5 Things We Learned from MLS Matches from August 1-3
The big story this coming week in Major League Soccer will be the MLS All-Star Game against German champions Bayern Munich. But before the All-Star break began, the league had a full slate of games on tap this past weekend that, once again, didn't disappoint.
With just a third of the season remaining, the playoff races in both the Eastern and the Western Conferences are getting tighter by the day, and heading into the home stretch, some teams are just beginning to turn it on, while others are starting to fade away.
Here are five things we learned from this weekend in MLS.
Jim Curtin's Plan Worked (Sort Of)
Going into Friday night's match against Sporting Kansas City, the Philadelphia Union were on a solid run, losing only once since May. However, their task this weekend was to take on red-hot Sporting KC, the defending champs, and do it in Kansas City.
Union head coach Jim Curtin had a simple plan: concede nearly all of the game's possession to Sporting and try to hit back on the counterattack. While it wasn't good enough for the win, it was good enough for a point.
Despite Sporting having 69.6 percent of the possession, the Union created nearly as many shots (14 for Sporting, 12 for the Union) and forced Sporting keeper Andy Gruenebaum into a number of good saves to keep Sporting from losing the match entirely.
Gyasi Zardes Is Starting to Look Like the Real Deal
In an exciting Saturday morning game on NBC's flagship channel, the LA Galaxy beat the Portland Timbers 3-1.
The Galaxy conceded first, but they battled back for the equalizer on a fantastic header by Gyasi Zardes. The tally for Zardes was his eighth of the season and follows a number of increasingly strong performances from the forward.
It must be admitted that the 22-year-old, who is in his sophomore season in MLS, is surrounded by some of the best attacking players in the league in Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane (among others), but his improvement over the past year has been remarkable.
Zardes already has every physical tool a player could need to be successful, and there's every reason to believe that as his technical level and tactical awareness continue to improve, he'll develop into one of the league's elite forwards.
Stick a Fork in the Revs; They're Done
Nothing ever seems truly over in an MLS playoff race considering the league's parity, but the New England Revolution seem to have given up on their season.
The Revs have lost nine of their last 10 matches, and on Saturday against the New York Red Bulls, they managed to lose a 1-0 lead in the second half, despite having a man advantage for the entire period.
Certainly, credit goes to the Red Bulls, who showed a tremendous amount of fight and scored two absolutely beautiful goals in the comeback, but the Revs are in absolute disarray at the moment.
Shockingly enough, New England is still only a point out of the playoff race in the East, but the Revs seem to lack the heart or the conviction necessary to stay in the fight heading into the final weeks of the season.
The Chicago Fire Cannot Hold a Lead
Saturday night's matchup between the Chicago Fire and the Columbus Crew was especially important because the two are in head-to-head competition for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, in which only five points separates third from ninth place.
The Fire took a 1-0 lead into the break, but, amazingly, gave it away only nine seconds into the second half when a missed header by Jeff Larentowicz and a missed clearance by his center back partner Patrick Ianni resulted in an open chance for the Crew's Federico Higuain.
The game finished 1-1 and gave the Fire their 13th tie this season (the league record is 16). It also reaffirmed their inability to hold a lead as the Fire are now 3-1-8 (their only three wins of the entire season) when scoring first in 2014.
Michael Bradley Is Back
Looking at the box score of Toronto FC's 2-0 win over the Montreal Impact, some fans might assume that Michael Bradley failed to have a significant impact on the game.
However, what won't show up in the box score are Bradley's two perfect passes that set up both of his team's goals. On Toronto's first tally, Bradley found Dominic Oduro on a beautiful cross-field chip that opened up the Impact's defense. Oduro then slotted the ball in for Gilberto to score the opener.
On Toronto's second goal, Bradley once again found Oduro, this time with a defense-splitting pass to put Oduro in on goal. Oduro slipped the ball across the face of goal for Luke Moore and the easy tap-in.
Toronto FC head coach Ryan Nelsen called it Bradley's "best performance in a Toronto FC shirt by a long way."
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