The MLS report: Laundry week

Photo: Kari Heistad, Prost Amerika

I’ll forgive you if you chose not to watch any soccer after the Union’s display Friday evening. MLS, though, marched on.

Seven weeks are in the books, and the league is starting to take shape. It feels like the MLS season is kicking into high-gear, as we saw the first midweek matchup of the year.

The story, though, starts in Atlanta. If you haven’t heard, two decent teams were facing off.

Best in show

With all due respect to Toronto FC, this weekend was headlined by the two best teams in MLS this year going head-to-head at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

New York City FC were coming off a midweek cakewalk against Real Salt Lake. Their 4-0 victory extended their unbeaten start to the season. Atlanta United were in the midst of their own hot start, outscoring their opponents 13-2 over a four game winning streak.

Since United’s opening day loss, the two teams were a combined 9-0-1. Sunday’s matchup didn’t disappoint.

The showdown in Atlanta featured some of the most attractive soccer you’ll see this season. Both sides created plenty of chances while playing at a remarkable pace for the 90 minutes.

Atlanta showed they are more than their stars, bagging goals for wing back Greg Garza and center back Chris McCann. It was one of their stars, though, who defined their performance. The Five Stripes No. 10 Miguel Almiron was electric going forward, showing statistics aren’t always the measure of a great performance (although he did bag a brilliant assist.)

Yet it was the visitors who will be happiest with the 2-2 result.

Twice New York City FC responded from one-goal deficits, and both answers came from their two best players.

Forward David Villa and midfielder Alex Ring returned this week from injury to make the difference in the game. City were more than successful without the duo, but need both if they’re to compete with the best MLS has to offer – like Atlanta.

Villa, not quite ready to go the full 90, came on in the 35th minute. It took three minutes for him to make an impact, banging home a penalty. Later, he flashed what makes him the superstar that he is. He drove into the box, and shielded three defenders before laying a pass off Ring. From there, the Finnish international struck with an absolute golazo to equalize. His right-footed curler caromed off the crossbar and into both the net and conversation as “best midfielder in MLS.”

After both clubs left the pitch with a point in hand, one question remained:

Will either of these two teams lose before they clash again on June 9?

Clean sheets

Misery loves company.

Philadelphia had plenty of that this week.

Overall, seven teams failed to find the back of the net. Another four managed only one goal. The well was bound to dry up eventually after the historic scoring spree that the first six weeks of the season provided. The league was averaging over three goals per game. Obviously, that was unsustainable.

Hot take: goals are fun.

Yet as frustrating as watching the Union spurn chances can be, it’s equally the case when goals come from ridiculous defensive mistakes. Not every goal is created equal, and the league is better when scoring comes from magical moments rather than miscues.

Feeling Frisco in Foxborough

One of the teams that kept a clean sheet is the Union’s next opponent, FC Dallas.

The Western Conference club went into the confounding fortress in Foxborough and took all three points behind a 1-0 result. Somehow, it was the Revolution’s first loss at Gillette Stadium since July 5 of last year.

And they did it through the work of what will be the toughest defense the Union will face so far this season. So far, they’ve allowed only three goals on the year. That parallels the Union’s own anemic offensive total.

Despite ceding over 63 percent of possession to the Revs, goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer never looked likely to be beat. It’s because Dallas’ back line never looked likely to be broken. At its heart, center back Matt Hedges played like… well, Matt Hedges. The full backs shined on the flanks. Newly acquired Bulgarian Anton Nedyalkov and 19-year-old Reggie Cannon ensured Dallas would not be beaten by wingers Cristian Penilla and Luis Caicedo.

FC Dallas were unable to create much offensively in New England or gain control of the midfield. Forwards Maximiliano Urruti and Cristian Colmán both started and showed why head coach Óscar Pareja has a glaring hole at the top of his attack. It was a choice Pareja made because he was without his best player, No. 10 Mauro Diaz.

Without Diaz, who doesn’t play on turf after a catastrophic knee injury, Belgian international Roland Lamah bore the brunt of the attacking creativity. The winger would often drift centrally and was dangerous, but it left FC Dallas without much width. If not for some shambolic New England defending on midfielder Jacori Haye’s decisive 76th minute goal, it looked likely neither team would score.

If the Union want to win their first match since opening day, they’ll have to overcome their road woes and the return of Dallas’ midfield metronome. Most importantly, they’ll also have to figure out how to finish.

Awards section

Goal of the week

Sure, there were plenty of beautiful finishes around the league, but let’s goal with an ugly one. No goal meant more than Seattle’s first MLS tally since Nov. 30.

Goat of the week

Andrew Wenger-like:

Pass of the week

Player of the week: Darwin Quintero

Well Minnesota United’s Darwin Quintero “dared to Zlatan” and made one hell of a first impression. The playmaker lived up to arguably the coolest nickname in MLS history (does it get better than “the scientist of the goal”?) completing a mazy dribble before finishing past the Timbers keeper. Also, do you get assists for own goals?
Runner-up: Tomas Martinez (Houston Dynamo)

Local player of the week: Tyler Miller

Well, the Philadelphia area didn’t exactly cover itself in glory. Let’s continue with one of the themes of the week and give this to LAFC’s goalkeeper, Tyler Miller. The Woodbury, NJ, native kept a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory.

Tweet of the week 

Best of the rest
  • I know just last week I said Toronto FC were the best team in league history and CCL success is tantamount, but last place in the East? Might be hard to catch NYCFC and Atlanta.
  • Let me get on my VAR soapbox again. How did it deem this was a red on D.C. United’s Paul Arriola, but this on Quintero wasn’t even worth a review? Review is yet to prove even remotely consistent.
  • At least Arriola won’t be around for the game with the Union.
  • Naturally after not being able to put one past Chivas, Red Bulls hung three on Montreal.
  • That being said, winger Daniel Royer looks like a fantastic fit for Philadelphia. Constantly in dangerous positions. Never able to finish.
  • Colorado Rapids’ forward Dominique Badji looks like the real deal. His game against the Union looks like it was his coming-out party.
  • Atlanta’s Ezequiel Barco made his much anticipated if not unimpressive debut.
  • How great was it watching Bastian Schweinsteiger defend Zlatan Ibrahimovic in MLS?
  • Philadelphia had the Farfans. Seattle has the Roldans. Alex and Cristian both started for the Sounders for the first time.

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