Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: Quakes climb, FCD find new depths & more from Week 32

“Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I am also call'd No-more, Too-late, Farewell”

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The San Jose Earthquakes went up I-5, crossed a border and invaded BC Place. They came out with a well-earned and scrappy 1-1 draw.

In collecting that point, San Jose claimed a spot above the playoff line in the Western Conference. In collecting that point, San Jose prevented Vancouver from claiming first place in the Western Conference. In collecting that point, San Jose knocked FC Dallas – last year's Supporters' Shield winners – down into 7th place, out of the playoffs and into ignominy.

There are a lot of "that's so MLS" moments packed into that previous paragraph. Here's one to seal it up for you: The San Jose Earthquakes are in sixth place in the West, are in control of their own playoff destiny… and are tied for the league's second-worst goal differential at -22. In their previous eight road games they were 1-7-0 with a -21 goal differential.

Attempt to predict this league's twists and turns at your own peril.

They even came from behind to do this one! The 'Caps got out to a 1-0 lead by scoring a very 'Caps goal:

Vancouver's been doing this to teams all year, and they don't cough up a lot of leads. San Jose, meanwhile, have mostly perfected the art of playing well, but then giving up one goal, and then three more any time they leave Avaya Stadium. As soon as this one went 1-0 it was more likely to end 4-0 than 1-1.

But it didn't. And now the Quakes have what is, on paper, the easiest Decision Day task of any of the three Western teams contending for that final playoff spot: Beat Minnesota United at home. Dallas host the Galaxy – who just trounced the Loons – and RSL, who are a point back, host Sporting.

If the Quakes do what they've mostly done under Chris Leitch, they will protect their home turf, and they will make the playoffs, and they will have easily the worst goal differential of any team to have done so in league history.

MLS is wild.

Let's run through the rest of the games:

Seattle Sounders 4, FC Dallas 0: The unfathomable continues from Los Toros Tejanos, who are now 1-7-6 over the last 14 games after starting the season 9-3-7. This is a meltdown unlike anything before seen in MLS history.

Obviously there are worries up top, which is always the case when you decide it's a good idea to start a winger (Michael Barrios) as a lone center forward. But things are just so, so broken in the Dallas defense and midfield that it almost defies analysis. You have to win the ball in Zone 14, but on the first Seattle goal, Javier Morales doesn't and then neither center back – Matt Hedges and Atiba Harris – smell the danger of Victor Rogriguez's very predictable run. On the second goal, Harris doesn't react to the rebound and lets Will Bruin get goalside. On the third goal, everybody on Dallas just stops playing for a bit. On the fourth… at that point who cares? You've just taken yet another embarrassing L.

The Sounders will be grateful for the three points and much-needed attacking momentum of course, but there's some danger in reading much into it because Dallas have been so amateurish in defense. Still, a home win over Colorado next week guarantees the Sounders another home game
just days later in the Knockout Round
in second leg of the West semifinals.

Colorado Rapids 1, RSL 0: The third team in the fight for that sixth spot is the group that had been playing the best soccer of the bunch over the past couple of months, Real Salt Lake. But for the second week in a row, they got burned by one of their center backs overplaying the wrong lane:

(Pass of the Week from Alan Gordon, by the way)

Goals against happen. Bad plays happen. Getting shut out on the road? It happens.

It maybe didn't have to happen this time, though, and I do have a real problem with Mike Petke's selection choices in this one. Let's set the stage:

  • That goal above came in the third minute
  • Colorado took exactly one more shot the entire match
  • RSL claimed 72 percent possession
  • RSL took 30 shots
  • RSL whipped in 50 (!!!) crosses
  • Petke did not sub in back-up center forward Yura Movsisyan

Movsisyan has clearly burned some bridges in Utah, and that's fine – that happens to players all over the world all the time. But if you're down a goal for 87 minutes, and you have complete midfield dominance, and you're crossing the ball every damn time against a team that has zero intention of going on the attack you have to bring in a center forward. 

