Jordan Morris could have the biggest impact of any recent MLS rookie

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Seattle Sounders FC

The question was never over Jordan Morris’s ability, but of whether he could handle the expectation that came with his move to the Seattle Sounders.

He is the brightest young talent in the American game right now, alongside Christian Pulisic – something that was obvious from the moment he made his full international debut as a teenager still playing college soccer. On Saturday Morris provided yet another answer to all that has been posed of him this year.

His diving header nine minutes from time gave Seattle a crucial 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, keeping alive their chances of making the play-offs. It was Morris’s 10th goal of the season so far, making him Seattle’s top scorer in his debut campaign as a full professional and ranking him third on the list of top scoring rookies in MLS history. His season is going well, even if the Sounders’ as a whole has been rather less successful.

By netting against the Caps on Saturday Morris set a new rookie record, scoring five game-winning goals this season to bypass the previous record of four held by Cyle Larin and Damani Ralph. Indeed, the 21-year-old has become a difference-maker for the Sounders, especially with Clint Dempsey ruled out of action for the time being. But it is the criticism faced by Morris this season, rather than the records he has broken, that provides the biggest indication of his potential.

There are still fundamental flaws to Morris’s game that certainly require development. He is still a decidedly one-footed player and is often guilty of trying too much on his own. Seattle surely still plan on using him, in the long term, as a channel-runner and pitch-stretcher, making the most of his movement in the final third rather than his questionable poaching instincts in the box. Morris is most certainly a work in progress.

Yet that’s what makes him such a compelling prospect: imagine how good he could become when everything finally comes together. MLS has not been without impressive rookies in recent years, with Larin, Andy Najar and Omar Gonzalez some of the standouts, but Morris could ultimately have a bigger impact than all of them. GR

There’s still hope for everyone in MLS

Parity isn’t just some meaningless catchphrase thrown about to describe MLS. Consider this: with 12 of 20 teams set to qualify for the postseason, Toronto FC have become the first and only team in MLS to clinch their playoff spot – with just four weeks of competition before the start of the postseason.

And here is another headscratcher: with most teams having four to five matches left on their schedule, there has not been a single team yet that has been mathematically eliminated from the postseason chase. Not perennial punchline Chicago Fire. Not the snake-bit Columbus Crew. Not even the wayward Houston Dynamo.

Everyone still has a chance to dream. And that chance brings with it a pressure to perform.

There are the underachieving Columbus Crew who finally managed to avert bad luck and streaky form to put in a complete 4-1 result against Orlando City on the road. One of MLS’ best kept secrets, Ola Kamara, scored a brace and added an assist.

The Chicago Fire didn’t win … but they didn’t lose, either. Up 2-1 against DC United late in the second half, a stoppage-time equalizer from Bobby Boswell robbed them of three points. Still, another point means they are nine away from the Revolution with six matches to go – not the best odds, but certainly not an impossible feat.

In the West, the Seattle Sounders buoyed their playoff chances on the backs of a reeling Vancouver Whitecaps, beating them 1-0 on a spectacular Jordan Morris goal. The Sounders are now five points behind sixth place Sporting KC, with two matches in hand and six games to go.

Even the cellar-dwelling Houston Dynamo got into the act, dealing Real Salt Lake their first loss at Rio Tinto this season, holding on to a first-half Alex goal to victory. Now, let’s not be silly: chances are the Dynamo are the first team eliminated from the playoffs. However, with 11 points and six matches separating them from the postseason, their season is not over.

No, the MLS format is not perfect. It punishes the best teams while rewarding mediocrity. But when you have an entire table fighting for their shot at a league trophy, you will be hard pressed to find a more exciting competition. DM

Landon Donovan can deliver goals for LA Galaxy

Landon Donovan didn’t have a mic to hand, but if he had, it would have been dropped hard on Sunday. The mocking jeers of “AARP” from the home fans at Children’s Mercy Park were still ringing in the ears of the 34-year-old as he took a pass from Robbie Rogers and angled a left-footed shot just inside the far post to salvage a point for the LA Galaxy. Donovan cupped his ears, enjoying the silent impact of his first goal since returning from retirement.

Not just content with delivering the ultimate retort on the pitch, Donovan aimed another deadpan barb at those who had doubted he’d make any kind of impression after nearly two years out of the game. “Listen, I’ve got an eight-month-old at home,” he said afterwards. “Diapers are expensive. I wish I was getting the benefits of AARP right now. But I think they probably realised I might have a little time left in me, this old guy.”

