Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 16

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Another abbreviated schedule: Next week will see the resumption of a full schedule — and who doesn’t like a full schedule? For Round 16 (like the last one) play was restricted to just five matches due to the ongoing FIFA for World Cup qualifiers.

The streaks to talk about: Portland is now unbeaten in 13 matches after staying on top of Dallas in the meeting of Western Conference leaders. FYI, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter is now dead level with Tom Soehn, who once presided over D.C. United, for the longest unbeaten streak by a first-year manager in MLS.

On the other end, D.C. United could not follow up on the mid-week U.S. Open Cup success; Ben Olsen’s team is now winless in 13 league matches. (And Saturday’s loss was a particularly miserable one … which we’ll get to.)

The weekend’s gritty win: The men of Columbus had so much going against them in taking on Montreal. Not only were two highly important men recently felled by ACL tears, they were playing on just one full day of rest, a rare, rare burden in professional soccer. (The Crew’s U.S. Open Cup match had to be pushed back a day, from Wednesday to Thursday, due to weather.)

Meanwhile, Montreal came into Crew Stadium fresh and spring daisies. So lots of credit to Robert Warzycha’s team – perhaps inspired by a season-high crowd of 18,320? – took down the Impact, 2-0. Dominic Oduro (pictured) had a goal and an assist in a truly worthwhile win.

The weekend’s top goal: The thing about Darlington Nagbe’s game-winner for Portland  on Saturday, the defending is pretty much what it needs to be from Dallas center back George John. And it didn’t matter. Nagbe’s ability to spin and hit this  shot in the tightest of spaces is simply stunning.  Heck, his ability to conceive of such a shot is pretty impressive in itself.

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Flowing red … and fuming mad!: First half red cards went a long way to deciding matches in Colorado and Vancouver. The Rapids lost Atiba Harris after just 18 minutes and went on to lose 2-1 at home to San Jose (a team debuting under interim manager Mark Watson). And some of the players and coaches were all hopped up in this one, highlighted by a near donnybrook that involved players and coaches.

In Vancouver, New England rookie Andrew Farrell was tossed in the 23rd minute, and his team went on to lose to Martin Rennie’s Whitecaps. (More on that down below.)

Sad news: FC Dallas has three top-level strikers – and none of them were available for Saturday’s match. Most unfortunate was that Kenny Cooper’s father, also Kenny Cooper, had a heart attack Saturday morning. The younger Cooper flew home to be with his dad, who is in stable condition. Kenny Cooper Sr. was once the face of the old Dallas Tornado back in NASL days.

The latest blow around RFK Stadium: You know, things are so bad around D.C. United, this death spiral borders on the unthinkable. Seriously, how could things possible have gone so horribly pear-shaped? No offense to Toronto FC, but United should not be losing to the rebuilding Reds in Washington. Period!

But lose Ben Olsen’s club did – and it sounds like everyone around RFK is at the end of their 13-game winless rope.

The weekend’s worst 18 minutes: Things unraveled spectaculary in Vancouver, conceding three goals in 18 minutes just before the break. What’s worse, in doing so, Jay Heaps’ team squandered a two-goal lead.

It all happened around a red card to rookie Andrew Farrell, and Heaps was clearly frustrated by the reactions that eventually saw his team fall, 4-3.

“Sometimes game plans get disrupted and really, I’m a little disappointed by – after the red card – our reaction,” Heaps said. “We really wish we had solidified things and played a little better in that time, a little more alert, a little more veteran-like in those few minutes. Unfortunately, we’re a younger team and we got rattled a bit.”

A gallery of amazing saves in Portland v. Dallas: FC Dallas’ visit to Portland was easily the feature game of Round 16. Don’t let that 1-0 score fool you, there were plenty of chances on both sides in a match memorable for world class goalkeeping on both sides. Watch the highlights below, which include three top-class saves from heroic FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, fresh off duty as Peru’s No. 1.

Portland’s Donovan Ricketts didn’t have as many show-stoppers, but his stop on Jackson’s goal-bound drive just before the break was the game’s top stops. It really was a wonder. Enjoy:

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Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.