MLS Week 17 Review: Rivalry Week is in the books

A midweek thriller and a first away win in a derby were the highlights in another week of Major League Soccer action.

MLS Week 17 Review: Rivalry Week is in the books
Christian Ramirez scored his ninth goal of the season against the Timbers | Source: Troy Wayrynen - USA TODAY Sports

The matches continue to come thick and fast in Major League Soccer and Week 17 had late goals, red cards and unexpected losses all throughout this week's round of matches.

Minnesota shock Portland at home

Tinkering with his team before the weekend rivalry matchup against Seattle Sounders FC came back to haunt Caleb Porter as his team went down to a 3-2 away loss to Minnesota United FC in a game that had everything. The first goal of the game came when Portland Timbers failed to properly deal with a corner kick in the seventh minute of the match. Sam Cronin was played through by Kevin Molina and his cross across the six-yard area was turned into his own net by Amobi Okugo. The Timbers found a way back into the match when in the 36th minute, Bobby Shuttleworth bundled Diego Valeri over at the top of his own area and conceded the penalty. The Argentine stepped up to take the penalty and sent it powerfully past Shuttleworth's diving effort into the left-hand corner of the net. The second half proved to be even more action-packed than the first and Minnesota took the lead in the 47th minute when Molina was again the creator, playing a great ball in for Christian Ramirez to lob over Jeff Attinella and put the home side ahead. The Timbers responded straight away as Vytautas Andriuškevičius' cross was put into his own net by Francisco Calvo for the second own goal of the match. In the 64th minute, a poor punch out by Attinella allowed Abu Danladi to finish into an empty net and put Minnesota ahead once again but the action was not quite finished yet. In the 69th minute, after a hard tackle by Danladi, both he and Portland's Sebastián Blanco were sent off with straight red cards; both for kicking out at each other after the challenge had been made. Portland was unable to breach Minnesota and the home side held on for their fifth win of the campaign.

The Timbers may look at their tactical changes as part of the reason why they lost on Wednesday night but there is a concerning trend as to why they keep conceding so many goals. The Timbers have now conceded 28 goals, three less than they have managed to score, and their away record is now alarming for a team that has playoff aspirations. Six losses in nine games are not what you would expect from a team of Portland's caliber and that will have to change as the season gets into it;s middle stretch. Minnesota, on the other hand, will look at this result as another benchmark for them. The last time these two teams met, Portland thrashed Minnesota in a 5-1 win but now it seems as though the league newcomers have gotten their bearings in the league and are looking to push up the table. Minnesota is conceding goals but they are also scoring enough goals to keep them off the bottom of the Western Conference and for now, that should be enough of a foothold for them this far into the season.

New York City FC get their first away win against the Red Bulls

Ben Sweat had a sterling game in the New York derby | Source: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Sweat had a sterling game in the New York Derby | Source: Adam Hunger - USA TODAY Sports

Since the first entered the league, New York City FC had not managed to beat the New York Red Bulls at the Red Bull Arena and had suffered their biggest defeat ever in the very same stadium. The players knew what they wanted out of this match and their endeavor matched their attitude as the visitors put in a solid performance to get a 2-0 win over the Red Bulls in the battle of New York. NYCFC limited the Red Bulls to only one shot on target and kept the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan quiet throughout the match while their stars performed at the other end of the field. Jack Harrison almost gave NYCFC the lead in the 18th minute when he tried to bend a shot into the far corner but Red Bulls' goalkeeper Luis Robles produced a fine save to keep the score at 0-0. Harrison got another chance to put his team ahead in the 33rd minute and he did just that, finishing into the far corner of the net with a one-time effort. Robles was called once again in the 42nd minute when David Villa produced to some quick feet to drift away from his markers and then feed Yangel Herrera who took aim at goal. The Red Bulls goalkeeper stretched and managed to tip the effort over the crossbar and keep the score at 1-0 to the visitors. Herrera threatened the Red Bulls goal again in the 54th minute and yet again, Robles was there to stop the Venezuelan from getting his goal on the day. It was only a matter of time before NYCFC would find the back of the net and they did so in the 64th minute when Ben Sweat lost his marker on a free-kick and looped his header over Robles and into the far side of the goal. It was no more than NYCFC deserved after having tested Robles on multiple occasions and they ended the match their first ever win at Red Bull Arena.

