We're almost a quarter of the way through the 2019 season – we'll round the quarter pole this weekend. Time flies when you're having fun.
Let's dive into the five-game Wednesday slate:
What should surprise folks, at least a little bit, is the relative game-over-game consistency, in terms of lineup and tactical approach, this team has displayed for the past three games. They've played five of those six halves with a five-man backline, have settled into being a low-block team, have mostly played their players in their correct positions, and are now actually collecting points on the regular. They're 2-0-1 in their last three games; in their previous 21, they were 4-9-8.
I'm not saying a corner has been turned for good here. Dome Torrent always gives me reason to think twice about whether or not this team will stay on a winning path...
“I think the players are feeling more comfortable and I also feel comfortable as coach," Torrent said after the game. "I think the prior matches before the winning streak went well. I think we have a system that the players enjoy. We have good quality players. It does not always mean that we will always use the system of play. It all depends on the opponents we are facing. However, the matches where we have used this system have been successful.”
The thing with NYCFC is that they haven't proved good enough to constantly adjust their system of play to their opponents – few teams in MLS history have been able to do that effectively. If you have something that works, sticking with it is the best choice about 85% of the time, and Dome basically guaranteed that's not going to happen.
They sure have looked better, though, and while consistency in terms of their identity is one part of it another is the arrival of Heber. The channel-running Brazilian center forward just relentlessly makes diagonal runs through the opposing central defenders to open space both for himself and for his attacking companions, and that's given them each of their last three goals. City Football Group's scouting apparatus is legit.
The Fire, meanwhile, are struggling to get on the same page...
Part of the deal with playing Bastian Schweinsteiger as a center back is that the fullbacks don't push as far forward, so nobody's actually making that run.
They got away with it against Colorado, but a team with this many weapons should be better in attack.
This was one-way traffic:
The recipe continues to be the same for the Impact: defend deep, try to keep that zero, and hit on the break (or the occasional set piece) if you can. It worked against a New England side that had nowhere near the skill, structure or mentality necessary to break down Montreal's bunker. Philly provided a blueprint this past weekend, but there's a gap between knowing a blueprint exists and being able to execute upon it.
Montreal have played eight of nine away from home, and have gone more than a month without their best player. Despite that they are second in the East on points and fourth in points per game.
Montreal have 25 games left, 16 of them at home. They are going to make the playoffs – write it in pen.
A point I have made repeatedly about Columbus over the past few years is that they lack the top-end attacking talent to magic themselves a result or three when things just aren't clicking. D.C. have said top-end talent:
D.C. didn't really deserve to win this game, but they had Wayne Rooney and Columbus didn't.
Of course, D.C. didn't deserve to lose, either. They got their lead and, on short rest, coming off an awful display and missing multiple starters, they just packed it in and killed off the game. They were kind of designed to do that anyway – Ben Olsen had them come out in a 5-4-1 with three giant central defenders playing on the back foot, clearing anything that came near the box.
Which it what makes it all the more confusing that Columbus crossed the ball 44 times on the night, the second-highest total of any team this season. Somewhere around cross No. 25 they should've come up with a different idea.
The Crew have now lost three in a row and have scored just once in that span. They're 21st in the league in goals per 90. Something needs to give.
Getting Ike Opara back helped the Loons a ton, as did starting Brent Kallman and Eric Miller. The simple mistakes that had plagued this team's usual starting bunch were nowhere to be seen against a Galaxy side as bereft of attacking ideas as the Crew were.
That said, Minnesota have now just one win in their past six and are still looking for their first home win. I think it'll come – you could see the seeds of a good, complete team out there in this one. But I wouldn't bet my life on it.
The Galaxy have, by the numbers, the second-best defense in MLS. They lost a big part of it when 17-year-old right back Julian Araujo pulled up injured late in the second half.
It looked really bad, but a Galaxy spokesperson said that it was an ankle sprain, and further tests would be done once the team arrives in LA, while head coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto told Kevin Baxter of the LA Times that he thinks Araujo will be available on Sunday.
We all knew the Quakes had been playing better the past three games, but I think anyone who claims they saw this one coming is a liar. Yes the Quakes had been better, and yes the Sounders had been sluggish, and yes Seattle were missing their top two center forwards, but... Shea Salinas (who's finally playing as a full-time, counterattacking, inverted left winger) getting a brace? San Jose's central midfield carving out chance after chance? San Jose blitzing to a 2-0 lead? Nope!
Yet that's what happened. And it was a blitz – San Jose won the first 65 minutes of this game by winning duel after duel, claiming second ball after second ball, turning every 50/50 into a 55/45. That's the way under Matias Almeyda, and his side have embraced it in April after a miserable March.
And let's face it: It fits the ethos of the club:
Seattle's ethos has been "play good soccer and win," and they at least accomplished the first part of that for the final 30 minutes of this game after a few aggressive subs from head coach Brian Schmetzer.
That said, it's clear they need Raul Ruidiaz back, and not just for his poaching. Ruidiaz's movement gives the Sounders a good bit of their shape, as he drags defenders with him to both find space for himself and to open up space for his fellow attackers. Things have been tight and choppy in the Seattle attack without Ruidiaz or Will Bruin, and they desperately need one or the other back this weekend for the return date against LAFC on Sunday (3:30 pm ET | ESPN — Full TV & streaming info).
One more thing to ponder
See you all on Sunday for the rest of the Week 9 recap!