Week 12 of the 2020 MLS regular season is a wrap, and there's plenty of storylines to chew on coming off all the action. Here are 26 takeaways on all 26 MLS teams.
Another week, another low for Atlanta. So much is going wrong and I feel that Juan Agudelo’s opening goal captured how lifeless Atlanta look right now. Inter Miami’s Lewis Morgan was allowed to run from his own half into the Atlanta 18-yard box with no one tracking him and then when Agudelo put the ball in the net, there were only two Miami players to Atlanta’s six in the box, yet not one Atlanta defender made a goal saving play. They are too slow to react and recognize when danger is about to strike.
The Fire are one of those teams who have no problem creating chances, they just don’t convert enough of them. With CJ Sapong returning, they’ll now have the option of playing two up top — Sapong and Robert Beric — and that’s what I think they need to do. The Fire create a lot but they need to get more bodies in the box, specfically bodies who know how to score in this league — which is exactly what Sapong can offer at his best.
The Olimpico was glorious and they got the three points, but FC Cincinnati need to improve in attack. They are the league’s lowest scoring team and it’s not hard to see why: too many poor touches, misplaced passes and bad finishing in the final third. They also need way more from their Designated Players — four combined goals in 22 combined starts is mediocre at best.
With the trade of Kei Kamara, the Rapids' intentions are clear: we are going to live and die by our young players. Against the LA Galaxy it paid off, but for this form to be sustained they’ll need to keep Kellyn Acosta in good form. He was very good at the weekend and in some ways it was a reminder of his immense talent. He needs to be the leader of this Rapids youth movement.
Columbus Crew SC
No Darlington Nagbe, no Lucas Zelarayan, no problem. When you hardly ever concede you’re going to win most of your games. But don’t be fooled, the Crew don’t just sit back and hope to catch you on the break. No, they produce chances in multiple ways — crosses from wide areas, give-and-gos through the middle and long-range shooting. Every player is well-drilled in what they need to do and that’s why they can overcome the loss of their two best players.
The win against Sporting KC was very impressive. For starters, they scored three goals away from home. They also showed excellent character by not getting deflated after blowing a two-goal lead, instead they managed to regroup and find the winner. All top teams have great strength in depth, so most impressive of all, was that Dallas won this game while keeping their new star Andres Ricaurte on the bench for 90 minutes. That’s a great sign.
For the first time in nine games they scored more than one goal in a game. I’ve felt that there have been signs of improvement in intensity on the offensive side for D.C. United in recent weeks and against Toronto they confirmed that. Ola Kamara’s goal was a direct result of great pressing and a finish that he would have missed three weeks ago. And after managing just five, zero and eight shots in the previous three games, they managed 14 against Toronto — another sign that they can generate enough offense to improve their league standing.
Darwin Quintero has been delivering the goods on the left, but with the departure of Alberth Elis, they will need one of Ariel Lassiter or Niko Hansen to step up and fill the hole on the right with the goals and assists Elis just took to Portugal. It’s either that, or a lot more production from Mauro Manotas. If either one of those things happens, Houston will continue to be an attacking menace. If not, the burden to carry the offense may be too much for Quintero.
Inter Miami CF
For the most part they are figuring it out on the defensive side of things. Now between Gonzalo Higuain, Blaise Matuidi, Agudelo, Morgan, Brek Shea and Rodolfo Pizarro, they have enough quality — on paper at least — to start improving their goalscoring record. My lingering question is: do they have enough quality to give Higuain the consistent service he’ll need to score the amount of goals he’s capable of? The answer to that question will go a long way to determining their playoff destiny.
The bad news is that after six games unbeaten they finally lost. The good news is that they are finally getting some big players back. The challenge for Guillermo Barros Schelotto will now be re-integrating Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Jonathan Dos Santos into the lineup without diminishing what Cristian Pavon has been doing in recent weeks. This might sound crazy considering Chicharito’s profile, but the Galaxy need to ask Chicharito to fit in and adjust to Pavon, and not vice versa.
With 25 goals scored, they are averaging two goals a game yet they have a negative goal difference. In other words, they score enough goals to make the playoffs but they concede too many to do anything once they get there. Recently it’s been individual mistakes that have cost them — giving away two cheap penalties in Seattle, not sticking with runners on set pieces and being slow in transition. These are all fixable issues, but Bob Bradley will have to decide on who is goalkeeper is going to be going forward.
With the addition of Kei Kamara and Emanuel Reynoso, and the good form of Kevin Molino, this team now has enough firepower to make a serious push for top spot in the West. However, with only one clean sheet in seven games, the defensive side of things may be what stops them reaching their full potential.
It was a bad week for Thierry Henry’s men. At the moment they are their own worst enemy, as this was the third game in a row with a red card. It’s hard to win games when you have to play with 10 men all the time. Worst of all, the most recent red card was given to Romell Quioto, who has been in very good form leading the line for the Impact. Without him, they will need Bojan Krkic to step up and show the form that led the Impact to sign him in the first place.