Jack Harrison continues to impress for 'The Blues' but on Saturday afternoon, Ben Sweat was the key player of the day. His cross in the first half found Harrison for NYCFC's first goal of the game and his goal in the second half sealed all three points for the visitors. Not only was the left back brilliant going forward but he dealt with every Red Bull attacker that he faced as the home side tried to find a way back into the match, putting in a well-earned Player of the Match performance. The New York Red Bulls are not having the sort of season many expected them to have. They currently sit below the red line with a good home record but have only won two games on the road. Wright-Phillips has eight goals so far this season but the service to him has not been consistent. Kljestan has six total assists but those have come in spurts and not regularly enough to feed the likes of Wright-Phillips. That leaves the perennial playoff team on the outside looking in with 17 games played already in the season as we head into July.

Columbus topple the ailing Montreal Impact

Federico Higuaín put on a match-winning performance against Montreal | Source: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Federico Higuaín put on a match-winning performance against Montreal | Source: Trevor Ruszkowski - USA TODAY Sports

The Montreal Impact came into Saturday's game away at Columbus Crew SC having faced rivals Toronto FC in a midweek Canadian Championship game and their fatigue was obvious as the Crew worked their way to a 4-1 win over the Québécois-based teamFederico Higuaín opened up the scoring in the 17th minute with a free-kick that looped over the wall and into the net without anyone able to get a touch on it. Higuaín was at fault for gifting Montreal the equalizing two minutes later when his giveaway in his own half allowed the Impact to spring forward quickly into the gaps left by a defense moving up the field and Anthony Jackson-Hamel was on hand to get his fifth goal of the season. Both teams had opportunities to take the lead in the first half and the early part of the second half but the game did not see it's next goal until substitute Kekuta Manneh came into the game. Ola Kamara played a nifty little backheel to lay the ball off for Kamara to finish from close range in the 70th minute. The same two players combined again two minutes later when Manneh found Kamara in the box with a cross and the Norwegian placed a one-time volley into the far corner of the net. The Impact could have scored the equalizer when Josh Williams gave the ball away near his own area but Matteo Mancosu's effort was saved by Zack Steffen. Columbus then made it four when Adam Jahn nodded the ball on with his first touch for Higuaín and the Argentine made no mistake from inside the box.

Four goals in five games from Higuaín have the Crew flying once again in the Eastern Conference and as it has been for most of his career there, when Higuaín is on form, Columbus is a dangerous team for anyone. Now that Manneh and Kamara are also finding form, the Columbus attack is a dynamic one and is currently keeping the team in a playoff spot at this stage of the season. For the Impact, concerns are definitely growing at how poor the team has performed so far this season after reaching the playoffs in the previous season. Montreal has had key players missing through injury but four wins out of 15 games played are definitely not good enough for them and Mauro Biello will be facing some tough questions in the coming weeks if his team does not start picking up results.

Dempsey provides some late magic in the Cascadia rivalry

Clint Dempsey eclipsed the Sounders' 'never say die' performance against their rivals | Source: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Clint Dempsey eclipsed the Sounders' 'never say die' performance against their rivals | Source: Troy Wayrynen - USA TODAY Sports

There is never a shortage of drama when the Timbers and the Sounders face off and Sunday night was no different as a dramatic, at the death goal by Clint Dempsey gave the Sounders a share of the spoils. Both teams had come away from disappointing midweek results, the Timbers losing in Minnesota and the Sounders drawing at home against Orlando City SC, but both teams had enough in them to be ready to fight for a result in this matchup. The fun started in the 27th minute when Joevin Jones cut inside onto his right foot, found his shot saved and rebounded back into his path before he used his weaker foot to put the ball past a sprawling Jeff Attinella. Dairon Asprilla almost got the leveler in the 36th minute when his header cannoned off the crossbar but Portland did find the equalizer before the half ended. Brad Evans brought down Darlington Nagbe in the area and Fanendo Adi slotted his spot-kick down the middle to tie things up in the 45th minute. That challenge also earned Evans a red card for a DOGSO and Seattle had to play out the rest of the match with ten men. The Timbers took advantage of that immediately when Asprilla rose highest to score from a corner kick in added time at the end of the first half and it looked like the Timbers were destined to win this edition of the Cascadia derby. Portland should have put the game to bed in the second half but they didn't and the Sounders grew into the game again as the second half wore on. With barely any time left on the clock, Clint Dempsey, who had come on as a second-half substitute, met Roman Torres' cross and rose above Amobi Okugo to send in a powerful header and equalize for the Sounders right at the death, silencing Providence Park once again.

