Rivalries can get your blood up. I know, from experience, having said some awful things to and about Syracuse fans/alums over the years.
I regret nothing.
How did your Heineken Rivalry Week go?
Bulls On Parade
I'm not even a fan of WWE or any other form of professional wrestling, but this is hilarious:
RBNY's 7-0 humiliation of NYCFC on Saturday afternoon was so complete and thorough, so resounding that it deserves to live on in multiple parody versions. It was the most one-sided rivalry game in league history, and arguably the worst regular-season performance from any club, ever. I still think that honor belongs to Toronto FC for their 5-0 faceplant at New York on the final day of the 2009 season -- a result that came against a much worse RBNY team and with much higher stakes, since it cost the Reds a playoff spot -- but what NYCFC did on Saturday is definitely in the discussion.
There are only a few things to really note from this:
• This tied the mark for the biggest win in MLS history. There have been two other seven-goal beat-downs.
• NYCFC's set-piece marking was not good. Since 2003 -- as far back as we have records -- no team had ever given up more than two corner-kick goals in the same game. They coughed up three on corners against RBNY, and another off a free kick buried so close to the corner flag that it may as well have been a fourth.
• NYCFC have been living and dying with emergency defense, asking Jason Hernandez to put out myriad fires with last-second blocks. He had 16 on the season entering the game, and only 17 after the final whistle sounded. If you play a lot of emergency defense, eventually there are going to be some fires that turn into full-on blazes.
New York haven't been perfect since he's arrived, but in his four games they've conceded three goals. In the previous nine they coughed up 17.
And finally, NYCFC are just 1-2-4 in their first seven home games. Between now and July 3 they play four of their next five at Yankee Stadium (that July 3 game is another New York Derby), and they need to stop dropping points. They'll have played 11 of their 17 home games by that date, and have a massively road-heavy schedule for the final four months of the season. That is not a recipe for a playoff push no matter how good their current road record -- which includes a 1-1 draw at TFC on Wednesday -- looks.
I know it doesn't seem like do-or-die time for the Pigeons, but it is. I remember vividly in 2013 when the San Jose Earthquakes came out with a home-heavy schedule and kept finding way to cough up results (3-1-4 in their first eight), thinking "This is going to cost them in October no matter how hard they push." And those Quakes pushed hard, going 9-2-3 in their final 14 games.
But they still came up short. The points you win in spring matter. And the beatings you take need to be a reminder of that.
Gyasi Zardes came into MLS a few years back as a highly touted forward. And then he played on the wing. And then, in 2014, he was moved back up top and scored 16 goals. And then last year he was moved back out to the wing. And for the USMNT, he's usually been played on the wing.
And in 2016 for the Galaxy, he started the season out on the wing. After some early struggles and an injury to Robbie Keane, Zardes went back up top -- and he's been mostly pretty awesome.
Zardes didn't get into the box score for the Galaxy in Sunday night's 1-1 California Clasico draw against the visiting San Jose Earthquakes, but he did show a bunch of the things that have helped spark LA's offense after a stagnant start to the season.
It was his back-post run that forced Marvell Wynne into an own goal, and it was his defensive tracking that allowed both Keane and Giovani Dos Santos to share the field without any significant defensive issues (When San Jose were in possession, Zardes shift deep to become a third central midfielder in order to absorb pressure, leaving Keane high and Dos Santos to harry on the wing -- it's a unique and untidy system, but so far it works).
More importantly, though, it was his strong center forward play that created a number of LA's best looks:
He can still be too slow and reactive in his runs, and his first touch is often less than perfect. But he understands that the attack revolves around Keane and Dos Santos, and has done yeoman's work trying to carve out space for them to get into and be dangerous. And since LA are now unbeaten in nine, it's safe to say it's working.
Zardes has a big, fat opportunity this summer with the US at the Copa America, and Jurgen Klinsmann has every reason to present it to him. Bobby Wood should, of course, start, but the US creators -- guys, presumably, like Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Alejandro Bedoya and Darlington Nagbe -- all need room to work with.
If they're struggling, Zardes can give it to them.
