Time for an abbreviated Sunday wrap-up column for an abbreviated, FIFA-international-date-interrupted weekend.
A note for those of you who saw my Friday column: Home teams went 1-1-1, and therefore I went 1-for-3 in Pick 'Em, and am now 16/33 on the year. I knew I should have broken my own rule and gone against D.C. United, but it just felt too soon.
Let's start there:
Things are bad for United, who lost 3-0 at home against FC Dallas on Saturday. They're now 0-2-2 on the season, and 0-3-3 in all competitions so far in 2016. They've scored three goals in that time.
Stretch it back to the end of 2015, and United are 1-5-3 in their last 10 across all comps, with five goals. Things are not right with the attack, and Saturday proved to be more of the same. Yes, D.C. were able to conjure up 15 shots and over 50% possession, but they only put two of those shots on goal and never really threatened Chris Seitz all that much.
The problem, from where I sit, comes down to this:
Nick DeLeon is a fine player, and has proved to be a very good two-way wide midfielder in this league. He's also contributed meaningful minutes as a fullback. He is not, at this time, a central midfielder.
In the 4-4-2 United play the central midfielders are asked to cover box-to-box, which DeLeon does willingly. They're not asked to generate much in the way of attack, which is fine. The problem is that forces D.C.'s attack to come from other spots -- notably the forward pairing (which has not been effective), the wide midfielders (same), and the overlapping fullbacks.
This last bit is where the problem lies. The job of DeLeon and Marcelo Sarvas is to find Sean Franklin and Taylor Kemp in space, in stride, and in spots where they can create chances. Neither has been effective enough at that to mitigate for their lack of creativity in the central channel.
Here is a map of DeLeon's completed passes to Kemp:
Notice the "direction of play" arrow on the bottom? That's the problem -- rather than releasing Kemp into space, he's actually playing predictable sideways or backwards passes. Sarvas, the more defensive-minded player of the two, failed to complete a single pass to Kemp in the attacking half of the field before earning a red card.
So Kemp overlaps, and finds space to be dangerous, but the ball either A) gets to him at the wrong time, or B) never gets to him at all. The guy who looked, against Queretaro, like the team's most consistent attacking threat has become a specter.
Ben Olsen has to get more vision and passing range into his central midfield if he's going to play toward these principles. If it doesn't happen, D.C. could be looking at a 2013-esque season.
Turn And Burn
We saw something in Saturday's early game, a New England Revolution 1-1 draw at NYCFC, that we don't get a lot of: A first-half sub for non-injury reasons. Patrick Vieira pulled the trigger on Jefferson Mena, who was repeatedly abused by the right side of the Revolution attack. If Teal Bunbury had been sharper with his touch on the day...
... this one could have been over by the 15-minute mark. It was that bad for the Colombian defender.
Mena was sacrificed for Diego Martinez after 28 minutes, and while he was far from a cure-all for NYCFC's woes, he at least slowed the Revs down a little bit and was able to deny quite so much space on the flanks.
And there's an essential piece of the 3-4-3 that Vieira has been using. For four-man backlines, the onus on central defenders is on when to step off the line and into the play, and how to keep shape when their own fullback -- the guy between them and the touchline -- overlaps. For three-man backlines, the wide defenders can't be as focused on north-south decisions, and there's nothing but space between them and the touchline.
The position requires, then, a different read of the game, and a different athletic skillset. Mena may not be suited to it; for this game at least, Martinez was.
Up From The South
The rolling juggernaut that was the Houston Dynamo attack came screeching to a halt on Saturday night up in Vancouver, with the hosts taking home a 1-0 win thanks to (yet another) penalty.
Vancouver, over the past two weeks, have moved away from the 4-2-3-1 they've preferred and into more of a standard 4-4-2. The need for a second forward is obvious -- this team has trouble scoring no matter their formation -- and so everybody else has to adjust at least a little bit. One of those adjustments has been the defensive workload of Pedro Morales, the team's best player and best playmaker, and a guy not really known for doing the dirty work.
And yet, here's a map of his defensive interventions against a team that was averaging almost four goals per game:
This doesn't mean that Morales is a good defensive player -- he can drift quite a bit, and he doesn't inflict pain in the way that some of the more beloved central midfielders in the world manage to -- but at least he's willing to do it.
That's a DP who earns his money.
A few more things to ponder...
3. Here's our Face of the Week, courtesy of Pa Modou Kah:
Kah is on the Face of the Week Mt. Rushmore with Bruce Arena and Jon Busch. Still trying to figure out who the fourth is.
2. This isn't our Pass of the Week, but remember when I warned you that Michael Barrios could feast against D.C.?
I just threw my arm out patting myself on the back, but I had to mention it. If D.C. are going to ask Kemp to overlap so hard, then boot it long instead of playing through the midfield, they are going to get hit on quick counters like this a lot.
1. And here is our Pass of the Week, courtesy of NYCFC's Andoni Iraola:
It takes a little bit of inventiveness to crack open a packed-in defense. Iraola brought it.