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Magic in Orlando and St. Louis City’s slump: 5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 20

Tucked between the Nations League final and Gold Cup kicking off, MLS Matchday 20 found a way to keep fans excited. The early games brought the heat while the late-night slate kept the stove warm on a day packed with goals despite stars across the league missing out. 

5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 20

#1. MLS will play during the Gold Cup

Just as we get to the meat of the MLS season, the league is playing games without the butter sauce. With the CONCACAF Gold Cup just days away, 40 players across 17 teams are listed as either “out” or “questionable,” citing “International Duty.” As a result, teams are forced to field weaker lineups for high-stakes games that could have massive playoff implications. 

This scheduling conflict is a common gripe with America’s first division. With a counter-culture regular season that calls the summer home, there will inevitably be issues with international tournaments like the World Cup, Copa América and, naturally, the Gold Cup. 

The problem is that the league cannot accommodate a month-long tournament featuring teams from North America and the best players from MLS. Oh wait, there is a tournament that the league is stopping play for? And it's during the summer? Fascinating. 

#2. Vanzeir’s first goal since returning from suspension

On Apr. 9 at Red Bull Arena, MLS had the opportunity to take a stand. Dante Vanzeir, a 25-year-old Belgian forward playing for New York, was alleged to have racially abused a Black player on the San Jose Earthquakes. The player was not removed from the game and following a nearly 20-minute break in play, the match restarted as if nothing had happened.

Something had happened, though. In the following days, Vanzeir admitted to using a racial slur and apologized to the Earthquakes players, his teammates, coaches, the organization and the fans. As punishment, the league handed him a six-game suspension. 

Just over a month later, he was back on the field as New York beat Montréal at home, but his form did not join him. The Red Bulls’ designated player failed to register either a goal or assist in his first four games until he finally found the back of the net against Charlotte on Wednesday. There was no celebration, no relief, a moment devoid of all emotion aside from urgency as he turned around and ran back to his own half. 

MLS chose not to post the goal on its social media, despite it proving crucial as his side went on to equalize just five minutes later. Make of that what you will. 

#3. Magic in Orlando

Deep down in most MLS fans is a love of chaos. Pure, unadulterated pandemonium. Orlando’s meeting with Philadelphia filled that need and kept both fans and neutrals alike on the edge of their seat for the entire 90 minutes. Orlando has struggled at home this season while the Union, whose four-game win streak had just been ended by San Jose, were hoping to return to winning ways. 

First and foremost, we have to start with Duncan McGuire, who scored in his second straight game with a determined finish to give the hosts the lead after 13 minutes. The 22-year-old from Omaha, Nebraska, has been in spectacular form this season scoring five goals in 417 minutes. 

McGuire was picked sixth overall in the MLS SuperDraft last year after an incredible college campaign with Creighton University in which he won the Hermann Trophy (awarded to the best college soccer player of the year) and finished as the nation’s top scorer with 23 goals in 24 appearances. That incredible season has continued into his new professional career and this still looks to be just the beginning for Big Dunc. 

The sides exchanged goals around the hour mark before the most unlikely of heroes popped up to steal a point at the death. 

As the clock inched toward full time, Jim Curtin’s side continued to push for an equalizer, sending a cross into the penalty area only for it to be discarded towards the middle of the field some 30 yards from goal. Union midfielder José Martínez saw his opportunity and took it, unleashing a venomous volley with the spin and power of a certain French full-back from the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

It’s starting to feel like hyperbole to say this may be the goal of the season given the quality of the goals that have been scored in the past two weeks. Surely, we can’t keep having a new goal of the season scored every single week? Or can we? Something, something, recency bias, whatever.

#4. Chicago finally gets back in the win column

After firing Ezra Hendrickson, Chicago proceeded to win back-to-back games against St. Louis City in the league and U.S. Open Cup. They then went on a six-game winless streak showing that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the coach at fault. 

New manager/Chicago Fire legend Frank Klopas has exacerbated a trend of dropping points from winning positions. During his eight league games in charge, his side has lost leads in three games, including against New England when Chicago let the Revs equalize three separate times. 

Finally, despite having blown a lead earlier in the game, the streak is over after a well-earned win on the road against Portland. With the score level late in the game, Chicago replaced Kacper Przybyłko with MLS journeyman Kei Kamara in the hopes of earning the elusive three points. 

The former Columbus Crew, San Jose Earthquakes, Houston Dynamo, Sporting Kansas City, New England Revolution, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Colorado Rapids, Minnesota United and CF Montréal man stepped up and did just that, heading home the winner in the 83rd minute. 

I don’t care that he’s 38 years old, you just cannot give King Kei an inch of space at the back post like that. 

#5. St. Louis City’s slump

Could this be the end? Has the league’s newest expansion side finally hit the ceiling that we wanted to think wasn’t there? Unfortunately, it looks like it. 

St. Louis has given the entire league hope as it crushed opponents left, right and center. Goals galore and a glorious fan culture made for a team that was hard to root against. The highs were high, as Bradley Carnell’s side climbed to the top of the Western Conference, and the lows seemed brief; mere speedbumps for a breakneck dragster headed only toward the goal. The past three weeks, however, have been less bump and more brick wall. 

One point is all City has to show from its last four games. Three losses and a tie have put an abrupt stop to this impressive side with incredible momentum. Without Eduard Löwen and João Klauss, who have eight and seven direct goal contributions respectively, Nicholas Gioacchini has been forced to step up as his side’s main attacking threat. Despite that, they’ve struggled defensively and have still trailed off in offensive productivity. 

Sitting second in the Western Conference while in a slump shows how good St. Louis has been up to this point, but staying there will be a difficult ask. They’ll face the best and worst that MLS has to offer in their next four games with trips to San Jose and LAFC bookending dates with Toronto FC and the Colorado Rapids. 

Just three points separate second from seventh in the West so continued bad form could potentially drop St. Louis all the way down to the bottom of the playoff spots. St. Louis fans deserve home playoff games and every neutral in America would love to see a packed CITYPARK on a cold October night. It’s up to the players to make it happen.

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