Indeed, Donovan proved he can make the difference for the LA Galaxy as the season heads into the play-offs, even if it’s as an impact substitute off the bench, as was the case against Sporting KC. His introduction signalled a tactical swift from the 4-4-1-1 shape the Galaxy started the match in to a 3-5-2 formation, with Donovan playing as the link between midfield and attack. He offered something different.

But most significantly, Donovan delivered a goal. Bruce Arena fundamentally wants goal threat from the league’s all-time top scorer and he got that as soon as he was introduced off the bench on Sunday. It wasn’t just that Donovan scored the goal to secure a point, he was the best player on the pitch for the final 15 minutes of the match.

He re-energised an ailing Galaxy side that looked to have run dry on ideas. This wasn’t a case of the 34-year-old reviving his career, but of Donovan reviving his club too.
And so there can no longer be any doubt over the impact Donovan could potentially have on this MLS season. The Galaxy have missed something, an intangible dimension, for much of the year, but whatever that something is Donovan brought it against Sporting KC. Opposition fans should probably be advised against taunting him from this point on. GR

New England are still the ultimate September team

The past three seasons have followed a familiar pattern for the New England Revolution. It has become the norm for the Foxborough side to endure a difficult summer, only to emerge in September as a force ahead of the playoffs. The same thing has happened again this season, with Saturday’s momentous 3-1 away win at the Montreal Impact meaning Jay Heaps’ team have now won their last three league fixtures to lift themselves into sixth place in the East.

The win at Stade Saputo means that since 2014 the Revolution have won 11, drawn two and lost just one of their fixtures played in September, scoring 27 times over the course of that run. For whatever reason, New England are a team that take until summer months into that awkward no-man’s land before autumn to find their groove.

The Revs have four fixtures left to secure their place in the playoffs, with DC United dropping points in a draw against the Chicago Fire on Saturday. DC still count a game in-hand over New England in the race to finish in the top six, but their patchy form suggests it is Heaps’ men who currently hold the upper hand.

But the Revolution aren’t just a team hitting form at the right time of the season, but a team having fun as well. It’s not often a soccer side finds a way to combine the pressure situation of a play-off format with the exuberance of joyfulness, but the Revolution have done so. “It’s the most fun I’ve had all season, these past two games,” Juan Agudelo said after the previous week’s win over New York City FC and that is surely still the case after Saturday’s victory over Montreal. New England aren’t just winning, they’re winning with great big grins on their faces.

This has become the way of September for the Revs in recent years, but such late season form hasn’t always translated into a play-off run. It didn’t last season, as Heaps’ team were beaten by DC United in the Eastern Conference semi-finals and now the challenge for New England is to ensure one follows the other, assuming they make the post-season of course. GR

Red Bulls need to hold on to a good thing

All things considered, the New York Red Bulls are arguably the best team in the Eastern Conference. They have one of the strongest strikers in league history. A goalkeeper of the year. The best playmaker in the competition. One of the best midfield tandems in either conference.

So why, then, can they not hold on to a two-goal lead on the road?

While a 3-3 result in Toronto extends the team’s unbeaten run to 12 matches (15 in all competitions), the result comes at the end of yet another road collapse. A few into the second half, Bradley Wright-Phillips scored a brace for his 20th goal of the season to put the Red Bulls 3-1 up. Not only did that restore the Red Bulls’ two-goal lead – it also made him the first player in MLS history to score 20 goals in two or more seasons.

Still, not even history and momentum could help New York from their cursed road form. Jozy Altidore made sure of that with a double to make it 3-3.

Yes, the Red Bulls extended their unbeaten run, but that was no reason to celebrate. This is the sixth time in New York’s 12 unbeaten matches that they have surrendered a lead and ended up with a draw. It is also the fifth time in that span that they lost a two-goal lead on the road en route to a disappointing point.

Closing out matches was not a problem for the 2015 Shield winning Red Bulls. They ruthlessly put opponents to the sword, pressing for 90 minutes during an impressive 14-5-1 streak to close out the campaign. Five of those wins came on the road.

This season, they have only won two road matches – and were Erik Hurtado not allergic to the net, it may have been just one.

An old adage in MLS says that teams who end the regular season in hot form go on to do quite well in the postseason – and the Red Bulls certainly qualify as a hot team. But if Jesse Marsch and his side continue to drop leads, no amount of draws will matter. It will be another early exit for the Red Bulls. DM

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Graham Ruthven and Dave Martinez, for theguardian.com on Monday 19th September 2016 12.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

 

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