Playing on the road in Major League Soccer is notoriously difficult.
Especially for players coming in from foreign leagues where travel is comparatively condensed, the mileage piled up over the course of a season can take its toll. That issue is only exacerbated by league rules limiting how many charter flights each team can take per year – during Ashley Cole’s first year with the Galaxy, he missed a match because his back locked up during a long flight spent in coach.
Though circumstances have changed somewhat in recent seasons, MLS veterans still trade horror stories about the seedy hotels they’ve stayed in over the years.
All that is before factoring in an even more unpredictable variable: the weather.
Take Saturday night, when Real Salt Lake hosted Vancouver in the middle of a driving snowstorm at Rio Tinto Stadium. Conditions were so adverse – and the style of play they demanded so unconventional – that new RSL coach Mike Petke admitted afterward that “soccer kind of goes out the window.”
Salt Lake, perhaps understandably given that they were facing a team that play their home matches in a stadium with a roof, coped better with the conditions. First-year Designated Player Albert Rusnak looked right at home amidst the powder, tallying a goal plus two assists. Vancouver never really looked like a legitimate threat to score. And RSL emerged from the cold with a much-needed victory that snapped a 13-game winless streak dating back to last autumn.
On the other end of the thermometer, the high in Orlando on Sunday was 82F (28C) for the midday kickoff between Orlando City and the New York Red Bulls. There, too, the hosts prevailed, the lone goal netted by Servando Carrasco midway through the first half.
There are not many leagues in the world in which one game is played in a near blizzard and another inspires handwringing about the wisdom of afternoon kickoffs in the heat.
In-game atmospheres can be dizzyingly disparate, too. In Chicago, where attendances have been boosted by the early-season signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the Fire beat the Crew in front of an uncommonly lively Toyota Park crowd. In New England, meanwhile, the Revs took care of the Dynamo in a typically half-empty and unenthusiastic Gillette Stadium. From coast to coast, the weather and noise-levels vary wildly.
Over the weekend, more than half of the home teams won their matches outright, and only Portland managed a road win.
There are many explanations for the gulf between home and away records in MLS – sheer mileage, wear-and-tear, lack of routine. As was evidenced this weekend, conditions play their part, too.
Stat(s) of the week
Six – That Portland result was all the more notable given how badly the Timbers struggled away from Providence Park last season.
With two wins from three away matches so far this season, the Timbers have now managed as many road points as they did in all of 2016, when they were the only team in the middle that finished without a road victory. Credit a shift in mentality: Coach Caleb Porter has openly admittedly that he’d set his team up too conservatively away from home last season, and his squad has been much more proactive so far this year.
46 – With his game-clinching goal in the 88th minute of Portland’s 3-1 win in Philadelphia, Fanendo Adi became the all-time Timbers goalscorer. Adi passed John Bain, who played for the NASL version of the club from 1978-1982. Adi has scored at an impressively efficient clip, too, notching 16 in each of the past two seasons – and he’s on a good pace again this year, too, with five in six games.
One – Of the 11 expansion teams that have joined MLS since 2005, only the Sounders have made the playoffs in their inaugural season. Early days, to be sure, but Atlanta looks equipped to buck that trend.
Following an exciting 2-2 draw at Toronto on Saturday night, United have now taken points from visits to each of last year’s MLS Cup finalists. Atlanta are clearly well coached and well drilled by Tata Martino, and it has shown off depth and resilience that should serve it well in the long run.
As April MLS matches go, Toronto-Atlanta felt like a bonafide playoff game, with high intensity and plentiful goalscoring chances from start to finish.
Quote of the week
“My toes are frostbitten and I had to have my pants tumble-dried at halftime,” Petke told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Those are the things that I remember. Oh, and the 3-0 win. I remember that, too.”
Video of the week
That’s one way to throw off an opponent, Luis Silva. He made the most out of the elements, you have to give him that.