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The Big Picture: Beasts of the East and the joys of the road

Writers Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka reflect on last week's MLS action

MLS: Montreal Impact at Sporting KC Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Week 20 saw MLS return after a brief Gold Cup break. Our Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discuss what stood out to them as league action swung back into gear.

JOSH

What I watched: Montreal Impact vs. Philadelphia Union (2-1), New York City FC vs. Toronto FC (2-2), Orlando City SC vs. Atlanta United (0-1), New York City FC vs. Chicago Fire (2-1). I also had Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers on in the background at work but didn't play close attention.

Why I watched: I wanted to get a good look at the teams forming the top tier of the Eastern Conference. In the process I managed to miss a couple of great games, but the East does look like it's going to be fun. I also watched both Gold Cup semifinals, which took a little time away from MLS viewing.

What I noticed: The stretch run in the Eastern Conference is going to be fun. There wasn't a whole lot separating Toronto, NYC and Chicago. It was also an outlier of a week with more road teams earning three points than usual.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: NYCFC vs. Toronto, Montreal vs. Philadelphia, Portland Timbers vs. Real Salt Lake, NYCFC vs. Chicago, DC United vs. Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution vs. LA Galaxy. I also watched most all of the Gold Cup matches.

Why I watched: Most of my viewings were as I was working or doing other things so they weren't the most in-depth viewings. I wanted to watch Philadelphia against Montreal to get a feel for how the team may play against Columbus in the two-game stretch without some of their key players. NYCFC was in for a huge week against the top two teams in the East. I have not seen much from them this year so this presented a good time to get two matches under my belt in quick succession -- spoiler -- I was very impressed with what I saw. I didn't plan to watch Houston but got the notifications on my phone that they scored three goals in the opening 17 minutes and the schadenfreude-ist in me wanted to watch DC suffer.

What I noticed: Well, DC was truly abysmal this week. They go up against Seattle on the road with three goals (to a weakened Sounders team) and then allow four goals in the final half to lose. Amazing. Then, against Houston, they allowed three goals in the opening seventeen minutes. What a disaster of a week. NYCFC really impressed me though. Obviously David Villa is extraordinary but their lesser-known players such as Alexander Ring and Callens, and the youngster Jonathan Lewis all really impressed me. And in New England -- when the Revs are playing as a team, they are fantastic.


Discuss...

JOSH: Lots of interesting results. NYCFC making a statement. Atlanta with a declaration of intent. Mike Petke with a rant. D.C. being terrible. Craziness for New England and LA.

What stood out to you this week?

NATHANIEL: D.C. was so abysmal this week that it is certainly the first thing I take away. In two halves, the second against Seattle and then the first against Houston, United allowed seven goals in the matter of 90 minutes. Ben Olsen must be livid after this week, yes?

J: I think he's a constant state of angry at this point.

DCU is not good. It seemed to be trending up late last year, but lost a couple veterans, Mullins isn't scoring goals at the same clip and the club didn't really bring in reinforcements.

D.C. was part of history midweek with its allowed Seattle comeback and then gifted Houston a road win on the weekend. LA and Vancouver both lost at home this week. That's become the norm for LAG, but kind of an abnormal week in that sense.

How wild was that LA-New England game?

N: I just checked Mullins' stats: zero goals, zero assists. DC seems to have some decent attacking pieces but fails to really put it all together.

MLS: D.C. United at Philadelphia Union
A permanently fixed expression in 2017
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Which leads me to New England, another team that has struggled to make the pieces work. But this one they managed to hang on against LA in a seven-goal thriller.

How about Teal Bunbury? Two goals as a substitute. I would have expected 10 other players on the team to be the savior before him.

Diego Fagundez was undoubtedly the player of the match, though. He was crucial in creating nearly every goal. he has become quite the player this year. Do you agree?

J: As you were getting to your question, I was already thinking, "Fagundez has really taken a step toward being the player people thought he could be." I think the key is he's become more consistent. If Fagundez played on a team that was better than the Revs are this year, I think he'd be getting a lot of attention.

