Football Features

Atlanta United reveal their true colours while Alejandro Bedoya sends powerful message: MLS Week 22

By CJ Smith


Published: 16:42, 5 August 2019

Week 22 in MLS was full of drama with a whole heap of massive results.

We’re getting very close to the final sprint at the play-offs, with some teams in a real ‘now or never’ situation, while there are a few who can pretty much pack up and go home until 2020.

Others, meanwhile, still have some much loftier targets – especially in the Eastern Conference, where the top eight teams are separated by just 10 points.

So, with 12 games to pick through the bones of, let’s get started.

MLS week 22 snapshot

Things didn’t exactly go to plan for the MLS All-Stars on Thursday as they went down 3-0 to Atletico Madrid in Orlando. In fairness, the All-Stars played some brilliant football but as more and more substitutions were made to save players for MLS action, the flow of their game was disrupted. Joao Felix, in particular, benefited.

Week 22 kicked off in some style on Saturday with the defending champions Atlanta United beating a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less LA Galaxy 3-0, in what was arguably the Five Stripes’ most complete performance of 2019 so far. Brace yourselves for some Zlatan fallout. Saturday’s other kick-off saw the Red Bulls grab two second-half goals to beat Toronto FC 2-0 at home, lifting them to third in the East.

Onto Sunday and New England Revolution’s brilliant run under Bruce Arena was finally ended by, yes, you guessed it: LAFC. The Black and Gold continued their ruthless domination of the Western Conference with a 2-0 win in Boston. FC Dallas have really struggled for consistency recently and that continued with a 2-0 away defeat to Orlando City, who keep their faint play-off hopes alive, while FC Cincinnati remain stranded at the bottom of the entire standings on 17 points with their 2-1 home loss to Vancouver Whitecaps.

You can always rely on one thing in MLS: goals. They were in free supply as Colorado Rapids overcame Montreal Impact in an incredible 6-3 win. The Impact had gone ahead early on through Kei Kamara and although the Rapids kept trying to pull away, the Canadian side kept snapping at their heels.

Houston Dynamo’s slide down the standings continued as they lost 1-0 at home to Chicago Fire, while San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew played out a 1-1 draw – the point was enough to lift the Quakes to joint-second in the West having looked resigned to finishing bottom just a couple of months ago. Real Salt Lake pulled off a valuable and somewhat surprise 3-1 win over NYCFC, although the Bronx side still have three and four games in hand over their Eastern rivals and could fly up the table between now and the end of the season. Minnesota United’s impressive season continued with a 1-0 win over Portland Timbers.

Week 22 was rounded off in ridiculous fashion during the early hours of Monday morning as Eastern leaders Philadelphia Union demolished conference rivals DC United 5-1 at Audi Field, with the home side seeing Junior Moreno sent off just before half-time.

Phili captain Alejandro Bedoya used his third-minute goal as a chance to send a message to the US government after two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend resulted in the loss of at least 29 lives. Bedoya shouted into a pitchside microphone: “Congress, do something now. End gun violence.”

Bedoya wasn’t nominated for MLS Player of the Week but Twitter users were quick to throw his name into the hat in a show of solidarity for his political stance, with #VoteBedoya flooding the voting.

Bedoya was later given the award in a real show of class from MLS.

Finally, struggling Sporting KC grabbed a priceless win over Seattle Sounders, beating the Western high-flyers 3-2 at CenturyLink Field.

What they said

“To see that happen again, it’s absurd, I am not going to sit idly and watch this stuff and not say something. Before I’m an athlete and a soccer player, I am a human being, first. I have got kids – I can’t be the only one feeling the same way. Something has got to be done, it has got to the point where we have become numb to it, that is a big problem.”

Alejandro Bedoya on his message after opening the scoring against DC United

“The taste left in your mouth is tough to explain. Losing by more than two goals is frustrating – sometimes it feels like the ghosts from last year. In the end, we’re the Galaxy and we have to give a little more, beginning with me as the captain in this game.”

Jonathan dos Santos on the Galaxy’s 3-0 defeat to Atlanta

“(It’s) good to see a quality team on the field like (LAFC), to play against them, and give our team a measuring stick as to where they need to get better.”

