Roland Alberg’s 39th-minute goal made it 3-0 to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday afternoon at PPL Park. The Montreal Impact pulled one back shortly afterward, but Philly carried the 3-1 lead into the final 25 minutes and looked well on its way to a badly-needed victory.
Then it all fell apart.
Impact striker Anthony Jackson-Hamel scored in the 69th and 87th minutes, denying Philadelphia its first victory in 238 days. After the final whistle, multiple Union players crumpled to the turf feeling exhausted and devastated by the 3-3 tie, which midfielder Alejandro Bedoya admitted felt “like a loss.”
“I’m at a loss for words,” Bedoya said. “… It’s hard to stomach. This team deserves a lot better. These fans deserve a lot better.”
But hey, at least they played well for large portions of the match. On the opposite side of the country one day later, the Los Angeles Galaxy barely even bothered to show up for its nationally televised match against longtime foe Seattle Sounders.
The Sounders bombarded L.A. in the first half and took a 3-0 advantage into the break. Despite deploying backup central defenders and a third-choice right back, Seattle’s defense was hardly even tested while being up three goals.
It’s too early to write off anybody in Major League Soccer. The Galaxy’s opponent on Sunday is an illustrative reminder of that: The Sounders struggled mightily for five months of last season before riding a hot streak all the way to the league title.
It’s not too early to wonder whether both Philadelphia and L.A., two playoff teams a season ago, have some serious structural flaws. The Union is in last place in the Eastern Conference with just three points from seven matches. A goal-differential of minus-six that is tied for worst in the East suggests that Philly’s positioning in the standings is no fluke.
Plenty of fingers are being pointed at coach Jim Curtin, and he’s the most likely fall guy should the Union’s winless streak drag on much longer. That would merely paper over the deeper problem – that Philadelphia is either unable or unwilling to properly invest in its roster.
As currently construed, this team just isn’t talented enough and remains a fringe playoff team at best. There will be temptation to hit the reset button in the wake of such a demoralizing defeat, but a coaching change would address only part of the problem.
L.A.’s ills are harder to put a finger on. The Galaxy has shifted emphasis away from big-name signings toward better utilizing its talented youth academy, but as the offseason acquisitions of Romain Alessandrini and Jermaine Jones showed, it’s not afraid to spend money. Alessandrini, in particular, has been a solid addition.
The situation has not been helped by a rash of early-season injuries to Giovani Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Ashley Cole and Sebastian Lletget. That’s a bit of a flimsy excuse, though – the first three players all started against Seattle, and the Galaxy looked awful.
The Sounders had 57 percent of the possession and a 538-397 edge in passes made despite L.A. having to chase the lead for the better part of the game. Worse was the body language. The Galaxy showed very little urgency even down multiple goals, and it has already racked up as many home losses (three) as it did in all of 2015 and ’16 combined.
Again, much of the blame will fall on the coach. Curt Onalfo is in his first season in charge after taking over from current United States men’s national team boss Bruce Arena. Onalfo’s task is unenviable.
This has felt like a team with a foot in two worlds for a while now, not committing either to rebuilding through youth or the high-profile transfer policy that inspired so much previous success. L.A. has slowly bled difference makers from its 2015 MLS Cup title team, none of whom was more influential than Robbie Keane, who departed earlier this winter.
When healthy, L.A. has a higher ceiling than Philadelphia. Even then, for the first time in a long time, a full-strength Galaxy looks to be a rung or two below the legitimate Western Conference contenders.
Some other observations from the eighth week of MLS action:
Welcome back, Sebastian Giovinco.
The little Italian has not been his best so far in 2017, but he tore apart the Chicago Fire on Friday night at BMO Field. Giovinco scored twice in a 3-1 Toronto FC win that doubled as a statement of intent to the rest of the East.
FC Dallas is the last remaining unbeaten in MLS.
Dallas knocked off previously 3-0-3 Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night in Frisco. It wasn’t always pretty, but FCD’s narrow 1-0 victory was evidence of a team that can beat you in multiple ways.
Raise your hand if you had Orlando City atop the East even partway into the season.
Liars. Orlando, which did not qualify for the postseason in either of its first two MLS campaigns, leads the Eastern Conference with a pair of games in hand over the top two challengers. Cyle Larin cannot stop scoring.
Cyle is playing like a man on fire! The dime dropped in from Donny Toia.
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 23, 2017
Goal of the Week
Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers.
From the dribbles around a pair of Whitecaps defenders to the rocket off the underside of the crossbar, goals aren’t scored much more spectacularly than that. If Nagbe remains as engaged as he’s been the last few weeks, the Timbers are going to be tough to top.
Matt Pentz covers Major League Soccer for FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.