Jeff Larentowicz

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD

MLS Snapshot: ATL uphold home dominance, grind it out vs. MTL

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The game in 100 words (or less): Here’s the only foolproof advice for any MLS team desperate for points in their pursuit of a playoff spot — don’t play Atlanta United, just don’t do it. Tata Martino’s side, now in the middle of a lengthy home-stand at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, has one four of their last five games (all at home) and climbed into third place in the Eastern Conference, finally surpassing the Chicago Fire, in the process. What’s more, Atlanta (49 points) also have a game in hand (or two) on every team above them in the standings. Hector Villalba and Jeff Laretnowicz bagged the goals during Sunday’s 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact, though this weekend’s greatest impact on Atlanta’s season is perhaps yet to be felt after Miguel Almiron left the game with an injury early in the first half.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three Four moments that mattered

17′ — Almiron leaves the field in tears, injured — Almiron left the game with an apparent leg injury. The 23-year-old Paraguayan, who has 9 goals and 13 assists this season, appeared to be in tears as he left the field.

28′ — Villalba unleashes a thunderbolt for 1-0 — If not for the back of the net, Villalba’s laser beam would still be traveling at a slightly upward trajectory two or three hours from now.

72′ — Guzan denies Salazer one-on-one to keep it 1-0 — Brad Guzan wasn’t asked to make a save until the 72nd minute, and the U.S. national teamer came up huge against Michael Salazar.

73′ — Larentowicz scores on the other end for 2-0 — Soccer, much like life, comes at you fast.

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Man of the match: Carlos Carmona

Goalscorers: Villalba (28′), Larentowicz (73′)

Larentowicz another savvy move for Atlanta; How high can they fly?

Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images
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Break up Atlanta United.

That’s a bit dramatic, especially considering the big sides assembled by MLS expansion teams of yesteryear, but it’s worth believing Atlanta United’s plan is coming together in impressive — perhaps unprecedented — fashion.

The latest piece came Wednesday, as United president Darren Eales announced the arrival of free agent signing and 33-year-old Swiss army knife Jeff Larentowicz.

[ MORE: USMNT learns first post-Klinsmann opponent ]

This on the heels of perhaps the biggest coaching move in MLS history, the addition of Tata Martino, the DP signings of Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba, the reported arrivals Brad Guzan and Oscar Romero, and a number of other well-worked (and not all old) moves by Carlos Bocanegra and company.

New York City FC, for all its might, didn’t have Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard for Day One. And Orlando City looked strong, but more slapped together.

Aside from the Martino point, Atlanta’s moves look a lot like the idea behind the success of 2016 Toronto FC. Bold, young playmakers up top with plenty of steady MLS veterans in the fold. And surely the national respect for Bocanegra isn’t hurting the club’s recruiting efforts.

Larentowicz has played in four MLS Cup Finals between two conferences, winning the 2010 Cup with Colorado. Michael Parkhurst has also played in finals with two different sides, most recently 2014 in Columbus (Oddly enough, Larentowicz and Parkhurst started together during New England’s run in the last decade).

Zach Loyd and Mark Bloom have been there, too, while ex-Premier Leaguers Kenwyne Jones and Chris McCann aren’t going to be afraid of the spotlight. There are Georgia natives who’ll be proud to build a home culture, and youngsters like Andrew Carleton and Brandon Vazquez who stand to learn from strong leaders.

[ MORE: Bradley vows title for Toronto ]

Sure, it could fall apart. Martino, for all his accolades, has to deal with the unorthodox travel, scheduling, and officiating of Major League Soccer. The young, flashy DPs could find it hard to deal with physical, foul-happy MLS defenses.

But Eales, Bocanegra, and Martino have given notice that this expansion side could make an instant impact on the Eastern Conference playoff race. There’s reason to be high on ATLUTD.