With the games coming so quickly for so many teams in the MLS, head coach Brian Schmetzer decided to keep Dempsey on the bench for this matchup and bring him on later if needed. The circumstances may not have been what Schmetzer had envisioned but Dempsey did what he was brought on to do and picked up his ninth goal in nine matches against the Sounders' most disliked opponents. For Portland, after their poor showing on Wednesday, a last-minute equalizer leaving them with just one point instead of three was not what Caleb Porter would have wanted. They had most of the possession and a man advantage in high temperatures on Sunday night but they did nothing with that dominance and allowed the Sounders to rally late in the game. It's something that will not please the Timbers fan base and is another dip in a season that started so brightly for Portland.

Chicago stay on Toronto's heels in the race for top spot

David Accam got his first career hat trick on Saturday evening | Source: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
David Accam got his first career hat trick on Saturday evening | Source: Patrick Gorski - USA TODAY Sports

This version of the Chicago Fire is a far cry from the team they have been over the last few season. They are scoring goals for fun and their defense is backing up those goals with some solid displays. This time around, the Fire hosted Orlando City SC and came away with a 4-0 thumping of the Floridian team. David Accam was the man of the hour with a splendid hat-trick, his first in his MLS career. Accam got his first in the third minute when he was found by a low cross from Matt Polster and he finished with a quick backheel flick into the net. Nemanja Nikolić could have made it two within four minutes after Accam played him through but his effort went wide. Accam then got his second after beating the offside trap to get on Bastian Schweinsteiger 's long raking ball over the top in the eighth minute. The Ghanian touched the ball around the goalkeeper and then settled himself before sliding the ball past the defenders on the goal line. Orlando was all over the place defensively and could have been down by at least five goals before the half time whistle blew. The second half played out the same way as the first and this time, Nikolić found his shooting boots as he put Chicago 3-0 up in the 50th minute. João Meira had won the ball in midfield and Accam latched onto the loose ball, drove forward and found Nikolić to his right and the Hungarian did the rest. Accam continued to influence the game in the second half and earned his team a 62nd-minute penalty after being brought down in the box by Scott Sutter. The Ghanian stepped up to take the penalty himself and sent Joe Bendick the wrong way to complete his hat trick.

Nikolić may have only gotten one goal on the day but he should have scored more. The striker has been lethal in front of goal, currently topping the goal scoring charts in the MLS with 14 goals and if he continues on at this rate, and Accam builds on his performance, Chicago will be a force to reckon with come playoff time. Orlando played their fourth game in 11 matches and it showed in their legs as Chicago ran all over them and they were unable to match the energy displayed by the home side. They also haven't won a game in the MLS since May and with Carlos Rivas picking up an injury during this game, Orlando is looking a little thin at a time when they need as many healthy players as possible.

The Galaxy keep up the tag of 'road game kings'

The Galaxy continue to pick up results away from home | Source: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The Galaxy continue to pick up results away from home | Source: Isaiah J. Downing - USA TODAY Sports

