MLS returned to action on Wednesday night with an awkward set of games, given that almost every team was still missing key players due to the knockout rounds in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Still, what the games lacked in quality they more than made up for in sheer entertainment value—four of the evening’s seven games included four or more goals. The pecking order in the Eastern Conference became a bit more clear-cut, while the Western Conference became even more topsy-turvy. Here are the teams that most helped and hurt their causes Wednesday night:
1. Toronto FC – A 2-2 draw doesn’t look like much on paper, but given that Toronto were on the road against the East’s third-best team, NYCFC, were missing three of their best players due to the Gold Cup, and lost superstar Sebastian Giovinco to injury in the first half, it’s a pretty fantastic result. Sure, it took a little bit of luck with a Victor Vazquez penalty in stoppage time serving as the equalizer, but it was enough to keep the short-handed visitors afloat and propel them back into first place in the East. TFC fans will be crossing their fingers that Giovinco’s injury isn’t serious, because with a full-strength squad, this is the team to beat in MLS.
2. New York Red Bulls – Many were ready to write the Red Bulls off after a slow start to the season, and for good reason: evergreen striker Bradley Wright-Phillips looked like he’d finally lost a step, and puppet-master Sacha Kljestan was showing nothing of the fine form he’d displayed for the U.S. in last summer’s Copa America. That’s all changed recently—with Wednesday’s 5-1 thrashing of San Jose, the Red Bulls have now won three of their last four MLS matches, and six of their last seven including U.S. Open Cup play. They finally got themselves back above the playoff line with yesterday’s win, and appear to be rounding into form at the right time.
3. Seattle Sounders – Last season’s MLS Cup champions had been up-and-down in 2017, but nothing could have prepared us for last night. Down 3-0 in the first half to Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers DC United (at home, to boot), the Sounders went on an unbelievable tear, scoring four goals over the course of just 27 minutes to complete an unprecedented comeback and thrust themselves back into the West’s top six. What could’ve been a harrowing loss for Seattle could now turn out to be a season-defining win. At any rate, they’ve made MLS history.
1. Portland Timbers – It would have been perfectly acceptable for the Timbers to be a little rusty after the Gold Cup break, especially given that star midfielder Darlington Nagbe was still serving USMNT duty. What’s not acceptable is getting thrashed 4-1 at home by ninth-place Real Salt Lake and having two players sent off with red cards. It was a miserable night for Portland against RSL, furthering a cold streak for the Timbers that has passed ‘concerning’ and is entering ‘red alert’ status—they haven’t won a game since June 20, and currently sit just a point above the cutoff line for the playoffs. Yikes.
2. LA Galaxy – We’ve all been waiting for the Galaxy to finally snap out of their slump, win a few matches, and propel themselves back into the playoff picture in the West. How long will we be waiting? After last night’s 1-0 loss at home to Vancouver, LA has slipped all the way to ninth place and have lost four straight games in MLS play. Perhaps the Galaxy just are what they are at this point—a flawed, aging team that will need a serious offseason revamp to get back to challenging for an MLS Cup.
3. Philadelphia Union – The Union had been quietly playing decent soccer as of late, but a horrendous 0-4-4 start to the season left them with very little margin for error over the second half of the season. They had a golden opportunity to put some pressure on the top six in the East with a match against a middling Montreal Impact squad missing their best player in Nacho Piatti. Instead, they looked lifeless in a 2-1 loss and will need to go on a winning run very, very soon to have any shot at finding their way back to the playoffs.