A busy MLS week featured 16 games and nearly as many astoundingly brilliant goals.
Massive Report’s own Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka chat and get you caught up on some of what happened in Week 12 of the season.
What I watched: This may have been the slowest week of the season for me, as far as viewing goes. Houston Dynamo vs. Philadelphia Union (0-2), Atlanta United vs. Houston (4-1), D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire (0-1), Minnesota United vs. LA Galaxy (1-2) and Orlando City vs. New York City FC (0-3).
I also watched the condensed game of Real Salt Lake vs. NYFC (2-1).
Why I watched: I wanted to get a look at how Philly was playing, and that was a game I thought they might skunk the Dynamo. I didn't set out to necessarily watch Houston twice this week, but the game against Atlanta seemed poised for fireworks. DCU and Chicago let me get a look at two Eastern Conference opponents, Minnesota-LA, I thought, had the chance to get a little weird and Orlando-NYCFC was a battle of two of the top teams in the East right now.
What I noticed: The Union did what I thought they would, the Atlanta-Houston goal count did not disappoint and Chicago continues to look like the real deal (at least, against struggling teams). D.C., meanwhile, has some worries. Galaxy continued to look more comfortable than they had in the past. That was a convincing and quality win for New York City in Orlando.
Why I watched: I was looking forward to seeing how San Jose and Orlando would face off. Atlanta United and Houston Dynamo was my peak interest because both teams like to take it to their opponents and get on the scoresheet. I was not disappointed although I won't lie, I was rooting for Houston. And lastly I watched NYCFC-Orlando mainly because I had the time.
What I noticed: I thought for awhile the Quakes were terrible and Orlando was great. After this week I don't know what to think any more. Orlando City has had the benefit of Kaka back in the starting 11 but its form seems to have been dropping recently. For NYCFC, it got a three-goal victory on the road which is truly tremendous. You should watch the highlights of the Atlanta match because it was certainly a fun one to watch. Tata Martino's side dominated possession while Houston struck fast on the counter. Miguel Almiron played superbly and the whole Atlanta team was very strong. On the other side of the ball, Houston started an array of reserves and interestingly played DeMarcus Beasley in his old left wing role. I'm sorry, but a Beasley-Wenger winger pair is simply not going to do much damage against this Atlanta team. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the pieces are melding, even if the two teams they played this week (Colorado Rapids & D.C. United) are the weakest in the league, they still looked extremely threatening.
JOSH: Let’s start with Orlando, since we both saw some of them this week.
What happened? Was this just schedule congestion and coast-to-coast travel? San Jose is a haul of a road game and NYCFC is a good team, but how do you diagnose OCSC’s week?
NATE: Well, against San Jose I think the result is in part due to not starting Kaka, Carlos Rivas, Christian Higuita, Andres Nocerino, Jonathan Spector and Donny Toia. That’s six starters right there. In defense, Victor Giro and Leo Pereira both had MLS debuts in what is one of the longest road trips Orlando will have this season.
Against NYCFC, the starters returned and they suffered a thrashing defeat. Pereira once again started and was far from good, but a penalty miss from Cyle Larin and an array of wild shots by Rivas sank this team. It was, I might add, Orlando’s first loss in that stadium.
What do you think of this Orlando team at this point in the season, having not won in the last five matches?
J: I will chalk this week up to circumstances for the most part, but against NYC the midfield was not influential enough and the game was all New York.
Personally, I don’t think Orlando is a legitimate contender to win the East. But I do think it’s right there in that 3-6 range that will give it a first taste of postseason play. And it’s a team I don’t think anyone will want to play in a two-leg series.
BUT ... that will rely on Kaka staying healthy and Rivas staying healthy and the club not selling Larin in the next 10 weeks.
That’s the thing with prognostication in MLS — one or two transfers in the summer (going either way) can change everything.
We suggested Houston was ripe for the picking. Turned out we were correct in spades. They Dynamo didn’t rotate much midweek, but got caught by a very hot Philly side which pressed Houston to prevent quick counters and really picked apart the right side of the Dynamo defense. Chris Pontius was very good.
I watched Saturday’s game in Atlanta pretty casually. What do you feel the difference was there? It was never really close.
N: The match in Atlanta was Martino’s full 11 vs. an experimental Dynamo side. Houston had some spark once Erick Torres and Rommel Quioto came on, and the team honestly could have scored two, possibly even three goals. While unlucky to only get one, they could have done better in defense, which was totally wide open.
J: What do you think of Chicago’s form right now? How did they look against Colorado?
Against D.C. United, D.C. was good for the first 10 minutes and then it was all Chicago. DCU was lifeless without Luciano Acosta; Sebastian Le Toux in central midfield didn’t work. If it weren’t for Bill Hamid, the Fire would have won 2- or 3-0.
