More than the story: MLS Week 18

Posted by Jason Davis

One of the most exciting MLS weekends in recent memory also provided thrilling, and surprising, story lines. Think you know what you to expect when two MLS teams line up across from each other? You’re probably wrong.

Toronto FC 0-1 Real Salt Lake - Video

Narrative: A draw or TFC win, only because RSL entered the game without a victory in Toronto to their name

Not surprisingly, based on the relative strengths of the teams, Real Salt Lake broke their duck at BMO Field Saturday and flipped the lukewarm pre-game narrative. It wasn’t easy, however, requiring heroics from Nick Rimando and Nat Borchers to make Yordany Alvarez’s first-half goal stand up. Rimando’s reaction save in added time, and Borchers clearance a minute later, preserved the clean sheet and the win.

-Vote for MLS goals of the week

Toronto’s existence is one of small victories and incremental progress. The loss to Salt Lake ended a three-game unbeaten streak for Ryan Nelsen’s team. Momentum halted, the task of getting it started again is difficult with Montreal looming on Wednesday. Meanwhile, RSL can stretch their Western Conference lead when they host Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Union 2-2 FC Dallas - Video

Narrative: Philadelphia, coming off a “statement win” over New York the previous weekend, looked to double-down with a strong home performance over a top Western Conference team

The teams played to a stalemate -- a bit of a letdown for Philadelphia, despite FC Dallas’ place in the league hierarchy, but a fitting resolution to a back-and-forth game. That said, the Union should count themselves lucky after a ball seemingly put over the line by Dallas striker Blas Perez was score as da goal before being cleared away by Sheanon Williams in stoppage time. When Perez scored the equalizer just moments later, it seemed like justice.

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The Union might have been lucky, but they’ll also rue the dropped points. Substitute striker Aaron Wheeler's first MLS goal gave the home side a 2-1 advantage in the 87th minute, setting up John Hackworth’s team for the victory. That they couldn't finish indicates the Union still have some work to do to become one of the league’s top sides. Good teams see that one out.

D.C. United 0-1 Vancouver Whitecaps - Video

Narrative: D.C. United actually managed to win a game last week, giving the United faithful and Ben Olsen some confidence heading into a home date against Vancouver--then again, this is not the year to expect good things out of D.C. United

Hitting the letdown narrative D.C. couldn’t help but create, Vancouver’s victory was not a surprise. That the Whitecaps needed a controversial penalty might have been. That Ben Olsen exploded in the aftermath was nearly a given considering the nature of his team’s loss -- two judgement calls in the box sealed his team's fate. But whatever Olsen might have to say about the refereeing, the bottom line remains that his side did not score at home. Even the bright spots in D.C.’s performance -- an Ethan White pass here, the defense not conceding from the run of play there -- is overshadowed by United’s complete lack of attacking prowess.

On Vancouver’s end, a road win is a road win is a road win -- especially when traveling across the continent to get it. Vancouver will do their best to put an ugly game out of their minds as they hit the road for a Wednesday date in Kansas City.

Montreal Impact 3-4 Colorado Rapids - Video

Narrative: Montreal couldn’t possibly lose at home, where they’re undefeated on the year and Marco Di Vaio has scored in every game

Colorado turned the narrative on its head. A late, late goal from Tony Cascio lifted the Rapids to an expected road win against one of the league's best teams. The defending in the match was comical at times, leading to the seven goals and the back-and-forth nature of the game. Astoundingly, Di Vaio did not score for the first time in a Montreal home match. That slack was picked up by fellow Italian Daniele Paponi, who scored twice for the Impact in the losing effort.

-Video: MLS play of the weekend

Beating Montreal in Canada is Colorado’s biggest win to date, and should put the rest of the Western Conference on notice. Oscar Pareja’s program is finally starting to click after a series of injuries, and Colorado’s midfield is capable of controlling games with Edson Buddle and Deshorn Brown strong presences up front. If the Rapids continue to get goals from midfield (Brown, Dillon Powers and Tony Cascio all scored on Saturday).