But how high? A playoff spot would be an achievement even given the relatively forgiving format of MLS. In a conference where Toronto, New York City, and the Red Bulls are considered givens, there will be three more spots. Columbus shouldn’t stay down, Ben Olsen always has DC United competitive, and Jason Kreis showed Orlando won’t be down for long.

That’s six right there, without considering playoff fixture Montreal, upstarts Philadelphia, and a New England team that’s competitive more often than not.

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MLS Snapshot: DC United 3-1 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less): David Accam’s third goal of the season gave Chicago hope against Ben Olsen’s United, but DC’s Jairo Arrieta made sure table order was restored with a pair of his own goals. He first headed home a Fabian Espindola offering before playing the role of “Jairo on the spot” when a mistimed tackle pushed a ball onto his path in the center of the box. Andrew Dykstra stopped a PK and later teamed with Conor Doyle for a doorstep denial of Chicago. With the win, DC moves seven points ahead of No. 2 New England in the East, while Chicago fails in a bid to move fourth.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Dykstra pushes Larentowicz PK onto post — Drinks on Steve Birnbaum, as the young USMNT back’s wayward arm granted a chance from the spot to Jeff Larentowicz. But Big Red’s languid run-up got very little power on his low shot. Dykstra guessed correctly and pushed the ball off the post.

28′ — Accam flashes into the box to give Fire a 1-0 lead — It would only be a temporary reprieve, as the 24-year-old Ghanaian darted past Kofi Opare to push Quincy Amarikwa’s cross past Dykstra. Harrison Shipp helped start the play, and DC United’s back line was a group of passengers as the home team went down.

61′ — Arrieta nods home an equalizer— Jairo Arrieta rose above a pair of Fire defenders to net his fourth goal of the season. Fabian Espindola’s corner kick went dead center, and it was 1-1 with about a half-hour to play in DC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Fabian Espindola, DC United — He’s the machine that drives DC, and he set up a pair of goals on the night. First it was Arrieta’s headed equalizer. Later, it was Markus Halsti’s awkward, two-footed insurance goal.

LINEUPS

DC United: Dykstra; Franklin, Boswell, Opare, Birnbaum, Aguilar (Espindola, 46′), Halsti, Kitchen, DeLeon (Coria, 85′), Doyle, Arrieta (Arnaud, 73′)

Goal: Arrieta 2 (61′, 69′), Doyle (75′)

Chicago Fire: Busch; Palmer, Larentowicz, Gehrig, Jones, Polster, Watson (Igboananike, 70′), Accam (Do Prado, 77′), Stephens (Cocis, 62′), Amarikwa, Shipp.

Goal: Accam (28′)

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 3-2 Toronto FC

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The game in 100 words (or less): These are not my Chicago Fire. This was a thrilling game full of end-to-end soccer, five goals and three lead changes. Chicago Fire soccer is not supposed to entertain me in this way. OK, on a serious note, the Fire were really good in this game. The resilience on display after the game went from 1-0 to 1-2, to hit back two minutes later after going down and find not just an equalizer, but a winner as well…well, that’s the kind of thing playoff teams do.

[ MORE: MLS Week 5 preview ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Jones scores from a tight angle, outside-of-the-foot style — Joevin Jones had himself a first half. Shaun Maloney’s through ball set up the Trinidadian left back for his first MLS goal, which Jones took so classily with the outside of his left foot, from a really tight angle which was made even tighter by an onrushing Joe Bendik.

54′ — Cheyrou finishes Giovinco’s masterpiece — So, Sebastian Giovinco, huh? The $35-million Italian playmaker is pretty easily the best player on show every time he takes an MLS field. His delicate, pinpoint, outside-of-the-foot cross, through traffic, for Benoit Cheyrou is one of the best passes to set up a goal you’ll see all year.

