MLS notebook: Atlanta is united again, plus Sounders flex might on the road

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With the Major League Soccer All-Star Game set for Wednesday and then Rivalry Week to follow, here are some of the top storylines around the league entering a big stretch at the end of the month.

Atlanta now actually united

With Gabriel Heinze’s departure came Josef Martinez pledging his loyalty to Atlanta United, despite the star striker being basically exiled from the team with no real explanation from the then-coach. Under interim manager Rob Valentino, the Venezuelan has scored four goals in five games as Atlanta has drastically changed the trajectory of its season.

Miles Robinson, who scored the extra-time winner for the United States in the Gold Cup final, rejoined the team. Marcelino Moreno and Ezequiel Barco seem to be playing a bit more loose and confident. Brad Guzan even turned back the clock a bit. The Five Stripes aren't close to their best form yet, but it’s a huge step in the right direction at a dire time.

Now new head coach Gonzalo Pineda will take over Atlanta and hope to continue the playoff push. Look out, Eastern Conference.

Sounders’ perfect week on the road

The Sounders capped a huge week of road results with a thrilling rally in Columbus in a rematch of MLS Cup. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Sounders capped a huge week of road results with a thrilling rally in Columbus in a rematch of MLS Cup. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Many things have changed throughout the season, but a constant has remained: Seattle is still the best team in MLS.

Coming off a 3-0 win over Liga MX’s Tigres in the Leagues Cup, Brian Schmetzer had his work cut out for him as three road games in the span of seven days loomed. The first was a rivalry match in Portland, where the Sounders embarrassed the Timbers 6-2. Three days later they were down in Dallas, where MLS-leading goal scorer Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench and scored the winner 20 seconds later. The week wrapped with a trip to Ohio to take on the Crew in an MLS Cup rematch. Down 1-0 in the closing moments, Xavier Arreaga and Will Bruin scored in the 88th and 89th minutes, respectively, to shock the defending champs and take nine of nine points back to the Pacific Northwest.

And just for good measure, the Sounders got key players like Nicolas Lodiero and Nouhou back from injury.

Rapid rise

If you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on in Colorado, this might be a good time to start. Head coach Robin Fraser has quietly helped elevate the Rapids to one of the top teams in an extremely competitive Western Conference. The trade to acquire Mark-Anthony Kaye on July 27 has quickly begun to pay off as he tallied a crucial tie-breaking assist and game-winning goal in just four games. The names on the roster might not jump out at you, but their ability to fight in tough moments is what has them unbeaten in the month of August and sitting comfortably in third place, with a pair of games in hand over the top two spots.

“When the going gets tough, they really just dig in,” Fraser said. “You have to be able to grind to be successful. They’re learning that, gaining an appreciation for that — recognizing what their hard work can bring. As a result I’m extremely proud of them.”

Cobi Jones’ top three players in MLS

As part of preparation for All-Star festivities in Los Angeles, former USMNT and LA Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones spoke with Yahoo Sports about an array of topics, including his three favorite players in the league to watch:

Daniel Salloi, Sporting KC — “I don’t think he gets as much credit as he deserves.”

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, LA Galaxy — “When he’s back, he’s always exciting to watch. We all saw those 10 goals in 10 games, which was incredible.”

Raul Ruidiaz, Seattle Sounders — “That guy, he’s an assassin in the box. He puts defenders, and defenses as a whole, on their heels. He’s such a dangerous attacker.”

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