Most of the club-soccer-playing world was off for the FIFA international break during the weekend, but MLS soldiered on with an abbreviated five-match slate. That was still enough to yield the first wins of the young season for the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City; the first road win ever in MLS for FC Cincinnati; two personal tales of revenge; a series of notables for young, homegrown players; and one heart-wrenching story of inspiration.
Here's what stood out the most over the weekend:
I. Accam's inspiration
David Accam gave Philadelphia Union fans the performance they've been longing for ever since he was acquired for $1.2 million in combined allocation money during the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. Little did they know there was some emotional motivation behind his two goals and assist in a 3-0 win over the previously unbeaten Columbus Crew.
The 28-year-old Accam's father passed away last week, a fact the Ghanaian forward brought to light in his postgame remarks.
“The club asked me if I wanted to go back for my dad’s funeral, but I told them this was the only thing that gives me joy," Accam added later on. "It’s tough going home. So I left everything on the field. I put my emotions and everything it would take to give the club."
Accam was mobbed by his teammates after his first goal, which he celebrated by falling to his knees, pointing to the sky and then covering his face as emotions ran high.
“I just scored and everything just came out," Accam said. "I felt emotional, and I knew my dad was watching this game wherever he is.”
Thoughts are with Accam and his family.
II. Boo Kljestan at your own risk
New York Red Bulls fans saw it fit to boo Sacha Kljestan, who only recorded 16 goals and 51 assists and won a Supporters' Shield in three stellar seasons at Red Bull Arena, in his return to New Jersey Saturday. He responded with the only goal in a 1-0 victory for previously winless Orlando City, and you better believe there was some extra oomph in that celebratory fist pump.
III. "I want to ride my bicycle..."
It may have happened in the USL Championship, but Dairon Asprilla is a Portland Timbers postseason hero currently on loan with Timbers 2, and he made the most of his playing time Saturday night with two goals and an assist in a win over Las Vegas Lights FC. It's one goal in particular, though, that merits your attention.
It's only March, but there won't be many goals better than that in MLS or USL the rest of the way.
IV. The Homegrown Effect Part I
FC Dallas is flush with homegrown talents, and the next in line is Thomas Roberts. The 17-year-old midfielder came off the bench and made an immediate impact three minutes later on the game-winning sequence in a 2-1 triumph over the Colorado Rapids. Roberts, who replaced fellow academy product Jesus Ferreira, didn't get an assist on the goal, but it was his splitting pass that sprung Zdenek Ondrasek for a close-range shot, which Ryan Hollingshead put back off the rebound to score.
This is a 17-year-old just two minutes into his first MLS match showcasing the patience of a 10-year veteran to draw two defenders and split them with a lethal pass. Holy cow, @thomas_roberts. #FCDvCOL pic.twitter.com/IlHxNZ96oK— Carter Baum (@CarterBaum) March 24, 2019
That's one way to ensure more playing time down the line.
V. The Homegrown Effect, Part II
The San Jose Earthquakes didn't have a league game, instead playing Liga MX's Monterrey in a friendly, but the match was significant for one reason. Recently signed 15-year-old Cade Cowell scored three minutes after coming on, tallying a goal in his (unofficial) professional debut.
Plenty can play down the actual significance of the moment given it was in a game that was of little consequence, but remember what a debut goal against Chelsea did for a then-16-year-old Tyler Adams in a supposedly meaningless friendly for the Red Bulls. No one is saying Cowell will go on to have Adams' career path and wind up in the Bundesliga in four years, but there can be risidual effects from such a bright start to life as a pro.
VI. The Homegrown Effect, Part III
Depleted by the international break and absences via red card suspension from last week's loss to D.C. United, RSL started six homegrown players vs. LAFC, an MLS record for one match (breaking RSL's previous record of five, set last season).
