Football Features

MLS: Carlos Vela matches Josef Martinez record and USMNT legends bid farewell

By Chris Smith

MLS-weekly-round-up-playoffs

Published: 19:03, 1 October 2019

The penultimate week of the MLS regular season has come and gone and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

We had history in the making, trophies being lifted and some huge implications with the play-offs now just around the corner.

Decision Day is up next, so, before all that, here’s the best of the action from week 30.

1. Vela ties record and lifts first-ever club trophy

The debate regarding 2019’s MVP ended a long time ago.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been ruthless, Josef Martinez has dragged Atlanta United to another two trophies and another high placing in the East and Maxi Moralez has been the glue in a very impressive NYCFC side.

Other honourable mentions such as Alejandro Pozuelo, Haris Medunjanin and Ike Opara have all had strong seasons.

But let’s face it, Carlos Vela is quite rightly going to win it.

The Mexican curled in a fine equaliser for LAFC against Minnesota United on Sunday to take him to 31 regular-season goals, tying the league record set by Martinez last season. Sure, nine of those strikes have been from the penalty spot, but almost every other one has been a goal of sublime quality, while he also has 10 assists to his name so far – the third-highest number in the league.

That rounded off another great week for Vela, who sealed his and LAFC’s first-ever piece of club silverware on Wednesday, beating the Houston Dynamo 3-1 to wrap up the Supporters’ Shield.

Now it’s down to decision day to see if Vela can hold off Ibrahimovic in the Golden Boot race and break Martinez’s record, while the Black and Gold themselves can set a new MLS single-season points record with a final-day win over Colorado Rapids.

2. Zlatan keeps pace in Golden Boot race

While LAFC were busy hoisting a trophy and chasing down records, LA Galaxy decided to show us all just how vulnerable they still are heading into the play-offs.

Goals from Ibrahimovic and Argentina international Cristian Pavon saw them to a handy 2-1 win away at fellow play-off side Real Salt Lake, but they followed that up with a shock 4-3 defeat at home to Western Conference bottom dwellers Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday.

The Galaxy levelled three times during a thrilling encounter, but the Whitecaps proved far too quick on the break and sealed the three points in the 93rd minute thanks to a goal from Michaell Chirinos.

On the bright side, Ibrahimovic got himself onto the scoresheet for the 29th time this season, ensuring that he still has a sniff of a chance at catching Vela in the Golden Boot race, while he’s also keeping himself finely tuned for the Galaxy’s play-off run.

3. NYCFC seal landmark first piece of silverware

LAFC weren’t the only team to land their first piece of silverware in week 30 as NYCFC clinched the Eastern Conference title, finally given them something to display in their trophy cabinet and sealing their spot in the 2020 Concacaf Champions League.

Dome Torrent’s men dismantled defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United 4-1 at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday with Alexandru Mitriță particularly impressive in taking the Five Stripes apart.

Although they weren’t able to follow that up with another victory – falling 2-0 away at New England Revolution – the Blues were still able to celebrate their title on Sunday thanks to Philadelphia Union’s 2-0 defeat to Columbus Crew.

That loss to the Revs was just the sixth of the season for NYCFC. Only LAFC (4) have lost fewer games than that throughout MLS and with Heber returning to back up Mitriță, Moralez et al, they really are the team to beat in the East heading into the play-offs.

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4. FC Cincinnati break unwanted record in bizarre fashion

It’s been a tough old debut season in MLS for FC Cincinnati.

The Ohio side made a decent start, taking seven points from their first four games and even managing a draw away at defending champions Atlanta United.

Since then, though, it’s been one disaster after another, with 22 defeats from 33 games so far, just six wins and Alan Koch only lasting until May 7 as head coach.

Arguably the most embarrassing moment of the lot, though, came during their 1-1 draw at home to Orlando City on Sunday.

Cincy had actually kept two clean sheets in three games before that fixture and looked to be finding some semblance of defensive solidity, maybe even staving off that MLS goals conceded record.

But no, Benji Michael’s 91st-minute equaliser for Orlando made it a miserable 75 conceded for the season, breaking the previous record set just last term by, yes, Orlando.

5. Goalkeeping legends ready to bow out

Sunday night saw two American goalkeeping giants make their home farewells: Tim Howard and Nick Rimando.

Of course, those more unfamiliar with MLS will be well aware of Howard’s exploits across the Atlantic, where he kept 132 clean sheets in 399 Premier League games for Manchester United and Everton combined, while that 2014 World Cup performance against Belgium for the USA will go down in history.

He pulled on his gloves at Colorado Rapids’ Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the final time during their 3-0 win over FC Dallas on Sunday – the clean sheet will please the 40-year-old even more – and looks set to make his final appearance as a professional footballer away to LAFC this weekend.

Rimando’s home farewell for Real Salt Lake is arguably even more poignant. The 40-year-old has 22 caps for the USMNT himself, as well as an incredible 519 club appearances in all competitions for Miami Fusion, DC United and RSL combined, dating all the way back to 2000.

A winner of two Supporters’ Shields and two MLS Cups – as well as winning the MLS Save of the Year award in 2012 and 2013 and being named the league MVP in 2009 – Rimando has been an incredible presence between the sticks, keeping more clean sheets and playing more minutes than any other player in league history. He has one more regular-season game to go, where RSL could still clinch a home tie in the play-offs and Rimando himself could add to his incredible records.

Either way, Sunday’s 2-1 win over Houston Dynamo was a fitting send-off for a true MLS legend.

MLS Decision Day: Five things to look out for…

  • Carlos Vela could beat Josef Martinez’s single-season goalscoring record.
  • He and Ibrahimovic will also go head-to-head for the Golden Boot.
  • LAFC can set a new league single-season points record if they beat the Rapids.
  • Portland, FC Dallas, San Jose and Colorado are all chasing the final two Western Conference play-off spots.
  • If LAFC, NYCFC or Atlanta win MLS Cup, the team with the next-highest points total will take the final CCL spot: Philadelphia (55), Seattle (53), Minnesota (53).

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