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The Big Picture: Late goals, OBG and the Dze-iatti monster in Montreal

MR writers Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka discuss Week 16 in MLS

MLS: Montreal Impact at Orlando City SC
Blerim Dzemaili doesn’t like your dreads, Kingston. He also doesn’t believe their are lions in Jamaica.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Need a distraction from the latest Columbus Crew SC result? Looking to figure out how an inconsistent Black & Gold side fits in to a wider frame? Just curious about what other Major League Soccer fans are going through?

You’ve come to the right place, as Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discuss what they watched around MLS in Week 16.

JOSH

What I watched: LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo (2-2), Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls (0-2), Orlando City SC vs. Montreal Impact (3-3) and Real Salt Lake vs. Minnesota (1-0).

Why I watched: LA and Houston fit nicely into my schedule, I wanted to get a look at some Eastern Conference teams and wanted to try to watch some games that weren’t nationally televised, so I could offer some perspective that most people may not have been able to. This week was kind of a grab bag for me, but I ended up seeing a couple of entertaining games.

What I noticed: This was as weird a week as we’ve had as far as the normal home field advantage, and even then the pull was so strong that I saw a couple of home teams that probably didn’t deserve points still manage to grab one. Other than that, I noticed that MLS will MLS — it’s really hard to figure out right now who the good teams are.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: Orlando City SC vs. Montreal Impact, San Jose Earthquakes vs. Sporting Kansas City (0-0), Colorado Rapids vs. Portland Timbers (2-1) and LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo.

Why I watched: I always seem to catch Portland and Houston matches. I guess I just kind of like how they play. This week, I was curious as to how the Timbers would fare against Colorado as a baseline for Crew SC's recent match. As for Houston, also on the road, I wanted a chance to finally catch a full game of the LA Galaxy this season. I previously had only seen a half here or there or extended highlights. Orlando City vs. Montreal was on in the background while I was watching Crew SC and I was following updates on an app on my phone so I decided to go back and watch the first 60 minutes (first five goals) and the tying one at the end.

What I noticed: Ignacio Piatti and Romain Alessandrini. Just, wow. What a tremendous week for both players. They are crucial to the success of Montreal and LA and single-handedly commanded each of their matches. Piatti with two goals and an absolutely brilliant assist and Alessandrini with a helper and a game-tying goal in the 90th minute. Dom Dwyer isn't the same Dom Dwyer that started the year. And Alan Gordon does Gordon things again.


Discuss ...

NATHANIEL: What should we start off with?

JOSH: What did you see in the Colorado-Portland game? The Rapids at least seem to be taking a lot of points at home in the last month or two, which is a must in MLS.

N: I am in full support of the new Gordonian revolution that is taking place in Colorado. This man has been a wonder at the end of games and has come up huge more than once this season 80-plus minutes into matches.

To be frank, the team is not good. They seem to be picking up the pieces as the season goes on, but they won’t be challenging Toronto any time soon.

Did you see Kevin Doyle’s assist on the first goal? What a pass. He has become a surprisingly inspiring player this season, occasionally playing on a deeper line.

Of course, Portland was away, but do you worry about this Portland team?

J: Nah. MLS is made of ebbs and flows. Long term, the Timbers will be fine.

I’ve always thought Doyle would be a nice complementary piece, but he’s been asked to do too much in Colorado. He’s not going to score a bunch of goals, but he can be useful, I think. He’s always been pretty good with his hold up play and getting others involved.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Colorado Rapids
Keep on bashin’, bro
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t buy Gordon as a long-term solution. His Bash Brothers days are behind him. It seems he still have enough gas in the tank to have nice stretches, though.

It seems it was the weekend of late goals, though. Bradley Wright-Phillips got two in the final five minutes to lift Red Bulls. That was a game where I thought Philadelphia was the better team for 52 minutes but didn’t break through, and then Derrick Jones picked up a red card and New York controlled from there, even if it wasn’t a great performance from the eventual winners.

And in Salt Lake, Yura Movsisiyan scored a late goal to grab a 1-0 victory over Minnesota in a game RSL fully deserved to win. Yura celebrated his goal by shushing you, Nate, and your unabashed RSL hatred.

N: I still stand by my RSL sentiment. I like the team, I like a lot of the players, I like the coach a lot. I just still don’t think that they are that great. Twenty-nine shots on the day for them to Minnesota’s five.

J: Justen Glad played his first game all season for RSL, and having him and Aaron Maund made a big difference. I think it put the team in a better place physically and mentally, and you actually saw team defense.

Jefferson Savarino may not have a polished finish, but he makes a lot happen. RSL should have won that game at least 2- or 3-0. I know Minnesota is not great, but I think Salt Lake showed that it can and will be competitive if it’s at full strength. And it was still missing Albert Rusnak and Demar Phillips.

N: How was the Philadelphia match? It was one I wanted to get around to seeing but it fell behind a few others. It was one of only two away victories over the weekend.

Is Philly’s glimpse of strength over?

J: I think Philly is still not great, but I think it’s better than people thought early on. Like I said, the Union were the better team against NYRB until they had to play with 10 men.

The game itself was kind of meh.