Real Salt Lake #RSL tonight became the first team in #MLS history to start 6 Homegrown Players in a single match (Aaron Herrera, Erik Holt, Brooks Lennon, Sebastian Saucedo, Tate Schmitt, Donny Toia)#RSLvsLAFC— MLS Communications (@MLS_PR) March 24, 2019
VII. Grandpa Simpson Leaving GIF Award of the Week
Justin Portillo was recently signed by RSL to the first team after impressing with Real Monarchs in USL, and the 26-year-old was given the opportunity to make his mark on the field under Mike Petke Saturday night in Los Angeles. That opportunity sure didn't last long. Nine minutes, to be exact, as a deliberate raised arm to Diego Rossi's throat saw to that.
VIII. Zimmerman's playoff revenge
LAFC center back Walker Zimmerman was the unfortunate goat of the club's playoff loss to RSL last November, with his own goal the difference in a 3-2 loss that ended abruptly LAFC's inaugural season in the knockout round. So it's only natural that he played the role of the hero Saturday night, striking for a stunning goal and beating Nick Rimando in stoppage time to break a 1-1 deadlock and give LAFC a 2-1 win.
It's early, but LAFC sits atop the Western Conference after three wins in four matches–with two of them coming on stoppage-time goals.
IX. Rob Gronkowski retired...
...And yet the saddest thing in New England Sunday was the Revolution's performance against FC Cincinnati. The expansion side was without captain Kendall Waston and midfield star Allan Cruz (international duty) and striker Fanendo Adi (illness) but still managed to go to New England and leave with the three points.
“Disappointing result, but we’ve got to keep going and keep grinding,” forward Teal Bunbury told the club's official website. “I know people hate hearing that. The fans hate hearing that. Us players, it gets old, but that’s all we can do is move forward.”
He's definitely not wrong that fans are sick of hearing it. The Revs have three wins in their last 20 matches spanning back to last season, and with club president Brian Bilello taking to Twitter to issue a public apology after the loss, you have to wonder if Brad Friedel's seat is getting just a tad bit hotter as the weather warms up in Foxborough.
X. Saief, Manneh make for FCC's winning combination
On the flip side of the Revs' flop was FC Cincinnati's second straight win and first road win in its MLS history. Kenny Saief and Kekuta Manneh each having a goal and assist certainly stands out during an abbreviated MLS slate, especially when both could be vying for places on the U.S. national team in the coming months.
Manneh did enjoy time under Gregg Berhalter in Columbus in 2017 and possesses the game-changing speed and 1-v-1 ability made for Berhalter's system, while Saief has had a sporadic USMNT career amid his run on the club circuit in Belgium and has shown his left-footed proficiency along the way. Each one assisted for the other, and the further their chemistry develops, the better for Cincinnati–and perhaps the U.S., too.
XI. MLS on the international break
While plenty occured within MLS over the weekend, some of the league's most notable moments happened to its players on duty with their national teams. Many were in action, but a few stood out the most.
Reigning MLS and MLS Cup MVP Josef Martinez earned and scored on a penalty for Venezuela in a win at the Bernabeu in Madrid against Argentina–for whom Atlanta United teammate Pity Martinez started alongside Lionel Messi.
RSL's Albert Rusnak scored one goal and assisted on another in Slovakia's 2-0 win over Hungary in Euro 2020 qualifying.
Tymczasem inny reprezentant MLS - Albert Rusnak (Real Salt Lake) przelecia? jeszcze wi?cej i nie do??, ?e sam z doby? gola, to jeszcze asystowa? w meczu S?owacja - W?gry (2:0)pic.twitter.com/cKAoJstMYf— Kotleszka_Soccer (@AdamKotleszka) March 21, 2019
Elsewhere, Seattle Sounders playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro had an assist in Uruguay's 3-0 win over Kazakhstan in China. And, of course, there was an MLS-laden U.S. national team edging Ecuador on Gyasi Zardes's fortunate, deflected strike. The break continues on through Tuesday, and it'll be back to a full 12-match slate next weekend.