The grand finale of MLS’ regular season played out earlier this week and as expected, there were fireworks. For a summary of the playoff situation prior to the big day, go check out my last article on the site where you can read up on the teams, the fixtures and the stakes.
Now you’re up to date, let’s take a look at the highs and lows of the MLS final day fiesta.
Toronto FC 4-1 Atlanta United
So close yet so far for the Georgians as their MLS Supporter’s Shield hopes were thoroughly crushed by last season’s Eastern champs Toronto. Having had a thoroughly underwhelming season themselves, the Canadian side were clearly looking to make a statement and they did so emphatically, putting 4 past the league leaders to knock them off top spot and leave the fate of the MLS Supporter’s Shield in the hands of the Red Bulls.
A deflected effort from Lucas Janson opened the scoring for the Reds in the 9th minute, before Jonathan Osorio set up Marky Delgado who put away a second. Atlanta struggled to create chances for the majority of the first half, and just before halftime top scorer Josef Martinez missed a gilt-edged opportunity to drag the Shield-chasing visitors back into the game when he hit the post.
The Five Stripes looked brighter in the second half, especially after the hour mark, with Julian Gressel in particular looking threatening down the right. Both sides had a goal disallowed for offside before, in the 77th minute, Darlington Nagbe was adjudged to have been fouled in the area.
Martinez stepped (more like skipped) up and slotted the ball into the bottom left. The Atlanta resurgence didn’t last long however as only 6 minutes later Lucas Janson added to his earlier goal after some great work from Giovinco. Speaking of whom, the little Italian was at it again just a few minutes later as he volleyed home at Brad Guzan’s near post to make it 4 and to send the fans at the BMO Field home happy after what has otherwise been a pretty drab season.
Fans will hope this is a sign that the darker days are now behind them and that Toronto will return to their table-topping form once again, whilst Atlanta’s future is now thrown into further doubt as they contemplate their future without Tata Martino.
New York Red Bulls 1-0 Orlando City
Meanwhile in New Jersey moods were considerably brighter as the Red Bulls confirmed their Supporter’s Shield win and broke the record for most points in a regular season by putting away Orlando 1-0.
With Atlanta leading the pack for the majority of the season and the Supporter’s Shield itself physically in Toronto in anticipation of Atlanta confirming it, the New Yorkers must have taken great satisfaction in stealing the trophy at the last minute. It was local boy Derrick Etienne who was the difference maker, having had a penalty saved in the first half, as the Haitian international sped into the box in the 53rd minute and fired past Adam Grinwis to send the Lions back to Florida with nothing.
Orlando are another side looking to use the break to improve, having not made the playoffs and looking weak almost since star signing Kaka retired last year. A lack of support for striker Dom Dwyer has left the team short on attacking threat and this was evident as NYRB keeper Luis Robles recorded his 14th clean sheet of the season with only 1 save. The Red Bulls will be overjoyed with their performance this season and will hope they can ride this momentum through the playoffs and into the MLS Cup Final.
Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Los Angeles FC
SKC won the Western Conference in a hard fought battle with their closest title rivals at Children’s Mercy Park. Former Wigan man Roger Espinoza fired home his 3rd goal of the season with a cracking effort from range in the 37th minute to put the hosts ahead, but LAFC tied it up just after the hour mark with a Carlos Vela penalty.
The call itself was the cause of some controversy, as Seth Sinovic had the ball deflect off his arm as he marked the near post and after some VAR consultation, the ref awarded the pen and sent Sinovic for an early bath. Vela converted the penalty with ease and it looked like the Black and Gold could go on to win it as they dominated stretches of the second half, but Daniel Salloi continued his fantastic run of goalscoring form and managed to settle the game for his side against the run of play.
Sporting will be overjoyed to have booked a first round bye in the playoffs and to have won such a competitive Western Conference, and now must watch to see where they’ll be headed to play their first playoff match on November 4th. Which such an in form front 3 and a solid team behind, there can’t be too many teams they fear.
