‘Rivalry Week,’ they dubbed this weekend’s round of MLS fixtures, with a 401 Derby, Texas Derby and Cascadia Cup clash all played over Saturday and Sunday.
Orlando turned in their most Jason Kreis performance yet
Yet it was Sunday night’s game between Orlando City and New York City FC that provided the most compelling narrative despite no entrenched rivalry between the two East coast clubs. This was the Jason Kreis Derby.
Indeed, with Kreis’ new club facing his old club there was a central theme so crude it could have been plucked from a Zack Snyder film – revenge. The 43-year-old – who was unceremoniously and harshly fired by NYC FC last season – insisted he was not interested in such vindication, but deep down he must have taken at least a hint of satisfaction at getting one over the club that not so long ago treated him so shabbily.
However, this game didn’t just matter to Kreis personally but to Orlando City in a wider sense too. Anything less than three points would have dealt a critical blow to their hopes of making the play-offs, with DC United finally stringing together results. One point remains the gap between the Lions and the Eastern Conference’s top six, with Sunday’s win underlining that they have the staying power to sustain a play-off challenge.
It was the perfect time for Orlando to turn in their most Kreis performance to date. There was a defensive balance to the midfield unit that has been desperately lacking in recent weeks, with the defence playing – and effectively executing – a high line to deny New York City FC’s attackers the chance to build up play on the edge of the hosts’ penalty area while simultaneously keeping a grip of runners in behind. It made one half of the pitch somewhat congested, but the tactical blueprint worked for the Floridians. Kaka scored both goals for the hosts.
Of course, there is still plenty progress to be made, but Kreis is starting to make an impression on his new team. As Real Salt Lake coach he emphasised the importance of moving the ball and snapping into position after winning possession and against NYC FC there were signs of the same ethos seeping into the minds of the Orlando players. When it mattered most to club and coach, the Lions performed. New York City FC might be winning in terms of league position, but Kreis won the break-up. GR
Clint Dempsey’s absence from the field is concerning
Even soccer fans, sometimes the most tribal of beings, value Clint Dempsey’s wellbeing above all else. The USA and Seattle Sounders captain missed Sunday’s Cascadia clash with Portland and could miss a prolonged spell of action due to tests for an irregular heartbeat. At this early stage it’s impossible to know the true depth of concern, but worries over Dempsey’s long-term future in the game are natural in light of such news.
In the meantime, the Sounders are without their figurehead, with Dempsey grossly missed in Sunday’s 4-2 defeat at Providence Park. Without the 33-year-old leading the line the Timbers were free to push their defensive line as high as the halfway line. That subsequently allowed the hosts to set up camp on the edge of Seattle’s box with no outlet for the visitors to resort to in times of trouble. They were suffocated.
For the Sounders, Sunday’s first half against Portland was a dumpster fire. All four Seattle defenders endured their worst game of the season all at once, with Tyrone Mears hauled off at the interval. The performance of their midfield wasn’t much better either as Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan struggled to disrupt the Timbers’ passing merry-go-round in the centre of the pitch. On a sunny afternoon Seattle were left chasing shadows, literally and metaphorically.
Of course, Dempsey wouldn’t have fixed everything all on his own, especially considering that much of what went wrong for the Sounders in Portland happened well short of his position in the final third. But with things going badly wrong at the home of their fiercest rivals, Seattle lacked the character needed to take a grip of the situation. Dempsey certainly would have helped in that regard.
Nicolas Lodeiro has made an astonishing impact since arriving in Seattle, with Brad Evans and Alonso experienced stalwarts of the side, but Dempsey remains the Sounders’ spiritual leader. This provides another strand to the concern felt over the forwards current spell on the sidelines. The club has already lost its era-defining head coach this season, they could certainly use the swift return of their captain.
Sunday’s result wasn’t just the outcome of everything the Sounders did wrong, but also of what the Timbers did so well. So potent were the hosts at one point of the first half it was pondered whether Timber Joey would need a bigger log. But after his double-scoring display in the previous week’s Cascadia Cup win for Seattle, Dempsey was notable in his absence.
Piatti inspires Montreal to victory over Toronto
After a harsh red card call on Callum Mallace, the Montreal Impact looked all but set to suffer another winless outing at BMO Field.
Thankfully for them, Ignacio Piatti had other ideas.
In one moment of brilliance, the Argentine playmaker saved his 10-man Impact from a state of total despair, taking a Dominic Oduro flick into space and creating just enough room to beat Alex Bono to the far post for the game’s only goal.
This was Montreal’s first win at BMO Field since joining MLS in 2012 (0-3-3 in their previous six meetings). It also snapped the team’s personal three match winless streak. Meanwhile, the victory breaks Toronto’s seven match unbeaten run and snaps the team’s five game winning streak at BMO as well.
And aren’t those the sweet rewards you want from a derby?
