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Jesús the savior in Texas and is Atlanta trash? 5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 12

Winning is great, but it’s even better when it’s against a rival. Goals mean more, away games are more demanding and everything is personal. Though the matches count just as much in the table, it's a day the fans circled on their calendars as soon as the schedules dropped. MLS Matchday 12 featured red cards aplenty, late winners and fans who went home filled with an anger that can only be felt after a loss in Rivalry Week. 

5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 12 (Rivalry Week)

#1. New managers in Chicago and New York add a crucial spark

Last Monday, MLS fans and followers were surprised by a pair of announcements from Chicago and New York. The teams had both decided they needed to part ways with their coaches in an effort to turn their seasons around before it was too late. With Open Cup matches and rivalry games close enough to touch, the decisions were not free of criticism. 

Chicago was set to take on St. Louis City for the first time midweek before getting déjà vu on Saturday afternoon. Their new coach, Frank Klopas, took over for Ezra Hendrickson after a string of matches in which the Fire dropped six points from winning positions. In the Open Cup, Chicago put out a strong lineup and managed to see off City with a 2-1 win at SeatGeek Stadium before completing the double against their new geographical rivals, winning 1-0 at the weekend. 

Two wins from his first two games in charge speaks to the quality and standard that Chicago desires to hold itself to, and as the Fire aim to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2017, this new appointment may be the kick in the pants they need. 

In New York, the Red Bulls and manager Gerhard Struber decided to part ways and up stepped former assistant Troy Lesesne, who will finish the season in charge at Red Bull Arena. Lesesne has been heavily backed by the club who assured fans that they were not looking for another manager, and with the past two performances, few fans will be complaining. 

A 1-0 win against DC United in the Open Cup preceded a heated Hudson River Derby in front of their own fans on Saturday. Against an NYCFC side that has struggled tremendously on the road, the Red Bulls found a way to dig deep and secured the three points with another 1-0 victory. The win brought elation back to the red half of New York and gave fans the celebration they so desperately needed. 

Despite being right at the bottom of the standings, Chicago and New York are very much still in it. Just three points separates sixth from 15th in the Eastern Conference so the nine playoff spots are very much still up for grabs. Streaks and good runs of form are crucial for postseason qualification, meaning this week could prove to be a crucial turning point in the season.

#2. Inter Miami’s three wins flip the table on its head

Three short weeks ago, Phil Neville’s job security was very much being brought into question. The English manager had overseen a six-game losing streak that sent Inter Miami plummeting down the table to 14th in the Eastern Conference after eight match weeks. Since then, Neville’s team has completely turned its season around and has won three consecutive games against Columbus, Atlanta, and most recently, New England. 

These three vanquished opponents are some of the most formidable squads in the East, but Inter’s win against the Revolution will live long in the minds of both fans. 

Bruce Arena’s side came into the week fresh off a “cupset” loss midweek and desperately wanted to get back on track. The Revs have looked spectacular this campaign and sit atop the Supporters’ Shield standings, although Cincinnati and LAFC hold one and two games in hand, respectively. 

With six points earned on the bounce, Miami hosted New England and escaped with a 2-1 win despite a red card with ten minutes to play. The winner came courtesy of Josef Martínez who has now scored three times in his last two games. It took the 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner and MVP eight games to find the back of the net and now he looks to be right back where he left off. 

Inter currently sits sixth in the East and while they’re far from comfortable, this run of form will be encouraging to fans as they travel to Nashville midweek.

#3. Atlanta United has become the Bizarro-Inter Miami

While Inter Miami has righted the ship and exchanged frivolousness with fearlessness, Atlanta has become the polar opposite. This once-glimmering club, highlighted by MVP candidate Thiago Almada and new signing Giorgos Giakoumakis, has been reduced to ashes in a matter of weeks. 

United has won just once in six games and has now lost three on the trot, including last week’s loss to Inter Miami in which the club’s former star, Martínez, scored a brace. This week, it was Charlotte’s new acquisition, Justin Meram, who dropped two goals at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Meram also used to play for Atlanta and honored this connection by refusing to celebrate either of his goals. 

Yes, they’ve lost some key players in Brad Guzan and Giakoumakis, but this team recognizes the situation it currently faces, from the coach down to the players. 

“We said today that if we keep losing, if we keep dropping points, the fans will disappear and they will be right,” Giakoumakis said. “We bring the fans to the stadium and we send them away.”

Atlanta’s roster features some of the most exciting names in MLS and they are still fourth in the Eastern Conference despite their recent woes. However, if this spell of form is not overturned quickly, United’s playoff hopes could be at risk. 

#4. Jesús Ferreira is the savior in Texas

FC Dallas and Austin FC; a budding rivalry sparked by proximity and stoked by hate. These two sides have faced off in some important matches in recent years including a Western Conference semifinal last fall where Austin earned its first win against Dallas, 2-1 at Q2 Stadium. Prior to that, the club formerly known as the Burn had ruled the series, winning the first three meetings. Saturday then proved to be an opportunity for Dallas, not just to beat their rival but to enact revenge. 

It’s fitting then that a player who has featured in every single game between the two sides and has scored the most goals in the series would provide the winner once again. Both sides exchanged great goalscoring opportunities in the first half but failed to conjure up anything that nestled in the back of the net. After 54 minutes, Rodney Redes earned himself an early bath after accumulating a second yellow card for a late tackle. 

The numerical advantage changed the nature of the contest as Dallas began pushing for a winner but finally, in the 89th minute and with Austin down a man and up against the ropes, Jesús Ferreira buried his shot between the keeper’s legs to give Dallas the 1-0 win on the road. 

Ferreira has now scored five goals against Austin which is the most of any player since the club joined MLS in 2021. FC Dallas sits near the top of the Western Conference, but make no mistake, there is a discernable gap between them and the best teams. They are good enough to be there or there about for the playoffs but challenging for anything seems a step too optimistic for now, especially after being eliminated from the Open Cup earlier this week. 

#5. Cooler heads prevail

You may have noticed throughout this piece that red cards came up quite often. A whopping nine red cards were dished out across the 14 games this matchday, but within the context of this being Rivalry Week, that number may not seem too inflated. For context, however, the record for red cards issued leaguewide in a single matchday this season was three, which happened on two occasions. 

St. Louis, Toronto, Atlanta, Austin, Houston and Colorado all saw red in losses with the Dynamo accounting for two of those cards in its loss to Seattle. Only Miami and Philadelphia overcame their respective sending-offs in winning efforts, though Philadelphia’s red card was issued right as the match ended following a brawl between them and the Rapids. 

While watching the games, these ejections kept happening, and the classic cliche of cooler heads prevailing never felt more apt. Though many of these games in question weren’t classic rivalry matchups like Colorado vs. Philadelphia or Seattle vs. Houston, it felt as if these games meant more to the players too. 

As teams across the league straddle the point in the season where they’ve played a third of their games, seasonal objectives become increasingly apparent. Top clubs know that every game matters in pursuit of the Shield and midtable clubs fight for the scraps and playoff spots. There are games where sides need to punch up or take the opportunities presented to them. This means some harder tackles, time-wasting and increased intensity from the opening kick to the final whistle. 

It’s possible that these red cards can be explained by pure chance but the combination of intense rivalries and crucial matches points the compass more in the direction of causation. Either way, it was the cooler head who prevailed this time around, but the effects will be felt quickly as these teams now face midweek games without their suspended stars. 

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