Football Features

MLS round-up: LA Galaxy stay second and Pulisic opens Gold Cup account

By CJ Smith


Published: 17:45, 23 June 2019

After taking a brief break for US Open Cup action, MLS returned this weekend with no fewer than six matches. 

As ever, we were treated to a tonne of goals and drama in a league which never fails to entertain, with teams at the top and bottom battling it out for their respective targets.

Read on for the key talking points in Squawka’s weekly MLS round-up.

Galaxy keep the pressure on against sorry Cincinnati

You’ve got to hand it to supporters of MLS newcomers, FC Cincinnati. After a promising opening few weeks, they’ve been nothing short of terrible and have now lost their last five MLS games following the visit of LA Galaxy. Despite that, Nippert Stadium is still seeing bumper crowds and even sold out to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co.

But while those in the stands keep on impressing, the players on the pitch continue to look out of their depth. The Galaxy raced into a 2-0 lead within 15 minutes with goals from Emmanuel Boateng and Favio Alvarez – thanks to some questionable defending – and although Cincy did well to keep the scoreline as it was, they did nowhere near enough to threaten the visitors.

The win was a perfect way for the Galaxy to recover from a 4-0 US Open Cup exit to Portland Timbers, while it keeps them six points behind the seemingly unstoppable LAFC at the top of the Western Conference standings. FC Cincinnati remain rooted to the bottom of the Supporters Shield standings with just 11 points so far, having conceded 17 goals in their last five games.

Home comforts for the Timbers as Fernandez chases history

With Providence Park undergoing a facelift at the start of the season, Portland Timbers spent a lot of time on the road and in MLS, that normally only means one thing: immense travel time leading to lacklustre defeats.

However, the Timbers played out a 3-2 defeat against LAFC back at their new-look stadium at the start of the month, giving as good as they got against the league leaders. Since then, things have improved. Giovanni Savarese’s side backed up their 4-0 US Open Cup win over LA Galaxy with a thrashing of Houston Dynamo by the same scoreline, brushing aside a team that for most of the season so far, have been very impressive indeed.

As is usually the case with the Timbers, Diego Valeri was the star, converting a penalty and notching two assists, while Brian Fernandez scored once again, meaning he has now netted in each of his first four MLS appearances – equalling the MLS record – since switching from Liga MX side, Necaxa. Jeremy Ebobisse rounded off the scoreline with a beautiful curling effort 15 minutes from time and the Timbers now sit just three points below the play-off line in the Western Conference, with two games in hand over seventh-placed Real Salt Lake.

Now that they have a clutch of home games coming up and Fernandez seems to have solved their goalscoring issues, expect the Timbers to fly up the standings between now and the end of the regular season.

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Late show saves Vancouver

After starting the season in truly hopeless style, Colorado Rapids have seriously improved in recent weeks since sacking Anthony Hudson. Before that, they would have probably taken this 2-2 draw away to Vancouver Whitecaps but, given that they’re now six games without defeat in MLS and were 2-0 up, the Rapids will kicking themselves at a chance missed.

Goals from Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki had the Rapids in complete control but a penalty from former Sporting Lisbon striker Fredy Montero just before half-time put the Whitecaps back in contention.

Before that, the Rapids missed two golden chances to extend their lead, with Kei Kamara hitting the post and Nicolas Mezquida seeing a rebound cleared off the line and they were made to pay just 10 minutes from time when Yordy Reina lifted an elegant free-kick over the wall and into the back of Tim Howard’s net via the post.

Still, things are really looking up for Colorado, who will now be quietly drawing plans to chase down a play-off spot. Teams with late-season momentum can be very dangerous indeed.

Gold Cup action cripples Toronto

Given the timing of the MLS season, clubs must, unfortunately, deal with losing some of their star players to international duty throughout various points of the season. There is a lot of improvement happening in MLS but for it to go further, this is something which must be addressed.

The 1,414-mile trip from Toronto to Dallas is a tough enough ordeal already without the Canadian side having to deal with the absences of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, who are currently on Gold Cup duty with the USA and Canada, respectively. To edge things a little more toward impossible, star playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo – who has five goals and five assists in 13 MLS appearances so far –could only manage the second half after a team-approved hiatus in his native Spain. His introduction did little to improve Toronto’s prospects.

Dominique Badji had FC Dallas 1-0 up by half-time, while his brace of goals came either side of Brazilian centre-back Bressan’s first-ever MLS goal, heading in a Michael Barrios corner. Toronto were only able to muster two shots on target throughout the match and were outpassed by their hosts 516-389.

FC Dallas have been quietly impressive so far this season and sit fourth in the Western Conference, while Toronto FC’s promising start seems a distant memory having now gone eight games without a win – a run which sees them clinging onto a playoff spot thanks only to their superior goal difference over Chicago Fire.

Strong Gold Cup start continues for USMNT

There’s a lot of apathy surrounding the USA men’s team at the moment due to the failure to qualify for the World Cup, embarrassing defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela, and some questionable tactics. They’ve been through the whole spectrum recently.

However, at least they’ve kicked off their 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup campaign in style. 4-0 and 6-0 wins – albeit over minnows Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago – have fired USMNT into the knock-out stages with a group game to spare.

Columbus Crew striker Gyasi Zardes – who is perpetually at the centre of a top-class vs overrated debate – has three goals in two games, while new Chelsea star Christian Pulisic got himself off the mark in the second-half against Trinidad and Tobago.

That 6-0 win will also go a long way to healing the scars of the 2-1 defeat to the Caribbean nation in 2017 which denied them a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

SKC road win comes at a further cost

Peter Vermes really has his work cut out at Sporting Kansas City at the moment. Heading into their tie away at Columbus Crew in the final MLS game of the weekend, the 52-year-old had Erik Hurtado, Roger Espinoza, Jaylin Lindsey, Rodney Wallace, Gianluca Busio and Jimmy Medranda all injured. Matt Besler barely made the starting XI after struggling with a back injury, while Botond Barath and Johnny Russell both missed out due to international duty, meaning SKC could only name six substitutes.

Somehow, they managed to overcome a Crew side who themselves were missing the likes of Zardes and Will Trap, as well as goalkeeper Zack Steffen who recently departed for Manchester City, sealing a narrow 1-0 win thanks to a second-half Felipe Gutiérrez goal.

It was haphazard – a run of just one win in 16 games across all competitions absolutely sapping their confidence – with SKC constantly playing themselves into trouble at the back and having to rely on some Tim Melia heroics in goal, but they got the job done.

What will worry Vermes, though, is that the win came at another cost to his squad, with Besler succumbing to that back injury and full-back Graham Zusi limping off toward the end. With the injury list growing even longer, it might be a while until we see another SKC win.

Every MLS result this weekend:

FC Cincinnati 0-2 LA Galaxy

Chicago Fire 1-1 Real Salt Lake

FC Dallas 3-0 Toronto FC

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-2 Colorado Rapids

Portland Timbers 4-0 Houston Dynamo

Columbus Crew 0-1 Sporting Kansas City