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MLS Snapshots: Fire break losing skid; Sounders extend unbeaten run

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Chicago Fire 4-1 New England Revolution

The game in 100 words (or less): The Chicago Fire have risen from from a very brief slump (back-to-back losses for just the second time all year, coming right on the heels of an 11-game unbeaten run), thanks to a comfortable 4-1 victory over the New England Revolution on Saturday. Unlike Chicago, most MLS sides would struggle mightily when their top striker is not only kept off the scoresheets, but limited to just one shot on the night. That’s the extent to which the Revs managed to shut down Nemanja Nikolic, the league’s leading scorer (16 goals), but it wasn’t nearly enough, as Matt Polster, Juninho, Michael de Leeuw and Luis Solignac stepped up as less likely scorers (left back Patrick Doody assisted on three of the four) to run the Fire’s sterling home record to 10W-1D-0L on the season. The victory moves Veljko Paunovic’s side to within three points of Toronto FC, who drew last-place D.C. United on Saturday, in the Supporters’ Shield (and home-field advantage) race.

[ MORE: Sunday’s MLS schedule is chock-full of important matchups ]

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Polster puts a bit of bend on it for 1-0 — Who needs a left foot when you can do this with the outside of your right?

24′ — Alley-oop to Kamara, and it’s 1-1 — There’s (still) no one in MLS that can compete with Kei Kamara in the air, so Chicago decided they wouldn’t even try.

39′ — Juninho hits it low, through traffic for 2-1 — Bastian Schweinsteiger draws everyone’s attention, only to fool them with a clever dummy. Juninho keeps the strike low, but with power, and Cody Cropper couldn’t do anything about it.

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

Man of the match: Patrick Doody

Goalscorers: Polster (8′), Kamara (24′), Juninho (39′), De Leeuw (49′), Solignac (90+2′)

Minnesota United 0-4 Seattle Sounders

The game in 100 words (or less): Don’t look now, but the Seattle Sounders are unbeaten in seven games (four wins) following Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing of expansion Minnesota United, and Brian Schmetzer’s side have climbed all the way up to third place in the Western Conference (even if only for the time being) as a result. Clint Dempsey had himself a night in this one, bagging a brace and an assist in 90 minutes of work. That’s five goals and two assists for Dempsey in his last four games, bringing his season tallies to nine and three. Perhaps more importantly, Jordan Morris scored his third goal of the season, and his first since April 23. More importantly of all, though, is the clean sheet, Seattle’s third straight game without giving up a goal (while scoring seven themselves).

[ MORE: Sunday’s MLS schedule is chock-full of important matchups ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Bruin leads, finishes the counter for 1-0 — Bruin and Demspey played the two-man game to perfection, and the latter fed the former through for an easy opener.

18′ — Dempsey heads it from a yard out for 2-0 — Gustav Svensson served it up, Chad Marshall sent it back across the face of goal, and Dempsey could have headed this one home with his eyes closed the entire way.

71′ — Morris gets in behind, makes it 3-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro timed his pass perfectly, just as Morris did his run. When the pass and the run sync up like this, you’re bound to hit pay dirt.

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

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Bruin (9′), Dempsey (18′, 72′), Morris (71′)

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 2-0 Atlanta United (video)

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski
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The game in 100 words (or less)Chicago is very, very good at home, and handled Atlanta United to run its season record to 7W-0L-1T at Toyota Park. David Accam set up Luis Solignac for a goal and then sent in a ball that was handled, allowing Nemanja Nikolic to score from the spot, his league leading 12th goal of the season. Chicago pulls to within a point of East-leading Toronto, and has won 7 of 12 since some guy name Bastian starting coming to practice.

The goals

29′ — Accam draws half of Georgia to the right side, finds Solignac — Look at David Accam, going full maze runner with the hope of finding Nikolic. Turns out Solignac was an easier option.

70′ — Nikolic makes it a dozen — The ex-Legia Warsaw man’s game is translating fairly well to MLS, don’t you think? The 29-year-old Hungarian national teamer essentially asks Bernd Storck why he wasn’t in the mix for Friday’s World Cup qualifying loss at Andorra (?!?).

Man of the Match: Juninho. 100 percent pass accuracy, and a half-dozen recoveries in his own half.

