Chicago Fire with renewed reasons for joy; D.C. United aching for goals
After the international break, MLS returned with a full docket of action. Here's who stood out for the right and wrong reasons.
Chicago Fire fans have every reason to be excited, because what is happening in the Windy City looks special. On Saturday, the Fire walked out of Gillette Stadium with a 2-1 win over New England. There were several elements to the win.
First, it was a gritty performance from Veljko Paunovic's team. The Fire threw bodies in front of every Revs' shot in the final half-hour to preserve the win. Total commitment.
Also, as is necessary on the road, you have to make the most of your chances, and Chicago did that. There was also some luck at play here too. New England had a boatload of chances, including a Lee Nguyen shot that had equalizer written all over it, only for it to sail over the crossbar. Looks like Toronto FC has a challenger to the Eastern throne.
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Hands down, the best part of tuning into a Montreal Impact match is watching Ignacio Piatti. Whenever the Argentine decides to leave MLS, and that might well happen at season's end, it will be the league's loss. There is arguably no one better skilled in the league than Piatti, who put on a show in the Impact's 3-3 draw at Orlando City on Saturday. He glided past two Orlando defenders before setting up Blerim Dzemaili for Montreal's opener, then followed that up with a brace in 90 seconds in the second half. Enjoy him while you can, folks.
David Villa slots into Heroes this week for his brace in New York City FC's 2-1 comeback win over Seattle on Saturday at rainy Yankee Stadium. The former Spain international now has 13 two-goal games in his MLS career, which has only spanned 78 matches. Villa's early second-half penalty conversion also pushed him to the 50-goal plateau in MLS. With every match he plays, Villa becomes more relevant in the "Best Designated Player ever in MLS" debate.
Mike Petke did not mince words after his Real Salt Lake team got pasted 6-2 by Houston on June 4. His players, said the RSL head coach, were "going to have to fight like dogs" for their starting spots in the next match. Woof! Message received. With renewed focus and energy, RSL got a big 1-0 win over Minnesota on Saturday, showing that one of the league's most consistent teams of the last decade isn't going away.
It was a rough week for the Columbus Crew SC. Just three days after a 1-0 U.S. Open Cup loss to FC Cincinnati that provoked a heated exchange between head coach Gregg Berhalter and fans, the Crew's woes continued with a 3-1 loss to Atlanta United. A series of defensive errors undid Columbus in that game. Berhalter is starting to lose the fans, and if things don't turn around quickly, he'll lose the locker room.
Ever since its 3-1 win at Atlanta United back on April 30, D.C. United has just one goal in its last seven matches, accruing just four points in the process. This is a team aching for more in attack and will need to be active during the summer transfer window. But in the interim, Olsen needs someone -- anyone -- to step up and score goals.
There have been 25 matches played during the month of June in MLS and just two have ended with wins for road teams. Even for MLS, a league that habitually favors the home team, this is pretty astounding. Road teams are averaging just 1.29 points per match. It would be interesting to see if that number would improve if teams had charter flights rather than joining the rest of us and flying commercial, but it is still an uncomfortable statistic.
On the whole, a busy Saturday in MLS was shaping up to be a good one for the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), with no major issues from the league's referees during the day's 10-game slate. But then in the waning moments of the L.A. Galaxy's 2-2 draw with Houston, Romain Alessandrini scored a late equalizer against the Dynamo that was clearly offside. Thankfully, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is on the way, following the All-Star Game on Aug. 2, but Saturday's failure to make the right call at such a critical juncture serves as a reminder that VAR cannot get to MLS fast enough.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .