Hard as it is to believe, we are now nearly 25 percent of the way through the 2014 regular season. As of next Wednesday, we'll go past the quarter pole and into the heart of the season.
In other words, we're not talking about "early-season trends and adjustments" anymore. We're talking about teams who are what they are, and how to either keep it going or fix it.
Check out the RESULTS MAP for an idea of who's going in what direction.
Here are a few thoughts from the weekend:
1. Seattle want to go right up the gut
But Dempsey has played out wide as often as he's been central for club and country over the last decade, and Martins can say the same. Most coaches who've had him have looked at him and said "run the channels" in either a 4-3-3 or as the second forward in a 4-4-2.
Sigi Schmid had decided to keep both players more central in his current scheme, and it's working – even when teams try to force play to the flanks.
For comparison's sake, check out the map of D.C. United's forwards HERE, and New York's from their 4-0 midweek win over Houston HERE. These were all dominant attacking performances that were shaped very differently by the front-runners.
So basically, against Seattle you've got to stop THIS. And stopping that is hard, because with Martins peeling off the backline 45 yards from goal doing center forward things, you're asking your central defense to make a lot of decisions. If they go with him, they leave gaps for Dempsey to shoot. If they hold the line, Oba will just turn and run at you until you're forced to make a desperation tackle, or til he finds help from an overlapping fullback.
That's how they made an otherwise very good Rapids defense look slow and disorganized. That's how they've now got a three-game winning streak, all against Western Conference rivals. That's how they're, right now, the best team in the league.
2. FC Dallas can't scramble on defense
I've mentioned this a couple of times here, and in various "Scouting Report" videos I've done for the games – including THIS one, for this game. It's fairly shocking how much FCD struggle with "broken" plays, since emergency defense is a timeless American art, like jazz, abstract expressionism and eating contests.
But Dallas just can't do it. Once they went down a man vs. D.C. United in this weekend's 4-1 loss, that was pretty much that.
The worst part for Oscar Pareja will be Bobby Boswell's goal (BELOW), which proved to be the game-winner:
This whole thing is a series of defensive scrambles because Dallas didn't even realize the short corner was coming. Granted, it was disguised well by United, but when your team has a weakness as obvious as Dallas' is, the whole gang has to get together and commit to preventing that situation in the first place.
They struggled just as much on the first goal, Fabian Espindola's header, which you can watch HERE. Once Espindola drifts wide then cuts inside, nobody on Dallas ever really picks him up, and he ghosts back post to head in the equalizer.
You can blame some of this on being down a man – nobody in MLS is less equipped to deal with that scenario than FCD – but United were taking control of this game before the (totally deserved) red to Zach Loyd, with the visitors just barely holding on.
Dallas did what they were supposed to over the first couple of months of the season, racking up points against a soft schedule. Now the schedule's harder, and the job's harder, too. They've got a bunch of stuff to fix if they want to avoid the type of summer swoon that killed them in 2013.
3. Portland's defense still needs work
The easy thing to do would be to point at Pa Modou-Kah, and his struggles tracking players in the box. This is precisely what burned Portland on Sunday, when Will Bruin was left wide open (watch HERE) to head home Houston's only goal in a 1-1 draw.
But what's really worrisome about Portland is that it's a lot easier to play through their pressure than it was in 2013. There's just a lack of coordination between the forwards, midfield and defense:
Mostly this falls onto the shoulders of Gaston Fernandez, who tries to force Corey Ashe to play up and out. But he doesn't get close fast enough, and over-commits to protecting the back pass. That leaves the flank exposed, especially with Jack Jewsbury pressed up against Andrew Driver.
And then suddenly Boniek Garcia has that sideline available for a clever run out of midfield, and instead of pressing Portland is chasing.
The nice thing about this is that Diego Chara has ridiculous speed and stamina – there isn't another center midfielder in the league who could have run down Boniek, especially in the 80th minute of a game played in sweltering conditions. So the Timbers have some leeway there, and usually chase very well.
And Caleb Porter is right in his assertion that, week by week, things are improving. But they're running out of weeks now, and with the attack still unable to win games on their own, these defensive gaps are going to start getting magnified.
A few more points to make...
6. I'm a John Hackworth fan, and just like it's not Porter's fault that his forwards can't finish, I'm not going to blame Philly's coach for their scoring problems when they're getting plenty of looks. But they were listless and passive in this weekend's 1-0 loss at Montreal, and in large part it's because they used such a deep line of confrontation. The Impact's counter scared the Union into sitting back:
Gave Hackworth benefit of doubt w/MTL line-up. This pic (def. events) shows he got it wrong. Called for high block d. pic.twitter.com/MBAxEuFHf4— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) April 27, 2014
3. Joao Plata continues to have an All-Star caliber season. I would have said "MVP caliber," but he's not at Dempsey's level right now. Nobody is.
That said, Plata has been spectacular and the main difference between an attack that can get bogged down vs. one that puts up multiple goals. His second-minute strike against Vancouver on Saturday (watch it HERE) in what was ultimately a disappointing 2-2 draw for RSL was classic Plata – he scored almost the exact same goal vs. the Timbers last year.
2. It's nice to see Dax McCarty healthy again. He covered a ton of ground this week for the Red Bulls in both their games – the win vs. Houston, and a 1-1 draw at Columbus. I wrote a good deal about them, and the shape-shifting Crew, right HERE.
1. A couple of weeks ago both Matt T and I made the point on March to the Match that the best way to shut San Jose down is to force Shea Salinas onto his left foot. Salinas is very, very one-footed, and struggles to get crosses with his weaker left over the near-post defender.
Should we take the blame for Chivas TBD's 1-0 loss to the Quakes, then?
Our bad, Chivas fans.