We’ve saved two games that were decidedly not meh for the end of the discussion (we’ll skip the scoreless draw in San Jose, unless there was something you think people need to know).

So, more late goals.

Houston probably deserved to get an elusive road win, but Alessandrini went and Alessandrinied, and the refs helped.

My Facebook feed of this game went out and when it came back suddenly LA had equalized and apparently on a goal that was offside.

N: San Jose hung on at home for a point. You’re right, there’s not much else to be said about that. But I do want to see more from Dom Dwyer, who’s in quite a slump.

On to LA...

Alessandrini was superb, no doubt, but the biggest impression made on me this week was Wilmer Cabrera’s decision to make two halftime substitutions who truly had big impacts.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Houston Dynamo
The Honduran Miagi
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Alberth Elis had a goal and Oscar Boniek Garcia was, in my opinion, the best player on the pitch, second only to Alessandrini. He was really great and showed he should be starting.

J: I’m right with you on the subs. I made a note coming out of the break that said, “Two halftime subs??” It’s not like Houston was playing poorly. But it immediately became clear that Cabrera knew what he was doing.

Boniek was SO good. The best I’ve seen him in a couple of years.

The Galaxy were pretty fortunate to grab a point in this one, especially considering how many players they were missing. It was a very makeshift squad, which just cemented how important Alessandrini is to the club.

On to the final game...

I tuned in to Orlando and Montreal mostly to watch some Eastern Conference teams, and figured I’d get a look at Columbus’ next opponent. In the process, I stumbled into a great game.

And, one might say, another point stolen by the home team.

N: The last-minute goal by Orlando sure was something.

What I liked about this game was the constant back and forth. I loved it not only for the goals, but for the midfield play that was really fun to watch. Each team seemed to play with so much intensity.

And I have to bring up that Will Johnson is quickly becoming one of my new favorites in MLS. Watching him this game was so entertaining. He was maybe inconsistent defensively, but on the attack he was a metronome and really got the Lions moving even when they seemed helpless.

J: Johnson has definitely been a big part of why Orlando seems to have taken a step forward this year. And the Lions scored three goals in this one without Cyle Larin.

I thought they were outplayed for stretches, but there were also moments where they would have had another goal or two if Larin was on the field.

We got to see Montreal on the road with its back five again, so that may give us a hint of what we’ll see in Columbus this Saturday.

Orlando dominated the first half, despite the 1-1 score, and the Impact were really losing their shape in the back. Then Montreal got things figured out in the second half and were the better team, but couldn’t close things out.

You mentioned Piatti — and obviously he had big moments — but I thought Blerim Dzemaili was actually the difference maker for Montreal. A goal, an assist and his run was critical to open up the defender for Piatti on the third goal.

We talked last week about the danger of Montreal being the team ready to make a second-half run, and nothing last weekend changed my mind about that.

N: I totally agree with that. And I think Dzemaili is proving huge for this team moving forard. He’s a phenomenal player with tremendous experience and, like you mentioned, was very, very good this week.

Their five-man back line away from home seems to be doing them wonders too.

Not that they seemed the most convincing two weeks ago, but this week I would argue that they looked the better side of the two. Having a full, healthy team obviously helps a lot too.

J: And they were still without Ambroise Oyongo, who has a major influence on how that team plays.

I think Columbus will have its hands full on Saturday.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED

N: Alan Gordon doing what he does best:

(Before someone gets confused, this is classic Gordon ... not video from this past week)

J: Romain Alessandrini, master of the outside-the-boot scoop pass.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

N: Nacho Piatti. Two goals and one hard-fought assist against Orlando City in the six-goal thriller. Bonus on the week to Romain Alessandrini from LA Galaxy who single-handedly edged a draw for his team over the weekend.

J: I’m going to go with a different duo from those same games. My nod goes to Houston’s Boniek Garcia, who changed the game when he came on as a second-half sub for the Dynamo, and Montreal’s Dzemaili, who was the string-puller and did a lot of things that didn’t allow Orlando to hedge all bets on Piatti. Like this run. Watch the defender on Piatti when Dzemaili sprints through across the screen.

HYPE TRAIN

N: Gordon gonna Gordon. ... Roman Alessandrini is the new David Beckham. ... Boniek Garcia is the best player to be substituted at halftime in a match after 8 p.m. local time all season. ... It's Piatti, Dzemaili, and Ciman in Montreal — they keep these three healthy and I'm scared for the rest of the East. ... The Chicago Fire are one point off of TFC in the East. Enough said.

J: Officials will no longer call the Galaxy offside, because everyone knows MLS wants LA to be good. ... Chicago will, indeed, win the World Cup. ... The Rapids will be unable to escape the basement and will trade Alan Gordon to Houston, sparking a week-long champagne bath by Nate.

BASED ON WHAT YOU SAW THIS WEEK, PROJECT CREW SC’S FINAL STANDING

N: Below FC Cincinnati.

J: Out of the playoffs. Probably dead last in MLS. PROBABLY FOLDING BECAUSE OH MY GOD THE END IS NIGH!!!!!

(Everything I know I’ve learned from soccer Twitter.)