Sporting Kansas City 3-2 Columbus Crew - Video

Narrative: Sporting looked to end a winless streak at home against a frustratingly inconsistent Columbus team -- advantage to Sporting

Sporting got the win, as one would expect, with goals from the guys paid to score them, Claudio Bieler (1) and Kei Kamara (2). On the other hand, defensive lapses by Sporting led directly to both Columbus goals, breakaways from Jairo Arrieta and Dominic Oduro. Sporting didn’t take the lead for good until Kamara’s 80th-minute goal, putting the rowdy Sporting Park crown on edge for most of the game.

Whatever it took to sew up three points at home, Sporting can use the win to jump-start the campaign after a run of disappointing results. Columbus continues to struggle against the league’s better teams (with the notable exception of their win over Montreal two weeks ago) and now have to travel to LA to play the Galaxy on Thursday.

Chivas USA 1-1 New England Revolution - Video

Narrative: If anything a win for New England was expected against sad sack Chivas USA

Thanks to a quick shot from Laurent Courtois -- who was subsequently cut by the Goats -- Chivas USA did just enough to earn a draw at home against the Revolution. After leading much of the match, Chivas conceded a late goal to Chad Barrett to miss out on their first win since March. Nevertheless, the draw broke a seven-match losing streak and earned Chivas their first point since an April draw with San Jose.

In the aftermath of their best result in two months, Chivas USA cut four players. On Monday, they signed former USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra. It’s impossible to know what the future holds for Jose Luis Real’s side, or the Chivas USA organization on the whole.

Meanwhile, the Revolution will be disappointed not to win on the road against one of the worst teams in the league. The Revs were quite clearly missing the danger of striker Juan Agudelo, who missed the game with injury. There may be some irony in the fact New England couldn’t beat the Western Conference’s cellar dweller without the player they acquired from said cellar dweller.

San Jose 3-2 LA Galaxy - Video

Narrative: Before 50,000 fans at Stanford Stadium, San Jose would have the upper hand against a struggling LA Galaxy

In retrospect, it was probably folly not to expect the Goonies magic to show up for the Quakes. After LA took a 2-0 lead on goals by Marcelo Sarvas and Hector Jimenez, it looked as if the Galaxy would leave Northern California with some of their mojo restored. Instead, the Quakes fought back, eventually scoring twice in added time to steal the win from LA and add to the “never say die” lore.

-Video: Concern for Galaxy after Magee trade?

The dramatics are their own story that hardly need retelling here. When Sam Cronin lofted an inch-perfect ball to the back post in the dying moments, LA’s fate was inevitable. The Galaxy suffered from mental lapses down the stretch, something Bruce Arena will need to correct in short order if his team is to threaten for the three-peat.

One aside: The best moment of the buildup for San Jose’s winning goal was Marvin Chavez shaking A.J. De La Garza out of his shoes, stopping to have a laugh, then crossing the ball that was redirected twice to end up on Alan Gordon’s head.

New York Red Bull 2-0 Houston Dynamo - Video

Narrative: Houston limped into Red Bull Arena, missing two of their best attacking players--if New York can’t win at home against a weakened, struggling Dynamo, there’s something very wrong in New Jersey

Without Brad Davis and Oscar Boniek Garcia, it was always going to be a struggle for the Dynamo to create good chances, so the expected result came to pass. Houston resorted to the long ball in a bid to score, something that never really troubled Jamison Olave and Markus Holgersson in the back. When Houston did create chances, they were simply unable to finish them. On New York’s attacking end, Fabian Espindola got back on the scoresheet, a good sign for head coach Mike Petke.

-Video: Healey, Twellman break down NY win

Houston’s winless streak is now seven, just about the time Dominic Kinnear and Co. should start to really worry. Houston’s saving grace at the moment is the rest of the Eastern Conference just isn’t good enough to put together a long run of good results. New York broke a winless stretch of three with the win, and while every team near them in the standings has games in hand on the Red Bulls, New York should feel pretty good about where they sit.

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