And look, Movsisyan hasn't lived up to his DP slot. But he's still got 7 goals in 1400 minutes this year, and three in his last 360. Worried he won't defend or track? Ok, I get it. But "defense" and "tracking" were not needed on this day for the Claret-and-Cobalt.

What was, was a guy who could stand in the box and stick the ball into the net. There are no guarantees in life, but at least Movsisyan's done that from time to time. Instead, Petke moved David Horst – who has just five goals in nearly 12,000 MLS minutes – from center back to center forward. 

Had RSL gotten that goal they'd be above the playoff line and in control of their own destiny.

LA Galaxy 3, Minnesota United 0: A nice result for the Galaxy, who are now unbeaten in three and endangering their claim on the second pick of the upcoming SuperDraft.

Gio Dos Santos as a false 9 is not what I'd have done, but give Sigi Schmid some credit here: It's working a bit. LA have seven goals in their last three games.

Sporting KC 0, Houston Dynamo 0: "You miss 100% of the shots you take" – Michael Scott

There's not a lot of good to be found here for Sporting, but there is this: They finally got another shutout, their first in two months. Given how lossy their attack is they'll have to conjure up a bunch more of those over the coming weeks if they're to make a prolonged playoff appearance.

Portland Timbers 4, D.C. United 0:Diego Valeri grabbed a goal and two assists, and now has 21g/11a on the year. He's just the second player in MLS history go post a 20g/10a season, joining Sebastian Giovinco (22g/16a in 2015).

Giovinco won league MVP that year. Valeri should win it this year. He's been remarkable.

If Portland win at home vs. the 'Caps next week, they win the West.

Toronto FC 1, Montreal Impact 0: The Supporters' Shield presentation got kind of botched, and Giovinco missed two penalties in a row, and this was far from a vintage TFC performance. It was maybe their 23rd-best performance of the season.

But they got the win, and in so doing became the first team since the 2005 Quakes to guarantee a season at or above 2 ppg. Obviously they care about other things more – it's all eyes on the MLS Cup for this group – but any fan will tell you it's tough to top eight straight months of quality soccer. The Reds have given that to their supporters.

Jozy Altidore got the game's only goal with a bit of clever movement:

I suspect they'll rest him next week rather than play him on the Atlanta turf. But perhaps not – it does make a certain manner of sense to try to hang an L on the Five Stripes and perhaps knock them down into fifth, forcing them into a short-rest road-trip for the Knockout Round.

New York Red Bulls 0, Atlanta United 0: Everybody in the East wants United out of their side of the bracket, since that attack is explosive and scary when firing on all cylinders. But it hasn't been lately, and their scoreless draw drops them to 0-1-2 in their last three with just two goals scored. Josef Martinez has found himself the first mini-slump of his MLS career in that time, with just one goal in his last 337 minutes. That's taken his goals-per-90 "all the way down" (those are air quotes, folks) to 1.13, which would still best Stern John's 19-year-old league record of 1.08 (minimum: 1000 minutes).

Missing Miguel Almiron is a huge part of that punchlessness, as is the inevitable letdown after their both-long-and-short homestand.

On the other side of the ball, they're still able to get points because the defense has been very, very good, and Brad Guzan has made a couple of spectacular plays lately. Still though, there have been obvious moments of vulnerability:

New York, by the way, are locked into that sixth spot in the East – they can't rise, and they can't fall. I understand why their fans are skeptical, but I think this team is dangerous as hell. It took a Herculean second-half effort (and some timely fouls) from the Atlanta defense to keep them off the board, and they appear to have figured out the defense at least a little bit after two straight shutouts against good teams (it was 3-0 vs. Vancouver last weekend).

