MLS Review: Weekend of upsets
After weeks of wrangling and an allocation process that merited a separate entry in the collection of weird moments in MLS rule history, U.S. men's national team midfielder Jermaine Jones finally made his MLS debut. Jones played the final 25 minutes of New England's 3-0 cruise past Toronto FC, a game that was already decided before the tattooed DP stepped into the fray. Nothing like an easy run out against a demoralized team to help get one's feet wet in a new competition.
With the Jones signing saga over and his debut in the past, the window is closed on marquee additions for the rest of the season. What teams have is what teams have, and sometimes, they'll find it wanting.
With that in mind, here are the big stories from Week 25 of the MLS season:
On Saturday in Toronto, TFC hosted New England in a game GM Tim Bezbatchenko called a must-win, with the Canadian club's season flagging a bit and the Revolution representing a real challenger for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Reds proceeded to play a dud of a game, losing 3-0. In the postgame aftermath, coach Ryan Nelsen called out Bezbatchenko, suggesting the GM's comments played a part in how poorly his team played in front of the home crowd.
By Sunday afternoon, Nelsen was no longer TFC's head coach.
The logic seems pretty simple, although the impact of a coaching change with just 10 games to play remains to be seen. Nelsen publicly criticized his boss, a choice that not only portrayed him as shirking responsibility for Toronto's ugly loss but also put him in direct opposition to the man responsible for assembling much of the club's talent base.
Despite a striking level of inconsistency, Toronto appeared headed for the playoffs in a competitive, but mediocre, Eastern Conference. Now that inevitability is in question as the team turns over its entire coaching staff at the most crucial portion of the season. Former MLS player Greg Vanney takes over, and the pressure is immense.
Portland's playoff position
It took them nearly six months to get there, but the Portland Timbers finally occupy a playoff position in the Western Conference -- when doing so could actually mean something. The Timbers took down the Whitecaps 3-0 to vault themselves over their Cascadia rival and into fifth place.
Portland backing up a first-place finish in 2013 by missing the playoffs in 2014 would rank with the biggest shocks in the league this season. A run of matches fraught with defensive failures and the stunning struggles of talented players threatened to undo all the work Caleb Porter put in after taking over last year.
But by virtue of their win in Vancouver on Saturday, the Timbers at least have the confidence boost that will come from appearing above the red line for a week. Whether they can build on that momentum will depend both on the Timbers and how the clubs vying for that spot -- Vancouver and Colorado -- handle the remainder of their seasons.
There was never any doubt that the Timbers had the talent to reach the postseason for a second year in a row. What was in doubt, at least until this weekend, was whether that talent would actually get them there. All that's left is to cling to the spot for dear life.
An upsetting weekend
Toronto's collapse at home against New England could be called an upset if there wasn't so little between them in the standings and TFC's home record wasn't so questionable. There's no debate about the use of the term to describe several other results from the weekend.
In Kansas City, Sporting fell to the Dynamo 3-1, with two of Houston's goals coming from simple set-piece deliveries by Brad Davis. Even if Davis' service was excellent, the ease with which Sporting conceded goals to David Horst and Ricardo Clark should trouble Peter Vermes, especially with his team having conceded three goals for the second match in a row after not giving up three in a match all season before.
In Montreal, the last-place Impact hampered Columbus' playoff hopes with a 2-0 win built on the back of two goals from Ignacio Piatti, his first tallies in MLS since joining the Impact as a Designated Player. Again, Federico Higuain created numerous chances for the Crew, but again, Gregg Berhalter's team struggled to finish. Despite the emergence of several players to pick up the scoring slack in Ohio -- Justin Meram, Adam Bedell, Ethan Finlay -- Columbus still looks like a team in need of a striker.
In Chicago, the Fire finally put an end to FC Dallas' 10-game unbeaten streak, a run that pushed the Texas club to the top of the Western Conference and injected it into the Supporters' Shield conversation. A single goal by new signing Robert Earnshaw was enough to push the eighth-place team in the East past a top club from the West. Raul Fernandez did all he could to will his team to another game without a loss but ultimately came up short.
In the end, the L.A. rivalry between Chivas USA and the Galaxy played out like it had so often in the beginning and the middle. The Galaxy, as they had on numerous occasions, dominated their stadium-mate in a game that might take a slightly different form next year, should the sale of Chivas USA go through and the club transition to a new name.
On Sunday, the Galaxy played rings around the overmatched Goats. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, one of them a nice individual effort and the other the result of a brilliant passage of team play. Sandwiched in between was a fantastic chip from Robbie Keane over the head of Chivas USA keeper Dan Kennedy. Chivas bright spot Erick Torres was dismissed with a straight red in the second half, his frustration getting the best of him. That too, a Chivas player picking up a needless ejection, is par for the SuperClasico course.
Whatever form the rivalry takes in 2015, there's no reason to think the balance of play will be switching sides any time soon. Whether under the Chivas name or something different altogether, it's going to take years for the Goats to measure up to their bigger, flashier housemate.
Team of the Week
Jason Davis is a writer from Virginia covering American soccer. He also hosts a daily soccer podcast that covers the beautiful game. Follow him @davisjsn.