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MLS Week 17 Weekend Review: Quakes, Rapids earn statement victories

San Jose and Colorado are back from the dead.

The San Jose Earthquakes and Colorado Rapids walked away from Week 17 with statement victories that could propel them toward playoff positions. 

Just two months ago, the thought of San Jose and Colorado in the playoffs would have been snickered at by many involved with both clubs, but they have produced stunning, 180-degree turns in a short amount of time. 

Matías Almeyda has made his mark on the Quakes and built them into one of the most aesthetically pleasing sides in Major League Soccer. 

That was on display once again in Saturday’s 3-0 Cali Clasico victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy, in which Vako starred in attack once again. 

With three goals and one assist in two Week 17 games against Houston and the Galaxy, Vako played a role in four of the five goals scored by the Quakes,. 

Jun 29, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Vako Kazaishvili (11) celebrates after a win against the LA Galaxy at Stanford Stadium. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)

The attacking awakening from the Republic of Georgia international is a welcome sight after he produced one goal and one assist before the Concacaf Gold Cup break. 

Since April 20, the Quakes have earned points in all but one of their 11 games and enter July on a six-game unbeaten run. 

Part of the success has to do with the scoring form of Vako and Chris Wondolowski, but Almeyda’s tactical decisions must be praised as well. 

Carving out a spot for Tommy Thompson at right back has done wonders for the American’s career, and he earned the extra reward of a goal on Saturday night. 

Colorado interim manager Conor Casey, who needs to have the “interim” tag removed, has the Rapids on a seven-game unbeaten run, and they have won three out of their past four games. 

Jun 28, 2019; Commerce City, CO, USA; Colorado Rapids interim head coach Conor Casey celebrates with forward Kei Kamara (23) and defender Sam Vines (13) after a match against the Los Angeles FC at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)

Friday’s weather-delayed victory over Los Angeles FC confirmed the work Casey is doing in Colorado to clean up the mess left by Anthony Hudson.

Casey has gotten the best out of a roster that underperformed during the Hudson era, and his team has been able to win in a variety ways. 

On Friday, the Rapids’ lone goal came from Danny Wilson off a set piece. It was one of the team’s two shots on target.

Under Casey, the Rapids have earned a trio of 1-0 victories, scored three times in a pair of wins and fought to road draws in Philadelphia and Vancouver

Colorado’s turnaround in form has led the team up to 11th in the Western Conference, ahead of Sporting Kansas City and five points back of the final playoff position. 

While Casey is working wonders in Colorado, FC Cincinnati interim manager Yoann Damet is struggling to get results with the expansion side. 

FC Cincinnati’s defense was once again in disarray in the 7-1 thumping it received from Minnesota United on Saturday in front of a national audience. 

During its six-game losing streak, the expansion side has been outscored 24-5, with two of its tallies being own goals scored by New York City FC

Some of FC Cincinnati’s struggles can be linked to injuries and international absences, but the players on the field and the manager have to be held accountable for the brutal showing at Allianz Field, which allowed the Loons to break out of a three-game losing skid. 

Minnesota’s 7-1 win was the most shocking result because of the disparity in score, but the victories earned by San Jose and Colorado could be the most important from Week 17 when we look back on it in a few weeks and months. 

With MLS back in full swing, there were plenty of other talking points that caught our attention. 

Goals of the weekend

Justin Meram, Atlanta United

Hassani Dotson, Minnesota United

Late drama

Three teams scored goals in the 90th minute or later on Saturday, with two of them being game-winners. 

New England’s Teal Bunbury scored the first late game-winner of the night by knocking in a slow-rolling pass from Cristian Penilla past Houston’s Joe Willis. 

The other game-winner came from Seattle’s Kelvin Leerdam, who saved three points for the Sounders with his right boot after a controversial call took away a strike from 16-year-old Daniel Leyva. 

DC United benefited from a VAR ruling to set up their game-tying goal, which was scored from the spot by Wayne Rooney. 

Official outrage

Once again, the MLS referees took center stage in a few key moments, and some of the top players across the league didn’t hold back with their criticism of key events in their respective matches. 

