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MLS Monday Rewind: Week 9

Will the real Eastern Conference contenders please stand up?

Week Nine brought a return of winter weather to the Midwest, and a plethora of midweek action and exciting weekend matchups. During the multi-game slate, Chicago continued their struggles this year, dropping massive points against teams they will be fighting with all season for playoff berth. Meanwhile, Minnesota got their first ever win at Allianz Field, and Zlatan saved the day again.

Trending Up: Houston Dynamo. Winners of four of their last five, Houston is playing with creativity and confidence this season, and turning BBVA Compass Stadium into a place nobody wants to visit.

Trending Down: Chicago. Need to figure out how to beat the keeper in a hurry. Outside of their four-goal explosion last week, not much offense thus far in the Windy City. With the talent at his disposal, Paunovic has to get better results.

New England Revolution: Lost to Montreal 0-3 Wednesday, Drew with Sporting KC 4-4 Saturday

It was a wild week for New England, with strong first half play complete with two second half collapses. First, the Revs got a superstar performance out of goalie Cody Cropper, who made a number of wonderful saves against Montreal, including a double save in the 10th minute that prevented two easy goals. Then over the weekend New England rode an offensive explosion, courtesy of a Juan Caicedo brace and a strike from Juan Agudelo, to blitz Kansas City and take a solid 3-1 lead into the break.

However, in both games, the second half would tell a different story. Against Montreal, the pressure and dynamic chances the Impact were creating finally broke the dam in a big way, with a major gaffe from Cropper opening the floodgates, and a brace from the speedy Anthony Jackson-Hamel in the last five minutes securing a big 3-0 win for the visitors.

Likewise, Sporting made the most of their chances in the second half, aided by a sending off for a second yellow for Brandon Bye in the 55th minute. From that point on the visitors took advantage of the extra space on the field and worked the ball around well, putting teammates in positions for easy goals.

For Montreal, this was a big performance for a team looking for attacking creativity and scoring with Ignacio Piatti still sidelined. The Argentine was expected back a few games ago, but continues to be hampered by a knee injury. In the interim, Montreal have managed to draw with DC and NYCFC, and now have won back to back games against New England and Chicago, climbing to second in the East.

A quick note on Sporting, their back line has been a major issue in the last few games, routinely getting turned and beaten by pace, and being forced to make drastic attempts to win balls. I’m not sure if its due to Ike Opara’s departure or they just have lost some confidence following their beat-down by Monterrey in the Champion’s League, but something has to give soon for this defensive unit.

Seattle Sounders: Drew 2-2 with San Jose Wednesday, Drew 1-1 with LAFC Sunday

Seattle’s style of play concerns me a little bit for their long-term ability to be successful. Both games this week reinforced what they’ve done all season, storming their opponent from the opening whistle, bombarding the goal early and often during the opening twenty minutes. San Jose was able to withstand the pressure, but they were successful against LAFC, with their high press resulting in a poor back pass and a lightning quick Jordan Morris goal.

The issue is more often than not Seattle lets their foot off the gas and allows their opponent to settle in and begin to control the game a bit before halftime. While an early, perhaps undeserved Christian Roldan red-card changed the tone of the game over the weekend, against the Quakes, this was particularly evident, as Shea Salinas continued his hot run of games, putting Kelvin Leerdam on skates before firing past goalie Stefan Frei from a tight angle. Salinas then found himself unmarked at the back post to complete his brace on a ball across the six-yard box, coming on the heels of the Quakes hitting the woodwork twice in the span of about ten second half minutes.

Credit to this 2019 version of the Sounders. Rather than put their heads down and sleepwalk their way to a defeat, as you might have seen in the first half of 2017 or 2018, they battled back against San Jose, with Leerdam atoning for his earlier mistake by heading home a corner, followed by former Fire favorite Harry Shipp launching a curler just two minutes later to level the score. Then over the weekend Seattle refused to give in down a man (down two once Leerdam was sent off late), and hung on for a tough point against a blossoming rival.

Toronto 1-2 Portland

A western conference bottom-dweller met a strong eastern conference contender Saturday, and in the first twenty minutes of a blustery day in Toronto, it looked like everything would be going according to script. Portland missed a key opportunity to go ahead, and Toronto took the lead following a well-delivered Alejandro Pozuelo corner.

But then the script took a M. Night Shyamalan-style twist. Portland’s centerback Bill Tuiloma came flying across the 18-yard box, and made a stunning, leaping volley into the top corner that leveled the proceedings. Then in the second half, Jeremy Ebobisse launched himself like a missile to connect with a diving header on a great ball in from Sebastian Blanco, who turned in an incredible performance on the night.

Portland now has back-to-back road wins following a severely disappointing start to their 2019 campaign, and a lot of it has to do with their deadly counter-attacks. The Timbers seem to be shifting away from trying to keep the ball, and instead striking quickly on the counter with their lethal attacking players. Their two wins have come over teams that know their strengths and have a definite identity, setting a solid game plan for victory, but have quickly found themselves unable to keep up with the Timbers clinical counters. Portland’s confidence is soaring, and if they continue to play like this, they can look to quickly climb the western conference ladder and return to playoff position.