The Major League Soccer weekend was highlighted by a pair of Western Conference rivalries, one that quickly moved itself up the derby power rankings and another that has been around for decades and has captured our hearts in MLS over the past 10 years.
El Trafico and the Cascadia Cup may have different qualities, but at the core, they have the same values. Both rivalries feature two teams that don’t like each other, and it’s clear all four teams involved are not afraid to get into it with each other on the field.
Zlatan Ibrahimović stoked the fire in the buildup by pronouncing his abilities being better than golden boot leader and MVP favorite Carlos Vela.
Ibrahimović then went out on the field and backed up his talk with a hat trick in a 3-2 Galaxy win, in which his team simply outplayed the best team in the league for long stretches.
— Adam Serrano (@AdamSerrano) July 20, 2019
The Swedish superstar received the spotlight for mostly good reasons, but an ugly elbow on Mohamed El-Munir could add another layer to the rivalry.
New York Red Bulls defender Amro Tarek revealed on social media Sunday night that El-Munir is going to have facial surgery because of the injury suffered from the elbow.
This is just unbelievable!!! ElMounir is going to have a surgery tomorrow! pic.twitter.com/XQnT8xEC5K
— Amro Tarek (@AmroAbdelAziz) July 22, 2019
The play was far from the only ugly challenge made by players on both sides, but it will be the one that receives the most attention because of who was involved.
Even before the severity of El-Munir’s injury was revealed, Carlos Vela added fuel to the rematch that can’t come soon enough on August 25 by hitting back at Ibrahimović’s claims of being the best player in MLS.
Vela addresses the Zlatan comparisons.
— Fut Mex Nation (@FutMexNation) July 20, 2019
The win moved the Galaxy within nine points of LAFC for the top spot in the Western Conference, and more importantly, it was their second win compared to LAFC’s zero in El Tráfico. The other two meetings were draws.
The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers displayed the same fire at CenturyLink Field Sunday night, and the 2-1 Timbers victory ended with a confrontation between Román Torres — possibly No. 1 in the “players you don’t want to get in a fight with” rankings — and Steve Clark.
The postgame scenes after the Timbers win in Seattle. 👀 pic.twitter.com/kyynDhclnU
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) July 22, 2019
The emotion poured over after the Sounders failed to rescue a point at home following a pair of tallies from Brian Fernández, who answered Seattle’s lone goal within two minutes for the game-winner in the 51st minute.
Fernández’s ability in front of the goal adds an extra element to a rivalry that has long been known as one of the best in MLS.
Portland’s club-record signing has been on fire since coming to MLS from Liga MX side Necaxa, and he could be the difference-maker that continues to help the Timbers pull away in big games, like Sunday.
The next chapter of the storied series comes August 23 at the start of rivalry week, which is the league’s weekend-long showcase of the best grudge matches it has to offer.
There will be plenty of other rivalry games scattered throughout the schedule in the next month, but after Week 20, we’ve started the countdown clock to August 21, when rivalry week begins with two of the oldest showdowns in the league, the Atlantic Cup and Cali Clasico.
Goals of the week
Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC
— Toronto FC (@TorontoFC) July 18, 2019
Gustavo Bou, New England Revolution
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 18, 2019
Marco Fabián, Philadelphia Union
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 20, 2019
Zlatan Ibrahimović, LA Galaxy
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 20, 2019
Penalty miss of the season
Josef Martínez, Atlanta United
Martinez exaggerated his typical penalty run-up and paid the price for it with a miss in a crucial Eastern Conference clash with D.C. United. The Five Stripes pulled a victory out of in the dying minutes.
Unorthodox way to take a penalty 🧐 pic.twitter.com/5EMoib7YAp
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 22, 2019
Every single week, managers across MLS make it known how difficult it is to win on the road due to the travel conditions and other factors.
D.C.’s victory was the only one that occurred in midweek, knocking off FC Cincinnati on Thursday. The expansion side also fell at Nippert Stadium to the Revs on Sunday.
