Top 5 Takeaways from MLS Week 5
Written by Thomas Hair
Welcome to Week 5. The East is a giant cluster with 12 teams a game or two apart. In the West, Seattle are kinda dominating even without their best player, and down in last place is… LAFC?!? Yep, Major League Soccer is still as gloriously unpredictable as ever, even as it continues to evolve (see #1 and #2).
With that said, let's dive in…
#1: Curse of the Rebrands
Toronto FC 2-0 Columbus SC
DC United 1-0 Chicago Fire FC
Two of the most disappointing teams in 2021 have been Columbus and Chicago. No team has scored fewer goals than the defending champs, and the Fire are the only winless club besides Cincinnati.
These are also the two clubs with widely-panned recent rebrands. Coincidence? I think not!
Columbus and Chicago both looked poor in their midweek games, struggling with attacking identity just as much as with their brand identity. Caleb Porter has breathing room, but Fire coach Raphaël Wicky has to be feeling the pressure. Fortunately for both managers, the rebrands have been walked back to some extent due to the backlash. The Crew announced Monday they will become the Crew again, making this the only week they competed as "Columbus SC". The Fire are currently gathering fan input to redesign their new crest that no one liked.
Time will tell if these concessions will be enough to break their curses on the pitch.
#2: Cincy's New Stadium No Magic Button Either
FC Cincinnati 2-3 Inter Miami CF
Folks on the Ohio River were hoping that the beautiful TQL Stadium would be enough to break their own persistent MLS curse.
Although FC Cincinnati showed fight to claw back from 2-0 down, it wasn't enough to earn that elusive first win of the season. Gonzalo Higuain's 85th minute goal, moments after their own equalizer, was another devastating gut punch.
Cincy can certainly build on this performance, and the "new stadium bounce" has given MLS teams momentum in the past. You only get one Stadium Opening though, and this loss feels like a missed opportunity to immediately turn around the club's aura.
Oh well, TQL Stadium will still make for an awesome Charlotte FC away trip either way!
#3: Turnin' It Around
Minnesota United FC 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps
Minnesota United 1-0 FC Dallas
Turning the team's aura around is exactly what Minnesota did this week. After four consecutive losses, last year's semifinalists won midweek AND on the weekend with their backs against the ropes. These were gritty unattractive wins, but two choruses of Wonderwall were exactly what the Loons needed.
Perhaps even more importantly, they got Ramón "Wanchope" Abila his first MLS goal against Vancouver. A dependable goal-scoring #9 has long been Minnesota's missing piece. If they can get the accomplished South American striker going, this bounce-back week could be the start of a real run.
Colorado Rapids 3-1 Houston Dynamo FC
The Rapids are starting to roar a little louder too. Since that ugly home collapse against Austin, they've strung together three straight wins. Saturday's 3-1 drilling of Houston was the most convincing yet. Their young homegrown core - Cole Bassett, Sam Vines, and Andre Shinyashiki - were flowing together really well in this one. I suspect these Rapids could upend bigger boats than Houston. LAFC will be a great test for them on Saturday.
#4: Everybody loves late 1-0 winners!
Atlanta United 1-0 CF Montréal
New England Revolution 1-0 Columbus SC
Apparently, other clubs noticed Minny's last-gasp 1-0 wins and decided to replicate the formula this week. They do say pro sports is a copycat industry!
Atlanta might've perfected the classic 1-0 win this week, breaking the deadlock through Mulraney and Moreno with literally the game's last play. Man, it's nice to see a full stadium erupt like that again. Even if it's Atlanta's.
On Sunday, New England followed them up with the fourth late 1-0 winner of the week. Adam Buksa pounced in the box in the 86th minute to put the Revs at the top of the jumbled East (and ensuring the Crew would remain points-less as "Columbus SC"). The Revs are solid defensively and have an elite playmaker in Carles Gil, so I like their chances to continue leading the East, especially if Buksa is scoring regularly.
#5: Eryk Williamson is Playing Angry, and I'm Here For It
San Jose Earthquakes 0-2 Portland Timbers
Context: Portland midfielder Eryk Williamson was snubbed from the US U-23 National Team for Olympic Qualifying. San Jose midfielder Jackson Yuiell captained the US instead. The team failed to qualify.
This Weekend: Eryk took that personally. Seriously, the dude everywhere against San Jose, making an impact defensively and progressing the ball into dangerous positions (hence two assists). I like this kid more every time I watch him play. He's that rare combination of supremely athletic and technical.
What's Next: Last season Williamson broke through as a starter for Portland. This season he looks ready to break through as an All-Star caliber player who could earn a big move to Europe. You heard it here.
For these two teams, this result could project contrasting trajectories. San Jose started hot but lost two games this week, while Portland started slow amidst Champions' League but now look ready to fire up their MLS campaign. Wondo failing to convert from the spot against Portland's reserve keeper can't be a good omen, right? Look for the Timbers to fully surpass the Quakes over the coming weeks.