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MLS Weekend Review

Giovinco Does It Again for Toronto; Changes in Philly

Could the stars finally be aligning for Toronto FC? After its 4-1 win over New England, the beleaguered club looks to be in good position. The New York Red Bulls, meanwhile, are battling multiple injuries.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 10, 2016
10:00 AM

SACHA KLJESTAN, Jordan Morris, and Clint Dempsey all stood tall but no one was better than Sebastian Giovinco this past weekend in Major League Soccer. As far as the standings go, both conferences remain tight but the team of the week is Toronto which has its key players finally returning to health.mHere are th top stories of the weekend.  

Toronto clicking right now

There is no denying that Toronto FC is playing the best soccer in MLS at the moment. On Saturday the Canadian team demolished New England 4-1 thanks to a Giovinco hat trick and a final goal from Jozy Altidore to turn the game into a rout. The win was its fourth in a row and over that span it has scored 12 and conceded just two goals.

With all due respect to Dempsey and his hat-trick, Giovinco deserves to be MLS Player of the Week because the quality of his first two goals was jaw-dropping.

It was not an easy game for Toronto which was coming off its third game in a week while New England was well-rested. The Revolution had its chances but in the end it could not match Toronto’s class.

“Sebastian is Sebastian, the goals were of caliber to the player that he is, first class,” Toronto coach Greg Vanney said. “Aside from the beauty of the goals I thought they changed the mentality of group, the tempo of the game, changing things into our favor, roll into our direction. From that standpoint I thought beautiful and timely in many ways.”

Toronto also welcomed Michael Bradley back to the fold. The U.S. captain has been away from the team since May due to the Copa America Centenario as well as an injury he suffered toward the end of the tournament.

There are a lot of questions right now surrounding many top MLS teams. The Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City FC rely on older players. FC Dallas just sold Fabian Castillo and the Red Bulls are dealing with significant injuries. At a time like this, Toronto seems to have just about as good of chance as any other contending team—if it can stay healthy.

Following the game, Bradley was optimistic but also preached caution.

“To walk onto a field like that, in a stadium like this, in a city like this, it's why I came here,” Bradley said. “Like I said we can all feel it coming together in a good way. Everybody has to understand that margins are very small. The moment we think that we are better than we are, and the second we think that we can afford to take our foot off the gas just a little bit then we're going to get punished. So we have to continue to have that killer instinct mentality, we're going to continue to work, we're going to continue to give everything we have every day to push ourselves because only then we will have a real chance to succeed.”

Red Bulls show heart in dramatic draw

The wildest game of the weekend was Sunday’s finale as the Galaxy hosted the New York Red Bulls. This game was loaded with drama from the opening minute.

The first half of the game was tight with the Galaxy having a slight edge in scoring chances but the story was that the Red Bulls lost three players due to injury by the 47th minute: Conor Lade, Damien Perrinelle, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Last week, New York lost captain Dax McCarty for four-to-six weeks.

Designated player Gonzalo Veron, who has been criticized for his lack of production, gave the Red Bulls a crucial lead in the 68th minute with what was easily the biggest goal he has ever scored for the club. He took an incisive pass from Kljestan and beat Brian Rowe to give his side a 1-0 lead. Sean Davis, who has been given the difficult task of filling in for McCarty, gave the Red Bulls a 2-0 lead just minutes later.

The Galaxy pulled one back via former Red Bull Mike Magee. Then the referee denied a penalty on Rowe’s take down of Alex Muyl. After Ashely Cole scored an equalizer, the Red Bulls thought they had another claim for a penalty when Rowe took down Veron only to have referee Hilario Grajeda wave it off. Furious at the officiating, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch was ejected from the game.

“No, you don’t see them very often, but we’ve all been involved in those kind of games,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said afterward.

It was a wild night for the Red Bulls which dealt with a wave of injuries and tough officiating only to have a win in Los Angeles, where the Galaxy are undefeated in 2016, slip away. The team showed heart, but Marsch will have a very difficult task if the latest injuries force key starters away from the team for multiple weeks. On the other hand, if Veron can finally play up to his talent level, that will be a huge boost.