La La Land exodus continues, but Galaxy will rebuild, reload

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The LA Galaxy, not far removed from winning three MLS Cups in four years — they completed the feat just 12 months ago, actually — are in full-on tear-it-down-to-build-it-back-up mode this winter, and rightly so.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

On Tuesday it was announced that MLS’s premier club had sold U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez to Pachuca of Mexico’s Liga MX, a move that would allow financial flexibility to address a number of issues ahead of the 2016 season. Tuesday’s announcement was followed by the sale of midfielder Juninho to Club Tijuana, also of Liga MX. Both players won three MLS Cups during their time in Los Angeles, and both players leave massive holes to fill, in so many different ways.

So, where do the Galaxy go from here? In typical Galaxy fashion, they won’t just rebuild; they’ll reload.

For starters, no team in the league sells itself to players and better convinces them to make the plunge into MLS, than the Galaxy. While most MLS teams in a similar situation would look to rebuild through retreaded MLS players who’ve been around the block a few times, the player pool from which the Galaxy will select is much larger — and, to put it bluntly — better than that of the average MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS hot stove — Offseason signings, trades update ]

Rebuilding Building a backline

In truth, the defense was going to need a major addition at center back this winter, which would have been nearly impossible given roster and cap restrictions, to make it anything more than passable in 2016 anyway. The fact that Gonzalez is also gone means the Galaxy can employ two MLS-caliber center backs in 2016, rather than just one, as has been the case for a handful of years now.

While the Galaxy didn’t receive any additional allocation money for selling Gonzalez, the $436,250 (Designated Player salary cap charge) of savings against the cap could easily be used to sign a pair of starting center backs for the price of one.

MLS-based options: Ike Opara, Sporting Kansas City — it’s a deal that might just make sense for both sides (for more, listen here); Chris Schuler, Real Salt Lake (out of contract) — when healthy, one of the highest-upside center backs in the league, and a perfect candidate to cover acres of space.

Verdict: Whoever the Galaxy go for at center back, he/they will need to be extremely mobile and able to cover lots of ground with Gerrard acting as a turnstile in front of the backline. Whatever they do, they should not go out and spend whatever it would cost to sign Ashley Cole.

[ MORE: Gil leaves RSL for MexicoBeckham wants Zlatan in Miami ]

Tailoring a midfield to Gerrard’s strengths/weaknesses

The massive elephant in the room is the indisputable fact that Steven Gerrard‘s presence on the roster forced such widespread roster turnover this winter. His $6.3 million annual salary makes him the highest-paid Galaxy player heading into 2016 — all for a player who hugely disrupted the team’s chemistry and balance upon his arrival in August of this year.

The $350,000 of salary cap relief from selling Juninho, plus the windfall of allocation money received in the deal, plus the league’s additional investment of targeted allocation money, plus the sale of Gonzalez, means the Galaxy now have close to $2 million of on-budget cash with which to work this winter — flexibility they’d otherwise not have had.

MLS-based options: Jermaine Jones, New England Revolution (out of contract) — they’d have to give up a serious chunk of cash to acquire his rights from the Revs, but he’s got a house in LA and he’s the box-to-box terror Gerrard needs to play alongside; Perry Kitchen, D.C. United (out of contract) — again, they’d have to acquire his rights, and he’d have to be the stationary d-mid in front of the defense, but he’s a better player right now than both Jones and Gerrard; Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle Sounders (reportedly on the trading block) — his legs aren’t what they once were, and he’s hurt with alarmingly increasing frequency, but he’s as experienced and wily as they come.

Verdict: This is probably where the Galaxy look to the international market, more so than at center back, at least. Again, Gerrard needs a very specific midfield partner to protect him defensively and afford him the opportunity to maraud forward when he decides it’s time to play hero-ball. Think: a Roger Espinoza-type player.

However they rebuild and reload this winter, the Galaxy will be a factor come August and September next year, because 1) they’re the Galaxy, which means it’s their birth-given right in MLS; and, 2) they’re the richest (and most astute) team in the league, now flush with the most MLS-specific cash we’ve seen in a long, long time. To the rest of MLS: beware.

MLS Team of the Week — Stars of Week 30

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Week 30 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is in the books, and despite what I thought on Friday, we know nothing more about about the 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs picture now than we did then.

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

There were some truly amazing goals scored in Week 30 — see: HERE and HERE — as well as a second hat trick of the season for a certain Canadian striker, so all things considered, it was a decent week of action around the most parity-filled league in the world. Which, of course, is to say there really are no good teams in MLS; they’re all equally average and flawed, which was my ugly realization over the weekend.

