There are now just two weeks to go in the regular season and the race for the MLS play-offs is hotting up.
There are still plenty of teams in both conferences battling it out to make it to the post-season and take their shot at MLS Cup glory.
But week 29 was arguably overshadowed by a horrendous moment for Atlanta United’s record chaser, Josef Martinez.
And so, let’s get straight into the best of the action….
1. Josef’s world-record attempt ends in the worst possible way
Josef Martinez scored two absolutely wonderful goals in Atlanta United’s 2-0 win over FC Cincinnati on Thursday to take his scoring streak to a quite ridiculous 15 games. Just six away from Lionel Messi’s 21-game world-record run.
The beautiful game brought to you by #ATLUTD ?
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) September 19, 2019
History looked to be beckoning for arguably the greatest goalscorer MLS has ever seen but on Saturday, we saw just what a cruel mistress football can be.
The Five Stripes’ 3-1 home win over San Jose should have been a cause for celebration, with a home tie in the play-offs secured as a result. However, Atlanta fans left the ground deflated and somewhat fearing for the reigning champions’ chances in those play-offs.
Just 10 minutes from time, Martinez collided with his team-mate and namesake, Pity Martinez, and – right away – something didn’t seem right.
Injury to Josef Martinez in today’s match. Appears to get foot trapped under his body as he falls. No words for how this impacts the MLS golden boot race or the MLS playoffs… pic.twitter.com/kNHBWtyLXw
— TheSoccerForrest (@soccer_forrest) September 22, 2019
A lengthy delay followed as Martinez was hauled to the side of the pitch visibly upset and fearing a serious knee injury. The extent of the problem is yet to be revealed by Atlanta United but all the signs point to Martinez missing the play-offs, seriously hampering his side’s chances of retaining their title.
This is not how such a historic run should end.
MLS 2019 Golden Boot race:
Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 29
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy) – 27
Josef Martinez (Atlanta United) – 26
Diego Rossi (LAFC) – 15
2. Timbers’ home woes continue
After the initial bounce the Portland Timbers felt upon returning to their renovated home at Providence Park, few could have foreseen just how bad their home form would become.
The Timbers played out another 0-0 draw on home soil against Minnesota United on Sunday and although it was an entertaining affair – with the two sides having 49 shots combined, the most in a MLS match (including play-offs) since 2010 – the shutout now takes them to three whole games without a goal on their own patch.
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) September 22, 2019
Even more worryingly given that two of their final three games are at Providence Park is that this draw now means Giovanni Savarese’s men have won just two of their last seven games at home, scoring a measly four goals along the way.
Providence Park has one of the best atmospheres around in MLS and has an old-fashioned charm unlike almost every other stadium in the United States. If the Timbers are to win out in this incredibly tight race of the play-offs, they simply must return it to the fortress it once was in these final games of the regular season.
3. LAFC stumble continues as play-offs approach
For long stretches of this season, LAFC have been on course to become the best regular-season MLS side of all time. Bob Bradley’s men have torn almost everything in front of them apart with their ruthlessly aggressive press and the goalscoring exploits of Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.
Let’s just say they’ve somewhat stumbled of late. Given that it took a 95th-minute Vela penalty to draw level at 1-1 with Toronto FC on Sunday, LAFC will probably gladly take a point but, still, that now makes it five games without a win since they stuffed California rivals San Jose 4-0 in August.
Their play-off place is already assured and the Supporters Shield will become the first addition to their trophy cabinet. However, whether their XI is at full strength or under pumped, teams seem to have worked them out.
The opposition now play bravely through their press and exploit the space left once they safely navigate through it. Defenders have worked out how to somewhat negate their unique passing rhythms and combinations.
LAFC are still huge favourites heading into the play-offs and that needs stating. However, Bradley really needs to use these final few regular-season games to work on a Plan B. The legacy of this incredible side might just hinge upon it.
MLS 2019 top assist providers
Carles Gil (New England Revs) – 12
Michael Barrios (FC Dallas) – 12
Maxi Moralez (NYCFC) – 11
Carlos Vela (LAFC) – 10
Nicolas Gaitan (Chicago Fire) – 10
4. One play-off place up for grabs in the East
We’re starting to get a little clarity in the Eastern Conference as we head into the final weeks of the regular season. Six teams – NYCFC, Atlanta United, Philadelphia Union, DC United, New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC – have now secured their play-off spot, leaving just one final position to play for.
But that’s where it once again becomes as clear as mud. Although New England Revolution currently hold that spot, sitting three points clear of Chicago Fire with a game in hand, there is still another two sides in with a decent chance of snagging that last play-off spot: Montreal Impact and Orlando City. Columbus Crew are now out of the running in everything but Einstein-esque mathematics.
Only one spot left in the East… ? pic.twitter.com/nU6xHJYcw3
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 23, 2019
Sure, Orlando and Montreal are off form, but so are the Revs and the Fire. It almost seems like none of the four actually want to be a part of the off-season. The Revs have now gone four games without a win having drawn 0-0 with Real Salt Lake at the weekend, while the Fire drew with bottom side FC Cincinnati by the same scoreline (screenshot this, 0-0 draws don’t come around this often in MLS).
A run-in of Portland Timbers (A), NYCFC (H) and Atlanta United (A) for the Revs is arguably the hardest remaining of any MLS side and means that even with their points advantage, Bruce Arena’s men are anything but safe in the East.
5. Wild West
So, you thought things were tight in the East? Time to get your calculators out as things are impossibly close in the West.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his 27th goal of the season to help LA Galaxy to a 2-1 win over Montreal Impact on Sunday, making it two wins on the spin for his side and lifting them to fourth in the West. But, guess what? They’re still not safe.
So many spots up for grabs in the West! ? pic.twitter.com/rk0tnGVAtu
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) September 23, 2019
Third-placed Minnesota United and 11th-placed Sporting KC are separated by just 12 points and any of the teams in between the pair can still sneak in or fall out of the play-off spots.
The Timbers are useless at home, the Galaxy are incredibly one-dimensional and FC Dallas seem to switch their defence on and off for their own entertainment as much as anything else.
In truth, who will make it in the West is down to the toss of a coin at this point. It’s all geared towards another huge ‘decision day’ at the end of the regular season.