ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: It's Wednesday night and there are eight games on MLS LIVE ... that's what the ExtraTime boys call heaven. Andrew, David and Matt banter through a wild slate of games, then talk 24 Under 24 Top 10 before US U-20 coach and US youth technical director Tab Ramos joins to add his expertise (38:07). Subscribe now and "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!
It's the last Wednesday slate of the regular season. For the sake of you, dear readers, I stayed glued to my armchair for six hours. I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make on your behalf.
Let's take a trip around the league:
Atlanta United 3, Philadelphia Union 0: This is the same movie we've seen a million times so far in 2017. The Five Stripes are just so well-drilled and relentless at A) pressuring the ball, and B) pass-and-move. It's just the simplest stuff:
If you're a young player or a coach reading this... here you go. Play one- and two-touch soccer, and when you release a pass, don't jog to the next space. You run. Don't slow down, because doing that lets the defense reset itself and organize itself, and an organized defense is by definition a tougher defense to break down.
This leads to the ethos of "the press is the best playmaker," as in "Winning the ball in dangerous spots and giving good players tempting targets to pick out will be more profitable, offensively, than a methodical, highly structured attack." You can quibble with that, as neither the current European Champions (Portugal) nor the current UEFA Champions League champions (Real Madrid) are high-pressing teams, but the vast majority of the world's best, for club and country, like to play on the front foot these days.
It has the effect of spreading the playmaking burden. To that end: Miguel Almiron (who missed this one with his hamstring injury) has 13 assists; Yamil Asad has 12; Hector Villalba picked up his 10th tonight, and Julian Gressel picked up his ninth.
You can't just stop one guy. You have to stop the system. Philly – who are suffering from the same issues that have plagued them for two years – didn't come close to managing as much.
Montreal 0, NYCFC 1: The Impact continued their Jekyll-and-Hyde act, heading back to Stade Saputo and dropping a game they couldn't afford to drop.
The disheartening thing has to be how it happened. The game's only goal came off of a very straight-forward one-two in which Jack Harrison played a wall pass to Rodney Wallace, then took the return pass in acres of space. Somehow this roasted both Laurent Ciman and Victor Cabrera, who've been around long enough to know better.
NYCFC were mostly fine, especially since they played the majority of this one without David Villa. Alex Ring looked spry at d-mid, Yangel Herrera got the last 20 minutes, and Ronald Matarrita went 82 before limping off. Those were his first minutes in three months and his first start in five.
They're on track for about 60 points. In a normal year that's good enough to fight for the Supporters' Shield right down to the final week of the season.
New York Red Bulls 3, D.C. United 3: The Impact are 1-5-0 in their last six, and by all rights they should be eliminated from the playoff race. But the Red Bulls are utterly determined to keep that door open, to an almost comical degree.
First, the good part (for RBNY fans): They got Daniel Royer back and he looked good, and Gonzalo Veron once again made a difference off the bench, and even before those guys got into the game there was a purpose and flow to the attack that had mostly been missing since early August. They looked better, for lack for a, uh, better word.
The problem was that their defense kept looking worse and worse. Take it with a degree of caution, as they played this one without Aaron Long (who's been an ironman) as well as the still-injured Aurelien Collin and out-for-the-season Gideon Baah. Those were supposed to be the top three CBs in the rotation heading into this season, and they've had to scramble all year without two of them.
Scrambling, of course, leaves openings. So Zoltan Stieber gets a deflected goal off a free kick, and Patrick Mullins slips the whole defense for a tap-in, and Fidel Escobar plunges a dagger into his own team's chest three minutes into stoppage. RBNY haven't won since August 12, and that's so Metro.
Still, they're going to make the playoffs. They're four points up on the Impact with a game in hand and an easier remaining schedule. It's just clear that they need Royer, Long and Collin all to get healthy and in-form if they're to be any kind of threat once they get there.
These two teams meet again on Decision Day, ringing down the curtain on RFK Stadium. Steve Birnbaum's already in the mood:
Orlando City 6, New England Revolution 1: I can only watch so many games at once. The highlights of this one were fun, and the red card handed out sure looked dodgy. I don't blame the Revs for being steamed.
