Rivalry Week in MLS is a special time. Chaos wrapped in pandemonium served with a side of unpredictability. The best sides find a way to rise above the volatility, to keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs. Rivalry week separates the wheat from the chaff, and MLS Matchday 14 embodied that.
5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 14
#1. Philadelphia is back to prioritizing MLS
Jim Curtin and his side made it abundantly clear at the beginning of their continental campaign. They were going to prioritize the CONCACAF Champions League and potentially sacrifice some early-season MLS results.
That's exactly what transpired, at least until the beginning of May. On May 2, the Union were eliminated from the CCL at the hands of LAFC and then a week later, Minnesota United beat Philadelphia on penalties to knock them out of the U.S. Open Cup as well.
I asked Jim Curtin "How can a win like this against one of the top teams in the conference help the #Union going forward for the rest of season?" #Philadelphia #Union #MLS #PHIvNE @PhilaUnion @EOPsports @DS_Podcast19 pic.twitter.com/pGoGU51xPT— Diego Bianchi (@Diegob390) May 21, 2023
In that time, the Union’s priorities have changed and so have their results. Three of their six wins have come since May 6, with their most recent win over New England proving their biggest haul yet.
Gazdag add 2 more goals to his account! #DOOP pic.twitter.com/duMkmVQjzF— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) May 21, 2023
The Revs entered the game second in the Eastern Conference and Philly absolutely battered them. Two goals for Dániel Gazdag and one for Julián Carranza marked a night that should spur this team on to make a run to challenge Cincinnati.
#2. Hell Is Real, and for the Crew, it’s Cincinnati
As the Crew took the 100-mile drive along Interstate 71 to Columbus they will have been reminded that hell is real, and thankfully, they just left. Their in-state rival which once was naught, has grown up overnight.
#FCCincy beats Columbus 3-2 in front of another sold out ELECTRIC crowd to stay undefeated at TQL and in 1st place #HellIsRealThis SQUAD is LEGIT pic.twitter.com/k3EMkko2yQ
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) May 21, 2023
Two quick goals for Cincinnati set the tone for the derby and reflected the gap between the two sides in the table, but as it does in Rivalry Week, chaos ensued. Lucas Zelarayán and Malte Amundsen scored to level the match before Júnior Moreno won it for the home side.
Lucho Acosta takes advantage of the keeper napping.And Júnior Moreno puts @fccincinnati back ahead, 3-2. pic.twitter.com/u80RNp9raC
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 21, 2023
#AllForCincy are for real. pic.twitter.com/JQbxnvTvP4— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 21, 2023
Cincinnati’s rise has been meteoric. From MLS bottom feeders for three straight years to the playoffs and now Supporters’ Shield leaders after 14 matchdays. This tremendous growth is significant and unprecedented, but for Columbus, it's a nightmare.
#3. Orlando’s away form defies logic
What makes a house a home? For MLS teams, the houses come in lots of shapes and sizes. From purpose-built stadiums to MLB ballparks, the one constant is support and usually a home-field advantage. For a few sides this season, that narrative has been flipped on its head, as points seem impossible to pick up at home.
Orlando’s season to date makes no sense. They are dead last in the East when playing at home, but on the road, Óscar Pareja’s side leads the conference with 11 points and has the highest goal differential.
Kara with the pass. Ojeda with the finish.Class all around for #OrlandoCity pic.twitter.com/hCvbWjCQDS
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 21, 2023
During this stretch of road games, Orlando’s opponents included Philadelphia, Columbus and Inter Miami while at Exploria Stadium, Pareja and his team beat the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, tied Cincinnati and NYCFC but lost to Charlotte, Nashville and DC United for a total of eight points.
LETS PLAY EVERY GAME AWAY FROM HOME #VamosOrlando https://t.co/yE9tspCXJP— Michael (@MikenIke13) April 16, 2023
Last season, Orlando was much closer to the average both home and away, so this is not a remnant of the past. This is a dangerous habit that was picked up this season and Orlando’s not alone. Minnesota United has earned twice as many points on the road this season as it has at home, though it should be noted that the Loons have played three more away games at this point.