Orlando City 0, Columbus Crew SC 1: The hottest team you're not paying attention to are Columbus, who are now unbeaten in nine (6-0-3) and up to fifth in the East. But here's a thing that's real: If the results break right next weekend, they can climb all the way up to second. Given that this is MLS, and given the mess we just saw in both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, who's brave enough to bet against a messy, ridiculous confluence of events?

There are a lot of things to unpack about this run for Crew SC. Federico Higuain getting healthy and playing like 2015 Pipa is part of it, as is the play of new DP Pedro Santos, and the continued excellent work from Justin Meram and Ola Kamara. Santos's addition has allowed Meram to be more of a pure attacker, which has worked nicely.

And the defense is playing better, and goalkeeper Zack Steffen has grown into the No. 1 kit. And arguably more important, let's give it up a little bit for the forgotten man, Wil Trapp:

Armchair Analyst: Quakes climb, FCD find new depths & more from Week 32 -

Green arrows are completed passes, red are incomplete and yellow is a key pass. He utterly controlled the game against the Purple Lions, who just did not get pressure to him. And if you don't get pressure to Trapp, the rest of the guys in Canary become that much better.

Trapp still hasn't discovered his inner brute – he doesn't intimidate opposing attackers going across the middle the way, say, Jeff Larentowicz or Osvaldo Alonso or Alex Ring do. The best d-mids, in this league and any other, really do relish the chance to inflict some pain.

But Trapp has bounced back nicely from a disappointing first half of the season and is once again controlling games with his ability to move the field around. We'll see if NYCFC pay special attention to him next week in Queens. A Columbus win would mean they leapfrog the Cityzens, which would have been unthinkable as recently as a month ago.

New England Revolution 2, NYCFC 1: NYCFC are in this position because they've won just once since September 6, going 1-2-3. The proximal cause of the L they took here was Jack Harrison's early red card, but bear two other things in mind: The Revs are really good at home, tied for second-best in the league (12-2-3); and the absence of Maxime Chanot is probably starting to show just a little bit for NYCFC. 

I also think it's safe to say that David Villa hasn't been the same since picking up a knock while on duty for Spain back in September. He's scored just once in his last five outings, and as he's disappeared so has the NYCFC attack.

Still… I don't know, I just can't bring myself to get that worried over this bunch. They'll finally have their first-choice midfield trio ready to go next week, and I expect Villa to have trained himself into sharpness by then, and even without Harrison they have a ton of wing depth.

If they don't end up claiming second place, there's nobody to blame but themselves. They are close enough to full strength – nine of 11 first-choice starters – that they should be able to take care of business when they need to.

Chicago Fire 3, Philadelphia Union 2: A team with more significant injury concerns is in Chicago. The Fire were missing Bastian Schweinsteiger again, and Michael De Leeuw is done until next spring, and there was no Juninho, and David Accam could only manage 45 minutes for one reason or another.

But they got it done the way they've been getting it done all year: They threw their fullbacks forward and relied upon presumptive Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic to finish plays off:

We'll make Brandon Vincent pointing back toward Accam at the end of the clip – dapping him up for that great ball over the top – our Face of the Week.

Chicago, just like NYCFC, Atlanta and Columbus, can finish anywhere from second-to-fifth in the East. On Decision Day they'll be playing at a Houston bunch who are A) good at home, and B) awful on the road, which means C) they'll be desperate to get a win and possibly climb into fourth place in the West. For the Fire, a draw would be good enough to claim fourth place, and thus guarantee a home game in the Knockout Round.

ExtraTime Radio Podcast

Armchair Analyst: Quakes climb, FCD find new depths & more from Week 32 -

LISTEN: Sunday night was something else, as seven teams chased five playoff spots, seeding in both conference turned into a crap shoot and the Landon Donovan MVP and Golden Boot races saw favorites emerge. The guys pore over anything and everything you might have missed in MLS, give you a taste of their MLS story time interview with Carlos Ruiz and dip into the mailbag. "Like" our Facebook page so you never miss a show! Download this episode!