Marsch’s take was quite a bit different from Arena.

“No,” Marsch said when asked if he ever experienced a game like this. “And it’s hard to swallow because, you know, I’ve got a group of players that’s confused. I’ve got a club that’s confused and that’s where my mind is right now, it’s with those guys. I think we’re all having a hard time understanding how this is happening and why. It’s just going to make us stronger. We’re going to find a way to get stronger. We can’t dwell on it; we just have to understand it. I think it’s obvious for everyone else to see. The whole league is watching tonight. I think everybody can see that it’s painful. It’s painful. But again, we can’t dwell on it or whine about it or make excuses or whatever, but it is perplexing. It is perplexing. It’s confusing and it’s hard to understand.”

Dempsey lifts Sounders past Seattle

With the team desperately needing points, Dempsey and Morris came to the rescue as Seattle defeated Orlando 3-1. Seattle still faces an uphill battle to make the postseason but at least the team showed a glimpse of how lethal its attack can be when firing on all cylinders.

Dempsey had a hat trick and two of his goals were empty net tap-ins on quality assists from Morris. The Sounders exposed a very poor Orlando central defense tandem and received production from far more than just Dempsey as Cristian Roldan, Tyrone Mears, and Ozzie Alonso all pitched in for a needed team effort.

Can Seattle make the playoffs? It is going to be a close call but efforts like this are desperately needed.

"The first goal [Nicolas] Lodeiro was able to find Tyrone [Mears] and he was able to pick me out in the box,” Dempsey explained. “The second goal was Cristian [Roldan] chipping the ball over the top and Jordan [Morris] making a great run being able to find me. The third goal was Lodeiro upped the space for our team. They kept a high line and Ozzie [Osvaldo Alonso] was unbelievable. It was a great team performance for us and a great win. If we want to make a push we needed to start now because we don’t have many games left we need to go on a run and hopefully we can build on it."

Meanwhile, Orlando has a better chance of making the playoffs as it is clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot but is ahead of New England by only goal differential. New head coach Jason Kreis has weaknesses on his team and he admitted after the game he has been working his team extremely hard since taking over.

Taking a page from Jurgen Klinsmann, Kreis was disappointed by the team’s fitness level and has insisted that his players will adapt to the new and increased workload.

"Obviously very disappointed with the result, but I think some of it’s natural,” Kreis said. “I think from what I saw tonight we saw a group that the energy looked low, but we’ve been asking a lot of them for two weeks now. I think some of the adjustment is going to take some time from a physical standpoint. I think that could explain some of the lack of energy. From a tactical standpoint we are still working. It’s going to take some time."

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to work less; it means our bodies are going to adapt,” he added. “We’re going to get a hold of that. In the long run we’re going to be fit enough to handle the workload and increase our fitness level."

Union collapse late

All MLS eyes were on Philadelphia's match against D.C. United but when newcomer Alejandro Bedoya did not make Philadelphia's gameday roster, it was hard not to be disappointed. 

After conceding the opener, Philadelphia rallied nicely and took the lead in the second half on a goal from Chris Pontius—who scored in his return to RFK where he was a valuable player for D.C. United for five seasons.

But then Philadelphia collapsed late as Steve Birnbaum scored a stoppage-time equalizer and cost Curtin two points on the road. Will newcomers like Bedoya and Charlie Davies make a difference once they are fully integrated into the team? 

“Two points dropped on the road,” Curtin said. “Disappointing in that regard, not able to close out the game. The positive is a very poor first half where I thought Tranquillo [Barnetta] bailed us out with a special goal. From there, I was really happy with the response in the second half, pushed the tempo of the game, got our goal. I thought that we had three or four chances to make it 3-1 if we just get a play right on the break when we’re in a 4v3, a 3v2, if we could just get one of those right and kill off the game.

"At the end of every MLS game, it gets a little hectic and crazy, and people throw bodies forward and D.C. did that, and we didn’t handle it well. This is what we are right now. We’re still learning to win on the road. Disappointing that we pushed through 94 minutes with a lead and not able to close it out, but we have a point on the road. It’s very tight in the East. We’ll need to go into New England and get points there as well now.”

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