Monday MLS roundup: New York derby, TFC dominance and more

It’s Monday, and while the weekend may have gone according to plan for teams like Toronto and Real Salt Lake, for others it’ll be one to permanently erase from memory.

Two months remain in the 2017 MLS regular season, and while many teams have all but solidified their places in the postseason, teams are still scrambling to book their ticket.

In the Western Conference, teams one through eight are currently separated by a mere seven points, making the playoff race extra intriguing this season, while the Eastern Conference has a bit more clarity.

Here’s a look back at what went right and what went wrong around MLS this weekend.

Who is going to keep the Cup out of TFC’s hands?

Let’s start in Canada, where Greg Vanney and his TFC side did what they’ve been doing all season; which is win. Sitting on 56 points with seven matches remaining, last season’s MLS Cup runners’ up are on the brink of history.

It’s not exactly surprising either after taking a glance at the talent and depth within the Toronto roster. Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore have formed the best forward partnership in the league, while TFC’s back line leads the East with only 26 goals allowed (0.96 goals/g).

Toronto has dispatched almost every team in its path this season and currently rides a nine-match unbeaten streak, beating playoff sides like New York City FC, the Portland Timbers and most recently, the Montreal Impact, on Sunday.

With only three defeats on the season — and none coming since July 1 — the glaring question in the East and around MLS has become: can any team stop Toronto once the postseason rolls around?

It took a penalty shootout for the Seattle Sounders to knock off TFC in the 2016 final, and it’s very possible a performance like that will be needed once again in order to keep MLS Cup out of the hands of the six-time Canadian champions.

Red Bulls, NYCFC have very different paths post-derby

For the first time in three years of this rivalry, we saw a 1-1 draw between the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC on Friday night at Red Bull Arena.

It was bound to happen at some point, but there are a few clear takeaways from the match that are worth noting moving forward towards the playoffs.

First, the Red Bulls desperately need to get Daniel Royer back. It’s not to say that the team cannot create chances, but the defending Eastern Conference winners have had a very difficult time finishing off those opportunities if you’re a player not named Bradley Wright-Phillips. Jesse Marsch’s side has played three MLS matches since Royer went down with a knee injury on August 6, and gone 1-1-1 in that span.

For NYCFC, the club is starting to get hot when it needs to, but there are still plenty of questions that need answering if Patrick Vieira’s group can manage to challenge Toronto in the East.

With the international window looming, the team is set to lose a few keys players, including captain David Villa, Rodney Wallace and Alex Ring. NYCFC has two matches directly after the international calendar (home against Sporting KC, home against Portland Timbers), which are two critical fixtures on the team’s schedule given both sides are likely to be playoff teams in the Western Conference.

Then, the club will have to travel west to take on the Colorado Rapids — which may not be the most challenging match — but then return “home” to face the Houston Dynamo in East Hartford, Connecticut.

It’s not to say that NYCFC cannot get through this stretch of matches unfazed, but it’s a very difficult task that Vieira and Co. will encounter. We’ll know how legitimate a playoff contender the Boys in Blue as we push towards the end of October.

Attempting to dissect the West playoff race

If the MLS playoffs started today, FC Dallas would not be a part of them. Let me preface this by saying the team has two games in hand over the San Jose Earthquakes and the Seattle Sounders and three games over the Portland Timbers — all of whom are above Dallas in the West standings.

This just goes to show how heated the Western Conference playoff battle has shaped up to be, though.

At this moment, everything starts and finishes with the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders, who are riding an 11-match unbeaten streak. This team is beginning to show signs of its brilliance from last season, where the team got hot towards the end of the season and ultimately went on to hoist MLS’ prized trophy.

Sporting KC still has a couple games in hand, though, and while they’ll have U.S. Open Cup glory on their minds next month, they’re a squad that cannot be taken lightly, especially with their glowing home record of 8-0-5.

The biggest surprise is certainly Real Salt Lake. Mike Petke took over this team just a few weeks into the season, and while it wasn’t smooth sailing initially, RSL has really picked up steam as of late.

The Claret and Cobalt have quietly gone unbeaten in eight of their last nine matches, which includes victories over the Timbers and the Earthquakes. The more important aspect of their success as of late has to be their defensive performance, though. The club has still allowed the second-most goals in MLS (48), but Petke’s group has improved significantly since July 4, outscoring opponents 23-10.

(Photo Credit: Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)