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MLS Weekend Review: A Scot with a temper? No, couldn't be.

Monday 23rd April 2018

Another full slate of 11 Major League Soccer matches took place over the weekend, one Friday, eight on Saturday, and the remaining pair on Sunday around tea time. Let me catch you up.

Three Stars

3. Chris Mueller -- Orlando City went shopping across MLS for attacking talent in the offseason. Sacha Kljestan was acquired in a trade with New York Red Bulls. Justin Meram arrived from Columbus Crew. Canadian Will Johnson was plucked from MLS Champions Toronto FC. Dom Dwyer had come on board midway through the 2017 season. But Peter Vermes made one more astute move. He selected Chris Mueller from the University of Wisconson-Madison with the sixth pick in the MLS Super Draft.

Mueller has fit in well with all the veterans, making the right wing role his. The 21-year-old can drink, vote, and find goals. He has three strikes and an assist in 426 minutes over seven matches.

One goal and the assist came on the weekend when the Lions hosted San Jose Earthquakes. Mueller left his man in a heap on the flank, invaded the box, and blasted home to open the scoring in the second minute. He then teed up Kljestan for a tap-in on a counterattack that began with Dom Dwyer spinning away from a defender on the left byline. Florian Jungwirth pegged two back for the Quakes, but Dwyer had already given the Lions a third. Orlando now sit third in the East, San Jose second-bottom in the West.

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2. Ignacio Piatti -- As their no.10 goes, so go the Montreal Impact on most days. Just not this one. The Argentine was in top form, racking up a hattrick in the first half, but a red card to Victor Cabrera spoiled Montreal’s fun against the visiting Angelinos. Before the Impact went a man down, their former defender, Laurent Ciman, had pegged one back for LAFC from a set piece. Evan Bush had set up his wall to defend the left post, then camped behind them, inexplicably leaving an open target to his right for the Frenchman. Piatti hit the pressing Wings on the counter two minutes before the half, but Bush’s suspect goaltending continued in the second frame. LAFC wore down the hosts and drew goals from Benny Feilhaber, Jukka Raitala, Carlos Vela from the spot, and Latif Blessing.

1. Johnny Russell -- Piatti’s hattrick was a difficult act to top but Russell had already managed. The 28-year-old Scot signed with Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City in January from Derby County. In the season’s first eight games, he’s racked up five goals. Three came Friday against an overmatched Vancouver Whitecaps in a 6-0 romp. Russell scored twice in the first quarter-hour, sparked a melee just before half-time, then completed his hattrick three minutes into the second half. Manager Peter Vermes brought him off immediately after the third goal for humanitarian reasons. Russell’s fearless cavalry charge when Kendall Waston was standing over a prone Roger Espinoza, screaming at the SKC midfielder, may have been more impressive than the three goals. Not only is Russell seven inches shorter and several weight classes below the hulking Costa Rican but, thanks to VAR, his yellow card was offset by two red cards to Yordy Reyna and Efrain Juarez. Vancouver was not happy. Their goalkeeping coach was also sent packing for dissent. And people say Ander Herrera is an agitator.

No Panic in TO

Toronto FC have long since gone all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League. The defending MLS Cup winners are anchoring the Eastern Conference table with a lone win and four defeats in their first five matches. A subpar performance in the CCL Final’s first leg at home last Tuesday night was costly. The Reds travel to Guadalajara on Wednesday to try to come off the mat to win the crown. Despite falling 14 points behind New York City FC, Vanney refused to change his heavy rotation, preferring to keep his stars, all of them, well rested for the second leg, allowing his reserves opportunities to prove their worth. That opened the door for Houston Dynamo on Saturday.

Wilmer Cabrera’s side has developed an early reputation as one that doesn’t travel well but can kill at home. On the road, last year’s Western Conference finalists have scraped together two draws in three matches. They’ve scored four and conceded six. At BBVA Compass Stadium, the Dynamo have two wins and a 0-2 reversal to the Whitecaps. They’ve scored nine and conceded three. On Opening Day, they dispatched high-flying Atlanta United, 4-0. Against Toronto’s second-stringers, Houston danced to a 5-1 victory. The Dynamo are seventh in the West, one place below the playoffs. They’ll need to start collecting wins on the road to climb the table.

Toronto’s priority is Wednesday night. They’ll feel better about themselves if they can bring home some silverware. It will be easier to work their way back into the playoff positions if their gamble pays off. Either way, they will recover. The one consolation from another defeat was that NYCFC suffered their first loss on Sunday. The Reds are still 14 points off the pace, albeit with three games in hand. Win those, and the gap is only five.

