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MLS Monday Rewind: Week 8

All Smiles in LA, while its anyone’s game in the East

It seems crazy to think that we are halfway though April already, but sure enough, the weather is getting nicer, the days longer, and MLS action is heating up here in matchweek eight.

It was a great start to the week for the teams up north, as Vancouver blanked red-hot LAFC and Toronto picked up all three points in a seven-goal affair with Minnesota, but turned disappointing over the weekend as Montreal got hammered by Philadelphia and Vancouver dropped its game against Orlando on two days rest. Meanwhile, beautiful weather in Chicago brought beautiful soccer with it, as the Fire gave a glimpse at their offensive potential in the second half.

Additionally, MLS’s superstars demonstrated their world-class ability from the spot, with a grand total of seven penalty kicks converted over the match week, with the likes of Darwin Quintero, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alberth Elis, and Josef Martinez proving their abilities and putting the ball in the back of the net.

Trending Up: Special shout-out to Seattle’s Generation Adidas Cup team. This week they became the first MLS team to win the Champions’ Division final after thumping three-time champ West Ham United 4-0 in the semi-finals, then taking care of business against Valencia in the final, to complete their surprise championship.

Trending Down: New York Red Bulls. This team has all the signs of a sinking ship, and now it sounds as if there a number of players looking to leave during the summer transfer window. Saturday’s loss to New England doesn’t help. After leading MLS in shutouts last season, NYRB shockingly have none this season.

LAFC 4-1 Seattle

In a showdown of two western conference juggernauts, it was LAFC that was able to stake their claim to league’s best following a top to bottom clinical performance and dismantling of the Sounders.

The hosts came out firing from the opening whistle, and tore apart the Seattle back line with beautiful, precise passing, playing great one and two touch balls before picking out through-balls on a routine basis. Seattle goalie Stefan Frei was left exposed and helpless on the majority of LAFC’s goals, as they were able to maintain possession, of which they had nearly 60% on the night, patiently passing the ball around before finding the right opportunity to strike.

MVP frontrunner Carlos Vela made the most of those opportunities, first getting in behind following a great seeing-eye pass from Mark-Anthony Kaye and firing past the helpless goalie, then in the second half once again getting played in and dribbling around a diving Frei before slotting home past a sliding defender. Vela nearly had a third right before halftime, on the exact same set-up, clinical passing that led to a great ball over the top, which he acrobatically settled, but his effort was saved in the end.

Toronto 4-3 Minnesota

What a game on a rainy night in Canada! Three players recorded braces during the game, with Toronto’s Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordan Hamilton both needing just two minutes to record theirs.

It was a back and forth affair all night, as Minnesota’s electric superstar Darwin Quintero opened the scoring after his terrific pace allowed him to get behind the Toronto defense and beat the onrushing Alex Bono to the ball, tapping it past the goalie with his head before calmly finishing into the net. The Colombian was able to break out his uniquely beautiful dance moves again in the second half as he scored his penalty effort after strike partner Angelo was brought down in the box. Angelo himself had a great game again in his first start of the year, heading home the tying goal around the hour mark and proving to be a threat all night.

As terrific as Quintero and Angelo were on the evening, Pozuelo managed to outshine them, providing another star turn for Toronto in just his fourth game. The Spaniard was able to latch on to a long clearance and tore down the pitch, putting Loons defender Michael Boxall on skates before curling a gorgeous ball into the upper 90 from about 22 yards out. Pozuelo’s great dribbling ability was on full display on his box-to-box mazy run and subtle touch to get the ball out from under his feet to launch his shot cleanly. Just two minutes later Pozuelo struck again, once again demonstrating his technical gift as his first touch in the box set him up to rocket a shot past Minnesota’s Vito Mannone with his left foot.

Jordan Hamilton also recorded a two-minute brace after coming on in the 73rd minute, although he benefited greatly from some sloppy defending down the stretch by Minnesota. His first came as he was able to split two defenders with his run, sliding and finishing with his weaker foot to level the match. Then he was there to tap the ball in after Boxall inexplicably failed to clear a ball that got past Mannone, allowing Toronto to claim all three points.

Adding to Minnesota’s misery, both Boxall and Jan Gregus picked up red cards after the 89th minute, on completely unnecessary plays. They will need to be mentally tougher as the race for the playoffs heats up throughout the season.

Atlanta 1-2 FC Dallas

Just one year ago, everything seemed to be going right for Atlanta United on their rampage though MLS that culminated with their first MLS Cup championship. Miguel Almiron was a brilliant puppeteer pulling the strings in the midfield, Josef Martinez seemingly could score whenever the mood struck him, and Tata Martino was the mastermind making it all happen.

Just a few short months later, Almiron is making a name for himself across the pond following a high profile move to Newcastle, Martinez looks like he forgot his goal-scoring boots at home, and new coach Frank de Boer’s seat gets warmer each passing day.

Against Dallas, a number of glaring problems presented themselves yet again for the Five Stripes, perhaps most troubling, it seems some of the players are just going through the motions. On Dallas’ first goal, the visitors were able to calmly pass the ball around in the back in the face of lack-luster pressure from Atlanta, before picking out a great longball and the break was on, with the emerging Jesus Ferreira finishing the goal.

On the other side of the pitch, Dallas’ Jessie Gonzalez had himself a coming out party, making a number of sensational saves on the night (even if he was partially aided by the crossbar on a few Ezequiel Barco shots), including one in the 82nd minute in which he dove to his right and was able to use a strong arm to parry the ball away. If he can continue to play at this level, Dallas can prove to be a formidable opponent all year and Gonzalez could play himself into the USMNT goalie picture.

San Jose 4-1 Sporting KC

After starting the season with 0 points from their first four games, San Jose now has two wins from their last three, following a 3-0 thumping of Portland a few weeks back. After coach Matias Almeyda was firmly on the hotseat, things are starting to turn around a bit for the Quakes. Following the win Saturday, Almeyed talked about the improvement for the club, saying ““The team is finding the way; they are finding a style. The delivery, the sacrifice, the collective play, the determination of every player, and I think that’s why we were able to make a difference.” San Jose seems to be buying into Almeyda’s offensive philosophy, as the Quakes looked like they were enjoying themselves on the field and making the necessary sacrifices to help their team.

A large part of that turnaround is forward Danny Hoesen, last year’s twelve goal scorer for San Jose, who is breaking out of a nine-week goalless stretch with three goals in his last three, including a brace against Kansas City. Hoesen worked the backline all night, and both his goals were the result of him being able to get in behind his defenders, first displaying grit and determination to hold off two defenders to open the scoring, then displaying a great touch to get around Kansas City’s Botond Barath and complete his brace.

For Kansas City, perhaps this was the result of mental fatigue following their Champions League exit, but players did not look sharp or focused all night, with poor defending and numerous players making sloppy passes, not to mention Krisztian Nemeth’s poor penalty effort that he sent into the atmosphere, which could have cut the early advantage in half. Felipe Guitierrez got the consolation goal for the visitors, scoring on Sporting’s second penalty effort of the night in the 66th minute.