Major League Soccer

Decision Day Drama Brings Regular Season to a Close

FC Dallas finished the 2016 season atop the standings and claimed the Supporters' Shield while defending champions Portland fell apart and missed the playoffs entirely.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 24, 2016
2:55 PM

FC Dallas takes The Shield

As expected, FC Dallas won the 2016 Supporters’ Shield and now has two of the three major pieces of domestic silverware. The team clinched on Sunday when Colorado tied Houston at home. FC Dallas, in turn, put an exclamation point on its regular season with a scoreless road draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

To complete the treble, FC Dallas will have to win MLS Cup which will be a tremendous challenge given the departure of Fabian Castillo and the season-ending injury to Mauro Diaz. Still, Dallas has built its team with superb defense and a significant number of young players waiting in the wings.

In a way, it is refreshing to see a team like FC Dallas succeed because this team represents what MLS wants. It develops its own players and gives many young Americans impressive amounts of playing time. It also plays an attractive brand of soccer that can be explosive at times. In fact, it is the polar opposite of the Colorado Rapids—the team that was chasing Dallas most of the year.

It would be nice to see the fans in Frisco, Texas, turn out to support this team as it makes a run in the playoffs.

Portland crumbles

The biggest loser on Decision Day was the Portland Timbers which needed to defeat the already-eliminated Vancouver Whitecaps but instead were embarrassed 4-1. After drawing at home to Deportivo Saprissa midweek in another must win in the Concacaf Champions League, Portland suffered two eliminations inside of a week.

“It’s very disappointing,” Portland coach Caleb Porter said. “Obviously, this game, the performance was not good enough. Defensively, we leaked goals….Guys needed to step up and they didn’t. We had some guys that had some really poor performances, and it's difficult to win when you get that. But, for me, it’s the defensive side where I was most disappointed because I just felt like we bled goals.”

The season was a debacle for the defending MLS Cup champions which finished winless on the road. The blame needs to be shared throughout the organization. Caleb Porter failed to get the sort of performances out of Darlington Nagbe that carried the team late last year 2015; Lucas Melano has been a bust; and too much was asked of Fanendo Adi. Jorge Villafana played 3,000 minutes in all competitions in 2015 and he was never really replaced.

One big factor was this team’s lack of depth. Yes it had injuries but every team must find ways of dealing with the loss of players. The Red Bulls survived two months without Dax McCarty and Dallas pressed on without Fabian Castillo. Portland lost players and couldn't recover.

“So, when I look at the season, we had injuries but for me it was more about the depth because you have to be able to manage a season with injuries,” Porter explained. “Everybody gets them. If you don’t have depth that can get the job done when called upon, you’re going to struggle to win games. I thought most of those situations happened on the road when we lost guys and that led to us not being good on the road.”

But most of all, there was no killer instinct with this team which was overly passive and easily intimidated. The awful performance on Sunday was completely deserved.

NYCFC rebounds to earn bye

One of the big races heading into the final day was who would claim the final bye in the MLS Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls wrapped up first place but Toronto and New York City FC were neck and neck for the second spot.

New York City needed a win on the final day against Columbus Crew SC to clinch a bye in just its second year in the league. Must-win situations are never easy but Patrick Vieira’s team rose to the occasion with a convincing 4-1 victory as designated players Frank Lampard and David Villa carried the day.

Overall, it was a very successful season for NYCFC but as the oldest team in the league, this team is built for the present and not the future. With demanding owners, Vieira will be expected to advance to the Conference Finals—potentially against the New York Red Bulls in what would be a huge series between teams that want to dominate the biggest metropolitan area in the country.

“When I came over to this football club, I found people who were prepared to work together, players who wanted to do well, and of course that made my job easy,” Vieira said. “They’ve been working really hard in training, I’ve been really demanding of them. And then they’ve been performing on the pitch. Hard work made us qualify for the playoffs.

"Of course when I look from the first game we played against Chicago and I look at the team today, we improved, we look solid and we have a clear philosophy of how we want to play the game. And all credit to the players and the staff because I think both worked really hard, really well, and we are where we are today.”

Montreal rests key players

The end of the season has not been kind to the Montreal Impact which had an ugly fallout with star striker Didier Drogba last weekend. It started when head coach Mauro Biello wanted to use Drogba off the bench for its game against Toronto. Drogba refused this role and insisted on starting. This led to him not being in the lineup for the 2-2 draw.

During the weekend, Montreal owner Joey Saputo said the team met with Drogba and that the situation was resolved to the club’s satisfaction. But Drogba was not in the lineup for the season finale against the all-but-eliminated New England Revolution.

With the knockout game scheduled for Thursday, Biello elected to rest key players—a move that resulted in a 3-0 loss. With the defeat, Montreal fell to fifth place and will have to play on the road for its first-round knockout game against D.C. United. With all the distractions from the Drogba incident, the Impact will head to RFK Stadium as the distinct underdog.

Wright-Phillips' remarkable run

Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips scored in the season finale to help his team to a 2-0 victory and secure first place in the Eastern Conference. The goal, his 24th of the season, ended up clinching his second MLS Golden Boot award.

“Obviously we are all really excited for Bradley,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “It's a huge individual accomplishment, no doubt. He was quick to thank the group in the locker room after because he knows that it takes a group effort. Certainly Bradley has been huge for us this year and comes up with big goals at all moments. He is in a really good way right now and I think our whole group is in a really good way right now.”

Based on the last three seasons, Wright-Phillips, 31, is one of the best forwards in league history. During that span he has 68 goals in 100 regular season games. 

With a midfield that consists of Felipe, Sacha Kljestan, Dax McCarty, Alex Muyl, and Mike Grella, Wright-Phillips has enjoyed great service. Thierry Henry used to say that Wright-Phillips missed too many chances and should have had twice the number of goals—and there was some truth to that when Wright-Phillips first arrived at the club. That’s different now, however, as he was remarkably efficient this year.

Will he win the league’s MVP this season? Teammate Sacha Kljestan also has a strong case and that could cannibalize votes from New York City media. But for Wright-Phillips, greatness will be defined by team success.

“Like I was telling the team before, it isn't everything because I've won it before and the team didn't win the MLS Cup,” he said. “At the end of it all I had was the Golden Boot but the goals don’t mean anything unless you win the MLS Cup.”

Schmetzer makes his case

While Caleb Porter and Portland failed in 2016, the big winner was Seattle Sounders interim coach Brian Schmetzer who has done an absolutely fantastic job since taking over for Sigi Schmid. On Sunday, the Sounders defeated Real Salt Lake 2-1 to clinch a playoff berth which will also be played at home—much to the delight of MLS since it will get yet another Seattle home game on TV.

There was a point this summer when Seattle was sitting in last place but the team rallied under its new leader. The tough task was made even harder when Clint Dempsey was forced to miss the latter part of the season due to an irregular heartbeat.

But under Schmetzer, the team found a way to get the most out of rookie Jordan Morris and designated player Nicolas Lodeiro. On Sunday, Morris hit a nifty backheel assist on Alvaro Fernandez’s goal to open the scoring and cemented the fact he is almost surely going to win the rookie of the year.

So will Schmetzer get the job on a permanent basis? It all depends on how Seattle wants to move forward. Do they want to make a big-name splash like Atlanta United, which hired Tata Martino? Seattle wants to be a big team and ownership might be inclined to go for a bigger name. But it is hard to not like what Schmetzer has done, and if it wins the first round playoff game against Sporting Kansas City it is hard to see Schmetzer not get the job.

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