People of the Sun
Eighty-six minutes into Saturday's game against the Montreal Impact, it looked like Orlando City were going to be squarely in the same boat as NYCFC. No, they weren't getting stomped at home, but once again they weren't winning. They were minutes away from a 1-0-5 start in their first six home games down in sunny Florida, and I'd have reason to apply the exact same warnings and ill portents I'd used for the team all the way up at the other end of I-95.
Then in the 87th minute, Cyle Larin rode to the rescue as he has so often in the brief history of this franchise. He completed his brace with a sliding finish, sliding home Kaká's cross after some neat combination play in the 18 for the 2-1 win. OCSC are now just 2-0-4 at home -- nobody's out of the woods here -- but that's significantly better than the alternative.
Also significantly better was the overall shape of the game from Orlando City. Adrian Heath started Carlos Rivas and Adrian Winter on the wings, and they combined for four key passes (a pass that leads to a shot) between the two of them:
Yes, all of those key passes came from the flanks. Getting those guys out there forced the Impact fullbacks out toward the touchline, which let 1) Larin work against the center backs without extra Impact defenders jumping in; and 2) Kaká get on the ball in that space underneath. Gotta let the man cook!
Heath still wasn't 100 percent happy, and his postgame quote when asked about Rivas and Winter just begs you to read between the lines:
“The game was too end-to-end for my liking," he said afterward, and to be fair his team did concede 15 shots. "It was like an end-of-season testimonial game. They were having a shot and we were having a shot. Ridiculously wide open, but the players kept going and in the end we had four forwards on; it was like, let’s go for it and we got a break. [Larin] appears from nowhere and slides into the end. He has worked hard for the couple of goals he got tonight. That will help with his confidence also.”
This sounds like he's planning to return to a more conservative set-up, perhaps with Antonio Nocerino (a natural central midfielder) in place of one of his wingers, or perhaps with Julio Baptista on the "2" line of a 4-3-2-1 with three defensive midfielders behind them.
Either one of those choices can work in spurts, but not for entire games. OCSC, as constructed, need to run. Sometimes that may mean the game gets a little open for the manager's liking, but when you have goalscorers like Larin and Kaká, coaxing the opposition into a track meet probably isn't the worst thing.
A few more things to ponder...
7. A 1-0 win over D.C. United on Friday night and the rest of the weekend's results have the Union atop the Eastern Conference on 18 points.
It wasn't a great performance, which brought the team in for some criticism from local journalists and, of course, the fans. But even that is a sign of progress:
The ability to win 1-0 games is essential for any team that has thoughts of silverware. That said, they'll need more sharpness from their No. 10, Tranquillo Barnetta. His movement is often brilliant, but his touch has been hit-and-miss.
6. Toronto FC followed up their disappointing midweek draw with an even more disappointing Saturday draw, this time to the tune of 0-0 against Columbus. If you want to know what's changed for the Reds: In the last 5 games Sebastian Giovinco has 38 shots, but only two goals. And on the season he has 49 shots from outside the box, and only one goal.
He was bound to regress to the mean after stomping a hole in the league last season. Now Greg Vanney & Co. have to figure out how to compensate.
5. Team in Big Trouble No. 1: New England Revolution.Their 4-2 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday leaves them in eighth place, and just 2-1-4 at home. The Revs are tied for the league's worst defense with 24 goals conceded in 13 games, and have the league's worst goal differential at -7.
4. Team in Big Trouble No. 2: Seattle Sounders. They were actually pretty decent at times in Saturday night's 1-0 home loss to the Supporters' Shield-leading Colorado Rapids (!!!), but once again their finishing touch escaped them. Seattle now have three home losses in seven games; the teams in spots 1-through-6 in the West have combined for just one home loss in 36 games.
3. Team in Big Trouble No. 3: Sporting KC. They got stomped 3-1 at home by RSL, and have now taken just five of the last 27 points on offer.
That game also gave us this masterpiece from Kyle Beckerman, which is our Face of the Week:
Not much has gone right for the Fire this year. Perhaps Saturday's game can be something of a turning point.