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Things we learned from MLS Week 22

Week 23 starts on Wednesday, so it's a quick turnaround on the lessons of Week 22...

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

1. Cyle Larin is going to win Rookie of the Year

Even after this week's 5-2 thrashing of Eastern Conference contenders Columbus Crew, one still ought to regard Orlando City as a long-shot to make the playoffs. It has games in hand on the Crew and the Revs, but those teams are also four points ahead. And Toronto and Montreal - just a tad in front of OCSC at this moment in the season - have a few games in hand themselves, which may yet turn into a more comfortable points cushion than the standings currently show.

Three of Orlando's next four league games are on the road: the results of those matches will likely determine whether OCSC still looks to be a challenger for a playoff place. But, this week's result notwithstanding, Orlando already needs help in the form of one of the teams ahead of it to suffer a significant collapse in form. Not impossible, but increasingly improbable as the season pushes closer to its final stages.

What is in no doubt, however, after Week 22 is that Cyle Larin is the almost prohibitive favorite to win MLS's Rookie of the Year award. The number one overall pick of the 2015 SuperDraft scored twice this week and he had a hat-trick last week. He is now tied with Damani Ralph for the league's all-time rookie scoring record. Assuming he stays fit, he'll have 12 opportunities to break that record. He has also scored his first international goals (three so far) this year - and though Canada had a lamentable Gold Cup, it is likely Larin will feature in World Cup qualifying games before the year is out that should bring him further seasoning as a professional.

Barring an unlikely scoring spurt from one of the league's other rookie strikers (hi, Anatole Abang - nice goal this week!), Larin will be the top-scoring rookie of MLS 2015 and likely the league's top-scoring rookie of all time. And that achievement will surely attract all the RoY votes at the end of the season.

2. LA Galaxy can win on the road (but doesn't need to do so again for the rest of the regular season)

This column was hoping LA would continue its extraordinary winless road run, but sadly it is at an end: the Galaxy beat the Rapids in Colorado in Week 22 to take three points away from home for the first time this season, and the first time since they last played the Rapids in Colorado.

This is a troubling omen for the rest of the league. The last time the Galaxy beat the Rapids in Colorado, it triggered a 10-game unbeaten streak that put LA in touching distance of the 2014 Supporters' Shield. The team is only four points off the top of the Shield table at the moment, and it has just figured out how to win on the road. The Galaxy could yet launch a challenge for the regular-season title.

More likely, however, Bruce Arena is focused on winning MLS Cup - the trophy with which he usually ends a season in charge of LA Galaxy. To that end, this week's win eases some pressure. This column is suggesting it will take 50 points for a Western Conference team to qualify for the playoffs. The Galaxy needs just 13 points to make it to 50 and it has five home games left. Four wins and a draw will take it over the line and into the post-season, and that we can be assured is all Bruce Arena needs to craft another run at MLS Cup. LA has 19 goals (and four wins) in its last four home games: there is reason to be confident it can get past 50 points without any further success on the road.

And that means Arena can focus on making an already good team better. Giovani Dos Santos just arrived and will presumably be available for selection very shortly. Whatever disruption to the squad might have been caused by the need to accommodate a cluster of mid-season arrivals - Dos Santos, Steven Gerrard, the increasingly essential Sebastian Lletget - is offset by the fact that CONCACAF Champions League is about to start. Erstwhile MLS starters can now carry LA through the CCL group stage while Bruce Arena allows his new stars to settle in.

The Galaxy can reasonably expect to be a better team once its new arrivals are properly acclimatized. And it only needs to keep its home form going to buy itself the necessary time and points to make the post-season with - Arena will hope - a far more powerful lineup than the one that couldn't win on the road and was still a top-five team in the Western Conference by the end of July.

3. The Sounders are still terrible, and now that is a problem

It is officially two months since Seattle - the reigning Supporters' Shield champion and one of the best teams in MLS as recently as May - was good. Over its last 10 games, including this week's 3-0 loss to Vancouver, the Sounders have lost eight times and won twice. Of perhaps greater concern, they have only scored in three of those games: they have managed just five goals in MLS since the beginning of June. Losing at home to the 'Caps is not a disgrace - Vancouver could yet with the Shield this season - but a fourth loss in a row, and a fourth consecutive league game without scoring, is sufficient evidence: the Sounders are bad.

