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MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Here’s what we learned from MLS’ jam-packed action on Saturday.

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NYCFC rally to edge San Jose, remain first in Eastern Conference 

Dominating possession and taking a healthy amount of shots, it seemed like the San Jose Earthquakes were going to pull off a Matias Almeyda-era victory in New York City on Saturday.

But in just the span of three minutes, NYCFC changed the landscape of the game completely, scoring twice right before halftime. Keaton Parks recorded his first league goal in the 40th minute. In the 43rd, the Eastern Conference leaders put together this (yes, the covered half the field just like that):

Like in the sequences that led to the home side’s goals, the Quakes’ confidence to overtake the scoreline took a hit, failing to finish a number of chances following attack-heavy substitutions in the second half. As a result, San Jose, who are fighting for a playoff spot, dropped their fourth straight game on the road.

Speaking with media after their 2-1 loss, Almeyda – despite praising NYCFC as being one of the league’s best – took shots at Yankee Stadium’s field size. Should the league care? Absolutely. NYCFC? Not at all, just look at their record.


FC Cincinnati win first game under Ron Jans

FC Cincy supporters can finally rejoice, even their 1-0 win in Montreal wasn’t ideal.

The league’s youngest team ended up with 10-men late in the game. Kendall Watson was shown a straight red card, but Ron Jans earned his first three points at the helm. Early in the game, Allan Cruz’s goal foreshadowed what was to come for the Ohioan side following the final whistle: a celebration.

 

The Impact (37 points) remain three points behind New England, while Cincinnati (21 points) look to finish strong in order to avoid the ugly side of the history books. 

Carlos Vela rejoins LAFC, scores

There’s no way around it: LAFC is a completely different team with (or without) Carlos Vela, who can’t stop scoring.

The Mexican recorded his 28th goal of the season (six behind Jose Martinez’s single-season record) in the Supporter Shield favorite’s 1-1 draw in Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Vela-esque sequence at all, but it was enough to change the score.

The Union, who played without Marco Fabian because of his absence in the team’s meeting on Friday, opened the scoring. Three minutes in, Kacper Przybyłko’s floating header surprised Tyler Miller, giving the home side a perfect start in front of a noisy Talen Energy Stadium.

Just a couple of months ago, these were the two best teams in the league. LAFC remain atop of the Western Conference. The Union, however, are now five points behind NYCFC.


Crew trounce Atlanta United 3-1 despite Josef Martinez’ goal

Caleb Porter’s Columbus Crew, arguably, play the most effective soccer out of all the teams that are on the outside looking in when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs this season.

On Saturday, despite being statistically outdone by Atlanta United, the Crew managed to execute their chances, scoring three goals on only four shots on target. Gyasi Zardes, a pivotal piece of their attack, scored his 12th goal of the season. Costa Rican Luis Diaz added one of his own in the second half, before Miles Robinson’s own-goal 25 minutes later sealed three points for Columbus.

No goal, however, had as much significance as Josef Martinez’s.

The Venezuelan scored for a 14th consecutive game, making it the third longest streak in the history of the sport. The 26-year-old is now seven games away from Lionel Messi’s world record set in 2014.

Third in the Eastern Conference, nine points away from NYCFC with six games to go, don’t count the single-season scoring king to hold back from wanting to break the record.

Elsewhere in MLS

Chicago Fire 4-0 FC Dallas 

Orlando City 3-3 New England Revolution

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Houston Dynamo

Toronto FC boosts playoff chances with draw at leaders NYCFC

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Despite missing a second-half penalty that would have theoretically given them all three points, Toronto FC pulled out a valuable road draw at NYCFC as the score finished level 1-1.

The draw was a fair result, as both sides saw some luck. NYCFC’s goal came just six minutes into the game as Alexandru Mitrita scored a fabulous free-kick from a tough angle straightaway outside the box. Toronto scored just before halftime as Alejandro Pozuelo hit from the penalty spot.

