Homefield advantage has been crushingly decisive in MLS this season, and that's continued into the US Open Cup beginning with the fourth round. The visitors have stolen just four of the last 24 games, which means that Sporting KC, Miami FC, New England and San Jose should like their chances in the quarterfinals.
Here's a quick take on each of the eight games from this round:
FC Dallas 3, Colorado Rapids 1: Oscar Pareja played the kids at a number of spots, but let's give credit to the Rapids since they started three Homegrowns as well. And all three battled (including a deserved red card for Kortne Ford, who maybe battled a little too much).
Still, this one was never really in doubt. About the only thing that kept the Rapids in it for as long as they were was the wayward finishing of Cristian Colman, who may be cursed. Los Toros Tejanos are obviously going to compete at the top of the Western Conference and for the US Open Cup even if Colman never learns how to put the ball into the net, but he was the big, splashy offseason signing who was supposed to raise their ceiling beyond "compete" and to "favorites."
That hasn't happened yet, and may never.
Houston 0, Sporting KC 2: The Dynamo were the only hosts to be sent packing, and in this game they looked very much like a team that lacks a cutting edge when without their best players. That's not super surprising for a team that had to rebuild roughly half their roster this offseason, and is still in the midst of an overhaul.
SKC, on the other hand, showed some admirable depth even without multiple internationals and Benny Feilhaber missing through injury.
That was it for D.C., though. Even when Patrick Nyarko came on in the second half they didn't get much attacking push.
New England, on the other hand, played mostly with a B team and while they weren't precisely "sharp," they were better than decent at stringing some attacking sequences together. Rookie Brian Wright, a center forward from Canada via the University of Vermont, did a nice job of turning Sean Franklin on the game-winner.
The Revs have depth in attack and could make some moves when the trade window opens.
Miami FC 3, Atlanta United 2: US youth national team players Brandon Vazquez and Andrew Carleton both started for Atlanta – Vazquez scored and Carleton drew a penalty. Both were largely very, very good and considering one is 18 and the other is 17, Five Stripes fans should be pretty pumped for their team's future.
Atlanta were obviously not the same "Atlanta" we're used to seeing in MLS, though, and the difference was obvious in their attacking transitions. They dominated the ball and completed 90 percent of their passes, but at no point were they as quick to turn defense into offense as they are when Miguel Almiron, Yamil Asad and Josef Martinez are on the field.
Also, I still love Kwadwo Poku. He was the best and most dangerous player on the field:
Notice how early he sees that run and how committed he is even after 90+ minutes in the humidity of south Florida? Alessandro Nesta's done some damn fine work with this team, and with that player in particular.
New York Red Bulls 1(5), Philadelphia Union 1(3) AET: New York gutted it out, but this is a team that's both running on fumes and looking desperately for answers. And they may have one more question than they entered the night with, since Aurelien Collin went off injured midway through the first half.
2017 has been one bad break after another for this team, but they got a home win in the USOC over a not-quite-a-rival neighbor. It's not going to stop the wailing and gnashing of teeth among supporters – and it shouldn't; RBNY need real help in both defense and attack this window – but at least it's one step closer to a trophy that the hardcores would love to finally hoist.
As for Philly, they're probably still kicking themselves. They had more than enough chances to claim the win, especially late in the second half and in extra time.
FC Cincinnati 0(3), Chicago Fire 0(1): Mitch Hildebrandt.
Magic of the Cup, right? Also, given the play of Aaron Long and Brent Kallman this year in MLS, and the play/pedigrees of Austin Berry and Harrison Delbridge over the last couple of years for Cincy, it's hard to imagine them not attracting some serious interest in this transfer window.
MLS teams need to be savvier about identifying and developing defenders from the lower tiers.
LA Galaxy 2, Sacramento Republic 0: LA keep having to play the kids, and the kids keep mostly delivering. Ariel Lassiter banged home a lovely free kick and Bradford Jamieson IV scored a very nice solo goal for the difference. Jamieson has been especially crucial over the last few weeks as LA have coped without a number of starters, notching a goal and an assist and drawing a penalty in his last handful of games.
They're already without Sebastian Lletget, Jermaine Jones and Baggio Husidic through injury, Giovani Dos Santos is on international duty, and none of Romain Alessandrini, Gyasi Zardes or Ema Boateng played against the Republic... that's a lot of dudes, but the kids were ready in both attack and defense. And really, LA's season is in much better shape than anyone thought it would be after they got off to such a horrible start. They're above the red line in the West and into the quarterfinals of the Cup, after all.
Long-term, the best news from the perspective of Galaxy fans may very well be the steady performance of Jon Kempin in goal. "Steady" is something every LA fan wants at this point.
San Jose Earthquakes 2, Seattle Sounders 1: I kept a special eye on this one, which marked the start of the Chris Leitch era in the South Bay. He decided to reward me by being very interesting and thus started his team in a 3-4-3, which we just don't see a lot of in MLS:
That's a network passing graph made using Opta data. Each circle represents the corresponding player's aggregate position, and the lines connecting them represent the volume of passes exchanged.
The Quakes had the ball quite a bit right from the start in this one, and that advantage only embiggened after the Sounders took a deserved red card. Don't expect them to claim 70 percent of the ball and dominate the shot count 20 to 4 every time out under Leitch, and don't expect their wingbacks to push so hard so often (No. 18 up there is Kip Colvey, who is nominally a wingback but sure looks like a winger, and if you wanted to call this a 4-1-5 I wouldn't stop you). There is a danger in reading too much into this result and performance, which came against what was essentially S2, the USL affiliate of the Sounders.
But it was fun to watch the Quakes really commit to playing the ball through midfield, as well as give Jackson Yueill (No. 14) a proper stage. Everything ran through him, and while last week he drew plaudits for his inch-perfect diagonals, this week it was his cleverness around the box that caught the eye. About the first thing he did was put a narrow cross right on Chris Wondolowski's head at the back post (should've been a goal), and he got the assist on Danny Hoesen's really, really well-taken finish:
Hoesen has three goals and two assists in the past month. Yueill looks the part of a key starter in central midfield who can both receive the ball in traffic and hit defense-splitting passes. If you want to know why the Quakes just brought in a finisher rather than a pure midfield creator, this game is perhaps a useful data point.
I certainly hope that's the case.