Major League Soccer is bound by parity and married to the chaos that comes with it. With late goals, monumental upsets and high-scoring affairs, Matchday 8 was one for the books.
5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 8
#1. Anything can happen in Cascadia
The best rivalry in MLS never disappoints. 136 meetings dating back to 1975 give this match a level of history unlike anything else in American soccer. When Portland and Seattle face off, fans are reminded to expect the unexpected and throw form out the window, as evenings in the Northern Pacific come with chaos standard.
Portland has struggled all season, winning just one of their first seven games while Seattle’s campaign could hardly have started better. 16 points from their first seven matches put the Sounders amongst the likely MLS Cup contenders alongside last year’s champions LAFC and high-flying expansion side St. Louis City, who we’ll discuss later. This massive gulf in class should have seen the reigning CONCACAF Champions League winners run riot over their bitter rivals, but fate had other plans.
Dairon Asprilla brought out the bicycle. pic.twitter.com/gXyPBl62Aj— Major League Soccer (@MLS) April 16, 2023
Seattle took the lead after an even, back-and-forth hour of play at Providence Park through Raúl Ruidíaz. However, a tactical change by Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer preceded a capitulation of unfathomable proportion. Portland equalized with just under 20 minutes left to play thanks to a spectacular scissor-kick and then followed it up with three additional goals to complete Seattle’s humiliation.
“It’s not another loss. It’s against the Timbers. We have to get back to understanding that this is a rivalry.” Schmetzer on what he says to the team after the loss— Defensa y Boosticia (@timostlundfoss) April 16, 2023
This is no doubt a blip in the road for the Sounders en route to a successful season but these games against Portland are different. In his post-game press conference, Schmetzer reminded fans of this harsh reality and said: “It’s not another loss. It’s against the Timbers. We have to get back to understanding that this is a rivalry.”
#2. Chicago is flying under the radar
Last season, the Fire were exceedingly poor. Individuals evolved before the fans’ eyes but for some reason, these superstars couldn’t bring results with them as Chicago finished 2022 with the fifth-worst record in MLS. This year, however, Ezra Hendrickson’s side has found a spark that has kept them in and amongst the playoff contenders.
Chicago has admittedly won just twice all season, but only Philadelphia has given the Fire a taste of defeat with a 1-0 result at Subaru Park in early March. Since then, Chicago has beaten Inter Miami and Minnesota and earned draws against Cincinnati, D.C. United and most recently Philadelphia. While fans have voiced frustration at dropped points from winning positions, the results have still been solid, especially considering the quality of the sides they've faced.
Tonight's final. pic.twitter.com/Sj6iWXQEhG— Chicago Fire FC (@ChicagoFire) April 16, 2023
With the sales of Jhon Durán and Gaga Slonina, Chicago would be extremely happy with a first playoff appearance since 2017, though admittedly they likely won’t be expected to do much more.
#3. St. Louis City SC is back on track
This season’s Cinderella story, St. Louis began 2023 with five consecutive wins, setting a record for the best start to a campaign in MLS expansion side history. Since then, a difficult run of games has ended City’s streak and added some perspective to what had been a fairytale up to that point.
A loss at home to Minnesota and a humbling trip to Seattle marked two games without a goal and presented some questions for the new franchise. How would they handle this new-found adversity and how would they respond against Cincinnati? These questions were quickly answered as St. Louis demolished the side that entered the matchday leading the Supporters’ Shield.
— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) April 16, 2023
Five goals, all from different scorers, shows the depth and versatility this City team possesses and with a favorable run of games approaching, this statement win will help move St. Louis back in the right direction.
#4. MLS after-dark returns
The league is at its best in the dying moments. In Saturday’s 13 matches, seven featured goals at or later than the 88-minute mark, including six goals that equalized or won matches.
— The Crew (@ColumbusCrew) April 16, 2023
Atlanta, Columbus, Colorado and New York all secured draws at the death, but none was later than the Crew, who found the back of New England’s net eight minutes into stoppage time. Jubilation for Wilfried Nancy but outrage for Bruce Arena.
Bernard “The American Dream” Kamungo pic.twitter.com/2jeEykLY09— FC Dallas (@FCDallas) April 16, 2023
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 16, 2023
Both Dallas and Orlando found winners late in their matches, with Bernard Kamungo and Duncan McGuire getting the goals for their respective teams. Never, ever look away from MLS after dark.
#5. A six-game suspension is not enough
Last week, we discussed the incident involving New York Red Bulls' designated player Dante Vanzeir, who was alleged to have used a racial slur during their match against San Jose. Since then, the Belgian international has put out a statement accepting responsibility and apologizing for his actions. It was accompanied by statements from New York and head coach Gerhard Struber which have all been criticized extensively.
The New York Red Bulls have released three statements regarding the incident on Saturday night:-One from the club (condemning what happened)
-One from Dante Vanzeir (admitting and apologizing)
-One from Gerhard Struber (apologizing for not removing Vanzeir from the game) pic.twitter.com/blFOkIFbpE
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) April 10, 2023
Given that the player admitted wrongdoing in the incident, it was expected that the league would use him as an example and set a precedent that there's no room for racism in MLS and that racist language will not be tolerated. Instead, the league announced that the 25-year-old had been given a six-match ban that would last until the middle of May.
— Felipe Cárdenas (@FelipeCar) April 13, 2023
It feels weak. It feels spineless. The decision is simply unacceptable. For a league that preaches zero tolerance on this subject, a six-match ban feels fairly tolerant. Fans of the club have been extremely critical of the way that New York has handled the situation and have made announcements detailing plans to protest during their match against Houston with a walkout following the national anthem.
— Torcida 96 (@Torcida_96) April 15, 2023
Vanzeir has stepped away from the team for the time being and it remains to be seen how New York handles the situation. One thing's for sure, the club, Vanzeir and Struber have significantly damaged their reputations and it will take some work to repair the relationship with their fans.