The Major League Soccer regular season is quickly approaching the end, and some teams are fighting to secure top-four finishes, while others are hoping to get above the playoff line. Every game just matters more now regardless of the opponent.
Losing the past three games while scoring only a pair of goals had the Black and Gold feeling like they were in a slump. It’s not up to par for the lofty standards they’ve set in Los Angeles. Saturday’s El Trafico was the ideal opportunity to stop the noise or fall deeper into the rut. As games against the rival Galaxy typically go, there were many goals, but LAFC prevailed 4-2 at home to ease up some of the pressure.
“It’s like riding a bike — the qualities that the players have, they don’t go away,” head coach Steve Cherundolo said after the win. “Sometimes you get a flat tire but it’s easy to fix.”
There are still many ways LAFC can get sharper as the playoffs approach. Are they as good as last year’s MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield winning team? Probably not. But now that they got a big win, confidence doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“We feel like we can still beat any team in this league and that we’re the team to beat in this league,” Ryan Hollingshead said.
When Atlanta United played Inter Miami on July 25 in Lionel Messi’s second game, it wasn’t pretty for the Five Stripes. But that was the Leagues Cup and also a completely different Atlanta team.
Saturday’s chance at revenge, at the expense of beloved former coach and player Gerardo “Tata” Martino and Josef Martínez, was perfect. With Miami stealing all the headlines due to its splash summer acquisitions, Atlanta flew under the radar despite also making some major moves. Those were on full display in the 5-2 thrashing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium where newcomers Xande Silva, Tristan Muyumba and Saba Lobjanidze played major roles with goals and assists. Not only have the additions hit the ground running, they also allow Atlanta’s mastermind, Thiago Almada, to play more freely and create danger.
Atlanta United’s Tristan Muyumba celebrates with defender Brooks Lennon (11) after scoring a goal during the first half of an MLS match against Inter Miami on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The person who deserves a lot of credit here is president and CEO Garth Lagerwey. When he was brought in following a CONCACAF Champions League title in Seattle, it was simply to restore that winning culture that seemed to have escaped in ATL. He’s done an excellent job of filling out the roster around Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis, who is tied for the Golden Boot lead with 14 goals. This is starting to feel familiar again for the Five Stripes, and if they are able to secure some home-field advantage for the playoffs, good luck to the rest of the East.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to overlook a team that’s in second place, but that’s what’s happening with Orlando City. Four wins in their last five games and Orlando is suddenly toward the top of a packed Eastern Conference. Those standings will fluctuate a bunch over the next few weeks, but the form Óscar Pareja’s team is in right now has them looking like a force. They were trailing Columbus 3-1 with just 20 minutes left and Facundo Torres helped turn things around in what ended up being a wild 4-3 win. Resilience is the word for the Lions, who are now just eight points shy of Supporters’ Shield leaders FC Cincinnati. There’s one Florida team garnering most of the attention while they fight for the playoffs, but it’s the other we should really be talking about.
Trying to describe what has transpired for the Revs over the past few weeks is impossible. Bruce Arena, the man who was given the keys to run the organization a few years ago, was forced to resign due to an internal issue and investigation we don’t know much about. Richie Williams, who was supposed to fill in as the interim, ended up getting pushed to the side after the messy handling of this spat and is instead taking some time off. Enter Clint Peay, who was coaching the Revs’ MLS NEXT Pro team.
It’s a disaster in Foxborough, but the only way to push forward is to play and hope that helps with some of the distraction. Saturday was supposed to be that against the worst team in the league, Colorado, which just fired its head coach. Instead, the Revs ended up losing 2-1 to make matters worse.
New England Revolution coach Bruce Arena and assistant coach Richie Williams discuss strategy during a game versus the Philadelphia Union on May 28, 2022, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images).
This is a team that months ago had Cup and Shield aspirations. A few key injuries, the sale of goalkeeper Đorđe Petrović and now this turmoil has New England in a dire situation. A fall from grace might be putting it lightly. I don’t want to believe the locker room is in such shambles that they can go from being in the No. 2 spot to completely missing the playoffs, but looking ahead and seeing Columbus, Orlando, Nashville and Philadelphia as the final four opponents to close out the season … yikes.
The exact opposite of what’s happening in Orlando is what RSL is going through right now. They were being talked about as one of the best teams in the West until an unfortunate injury to Pablo Ruiz seemed to drastically shift everything.
RSL has conceded 14 goals over the past six games, including a pair in Saturday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose.
Those good vibes from the summer signings are seemingly nowhere to be found as they’ve won only one out of the last five games since being ousted from Leagues Cup. Timing couldn’t be any worse either as those teams fighting for playoff spots in the West are not so distant anymore.
Some fans in Atlanta
Attendance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is never an issue. It’s a football stadium known for hosting big events and notable MLS moments. Saturday was slated to be one of those with Messi and friends heading into town.
Then late Friday night reports surfaced saying Messi wasn’t going to travel with the team, followed by his controversial Instagram post of a “pizza” from a local spot in South Florida, basically confirming himself that he wasn’t in Georgia. When Miami’s lineup came out Saturday it was also revealed that Jordi Alba wasn’t on the team sheet either. Messi and friends became Sergio Busquets and others — and while that included a homecoming for Tata and Josef, it isn’t quite what fans paid or traveled hours for.
Messi mania giveth, Messi mania taketh.