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MLS Monday Rewind: Week 14

LAFC are good. Really, really good.

MLS: Los Angeles FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As MLS teams brace for their star players being gone in the coming weeks for the Gold Cup, picking up points with a full-strength squad is of the upmost importance.

Trending Up: Josef Martinez. Last year’s Golden Boot winner has found his scoring form and has re-asserted himself into this season’s race. With six goals in his last five games, including two straight multi-goal performances, the Atlanta United striker is up to ten goals on the year and looks to be red hot.

Trending Down: DC United. It seems harsh to list the conference leaders here, but they are currently struggling to tread water, with just four points from their last six games. In particular a pair of draws this week hurts as they now have three teams within three points of them that all have at least two games in hand.

New York Red Bulls 4-0 Real Salt Lake

It was a very tough and disheartening week for Salt Lake, as they dropped a pair of games that they looked lively and dangerous in throughout the first half, but let the games get away from them in the second halves. In particular, Nick Rimando turned in a pair of great first half performances, putting on a show along with fellow MLS veteran and star, Red Bull goalie Luis Robles.

Despite his strong showing, Rimando was overwhelmed in the second half by a combination of unlucky bounces, and strong play from Daniel Royer, who has been such a critical piece for the Red Bulls this season. Royer created a few good chances for his teammates, and made sure to make the most of the chance created for him on a wonderful through ball, slotting home past the onrushing Rimando.

The hosts got their first and third goals on the night off of deflected balls, the first an own goal that ricocheted into the goal after bouncing off a few Real defenders, and the second a good effort from Michael Murillo that was slightly adjusted as it headed towards goal.

Omir Fernandez finished the misery for the visitors with his 83rd minute strike, making a great run through the box to get on the end of a well-delivered ball.

Despite the losses, Real keeps its tentative grasp on the final playoff spot in the west. With two of their next four games against fellow western conference playoff contenders, Salt Lake will need to get back to their winning ways soon. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls are up to fourth in the east, and well within striking distance of the top spot. Sporting a healthy goal differential and a great record at home, New York looks poised to be dangerous all year long.

Dallas 2-1 Seattle

Following losses to Sporting KC and now Dallas, it is safe to say Seattle has cooled off following their strong start to the season. They have now fallen to third in the West, behind both LA sides, and trail leaders LAFC by eleven points. Part of this cooling off comes as Seattle continues to adjust to life without their veteran centerback Chad Marshall, as the Sounders have now dropped both games since he announced his retirement on May 22nd.

In an interview with his former Sounders teammates following his retirement, it is evident just how much his presence will be missed. Midfielder Cristian Roldan summed up his importance by saying “We’ve won trophies because of him. It is difficult to not have him in the lineup. It’s so weird, to be honest. These last couple of games were very strange without him consistently leading the line and seeing him in the locker room. Seeing how urgent he is. It’s hard to find that balance because he’s been a treat for us in the Sounders organization.”

That presence was surely missed on Saturday, as it was a rough night for the Seattle backline in the Texas heat, as Dallas’ creativity and pressure kept them on their backfoot all night and forced the defenders into difficult positions, resulting in a pair of own-goals that proved to be the difference on the night.

The first of those own goals came from the result of some brilliant individual dribbling by Michael Barrios, as he avoided the double team attempt from Alex Roldan and Kelvin Leerdam, eluding both defenders, and putting Leerdam in particular on skates, as he raced free down the touch line and delivering a great cross into the box that was eventually headed into the goal by Xavier Arreaga.

The blame cannot be placed squarely on the defense however, as the high-pressing, high-energy offense Seattle demonstrated so frequently to start the season has not been as prevalent as of late. Seattle needs more chances and opportunities created by their highly talented attacking players. Raul Ruidiaz did his part to get his team back into the game, cutting in to create space for himself before delivering a gorgeous curling ball that found the upper corner, eluding the diving fingertips of Jesse Gonzalez. His shot came as the end result of a few very well-executed one-touch passes that unlocked the Dallas defense, but unfortunately for the visitors, there was not enough of this kind of play on the night, and their offense remained relatively stagnant.

In the past few seasons, the Sounders have been very streaky, running ice cold and red hot, usually in that order. This year they started red hot, but need to ensure their players are mentally and physically in good shape to avoid the kind of valley the club has experienced in previous years.

Portland 2-3 LAFC

On a night that held so much promise and potential as Portland debuted their newly renovated Providence Park, it was LAFC that rose to the moment and proved again why they are the class of the league thus far in the season.

Portland made a number of critical errors throughout the match that ultimately proved to be their undoing. First, goalie Jeff Attinella under hit a slow pass out of the back and allowed Carlos Vela to intercept and come barreling in one on one, a position that Vela rarely misses from. The MLS Golden Boot leader added his league leading sixteenth goal as he calmly slotted past the onrushing Attinella to give LAFC the early lead.

The second critical mistake Portland made resulted in the second goal of the night, as Timbers defender Jorge Moreira was caught unaware and flat-footed on a ball played on the ground into the box by LAFC’s Blackmon, allowing Diego Rossi to come from behind, get on the ball, and turn in a great finish past Attinella. Rossi, atoning from an early miss on an absolute sitter, worked hard to get in front on that ball and produce a great goal for his team.

The final mistake on the night, which ultimately proved to be the game-winner for LAFC, came when both centerbacks marked Rossi in the box on a cross from out wide, allowing Latif Blessing to set up camp in acres of space. Credit to Blessing, as he timed his run beautifully, took advantage of the stunning amount of space allowed to him, and turned in a great volleyed finish into the net.

These mistakes sabotaged what could have been a special night for a surging Timbers side. New DP Brian Fernandez turned in another star performance, creating a number of chances on the night, including his late goal that gave his team life and a header that Cristhian Paredes was able to volley home for their opener. With the talent on the roster, Portland will know they need to minimize these errors to climb back into the playoff picture.