Football Features

MLS: New York City finally top Eastern Conference as Cincinnati approach unwanted record

By Chris Smith

Published: 12:21, 9 September 2019

A depleted schedule in MLS week 27 offered up just five games but action was in no short supply nonetheless.

We’re heading to that crunch part of the season where, if a team has serious designs on sneaking into the play-offs, they must do it now.

Moreover, sides suffering a dip in form at the worst possible time will be nervously looking over their shoulders at the teams behind them as both conferences become increasingly tough to separate.

So, without further ado, let’s get into the best of the action from across the pond….

1. LA Galaxy slip below the line

They didn’t even have a game but week 27 was still absolutely huge for LA Galaxy, with Zlatan and Co slipping below the play-off line. Just a few weeks ago, the Galaxy looked nailed on to make it to the post-season, sitting second behind their city rivals LAFC and playing a functional, if slightly jarring, brand of football. It was rudimentary but brought the best out of Ibrahimovic.

Now, they’re on a run of just two wins and eight points – four of which, strangely, came against LAFC – in eight MLS games, slipping all the way down to eighth in the Western Conference.

Ibrahimovic is still scoring goals at a record-equalling rate, Jonathan Dos Santos is one of the most consistent midfielders in MLS and Cristian Pavon is a hell of a statement signing. But for one reason or another, manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto just can’t find the balance.

The Galaxy’s final six games of the regular season are quite favourable, against sides mostly battling it out in the lower reaches of their respective conferences. That said, they choked on decision day last season, don’t bet against it happening again.

2. NYCFC top the East

Who is the best team in the Eastern Conference? It’s a subject that’s been under hot debate for pretty much most of the 2019 season. Some would say it’s Atlanta United – the Five Stripes are the defending champions and have won two trophies (Campeones Cup and US Open Cup) in the past month. Others could make a case for the likes of Philadelphia Union this season, or maybe even DC United.

Honestly, though, not enough people have been taking notice of New York City FC and following their 2-1 win over New England Revolution on Saturday, Dome Torrent’s side are now top of the conference. Two goals from Jesus Medina did the damage for NYCFC, who have now lost just five of their 28 games so far this season – only LAFC (4) have lost fewer.

Maxi Moralez is the second-highest assist provider in MLS so far this season with 11, while the Argentine sits third in the league for key passes (89). His precision passing and intelligence feed the likes of Heber and Valentín Castellanos – whom he has assisted four times this term – perfectly and they look like one of the most well-rounded sides in MLS heading into the play-offs. Are they finally stepping out of the Red Bulls’ shadow?

MLS 2019 Golden Boot race

  • Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 27
  • Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 23
  • Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 23
  • Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 15
  • Heber (NYCFC) – 14

3. LAFC stumble continues

LAFC have been an absolute joy to watch this season, arguably one of the most entertaining sides ever to play in MLS. They’ve already qualified for the play-offs and will lock up Supporters’ Shield soon enough but right now, their form is dipping badly.

The Black and Gold are without a win in three games now after drawing 2-2 with Orlando City at the weekend. Sure, they came from 2-1 down to salvage a point and they were missing Carlos Vela among others, but Orlando had an Oriol Rosell goal very harshly disallowed which would have made it 3-1. Incidentally, Orlando have now surrendered 14 points from winning positions this season, a clear indication as to why they’re still battling below the play-off line.

Lions boss James O’Connor was quite reserved in his post-match press conference but still took his chance to have a swipe at the officials for that decision.

He said: “I think when the officials maybe go back and have a look at it I think they’ll perhaps be a little bit disappointed with their performance. Our performance I thought was excellent, I thought the guys gave everything.”

Given their 10-point lead in the Supporters’ Shield standings and 17-point lead in the West, you can understand Bob Bradley’s side having one eye on the play-offs and deciding against risking the likes of Vela if there’s a hint of injury. The last thing they’ll want, though, is to head into those play-offs cold, off form and short of confidence – they now have five more regular-season games to reassert their dominance and find their stride before the real fun begins.

4. FC Cincy approach unwanted record

Remember at the start of the season when FC Cincinnati lost just one of their first four games in MLS and picked up a draw away at defending champions Atlanta United? It’s pretty tough to gaze that far back now, given that they’ve taken a miserable 11 points from 24 games since then, with their season becoming about damage limitation and dreaming of 2020.

Their latest battering came at the hands of Toronto FC, who raced into a 3-0 lead within half an hour at Nippert Stadium, extending that to 5-0 by the 85th minute without even needing to bring Jozy Altidore into the equation. A late penalty from Emmanuel Ledesma made things a little more respectable for Cincy and gave the Argentine chance to pay tribute to his father just a day after his tragic death.

Cincinnati have now conceded a staggering 72 goals in 29 games and are just two from equalling the single-season record of 74 set by Orlando last season. The equation at the moment is quite simple: your team plus Cincy equals three points and a lot of goals.

5. Timbers jump back into play-off spots with late comeback

Portland Timbers had a tough opening 12 games of the season, winning just four times as they had an extended period on the road while Providence Park was under renovation. Since their return home, though, they’ve been excellent.

Brian Fernandez and Jeremy Ebobisse are absolutely on fire, while Diego Valeri has eight goals and eight assists so far. At 33, he continues to look evergreen. Ebobisse grabbed a late equaliser against Sporting KC on Sunday after Benny Feilhaber had given the visitors the lead, Diego Chara breaking up play and charging forward in trademark fashion in the build-up to that one. And, of course, the 94th-minute winner came courtesy of a Fernandez header – his 11th goal in 16 MLS games – assisted by, you guessed it, Valeri.

The Timbers were last season’s MLS Cup runners-up and on their day, are one of the strongest sides in the league. This latest win throws them back above the play-off line at the Galaxy’s expense and given the talent and experience at their disposal, it’s hard to envisage them slipping back out of contention now.