but Alessandrini is making the plays for them week in and week out, putting himself firmly in the MVP conversation. For the Dynamo, this makes it eight games on the road without a win and this one will live long in the memory as they could have easily put this game to bed much earlier if they had taken their chances. They didn't and the Galaxy clawed their way back into the match to steal a point.
Toronto FC is on a roll and carried on that momentum to get a 2-0 win over D.C United. It took them 60 minutes to find the back of the net after peppering the D.C. goal but Jozy Altidore broke the deadlock and then Jordan Hamilton iced the game in the 85th minute.
The Chicago Fire keep picking up points and stayed right on the heels of Toronto in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 away win against the New England Revolution. Nemanja Nikolić and Luis Solignac put Chicago ahead with goals in the 18th and 61st minutes while Antonio Delamea Mlinar grabbed the 'Revs' consolation goal in the 70th minute.
The Red Bulls needed two late goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips to get the 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union. A red card to Derrick Jones in the 53rd minute made things easier for the Red Bulls and the Union's resistance broke late as Wright-Phillips finished from close range twice to give the visitors three points.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC had to come back in the second half to earn a home draw against FC Dallas. Maximiliano Urruti had given FC Dallas the lead in the 52nd minute and then Cristian Techera found the leveler in the 74th minute for Vancouver.
An injury-ridden San Jose Earthquakes side held off Sporting Kansas City to earn a credible 0-0 draw away in Kansas. Benny Feilhaber watched his effort come off the crossbar and Roger Espinoza had his shot cleared off the line by a resilient Earthquakes defense that was determined to get at least a point, which they did.