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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Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola