The New England Revolution and Atlanta United were the big winners after an 11-match midweek slate in Major League Soccer that also saw the misery continue to mount for all three Texas teams.
The Revs, unbeaten in their past eight (7-0-1), padded their league-leading record (14-3-4) and extended their advantage atop the Eastern Conference to 14 points with a 3-2 come-from-behind home win, while their pursuers dropped points. Those results also allowed Atlanta to make up more ground in the playoff chase after it logged its third straight win.
In the West, the story is a familiar one this season: The Seattle Sounders just keep finding ways to win (11-3-6, 39 points), while it’s the opposite story for Texas-based FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo and Austin FC, which occupy three of the last four spots in the conference.
Buchanan’s a star in the making
With less than two weeks remaining before the European transfer window closes, Tajon Buchanan’s value continues to rise after bagging a second goal in four days and contributing to another Revs win. Down 1-0 to D.C. United, the Revs’ turnaround came after a triple substitution at halftime that included Buchanan, who was being given a breather after starting and scoring in a 2-1 win in his hometown Toronto on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Buchanan, drafted No. 9 overall in the 2019 MLS Draft, is having a breakout season in MLS and with the Canadian national team, and international teams have taken notice. MLSsoccer.com’s Tom Bogert reported a $7 million deal is in place with Belgian side Club Brugge, which will compete in the UEFA Champions League come September.
Goals like the volley strike against D.C. (video below) make the $7 million seem like a figure that’s on the low side. Buchanan’s national team coach, John Herdman, has mentioned how Buchanan has some similar qualities to compatriot Alphonso Davies, who moved to Bayern Munich in January 2019 as part of a deal reported to reach $22 million.
Atlanta United surging
The performance clearly wasn’t their best, but there was a lot to like in Atlanta United’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC, the club’s third straight victory which moves it to within three points from the final playoff spot in the East. And the club’s newly appointed manager, former Seattle assistant Gonzalo Pineda, has yet to formally take over and is set to meet the team Friday.
Ezequiel Barco continued his good run of form, netting the winner on a deflected shot. But more importantly, he gave off the vibe of a player ready to be an assertive leader and take on more responsibility after a moody, up-and-down three seasons in the five stripes.
What should have the other Eastern Conference playoff contenders really concerned is the debut of $12 million signing Luiz Araujo. Virtually every touch by the Brazilian pushed the team forward and made the attack noticeably more dangerous.
Luiz Araujo’s #ATLUTD debut ??:
Long balls: 5/5
Pass %: 93%
Shots on target: 1
Ground duels: 7/13
By no means a perfect performance. But damn he was exciting. He tried things whenever we had it and gave ATLUTD an element of surprise pic.twitter.com/jOhtxVgsJR
— Chris Smith ⚽✍️ (@CJSmith91) August 19, 2021
The fans recognized his impact and gave Araujo a standing ovation when he was subbed off after 67 minutes:
Inter Miami has life
The most dramatic finish of the night happened in Miami, where Inter’s Rodolfo Pizarro came off the bench to score a 93rd minute stoppage-time winner for the 3-2 victory over Chicago. It could turn out to be a turning point in a tumultuous year for Inter Miami, which is now eight points out of a playoff spot with two games in hand.
The fraying nerves were evident on the bench and in the owner’s suite, where cameras caught part-owner David Beckham pacing and suffering through missed chances. But manager Phil Neville says his players are fighting for each other, and perhaps the goal can help Mexican international Pizarro, who cost the team $12 million last year, to regain his confidence and take on a more important role on the team, which could use his ideas in the attack. He’s only started nine of the team’s 19 matches this year.
Austin lose after star subbed out early
It’s never a good sign when you’re subbing your star players out of games after 29 minutes. It happened in Austin, where first-year head coach Josh Wolff yanked Cecilio Dominguez early after a series of turnovers to start the game for expansion side Austin FC. It was not necessarily injury related:
Josh Wolff: “Cecilio was physically struggling to keep pace with the match. It was affecting our ability to play.” #AustinFC
— Chris Bils (@ChrisBils) August 19, 2021
The Paraguayan attacker had a total of 13 touches, four lost possessions and was 57 percent accurate with his passing (he connected on four of seven passes), according to SofaScore stats. Another one of Austin’s stars, Tomas Pochettino, also failed to deliver on the night when chances fell his way. It combined for a 2-1 home loss to Vancouver in a game Austin needed to have and led 1-0.
