Monday Postgame: MLS teams get fast & loose in Week 16
The goals came early and often this week, as MLS teams hit the back of the net 52 times in 15 matches. Make that very early and often: Seven of the games on the slate featured goals within the first 10 minutes - and five had openers in the first five minutes.
In addition to those statistical oddities, Week 16 produced a rare showcase of quantity and quality, as all but one of the 15 matches generated real sparks. There were top-of-the-table thrillers, dramatic comebacks and tense, physical contests.
There were also stoppage-time heroics, shock results, and a return to form by the defending champs.
Let’s roll it back.
Among the week’s most anticipated match-ups were the battles for first between Real Salt Lake and San Jose Earthquakes in the West, and D.C. United and New York Read Bulls in the East. Both games lived up to their billing for sheer drama, and both produced a change at the top of the standings.
At a sold-out Red Bull Arena on Sunday night, D.C. striker Chris Pontius scored the fastest goal in his club’s history, meeting Danny Cruz’s cross at the near post to put the visitors up 1-0 just 30 seconds into the match. It looked like United were on their way to reproducing their 4-1 rout of New York from April.
WATCH: Barklage slams volley home
But as quickly as Pontius opened the scoring, New York regrouped and took over the game. The Red Bulls controlled 63 per cent of possession in the first half and got two stunning goals from right fullback Brandon Barklage - who was waived by D.C. last winter - to take a 2-1 lead into the break.
Jan Gunnar Solli put New York ahead 3-1 early in the second half, but they still had to defend desperately down the stretch, as Pontius struck again in the 66th minute and the visitors pushed for the equalizer.
They never got it, and New York, which tied Vancouver 1-1 on Wednesday, won 3-2 to draw even on points with United at the top of the Eastern Conference.
On Saturday, San Jose travelled to Rio Tinto Stadium riding the momentum of a dramatic 2-1 win over Colorado Rapids three days earlier. The Quakes’ Alan Gordon had forced an 83rd-minute own-goal out of Rapids defender Hunter Freeman, then drew a controversial penalty, which Chris Wondolowski put away in stoppage time to seal the comeback victory.
Gordon produced more of the same against RSL, heading home a goal against the run of play in the 75th minute, and then - after Javier Morales equalized for the hosts with a deadly free kick - helping set up Wondolowski’s 84th-minute winner.
The substitute striker headed Justin Morrow’s throw-in to Wondo, who surprised RSL keeper Nick Rimando with a deft backheel from six yards.
It was Wondolowski’s league-leading 13th goal of the year, and it vaulted San Jose past the hosts - who dominated the game - and into first place in the West with a 10W-3L-3D record.
Rose City Reckoning
Seattle Sounders FC sit just eight points behind San Jose in the West, but their struggles continued to mount this week.
WATCH: Timbers react to huge win
First they tied Sporting Kansas City 1-1 in a chippy affair last Wednesday (there were 30 fouls and a red card to Seattle midfielder Álvaro Fernández), then they lost 2-1 to Cascadia Cup rivals Portland Timbers in an even feistier match-up on Sunday at JELD-WEN Field.
The two results extended Sounders FC's winless streak to a club-record seven games, and increased the questions swirling around Sigi Schmid’s men.
John Spencer’s men got first-half goals from Kris Boyd and David Horst, then held on after Eddie Johnson pulled one back for Seattle with a beautiful curling effort to the far corner in the 58th minute.
The Timbers were shaky down the stretch - when things got heated and both Fredy Montero and Lovel Palmer received red cards - but they saw out the huge rivalry win and, if the local press is to be believed, saved Spencer’s job.
Despite all those big wins, no team had a better week than LA.
Last Wednesday, led by Landon Donovan’s two goals and an assist, the Galaxy rallied from 2-0 down to stun RSL 3-2 on the road, and on Saturday, they exploded for three first-half goals to rock Vancouver 3-0 at home.
Donovan scored one goal and set up another in that one (he also missed two breakaways), and the Galaxy nailed down their third win in seven days. After a slow start, they’ve moved into fifth place in the West with a 6W-8L-2D record.
Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC would love to make a similar climb up the standings in the East, and they both turned in improved results this round under their new coaches.
The Union produced the shock result of the week, blowing out last year’s Eastern Conference finalists Sporting Kansas City 4-0 on Saturday night. Philly’s Jack McInerney opened the scoring in the first minute and added another in the 42nd before Lionard Pajoy and Antoine Hoppenot completed the rout.
WATCH: Tierney stuns TFC late
In Toronto, Reds Academy product Ashtone Morgan set up Danny Koevermans for a fourth-minute goal against New England Revolution, then did the same for Ryan Johnson on a nearly identical play just before halftime.
Unfortunately for TFC fans, the Reds couldn’t hold on: the Revolution ratcheted up the pressure in the second half and got goals from Blake Brettschneider and Chris Tierney (in the fourth minute of stoppage time) to tie it 2-2.
It was the second straight game that TFC had surrendered a two-goal lead: Last Wednesday, they tied Houston Dynamo 3-3, conceding a pair of late goals to Will Bruin after taking a 3-1 lead.
Home Sweet Home
In Montreal, Sanna Nyassi extended the week’s run of early goals with a fourth-minute strike against Houston to kick-start an eventual 4-2 win for the Impact, their second consecutive four-goal win at their new home.
The Impact were bouncing back from a 2-1 midweek defeat to Chivas USA, who got goals from Alejandro Moreno and Juan Pablo Ángel to cancel out Felipe Martins' 42nd-minute opener. The Rojiblancos couldn’t duplicate that form on Saturday, when they played to a 0-0 stalemate with cellar-dwellers FC Dallas.
Last, but far from least, Chicago Fire won their second straight, holding off Columbus Crew 2-1, despite going down to 10 men in the 29th minute.
Marco Pappa opened the scoring in — wait for it — the second minute, launching a right-footed tracer past Crew keeper Andy Gruenebaum from 22 yards.