Bruce Arena on the Revolution’s 2-0 defeat to LAFC

“I have no doubt that we will be one of the top leagues in the world on the competitive side and also in business metrics. If you look at the amount of energy that the rest of the football world is placing on our market, there’s no doubt that we just need to continue to build strong fan bases, continue to invest in player development and our facilities.”

Commissioner Don Garber on the future of MLS

Is this the real Atlanta United?

For a short time, until the Union destroyed DC United, Atlanta United were sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference table. Let that sink in for a moment. Atlanta United, who only last month lost 5-1 to Chicago Fire, who’ve seen Pity Martinez and Frank de Boer at almost constant odds, who looked a shadow of their 2018 MLS Cup-winning side, were top of the Eastern Conference. In fact, if they win their game in hand over the Union, they’ll go top again.

The 17s won’t quite know how they’ve done it. Some of the football on display at times this season has been slow, turgid and laborious, while there has been anything but a harmonious atmosphere at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, it’s easy to forget the level of talent which turns out in red, black and gold on a weekly basis. Josef Martinez is a record-breaking goalscorer, Ezequiel Barco now looks every bit the player he should have been last season, and Pity Martinez is the reigning South American Player of the year. All of that barely even scratches the surface.

It seems fitting, then, that the result which put them top for that short period was delivered with what was arguably the Five Stripes’ most complete, free-flowing and fun performance of the season. De Boer’s three-man defensive set-up has been maligned at times but on Saturday, it cut the Galaxy to ribbons.

At the back, Miles Robinson was a beacon of calm, winning two aerial duels, making two interceptions and completing 52 passes at a match-high 95 per cent. His pace in recovery was glorious to behold and post-match, De Boer was glowing in his appraisal.

“What was also very positive for me was how Miles (Robinson) played today, especially with the ball,” he said. “He had some good provoking, dribbling, and passing to the free men in between the lines. He was fantastic.”

MLS 2019 top goalscorers

  • Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 22
  • Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 18
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 16
  • Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 13

Out wide, Julian Gressel and, impressively, Justin Meram were superb as wing-backs, shuttling up and down the flanks with boundless levels of energy and helping stretch the Galaxy so far out of shape, they were barely recognisable.

This allowed room for Pity and Barco to really flourish. Barco took up the task of shifting possession forward quickly, getting it near the Martinez duo, while Pity himself played a free role, picking up pockets of space all over the pitch. The Giancarlo Gonzalez and Dave Romney own goals came from Pity’s wonderful delivery, while the 26-year-old played three key passes, made a match-high four dribbles and was dispossessed just once all game. This was possibly his most complete performance in MLS and showed just what he could be capable of if the shackles are taken off and trust is placed in him by De Boer.

None of this would have been possible, however, if it wasn’t for the rock-solid platform provided by Jeff Lawrentowicz and Darlington Nagbe. Understated and unsung, these two went about their business with a combined five tackles and did an excellent job in not only breaking up the Galaxy’s play, but retaining the ball for Atlanta when they got it back. This resulted in the Galaxy spending more time chasing their own tails without the ball than they did actually getting a foothold with it.

It’d be easy to simply boil this win down to the Galaxy being without Ibrahimovic, but that would be unfair. Every cog in the Atlanta machine was perfectly oiled on Saturday and in all honesty, they shut down the Galaxy with ease in areas they’d normally use to feed Zlatan, the Swede may have cut a frustrated figure regardless.

De Boer’s system made the pitch big, allowed his key players the space they needed and showed just what this Atlanta United side can really be. The question now is: can they now do it consistently or is this just a mere flash in the pan?

Every result from MLS Week 22

Saturday, August 3

Atlanta United 3-0 LA Galaxy

NY Red Bulls 2-0 Toronto FC

Sunday, August 4

New England Revolution 0-2 LAFC

Orlando City 2-0 FC Dallas

FC Cincinatti 1-2 Vancouver Whitecaps

Colorado Rapids 6-3 Montreal Impact

Houston Dynamo 0-1 Chicago Fire

San Jose Earthquakes 1-1 Columbus Crew

Real Salt Lake 3-1 NYCFC

Minnesota United 1-0 Portland Timbers

Monday, August 5

DC United 1-5 Philadelphia Union

Seattle Sounders 2-3 Sporting KC