Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: On the radar for Week 9 of the MLS season


While I was away, the MLS season passed the 20 percent mark, and this weekend will put 2016 officially around the quarter pole. This is significant, because generally speaking, you are what you are at this point. Our own Ben Baer ran the numbers this week, and it's not pretty for teams that have stumbled out of the gates. He used the "8 points in 7 games" threshold, which is useful.

Standing back a little further: If you're below the red line at the 20% mark, the odds of climbing back above it are slim. Last year 11 of 12 teams that were in playoff position after seven games made the postseason. The year before it was 8 of 10. So the book isn't exactly closed, but the narrative that "all you need to do in MLS is get hot in September and you're good to make the playoffs" is fiction. Nobody was hotter than Orlando City SC at the end of last year, and nobody was hotter than Portland at the end of 2014, and nobody was hotter than San Jose at the end of 2013.

No playoffs, no playoffs, no playoffs.

It's especially dire for teams that fail at home. I did this by hand and wasn't able to get it officially confirmed, but I went all the way back to 2009 and wasn't able to find a team that took fewer than 7 points from their first 5 home games that went on to make the postseason. Giving up home points is sure death in this league.

To that end, home teams mostly did well for me in Pick 'Em while I was gone, going 6-3-1 in Week 7, and then 8-1-0 in Week 8. Of course on Wednesday they pulled in at 0-0-3.

They've now won 40 of 77 games on the year, which is good for 51.9 percent -- right in line with historical averages.

I am picking all home team victories this one last time before starting to vary things up. That includes RBNY hosting FC Dallas on Friday night (7 pm ET; UniMás) which is previewed in the video above. NY have picked up some defensive help on Friday in the form of Aurelien Collin.

That is a good trade, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Collin step directly into the starting lineup.

  • UDATE: Collin was still in Florida, but it didn't matter -- the Red Bulls got their first shutout of the year and put on a wire-to-wire clinic in beating Dallas 4-0.

Here's the rest of what's on my radar:

Purple Rain

Going by the above rubric, nobody's in bigger trouble than NYCFC. They're 0-1-4 through their first five home games, have played the easiest schedule in the league, and look to have actually regressed since last year. They host Vancouver on Saturday (4 pm ET; TSN in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US), and anything less than a win probably closes the book on their playoff hopes for 2016. Seriously.

But you might have known that since Twitter was abuzz with it on Wednesday night. What's flying under the radar a little bit is that New England are in nearly as precarious a situation. They're just 1-0-3 through their first four home games, and badly need to take all three points in Saturday's game at Foxborough against Orlando City (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

OCSC won't make it easy. Their defensive collapse at Red Bull Arena last weekend was unusual, and probably won't be repeated. The offense, however, remains scary with or without Kaka.

Cyle Larin's ability to find space in and around the box against scrambling defenders is the biggest reason why:

That finish is harder than it looks, but forget about that for a second and look at the number of different runs he throws at poor Karl Ouimette -- I count four. You usually have to watch an NHL game to see that kind of Canadian-on-Canadian violence.

He can turn Gillette Stadium purple if Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves, both of whom have been skittish this season, aren't locked in.

I'll also be watching: How many crosses the Revs lob into the box. They hit 42 on Wednesday, which is at least 20 too many.

The Glamorous Life

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If NYCFC are in the most trouble because of how poorly they've managed their home-heavy schedule, then TFC are the at the total opposite end of the spectrum. They've taken 11 points from the first seven of their eight-game road swing to start the season. The capper on this year's Odyssey comes on Sunday at Providence Park against the Timbers (3:30 pm ET; ESPN)

Read Sam Stejskal's words putting this trip into some historical perspective. And then look at the chart below that I ripped off from his piece:

2016 TOR
1999 CLB*
2015 TOR
2012 HOU
2006 CHI
2003 LA
2011 SKC

*The 1999 season was part of MLS' shootout era; Columbus had two shootout wins, both of which counted for one point.

Each of these teams hit the road thanks to stadium issues (as is the case for the Reds this year), be it construction or renovation. Almost all of them struggled mightily.

That obviously hasn't been the case for TFC so far. After having the league's best attack last year, they've followed it up by putting together the league's best defense this season. That's kept them in games, and when Sebastian Giovinco has gotten a slight crack, he what's won them games.

What's truly scary, though, is how good Toronto looked last weekend at Montreal, a 2-0 win they thoroughly deserved after some thorough domination. A healthy Jozy Altidore really is the perfect foil for Giovinco, and that makes them very, very difficult to stop.

I'll also be watching: How deep will Portland sit? They've been a very reactive and opportunistic team over the last 13 months, and obviously they have a shiny trophy to prove how effective that can be. But giving a ton of final third possession to TFC is a dangerous game.


A switch to the 4-2-3-1 over the last two weeks has breathed life into a previously, well, dead LA Galaxy attack. They clowned previously unbeaten RSL 5-2 last weekend after going to Houston the week before and putting up a 4-1 win.

The center of it all for LA has been Designated PlayerGiovani Dos Santos. He has three goals and two assists in the last two weeks, and has benefitted immeasurably from playing his natural role (No. 10) beneath a true No. 9 (Gyasi Zardes) and in front of a high-usage No. 8 (Steven Gerrard). Being surrounded by those guys means he doesn't have to get a ton of the ball -- and that the few times he does get on it, it's in dangerous spots:

He's a low-usage player. That's fine.

On Sunday they'll head to Sporting KC (8 pm ET; FS1) and presumably face a stiffer test than what they've seen in the last two, and Sporting will do their damnedest to make sure GDS gets his touches over on the flanks. Both he as an individual and the Galaxy as a whole are much easier to contain when they're pushed out of that central channel.

I'll also be watching: How high will Sporting's fullbacks overlap? We saw what Emmanel Boateng can do when given space to run into against RSL. The usual high line SKC play is always risky, but moreso with the likes of Boateng on the flank.

One more thing:

The part you're really looking for starts at 3:27.

Happy weekending, everyone.