MLS Week in Review: Round 28

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Two big routs

Don’t be fooled by the ‘close’ score out of Kansas City, where Peter Vermes’ team blew through the potential stop sign of all those missing pieces. Graham Zusi and Matt Besler were just settling into Columbus with the national team as SKC was passing comfortably in and around the visiting Crew from, yes, Columbus. It finished 3-0 but really wasn’t that tight, as SKC had 11 of the game’s first 14 shots and claimed nearly 60 percent of the first hour’s possession.

Portland was similarly in control of matters at Jeld-Wen Field, surviving a couple of early Toronto threats before putting their foot on the game in a meaningful way. Things have gone a bit loose for Caleb Porter’s team over the last few weeks, so a resounding 4-0 win (that did include a couple of late strikes, in fairness to the visitors) will go a long way to restoring some confidence and good feeling.

The weekend’s most shocking result

Not so far back, the Houston Dynamo had this showy streak going, never beaten in their mew home ground, which opened in 2012. Man, that thing is gone, gone. And how.

Sporting KC was the first to wrestle a win out of BBVA earlier this summer. But that was a close one, with the visitors giddy about tiptoeing away 1-0 victors. That’s why Sunday’s 4-1 loss to New York at BBVA Compass Stadium was such a head spinner.

If we weren’t convinced by Houston’s recent 5-0 loss at Montreal (the proud club’s worst defeat to date) that defense has gone all pear shaped for the Orange, maybe we all believe it now. The Dynamo can still make the playoffs, especially as fellow Eastern Conference aspirants New England, Chicago, Philadelphia and even New York still have issues of their own. But Kinnear had better turn up a striker who can reliably find goal, and then restore the back line to usual Dynamo standard. This is certainly not how the club pounded its way into the last two MLS Cup finals.

(MORE: As bad a game as Houston has ever played?)

Vancouver still experimenting

Nigel Reo-Coker, long a midfielder, took another rare turn at right back, while promising young defender Johnny Leveron was pushed ahead into the midfield for Vancouver. Later, one of the league’s top outside backs, Y.P. Lee, was inserted as a midfielder. Sure. Why not? It smacks of more over-thinking from manager Martin Rennie, who has been accused of this before.

On one hand, Vancouver had never won in Texas, so a little tinkering might have seemed reasonable. It would have, that is, if this were Round 8 or even Round 18. But it isn’t. It is Round 28! These things need to be sorted by now. They do, at least, for teams planning on playing past Round 34, which approacheth with speed.

None of it worked, by the way. FC Dallas won, 3-1, collecting three big points and vaulting past Vancouver in the standings.

The missing men

Dallas, Sporting Kansas City and Seattle all survived without substantial lineup pieces, as important types were away for international duty. (I must resist the urge to write once again about MLS plowing through the international fixture windows, but that drum has been banged all to heck, hasn’t it?)

But the Galaxy didn’t survive unharmed. Without Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Landon Donovan, the Galaxy DPs three, they fell at home to Colorado’s young buckaroos. Edison Buddle’s stinger was the difference in a 1-0 Rapids win.

Weekend’s worst moment…and a controversial moment

It had to be New England goalkeeper Matt Reis getting ejected just five minutes into his team’s home match against Montreal, leaving the Revs to deal with a 10-vs-11 for almost an entire match. Referee Sorin Stoica was absolutely correct as he pointed to the spot, but considering the early minute and enough doubt about whether Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio was actually going to reach a loose ball before being tripped, a red card was a controversial choice – and potentially a season altering one. It certainly was a bad moment for the Revs, so desperate to get back into the playoffs after an extended absence. They could not overcome it in a 4-2 loss.

Mike Magee is back

The Chicago Fire playoff hopes are on the skids, but Mike Magee’s bid for a Golden Boot prevails anew. The Fire attacker had been stuck on 14 for most of August and then into September. So Magee’s 15th on Saturday in Seattle temporarily put the league leadership solely in his Chicago pocket.

Now, about that league MVP bid that could easily find its way to Magee if the Fire can find its way into the playoffs: a late own goal at CenturyLink Field prevented Chicago from taking a point, as offensively depleted Seattle won, 2-1. So those post-season hopes are, as we mentioned, on the skids.

Best goal

For novelty, technical craft and for gravitas, it was Jair Benitez’s goal from almost 60 yard,the insurance effort in Dallas’ 3-1 triumph over Vancouver in the Texas swelter. Nicely done, sir.

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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.