MLS Thoughts: Curt Onalfo might have found spark for Galaxy

For all of the criticism Los Angeles Galaxy manager Curt Onalfo has received this year, he might be in for some praise for last week’s bold move.

Onalfo pulled captain and defender Jelle Van Damme in the first half of last week’s contest against Chicago after the Galaxy went down 2–0. Since that move, the Galaxy outscored opponents 5–1, including a 3–1 domination of the New York Red Bulls on the road.

Van Damme was back in the lineup, but there was a noticeable spark for Los Angeles. The Galaxy only accounted for 32 percent of the possession, but kept the Red Bulls from getting good looks for the majority of the match. Los Angeles allowed just three shots on goal with the lone goal coming in second-half stoppage time. Meanwhile, the offense made the most of the limited possession, firing 11 shots and getting six of them on frame.

Los Angeles travels to Minnesota next week, which will provide a challenge for the Galaxy defense. The Loons’ attack features the threat of Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino and Johan Venegas who have combined for 13 goals this season. If the Galaxy can stymie that attack and emerge once again with three points, some apologies might be in order for Onalfo.

Good Brek Shea is back?

Brek Shea posted a pretty good career with FC Dallas from 2010 to 2012, scoring 18 goals in that time frame.

But he’s been anything but that since returning from Stoke City in 2015. He returned to MLS with Orlando City, but in two years with the Lions only scored three goals. Meanwhile, he did give us this wonderful photo.

And to start this season, despite being traded to Vancouver, it seemed like nothing would change. We reached peak Brek Shea on March 18. Shea received a yellow card for a hard tackle, then mouthed off to referee Ismail Elfath, earning him his second yellow card in 30 seconds and an early shower.

But since returning from an XX injury, Shea has looked somewhat decent again. He came on as a late sub on May 5 at Colorado to score the game-winner. And Friday night at Houston, Shea scored an 85th minute header to get Vancouver back into the match. The Whitecaps, however, would still fall 2–1.

Who knows what Brek Shea will appear for the Whitecaps the rest of the season. But for once, there’s a glimmer of hope. Even if he throws it away in 30 seconds.

Toronto on a hot streak

Toronto FC entered a six-games-in-22-days stretch with XX points. Normally, teams find ways to fall apart in situations like this.

But not Toronto.

The Reds won all six matches, a club-record winning streak, to take the top spot in the Eastern Conference by six points.

Winning three matches in eight days in cause for celebration enough, but doing that in back-to-back weeks is basically unheard of, especially with the parity and traveling involved in MLS.

And it’s not like they did it against easy competition either. Included in those six matches are wins at Columbus and at Seattle and home wins against Orlando City, Houston and Saturday’s 3–2 win over Minnesota. That’s mighty impressive.

There are concerns for Toronto, however, as the schedule settles down now. Sebastian Giovinco failed to finish the match on Saturday, leaving before halftime with a thigh injury. This comes after he missed time earlier this season for a leg injury. Also, defender Nick Haggland left with a knee injury, and keeper Alexander Bono could be seen visibly shaken up late in the match as well.

The good news is that Toronto won’t play again until Friday at the New York Red Bulls, allowing time for the wounded to heal up. If there’s a team that’s earned a break, it’s Toronto.

Colorado finally scores some goals

The Colorado Rapids can’t score goals.

Through the first seven matches of the season, the Rapids put only five balls into the back of the net, good enough for last in the league by a wide margin.

But they managed to find treasure trove of scoring Saturday, and it all started with Shkelzen Gashi. The Swiss international put away a tremendous cross in the 29th minute to score Colorado’s first goal since April 15. Dominique Badji then capitalized off of an untimely turnover to double the lead in the 35 minute, and Gashi scored again in the second half to give the Rapids their first win since the first weekend of the season.

The win and sight of goals going in the net come at a crucial moment for the Rapids. Colorado currently sits on seven points  through eight matches and dead last in the league. It’s quite the turnaround from last year when the team was competing for the Supporters’ Shield.

Defensively, the Rapids have been pretty strong, allowing 12 goals this season. Tim Howard and Zach McMath have tagged team in net to be the rock of the defense.

