It isn’t often that an entire round of games goes against the run of play, but it certainly felt that way over the weekend in Major League Soccer.
Teams that dominated in every category except for the most important one lost, as a couple of underdogs sprung surprises and MLS’s standard home-team hegemony was broken for a couple of days at least.
Despite being outshot 26-9 and possessing the ball for just 26 percent of the game, D.C. United emerged from Bobby Dodd Stadium as 3-1 winners over Atlanta United. This one was almost comically one-sided – DCU barely emerged out of its own half of a tilted field but seemed to find the net every time it did.
The visitors were mercilessly efficient on the counter. In contrast to the disparity in overall shots, D.C. actually finished with as many shots on goal (seven) as Atlanta did. Even after giving up an early goal, DCU patiently picked its spots. Lamar Neagle forced Michael Parkhurst into a game-tying own goal 25 minutes in, and Luciano Acosta and Sebastian Le Toux both struck later on. Tata Martino’s men kept banging on the door until the very end, but to no avail.
The result again exposed Atlanta’s biggest weaknesses. This group plays more attractive soccer than just about any expansion team in MLS history. But defensive solidity and having a ruthless edge are both open questions for a team that would otherwise be an Eastern Conference frontrunner.
It was a similar story between the New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders in the Pacific Northwest – at least until the hosts saved face with a furious late comeback.
New England had just 25 percent of the ball in the first half but nevertheless took a 2-0 lead into the break. The Revs, too, were drastically outshot, but they, too, were more efficient with their opportunities and actually managed to put more on frame until Seattle’s last-minute rally.
The defending champs scored three times in the final 15 minutes to salvage a 3-3 draw, but New England’s early flurry earned it a road point most would have thought unlikely at the outset.
Toronto was outshot 19-10 yet defeated the Houston Dynamo 2-0 via a business-like performance at BMO Field. And in a slightly bizarre Canadian derby, the Vancouver Whitecaps won their first road game of 2017 despite the Montreal Impact nearly doubling up the ‘Caps in shots. Montreal might have come within one win of MLS Cup last season, but it looks to be in serious trouble this time around.
Some other observations from the ninth week of MLS action:
He needed a T.O., baby
Revs coach Jay Heaps, who played basketball under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, couldn’t help but slip into basketball jargon when discussing New England’s late-game collapse at CenturyLink Field. This ended up as just about the least satisfactory 3-3 draw for both sides in soccer history.
“We’re gutted in there,” Heaps said afterward. “We had it in our hands. We let two points slip away. That said, it’s good for rallying. It’s tough to come here. We focus on the positive, but we have to correct the negative. This is one of those where I think we’ll spend a lot of time reviewing it.
“It’s not going to be something we can forget, because there were so many little things in the game that, if we could have called a 20-second timeout, I felt like we could have corrected them. Are we allowed to get those, 20-second timeouts?”
Speaking of unsatisfactory results
The Philadelphia Union will certainly take the point, but a scoreless draw in Southern California is unlikely to dramatically raise the spirits of either the Union or the LA Galaxy.
Los Angeles is now 1-3-1 at the StubHub Center this season and sits second-to-last in the Western Conference. Philly remains the final winless team in MLS and is joined in the league basement on four points by defending Western Conference finalist Colorado.
My favorite, often-overlooked MLS rivalry
Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake don’t make much sense as enemies in a geographical sense, but these teams do not like each other. The enmity dates to a brawl during a preseason match prior to the 2011 season, and it was ratcheted up after Sporting won MLS Cup at RSL’s expense on home turf in 2013.
The animosity returned Saturday at Children’s Mercy Park. So, rest assured, SKC relished twisting the boot into a struggling Salt Lake in a 3-0 win, with Gerso adding insult to injury with the final goal five minutes into stoppage time.
Best of the West
The Portland Timbers maintained their status atop the West with a hard-fought 2-2 draw at FC Dallas. The Timbers could have reasonably expected more, as well, having twice taken the lead before letting FCD battle back. Portland might occupy the top spot, but Dallas is still the last unbeaten in MLS.
Orlando City, of all teams, leads the Supporters’ Shield standings, and Jason Kreis’ Lions don’t show any signs of cooling off anytime soon. Star striker Cyle Larin has deservedly earned most of the plaudits, but a defense that leads the East in goals against also deserves some credit.
Goal of the Week
Andrew Jacobson, Vancouver Whitecaps.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) April 29, 2017
Volleys off half-cleared corner kicks are among my favorite goals in soccer, and Jacobson certainly hit this one sweetly.
Games to watch
• Wednesday: Orlando City at Toronto FC (7:30 p.m. ET on TSN, MLS Live, TV27).
• Wednesday: New York Red Bulls at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 p.m. ET on MLS Live, Fox Sports KC, MSG).
• Saturday: Toronto FC at Seattle Sounders (3 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Matt Pentz covers Major League Soccer for FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.