Thankfully for Toronto, New York City FC failed to make up ground on their stumble, losing their match against Orlando City 2-1. That leaves the Reds atop of the Eastern Conference. However, the victory is a monumental achievement for Montreal who not only overcame their personal demons at BMO -- but also created some breathing room in their chase for the postseason as well.
“This was an exceptional performance,” said Impact head coach Mauro Biello after the match. “Even after the sending off, the players wanted to win this even more.
“With how we came back and fought even harder, down a man, to get that goal and close the game off after three games this week, this was our greatest win this season.”
Now, not everything came up roses for the Impact. All eyes are on 38-year-old striker Didier Drogba, who left the match in the 55th minute with an apparent hamstring injury. He is expected to undergo evaluations early this week, with no indication as to the severity of his injury.
But even with his loss, the Impact have reason to celebrate. Montreal now stand five points clear of sixth-placed DC United and three points behind fourth-placed Philadelphia – with a game in hand on the top four teams in the East. That is an ideal position for any team heading into the MLS stretch run. And the nature of this win can carry momentum well beyond Toronto.
“It’s going to motivate us for days,” Oduro said after the match. “On any given Saturday, if you want the game, you win it. This is going to inspire us.” DM
Sporting KC feel hard done by in latest refereeing controversy
No week of Major League Soccer competition is complete without a healthy dose of controversial calls. And this week it was Sporting Kansas City feeling hard done by the referees.
The Philadelphia Union beat their former Eastern Conference competitors 2-0 at Talen Energy Stadium. However, two Sporting ejections made way for each tally, sending Kansas City boss Peter Vermes into a fit of rage.
Jimmy Medranda was the first player to go. After picking up a yellow card in the first half, the Colombian full-back tripped up Keegan Rosenberry just shy of the hour mark, earning him a soft red card. Roland Alberg then found the net with a blistering shot to give Philadelphia the lead seven short minutes later.
In the 86th minute, another questionable call went the Union’s way as Roger Espinoza showed too much elbow on a forearm shove to the chest of an onrushing Alberg. Lead official Juan Guzman was right there on the play, and issued an immediate red upon contact.
An argument for and against either call can be made depending on how you look at the infractions. However, for Vermes – there was no mistake.
“Well I’m going to appeal the first one. I’ll tell you right now, we’ll win it. If we don’t win it then something’s wrong, because it’s straight red, there’s no chance – no chance, the guy gets an arm to his chest,” he said. “I mean you want me to show you? I don’t know what game this is, but it’s a man’s game and there’s going to be contact.
“That’s ridiculous. I actually think the referee had a little bit of a grudge because I don’t know how you give that call.”
Tell us how you really feel, Peter.
While it’s easy to put the spotlight on controversy (and we certainly are today), let’s not overlook the Union’s performance. Philadelphia managed four quality scoring opportunities before the half hour mark, and continued to create the better chances in the remaining moments of the match.
Nevertheless, “the officiating is awful” narrative that has stained so many MLS matches this season took another victim – and you can add Peter Vermes to the growing list of managers that have had enough of the mistakes. DM
Saluting two MLS blue-collar heroes
Major League Soccer is on a constant quest to gain relevance in a crowded American sports market, and they have relied on big-name players to close that gap. David Beckham. Thierry Henry. Andrea Pirlo. David Villa. The list is a virtual who’s-who of world football.
But if you are looking to find the true soul of American soccer – the place where big money takes a back seat for the respect of the blue collar contributors – look no further than Real Salt Lake.
Away from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood signings, somewhere behind the mountains of Utah, you will find Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando – two hard- nosed players who embody the identity of the league. And this weekend, they etched their names even deeper into the early chapters of MLS history.
Not only did Real Salt Lake ride a Yura Movsisyan brace towards victory against rival Colorado Rapids to take the Rocky Mountain Cup, but their veteran leaders Rimando and Beckerman did so in record fashion.
Just three weeks after overtaking the league record for most wins by a goalkeeper, Rimando was back at it on Friday night, making his recording-breaking 417th appearance in MLS. The new high-water mark for MLS goalkeepers falls in line with a slew of other records for the longtime Salt Lake standout, including league marks in starts, shutouts and minutes played.
Fittingly, Kyle Beckerman joined his long time team-mate in the record books, going 90 minutes to surpass Steve Ralston as the all-time minutes leader in MLS with 33,145 to his name.
The idea of being an MLS lifer and making a viable career out of the domestic game was once a fairytale. Landon Donovan was the outlier – but even he sought European competition to strengthen his career. That’s what makes Beckerman and Rimando so special. They have laid out the blueprint for domestic success – a road map any academy prospect can look to emulate. And that may be their greatest achievement of all. DM
- This article was amended on Monday 29 August to correct the spelling of Cristian Roldan’s surname. We also incorrectly referred to Clint Dempsey as Seattle’s captain – Brad Evans holds that distinction.
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