This season started off hot. There was the 4-3 NYCFC win in Bridgeview, and there was the Impact galloping through the Vancouver defense. There were goals off set pieces, from the run of play, and -- especially -- from the spot.
There was, it seemed, a return to the Wild West, run-and-gun ethos of the earliest days of MLS. "Offense first" seemed to be the new league motto.
Naturally, there was an instant, equal and opposite reaction. After Week 1's gory attacking glory, teams responded by playing more pragmatic, ruthless and defensive soccer in Weeks 2-through-4. It's understandable, even if it's a lot less fun.
We're now, however, reaching the point in the season where teams really start to understand their component parts and forge them into a more cohesive and functional whole. Every year scoring is lowest in March, and every April it begins to pick up ever so slightly.
So it goes.
Home teams went 5-1-3 last week (four of those wins were 1-0, so... yeah), which leaves me at exactly 50% on the year: 21/42 so far. I'm picking all home teams again this week for, most likely, the last time.
Onto the games:
Are The Good Times Really Over?
Here's the innovator's dilemma: Any creative type has to figure out whether it's more profitable to maintain the current product in an attempt to increase efficiency through familiarity, or if it's more profitable to add new features in an attempt to carve out a new slice of the market via an unpredictable disruption.
Apply that to soccer. "Should we stay with the same 4-4-2 that's helped us to seven years of often really good soccer, or should we adjust ourselves at a core level and try to institute a 4-3-3 that might allow us a higher ceiling?"
I'm generally a proponent of sticking with what works and making minor tweaks. I understand, however, why the Seattle Sounders decided that wasn't the best idea. Four games into this season and their fans are maybe kinda sorta giving the braintrust a little less of the benefit of the doubt.
Seattle, even after last week's win over Montreal, sit dead last in the league with three points from four games. They've been punchless from the run of play, and that's necessitated moving Andreas Ivanschitz...
...out of the central midfield and onto the wing, while Clint Dempsey has dropped into what is nominally a No. 10 role.
This could end up being a good thing heading into Houston on Sunday (4 pm ET; ESPN) as long as Dempsey stays patient. When the ball is heading out toward Ivanschitz, instead of immediately crashing the box -- very much his nature -- Deuce has to delay and make a third-man run to the top of the 18.
That will give center forward Nelson Valdez time to collect opposing defenders and drag them to the near post, which is a run any defense in the world simply has to honor.
It's a fundamental thing about how players complement each other, and how these guys largely haven't so far. Given that Ivanschitz is going to cross the ball (a lot) and do it well, it's incumbent upon the other attackers to figure out how to make that work for them from the run of play.
I'll also be watching:Cristian Maidana is the same kind of playmaker as Ivanschitz, much preferring to pull out wide rather than stay central. But here's the thing: That means when he overloads the flank and whips a cross in, and that cross gets cleared, there's one fewer guy in Orange set up to help stop a break-out.
It's a small, almost unnoticeable battle. But it'll be worth watching to see where Ozzie Alonso is stationed -- whether he stays central to win recoveries, or whether he tracks Maidana -- and how effective he is at getting the Sounders into transition.
NYCFC and the Fire get to reprise that Week 1 goalfest with a return date in The Bronx on Sunday (7 pm ET; FS1). And I'm here to defend Mix Diskerud a little bit, because he's taken some slings and arrows from just about all comers lately, to the point that it's obscured an otherwise pretty effective start to the season. He hasn't been one of the best players in the league by any stretch, but he's generally been a net positive for City.
Mostly it's because he's playing his more natural central midfield position, and getting more of the ball there. This is his heat map from that Week 1 win:
He's not playing purely in the middle third, but he's also not spending a lot of time on the wings. And he's shown, so far in 2016, that he can be effective running into space vacated by defenders occupied with tracking the likes of David Villa and Tommy McNamara, then playing a telling ball.
I'll also be watching: How Chicago deal with exactly that. They were ripped apart by a very fluid NYCFC attack in Week 1, but have been more organized in the month since then as they've simplified their scheme and packed it in. I wouldn't be at all shocked if they parked the bus and aimed to hit exclusively on the counter.
The LA Galaxy have a goalscoring problem at this juncture, with root causes myriad and sundry. The biggest might be the lack of coordination between any of the forward pairings that have played thus far, or it might be the imbalance in central midfield, or it might be the inability of the fullbacks to push up into the attack and effectively overlap.
The biggest problem, though, is probably the lack of creativity from the wings. LA still nominally play that 4-4-2 with a "Y" midfield that puts much of the creative burden outside, and none of these guys is really "that" guy. In 300 minutes -- primarily on the wing -- Gyasi Zardes had created just three open play chances. Emmanuel Boateng has made just two in his 125.
Here's the whole list:
You'll notice the other issue there, ahead of Sunday night's game against the Timbers (9:30 pm ET; FS1): The DPs haven't been, uh, great. In 499 minutes they've created just one chance between them.
One more thing:
If you want to see something beautiful sometimes it pays to be really patient.
Happy weekending, everybody.