Rivalry was the name of the game in week 20 of MLS action. Two of the best matches this week featured two of the biggest rivalries in the league. The first El Trafico of the 2019 season took place at Dignity Health Sports Park, and it was Zlatan Ibrahimovic who once again took over. Leading up to the match, Ibrahimovic made a few statements about Carlos Vela and like he always does, Ibrahimovic put his money where his mouth was. At every stop in his career, Ibrahimovic has been a lightning rod, but when it comes down to it, he comes through like the king he claims he is.
The hype around the first El Trafico of 2019 was there. Since its announcement, Los Angeles FC has stormed into the Los Angeles market, making itself LA’s team. When at full strength, LAFC is the team in the league that nobody has been able to stop. Just like in 2018, Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy had other ideas for their crosstown rivals. Coming into the first matchup of 2019, LAFC had not been able to knock off the Galaxy in the history of this rivalry. After Vela converted from the spot just four minutes in, it looked like the rout was on. Ibrahimovic had seen enough. Just four minutes later, he took the match over. As the match continued, it grew more and more chippy, ending in a few post-match scuffles.
After promising he would deliver in this matchup, Ibrahimovic finished with a hat trick, and the Galaxy remained unbeaten against their heated rivals after knocking off LAFC 3-2. At the ripe age of 37, Ibrahimovic continues to show why he is one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the sport. He is capable of taking over a match at any time and has established a dominance over LAFC unlike anyone has ever seen. LAFC has had a phenomenal season so far and even with the loss, it still holds a nine-point lead over the Galaxy in the Western Conference.
Like the El Trafico, with rivalry comes chippyness. This Cascadia Cup matchup delivered once again, and it was another star who shined bright in the rivalry match. Since his arrival in MLS in May, Portland Timbers’ record designated player signing Brian Fernandez has stormed through the league, scoring goals at will. Scoring is what he did against the Seattle Sounders. Coming off a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Orlando City, a victory was much needed for Portland. Two goals from Fernandez was enough for the Portland Timbers to knock off the Sounders 2-1 at Century Link Field. Fernandez now has eight goals in MLS play and 11 in all competitions. The win puts Portland just two points out of the last playoff spot, while Seattle sits in third place.
Atlanta United, the defending MLS Cup champions, used a big week to climb back into second place in the East. On Wednesday, the Five Stripes throttled the Houston Dynamo 5-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Dynamo were dealt a blow just six minutes in when Alberth Elis was handed a straight red after making contact with referee Chris Penso. Houston would be down to just 10 men for 84-plus minutes. Atlanta United smelled blood and converted twice in two minutes in the first half through Darlington Nagbe and Brandon Vazquez. Josef Martinez scored twice, and Julian Gressel added the final goal to cap off a huge night for the defending champs. Just days later, in a matchup featuring two of the top three teams in the East, Atlanta United scored two late goals to knock off D.C. United, leapfrogging it in the standings, moving into second place. It was the Martinez show late for Atlanta, as Pity and Josef scored to give Atlanta a massive three points.
The New England Revolution were another club that had a huge week. Since his arrival, Bruce Arena has completely turned the Revs around. With Arena in charge, the Revs have been unbeaten with a record of 5-0-2 in MLS play. They have gone from last in the East to the last playoff spot in the East thanks to two shutout victories and solid play under the former United States men’s national team coach.
The summer transfer window is open, and clubs are looking to make moves to better themselves for a run to the playoffs. Minnesota United added Finnish midfielder Robin Lod to bolster its lineup, while D.C. United is looking to add winger Mateo Garcia from Las Palmas. Atlanta United added depth when they traded $100,000 of general allocation money to the Chicago Fire for defensive midfielder Mo Adams. The Columbus Crew, who had been struggling under Caleb Porter, added winger Youness Mokhtar on a free transfer, bolstering their attack. The Crew also dealt goalkeeper Joe Bendik to the Philadelphia Union for a second-round selection in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Inter Miami, who have yet to enter the league, are reportedly looking to acquire young Argentine winger Matias Pellegrini. The 19-year-old would be Inter Miami’s first signing if completed. With the MLS All-Star game set to take place next week, look for clubs to make more significant moves before the transfer window closes.
Below is the schedule for MLS clubs in action this week.
Chicago Fire vs. Cruz Azul – 8:30 p.m. (Leagues Cup) (ESPN+)
LA Galaxy vs. Club Tijuana – 11 p.m. (Leagues Cup) (ESPN)
Montreal Impact vs. York9 – 7:30 p.m. (Canadian Championship)
Houston Dynamo vs. Club America – 8:30 p.m. (Leagues Cup) (ESPN+)
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Calvary FC – 10:30 p.m. (Canadian Championship)
Real Salt Lake vs. Tigres – 10:30 p.m. (Leagues Cup) (ESPN+)
New York City FC vs. Sporting Kansas City – 7:30 p.m.
Los Angeles FC vs. Atlanta United – 10 p.m. (ESPN)
New England Revolution vs. Orlando City – 7 p.m.
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United – 8 p.m.
FC Dallas vs. Real Salt Lake – 8 p.m.
Houston Dynamo vs. Seattle Sounders – 8 p.m.
Minnesota United vs. Vancouver Whitecaps – 8 p.m.
Montreal Impact vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. FC Cincinnati – 8 p.m.
San Jose Quakes vs. Colorado Rapids – 10 p.m.
Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy – 10:30 p.m. (FS1)
As always, stay tuned to Cincinnati Soccer Talk for all things FC Cincinnati when it heads north to face Toronto FC before the MLS All-Star Game next week.