I liked the format of Andrew Wiebe's Wednesday night wrap-up from a couple weeks back, so I'm gonna go ahead and steal it. Because there is probably nobody in the entire world who stayed up through the night to watch all five of this week's midweek contests beginning to end.
Friendly reminder, though: If you download the MLS App, you can watch all the condensed (15-to-20 minute) versions of the games.
Scores above in the matchcenter, and the recap, highlights and stats are just a couple clicks away. More depth after the bullets:
- D.C. United and Chicago played to a wild 3-3 draw in D.C.
- Zlatan returned from suspension, and Sporting felt his wrath
- Philly's slump continued, and Colorado's trade deadline moves continued to pay
- Ignacio Piatti didn't look right this past weekend... and he didn't dress on Wednesday (the Impact won anyway)
- Atlanta showed exactly how and why you bunker in sending Minnesota home empty handed
Same, But Different, But Still Same
This past weekend I wrote a ton about the Chicago Fire – about how the underlying numbers love them, and why they do, and how the numbers might be lying just a little bit (and why). The short version is that they're good and talented... and often losing. And teams that are good and talented and losing tend to throw everything and the kitchen sink forward, which is a good way of generating chances but not a great way of generating wins.
Well, this didn't win this one, which finished as a 3-3 draw in D.C. And they didn't spend much time losing, either, since they jumped out to a 2-0 lead that could've been 4- or 5-0 by the half-hour mark. The big chance and xG-producing juggernaut of an attack looked like it was clicking, and D.C. looked dead, and that was that.
But it wasn't. Johan Kappelhof came off and Chicago fell apart. His absence was certainly part of it, but beyond that it was apparent, as soon as United put the hammer down, that the Fire didn't have north star to guide them, one unifying principle to wrap their heads around and say "ok, we're losing control of the game, but we all know that we know how to do that, so let's start doing it."
Instead there was dislocation and confusion, which D.C. took advantage of in turning a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead. They held that lead until deep into stoppage time, when Francisco Calvo snagged an equalizer for the Fire.
Both teams should be disappointed in the result – D.C. for dropping points at home, and Chicago for the same old reason as always:
This team should be winning much more often than they have been. The coaching staff needs to figure out why they're not.
The Lion Roared
There was almost nothing to this except the Galaxy defending in David Bingham's lap and then trying to hit on the counterattack or via set pieces. And it turned out that was a pretty good idea, as LA went to Sporting KC – where they usually get killed – and won 2-0 behind a goal and an assist from Zlatan.
Travis is right – the look on that young lady's face is about 1,000 words worth of explanation.
Two little notes here:
- Favio Alvarez, who was a transfer deadline addition for the Galaxy, got the first goal and looked pretty good. Not wholly influential, but he filled his role well and was opportunistic when he needed to be.
- It looked a lot like Matt Besler was rushed back from an injury. He could barely move out there.
The Door Stays Open
I've still got all my Philly Union stock. I still think they play the second-best soccer in the league, and they still have the second-best goal differential, and they are still atop the East on points per game. And they utterly dominated the Rapids in this one, outshooting them 26-14, including 7-2 in shots on target, while holding 60 percent possession.
But they didn't win. This one – a game they controlled from start to finish and should've put away 10 times over, got away from them when they fell asleep on a throw-in and let Jonathan Lewis sneak to the back post for a lovely one-time hit. This was the third in a three-game homestand which Philly could've used to start running away from the East, and instead they took two points and let everybody stay in the race.
Colorado, meanwhile, are unbeaten in three, and their deadline moves continue to pay. Lewis has two goals in his last two games and looks like he'll be worth every cent of that allocation money they traded for him:
This is his third season of MLS and he just passed the 1000-minute mark for his career tonight. In those ~1000 minutes he has 5g/5a. If you produce a goal or assist every 100 minutes in this league over the course of a full season, you are an All-Star. It will be very interesting to see if Lewis can keep up the pace he's set for himself both for club and country.
There were other big additions for the Rapids, but keep an eye on this one: center back Lalas Abubakar. He can be an adventure back there, but he has old fashioned, throwback CB instincts (he is search-and-destroy in hunting for the ball), and he scrambles really well. Part of the Union going 1-for-26 on their shots was just wayward finishing, and some of it was good work from Clint Irwin, but some of it was Abubakar throwing his body around with no regard for life or limb.
To put a number on it: He blocked six shots in this game. The rest of the Rapids defense, combined, blocked four.
Abubakar's in Colorado on loan this year. They have to figure out how to get him from the Crew permanently.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
One of those teams who've been let back into the hunt thanks to D.C. and Philly refusing to hold onto homefield advantage is the Montreal Impact, who won 2-1 against visiting RSL.
Behind Door No. 1: I am worried about this team's ability to get above "mid-tier Eastern Conference playoff team" if Piatti is going to continue to miss time. As I mentioned up top, he didn't look himself this past weekend and thus didn't play this past evening. The Impact have been, in general, just good enough to keep scuffling along without their best player.
Behind Door No. 2: Maybe the presence of Omar Browne makes that less of an existential concern? The Panamanian winger, who roasted Toronto FC in the Champions League, returned to the lineup and got the game's first. He now has 2g/1a in a little over 300 minutes, and while he's not Piatti, he's been more consistently dangerous than any of the other wingers on this roster.
Behind Door No. 3: Montreal need their wingers to get the job done. Maxi Urruti has one goal in 1,200 minutes this year, and three goals in his past 37 games.
RSL, as was appropriate, rotated their squad quite a bit in this one. They paid the price for it, as they were kind of a mess in their back six, but I understand why Mike Petke made the decisions he did. It'll be interesting to see what they have in the tank this weekend in New Jersey.
Batten Down the Hatches
It is still jarring, at times, to see Atlanta United play like this. For 60 minutes they'd clearly been the better team than visiting Minnesota United, and held a 1-0 lead, and were at home with a pretty loud and involved crowd. It felt, in a lot of ways, like the good times were returning.
But on the hour mark, like clockwork, Atlanta retreated more and more into a shell. By the 70th minute they were outright bunkering at home against a team that has never made the playoffs and that hasn't scored more than a single goal in a month-and-a-half.
This is why you bunker:
The principle at play is this: You can either try to disorganize your opponent with the ball, via possession, or you can disorganize your opponent without the ball, via pressing or countering. The weapon of choice for many teams around the world, even at the highest levels – think France in the World Cup or Real Madrid winning four of five UEFA Champions League titles – is the counterattack because 1) it virtually guarantees that you have numbers back and organized to protect your own goal, which means it takes something really special to beat you, and 2) if you're able to go in the other direction, you can often find a ton of space to attack into.
Look at how disorganized Minnesota become as soon as Franco Escobar chips that little ball forward to Julian Gressel. That is why you bunker, and more and more often, that's become Atlanta's M.O. when protecting a lead. They're quite good at it.
No shame in this one for the Loons, of course. Winning on the road is hard, and winning at Atlanta doubly so. And for what it's worth, I'm giving Ike Opara a mulligan on what was probably the worst game of his MLS career.