FC Dallas 2, Colorado Rapids 0: So Dallas went out in this one and did what we've been expecting them to do to teams all summer – step on their throat early and just strangle the game to death. They were up 2-0 inside 10 minutes and while they didn't exactly dominate the game from then on, there was zero suspense.
And so they finished the night above the playoff line, and thanks to their game in hand they're in control of their own destiny. The 10-game winless skid is a thing of the past, the monkey is off their back, and they can look to the future. Said future should, without question, include a playoff appearance for a team that's honest-to-god too talented to miss out on the postseason.
But don't celebrate just yet. Beating Colorado at home is absolutely the lowest bar, and FCD are now facing three consecutive road games that I still question how ready they are to handle. This Dallas team, even after a multi-goal win, isn't close to what they were last year. Kellyn Acosta's still hurt, Maxi Urruti's still ice cold, and Walker Zimmerman's still apparently in the doghouse.
It's similar to the Red Bulls' situation. If they get those three guys healthy and in-form, they can beat anyone. If they can't, the bottom drops out.
As for the Rapids...
Houston Dynamo 3, LA Galaxy 3: In Houston's last two home games, they've lost to Colorado and drawn vs. LA. In their last four-and-a-half months they've won just four games. They're winless in six, have slid down to seventh place, and I still don't know what their best XI is. It's autumn, Wilmer, we're supposed to know that by now.
Houston still have three-of-four at home and are theoretically explosive enough to just walk out onto the pitch and outscore teams. New playmaker Tomas Martinez, who got a goal in this one, is maybe able to help in that regard, as is Alberth Elis (who got two). But three of those four are against playoff teams – including a home-and-home with Sporting KC – and this weekend's visitor is red hot Minnesota United (?!?!!!).
There's an obvious path for this team. Right now they just don't look good enough to take it.
San Jose Earthquakes 1, Chicago Fire 4: There's no longer an obvious path for the Quakes, who got worked by the visiting Fire pretty much from the opening whistle. As usual when both Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster are healthy, Chicago can just spread you out from touchline to touchline and string together some beautiful passing sequences that lead to goals:
The Quakes were so preoccupied with the guys in red getting chalk on their boots that they repeatedly left the middle wide open for the Fire midfield. That led to a career night for Chicago's 18-year-old Homegrown playmaker Djordje Mihailovic, who had a goal (above) and a hockey assist. The Fire have now won two of their last three away dates, and are 3-1-1 in their last five overall. They've pulled out of the mid-summer death spiral that seemed like it was going to destroy their season, and are comfortably into fourth place in the East. Bridgeview will host at least one playoff game.
Avaya almost certainly will not.
Seattle Sounders 3, Vancouver Whitecaps 0: The Sounders ended Vancouver's seven-game unbeaten streak in style, and climbed back up into the top tier of the Western Conference, where the top four teams are all on 48 (Vancouver) or 47 (Sporting, Portland, Seattle) points.
Seattle did something in this one that they hadn't in a long time: When they forced turnovers, they actually ran forward. And so they scored more open-play goals against the 'Caps than they had in the previous six weeks.
There is a worry, however:
Thomas's take is definitely of the glass-half-full variety, but he does have a point. Gustav Svensson has quietly been an effective band-aid all season when Alonso's out, and he did that job again on Wednesday.
Losing Alonso used to be a death blow for Seattle. This year it's not. For all the issues with this team largely underdelivering on their potential in 2017, just that fact makes this a more complete group than in years past. MLS is a funny league.
The 'Caps, meanwhile, are not good enough to turn the ball over in bad spots and survive, especially when on the road. They did a nice job taking care of business at BC Place over the past seven games, but now with four-of-five on the road to end the season, they can't trot out there and just be "good enough." They have to figure out a way to be out-and-out "good" at teams like the Sounders, or on Saturday at KC, or the weekend after that at New York.
For now they've still got a hold on that top spot out West. But with this schedule to finish the season, I don't expect them to keep it.