Heineken Rivalry Week continued in MLS and we were again blessed with some great games. In between week 21 of MLS action and this weekend was the All-Star game versus the very best that Liga MX has to offer. The stars of North America prevailed following penalty shootout heroics from New England’s Matt Turner and the majority of these victorious players were quickly back in action. LAFC vs LA Galaxy a.k.a. El Trafico was a game without two of the biggest names in MLS in Carlos Vela and Chicharito, but it was a huge derby game even in the absence of the Mexican duo…
CF Montreal 3-1 Toronto FC
Getting things started and it is a Canadian duel to whet the appetite. Neither side had any players in the All-Star squad which is a surprise really given how imperious Toronto were not that long ago. Alejandro Pozuelo’s injury as well as general poor form has TFC rock-bottom in the Shield standings and life didn’t get any better for them against a CF Montreal side who drew with the Union in their last game. Wilfrid Nancy’s Montreal aren’t all that used to success in Rivalry Week but an early red card had very high levels of optimism running through their ranks. Okello was originally booked for a high challenge on Victor Wanyama’s leg but after VAR’s intervention, yellow became red for the homegrown midfielder.
It didn’t take all that long for the man advantage to pay of as Djordje Mihailovic’s free-kick was parried by Quentin Westberg only for Samuel Piette to pounce and make it 1-0 to the hosts. Westberg continued to be called into action and he was level to what came his way, to the point where it was his team who struck next. Achara played the ball to Yeferson Soteldo and was then there to meet the return and bury his first MLS goal of the season. Joaquin Torres struck home a Braut-Guillard cross first time restore the Montreal lead before they put this rivalry week affair to bed. Djordje played through Romell Quioto whose tidy finish put the cherry on top of his return from injury. Toronto’s woes continue…
Orlando City 0-0 Inter Miami
From a Canadian derby to a Florida derby in rivalry week and yet again, the form of the pair was and still is rather contrasting. Orlando City have sold Chris Mueller and the future of USMNT striker Daryl Dike remains unknown but that hasn’t hampered the star-power of Nani. Mexican Rodolfo Pizarro has shown signs recently of what he is capable of but still, how Phil Neville wishes he could get the same out of his DPs. Nani was only on the bench though following his involvement in the All-Star game whereas Pizarro, who was called in at the twelfth hour, started along with Gonzalo Higuain, Lewis Morgan and Robbie Robinson in the attacking third.
It was a lively affair in spite of the scoreline and Orlando had a golden opportunity to go ahead after ten minutes. Figal took down Tesho Akindele in the box and the latter stepped up to the penalty spot. The shouts from the Miami fans behind the goal were ferocious which is what we love about rivalry week, and the heat got to Tesho. Marsman guessed the right way and went one step further, hanging on to the ball to prevent a rebound. Shortly after, a Jansson piledriver, for all intents and purposes, had Orlando ahead but an offside player was adjudged to have interfered with Marsman’s vision. Marsman was the man of the moment throughout, making some great stops in a game of what-ifs. If there was to be a goal it looked set to come from a set-piece with a number of headers sailing just wide, but to no avail. Two points dropped for Orlando in truth and didn’t quite match El Trafico!
Atlanta United 0-2 Nashville SC
Atlanta United came into this one having won four games on the bench and whilst the XI remained unchanged, the man in charge was different. Rob Valentino worked wonders as interim head-coach, bringing back the positivity to the Benz, but this was Gonzalo Pineda’s first taste of action. The visitors were Nashville SC who pose an intriguing threat in truth. They are flying high in fourth in the east yet they had yet to win a game on the road. Randall Leal and Ake Loba being this one on the bench for the team from Tennessee, CJ Sapong being joined by Daniel Rios up front. Atlanta duo George Bello and Miles Robinson as well as Nashville centre-back Walker Zimmermann all started having been in the victorious All-Star squad, plus the trio will all feature for the USMNT in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
The two teams don’t quite fit into the usual Heineken Rivalry Week mould but both are of course relatively new to the league. Atlanta were awarded a very early penalty as Alistair Johnson brought down the aforementioned Bello, much to the dismay of the Nashville players. It was definitely a foul but it was definitely outside of the box too, the referee rectifying this error via VAR. The rest of the first half passed by relatively uneventful until, in the final knockings of it, Nashville struck. Daniel Rios fired home past Guzan to give his side the league, his first of the campaign. In the late stages, Josef directed a Moreno cross just wide of the post with his head and in anger he ripped his shirt, an accurate representation of a frustrating evening for ATL. It was then Randall Leal’s turn to remove his shirt but due to elation instead. Guzan went up for a late corner and so Joe Willis went quickly the other way, Leal coming off of the bench and putting the game to bed from a wide position. A first win for Nashville on the road this season and they ended Atlanta’s good run of wins in the process too. El Trafico next!
LAFC 3-3 LA Galaxy, El Trafico!
At the venue of the recent All-Star game, in which Bob Bradley was the manager, his LAFC welcomed their bitter rivals for a bumper clash, El Trafico. The Galaxy were still without Chicharito and the same goes for Carlos Vela at the other end, the pair being headliners against Liga MX’s finest only for neither to appear. Julian Araujo for the Galaxy played as did LAFC trio Murillo, Rossi and Atuesta, all four of whom started in this one. El Trafico always throws up drama and fireworks and there were appeals for an LAFC penalty after just ten seconds. Alan Chapman didn’t point to the spot though and it was correct as Rossi had actually tripped himself up. Murillo scored the MLS’ goal in mid-week but his lax defending gifted the Galaxy the lead, Dejan Joveljic pouncing and dinking the oncoming keeper for his first goal since joining from Eintracht Frankfurt. Just before the break, LAFC had another penalty shout and this one was given. Cristian Arango was hauled down by Hamalainen, the striker dusted himself off and stepped up to convert his first goal in the league too. One-a-piece at half time in El Trafico!
On the hour mark, Sebastian Lletget of the USMNT got caught in possession. The Galaxy were able to survive the scare but having not cleared properly, LAFC turned the game on its’ head. Uruguayan Brian Rodriguez chopped past a few defenders and had a finish to match, blasting the ball into the roof of the net for what has to be one of the goals of the season. His footwork and intelligence was all well and good but it didn’t take long for Galaxy to make it 2-2, Lletget playing in Joveljic. The Serb had his shirt off and rightly so, making it two for the night and the season- he was subsequently booked for removing his shirt and celebrating with the fans but I’m sure it was worth it. Would he have done it if he knew what happened next? El Trafico never fails to deliver and Rodriguez was on hand to convert from a Bond parry, LAFC back ahead! The game finally settled down for a bit but there was still another twist, Cabral making It 3-3 after Efrain Alvarez and Araujo linking up well down the right.
Player of the week- Brian Rodriguez
El Trafico always brings the entertainment and this time out was no different, even in the absence of Vela and Chicha. Joveljic came to the fore for the Galaxy and scored a brace and the same can be said for Brian Rodriguez. The Uruguayan looked set to move to Europe which he eventually did, but it was an unsuccessful loan spell to Almeria in the Segunda division. He hasn’t always thrived for LAFC but he chose El Trafico to shine through. His first goal was a thing of beauty and whilst the second wasn’t too easy on the eye, he got off the mark and then swiftly doubled his tally for the season on the biggest stage.