Mexican thief strikes in New Jersey

Donald Trump won the US Presidency in large part by claiming that Mexicans were thieves and worse, who come to America to take jobs, and that he would build a wall to keep them out. It’s pure garbage, of course. Mexicans are like every other ethnicity on which the United States has been built. The vast majority are good people who form strong communities, build businesses, and contribute to society. They are competitors. Sadly, when faced with strong competition, some people try to undermine it rather than raise their own game.

Chicago Fire keeper Richard Sanchez is a second-generation Mexican-American born in Los Angeles, raised in Texas. He is a competitor who doesn’t need to hear any nonsense about walls. Against the New York Red Bulls, he was one. Chicago escaped Red Bull Arena, in Harrison, New Jersey, with a 2-1 win thanks in part to Aleksandar Katai’s wonder strike on the half-hour, but mostly to Sanchez’s incredible performance.

The Red Bulls dominated possession by an almost 2:1 ratio and peppered Sanchez with 22 shots, eleven on target. It was David de Gea v Arsenal as much as Katai’s goal was Nemanja Matic v Crystal Palace. Sanchez made two breathtaking stops when NYRB responded almost immediately to Katai’s opener. He made himself big to deny Daniel Royer on the counter, scrambled to his feet, then dove to his left to gather in Alejandro Romero’s follow-up effort. When he wasn’t able to reach a shot, his goalposts had his back. Bradley Wright-Phillips finally put one past him during a mad scramble in the box on 80 minutes. But the Red Bulls were already down two at that point and could not muster an equaliser in the time remaining. Sanchez had snuck into New York and stolen three points from the home side.

City still looking more like Man United

Shortly after taking their first draw of the campaign in a similar manner to Manchester United’s early Premier League start, Manchester City’s New York affiliate emulated the Red Devils again by losing to a side in the bottom half of the Western Conference table. To be fair to Patrick Vieira, whose chances of succeeding Arsene Wenger were probably slim despite rumours the outgoing Frenchman had endorsed him, Portland are hardly MLS’ version of Huddersfield. This defeat shouldn’t hurt his standing.

The 2015 MLS Cup winners had been forced to play their first five matches away while renovations to Providence Park were completed. They christened their upgraded digs with a win last week and surprisingly made it two for two against City. They have an abundance of talent, including the reigning MLS MVP Diego Valeri. This match was never a guaranteed result but Vieira’s team should have done better.

The New Yorkers enjoyed three-quarters of the possession but rarely penetrated Portland’s organised defence. The 12 shots they took were only one more than the Timbers. The three on target were one fewer. City are still tops in the East but now merely one better than Atlanta United and level with West leaders SKC in the race for the Supporters Shield.

After the match, reporters wanted to know whether Vieira was interested in the Arsenal job. The disgruntled manager only wanted to talk about the game. Nothing else.

What else could happen?

  • FC Dallas are now the league’s only undefeated team. Their 2-0 win over Philadelphia Union lifted them to third in the West and gave them three victories to match their three draws in the season’s early days. The Union dropped to tenth in the East, with just the one win in their first half-dozen matches.
  • Columbus Crew hosted New England Revolution in a Saturday matchup that began as a battle between third and fourth-placed sides level on points and ended in a 2-2 draw between fourth and fifth-placed sides when Orlando City’s win over San Jose vaulted the Lions into third. All the scoring came in the first half.
  • Real Salt Lake left it late in a 3-0 win over Colorado Rapids even though Tim Howard was sent off on 20 minutes. It took until the 83rd minute for RSL to break the deadlock through a penalty. Two more came at the death as the Rapids threw caution to the wind trying to rescue a point.
  • Josef Martinez scored in the 23rd minute as Atlanta United’s speed proved too much for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy. Miguel Almiron’s penalty in the fifth minute of added time made the final score 2-0. The loss dropped the Galaxy to fourth in the West while United closed on NYCFC with the win.
  • Seattle Sounders found their form, scoring twice in the first half-hour, then cruising to a 3-1 win over Minnesota United even with top scorer Clint Dempsey suspended. The Sounders are still in the Western cellar but within a point of San Jose and two of the Loons.

On Tap

Wednesday evening brings the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final. Chivas de Guadalajara are up 2-1 on Toronto FC. The Reds must score at least two to have a chance. The match starts at 2:30 am Thursday for all you insomniacs who can’t get enough of Sunderland legend Jozy Altidore.

On Friday, Vancouver look to rebound against a Real Salt Lake side beginning to feel their oats. I’ll have the Grab Bag for you before that one kicks off. See you then.

Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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