[ WEEK 30: TFC 3-2 CHIMTL 2-0 DCU | CLB 1-2 POR | SKC 1-1 SEA ]

That’s not to say, though, there weren’t some stellar individual performances worth recognizing, which bring us to this week’s MLS Team of the Week (in full below).

Thoughts? Questions? Agreements? Disagreements? (Of course not.) Leave them in the comments section, as always. I’m not afraid to defend my picks.

[ MORE: 2015 MLS Team of the Week archive ]

MLS Team of the Week — Week 30

Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Wandrille Lefevre (Montreal Impact), Ethan White (Philadelphia Union), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), RJ Allen (New York City FC)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Kaka (Orlando City SC), Juninho (LA Galaxy)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Fanendo Adi (Portland Timbers)

MLS Forwards

MLS preview: Galaxy vs. FC Dallas, Crew vs. Timbers

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Week 30 of the 2015 Major League Soccer season is upon us, and believe it or not, we’re finally starting to figure this whole playoff picture out. By the end of the weekend, any of four teams could have their respective conference’s top seed all but sewn up, while it’s time to kick one of these Western Conference wannabes to the curb. Who’s with me?

Predictions record through Week 29: 41-54

So, if you’re to watch just three MLS games this weekend — who am I to tell you to watch only three games? — might I suggest the following three:

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas (Sunday, 9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Something pretty interesting has been going on with the Galaxy, and it’s pretty much exactly what we predicted would happen months before the arrival of Steven Gerrard: they’ve got worse — much worse — and it’s all to do with the midfield balance. See, Gerrard isn’t 25 anymore. He’s not even 28, or 30, or 32. He’s 35, and an old 35 at that. To preserve his $6-million-per-year investment, Bruce Arena can’t play Gerrard in a role at all resembling a box-to-box midfielder, which is precisely what the Galaxy need.

Juninho is an elite defensive midfielder who sits in front of the back line, cleans up messes before they’re ever made, and sprays brilliant long balls into both channels and out to the wings. Problem is, that’s now Gerrard’s position, because, legs. So Juninho’s wandering further up the field, turning the ball over because he’s under a lot more pressure in the attacking half, and the Galaxy midfield and defense are suddenly under lots of pressure… with a 35-year-old attacking-midfielder-turned-d-mid charged with protecting an already frail defensive unit. Guess what. They’ve given up four goals in three games and haven’t scored a league goal since their five-goal dismantling of New York City more than a month ago. Oh, and maybe nobody in MLS attacks space and makes you pay on the counter like FCD and Fabian Castillo.

Prediction: Galaxy 2-2 FCD

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

Columbus Crew SC vs. Portland Timbers (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, MLS Live)

Can someone confirm for me that Crew SC and the Timbers aren’t, in fact, the same team? Let’s run down the list really quickly: Great on set pieces — check; terrible at defending set pieces — check; midfield three that holds its own with any unit in the league — check; overlapping full backs like whoa — check; exciting, dynamic wingers — check; enigmatic center forwards who see plenty of chances each game — check.

OK, that settles it, Crew SC and the Timbers are the same group of guys who just fly across the country and place twice every weekend. A win could push Crew SC all the way into the Eastern Conference’s top spot, while the Timbers need to win and overcome nine goals’ worth of goal differential to leave behind the sixth spot in the West.

Prediction: Crew SC 4-2 Timbers

[ MORE: Week 29 Team of the Week | Player of the Week ]

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1)

Can we agree to one thing, for the sake of my sanity? Whichever of these teams walks out of Avaya Stadium with zero points Sunday night, we make them go away until March. Can we agree to that? Because, man, I am so done with these two teams and their yoyo-ing “we’re alive,” “we’re dead,” “we’re alive,” “we’re dead” schtick of the last two months.

How’s anybody supposed to have a correct take on a team if every time you buy into them, they fall flat on their face; and every time you say they’re finally dead, they hammer one of the league’s best teams? Naturally, they’ll play to the most exciting draw of the season, leaving us once again scratching our heads, still unsure what to make of either side’s postseason chances. They’ve currently both out of the playoff places, and pretty likely to still be there come Oct. 25.

Prediction: Earthquakes 1-1 RSL