A midweek 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids brought the LA Galaxy away record to five wins, two losses and one draw. With another game looming over the weekend, head coach Curt Onalfo made some changes to his team, one of those being Galaxy product Jack McBean getting the start at forward. The player repaid his coach's faith in him by scoring a brace as the Galaxy picked up another impressive away win. The Rapids should have taken the lead in the second minute of the game when Josh Gatt beat the offside trap to get onto a long diagonal ball by Dillon Serna but his sent his effort wide of the goal with only goalkeeper Clément Diop to beat. That miss proved costly as in the fifth minute, defender Axel Sjöberg hit his clearance against Jose Villareal and the deflection landed at the feet of McBean just outside the box. The forward didn't take a touch to settle the ball, instead, hit it first time and bent it towards the left-hand side of the goal where it hit the post and bounced in to give the Galaxy the lead from a sumptuous finish. The Rapids did not falter and Serna made Diop produce an outstanding save in the 18th minute to keep LA ahead. Serna got rewarded for his endeavor in the 37th minute when he wrapped his left foot around the ball to curl it into the bottom corner of the goal on the volley. The second half did not produce as many chances as the first but LA took the lead once again in the 63rd minute when João Pedro skipped by two challenges before finding McBean's near post run. The Galaxy man tucked the ball under his defender and the goalkeeper to put LA 2-1 up. Roman Alessandrini who had come on as a substitute, put the icing on the cake when he converted his 71st penalty after Kortne Ford had brought down Bradford Jamieson prior to the kick.

The Galaxy is finding points easier to come by on the road than at home, bucking the tradition of most teams doing better in front of their home fans instead of away. It's helping them right now as they sit above the red line but the team will want to fix their home form to ensure they make the playoffs this season. With Roman Alessandrini playing the way he is, there's a very high chance of that happening soon. For the Rapids, Serna, who got his first start this season, showed more creativity than most of his teammates had reflected in the last 15 games for the Rapids. His performance will certainly give Pablo Mastroeni food for thought going forward.

Quick hits

Toronto FC is dealing with their rash of games in a short period of time well as they managed to eek out a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution on Friday night, two days after playing in the Canadian Championship. Drew Moor and Sebastian Giovinco were the goal scorers on a night that the home side had to dig deep to get all three points against the 'Revs'.

Atlanta United FC bounced back from their midweek defeat to find a one-nil win over the Colorado Rapids. Josef Martinez was the main man once again for Atlanta and it seems as though his long layoff did not dull his presence in front of goal. That's now seven goals in seven appearances for the Venezuelan who looks to be back to full fitness.

The Philadelphia Union halted their losing streak thanks to a solitary goal by Fabrice Picault against D.C. United. D.C. United, who had been good value for money against Atlanta during the week, was stopped time and time again by goalkeeper Andre Blake and could not find a way past the Jamaican shot-stopper. The game also saw a good display of sportsmanship when Haris Medunjanin told the referee that his decision to red card Luis Acosta after a perceived kick was incorrect, and after conferring with his assistant, referee Sorin Stoica rescinded the sending off.

The Galaxy has no issues away from home but over the weekend, Sporting Kansas City came to Los Angeles and got a 2-1 win over their hosts. Roger Espinoza and Ike Opara gave Sporting a two-nil lead with goals in the 22nd and 35th minutes and LA got one back in the 77th minute when Dave Romney headed in a corner kick from close range. The win was the first Sporting had got in LA since they re-branded and it also halted the Galaxy's nine-game unbeaten run.

The San Jose Earthquakes took a two-goal lead against Real Salt Lake before having to see out the game with ten men after Nick Lima was sent off in the 71st minute after a second yellow card. Danny Hoesen picked up the first goal in the 13th minute and created the second when he found Marco Ureña in the 68th minute to make it two. Jose Hernandez pulled one back for RSL in stoppage time but it was too little, too late for the visitors at Avaya Stadium.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC played out a 2-2 away draw at Minnesota to keep their playoff aspirations alive. Vancouver took the lead through a Cristian Techera penalty in the 17th minute and Tony Tchani made it two just before the end of halftime, in added time. Minnesota came back strongly in the second half and tied up the game thanks to goals by Francisco Calvo and Jérôme Thiesson in the 50th and 68th minutes of the game. Minnesota is scoring lots of goals but they are also conceding far too many at the same time. There is still plenty of time left in the season to correct that.

The all-Texas matchup between the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas once again ended with all things square. Erick Torres scored his 11th of the season when he skipped by his marker and slotted home a cool finish in the 17th minute. Another in-form striker leveled things up in the 59th minute for Dallas as Maximiliano Urruti bagged his ninth of the season.


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