Alejandro Bedoya, who was called for a penalty in the second half of Philadelphia’s game with NYCFC, was quick to lash out on Twitter on Saturday night. 

Toronto FC forward Jozy Altidore took time out from Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinals preparation to defend his teammates for a call the Reds did not receive against DC United. 

Levya’s gorgeous goal for the Sounders was also called off after VAR ruled Vancouver goalkeeper Zac MacMath was fouled in the box. 

Brian Fernández, he literally scores whenever he wants

With his goal against FC Dallas on Sunday night, Portland’s Brian Fernández set a league record for the most consecutive games with a goal to start his MLS career. 

Fernández now has six goals in five games. To put that into more context, 11 of the 24 teams in MLS have a leading scorer with six or fewer goals, and those players have had much more time to score on an MLS field than Fernández this season. 

Stock up, stock down

Stock way up: Diego Chará

Jun 30, 2019; Portland, OR, USA; FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal (19) is defended by Portland Timbers defender Julio Cascante (18) and midfielder Diego Chara (21) during the first half at Providence Park. (Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports)

While Fernández has been busy lightning nets on fire, Diego Chará has been up to his old tricks stifling opposing attackers. 

The Colombian, who is still somehow one of the most underappreciated players on a league-wide level, turned in his best performance of the season in the Week 17 nightcap at Providence Park.

With the attack firing on all cylinders and Chará in incredible form, it is going to be hard to stop the Timbers train from steaming up the Western Conference. 

Stock way down: Columbus Crew

Jun 29, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew SC midfielder David Guzman (right) looks for a call against Orlando City SC midfielder Oriol Rosell (20) during the second half at MAPFRE Stadium. (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

Yikes. Just yikes. 

If it weren’t for FC Cincinnati’s utter competence this season, we’d be talking more about how much of a letdown the Columbus Crew have been in Caleb Porter’s first season. 

The Crew dropped a 2-0 result at home to Orlando City on Saturday to fall to 5-11-2 on the season and 4-5-2 at home. Only FC Cincinnati, Orlando and the Crew have home records below .500 in MLS. 

Since April 6, the Crew have four points from 12 games with losing streaks of two, three and five games. 

It’s not getting any easier for the Crew with Zack Steffen off to Manchester City and Gyasi Zardes and Wil Trapp likely out for two more games due to international duty. 

Stock up: The Bruce Arena Revs

Jun 26, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution head coach Bruce Arena reacts during the second half against the Philadelphia Union at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

New England got four points out of two home games in Week 17, but it is trending in the right direction with Bruce Arena righting the ship.

The Revs battled until the end on Saturday to knock off Houston and extend their unbeaten run to six games. 

With Arena turning the team around and three points separating them from the last playoff spot in the East, the Revs have a real chance to resurrect their season by sneaking into the postseason. 

Stock down: DC’s home form 

Jun 29, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; D.C. United midfielder Lucas Rodriguez (11) leaps to pass the ball as Toronto FC midfielder Jay Chapman (14) defends in the first half at Audi Field. The game finished a 1-1 draw. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

DC United just finished a four-game home stand at Audi Field with one win and three draws. 

In an Eastern Conference where the margins are so incredibly thin, the Black-and-Red did themselves no favors by settling for draws with Chicago, San Jose and Toronto, the last of which occurred on Saturday. 

At the end of the season, poor runs of form like this get remembered as the difference-makers in the standings. A win on Saturday would have put United in first place ahead of the Union, who suffered their own let down against New York City FC.

Stock down: Sergio Santos

Jun 8, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union forward Sergio Santos (17) and New York Red Bulls defender Kyle Duncan (6) battle for the ball during the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. (Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports)

Sergio Santos came into the Union this offseason with plenty of intrigue because of his scoring prowess in South America. 

The Brazilian has one goal in his past eight games, and even more concerning is the one shot on goal he’s managed during that stretch.

With Andrew Wooten set to enter the squad on July 9, Santos’ playing time could evaporate, if it doesn’t already in two games against Orlando this week. 

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