Schweinsteiger scores in MLS debut; Ramirez inspires Minnesota to first win
Week 5 of the 2017 Major League Soccer season saw Minnesota United bag their first victory, 4-2, against Real Salt Lake, while alarm bells are starting to ring for the LA Galaxy following a 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
It took longer than coach Adrian Heath would have liked, but Minnesota United finally have an MLS win to their name. That the side managed to get the job done at home is a bonus, giving the faithful a chance to celebrate after a dispiriting start to the schedule against Atlanta United a few weeks ago.
At this point, who cares about the circumstances of the result? Minnesota was so desperate to shake off the label of worst team in the league and (possibly) worst team of all time that a 1-0 score on a very questionable 90th-minute penalty would have done just fine. That, of course, is not how it went down. In the Loons' win over Real Salt Lake, there were several moments of good play and not one, not two, not three, but four goals.
Nick Rimando's howler helped the score line flatter the expansion club just a little, although Minnesota can find plenty to like in the play of striker Christian Ramirez. The longtime Loon is proving that his abilities are good enough for the top division, with four goals in five matches.
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As far as hero stories go, there's nothing better than a conquering figure riding in and saving the day without even pausing to say hello. That was almost the story this week in Chicago, where Bastian Schweinsteiger arrived on Tuesday, met the media on Wednesday, started on Saturday and scored a goal in his first 17 minutes as a member of the Fire. Chicago couldn't hold on to its lead and eventually split the points in a 2-2 draw with the Montreal Impact, but the Germany star's debut will no doubt have fans in the Windy City buzzing.
There remains a looming question as to whether the trio of Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho can work together effectively in the midfield. Juninho will miss the next match because of a red card, which will put off the issue for at least a week.
It feels a little like Erick "Cubo" Torres was in hibernation for the better part of two years and woke up just in time for the 2017 season. It's not true, of course -- Torres was in fact on the Houston Dynamo roster in 2015 and 2016 -- but the Mexican striker's return to prominence as an MLS goal scorer is remarkable. Torres' hat trick on Saturday brings his season total to six in four matches and has helped Houston climb to second in the Western Conference standings in the season's early going.
Torres has scored goals of all types in 2017. In a 4-1 win over the New York Red Bulls, it was a penalty kick, a shot off a rebound (after he had whiffed his first attempt) and a free kick in added time. Maybe Torres won't be as lucky as he's been all the way through the campaign, and there's no accounting for health, but it sure looks like the old "Cubo" is back.
The LA Galaxy entered the weekend missing midfielder Sebastian Lletget, but with reasonable belief that they could get something out of a trip to the Pacific Northwest to face the Whitecaps. Giovani Dos Santos, Ashley Cole and Gyasi Zardes all dressed coming off injury layoffs. Dos Santos and Cole started, with Zardes entering for the last 25 minutes. It's about as close to full strength as the Galaxy have been so far this year.
But L.A.'s defense folded in the second half, giving up two goals in two minutes to lose the lead and the game. No one at the back covered themselves in glory for the Galaxy, though both center-back Jelle Van Damme and goalkeeper Clement Diop stood out for their poor performances. Diop directly aided the Whitecaps in getting on the board first; his ill-advised attempt to come off his line in the 18th minute resulted in a Cristian Techera goal.
The Galaxy are now in 10th position in the West, the type of situation that usually prompts action from a very demanding group of decision-makers.
It was actually a bad weekend for goalkeepers across MLS. The aforementioned gaff by Diop of L.A. was hardly the worst of the round, with both Rimando and David Bingham making claims for the honor. Bingham's error in the San Jose Earthquake's 2-1 loss to New York City FC wasn't egregious, but his inability to punch away a Jack Harrison shot with his team up a goal on the road handed the home team a goal and set up the eventual loss for the Quakes. Rimando's normally sure feet failed him against Minnesota, gifting Ramirez the goal that put the Loons up 3-1 and effectively ended the game.
Real Salt Lake as a team have a lot to address as the Mike Petke era gets underway on Monday. With interim boss Daryl Shore still on the sideline in Minneapolis, RSL put in a decidedly uninspired performance against what was the worst team in the league coming into the match. One of Petke's strengths lies in his motivational abilities. Looks like he's going to need them.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.