The MLS report: Matchday 3

Photo: Earl Gardner

First off, thanks for the feedback and kind words after last week’s debut MLS recap (title still a work in progress). It’s always appreciated.

This week, we’re adding a few new sections under an “awards” category.

For the sake of brevity, let’s jump right in to the week that was in MLS.

The sky blue elephant in the room

Toronto FC were the record breaking defending MLS champions. Seattle Sounders have won the Western Conference in consecutive years. Atlanta United had added another young, attacking South American talent. Orlando City SC reshaped their roster with proven MLS MVP-caliber talent.

These were the teams that garnered the most attention this offseason. No one was talking about the sky blue elephant in the corner of the room.

And yet, it is New York City FC who look like the best team in the league so far. They’re the first team to reach nine points, going a perfect 3-0-0 in the first three weeks.

Against Orlando this week, NYCFC showed why they are the scariest team in MLS? They absolutely, positively dominated their expansion-year rival– and they did it without forward David Villa.

The knock on New York was always that they were too top heavy, too reliant on their MVP-winning Spanish star. And that was undeniable in 2017. No player scored a larger percentage of his team’s goals than Villa’s 41%. Yet when an injury sidelined the World Cup winner, it was his replacement, Libyan forward Ismael Tajouri, that scored the game-winner.

Overall, Villa has scored only one of City’s six goals in 2018. It’s a small sample, but it no longer matters. Villa is now just the icing on a well-baked cake. New York now runs through the best midfield in MLS.

The midfield trio of Alexander Ring, Yangel Herrera, and Maximiliano Morález gives head coach Patrick Vieira the flexibility to win games in a variety of ways.

Morález is that true No. 10– a creative type capable of combining and bringing out the best in Villa and potential newcomer of the year, Jesús Medina. They’ve always relied on individual talent, but this combination has the potential for a more vibrant chemistry.

Ring and Herrera are equally important. They are as technically gifted as they are tenacious. These two create a backbone for City, where they can now bully others rather than be the bullied.

New York is no longer the glamorous side of Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard– they’re better.

Late to the party

Continuing the theme of the overlooked, next up is Minnesota United.

The Loons weren’t the darling expansion side. Instead, they were dwarfed by both Atlanta’s payroll and stadium. Now, they can’t even claim to be the new team. That mantle now belongs to Los Angeles FC.

Yet here Minnesota sits, second in the West with six points. After falling in the opener at San Jose, they won at Orlando then home against Chicago. The latter victory was in spite losing their talented No. 10 Kevin Molino for the season with a torn ACL.

Winger Ethan Finlay is having a resurgent start to 2018, playing at a level few thought he’d reach again. Miguel Ibarra is filling Molino’s void in the center.

Most importantly there is a refocused defense. After giving up a record 70 goals last season, the back line has found organization this year in front of goalkeeper Matthew Lampson, who got some revenge on his former team this weekend.

Minnesota looks ready to take their seat at the table.

VARsity reds?

Vancouver Whitecaps had the perfect start to their season with six points in two games coming from a Canadian rivalry match against Montreal Impact and an impressive victory on the road in Houston.

The Whitecaps opponent, Atlanta United, were fresh off their own demolition of D.C. United. The chessboard was set for a tactical showdown in Georgia– Tata Martino with the dynamic attacking side vs. Carl Robinson’s stout defenders and dangerous counterattackers.

In Dallas, a similarly intriguing contest was in line. Perennial Western Conference powerhouses FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders clashed as U.S. international Clint Dempsey returned to his home state.

But neither game got a fair shake. Video Assisted Replay saw to that.

Vancouver’s captain and heart of their defense Kendall Waston was issued a red card in the 13th minute– after a preposterous four minute and 30 second delay. Back in Dallas, VAR had Dempsey similarly seeing red in the 37th minute.

Due to the man advantages, neither game ended up– well, being games at all.

We can argue about whether or not either of the reds were deserved (they weren’t), but the underlying principle is that neither card was given in the run of play. Replay is good when used to correct egregious errors, but no one can argue those calls were anything more than marginal.

VAR got it wrong.

Replay was the star of the games in Atlanta and Dallas, and that is inexcusable.

Awards section

Tweet of the week: @DaMarcusBeasley

MLS player of the week: Josef Martinez

It doesn’t matter that Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez scored his hat trick while up a man. As midfielder Miguel Almiron showed in the same game, you still need to be clinical.
Runner up: Roland Lamah (FC Dallas)

Local MLS player of the week: Auston Trusty

Just because he plays for the Union doesn’t mean its not true. As PSP’s Chris Gibbons half-jokingly said, “Trusty and Jack Elliott are the only center backs in MLS this season to hold scoring savant, Gyasi Zardes, without a goal.”
Note: Usually, non-Union players will get the nod. This week, though, Trusty was the clear choice.

Goal of the week: Graham Zusi

Sporting Kansas City right back took a break from filming on HBO’s hit comedy Crashing to score his first goal since 2016. It was a beauty.

Best of the rest
  • It’s not hyperbolic to say Tuesday was the best night in MLS history with Toronto and New York Red Bulls CONCACAF Champions League progressions. It’ll all be for nothing, though, unless an MLS side wins the whole thing.
  • On the subject, it’s a shame Seattle was decimated by injuries before their game with Chivas. No attacking player had a higher touch percentage than Nicolas Lodeiro’s 13.2%. He’s make the Sounder’s offense go.
  • Overall, talk about your CONCACAF hangovers. The three MLS participants lost their respective games. It was always going to be tough to rebound emotionally from the midweek highs.
  • Home cooking returned to the league this week. After MLS sides went 10-7-2 in the first two weeks, this round of matches saw the sides playing in friendly confines go 7-0-2.
  • Speaking of getting results at home, D.C. United midfielder Luciano Acosta stole a point with the final kick in front of the 5,128 fans  at the Maryland Soccerplex.
  • So D.C. played two games this week— and the difference in attendance was 66,907. The record-breaking crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was 72,035.
  • Remember when we were once again wondering who would score for Sporting Kansas City? Hello, Felipe Gutiérrez.
  • Orlando’s Justin Meram was amazing in the Bronx, almost individually hoisting the game on his back. It’s a shame, because the rest of Orlando played like individuals, too.



  1. Pete Mazzaccaro says:

    I’m definitely a pretty dense guy sometimes, and I don’t doubt that Dempsey is a master of the Dark Arts of Football, but I’ve watched a dozen different replays of his red card offense at different angles and I don’t see anything that I’d call conclusive. I see his arm move and I see the defender go down like he was just shot in the balls, but I don’t see anything. I’m surprised, Nick, that you didn’t either, because we’re clearly in the minority (outside of a Seattle fans that is).

    I’ve probably said it before, but as much of a tech-optimist as I am in general, I’m not a fan of VAR. I think it’s great to use it for offside calls and to monitor the goal line(a ball is either over the line for a goal or not), but I don’t think it clears up a lot of these other foul calls. If there’s conclusive evidence of a dirty foul that’s obvious, then MLS can fine or suspend the offender in retrospect.

    • I think it can work great for fouls though. I mean if someone does a red card offensive they should be red carded as that significantly changes the game. Last year McCarthy was fouled and then the other team scored, but it was called back because of the foul. These are legit calls to get right. It has to be a fast decision and very clear though or else it becomes a joke and negatively impacts the game more than it improves it.

  2. Trusty had a great game against the Crew, and was close to the only thing that was worth the price of admission.
    As much as it pains me to say it, that goal by Zusi was beautiful!

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