Kaka stands out for Orlando, while Chicago looks less than All-Stars
The final round of games before the 2017 Major League Soccer All-Star Game is in the books. Here's who stood out for the right and wrong reasons.
Revenge of the reassuringly expensive
The big news in MLS this week was the blockbuster move taking Dom Dwyer to Orlando. Dwyer got the obligatory "mobbed at the airport" reception recently enjoyed by Marta and, before that, a certain former World Player of the Year named Kaka.
Kaka was almost overlooked in the speculation about just how well Cyle Larin and Dwyer would mesh together as an old-fashioned dual center-forward pairing: Kaka has gone from undisputed main man at an expansion team to being talked about like a holdover from another era. When people talk about the team Jason Kreis is trying to form, they talk less about what Kreis can build around Kaka and more about what he'll be free to do when Kaka's salary comes off the books instead.
Evidently, nobody told the Brazilian. With Larin and Dwyer rather getting in each other's way in their partnership's debut, Kaka took full advantage of the defensive attention on that duo by scoring a beautiful goal from distance against Atlanta. He's clearly not done yet. Larin and Dwyer, meanwhile, were both subbed out with around 20 minutes to go and Orlando would only draw the game.
Kaka was not the only big-ticket player reminding fans of his worth this weekend: Sebastian Giovinco was at his scintillating best as Toronto dismantled NYCFC 4-0 to move well clear at the top of the East. The Italian scored the 49th and 50th goals of his MLS career in a complete performance for the Reds.
And at the slightly more budget end of expensive, it was a great night for Fredy Montero in Dallas as the Whitecaps finally got a win in Frisco, and in some style. Montero had two goals and an assist in Saturday evening's 4-0 win, while Dallas was left to vie with NYCFC for the title of "biggest implosion by a front-runner."
Royer is roaring
It's something of a reporters' ritual after Red Bulls victories: hang around in the locker room until Bradley Wright-Phillips is ready to speak and ask him about his inevitable goal. But postgame rituals have been a little more complex in the past few weeks; after New York's 4-0 dismantling of Montreal, Daniel Royer now has five goals in four straight games and the Red Bulls have won all four. The team is also sporting a new-look formation that has hauled them above the red line, put more players (like Royer) into threatening positions and positioned them suddenly within striking distance of Chicago in second place.
Wright-Phillips also scored by the way. Some things never change.
LA's rivalry just ignited
Of course, we have to mention Sigi Schmid even though his first game as LA Galaxy coach, against his former Seattle Sounders, never quite ignited into an occasion. The Galaxy did ground out a 0-0 draw that at least stopped Seattle's winning streak and stopped LA's losing stretch at five games. Frankly, given the Galaxy's dismal home form this year, Schmid leading his new team to only its fourth clean sheet of the year easily cleared the low bar that marks LA heroes this year.
That said, results will come, but the lift from Schmid's arrival had already done its job. From drifting through its final year as the only MLS team in LA, the Galaxy managed to ensure that when Bob Bradley was announced as the first LAFC coach a day later, his appointment was immediately seen in the context of an imminent rivalry with another legendary MLS coach. The Galaxy shared LAFC's headlines. That counts as a local win.
Van Damme's self-destruction
It could have been very different for Schmid on his debut. Jelle Van Damme has become a fan favorite at the StubHub Center, one of the few players to carry his reputation through the end of the Bruce era and to thrive through the awkward transition into what will doubtless come to be known as the "Curt Onalfo moment."
But Van Damme has moments of his own: disciplinary lapses that let his team down at unfortunate moments. He can count himself lucky that his late dismissal for a wild lunging tackle on Nicolas Lodeiro didn't come early enough for the Sounders to take advantage. But with Schmid looking to consolidate his team's defense first, he needs them to actually be on the field.
Chicago looking less than All-Star
Ah ... the All-Star game. Parties, photo opportunities, informal expansion gossip and a general gathering of the MLS tribes ... with a little bit of soccer thrown in. The All-Star game happens in Chicago this week as the host city celebrates the visit of Real Madrid and, not for nothing, marks its own return to domestic soccer relevance after a long spell in the wilderness.
At least that was the plan, but the Fire have been slipping a little lately and lost an early Shield referendum game to Sporting KC this weekend. Even with the help of Matt Besler's first-ever own goal against Sporting, the Fire could not find a way to outscore the three goals managed by a team starting without Dwyer for the first time.
The Fire are winless in their last three games, and from being locked in a battle with Toronto for first place in the East at the start of the month, the Fire are now only three points ahead of the Red Bulls in fourth place. Once those sparkly All-Star jerseys come off, it's back to the rather less glamorous playoff fight for Chicago.
D.C. United's "response"
Earlier this week, ESPN FC discussed the challenges facing D.C. United right now in light of its heartbreaking collapse in Seattle being followed by a cave-in at home to Houston. D.C. had led 3-0 in Seattle only to lose 4-3, and really, the response managers typically demand after these moments should have come at home against Houston, one of the league's worst travelers. D.C. conceded three goals in the first 17 minutes against Houston, but surely on the road against Minnesota, D.C. would at least tighten up?
Nope. Another day, another four goals conceded. D.C. United has conceded at least three goals in each of their last four games. The team has lost its last six games.
They need a response. Oh, and the next game is against Toronto ...
Graham Parker writes for ESPN FC, FourFourTwo and Howler. He covers MLS and the U.S. national teams. Follow him on Twitter @grahamparkerfc.