Week 2 is in the books. Onwards!
That's Too Much, Man!
The working theory last season, Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s first in charge of the LA Galaxy, was that LA were forced to play a particular way (lots of long balls to Zlatan, lots of crosses to Zlatan, lots of Zlatan to Zlatan) because of the way the roster was constructed. And by “the way the roster was constructed” I mean “the way they had one of the best finishers of all-time as their center forward, but at a point in his career at which he could not/would not/did not run, so, you know, just lump it to the back post and hope he can rise up.”
And so they did that, leading the league with just under 16 open play crosses per game (the most open play crosses per game anybody’s hit in the TAM era). Zlatan scored 30 goals and dragged this team from non-playoff roadkill to mediocrity. It almost didn’t matter what else the Galaxy were trying to do. Zlatan was there, and they had to feed Zlatan, and they’d have been dumb to try to do anything but. Theoretically, as a step back toward the top of the league — where the Galaxy feel they belong — the Zlatan-centric past two years were both necessary and worthwhile, even if it was aesthetically and tactically limited.
After Zlatan left this past offseason the working theory was that the Galaxy were definitely going to change those tactics and that aesthetic. Going from 40 to 50 points requires a different blueprint than going from 50 to 60 and beyond.
Signing Chicharito, a more mobile but faaaaaaarrrrr less physically imposing center forward, seemed to indicate said tactical change would be forthcoming. There’d have to be fewer long-balls, fewer looped crosses to the back post, more combination play around the box and more moments in transition. Cristian Pavon for a full year? The underrated Aleksandar Katai? A bunch of experienced and skillful international central midfielders?
This is the blueprint. LAFC surely wouldn’t be the only ones in Southern California playing modern, pretty, attacking soccer.
Through two games in 2020 the Galaxy have one point, have scored one goal, and Chicharito has taken just two shots. Neither has been on target. On Saturday night they lost 1-0 at home to the improved-but-hardly-imposing Vancouver Whitecaps. This is not clicking:
They have crossed the ball a staggering 45 times from open play through 180 minutes, a per-90 rate that would be easily — EASILY — the most crosses per 90 of any team for as far back as we have Opta data (2010). The video above gives you a taste of how hopeful/hopeless (you can pick your own adjective, I don’t mind) the vast majority of those crosses have been.
Last week in the postgame following LA’s 1-1 draw at Houston, Schelotto said he wanted to see his team cross more. Here are some excerpts from the presser following this week’s loss:
- On getting service to Chicharito: “We put the ball in the box all the time, but we couldn’t find him. We will try in the next game.”
- On the way the Galaxy played: “The way we played was superior to Vancouver, we were unable to show it in the plays we got, which we didn’t have many, but they were better plays than them.”
- On whether things will be changing: “We are going to keep going with what we were doing last season which is to control the game and attack and achieve it this time. Maybe we controlled the game, but we didn’t win.”
It is just two games into this season but it’s now about 40 games into Schelotto’s Galaxy career, and I’m starting to think that last year’s tactical approach wasn’t actually because of Zlatan’s lack of mobility or demanding personality. This might just be GBS’s style – or lack thereof, which was the big criticism of him when he was at Boca Juniors.
The ‘Caps, of course, have lots and lots of reason to celebrate. They got an “Ali Adnan giveth” performance (he is electric when he pushes into the attack) just one week after an “Ali Adnan taketh away” performance (he is very not great defensively!), the entire backline did a nice job of keeping the game in front of them, and rookie SuperDraft pick Ryan Raposo already looks like a game-changer.
That Went Well
It took 10 minutes for Sporting KC to solve Houston's press on Saturday night. It took 15 minutes for them to completely unravel it and turn the press into a liability in what eventually became a very, very one-sided 4-0 Sporting win.
Here's the 2D tactical look from Second Spectrum. Watch how, as soon as the ball is played back to Melia, Zusi begins flaring to the touchline:
Melia takes advantage of Sporting's textbook spacing dimes his distribution directly to Zusi. That's Part I. Part II is Zusi's understanding that Memo's been cut out of the play while Boniek Garcia and Tomas Martinez are making half-hearted (at best) recovery runs.
To his credit, Matias Vera sees that as well and starts shading over to Zusi, but that's a trap. Once Vera is pulled out of the middle Zusi just has to chip it over his head to Kinda, and SKC's got a transition opportunity against a defense that conceded almost 120 goals over the past two years.
In other words: As soon as Zusi hit that pass there was a good chance the ball was ending up in the back of the net. And as soon as Houston were playing from behind, the game was effectively over.
Putting four past the Dynamo wasn't the only good news for Peter Vermes and his side. After looking gappy last week against the ‘Caps, the Sporting defense seemed much closer to "solid" against the Dynamo. And even when praising his high-scoring newcomers, Vermes was emphasizing their defensive work.
