Armchair Analyst: Going down to 10 gets you punished, LA still murder on counter, evolving Impact
April came in the same way March went out: with goals. I wrote a few hundred words about the standout game this past weekend, the 4-4 don't-blink-so-you-don't-miss-a-golazo slugfest between the Timbers and Sounders.
But there were more goals to come, in Texas and Southern California and even in Washington.
MLS, right now, is about the goals and – even more than that – about the guys who set those goals up. It's become a playmaker's league.
Here are three big thoughts from the weekend:
1. Teams can't play through red cards anymore
In the good (bad?) old days of MLS, going down a man meant that you'd just pack it into the 18 and hang on for dear life and, hopefully, a result. And there was enough blood and thunder scattered throughout the league that said death grip was often good enough to get you through the remainder of the day's festivities.
It seems like the good old days are gone. Get a red card this year, and you're signing a death warrant. Vancouver and Houston both paid the piper this weekend, and in both cases neither had a prayer after the sending off. The Dynamo, in particular, were completely undone – give FC Dallas any sort of space in the midfield these days, and they're going to shove the ball right down your throat. That's what happened in Houston's 4-1 loss.
Mauro Díaz is the big reason why:
(That's also my Pass of the Week, the second time this season Díaz has won).
This is the second week in a row that, when playing against a team with 10 men, a Dallas goal felt inevitable. Ten-v-10 or 11-v-10, it makes no difference right now.
The Rapids did it a slightly different way in their 2-1 win, getting two long-range bombs from José Mari – and if his first goal doesn't win AT&T Goal of the Week I will pitch a fit. Both were punishments for a 'Caps defense that had sagged back just a bit too much.
2. LA on the break are still terrifying
Their third goal in Sunday's 3-0 whitewashing of Chivas TBD came off an 11-pass sequence that went from one end of the field to the other, so it wasn't really a "break" per se.
But it felt like one. LA's passing and off-the-ball movement was impossible to track.
Here's what that goal looks like on the Opta chalkboard:
Some intrepid Redditor made a GIF that starts earlier in the sequence (the highlight above starts too late) so you can appreciate it. It's a monster, though, so I'm just going to link it HERE instead of embedding. Those of you using old technology can send me a nice fruit basket as thanks.
The key moment is Robbie Keane's third-line pass to Landon Donovan, who is checking to the play like a target forward. Keane cuts two defenders out of the play just like that – and does so on the run, in stride, and with perfect weight on the ball. Donovan's two-touch into space for Marcelo Sarvas on the wing is just as brilliant.
There was a lot of good passing from the Galaxy in this one, and they seemed to find themselves a bit after a sluggish and disappointing March. General rule of thumb for MLS games is that 500 passes is a lot, and an 80 percent completion rate is pretty good.
LA made 520 passes, and completed 88 percent of them. "Possession" numbers like that can often be misleading, but in this case they weren't.
Donovan summed it up:
"We have our best passing team on the field." - Landon Donovan. RT @MLS_Analyst: LA just strung together 33 straight passes.
— Adam Serrano (@LAGalaxyInsider) April 6, 2014
Chivas, who came into the game as one of the most fundamentally sound defensive teams, never even got close to slowing LA down.
3. One-time passes out of the back
One of the hallmarks of Frank Klopas' tenure in Chicago was a team that built directly from back to front, transitioning quicker than almost anybody else in the league. The Fire, from 2011 through last year, consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the league in total possession, but at or near the top of the league in shots on goal.
That's a good example of how possession is a misunderstood – or in Michael Bradley's words, "overrated" – stat. It means different things for different teams.
Montreal have started to play very much like a Klopas team, and their first score in what was ultimately a disappointing 2-2 draw vs. New York is the very definition of a transition goal:
That was Heath Pearce at left back starting the whole thing, and that is an incredible pass. He instantly took four Red Bulls out of the play and put Felipe and Andrés Romero into a 2-on-1 vs. Armando. The Spaniard didn't exactly cover himself in glory on this one, turning a complete 360 and watching Romero glide right past him and into the danger zone.
But credit to all three players in blue that were involved for a textbook counterpunch.
Of course, there are still major problems on the other end. As good as Pearce is moving forward, he had all sorts of trouble with Lloyd Sam bursting out of the midfield on the first New York goal, and was slow to see the danger after Marco Di Vaio's giveaway on the second.
Expect the Impact to be at the bottom of this week's Power Rankings.
A few more points to make...
6. Mike Magee's movement on his goal in the 2-2 draw with Philadelphia was just perfect. There's a rule of thumb when scouting players: Watch how good they are on the ball, and that's how good they are today. Watch how good they are off the ball, and that's how good they are. Magee, even when he's having a bad day, is still really, really good because he always makes the smartest run possible.
5. I'm starting to get concerned about Philadelphia's set piece defense. The Union have gelled in the run of play more quickly than I expected them to, but they are getting killed on restarts week after week after week.
4. Toronto FC didn't do anything special against Columbus ... except win. That 2-0 result for the Reds absolutely shocked me. And the fact that they got it despite letting the Crew play "their" game (by and large) made it doubly so. HERE is Josh Williams' touch map from the game – he's overlapping all day, and TFC simply let him, and were happy to deal with it.
Nobody the Crew have played have managed to deal with that from either of the Columbus fullbacks. TFC, though, scrambled and played emergency defense like a bunch of champs.
3. Fabián Espíndola is starting to take a lead role in D.C. United's attack. He was pretty clearly the best player in their 2-0 win over New England, their first in the league since last August (#SadStats). His ability to drift into wide spots and create from there was never quite dealt with by the Revs.
2. New England are in trouble if they can't find production from up top. In five games they've scored two goals – one a comedic own goal from San Jose. Teal Bunbury has been getting into good spots, but hasn't hit the target. As long as this is an issue, the Revs are going to be in trouble.