The key to any success this team has this season will depend on their home form. It’s been good so far, and with two home games on the horizon they need to capitalize and go for six points. At home, they really put teams under pressure when they play a little more direct so they can play in the opponents' half. In Dominique Badji they have a willing runner, and they must play to his strengths by trying to get in behind teams as much as possible.
New England Revolution
They pretty much win as much as they lose and concede as much as they score. To turn some more draws into wins and improve their goal difference, they will need to fill Carles Gil’s large boots by committee. It can’t be on Lee Nguyen alone, or on Gustavo Bou, or on Teal Bunbury. It has to be on all five or six attacking options at Bruce Arena’s disposal. They rarely get all their attackers to play well at the same time, that will have to change if they are to challenge for one of the top spots in the East.
I have no idea how a team that has only scored 10 goals can be in fifth place in the East but I suspect it may have to do with the fact they’ve only conceded nine, so I’ll give credit for the good defensive displays. But it won’t be enough to overcome the better teams in the playoffs. Heber’s finishing has been problematic all season, yet he starts every game. At some point he has to repay the manager's faith with goals — if he doesn’t, they will begin to slip down the standings.
New York Red Bulls
I see two main issues that I’ve spoken of recently: 1. underperforming starters, 2. too many formation changes. But there is another issue here — shocking home form. They’ve lost their last three home games and haven’t scored in any of them. Fans or not, no team can make noise in MLS without good home form and that’s why I am concerned about the Red Bulls.
Orlando City SC
Their biggest strength is their coach. He is pressing all the right buttons in terms of team selection — when to rotate, when to make subs and when to tweak the formation. When a coach can get the very best out of an established superstar with the pedigree of Nani and a rookie like Daryl Dike at the same time, he must be given credit for his man management. There is lots to like about this team, but enough can’t be said about how much Oscar Pareja has changed things.
With nine goals in three games and just one defeat in seven, I feel they are the one team that may be able to catch the Crew in the East. Going forward, teams may need at least two goals to have a chance of getting a point against the Union, because they don’t look like slowing down. Only once in the last eight games have they had fewer than 10 shots, and that’s why they are so hard to beat — they simply create too many chances and ask opponents too many questions.
Diego Valeri is back to his best but it’s the other Diego who needs to be highlighted. Chara is always good. When others have dips in form, he is still Mr. Dependable. He will never show up on the stat sheet, but his greatness lies in how much he's missed when he isn't there. As long as he stays fit, and the likes of Valeri, Yimmi Chara and Jeremy Ebobisse stay in good form, this team has a chance to add to the silverware haul they started this summer at MLS is Back.
Real Salt Lake
They need more from Albert Rusnak. Even though he was arguably his team’s best attacker over the weekend, when you’re the centerpiece and get paid the big bucks, the spotlight will shine brighter on you. At his very best his movement is very active, he’s driving at the back four, and he’s shooting from distance. Most importantly he’s impacting the box score. With just two goals this season, that tally needs rise significantly for Real Salt Lake to turn around their recent form.
San Jose Earthquakes
The system has to change, it’s as simple as that. I loved the ideas and energy Almeyda bought to San Jose last season, but it’s clear that this year, the man marking all over the pitch system doesn’t suit the players he has. When that’s the case you either have to change the players or the system. In this instance, the coach has to tweak significant things to give his players a chance to compete. Otherwise there will be more lopsided defeats in the near future.
In Joao Paulo the Sounders have hit the jackpot. He attacks, defends, passes really well and runs hard for 90 minutes. Best of all, he playmakes really well from deep, which allows Nicolas Lodeiro to take up higher positions next to Raul Ruidíaz and Jordan Morris. If Joao Paulo stays fit, the Sounders will make a serious push for both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup.
They are still well positioned in the standings, but their recent form is cause for concern: just one win in six games. Outside of Johnny Russell, they aren’t getting enough production from their attack. Khiry Shelton and Erik Hurtado haven’t been consistent enough, and so they need the previously injured Alan Pulidoto return. He’s the kind of player who brings others into the game and raises the whole team’s level and that’s what Sporting needs — several players all in good attacking form — they can’t expect Russell to carry the offense every week.
They left two points on the table against D.C. United but the continued good form of Ayo Akinola is extremely impressive. It’s not just his goalscoring. There was a play in the second half where he held the ball up brilliantly before playing a wonderful little pass into Alejandro Pozuelo’s path and the only surprise was that the playmaker didn’t finish it. At some point I’d love to see Greg Vanney unleash Akinola and Jozy Altidore together up front with Pozuelo in behind from the start — no defense in MLS is going to enjoy facing that trio.
It was a great week for the Whitecaps. Fredy Montero was sensational in both games but I feel the biggest moment may have been Lucas Cavallini’s game-winning goal. You never know how a star player will respond when they return from a suspension and have to start on the bench because their replacement is in good form. I give Cavallini credit for having the best possible response. Now, if both he and Montero can maintain their good form, there’s no reason Vancouver can’t keep climbing the standings.