“They’re special players and quality. The biggest thing is they’re team guys," Vermes said after the game. "They’ve been working as hard off the ball, defensively, everything. That’s what is most important. Obviously, we brought those guys in to give us a little bit more in the attack. They’re pulling through on that, as well, but I can’t say enough about their defensive responsibilities and how they’re putting a shift in each game.”
The bet everyone’s made for the past decade is that if you give Vermes resources he’ll give you wins, and so far it looks like that wager will pay.
Tab Ramos has not been given those same types of resources, and so this was always going to be something of a rebuilding year for the Dynamo. But… he’s not really rebuilding yet. This is largely the same group of players who’ve missed the playoffs two years in a row, and their only significant offseason investment was in Darwin Quintero, who, uh, did not make the defense better when he got onto the field.
There’s not much in the data that says this group of players could/should have been a playoff team in 2019, or will be in 2020. Maybe Alberth Elis gets back, gets motivated, gets consistent and single-handedly changes everything but, well, Dynamo fans have heard that before.
And for what it’s worth, at least one player is already venting his displeasure on social media (during the game, no less).
A few more things to ponder…
11. Darwin’s old team certainly has not missed him through two games, as the Loons have come out the gates throwing haymakers. They countered Portland to death in Week 1 and just bludgeoned the hell out of San Jose in every single aspect of the game in Week 2, winning 5-2 at Earthquakes Stadium. Eight goals in two games… maybe they can rethink their Bebelo Reynoso pursuit? Even with Kevin Molino limping off with a knock, it’s not like Minnesota slowed down at all.
They now have two road wins against conference foes. These results will be huge down the stretch when everybody’s fighting for playoff positioning.
For the hosts, Guram Kashia’s first half was particularly grim: loses Ike Opara on first goal, doesn't get anywhere near Luis Amarilla on the third, tackles Opara to concede PK, lets Robin Lod stand next to him and gets completely beaten to the ball on the rebound for the fourth.
“The result was extremely fair,” Earthquakes head coach Matias Almeyda said afterward. “A football team that wants to fight for important things cannot give away so many defensive mistakes. Today, Minnesota deserved the victory.”
I expect to see lineup changes.
A lot of rookies played this past weekend, and Achara (that’s him nodding home the goal above) was arguably the best. TFC are so deep on the wings that they didn’t even miss their injured DP winger, or guys like Nick DeLeon and Tsubasa Endoh, but it also begs the question… why sign a DP winger in the first place?
NYCFC are winless and goal-less through two games and are maybe suffering from juggling their CCL slate with the regular-season slate. Their attack has generated almost nothing — Heber hasn’t even registered a shot yet — though bear in mind that’s over two road games against good opponents, the first of which was played with 10 men for 87 minutes.
If they’re still playing like this a month from now, then some worries will be justified and Ronny Deila will have some explaining to do.
9. Colorado once again left it late, and once again got a set piece goal. This time it was a Drew Moor match-winner in second-half stoppage time off of a Jack Price corner kick for the 2-1 win over visiting Orlando City.
The Rapids have very clear ideas of how to get into the attacking third and then are generally smart and decisive off the ball, but throughout this one struggled to produce the final touch needed to unlock the Lions’ low block. A bit more quality in those moments could’ve turned this one into a rout relatively early on.
Orlando City battled and scrapped and didn’t allow much while playing an ultra-defensive XI. Their season starts for real next weekend when they host Chicago, presumably with Nani in the starting XI. We’ll get a better sense of what Oscar Pareja can coax out of his team (and how he intends to do it) after that one.
8. Chicago have spent 180 minutes on the road looking mostly pretty good, though they were lucky to sneak away from Foxborough with a point, drawing 1-1 despite a golden last-minute chance from the Revs:
This is the second straight week that New England’s left points on the board thanks to a stunning, point-blank miss late in the game. There is already obvious frustration there, but the general rule of thumb is “if guys are getting into those spots eventually they start finishing.” When your attackers are getting into spots like Justin Rennicks did above or Tajon Buchanan did last week, things are going right.
Fire DP Gaston Gimenez made his debut and looked very, very good at d-mid.
7. Gyasi Zardes scored a “that’s exactly how we drew it up!” goal for like the 60th time in his MLS career to give the Crew a 1-0 lead at Seattle, but the Sounders controlled the entire game, kept the Crew under constant pressure and eventually got the equalizer via a penalty (which had to be retaken after Eloy Room came off his line VERY early and saved Raul Ruidiaz’s first attempt).
The 1-1 draw flattered the visitors and probably frustrated the hosts, but Seattle’s now played four games without Nico Lodeiro and lost none of them, and the defense looked significantly better this week than last. I suspect they’ll continue to improve.