N: Colorado was never in the game. The Fire commanded from the opening minute and scored in the 15th. Veljko Paunovic brought a fifth defender on in the 70th minute to shore things up and it worked nicely. Overall, the few chances Colorado had were wasted, and over half of their seven shots came from Shkelzen Gashi. Alan Gordon played up front the entire match and didn’t even as much as attempt a shot.
J: There are no simple answers for Colorado right now. it looks very much like it caught lightning in a bottle last year, and it’s clear the club has not replaced the personnel it lost.
I know you didn’t watch that LA game. Certainly LAG didn’t have all the answers against Minnesota — it needed a golazo and an own goal to win — and right now that team relies so heavily on Romain Allesandrini to make things happen. But do you get the sense that LA might be turning a little bit of a corner?
N: They seem to be recouping a bit and you are right, Allesandrini has been that spark. He needs to stay healthy in order for this team to move up in the West. But it will still take some convincing for me to think this team is any better than its current standing.
Speaking of injuries, Baggio Husidic broke his leg at the very beginning of the match, raising more question marks for this team.
J: On the other side, Abu Danladi left with a groin injury for Minnesota. He’s been a good spark for MNU. But all teams deal with injury.
But I do think Husidic helped LA because he was willing to do the dirty work and play his role and stay in his lane, and that’s something this Galaxy side has needed.
OK. To start wrapping up ... this was the week of the fabulous goal. Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Jahmir Hyka, Christian Techera. What was your favorite goal this week?
N: Gosh, that is hard, Josh. When I saw Hyka’s goal, I thought for sure that would be it. Then I saw Kamara’s. But then I saw Gio’s ... I’m going with Gio dos Santos on this one. But I bet I’ll change my mind again tomorrow.
What do you have as the best strike of the weekend?
J: Gio’s. I’m partial to Ola’s, for obvious reasons, but the Galaxy goal made me literally get out of my seat (Ola’s made me yell). Even Allesandrini’s chip is gorgeous. There aren’t a lot of goals in which you see two outside-the-boot balls.
But I think multiple goals from this week should be up for Goal of the Year.
We’ll close as usual — what are you looking forward to watching this week?
N: I would say the two that top my list are Atlanta vs. NYCFC and San Jose vs. LA. The latter because those matches are always fun, and I expect a lot of goals in Atlanta over the weekend.
Do those interest you, or are you looking elsewhere this weekend?
J: MLS tells me it’s rivalry week! I look forward to those two games, and I’ll also prioritize two other rivalries: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers and FC Dallas vs. Houston. The latter will be more interesting than in recent years because the Dynamo are more exciting this season.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED
N: Miguel Almiron's hat trick against Houston Dynamo.
J: If you’re a young soccer player, probably Caleb Calvert’s sending off. Kids, always make sure you know the official has allowed you to come back on the field following injury treatment. And if you get a yellow card for it once, REALLY make sure you have approval before coming back on a second time.
Everyone else, you missed the goal we shall forever call “The Miracle of Two Saints.” (Hint: Gio dos Santos’ spectacular finish.)
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
N: NYCFC's 3-0 victory against Orlando City in the sunshine state. Holding the Lions’ attack to a shutout is never an easy feat, much less in their own stadium. Patrick Vieira's men should be very happy with this result.
J: There were some good performances this week, but my hat goes off to the Philadelphia Union. I know their schedule is far from imposing right now, but for a team that went most of a calendar year without a victory, a week with two wins — and four consecutive victories — is worth recognition.
N: Gio dos Santos scored the golazo of the season. ... NYCFC, Chicago Fire, and Orlando City are all in the top four in the east. ... Philadelphia Union are in the best form in the league. ... Sporting Kansas City continues to be amazing and terrible in the same week. ... Jahmir Hyka is the Albanian Messi.
(According to YouTube, this is the Albanian Messi: https://youtu.be/nnlrRFjz_TI)
J: Start engraving “Philadelphia Union” on the MLS Cup. ... Christian Ramirez will win the own goal golden boot. ... Cubo Torres will score enough penalty kicks to win the golden boot on that alone.
BASED ON WHAT YOU SAW THIS WEEK, PROJECT CREW SC’S FINAL STANDING
N: Somewhere mid-table
J: Atop the lost-lead table
Special bonus section in which we compiled clips of this week’s best goals for you
Christian Techera (Vancouver Whitecaps) vs. Sporting Kansas City:
Jahmir Hyka (San Jose Earthquakes) vs. FC Dallas:
Gio dos Santos (LA Galaxy) vs. Minnesota United: