MLS Week 18 Roundup: Atlanta and Red Bulls Serve Up a Classic as Zlatan Double Sinks Toronto

​As the MLS spills over into the second half of the season, we are beginning to get a picture of which teams will make up the 2019 end-of-season play-offs. Week 18 saw LA Galaxy bounce back from their Cali Clasico disappointment, LAFC trounce the Whitecaps and Atlanta and New York Red Bulls play out a ding-dong affair. Galaxy were shocked last week when they were convincingly beaten by state rivals San Jose earthquakes and they needed to show a response. A response is what they got, though perhaps in less comfortable fashion than they would have liked, as a late Zlatan Ibrahimovic brace earned them a 2-0 win. The Los Angeles side were unlucky not to take the lead in the first half when Efrain Alvarez struck the post from Polenta’s low cross. The game looked as though it could be heading for a goalless draw, but Zlatan popped up when it mattered, twice taking advantage of poor marking to grab his 12th and 13th goal of the season. Elsewhere, the standout tie of this round of fixtures came between Atlanta United and NY Red Bulls as some late drama saw the two teams share the points after playing out a breathless 3-3 draw, as both clubs looked to bounce back from heavy midweek defeats. After Daniel Royer’s first half-strike had cancelled out Justin Meram’s early opener, Brian White put the Red Bulls 2-1 up on 60 minutes. The home side piled on the pressure and this finally told when they were awarded a penalty, which Josef Martinez duly stuck away.  When Martinez struck again in the 91st minute, he looked to have sealed all three points for Atlanta, but just two minutes later Bradley Wright-Phillips nipped in around the back of the home defence to slot home an equaliser. Western Conference leaders LAFC justified their place at the summit of the table with 5-1 and 6-1 hammerings of strugglers Sporting KC and Vancouver Whitecaps respectively. Against Vancouver, Yordy Reyna gave the visitors a shock lead on five minutes, which they looked set to hold onto until half time, only for a quickfire double, started by Andy Rose’s own goal, that gave LA a 2-1 lead at the break. The table-toppers would score two goals in quick succession twice more as Mark-Anthony Kaye, Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi completed the scoring to make it 6-1. Vancouver’s frustration on the night was summed up when Fredy Montero needlessly got himself sent off five minutes from time. At the top of the Eastern Conference, Philadelphia Union picked up four points from a double-header with Orlando City, as they fight off pressure from DC United for top spot. Away to Orlando, the Union were convincing as they secured a comfortable 3-1 win with all three of their goals scored in the opening hour. The return fixture was anything but routine however, as they relied on Kacper Przybylko to rescue a point late on in a pulsating 2-2 draw. They got off to the perfect start, as Marco Fabian put them ahead on four minutes. But goals from Dom Dwyer and Santiago Patino in reply from Orlando gave them a slim lead going into the dying minutes. With DC United hot on their heels, Philadelphia knew they needed to take whatever they could from this game and Przybylko ensured that was the case when he curled the ball into the far corner in the 90th minute. Elsewhere, rock bottom of the Eastern Conference and on the back of six straight defeats, FC Cincinnati bounced back with a brilliant win against play-off hopefuls Houston Dynamo. They  made things difficult for themselves after going 3-0 up when they conceded two in quick succession with ten minutes to go. Nevertheless, they held on for a well-earned three points. An incredible first half between Montreal and Minnesota served up a 2-2 scoreline at the break with goals in the first and last minute of the half. Mason Toye’s goal two minutes into the second half was enough to give United the three points and boost their push for a play-off spot. Portland Timbers gave their play-off push a huge boost with two 1-0 victories in week 18 against FC Dallas and New York City FC. That’s now three wins from four for the Timber following a mid-season break that appears to have done them the world of good. Wayne Rooney’s DC United failed to take advantage of Philadelphia’s draw as they fell to a disappointing 2-0 defeat at Dallas. The home side dominated from start to finish and rightly came out as victors and their play-off spot in the Western Conference looks fairly secure.

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