[ MORE: Mitrita scores spectacular free-kick ]

The second half was eventful despite no goals being scored. Pozuelo failed to bag his brace as he again stepped up to the spot, but Sean Johnson was on hand to produce a stunning save as he dove to his left, reaching up and back with his hand to tip the ball away.

Toronto was lucky not to concede at the death as Chris Mavinga whacked Valentin Castellanos right in the face with an outstretched arm while battling for a loose ball in the box, bloodying the NYCFC attacker’s nose. Incredulously, Castellanos was called for a foul just seconds before as he allegedly dragged back Omar Gonzalez despite hardly any contact. Mavinga was not penalized for the obvious contact, and VAR somehow did not flag the incident.

The point pushed Toronto FC up to 42 on the season, moving them to fourth in the Eastern Conference and five points above the playoff cut line with four matches remaining, a valuable distance with the other three playoff teams all within three points. NYCFC, meanwhile, will be disappointed in the dropped points but also they move three points clear of second-placed Philadelphia and six clear of Atlanta United.

NYCFC winger Mitrita scores fabulous free-kick from straightaway

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While it may not be quite at the level of a Puskas Award, Alexandru Mitrita scored a fabulous free-kick against Toronto FC tonight that may actually be a lot harder than it looks at first glance.

In just the sixth minute, Omar Gonzalez fouled Valentin Castellanos just outside the top of the box, giving NYCFC an early free-kick opportunity. The ball was just inches outside the box and the angle was almost dead center, meaning the opening for a goal from the set-piece was extremely small. A hit too slow and loopy would be easy for the goalkeeper to reach, while too hard would likely see the ball blasted into the wall, which at that angle and distance is covering almost the entire window of opportunity.

Yet somehow, the 24-year-old Romanian international found the right formula, ripping an effort just over the wall’s left edge and past a diving Quentin Westberg into the back of the net.

Free-kick goals from this distance and angle are almost always stunning efforts given the degree of difficulty the positioning presents. Toronto fans may also look at Chris Mavinga, the man on the left edge of the wall who barely even efforts to stop the shot as it whizzes past him, even separating from the wall to give Mitrita the opening. Westberg may also earn some blame for his positioning, sticking himself too far behind the wall and leaving far too much space on the left side of the net, at which Mitrita takes aim.

The goal is the Romanian’s eighth of the season in 25 matches, having joined this past offseason from Romanian club CS Universitatea Craiova. It’s also his second goal in three games after scoring and assisting one each against Vancouver on September 1. Take a bow.

Late VAR call hands NYCFC valuable victory over Revs (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  There are zero doubts about it: Saturday’s officiating at Yankee Stadium highly influenced NYCFC’s 2-1 win over New England Revolution. For instance, Bruce Arena’s meltdown in front of the fourth official in the dying seconds of the game was a testament to role the referees played. Just nine minutes in, the Revs played with 10 players, following a direct red card to defender Antonio Delamea after video review. Of course, like in any game, there was clearly a superior team on the field, regardless of what the scoreline indicated. That team throughout the course of the game was the home side, who eventually separated themselves from the visitors following the substitution of Jesus Medina. The Paraguayan scored two goals, but his second takes us back to square one: officiating and video review. Well into extra time, the home side were awarded a penalty following video review. Medina converted from the penalty spot, lifting NYCFC atop the Eastern Conference table, while delivering another low blow to the Revs’ playoff hopes.

Three moments that mattered

2′ — Caicedo wastes no time to score  — It’s been a slow year for Juan Caicedo. This, however, will serve his confidence well.

70′ — Medina makes an instant impact off the bench  — Despite a positive game from Maxi Moralez, NYCFC needed someone to step up and score. Jesus Medina did just that 10 minutes after taking the field.

96′ — VAR saves the day for the home side — The sequence leading up to Medina’s second goal will be a talking point all weekend.

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Man of the match: Jesus Medina

Goalscorers: Caicedo (2′), Medina (70′), Medina (96′)

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

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Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.