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 By Jason Davis

Villa's NYCFC dazzle, Dempsey boosts Seattle, Chicago snaps away woes

The Sounders scored all three goals in the second half, including two from Clint Dempsey, to defeat the rival Timbers on Sunday.

Week 26 of the Major League Soccer season saw New York City FC seal a 1-0 win over the LA Galaxy and a handful of away wins in an entertaining round of matches.

NYCFC shows its credentials

From the outset of Saturday's clash between New York City FC and the LA Galaxy at Yankee Stadium, the visitors were obviously uncomfortable. A team who is at their best when utilizing every inch of a large field back in Carson simply did not have the space to impose themselves on their hosts. And while NYCFC has not always thrived when playing on their home patch -- jammed as it is into the confines of a baseball venue -- they instituted a tactical tweak to challenge of the Galaxy that worked wonders.

Patrick Vieira's team used Ronald Matarrita's ability to get up and down the left flank, shifting the rest of the backline around to cover for his forays. Early in the match, Matarrita ripped a shot that deflected off of Galaxy goalkeeper Clement Diop and into the path of Villa. The Spaniard was offside when the shot was taken but nonetheless guided the aerial deflection into the net. The flag stayed down and the goal proved the difference in the game.

Is NYCFC a legitimate MLS Cup contender? Even if it's hard to know if that's true, this win is additional evidence that Vieira's side has progressed over the course of 2016. Early in the season, it had trouble slowing down anyone, much less a team with as much attacking talent on the field as LA.

NYCFC is now unbeaten in four, with the two wins in that stretch coming at home against Western Conference playoff contenders. Forming a habit of taking victories against teams in what is usually considered the tougher conference can't hurt down the stretch of the season, especially as it's helping NYCFC creep up the Supporters' Shield standings.

The winning goal was also Villa's 16th of the year, putting the Spaniard in the driver's seat for MVP. If NYCFC finishes out their campaign with a top seed in the East, he'll deserve it.

Seattle's surge

The Seattle Sounders have now won three straight after taking care of the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field by a 3-1 scoreline on Sunday night. Those nine points have the Sounders just two points back of the Timbers for the sixth playoff spot in the Western Conference, with two fewer games played. The Seattle revival shows no signs of abating and what looked like it might be a lost season has some hope.

Sunday's clash between the Cascadia clubs can be summed up by the divergent performances by players on each side. The winning Sounders got an immense night out of young midfielder Cristian Roldan. The University of Washington product cleaned up in the center of the field, drew the penalty that led to Clint Dempsey's first goal, and then helped himself to a goal of his own, to cap off a good night. On the other side, Portland striker Jack McInerney -- starting in place of Fanendo Adi for reasons that weren't clear -- missed several excellent chances that could have staked the Timbers to a lead and potentially changed the outcome.

Seattle and Portland will do it again next Sunday -- live on ESPN -- after the Sounders make a midweek trip to Houston. While Portland is still winless at CenturyLink Field in the regular season, Seattle has a couple of wins to their name down the road at Providence Park. The match will feel even bigger than the usual Portland-Seattle clash considering the stakes might be a spot in the playoff places.

Going Away

It was a weekend of surprising away wins for a number of teams. Houston won on the road for the first time all year, as did Columbus. And Chicago, a club that hadn't won a match away from Toyota Park for more than two years, broke that ignominious streak with a 3-0 thumping of the Impact in Montreal.

Houston got a goal from Ricardo Clark and a second on a set piece from David Horst to claim a 2-1 win over San Jose at Avaya Stadium. The Dynamo might not have much of a chance of making a run to the playoffs in the West, but Wade Barrett has shown during his stint as interim head coach that he can get strong performances from a team that looked poor under Owen Coyle.

Unlike Houston, Crew SC is suffering through a season that is not just bad, but painfully below expectations. Gregg Berhalter's team isn't quite out of it yet, but the pressure to get the move up the standings underway is rising. A win on the road in New England helps, especially since it takes points off of a team that is also in the mix for a postseason berth in the Eastern Conference. The Revs' continuing defensive woes fed into Crew SC's desperation.

Of all of the places for Chicago's losing away record to end, Montreal was from the most likely. The Impact had lost just twice in 2016 at Stade Saputo, while the Fire's sputtering attack made a win there unlikely. But a goal from new acquisition Luis Solignac via a counterattack set Chicago up to control the game by absorbing Montreal's pressure.

Finishing touches

A few quick thoughts on the rest of the happenings around the league:

Villa may have the edge at the moment, but Sebastian Giovinco isn't going to relinquish his MVP title willingly. The Italian's first touch on his goal in a 3-1 win vs. Philadelphia was truly special.

D.C. United's 2-2 draw with the Red Bulls at RFK Stadium was the type of game that leaves everyone unhappy. New York jumped out to a two-goal lead, only to have United execute a comeback and keep the Red Bulls to a single point. United can take some solace from their fight, but know that home games have to be wins at this point in the season.

Vancouver's collapse -- the Whitecaps have lost four in a row -- couldn't have come at a worse time. Carl Robinson's team has a tough week ahead with a Champions League match against Sporting Kansas City on Tuesday night and a date against the Galaxy in LA on the weekend.

Team of the weekend

MLS TOTW 20160822
Jason Davis' best XI.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

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