This week's result was particularly troubling because the team was finally looking close to full strength: Stefan Frei in goal; Brad Evans and Chad Marshall in the middle of defense; Osvaldo Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda in the center of midfield; new arrival Erik Friberg on the right; Clint Dempsey up front. The lineup is still missing Obafemi Martins, but surely one player out isn't that big a deal?

Or not. Perhaps one player is a very big deal when that player is as effective an attacking force as Martins.

The bigger worry is the defense, however, and the fact the Sounders' fragile squad must now divide itself between tying to salvage its MLS season and making it through the group stage of CCL.

Despite its abject form, Seattle is still in the playoff places in the Western Conference, and only nine points off the pace on the Shield race (with a game in hand on DC). The standings say this is a top-10 team in MLS, even if current form suggests it is closer to 20th.

The position is retrievable, but the Sounders are not good and must now play twice in Week 23 (at Vancouver for CCL and then a trip to LA to face the strengthening Galaxy) - more losses or injuries (Alonso took a knock this week) will only add to the perception that the team is spiraling to an early exit from CCL and a fight to make the playoffs.

On the bright side, every team below Seattle in the current Western Conference standings dropped points this week. It likely won't take a massive uptick in form to shake off the lackluster challenge of RSL, Houston, San Jose and Colorado - but the Sounders will need more than six points from the next 30 they play for to get to the post-season.

They can still afford to drop points and stay in the playoff positions - of the bottom teams in the West, only RSL is within three points of Seattle, and Real's next league game is on the road in Vancouver - but the Sounders are teetering. Their prolonged slump now threatens their entire season.

4. D.C. United is the comeback king of MLS

The eye-catching result of Week 22 was DCU's 6-4 win over Real Salt Lake, achieved in helter-skelter fashion: DC was two goals down inside the first 25 minutes; a goal up after 60 minutes; tied at 4-4 heading toward the last 10 minutes; finally, decisively leading by two goals with five minutes left to play.

It was a comeback to rival their last win-from-two-goals-down, which happens to have occurred last weekAs noted by mlssoccer.com's Matt Doyle, DCU is the first team in MLS history to win from two goals down in back-to-back games.

Perhaps we should not be surprised by this achievement: in 12 league wins so far this season, DC has fought back from at least a goal down seven times - and shut out its opponent on the other five occasions. The team has quietly turned itself into one of exceptional resilience: MLS 2015's comeback king, and current Supporters' Shield leader.

5. Big week ahead for the Canadian clubs

Week 22 brought mixed returns for MLS's Canadian teams: Montreal won on the road against NYC FC - a notable achievement if you still think of L'Impact as the last-placed team of MLS 2014 rather than the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League runner-up; Vancouver thrashed the Sounders in Seattle and continue to chase the regular-season title; star-laden Toronto FC imploded in New England. All the Canadian teams were away from home, and two wins out of three ain't bad at all.

But Week 23 will bring a better litmus test for the league's Canadian contingent, which seems collectively poised for an assault on the elite tier of MLS this season: each team will play twice, and all those games will be at home. The coming week will set the tone for the rest of the season for all three of Canada's representatives in MLS.

For Montreal, the next week is about catching up with the rest of the league. L'Impact's CCL run earlier this year caused it re-schedule so many league games that it finished Week 22 as the only team in MLS yet to play 20 games.

Despite that, Montreal is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference - and if it were to win all its games in hand over DC, it would be top of the East. Five wins in a row is unlikely, even for a team that just added Didier Drogba and Johan Venegas to its roster. But those new signings imply L'Impact is poised to get better, and it already has the third-best points-per-game average in its Conference. If Montreal beats RBNY (on August 5) and DCU (on August 8), it won't just have accumulated points that will bounce it up the table, it will have beaten two of the presumptive best teams in the East. L'Impact's post-season bona fides will be tested in Week 23.

Staying in the East, Toronto is looking at home games against Orlando (August 5) and Sporting Kansas City (August 8). TFC also has games in hand on most of the teams above it in the Conference. It can also pressure DCU's lead with a couple of wins in Week 23. The Reds will be without Jozy Altidore for at least one of their two upcoming games (he was sent off in Week 22), and MVP Sebastian Giovinco has injury issues - so the coming week isn't just TFC's chance to position itself for a run at the Eastern Conference title, it is also a chance to prove it has the depth to compete when it is not at full strength.

Finally, Vancouver's week will also be about depth. The 'Caps will play Seattle in CCL on August 5, the switch back to MLS and the challenge posed by RSL on August 8. We;ll get our first sense of whether the Whitecaps have the ambition and squad to run at both the Shield and CCL in Week 23.