And the Galaxy are so strange. I still think there is a chance their firepower is healthy and present in the final two months of the season and LA puts things together, but what a strange season to be a Galaxy fan.

N: But the Galaxy now have Jonathan Dos Santos to add to their arsenal! What a great pickup for them and for MLS as a whole.

[Editor's note: The JDS move to LA was not official at the time of this writing.]

J: We both watched the trident at the top of the Eastern Conference. What are your feelings after the dust cleared on the NYC, Chicago and Toronto action this week?

N: Out of the trio at the top of the east, I think NYCFC impressed me the most, and probably Toronto leaves the most disappointed.

New York somehow pulled a 2-1 victory against Chicago (albeit at home) after playing down a man for 78 minutes. How did that happen? Quick goals in the second half, but come on, Chicago. Really?

MLS: Toronto FC at New York City FC
A big winner this week
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto, to only get two points in two matches is not good for as it fights to retain that top spot in the East. Is Jozy that much of a miss? Or was it just unlucky against Colorado?

J: I did not see the Rapids game, so it's hard to say what happened there. But two games on the road and TFC got points out of both. It's hard to find too much fault in that, generally speaking. And Toronto was very shorthanded midweek — not just Jozy.

I'm not worried about Toronto after this week. I do think New York's stock rises a little, even if both games were at home. To be fair, NYC won about 10-15 minutes of the Chicago game shortly after halftime and used that to win, but still impressive to beat a top team in the east while down a man for so long.

My main takeaway was that the stretch run in the East is going to be a heck of a lot of fun.

N: Yes it is! I feel that for a very long time the West seemed to be king, but the East has risen once again.

What stuck out to you in the Orlando vs. Atlanta match?

J: Mostly that Atlanta found a way to win in a game that wasn't played on its terms. And on the road (another road winner). I think that's a key for it to maintain consistency down the stretch.

What are you looking forward to watching this week?

N: I'm anxious to catch the return fixture of Atlanta and Orlando, in hopes that Dwyer debuts. New York Red Bulls-Montreal are two teams that are fighting toe to toe for the sixth spot in the East, so that should be interesting. Houston vs. Portland are two teams that I like very much, and the premier match of the week is SKC vs. Chicago.

How about you, Josh?

J: A lot of rematches this week, actually. Also Toronto and NYC meet again, and I'd like to watch that. I also like NYRB-Montreal and also Sporting Kansas City vs. Chicago in a top East vs. West battle.

Just keep your eyes averted when D.C. and Minnesota meet.

I think Dwyer helps Orlando, but doesn't necessarily solve its problems. I'm sad to see him go from SKC.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED

J: Another coach's rant. This time from Mike Petke. With visuals. Enjoy:

N: Portland Timbers vs. RSL's second half. Oh, and the three red cards in a span of two minutes, especially the inner animal of Fernando Adi being unleashed.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

J: This is a tough one because there were a lot of things that stood out, both individually and team-wise. But I'll go with Christian Roldan. He's been on fire since the Gold Cup, either because he was inspired or because he feels like he has something to prove after being sent home early. Maybe both.

N: I didn't watch it, but it has to be Seattle's second-half performance against DC United. Four goals in the second half to overcome a three-goal deficit? Even if DC is no good, that is still quite an amazing comeback.

HYPE TRAIN

J: David Villa is the truth (duh). ... Fanendo Adi is now expendable thanks to Jeremy Ebobisse. ... Winning on the road is the new losing on the road. ... What have you done, Kansas City??? #dom

N: Fanendo Adi scared some life into RSL. ... Daniel Royer is back!!! Red Bulls with the romps, DC with the flops, and NYCFC with the roses. ... Christian Colman finally did a thing! ... Christian Roldan is pissed he got released from the USMNT.

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

J: Well, at least we can all sleep at night knowing the Black & Gold will finish ahead of DC United.

N: Seventh in the East.