But the offense has been a completely different story. There’s no one on the Rapids’ attack that strikes fear into opposing defenses. Gashi is basically the only one that’s a threat to score, but he has just two goals this season. That’s just under a third of the Rapids’ total goals. That’s not ideal at all.

I don’t foresee the Rapids repeating Saturday’s scoring output. But they’re going to have to find ways to put the ball in the net in order to have a sliver of a change to make the postseason.

Justin Meram is the heart of Columbus

Justin Meram carried the Columbus Crew on his back Saturday afternoon.

The Michigan midfielder netted a hat trick against the Montreal Impact, but it was his third goal that made the difference. Meram brilliantly finished off a counterattack in stoppage to steal a 3–2 win on the road.

Unlike Colorado, Columbus have options on the attack. In addition to Meram, the Crew feature Ola Kamara (six goals) and Federico Higuain (four goals).

But Meram is a vital part of the offense. His hat trick moved him to the team lead in goals with seven and one back of Houston’s Cubo Torres for the golden boot race. The Crew are a perfect 4–0 when he gets on the scoresheet. If he keeps this up, which would be a career-year for Meram, the Crew will be right there in the race to get back to the MLS Cup final.

Oh, and his mother had this to say to him before he went and scored that hat trick.

Philadelphia getting hot

What has gotten into the Philadelphia Union?

After going almost two months without a win, the Union are riding high with back-to-back wins at home, the latest coming in a 4–0 win over conference rival D.C. United.

The issues haven’t come on the offensive end for Philadelphia; the Union have tallied 15 goals so far this season, good enough for middle of the pack in the league. Rather, the issue has been on the defense and not giving up goals, especially after taking the lead. The prime example is the 3–3 draw to the Montreal Impact on April 22 after the Union started the match with a quick 3–0 lead before blowing it.

Earning clean sheets, as they have done the past two matches, is certainly one way of making sure you don’t blow leads. In those two matches, keeper Andre Blake has made six saves while opposing offenses have only managed 21 shots. It’s that team effort that’s finally making a difference for Philadelphia.

Who knows if this will actually last for the Union. Trying to predict anything in MLS is like trying to predict the lottery. But for such a supportive fanbase that’s on the verge of giving up hope, it’s good to see them finally rewarded with good results.

Real Salt Lake continues to slide

Meanwhile … anyone who thought that firing Jeff Cassar and hiring Mike Petke would solve the woes for Real Salt Lake might want to think again.

In the six matches since Petke took over at the helm, RSL is 2–4–0, and those two wins came against Vancouver in a blizzard and lowly Colorado. In the other four losses, the Utah side has allowed 13 goals while scoring a grand total of one goal.

The slide has dropped Real Salt Lake to second-to-last in the Western Conference with eight points. Only Colorado’s seven points are keeping them from the worst record in the league. It’s quite a shock from a side that almost been synonymous with the postseason.

For what it’s worth, Petke isn’t responsible for this slide — no manager that takes over during the season ever is. Instead, injuries have piled up for RSL, especially on the defensive end. In fact, the team’s weekly injury list reads like a starting XI, complete with Nick Rimando as keeper. There are very few teams in the league, if not the world, that would be able to stay afloat with so many players out with an injury.

Until those players start returning to the pitch, things won’t be getting any better for Real Salt Lake, no matter what Petke does.

Chicago finding some traction

The Chicago Fire muddled around last place the past couple of years.

But after Saturday night, the Fire are looking like real contenders to make the postseason.

In front of a for-one sold-out crowd at Toyota Park and a national television audience, Chicago trounced the Seattle Sounders 4–1. Now, granted that was helped by a Seattle red card, but the Fire were very much in control of the match.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is going to get all of the headlines, but its more than just him leading up this revival for the Fire. Nemanja Nikolić leads the team and the golden boot race with eight goals while David Accam follows behind with four goals. And Dax McCarty has captained the team and the defense to 15 goals given up, about middle of the road in MLS.

But the bigger story out of Chicago this weekend has to be the buzz around this team. The Fire finally got a sold-out crowd into Toyota Park for the first time in a very long time. Of course, there was a good bit of Rave Green around the stadium, but it was a tremendous atmosphere for a team that has struggled on and off the field in recent years. From the tifo at the beginning to the support to the big win, it was an amazing sight.

More of that from the Windy City please.