LAFC on the other hand have booked themselves a showdown with Real Salt Lake at the Banc of California Stadium on the 1st, despite no doubt being disappointed to drop to 3rd in the table. Although playing in front of their own fans gives them an advantage, they looked toothless at times in the first half in Kansas City and may look to employ Latif Blessing’s pace from the start this time to cause the RSL defence some trouble.
LA Galaxy 2-3 Houston Dynamo
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Galaxy crashed out of playoffs contention in spectacular fashion as the visiting Dynamos overturned a 2-0 deficit to run out 3-2 victors. Las Naranjas were already well out of the playoff race but that didn’t stop them from ruining the party at StubHub Centre. Ola Kamara bagged a double within half an hour, setting the Galaxy on the way to what looked to be an easy win.
Things started going downhill quickly in the second half as Romell Quioto sent his man for a hot dog and fired a low strike in at the near post to bring the game back into reach for the Texans. The nerves were clearly too much for Romain Allessandrini, who attempted to clear a high ball in the 71st minute and managed to boot AJ DeLaGarza in the ribs for a Houstonian penalty. Mauro Manotas dispatched it promptly, to near silence from the Californian crowd.
Their silence soon turned to audible groans however as Alberth Elis crossed low into the Galaxy box and that man Manotas was there again to convert. LA struggled to get back into the game, with Sebastian Lletget missing a great chance to the visible annoyance of Ibrahimovic, but even with 9 minutes of added time and the late dismissal of Ronaldo Pena they just couldn’t get the job done.
After what is arguably one of the biggest bottle-jobs in MLS history and a thoroughly underwhelming season despite one of the most stacked squads in the league, the Galaxy’s fans are going to expect more from their club. Management is seemingly in the crosshairs and star player Zlatan is the subject of several transfer rumours that do not bode well for the side. Their defence is also cause for concern, as they were at fault for the capitulation against Houston and simply don’t match up to the star studded front line.
Houston on the other hand will be happy to have ended a season of ups and downs on a high note. The Orange Crush haven’t achieved too highly in the league but a first US Open Cup victory will be greatly appreciated and they seem to be in a good spot to build on for next year.
Vancouver Whitecaps 2-1 Portland Timbers
Sometimes things don’t get the perfect ending they deserve, and it sucks for all involved (just look at How I Met Your Mother). Alphonso Davies’ time in MLS however is NOT one of those things. The Canadian starlet lit up BC Place one final time on Sunday to remind everyone watching exactly why Bayern Munich have snapped him up.
Still days away from his 18th birthday, the Ghanaian-born winger was in fine form as he scored both goals to cap the Caps season with a victory and leave the Timbers with some questions as they head into a road game at struggling FC Dallas.
Davies’ first was a great summary of his talents as he picked up the ball on the halfway line and ran it inside of Lawrence Olum and all the way to the edge of the box before firing at the Portland goal. Jeff Attinella should really have done better but nonetheless the ball ended up in the back of the net. It didn’t take long to get back there either as Davies once again found himself celebrating just 3 minutes later, as a miscommunication between Marco Farfan and Bill Tuiloma allowed him to sneak in and poach his second.
Andres Flores managed to get one back for the visitors in the 90th minute but the night was really all about saying farewell to one of Canada and MLS’ brightest young stars, and both he and the fans did their best to make it a special goodbye.
One looming question does remain for the Whitecaps however, and that is how do they replace such a direct, exciting forward like Davies? As they contemplate next year without their star man, Portland have slightly more imminent concerns in the shape of a Halloween MLS playoff date in Dallas. The Cowboys have been in a dip as of late but are no doubt going to fight to stay in the playoffs, so the team will need to be in top form going into the match and must avoid errors like the one that gave Davies his second.
The rest of the results
Chicago Fire 0-0 DC United
Colorado Rapids 2-1 FC Dallas
Columbus Crew 3-2 Minnesota United
New England Revolution 1-0 Montreal Impact
New York City 3-1 Philadelphia Union
Seattle Sounders 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes