San Jose's remarkable fight back,
Diego Valeri stakes a claim for MVP
What. A. Weekend. And that, after everything that happened midweek.
The Major League Soccer season is beginning to heat up. Here's a look at the main talking points from the weekend's action.
The power of nine
San Jose's 2-1 win over Toronto FC at Avaya Stadium on Saturday looks nondescript as one of many results from the MLS weekend.
It was not nondescript -- not in the slightest.
The Quakes managed to win a game in which they faced a two-man disadvantage for almost 40 minutes. More than that, they scored the winning goal while down two men; in the history of the league, such a thing has only happened a handful of times, and never on a goal from the run of play. San Jose's resolute defending for most of the second half set the stage for one of the most remarkable wins they'll ever earn, and one of the most remarkable wins we'll see this season. It seems like maybe the soccer gods took pity on the Quakes, since neither of the red cards (to Anibal Godoy in the 42nd minute and Alberto Quintero in the 53rd) looked like red card challenges in real time.
Of course, the flip side of the Earthquakes winning despite going down to nine men is TFC losing despite the two-man advantage. Even a depleted squad like Toronto, missing key players at striker, in the center of midfield and in goal, has little excuse for leaving California with nothing to show for the game.
The responsibility for the failure probably belongs with the players who couldn't keep San Jose off the scoreboard with their greater numbers, but it will most likely fall to head coach Greg Vanney. At the very least, the Reds had to secure the point, especially since things have been looking shaky for some time. TFC built a solid base for the rest of their season when they secured 11 points in eight road games to open the season but has been unable to build on it in a convincing manner.
Things are going to get very interesting in Toronto.
The return of Portland's playmaker trumped any notion of momentum the visiting Seattle Sounders might have carried with them from a big midweek win.
Diego Valeri's brace led the way for the Timbers, who accomplished two things when they won 3-1 at Providence Park on Sunday afternoon: One, they pushed themselves into the playoff positions in the Western Conference, and two, they heaped misery on the rival Sounders, putting Seattle a whopping nine points back of sixth place and a chance at the postseason.
The Sounders certainly missed Clint Dempsey, who was not on hand due to his midweek red card. Dempsey does so much of what Valeri does for the Timbers, though the two creative players go about things in very different ways. Without Dempsey, the Sounders lacked a sharp edge from open play. Though they created several good chances, the ball invariably ended up flying over the goal, wide of the mark, or saved by Portland goalkeeper Jake Gleeson.
Valeri's performance will earn him some MVP buzz this week, and rightfully so. Everything he did on the field against the Sounders had an air of danger to it, and as long as they have him healthy and on the field, they remain a threat to repeat last year's playoff heroics. The season hasn't gone to plan thus far, but a number of key pieces are returning to full fitness at just the right time for the Timbers to make a run in the second half of the season.
They didn't grab the lead in the Western Conference back from FC Dallas, but the Colorado Rapids again reminded everyone in MLS that they are in fact for real in 2016 with a 1-0 home win over Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. Colorado is now unbeaten in 14 straight games, has not lost at home this season, and maintains possession of the magic hat they've pulled win out of all campaign long.
This time what came out of the hat was Marlon Hairston's 78th stunner off a poor turnover by Sporting. Taking advantage of turnovers is a key to winning in MLS, and has because a hallmark of the Rapids' success this season. For it to be Hairston that supply the killer blow to Sporting is something of a shock, mostly because he had a grand total of one goal to his name in MLS before the strike. He scored the goal after coming on a substitute for Marco Pappa.
If Pablo Mastroeni is going to pull those types of strings and get game-winners from players like Hairston, there's no telling what might come out of magic hat next.
After 21 games New York City Football Club has:
-- The points lead in the Eastern Conference and a good line on the club's first playoff berth.
-- The league's leading scorer in David Villa with 13.
-- Three DPs, including Villa and shockingly enough Frank Lampard, who has reversed the thinking that he might be the biggest DP bust in league history.
-- One of the league's most exciting young players in 19-year-old Jack Harrison.
That's quite a lot for one club to have going for it, even one with as much talent and profile as NYCFC.
The club's latest triumph came in Montreal on Sunday, where Villa scored, Lampard scored, and Harrison scored ... again. It's getting to be a regular act for Patrick Vieira's team and the only question left now is whether they can keep it up.
If age is not a factor -- and we should remember that Lampard spent enough time on the sideline that fatigue shouldn't be a major issue -- then NYCFC is not only a legitimate contender in the East, they've got a real shot to surprise people in the playoffs.
Team of the weekend
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.