This is the last full weekend before the league takes a few weeks off for the Gold Cup. There are some midweek fixtures coming up, but for the most part it’s clean-up stuff before the break. We’re also at roughly the midway point for the season, and a lot of predictions that were made back in February are already lying in tatters. We’re going to talk about the first half of the 2017 MLS season in depth in the weeks to come, but suffice it to say that the campaign so far has been, to use a technical term, “crazytown bananapants.”
NYCFC 3-1 Minnesota United
My friends, it is time to start worrying about NYCFC. Other than Toronto, they are the Fire’s nearest challengers for the Supporters’ Shield this season. David Villa is keeping pace with Niko in the Golden Boot race. Their midfield can go toe-to-toe with ours. And they know how to dismantle teams when they have to. Minnesota isn’t putting up too much of a fight this season, but the fact that NYC were able to pound them to the tune of 3-1 without popping out of second gear is... concerning. The Fire’s first game after the Gold Cup break is a trip to Yankee Stadium and that’s shaping up to be a real gut-check for our Men In red.
This was a surprisingly tense game. Granted, some of that was some superb stage-setting thanks to Dan Kelly lending his dulcet tones to ESPN for the night, but even so, this was gripping. You had Jason Kreis coming back home to Utah, and all the emotional baggage that comes with. You had Cyle Larin returning to the pitch for the first time since his DUI arrest. You had RSL flying high to start things off before crashing right back to earth when Will Johnson scored early in the first half. You had that weird standoff in the second half between Kreis and Kaká. There was a lot going on for a 1-0 game. On paper Orlando came out of this clash the better for it— three points, an end to their winless streak, Larin back in the fold, their playoff spot still safe. But there’s a sense that more trouble is brewing for Orlando. Watch this space.
FC Dallas 3-1 Toronto FC
There’s a lot about this game that I could talk about. Both teams were flying high in their respective conferences heading into this game, but Toronto honestly should’ve come out on top. With their record and the firepower in their squad, they should’ve gotten a result. Instead, Dallas rolled their guests for lunch money and then posted that shit on WorldStar. Even if you’re a neutral this was a hell of a thing to sit through. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a neutral, and all you care about is the fact that they LOST and that the Fire are now atop the Supporters’ Shield standings. God Bless America.
Columbus Crew 0-2 Atlanta United
I’ll be honest, I mostly picked this game out because I want an excuse to indulge in schadenfreude over That Yellow Team’s misfortunes. Yes, both teams here are playoff contenders and what the result has ramifications for the Fire and the Eastern Conference. But mostly I just like seeing the Crew getting beat 2-0 at home by an expansion team. Aside from all that, Atlanta are still really good when they want to be, and too many people in this league are sleeping on Hector Villalba. Don’t take your eyes off Atlanta. Or you’ll end up like Columbus.
San Jose Quakes 2-1 LA Galaxy
It’s taken a while for me to come around to it, but I’ve finally learned to stop worrying and love the California Clasico. And the thing I love about it is that, even when both teams kinda suck, the game itself is still L-I-T. The Quakes are still finding their footing after Dom Kinnear got canned and the Galaxy are still in the really awful early part of the Curt Onalfo Era. But for 90 minutes on Saturday night, none of that mattered. Jelle Van Damme got himself a tidy goal in the first half (and a red card after full time, lol), and it SEEMED like it would be enough for LA to head back south with the win. But you know how this movie ends. Wondo leveled the score in the 75th minute and Salinas won the whole enchilada in stoppage time. It was glorious. It was schadenfreudelicious. It was MLS at its near-best.
MLS is structured such that most teams are still in the playoff chase at this point in the season. Philly and New England are well below the red line, but league parity means that one good hot streak from either team in August in September could change it. So we can’t just ignore games like this one, because who knows what might happen in the next few months. Anyway, this game was about what you’d expect from two teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. New England got Penso’ed in the first few minutes and two more goals in the second half sealed the deal for Philly at home. The Union have some decent momentum behind them but it hasn’t been reflected in the Eastern Conference standings (yet). Don’t be surprised if you see them get red hot in the second half of the season.
Hot (Time) Take
A big rivalry fixture out West and some jostling around the red line in the East, but for the most part the status quo was maintained around the league at this halfway point in the season and the last weekend before the Gold Cup break. EXCEPT for that thing where the Fire are top of the Supporters’ Shield standings and are the best team in MLS right now. (Man, that feels good to say.) It’s easy to get carried away with that if you’re a Fire fan— don’t mind if I do!— but even if you’re a neutral, you felt the seismic shifts as Chicago moved to the top. It’s quite a way to head into the break (midweek fixtures notwithstanding) and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the East adjusts to this new reality. Hope you enjoy the break— shit’s about to get real.