An old NBA commercial, older than you realize, opened with a pair of anonymous arms swiping for a jump ball. The camera panned out, revealing a tagline: “Where anticipation happens.”
Cut to Baron Davis and the Golden State Warriors celebrating their playoff upset of the Mavs — “where never meant to happen happens” — then Yao Ming skying for a layup — “where (untranslated Chinese character) happens” — then a fresh-faced LeBron James — “where the future happens.”
All building to the kicker. “The NBA, where amazing happens.”
This weekend in Major League Soccer, its slate of games provided a semi-regular reminder about its own unofficial slogan.
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The side that entered the weekend on fewer or equal points won each of the six outright victories. The second-to-last place team in the Eastern Conference downed the team in first and an expansion club routed the defending MLS Cup champions.
MLS: where you never know what’s going to happen.
“This league is always the same,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Monday. “That’s just where this league is. The parity is so close and there’s not a lot between teams.”
The only thing predictable about this league is its unpredictability — some weekends are just more status-quo-shattering than others.
Montreal had already stunned Real Salt Lake 4-1 and Orlando was still buzzing from its emphatic first-ever home win when, up in Philadelphia, Fabinho shuffled down the left sideline and played in a stoppage-time cross.
D.C. United was off to the hottest start in team history, boosted by the stingiest defense in MLS. Coming into Sunday’s match at PPL Park, DCU hadn’t lost since opening night.
Philadelphia’s season, meanwhile, has been so dire that fans marched outside the stadium in protest before the game with a coffin featuring the picture of Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz under the lid. The good vibes of last year’s U.S. Open Cup run have long since faded, and Philly boasts a league-worst goal differential of negative-10.
So only in MLS would it make sense that Fabinho’s cross would dribble its way into Zach Pfeffer’s path in the middle of the box. Of course Pfeffer’s shot would worm through the opposing bodies into the back of the net, and of course the Union would hold on 1-0 for just its second win of the year.
Only in MLS would a cellar-dweller beat a frontrunner on national television and elicit nothing more than a knowing shrug.
– Orlando City didn’t just squeak out its first-ever home win — it hammered the Galaxy 4-0 in front of 40,122 at the Citrus Bowl with goals from Eric Avila, Cyle Larin, Kaka and Darwin Ceren.
With the loss, the Galaxy sit below the playoff cutoff line in the Western Conference having played more games than any other team besides Vancouver and Kansas City. L.A. is now winless in five, a streak that stretches back over a month.
“It better be an aberration,” coach Bruce Arena told reporters in Orlando. “If not, then that’s not a good sign.
“We were awful on the day. Out of 14 players that played, I thought about three of them played in an acceptable manner. We were outplayed all over the field, and, really, there’s not much you can say.”
This is a club that annually plays its way into shape, peaking right around playoff time for another MLS Cup run. But those teams had since-retired club legend Landon Donovan to lean upon.
“We’re playing a lot of guys in a lot of different spots,” forward Alan Gordon said. “The flow was obviously not there, probably has something to do with it, but we need to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
– Real Salt Lake looks like a shell of its former self, too.
Montreal led visiting Real Salt Lake 3-0 at halftime, and it should have been worse. No, really: only a saved penalty kick from RSL ‘keeper Nick Rimando just before break kept the deficit even that slim. The Impact poured over Salt Lake in waves, breaking into wide open spaces.
RSL has waffled between formations. For all the talk from coach Jeff Cassar before the season that his team was moving away from its signature diamond midfield, that’s exactly where it has reverted recently.
This feels like a team between eras, half veteran/half rookie, searching for its identity. It is currently in eighth place out of 10 in the Western Conference.
“It’s a great teaching tool,” Cassar said of the loss to the Salt Lake Tribune afterward. “You can’t throw caution to the wind and have five players in advance of the ball and then turn over the ball cheaply. It doesn’t matter what formation you’re playing, what opponent you’re playing. That’s a problem. We’re still working. It’s early in the year. We have things to improve on.”
Maybe so, but the season is almost a third of the way gone.
– Goal of the week: Michael Bradley, Toronto FC. This goal is all determination, Bradley shouldering dudes out of his way as he powers into the box. He flashes a bit of skill, too — RIP, Chris Tierney — before rolling a shot inside the right post.
Bonus points for the corner-flag-punching goal celebration — and for the fact that it helped earn TFC a much-needed point.
– Games to watch in the coming week: New England at Kansas City (Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST on ESPN2); Vancouver at Edmonton, Canadian Championship semifinal, Leg 2 (Wednesday at 7 p.m. on MLS Live); New York City at Salt Lake (Saturday at 7 p.m. on MLS Live).
– Updated standings, courtesy of MLSSoccer.com: