Week 14 was jam-packed with action all around MLS, including some results that probably caught us all by surprise. Here's one takeaway for each MLS team as we look ahead to the next slate of games.
I thought they were an Almiron replacement away from being somewhat competitive again but I am starting to think they will need an entire rebuild. Everywhere I look, they are weak. They need a center back, two center mids and a winger or two. They did beat FC Dallas in midweek but unfortunately that win was the exception and not the norm, which has been closer to their weekend loss to Chicago.
The Fire team we’ve seen in the past two games is the team they are capable of being at their very best. The six goals they scored over two games last week were no fluke — they had 31 shots, half of which were on target, which tells me they are creating quality chances. One of the keys to this offensive resurgence is the form of Fabian Herbers, who now has three goals and an assist in his past four games.
A 5-0 win that featured five different scorers was a great sign, because that’s what it’ll take for the Rapids to keep up this good run. There isn’t a big star on this team so the team has to be the star. Or maybe I am selling Cole Bassett short? Nineteen years old with four goals and four assists in just seven starts. If he isn’t there already then it looks like he is on his way to being a star in this league.
Columbus Crew SC
The second half against a Toronto is the first time all year that I’ve seen the Crew get outplayed. The one area where production can definitely be ramped up is the wide area. Pedro Santos aside, they simply aren’t getting enough contributions from Derek Etienne Jr. and Luis Diaz, who get major minutes. Ultimately they will be fine because Gyasi Zardes will get his and Lucas Zelarayan will always create, but on days when those two are off and Darlington Nagbe isn’t around, they need more from their wingers.
Sometimes the standings don’t tell the full picture because a team can be playing better than the results they are getting. This is not one of those cases. D.C. United are exactly where they should be and one of their many issues is the lack of chance creation. They haven’t scored well all year but there were times when the chances were at least there. The concern now is that they simply don’t have enough ideas or creativity when they meet a strong defense.
They are scoreless in seven of their past nine games, but unfortunately that’s not the only thing we should raise our eyebrows at. The complete lack of production or inspiration from their Designated Players is almost certain to ensure they miss the playoffs. They need a spark, just one special play, one moment where a key player — Jurgen Locadia, Allan Cruz, anyone — takes the team on his back and wins them a game. Short of that, their postseason hopes will fade in the next few weeks.
The only thing that will determine how high this group finishes and what they do in the playoffs will be offensive consistency. On some days, Franco Jara, Jesus Ferreira, Michael Barrios, Santiago Mosquera and, of course, Andres Ricaurte look like they can explode for multiple goals at any moment. Then they have games where the threat is nonexistent — I’m thinking of the 1-0 loss to Atlanta and the last 30 minutes against 10-man Orlando — because they run out of ideas in the final third and the movements become predictable.
It’s time for one of Christian Ramirez or Mauro Manotas to step up and be the No. 9 this team needs. This was always an important need but it’s now even more pressing since the departure of Alberth Elis. Tab Ramos has given ample opportunities to both but they’ve responded with only four goals between them. Darwin Quintero has five goals and seven assists and should his form continue, it may be enough to see them sneak into the playoffs, but to have any hope of making noise once they get to the dance, they’ll one of their No. 9s to start scoring regularly.
Inter Miami CF
After looking like they had sorted out most of the defensive issues from earlier in the season, old habits came back to bite them as they allowed seven goals in two games. Just have a look at the Red Bulls' second goal on through Brian White in Wednesday's 4-1 defeat. Miami failed to clear the ball twice, and then allowed New York to complete simple passes inside their own 18-yard box that led to an easy finish. Even if Gonzalo Higuain comes in and lights the world on fire, it won’t be enough to overcome that type of defending.
The Galaxy are in trouble, and it’s not because Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez hasn’t hit the ground running yet — I remain convinced that once he gets one, he can go on a little run — it’s because they insist on defending with an extremely high line and they just don’t have the defenders for it. They need to accept who they have and play with a much deeper defensive line because time after time they allow attackers to run into space unopposed, and against the Sounders in particular, they paid dearly.
It’s time we accept that this is who the 2020 version of LAFC is — they can rip you apart in one game and look like the best attack this league has, and then look vulnerable and lethargic at both ends of the pitch in the very next game. I have no idea if they are going to win 4-0 or lose 4-0 in any given game — it’s great for the neutrals, but it must be driving Bob Bradley mad. I’ll state the obvious: they need Carlos Vela to return and find his best form ASAP. His presence alone may spark the inspiration they’ll need to actually find some consistency.
They have five wins, four draws and five defeats, and I think that’s exactly who Minnesota United are — a team that can beat anyone but also lose to anyone. It just depends which version shows up. Although he hasn’t found the back of the net yet, I do think the Kei Kamara acquisition was very good business because he adds a proven goalscoring pedigree and the ability to hold the ball up, run into the channels, win aerial duels and be a big set piece threat that can turn a few of those draws into three points.
