MLS

The MLS report: Week Zlatan

Photo: Debbie von Winckelmann, Prost Amerika

What a week of MLS action!

While the local club disappointed, the rest of the league did not. It was the first week with a full slate of games, albeit one team was left on the sidelines due to the odd number of clubs (sorry, FC Dallas.)

Two nationally televised games delivered dramatic 4-3 results, there was only one draw out of the 12 contests, and a certain someone made quite the MLS debut.

Hmm, where will we start?

El Tráfico

So how do we talk about the best MLS game in ages— the captivating debut derby between Los Angeles Galaxy and LAFC?

Should I mention Carlos Vela looks like the early season MLS MVP? How about how Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid kept tinkering and adjusting until his side wrested control away from the visitors, producing only the second victory from a three goal deficit in league history?

Let’s be honest. I really need only two words to sum up this contest:

Zlatan

Ibrahimovic

Cascadia confusion

The Cascadia Cup is one of the highlights of the MLS season, featuring some of the very best teams the league has to offer.

Seattle Sounders have represented the Western Conference in the championship the past two seasons, wining the title in 2016.

Portland Timbers claimed their own MLS Cup in 2015 and finished at the top of their conference last year.

And then there is Vancouver Whitecaps.

So far in 2018 the three sides have combined for only three wins, and all three belong to the Whitecaps. This past weekend saw Vancouver go into Columbus and defeat the previously undefeated Crew. Despite ranking dead last in possession, the Whitecaps stalwart defending and direct style of attack through forward Kei Kamara has them sitting second in the standings. Their only loss came when the fulcrum of their back line, Kendall Waston, was handed a red card (which was later rescinded) in the ninth minute down in Atlanta.

Red cards are something Seattle has seen plenty of so far. They’ve produced one in each of their three matches so far this season. It might be a good reason they are the only side in MLS without a point. Playing with all 11 men usually helps.

Portland has their own built-in excuse. Because of renovations to Providence Park, the Timbers have spent all four of their matches on the road. But that isn’t the biggest reason for their tepid start. After the departure of former coach Caleb Porter, they have yet to develop an identity under newcomer Gio Savarese.

That sense of identity is exactly what Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson has instilled in his side. The often overlooked Cascadia club doesn’t boast the talents of the Lodeiros, Dempseys, Valeris, or Blancos, but it knows exactly the type of team it is.

It’s all the underdogs of the Pacific Northwest need.

Prepping for an east coast earthquake

Philadelphia Union have something in common with their next opponent: Neither has won since the season opener on Mar. 3.

San Jose Earthquakes are coming off a 2-1 home loss to New York City FC. Despite the venue, it wasn’t a bad performance for a team facing the best club in the league.

The Earthquakes boast a talented offensive side ranking third in shots per game and fourth in key passes per game. Their flourishing attack was in full force against New York, and only a “man of the match” performance from goalkeeper Sean Johnson prevented the visitors from being broken in the final 20 minutes of action.

Normally when you think of San Jose’s offense, you start with forward Chris Wondolowski. That’s no longer the case. Georgian Valeri Qazaishvili is their talisman. The attacking midfielder produced three key passes and seven shots last Saturday. Even up top Wondolowski might be second fiddle to Dutchman Danny Hoesen, who was the MLS player of the week back on the first matchday.

San Jose will pose a new test to the young Union back line. Head coach Jim Curtin spoke about the challenges the Rapids’ two-striker system would pose before the match in Colorado, and we saw what Dominique Badji did to the Philadelphia defense. The Earthquakes are more focused going forward with a unique double pivot in the midfield.

The Union will need a strong foundation to prevent another collapse.

Awards section

Goal of the week

Have you been living under a rock? Scroll up.

Cryptic rant of the week

With his track record, Real Salt Lake’s head coach Mike Petke deserves to be the namesake of this award.

Tweet of the week

Cold. Blooded.

MLS player of the week: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Don’t get cute.

Zlatan produced a defining moment in MLS history during his 20 minute debut. Colorado Rapids forward Dominique Badji is a deserved runner-up, but no one will remember his hat trick a year from now.

Local MLS player of the week: Chris Pontius

Sure, he’s from Yorba Linda, Ca., but the Los Angeles Galaxy winger endeared himself to Philadelphia in the two years he spent with the Union. It’s the “week of Zlatan.” Why not celebrate one of his teammates? More than that, Pontius was a force in the Galaxy’s comeback. He took five shots, three of which were on frame, to go along with his headed goal which cut the deficit to one. It was his first of 2018, and with a certain superstar in the fold, he’ll have to fight for every opportunity. Either way, it’s easy to root for Chris Pontius.

Best of the rest
  • Montreal Impact left back Daniel Lovitz of Wyndmoor, Pa. nearly beat out Pontius just for drawing Seattle’s Kelvin Leerdam into a red card. The lesson: don’t slap players in the face.
  • Speaking of red cards, no idea how Minnesota United didn’t at least find an equalizer against Atlanta United while playing up a man for an entire half. Thirteen shots, 71.2% possession, and completed 79% of their passes in the final third. Atlanta are supposed to win flashy, free-flowing offensive games. They are not supposed to win via ugly, gritty defending.
  • A few weeks ago I railed against how poor usage of VAR completely altered games. While I don’t think Real Salt Lake’s Damir Kreilach should have been called for a handball in the box early against Toronto FC, VAR made the right call in not overturning it. There wasn’t indisputable evidence the call on the field was incorrect.
  • Kudos to Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird on his first professional goal. Baird was a joy to watch during Stanford’s run to a third consecutive National Championship at Talen Energy Stadium this past December.
  • Orlando City’s Sacha Kljestan got the first laugh against his former club, but it has to ring a little hollow. City’s 4-3 over New York Red Bulls was nice and all, but the club from Harrison featured a second-choice lineup ahead of their Champions League semifinal.
  • Ahh, that’s more like it, Sporting Kansas City– a grind-it-out 1-0 at home against a bad D.C. United.
  • Is New England actually good?

3 Comments

  1. “How about how Galaxy head coach Sigi Schmid kept tinkering and adjusting until his side wrested control away from the visitors, producing only the second victory from a three goal deficit in league history?” – depressingly the opposite of Jim Curtin led teams….

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