68′ — Larentowicz’s free kick is the game-winner — They don’t always have to be pretty, you know. Even the ugly goals count the same as their majestic counterparts. Jeff Larentowicz’s free kick from just outside the penalty area wasn’t ugly, per se, but it wasn’t the classic up-and-over-the-wall job everyone loves seeing, either. Regardless, it sealed the Fire’s second-straight victory, so it’ll go down as a beauty in Fire fans’ hearts tonight.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Shaun Maloney — The Scottish DP midfielder bagged his first MLS goal and assist in this one. The assist gave the Fire an early lead, while the goal was the equalizer two minutes after Cheyrou gave TFC the lead.

LINEUPS

Chicago Fire: Busch, Gehrig, Larentowicz, Adailton, Jones, Shipp, Polster (Perez 88′), Stephens (Ritter 8′), Accam, Maloney, Amarikwa (Igboananike 74′)

Goals: Jones (12′), Maloney (56′), Larentowicz (68′)

Toronto FC: Bendik, Morgan (Lovitz 88′), Morrow, Hagglund, Creavalle, Cheyrou, Bradley, Osorio (Dike 81′), Findley (Jackson 71′), Altidore, Giovinco

Goals: Giovinco (20′), Cheyrou (54′)

Reports: Jermaine Jones coming to Chicago, move welcomed by Fire

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Move over, Frank Lampard. There could be a new DP midfielder in MLS.

Momentum behind the “Jermaine Jones to Chicago” story picked up even more power when Alexi Lalas used his halftime airspace on ESPN to address the issue.

Saying the 32-year-old’s move to Major League Soccer was close to signing with the Fire for $3 million per season, Lalas took reports from folks like Chicago Fire Confidential to the next level. Jones has long been linked with an MLS move, and signing with Chicago would immediately put him into the “top MLS midfielders” discussion.

[ MORE: U.S. to host September friendly versus Colombia ]

The reports became the buzz of the locker room after Chicago’s scoreless draw with Vancouver on Wednesday, and gave us Jones news that wasn’t about his summer hanging out with Pau Gasol, Paris Hilton, the L.A. Dodgers or Charlie Sheen.

Here are Fire manager Frank Yallop’s comments, from MLSSoccer.com:

“We have interest in the player for sure,” Yallop said of Jones to reporters after his side’s 0-0 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. “We’ve spoken to the agent, but at this point there’s nothing to add until someone agrees or it gets concluded. The truth of the matter is we have interest in the player but nothing has been finalized yet. That’s all I can say on it for now.”

The move might affect Chicago midfielder Jeff Larentowicz the most, but the veteran had already been moved around to help the Fire’s struggling back line. Larentowicz played Wednesday’s draw at center back, and Chicago’s players seem both eager for the reported reinforcements and happy to adjust to them.

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

“[Jones] would work wonders for this team [with] his offensive thrust,” defender Lovel Palmer said. “But he’s not here. We have to look at the guys in the locker room and keep building on what we have.”

As Palmer said, the Fire don’t have Jones yet. Without him, they shifted captain Jeff Larentowicz from the midfield to the back line to pair with Patrick Ianni, replacing the benched Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Bakary Soumare.

Both were also benched in the 2-0 loss to Tottenham Hotspur last Saturday.

If Jones arrives, Larentowicz’s move could be permanent.

“I want to be on the field. I don’t mind where it is,” Larentowicz said. “He’s a good player. Love to have good players at our club, so if that’s the truth, then great. But I want to be on the field wherever I can help.”

Jones would obviously propel the win-challenged Fire forward in its race for the postseason. Chicago is five points back of the East’s final playoff spot with a match-in-hand on most of their competition, and ranks in the bottom-half of the league in both goals scored and goals allowed (Wednesday’s 0-0 game was the Fire’s 12th tie of the season).

Turkish club Besiktas was Jones’ last home after spending the majority of his career in Germany, including 2007-2014 with Schalke. Known more for his tenacious tackling than scoring, Jones upped his offensive reputation with his stunning, curling goal against Portugal at the 2014 World Cup.

Jones played three times for Germany before using a one-time switch to join the United States in 2010. He’s been a fixture for the USMNT, scoring thrice in 46 caps.