What a wild Wednesday in MLS. We're getting to that time of year where the Live Standings page is constantly up when games are on. Here's what we learned.
A point's a point
Toronto FC went to Yankee Stadium to face East-leading NYCFC, who were missing their leading goal scorer (Heber), goal creator (Maxi Moralez) and three starting center backs (Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens and James Sands), and walked out with a point after a 1-1 draw.
Despite Alejandro Pozuelo having a penalty saved in the second half with the game level (he had scored from the spot earlier in the match to equalize) and generally having the better play from 40 minutes on, a draw feels like the right result. TFC, starting something near their strongest XI, looked better but a little disjointed, both in attack and out of possession.
The TSN broadcast summarized it well: “The chances they have created are almost just moments of brilliance, I’m not seeing a lot of repetitive action." It was the same off the ball, when pressure was rarely coordinated.
Still, when Pozuelo and Jozy Altidore leading the attack, plus Nicolas Benezet continuing to settle in MLS and Michael Bradley doing Michael Bradley things in midfield, repetitive action isn't always required. Sometimes, those dudes ball out. But, still – ask the LA Galaxy if brute talent truly always rams the door down.
Quick shoutout to this dime by Bradley:
An interesting formation note: TFC started in a 4-3-3 but took off Erickson Gallardo just before halftime and switched to a 4-4-1-1, reducing Pozuelo's defensive duties. Greg Vanney's switch worked quite well against NYCFC.
Rookie of the Year race heating up
Andre Shinyashiki and his bleached blond mustache drove the Galaxy absolutely mad for 90 minutes. He took a bunch of shots, did a ton of dribbles and suffered six fouls for his trouble, including for the game-winning penalty with a few minutes left. Then he got whacked by Cristian Pavon in stoppage time (which was initially given as a straight red card though Video Review walked it back to a yellow.) Then he whacked Rolf Feltscher and picked up a yellow himself a minute later.
What a day. This is what midweek magic is made of!
Instead of pontificating further, I'm going to toss this to MLSsoccer.com's very own Jonathan Sigal to slam down an ode to Shinyashiki's evening: Not gonna lie, I was most excited to see if that Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Cristian Pavon chemistry would reach another level. But then Shinyashiki comes out of nowhere, pulls a 180 and stole the plot. He wasn't supposed to be the most entertaining attacker in that game, but he was. A 22-year-old kid who spent four years playing at the University of Denver. Go figure.
Shinyashiki had an early lead on the Rookie of the Year race. Then Hassani Dotson stole the show all summer, but Shinyashiki is making a late charge back to the top. Who knows who will win, all I know is: Shinyashiki is fun. And good.
West stays weird
Minnesota United and the LA Galaxy each had road matches against teams below the playoff line out West. Neither were easy tasks, of course, but given the night started with second and eighth separated by just four points, every point is vital. Particularly ones you're favored in.
But the Loons fell to Houston 2-0 and the Galaxy lost to the Rapids 2-1 after a wild ending, including playing into the 13th minute of stoppage time after being promised four. Minnesota slipped to fourth, the Galaxy remain below the playoff line in eighth place. Five games left for the Galaxy to clamber back above the playoff line.
The ride to Decision Day presented by AT&T will be wild, and then Decision Day will be two exhilarating, exhausting and over-stimulated hours of madness in the West.
Wednesday saw a handful of players get their first MLS start: Thomas Chacon, Carlos Fierro and Douglas Martinez.
Chacon, Minnesota United's 19-year-old Designated Player, looked bright in Minnesota's loss. It doesn't appear he'll take long to acclimate to the league, after a solid outing in a friendly against Pachuca over the weekend then 60 promising minutes against the Dynamo.
Fierro, who made his Quakes debut a month ago, got his first start in the Quakes' 1-0 loss to RSL. A veteran of Matias Almeyda's system, he fared fine with five recoveries, a tackle, an interception and a key pass. On the other side of that match, Martinez, who was signed from the club's USL side Real Monarchs, adapted well to the jump up in leagues but had an uneventful evening.
- Real Salt Lake's 1-0 win over San Jose was fun, though besides the genuine playoff intensity and hostility, not a ton can be taken away from the evening given the number of players both teams were missing due to the international break.
- Speaking of: Kudos to the number of players who not only played, but started, after featuring for their countries mere days ago and traveling back to their clubs. I see you, Brooks Lennon, Mason Toye, and Guram Kashia, among others.
- Houston's two-striker look with Christian Ramirez and Mauro Manotas gave Minnesota trouble, particularly in deciding when to step into midfield when either came for a lay-off or when to drop. Quick combination play between Manotas and Ramirez was lively.
- NYCFC captain Alex Ring started as a central defender in a back three, splitting the other center backs and quarterbacking possession as he does so well. Then, at halftime, Dome Torrent switched to a back four and pushed Ring into the midfield, where he played an all-action role, which he does so well. It was another solid outing for the underrated midfielder.
- Even when LAFC don't play, they win. Their No. 1 seed hasn't been in doubt for months, but, they've mathematically clinched first place in the Western Conference after Wednesday's result.