We're in the final push of the MLS regular season before the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, and Week 22 left us with plenty of storylines to ponder with Decision Day looming and playoff seeding on the line. Here's one takeaway for every MLS team as the postseason inches closer.
It’s hard to pin down what they should be most pleased about this weekend as they picked up three vital points, a home win and their DP Marcelino Moreno opened his account. As great as all of that is, I think the clean sheet was the most important accomplishment as it was their first clean sheet in five games and they’ll need to be at their best defensively on Decision Day presented by AT&T against the Crew to have any chance at a postseason berth.
Chicago Fire FC
It’s now just one win in seven games but they are still above the playoff line. To ensure they stay there they will need big performances from Robert Beric, Alvaro Medran and Gaston Gimenez — those are the three players with the quality to help them get the four points I believe they’ll need from the final two games.
Despite outshooting Atlanta, it was the same old issues that once again plagued this FC Cincinnati team — ineffectiveness in front of goal. The off-season priority for this club is clear as they will need to either bring in someone who can consistently put the ball in the back of the net, or hope that some of the returning cast work on their games enough to become players who can convert some of these chances they create.
In the second half against the Sounders they looked like the team they were becoming before their extended break. The attacking group displayed some very good interchanging and slick passing. Cole Bassett continues to have a major impact but the star of the show was Nicolas Benezet. He gave the Sounders fits every time he put his head down and drove at the backline — this created space for the likes of Diego Rubio and Andre Shinyashiki to exploit.
Columbus Crew SC
The Crew showed their championship credentials with the win against a very good Philadelphia team. It was a performance reminiscent of the early season version of the Crew — disciplined, organized defensively, dangerous on the break and very efficient in front of goal. Not many teams would have been able to withstand the 22 shots with nine on goal that the Union managed, but that’s the strength of this Columbus team. At their best they are still the best defensive team in the league in terms of how well they deny space as a unit, and that’s what gives them a good chance at some silverware this season.
They were unable to continue their recent good form but they’re still in with a chance. They will need help from elsewhere in order to secure a postseason spot but beyond that, the organization should be pleased by how many players have stepped up in recent weeks. Yamil Asad, Griffin Yow, Donovan Pines and Julian Gressel are all pieces that a new manager will be able to build on. In terms of who they should get as a new manager, I’d love to see them give a young, hungry coach, who wants to prove themselves a chance. Anyone from Ezra Hendrickson, Ante Razov, Djimi Traore, Kenny Arena or even Pa Modou Kah.
Fafa Picault got the two goals and the headlines but I was so impressed with Andres Ricaurte once again. His pinpoint pass to Picault for his first goal was special but he did that sort of thing all game long. He is one of those players who delights in sharing the ball with his teammates and as long as he has willing runners around him, he will be picking up many more assists.
A season that promised so much has fizzled out in disappointing fashion as they simply didn’t replace everything they lost when Alberth Elis left for Europe. Darwin Quintero was good for most of the year but as the season came to a close and his form cooled off, so did the overall offense this team could muster. They have the right coach in Tab Ramos, but he will need to be given the right pieces to bounce back next season.
Inter Miami CF
They are going to need a lot of help from other teams in order to prolong their season but their focus must be on what they can control which is their own performance against FC Cincinnati. They cannot win without having all of their key guys at their very best so look for Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro, Lewis Morgan and Blaise Matuidi to have big games. If those guys aren’t on, their expansion season will come to a disappointing end.
Interim coach Dom Kinnear made it clear that he did not want his team to finish last and they took a big step towards achieving that goal with the win against Real Salt Lake. Their offense looked more fluid than it has in recent weeks as they focused on getting out quickly in transition which brought out the best in Cristian Pavon, who looked really good sans Chicharito once again.
I actually think the weekend off will work to their benefit as it gave them a chance to rest and get healthy. As I’ve been saying, if they are able to field a full strength lineup at full health, very few teams can withstand the attacking pressure they bring in every game. Let’s hope they are able to get back on the pitch this week.
The goal has to be to hold on to the fourth seed and get a home game in the playoffs. Kei Kamara has added much needed MLS experience and pedigree in attack but they’ll need him to find a goal from open play to really kick start his Loons career because if he’s not at his best in the playoffs, they will lose a big part of what can make them dangerous.