Their biggest issue is their discipline, or lack thereof. Four red cards in their last five games is a shocking statistic, and they do themselves no favors by having to constantly rotate and change the lineup due to suspensions. Add to that the leaky defense — 14 goals against in the past four games — and I start worrying if they’ll have enough to hold off the chasing pack for the 8th, 9th or 10th seed in the playoff race.
They currently sit in a playoff spot and continue to look solid defensively but I am a little worried because they just don’t score enough. Only once this season have they scored more than one goal in a game. Their attacking core of Dominique Badji, Hany Mukhtar, Alex Muyl, Randall Leal and Daniel Rios have five goals between them — a low return, to say the least. They can make the playoffs because the teams chasing them haven’t been great, but unless there is a significant offensive improvement they will get bounced from the playoffs in the first game.
Gustavo Bou looks like he is hitting form at the right time and it’s a welcome sight. He’s played as the lone striker in the past three games and he’s scored in two of them. The last time he scored in two consecutive games, he then went four games without a goal, to avoid a repeat he will need to keep putting himself in threatening positions inside the 18 yard box because as he showed with his finish against DC United, he can be very clinical when chances come his way.
Four clean sheets in their past six games meant that their defensive displays were why they were picking up points here and there. The offense had only been good in parts so far in 2020, but after the four-goal explosion against FC Cincinnati inspired by Alexandru Mitrita stepping into the Maxi Moralez role, they will now hope to kick on and cement a playoff spot. Speaking of Mitrita, he has the quality to be a real difference maker when he’s on — see his first goal against Cincinnati — his problem has been that he hasn’t been on often enough.
New York Red Bulls
What a week it was for the Red Bulls — two wins, eight goals and some much-needed separation between themselves and the playoff line. To sustain a playoff push they will need several contributors so it’s a great sign that they had six different scorers contributing to the eight goals. Even better was that some key guys stepped up as Daniel Royer and Kaku both found the back of the net.
Orlando City SC
Four points from two tough away games cements this team as the real deal, since they are now unbeaten in eight games. How much can they accomplish? That remains to be seen, but they should absolutely be going for the Supporters' Shield. The diversity of their attack is a massive plus, as their last eight goals have come from seven different scorers.
What they’ve done at the attacking end has taken a lot of the plaudits and rightly so, but in the past two games they also showed how stubborn they can be defensively. With the Crew’s slip-up against Toronto, this Union team will smell blood — they want the Supporters' Shield. If they can keep defending at this level and consistently get what Mark McKenzie and Jakob Glesnes have given lately, they have every right to believe they can be the best team in the country.
Just like that, the Timbers are unbeaten in four and tied for first in the West. They’ve won and drawn the same amount of games as the Sounders and have only lost one more while pretty much scoring the same. The difference has been on the defensive side, where they’ve conceded twice as many goals as their rivals. But with two shutouts in Cascadia games this week, they appear to be shoring up the backline just in time to make a real push for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Real Salt Lake
They are very inconsistent and may be too inconsistent to mount a serious challenge for silverware this season. Of course, if they are able to find consistency that can change. In order to do so they need to find a way to start games faster and get the first goal because aside from one game, every time they have conceded first, they’ve failed to win.
San Jose Earthquakes
I’ll be honest, I had to do a double take when I saw the final score against LAFC. I was expecting another drubbing for San Jose but if nothing else, they showed great character to get that kind of result after what has transpired recently. I still believe they will need to seriously adjust their system — less man marking, more covering the space and staying compact in two blocks of four defensively — to avoid heavier defeats again this season, but against LAFC they at least showed that they can be much better than some recent results can suggest.
The offense is clicking on all cylinders and with every passing game Nico Lodeiro is looking like his very best self. He is leading the charge at the attacking end but it’s the form of a player tasked with leading the charge at the defensive end that has really impressed me lately — Yeimar Gomez Andrade has been phenomenal. He’s quick, strong, great 1-v-1, commanding in the air and he’s one of the main reasons they have the best defensive record in the West. He gets better every week and has emerged as a real leader in that back line.
Sporting Kansas City
I’ll just repeat what I have been saying: unless someone other than Johnny Russell starts finding the back of the net, they will continue to slide down the standings. They don’t keep enough clean sheets — just one in the last eight — to not get production from more attacking players to make up for it.
Ask and you shall receive. I wanted Greg Vanney to play Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore and Ayo Akinola together from the start, and he did so in their last two games. Against NYCFC Jozy and Akinola started up top together, which is what I thought I wanted to see, however, it worked much better against the Crew when Jozy was up top alone and Akinola was on the right. This allows both to play to their strengths — Jozy can lead the line and link up with those underneath while Akinola can isolate himself 1-v-1 against the left back and be a threat working from the outside-in.
There are massive defensive issues here. San Jose aside, they’ve been the worst defensive team in the West. They don’t defend crosses or set pieces well — guys lose their marks too easily and sometimes they don’t even bother to mark. In a week where they conceded seven goals in two games, six of them came from set pieces or crosses from wide areas.