MLS Weekend Review
Jordan Morris Scores Twice and a Logjam Atop the East
September 27, 2016
IT WAS A STRANGE WEEKEND in Major League Soccer. The low-scoring Colorado Rapids found the back of the net three times, the Los Angeles Galaxy actually lost at home, the New York Red Bulls held a lead, and Jordan Morris scored a goal with his left foot.
Here are some of the highlights.
Morris seizes the moment
Now in double digits in scoring, Morris has already enjoyed a very successful season. On Sunday, however, the Seattle Sounders' homegrown signing had the best game of his young career when he scored two outstanding goals (including one with his left-foot) to give the Clint Dempsey-less Sounders a surprising 4-2 win over the Galaxy at the StubHub Center—where the Galaxy had been undefeated so far in 2016.
The win kept Seattle’s playoff hopes alive, as the Sounders trail rivals Portland by three points for the sixth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Seattle, it's worth noting, has two games in hand.
Morris, 21, has been superb and he now has 12 goals on the season. That is an impressive amount but what has been more revealing has been that his goals have been coming at very important times. Last weekend he scored his fifth game-winner for Seattle in a 1-0 win over Vancouver.
With Dempsey out, the conventional wisdom is that Seattle’s playoff hopes were dead. But Morris has put the team on his back and has become a force in this league.
Morris is also building a strong case to be on the U.S. men's national team roster next month as the Yanks kick off the Hexagonal against Mexico and Costa Rica.
Red Bulls manage to hold a lead
The standings are very tight in the Eastern Conference with the Red Bulls, New York City FC, and Toronto all even at the top with 48 points. The Red Bulls should, of course, be cruising to the Eastern Conference title but the team has been plagued with its inability to hold leads, coughing up 20 points in games it has held a lead. Even worse, the club has squandered wins in five games where it has held a two-goal advantage.
On Saturday night, the Red Bulls hosted a fading Montreal Impact team and basically controlled the possession and tempo. Still, the Red bulls were only able to score once, in the 60th minute, when Austrian Daniel Royer headed home a Chris Duvall cross. To everyone’s surprise, the Red Bulls played gritty soccer down the stretch and held onto the lead and continued to control the possession until the final whistle. It was a physical and ugly game, but the Red Bulls were up to the task.
“It took us 31 games to get to first place. It took us 31 games to solidify a spot in the playoffs,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “After seven games, it was a big hole that we dug and a difficult moment for us as a group, but we've always tried to use tough moments to make us stronger, and I think that's been a hallmark of this team is that, when things get tough, they respond. They don't back down. I
"t would have been easy again—it wasn't a 2-0 lead, it was a 1-0 lead, but the confidence we had on the field, the ability to just take care of the moment when they were throwing things at us, everything was under control and the group was focused, and they knew how to take care of the game.”
The big reason for this strong defensive performance was the play of Dax McCarty. The captain had a few misplaced passes in the game but was a stalwart defensively. The captain had been injured for a stretch in the second half of this season and he did not take part at all in three of the five blown two-goal leads and only had a minimal role in a fourth.
McCarty’s return to full strength is a huge asset to the Red Bulls as it desperately tries to secure one of the top two places in the Eastern Conference.
Bedoya Helps Union Secure a Point
Toronto’s BMO field is a tough place to play and Toronto FC was heavily favored on Saturday when it hosted the Philadelphia Union. Even without Sebastian Giovinco in the lineup, Toronto still has plenty of firepower, with Michael Bradley playing well and Jozy Altidore returning to his 2013 form. Philadelphia has had a nice season but is still not nearly at the level of the top teams in the league.
The acquisition of U.S. international Alejandro Bedoya is starting to pay dividends and Bedoya scored a first-class goal in the 25th minute to give Philadelphia a stunning 1-0 lead.
“It feels great,” Bedoya said of the goal. “Because of the injury to Tranquillo Barnetta I was able to play further up the field, get more in the attack. It was just one of those goals, I kind of even surprised myself but Fabian [Herbers] got the ball in the middle, he was able to turn and I was able to just stay onside and when I got the ball I was able to take a good touch-turn, I looked up and it was one of those where the angle wasn’t the best angle for me to just shoot straight so I went for the chip and it didn’t go in off the back post in the corner but it went in.
Justin Morrow would later equalize for Toronto in the 70th minute but the draw solidified Philadelphia’s hold on a playoff spot in fourth place. With the potential return of former U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu, the Union look to be in good shape heading toward the playoffs. Meanwhile, Toronto probably remains the favorite to win the Eastern conference as it has a game in hand and Giovinco will soon be back soon.
Portland's road woes continue
Last year Portland won MLS Cup when it rolled into Columbus and dominated Crew SC for its first-ever major trophy.
It's hard to envision Portland defending its title. Caleb Porter’s team is winless this season on the road and is now in dire straits in terms of making the playoffs. Its lead over Seattle is just three points but Seattle has two games in hand. To make matters worse, two of Portland’s three remaining games are on the road.
Saturday was a low point for Portland this season as Houston Dynamo forward Mauro Manotas scored a hat-trick to give the hosts a 3-1 win over the Timbers. Porter was at a loss afterward.
“We let our guard down,” Porter said. “I don’t know how that happens. But you see it in this league. You see results that are head-scratchers. It’s because human nature means that sometimes you don’t push to the standard that you should. We knew Houston was a much better team than where they sit. We knew what was at stake. For some reason, human nature meant that our guys didn’t play to the level that they’re capable of in the first half.
"Maybe it’s because we’re playing a team that you see at the bottom of the table, and you think you can stroll out there. I don’t know. But, it's up to the guys which team we want to be.”