Union remind Philly what a win is; Houston shows Orlando a rude defeat
With another round of Major League Soccer in the books, here's who fired and who failed this weekend:
After such a long wait, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that Philadelphia Union fans have forgotten how to feel when their team wins a match. Before Saturday's 3-0 home romp over the Red Bulls, Philadelphia hadn't won an MLS game since Aug. 27, 2016.
Whatever spoils there are from beating a regional rival at home belong almost entirely to C.J. Sapong. The striker is now tied for the league lead in scoring thanks to a second-half hat trick Saturday, a performance that showed off the well-rounded game he has developed over three seasons in Chester. Remember, Sapong started 2016 strong before tailing off in the back half of the season, to the detriment of the club down the stretch. That was enough to have Earnie Stewart actively looking for competition at the forward position during the offseason.
But it's clear that Sapong is the best option the Union have up front, and not a bad one at that.
Toronto FC's week could not have gone any better. After taking care of Orlando in a 2-0 win on Wednesday, the Reds traveled to Seattle and exacted a (small) measure of revenge on the Sounders with a 1-0 victory. Yes, the win came thanks to a penalty converted by Jozy Altidore, but taking three points on the road in MLS against anyone -- much less the defending champs -- deserves a healthy dose of praise. Toronto didn't have four starters, including Sebastian Giovinco, a strategic decision by Greg Vanney that played about as well as he could have hoped. TFC displayed their depth against the Sounders and jumped into first place in the Eastern Conference in the process.
Quietly, Minnesota United has started to round into a pretty decent MLS team. What was once a dumpster fire of a defense is now competent enough (while leaning on the heroics of Bobby Shuttleworth in goal, broken nose and all) to shut out Sporting Kansas City 2-0 at home. Minnesota's recalibration, largely the effect of introducing former NASLer Brent Kallman and the two Rapids the club traded for (Sam Cronin and Marc Burch) into the lineup, means they're unlikely to hit the historic lows they seemed destined for when their expansion season began.
For a club that put so much stock in players brought up from the NASL ranks (Kallman, Christian Ramirez, Miguel Ibarra), to have all of those names playing key roles in a mini-revival that has the Loons just a few points off the playoff pace in the West is a dose of validation.
Orlando City entered the weekend in first place, and despite a loss on the road in Toronto midweek, they had to feel reasonably good about their chances to extract at least a point from a trip to Houston. Kaka still wasn't back in the starting lineup, but he would be available off the bench for the third consecutive match. If City could take advantage of the possession the Dynamo would concede, there was even an outside chance for a win.
Unfortunately for the Lions, Houston was ruthless on the counterattack and hammered the visitors 4-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium. The way things started, it looked like it might be Orlando's day. The Dynamo were without their leading scorer, Erick Torres, and were forced to make a substitution inside of 10 minutes.
Instead, Alberth Elis staked Houston to a 23rd-minute lead, putting the game squarely into the home team's hands. As Orlando chased the game and committed players forward, Wilmer Cabrera's side exploited the space and reaffirmed their claim to the most dangerous counterattacking team in the league.
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Real Salt Lake responded to Mike Petke taking over as head coach five games into the season by putting together back-to-back wins and outscoring their opponents 5-1.
Since then, RSL is 0-3-0, losing three games in a row by a combined score of 9-1. In every match in that stretch, they've conceded three goals. The latest came on Saturday in a 3-0 home defeat to FC Dallas, which saw RSL fall behind early on a penalty kick goal and never recover. Dallas is good, by most accounts the best team in the league, but that's not going to salve too many wounds on the Wasatch Front. Petke's excuses include the ridiculous injury list he's dealing with at the moment.
Another week, another strange performance by the LA Galaxy that clarifies nothing and leaves the club still in a mediocre to bad limbo. Teams that wallow there often fail to make necessary changes to coaching staffs, lineups or tactics until it's too late.
This week's addition to the pile of distressing but largely positive showings for LA came in a 2-2 draw against the Fire at the StubHub Center. Thanks to a questionable penalty call against Jelle Van Damme and a clinical counter, the home team found themselves down 2-0 inside of 17 minutes. A second-half revival -- that may or may not have happened in part because Van Damme was substituted and Jermaine Jones came off injured -- helped the Galaxy scramble back a point.
But both goals came off set pieces, and there are still no answers to any of the pertinent questions in L.A.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.