In the English Premier League, Arsenal are famous for being that team that can score four prom-night pretty goals one week, then fumble away six the following weekend. There is the perpetual threat of a slow, dirge-like version of the Benny Hill theme song wafting mournfully through Emirates Stadium as the Gunners wow you with their creativity, then crush you with their naivete. They can find gaps you'd never see, then leave acres you'd never allow.
They are the world's Jekyll & Hyde team. This juxtaposition of jogo bonito and hopeless defending has left their fans in a perpetual state of ... "agitation" isn't the right word. Neither is despair. To tell the truth, I'm not really sure the right word exists in English. If anything, the Germans probably have something for it.
But the point is, Arsenal fans are a jumpy, nervous lot because they never know what to expect.
All MLS fans know that plight. Whether you give a single damn about the EPL or not, this is fandom's convergent evolution.
Our life here, our common bond across MLS, is brought to you by the Church of Parity, and the scorelines from this weekend are our harvest.
1. How the Revs destroyed the Sounders
I was down on the New England Revolution earlier this year, primarily and mostly becaues I thought they wouldn't have an answer up top without Juan Agudelo. Jerry Bengtson's not that guy, and Teal Bunbury is a totally different kind of guy. That left a rookie – Patrick Mullins – to do a job usually not left to rookies.
Mullins didn't feature much at the start of the year, and with Bengtson or Bunbury at the point of the 4-1-4-1, the Revs did, indeed, lack answers. No Agudelo meant no dangerous combinations in and around the box, which is murder for a team that is allergic to bending in crosses. And thus, they were shut out in four of their first five games, scoring two goals (an own-goal, and a beautiful Lee Nguyen culer that actually should have been disallowed) over that span.
So I thought they were cooked. But over the past month Jay Heaps has made some adjustments, and the Revs – after scalping Seattle to the tune of 5-0 – are now the hottest team in the league.
The rookie has been the key. Mullins won the last two Hermann Trophy awards as college soccer's top player, but fell in this latest draft for one big reason: scouts didn't believe he could do the work of a target forward. They thought he'd try to only run the channels (think Kenny Cooper) instead of putting his back into a defender, taking the hit and connecting passes.
So far, in his very brief career, Mullins has trashed those scouting reports. His ability to take a hit and still make a play, finding the rest of New England's attackers in dangerous spots, has transformed this team.
Just as important, he stays high and central, which pushes opposing backlines just a step or two deeper, making it harder to compress the midfield and thus giving the linkes of Nguyen, Daigo Kobayashi, Bunbury and Diego Fagundez more space.
Here's his position just before the first goal:
Here he is on the second goal:
Here he is on the third goal:
And here's No. 4:
This is good, solid, smart center forward play. The Revs aren't going to score a bucket of goals every weekend from here on out, but they're also not going to have any months when they only find net once or twice. They're getting room now, and these guys are ridiculously good in that kind of space.
2. How New York's Week 1 problems showed up again
Way back in the beginning of March the Red Bulls went to Vancouver and gave up four goals. The defining characteristic of that game was New York's inability to put any kind of pressure on the 'Caps midfield.
Same thing happened this weekend, repeatedly in their 5-4 loss to Chicago.
1. McCarty steps to put token pressure on Jeff Larentowicz
2. Cahill is slow to react, and neither pressures Benji Joya nor plays a lane
3. Joya plays a one-touch pass to Harry Shipp in all kinds of space
4. Shipp does this
I don't think it's a coincidence that Cahill's best moments with New York have come as a second striker or even a False 9. But with Bradley Wright-Phillips currently the best English forward since Gary Lineker, and Thierry Henry still the best player on the team, there's really no spot for Cahill up top.
As I said on this week's Scouting Report game preview: this is a problem Mike Petke has to sort out. When you're seeing the same issues in Week 10 that you saw in Week 1, you know you've got some work to do.
3. How D.C. United have evolved
I'm turning it over to Charlie Boehm for this one:
"Don't look now but DCU midfield is starting to almost appear RSL-like: Less flair/imagination, for sure, but lots of interchanging, dynamic movement, as well as bite and ballwinning in what sure looks like a diamond rotation system that allows [Fabian] Espindola and [Eddie Johnson] to float wide in the attacking third to pull defenders out of position.
Is Ben Olsen a better tactician than conventional wisdom believes him to be? [Lewis] Neal has an eye for a pass, [Chris] Rolfe is so good in tight spaces and [Perry] Kitchen is Ivan Drago reincarnated. They're much, much better than last year, even with their USMNT, DP striker mostly a dead weight."
The big point is that United have figured out how to play off of Espindola, who is the opposite of Mullins in that he never, ever wants to stay in the central channel. Look at his events map from Saturday's 1-0 win over Philadelphia:
That in turn has allowed Rolfe to get inside and be both a playmaker and goal-dangerous:
I don't think United will be a legit Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup contender, but they're officially "pretty good." That's a gigantic improvement over last season's record futility.
A few more points to make...
7. Despite the win, the Quakes actually looked a lot better in their scoreless midweek draw vs. Colorado. The central midfield play was the main reason why:
Cronin inserted for Pierazzi – not playing nearly as deep. No one covering in front of the defense. Cronin playing a lot of catch up.— Tim Froh (@TimFroh) May 11, 2014
5. It wasn't all smiles for RSL. Alvaro Saborio made a little bit of a scene after being subbed off:
Saborio storming off is a test of Cassar's leadership. Jason Kreis established a punishment for that behavior. Will Jeff stick to it?— Tyler G. Page (@tpageMLS) May 12, 2014
4. I wrote a good bit about how Sporting KC can cope with the loss of Matt Besler and Graham Zusi for the World Cup. The take-away, following an impressive 3-0 win over Montreal? Sporting will be fine.
NUTSO ... SKC's defense has given up *2* even strength run of play goals all season. 9 games. Crazytalk.— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) May 11, 2014
3. As Brian Dunseth repeatedly pointed out on the NBCSN broadcast , Portland still struggle to deal with teams that play a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. The Galaxy really controlled the game in the teams' 1-1 draw on Sunday, finding gaps and able to combine up the middle in a way they previously hadn't done.
A good portion of this is tactical, but I think part of it has to do with some undisclosed injury Diego Chara is carrying. He hasn't had the same quickness or closing speed, and Landon Donovan in particular was able to pull away from the Colombian at will.
This has been a recurring theme this season:
2. Chivas TBD got their first win since Week 1 by going into a Colorado snowstorm and stomping a hole into the Rapids to the tune of 3-1. If they can keep Martin Rivero healthy, they can be a very troublesome team out west.
1. The youth shall lead Vancouver, who scored a 1-0 road win at Columbus. With Nigel Reo-Coker probably on the way out, it looks like Carl Robinson is doubling down on youngsters like Matias Laba, Gershon Koffie and Russell Teibert in central midfield.
I like that bet. I think 'Caps fans will, too.