Recent form is not on their side but the good news is that their destiny is still in their hands. To beat D.C. United they’ll need to get Romell Quioto back to his best. Thierry Henry unlocked a new dimension in the Honduran’s game by playing him through the center but his form has not been good since returning from his suspension with just one goal in six games. They need him back at his best.
There are no worries on the defensive side which is what will make them tough to beat, but it’s important that they use their final two games to really fine tune the offense. If they are able to be a team that can score two goals a game, they’ll have a great chance to go far in the playoffs because they don’t give up too many.
New England Revolution
With four goals in his last six games, Teal Bunbury is the in-form man for Bruce Arena. He offers a versatility that Arena has used to great benefit — he’s been deployed on the left, the right and also through the middle — and has done well in every role. The return of Carles Gil could not be better timed either because if he reaches full match sharpness, this team’s attack goes up another level or two in the postseason.
New York City FC
It’s now three straight wins, and this most recent one against their rivals, is the pick of the bunch. They have hit form at the right time and it’s no surprise that Maxi Moralez’s return has coincided with this uptick in performance. Although the nagging injuries have lowered his expected output, he still pulls the strings and makes those around him better because he sees things that few others in the league can see.
New York Red Bulls
Even more worrisome than the derby defeat is the fact that they have just one win in their last five away games. This is not a good trend seeing as they will have to win away from home at least once, maybe twice, to have any hope of making noise in the postseason.
Orlando City SC
They snapped a four-game winless streak with two impressive wins that displayed the different strengths they possess. Against Atlanta they were at their breathtaking best because Nani, Daryl Dike and co. were able to get out on the counter and tear Atlanta apart. Against Montreal, they defended their lead resolutely as the Impact chased the equalizer. Both performances re-established what we’ve known all year — they are very well built from back to front and when it all comes together, they are a force to be reckoned with.
The latest result wasn’t what they wanted but Jim Curtin can take heart from the performance because for large parts of the game they were excellent. Not many teams go to Columbus and create so many good chances, especially in the first half, and on another day they could have been up by a couple of goals. I’ve seen enough from this team to know that they are the real deal and will give anyone a run for their money in the playoffs.
Since losing to the Galaxy in early September, they are undefeated in their last five home games and that’s been the key to their ascent to first place in the West. They are very tough to beat at Providence Park. Another strength of this team is the fact that they get a different hero every week — someone new always seems to step up when needed. This week it was Yimmi Chara, who sealed the deal with the game-winner against Vancouver and he is proving to be a very good signing.
Real Salt Lake
There’s no two ways about it: Missing the playoffs is not only a disappointment, it’s an underachievement. I don’t think a massive overhaul is needed but they do need to bring in a reliable striker. They simply didn’t get enough production from their attacking core down the stretch and that should be priority number one in terms of what to address in the offseason.
San Jose Earthquakes
They must beat Seattle to secure their playoff spot. In their last two games against the Sounders we’ve seen their best defensive effort in the 0-0 draw and also their worst in the 7-1 defeat. They have to use the tactics they used on the draw — tactics that don’t allow copious amounts of room in behind because they simply don’t have the defensive speed to track Jordan Morris. They need to sit a little deeper, deny the space and then hope that Chris Wondolowski continues to turn back the clock and finds a goal or two.
There is no need to overreact to the defeat at Colorado. What would be nice to see this week would be a full 90-minute performance. Lately they’ve been good in either the first half, and poor in the second half or vice versa. They know better than anyone that you can’t play well in short bursts during the playoffs — you need to put a full game together. They have two opportunities this week to put together a strong performance from first whistle to last.
Sporting Kansas City
Although nothing in this league is guaranteed, especially in 2020, they have to feel good about going away to recently eliminated Real Salt Lake and picking up three points. Should results go their way, they can finish the season on top of the West and that would once again underline just how good of a job Peter Vermes has continues to do.
They look so much better when one of Ayo Akinola or Jozy Altidore plays up top. When both were playing together a few weeks ago they looked unstoppable. Their skill sets bring out the best of Alejandro Pozuelo. He needs dynamic players around him that he can bounce passes off and combine with. Their biggest enemy in the postseason will be health — if they have everyone available, I will not rule out a fourth MLS Cup appearance in five years.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
If they do make the postseason they look like a one and done and team as they are a couple of levels below the Seattle’s and Portland’s of the league — teams they’d have to face in the first round. Unless Fredy Montero or Lucas Cavallini produce some magic, they never really look like scoring, and at times, even those two can’t produce enough to beat the very best teams.