6. All week long we said “without Josef, the pressure falls squarely on Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco.” On Saturday Barco had a goal and an assist and Pity had two assists as Atlanta got out to a lead and then held on to beat FC Cincinnati 2-1 in Atlanta. Frank De Boer ran the same 3-4-2-1 with Adam Jahn that he’d been running with Josef, and there were some very promising sequences:
That said, it’s a home win over Cincy, and the final 30 minutes were touch-and-go. Lots to work on yet for the Five Stripes.
5. RSL just battered the Red Bulls in Sandy for basically the entire game, but it took an inch-perfect second-half-stoppage-time cross from Aaron Herrera to Damir Kreilach for the hosts to salvage a 1-1 draw.
It should be no surprise to anyone, for what it’s worth, that RSL looked much better with Herrera back in his natural RB slot and true attackers in the attack, even if they weren’t able to put their chances away as they’d have liked.
I’m going to call this a good point for RBNY even though it goes down as yet another blown lead. It keeps being the same story: when they press they’re still very very good. But when they don’t press they just hold on for dear life and pray.
Per Second Spectrum, RBNY had 61 high presses against CIN and just 32 against RSL. Over the course of the game on MatchDay 1 Cincy lost possession within 10 seconds 65.57 percent of the time. On MatchDay 2 RSL lost possession inside of 10 seconds just 34.48 percent of the time.
It’s impossible to press for 90 minutes every week, especially at altitude and especially in the summer. Chris Armas has to figure this out because the underlying numbers paint an ugly picture of what’s to come for the Red Bulls.
4. For a while there it looked like we were watching the Maxi Urruti revenge game, as the erstwhile FC Dallas man dropped a brace on his former team’s head in giving the Impact a 2-0 lead. But then Zdenek Ondrasek happened, as the Kobra first brought it back to 2-1 with a goal of his own and then assisted (was it intentional? I don’t know!) on 17-year-old Ricardo Pepi’s equalizer in the 2-2 draw.
More important in the long term, though, was this:
I’m old enough to remember all the way back to 2019 when Ondrasek spent most of the year on the bench because he couldn’t really pass and didn’t really defend. Safe to say that initial scouting report belongs in the trash.
For Montreal, I don’t think there was or should be much disappointment after this one. They’ve done a nice job of rope-a-doping themselves into the CCL quarters and into four points from two regular-season games. I bet if you’d offered that to Impact fans a month back they’d have taken it.
3. Here is what I wrote about the Timbers last week:
Plenty to fix but, again, no reason to panic. The Timbers routinely attempt to play front-foot soccer, and over the years have become expert at cutting their losses, dropping their lines deeper and settling into more of a counterattacking stance. They did it last year, the year before that and the year before that one.No reason to think in 2020 it can't be more of the same.
So on Sunday night they got an early lead — a lovely Diego Valeri goal that you could argue came courtesy of high pressure — then just packed it in. And at the end of the night they got outshot 14-3 at home against expansion side Nashville SC, but guess what? They got three points in March for the first time since 2017, winning 1-0.
“We don’t need to do anything offensively. What we need to do, maybe, is in the second half, keep the ball a little more, try to move it. But the moments we were able to get in the box, we created opportunities. We created chances. That’s not something we need to work [on]," Savarese said after the game. "Of course we work on a constant basis to be better, but it’s not a concern. We know that we’re a team that can score goals."
I think it's fair to quibble with some of that, but 1) Nashville never really felt like they were going to score, and 2) there is zero question that Savarese's Portland teams have gotten better results when they've packed it in than when they've come out and tried to play expansive soccer (as happened last week against Minnesota). That's the reason they usually don't win in March, right?
As for the newcomers... they looked legitimately good up until the final third. And I did think the final third looked more promising when Daniel Rios came on.
2. It is Week 2, and we might've just seen the game of the season. I have no words that can improve the experience of watching Philly's 3-3 draw at LAFC. Let me just drop this in here:
It's 1 a.m. and I'm sitting here trying to finish this column and am almost entirely at a loss for words. Here's what I've come up with:
- LAFC are who we thought they were.
- I was worried that Philly were going to regress after offloading Haris Medunjanin and going all-in on their high press, 4-4-2 diamond and #PlayYourKids, but it seems like those worries were misplaced. If this performance was any indication, they will once again have a home game in the playoffs (and maybe more than one).
1. And finally our Face of the Week goes to the legend Felipe, who took what was clearly a very painful hit in D.C.’s come-from-behind 2-1 win over visiting Inter Miami:
Miami, who switched from last week’s 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-2-1 in this game, controlled things and were the much better team up until Roman Torres’s red card early in the second half, at which point they just about fell apart. Worth noting that No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Robbie Robinson was excellent in picking up a secondary assist and dragging the United CBs around before coming out just before halftime with a leg injury. As of yet there is no update on his condition. Same with Ola Kamara, who was removed with an apparent injury late in the first half for D.C.
Felipe, however, was able to tough it out and finish the full 90.