The Legend of Hlongwane.#PORvMIN | #MNUFC pic.twitter.com/pmbCzhU0ww— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) May 21, 2023
These teams should be careful as points at home need to be picked up. MLS clubs rarely earn more points away from home and go on to both qualify for the playoffs and make a deep run. It’s called home for a reason. It shouldn’t be easy for opponents to come in and win, so hopefully, for the fans’ sake, both Orlando and Minnesota address their issues.
#4. Chicago shows renewed fight under its new manager, but old habits remain
In what was the game of the week, Atlanta United and Chicago exchanged blows for 90 minutes on the shores of Lake Michigan. Six lead changes and two red cards, back and forth before both sides were sent home with a point a piece in a 3-3 draw. For both teams, however, it could have and probably should have been more.
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) May 21, 2023
Headlined and spurred on by World Cup winner Thiago Almada, Atlanta took an early lead after the match’s first sending-off. From there, Chicago equalized and took the lead despite being down to ten men.
BOOM. GIAKOUMAKIS!!! pic.twitter.com/65hbiVtTwB— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) May 21, 2023
Giorgos Giakoumakis entered the fray at half-time and made his presence felt, almost immediately. He equalized from close range before a perfectly timed run allowed him to restore Atlanta’s lead.
The Equalizer (2023)Starring Georgios Koutsias. #cf97pic.twitter.com/Hx6HBTIPpK
— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) May 21, 2023
Down a man and a goal, Chicago’s hopes of upsetting its high-flying visitors appeared to be dashed, but a red card for Atlanta leveled the playing field and for the final 20 minutes, Chicago was allowed to push for the goal it so desperately wanted. At the very death, 19-year-old substitute, Georgios Koutsias, stepped up and delivered the third and final equalizer to give the Fire a hard-fought point against difficult opposition.
The Fire should take note of how positive everyone is after the Fire gave up 3 goals, and dropped two points, at home.The fans haven’t been asking for perfection. They’ve been asking for a team that will fight for a result. The team fought for this result tonight. #cf97
— Michael “Hoops” Gonzalez (@mikegonzalez) May 21, 2023
Avoiding mediocrity can be exhausting. Fresh off the buzz a new manager brings to a team, the Fire has found a way to return to where it was before Frank Klopas took the reigns. Growth takes effort, but Chicago appears to be married to stagnation. Consistent disappointment robs the soul of hope and kills any chance of progression.
Sometimes, there is no greener grass, just more grass. For Chicago, Soldier Field has been all grass and no hope for years, and despite the new coach and new outward ambitions that came with him, it will likely be that way for the foreseeable future.
#5. Seattle’s struggles of late
It feels unfair to pick on this Seattle team given the injury problems they are facing, but this turnaround can be ignored no longer. The Sounders were one of the league’s hottest teams for the first part of the season, but have been hit with some injuries and now look a shell of their former selves.
Pathetic#Sounders | #VANvSEA pic.twitter.com/kDmCIeuktm— Rave Green TV (@RaveGreenTV) May 21, 2023
Brian Schmetzer and his side have one win in their last five games and have lost three, scoring just three goals in that time. It’s also worth mentioning that Seattle has now lost to both Portland and Vancouver and sits dead last in the Cascadia Cup.
Look who's back atop the West. pic.twitter.com/yMANzd9Ipk— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 21, 2023
These rivalry games mean so much, especially to the fans in Seattle, so the Sounders will need to get back on track by the time the Timbers come to town on June 3.
The quality is there. Jordan Morris who began the season so well has gone into hiding and hasn’t found the back of the net since April 1 when he scored against the LA Galaxy. Along with him, Fredy Montero, Nicolás Lodeiro and Léo Chú need to step up and find their shooting boots if they want to keep the pressure on both their Cascadia Cup rivals and LAFC at the top of the table.