The club is in the West cellar and eight points removed from a playoff berth. The optimism stemming from the team’s strong early start has slowly worn away with losses in six of their past seven games, and the passionate fan base is beginning to voice its displeasure. Based on the rhetoric emanating from the locker, it’s not clear that there’s an immediate solution in sight.
“We need to make sure everybody is bought in physically and mentally. If they’re not, we have guys ready to fill in.”
Brad Stuver ???
— WeAreAustinTV (@WeAreAustinTV) August 19, 2021
Josh Wolff: “We’re all open to criticism. It hasn’t been good enough. I’m disappointed, the players are disappointed and we need to get better. The fans pour their hearts out, and they deserve more than this.” #AustinFC
— Chris Bils (@ChrisBils) August 19, 2021
The next seven games will determine whether Austin can get back into the playoff race. Five of the games are at home and the two road games come against teams that also find themselves near the bottom of the West: Houston and a Vancouver side that has been buoyed by the arrival of the “Scottish Messi,” Ryan Gauld, who got his first assist on the game-winner against Austin.
Whatever the results in those games, this young Austin fan is probably going to enjoy the second half of the season just the same:
Sounders do it again
After three losses in July — their only defeats this season — everything’s going right again for the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders. After a memorable 6-2 triumph over rivals Portland on Sunday, the Sounders got a gritty win on short rest in Dallas. It was remarkable for the way Seattle got its winner.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer opted to rest stars Nico Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz to start the match, but with the game at 0-0 he subbed them in at the 63rd minute mark. They promptly proceeded to combine on the winner — 30 seconds later after stepping onto the field (video cued up below):
The Sounders keep racking up results, but they’re still seven points behind New England for the best record in the league. With a game in hand, there’s still time to worry about that Supporters’ Shield race. In the meantime, Schmetzer was able to enjoy a victory on his 59th birthday:
KD in the house
Kevin Durant was present for the Philadelphia Union’s 1-0 win over NYCFC at Subaru Park. The NBA star and recent Olympic gold medalist took on a 5 percent stake in the club last year and he paid a visit to see the senior team in action, including meeting with the fans at the pregame tailgate and the team’s head coach Jim Curtin on the sidelines.
Union captain Alejandro Bedoya made sure Durant went home happy, scoring the 1-0 game-winner to lift Philly into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Curtin called it the Union’s best win of the year.
Champs lose again, Zardes injured
The defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew lost their fifth game in a row, 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls. And although they’re only three points out of a playoff spot, based on head coach Caleb Porter’s postgame comments, you’d think they were double digits behind in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“I’ll take the blame, I’ll take the responsibility,” Porter said. “We’re not getting results and the finger is going to be pointed at me. Keep pointing it at me. I’ve got to correct it. I’ve got to sort it out. We’re now in a tough situation. Obviously, we’ve dug a hole. Gotta turn around again two days from now and play one of the best teams in the league [Seattle Sounders]. And our backs are against the wall. We’re going to find out what we’re all made of. Myself. The players. Our culture. Everything.”
What might be most concerning for Crew fans and supporters of the U.S. men’s national team is the injury suffered by starting forward Gyasi Zardes, who was forced out of the game just before halftime because of injury. After the match, Porter hadn’t yet conferred with the team trainers when he said “it looked like it was a hamstring — soft tissue injury.”
The USMNT also has its first three World Cup qualifiers on tap for the start of September: at El Salvador (Sept. 2), vs. Canada (Sept. 5) and at Honduras (Sept. 8). If Zardes is ruled out, the national team’s depth could be tested given other issues involving USMNT attacking players — D.C.’s Paul Arriola suffered an injury with D.C., Orlando’s Daryl Dike hasn’t played a game since Aug. 1, and players such as Matthew Hoppe and Josh Sargent are still settling into their club seasons in Europe.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter will hope that the injuries don’t continue to pile up or we could see some new faces called up to fill in.
Beer & Twix
No surprise that the best lines of the night came from Revolution head coach Bruce Arena and Inter Miami color commentator Ray Hudson, who have long-standing reputations for highlight quotes.
But we might have to quibble with Hudson’s comparison of the simple putback finish on Miami’s opening goal, when he called it “as easy as eating a Twix.” That’s some of the toughest caramel to chew through.
All Arena did was crown the “champion of drinking beer.” In his estimation it’s former New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis, who was visiting the team for its match against D.C. United. Reis worked for Arena in LA and the two know each other well, so this title definitely holds water.
“It’s great to have Matt [Reis] here,” Arena said, “because if I want to go out for a beer, I can certainly call on Matt Reis. He’s a champion of drinking beer.”
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