The midweek effect
The road results correlate a bit to the possible fatigue some teams were dealing with over the weekend.
Of the 12 sides that played on Wednesday or Thursday, Atlanta United and New England were the only ones to take six points from Week 20.
The Five Stripes played both of their games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, while the Revs won at home and then defeated FC Cincinnati on the road.
The Vancouver Whitecaps, who had to do the most travel in Week 20 from New England on Wednesday to back home on Saturday, were one of two teams to not pick up any points from two games. FC Cincinnati was the other.
In total, four franchises earned results from two games, with Portland and the Columbus Crew each picking up a win and a draw. The Timbers drew at home with Orlando City on Thursday before beating Seattle, while the Crew eked out a draw with the Chicago Fire before taking down the Montreal Impact at home.
Playoff Race Stock Up, Stock Down
With the playoff races in each conference taking over more of the spotlight each week, we’re going to dedicate Stock Up, Stock Down to the competition for the top seven spots in the East and West.
Stock up: New England Revolution
The addition of Bou was yet another boost to the streaking-hot Revs, who did what they were supposed to do in Week 20 and beat two of the worst teams in MLS.
Bruce Arena’s team extended its unbeaten run to 10 games, and it moved into seventh place in the East over Toronto with Sunday’s win over FC Cincinnati.
Teal Bunbury has been on fire in front of goal, Carles Gil is playing near a best-XI level and Bou brings another dimension to the attack, but it is the defense that has turned in the biggest reversal of form.
April 24 – May 8: 4 games, 18 goals against (4.50 GAA)
May 11 – Present: 10 games, 8 goals against (O.80 GAA)
This team continues to improve and continues to address areas of weakness, but holy hell is that some sort of turnaround defensively. #NERevs
— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) July 22, 2019
Stock down: Montreal and Toronto
The two teams New England is in direct competition with for the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds in the East fell flat on Saturday to open the door for the Revs. Orlando City, another playoff rival, could not take advantage, dropping three points at home on Sunday.
Toronto FC’s home defeat to Houston was the most stunning result of the weekend because of how poor the Reds defense looked, especially on the third goal scored by Mauro Manotas.
Go on then 😳
Striker takes on 4 defenders for the cool finish. pic.twitter.com/W259RbvNxZ
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 21, 2019
Greg Vanney’s team has two clean sheets since May 15, one of which was against Montreal in Week 19, but there is some good news in terms of schedule relief.
Toronto has FC Cincinnati coming to town in Week 21, which should allow it to rebound before a massive meeting with the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 3.
The Impact suffered their fourth straight loss on Saturday on the road in Columbus, and in the process dropped down to sixth place.
Remí Garde’s side plays three of its next five games on the road, which makes Saturday’s clash with Philadelphia a must-win to generate momentum in the fight for the final playoff places.
Stock up: FC Dallas
FC Dallas picked up its third road win of the season in a crucial spot against a surging Sporting Kansas City side at Children’s Mercy Park.
By holding onto its spot in the standings, Luchi Gonzalez’s team fended off one of the potential contenders for the final few spots in the West.
There are seven points between FC Dallas in sixth and Sporting KC in 10th. Now the focus for the Texan team turns to a clash with seventh-place Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
If FC Dallas can come out on top of that game, it will create some much-needed breathing room with the Timbers poised to make a move into the top seven.
Stock down: Sporting Kansas City
Saturday was the perfect time for Sporting KC to prove it was for real in the playoff race after victories over Chicago and Vancouver.
Instead of earning its third straight win, Peter Vermes’ side fell Children’s Mercy Park for the fourth time this season, sending its home record to 4-4-3.
That number simply isn’t good enough with the Timbers about to play an extended run of games at Providence Park, Houston boasting a 7-1-3 mark at BBVA Compass Stadium and RSL sitting at 7-2-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium.