First, a quick rundown of what happened midweek:


Philly went on the roadand beat Houston 3-1, a game that was not without some controversy. Two things stuck out to me from this game. First is that the Union's central midfield, when clicking, remains a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Second is that defensive midfield remains a soft spot for the Dynamo, and the lack of updates on Juan David Cabezas is concerning.


If Cabezas is in there, that first Union goal never happens. He wasn't, so it did.


After a weather delay the Red Bulls got on the pitch at Audi Field and handed D.C. United their first loss at their new stadium, winning 1-0 thanks to Bradley Wright-Phillips' 100th career regular-season goal. You can watch them all HERE, and if you're a young striker looking to learn the subtle art of riding the offside line, or the subtler art of learning to pull off a defender at just the right moment, you absolutely should. BWP's sustained a half-decade of legitimate greatness with this team by being smart as hell.


RBNY are still evolving under Chris Armas. In this game there were long sequences in which they knocked the ball around the attacking third, something rarely seen over the past couple of years – though it didn't lead to any goals.


For D.C… there were not so many promising signs, though they did create some danger playing over the top.


Seattle went to San Jose and got a very professional 1-0 win over the Quakes, courtesy of Raul Ruidiaz's first MLS goal. It was a great first touch and an even better finish, and that's pretty much that in terms of takeaways from this game.


Here is a line from our game recap of NYCFC's 2-0 win at Orlando City: "Good teams figure out ways to win, and poor ones discover myriad new ways to lose, and so it was for these two teams who entered MLS at the same time but find themselves in markedly different states at the moment."


That just about sums up the game and the season for both teams at this point. NYCFC are playing nowhere near as well as they had been a few months ago, but they're second in MLS in both points and points per game, have won four straight and have lost just once in their past eight. They have, in Maxi Moralez, a real MVP candidate who's kept the team together while David Villa has been convalescing (and credit has to go to the rotation of false 9s Dome Torrent has used in Villa's stead).


Torrent's postgame press conferences are becoming pretty fun, by the way. He was crystal clear re: how unhappy he was after this one, with a particular focus on how deep his team were defending, and how they were unable to keep the ball.


The Lions are playing better than they were a couple of months ago. Yet they've lost two straight and, if you look at their schedule, it doesn't get that much easier over the next month.


El Trafico has rocketed up the rankings of "Best MLS Rivalries" in large part because LAFC apparently have no intention of ever holding a lead against their southern neighbors. The expansion side won the first half 2-0, then once again lost the second half – this time collapsing over the final 10 minutes en route to conceding two Galaxy goals and walking away with a 2-2 draw.


Andre Horta's first MLS impression was not a great one. I don't know why anyone would hit that pass in that situation – though, as Bob Bradley pointed out afterward, the whole team's got to find a mirror. There were chances to make it 3-0, and the goal to bring it back to 2-1 never should've happened, either.


Things went great for 80 minutes, in other words. The game is 90.


Let's grind through the weekend to come:


Saturday Slate


Montreal Impact vs. Atlanta United


7 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


So when going against Atlanta United, be it either at home or on the road, there is one question the opposing manager usually tries to face down: Do I flood the midfield with an extra man and try to deny service at the point of delivery, or do I put the extra man in the box and try to deny service at the point of reception?


Basically: Mark Josef Martinez with an extra man, or mark the guys who feed Josef with the extra man? Here's what happened last time:

Film Session: Montreal's unique approach to Atlanta | Matchday Central

I don't think the parameters of the discussion are any different this time, despite the game being at Stade Saputo and the personnel on both sides being a little bit different, and despite the Five Stripes having gone back to the 4-2-3-1 from the 3-5-2.


The Impact are going to have to absorb pressure, one way or the other. Then when they get their chances to head in the other direction, they've got to take them.


New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC


7 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


Over the past four years this matchup has been RBNY pressing as high and hard as possible, and Crew SC at least somewhat deciding to try to play over said press with long balls to the center forward. That's not to say that Columbus didn't at least attempt to knock the ball around in their usual way a little bit, and that the Red Bulls only pressed. There is always other stuff happening in this game of ours.


But that's the way it went primarily, and so that makes this one interesting because RBNY have evolved a little bit. They're still a very pressing team under Armas, and so far very good at it, but they do allow teams to play a little bit more, and they have been a little bit vulnerable in those moments.


I bet Columbus come out and try to get on the ball in this one.


Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire


7 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


Chicago have lost four straight, and they've won just once in their past eight games. They've conceded 18 goals in that span, including a pair in last week's 2-1 loss – a home loss – to this very same TFC team.


Veljko Paunovic has repeatedly called out his backline, and said that they need reinforcements in the transfer market. OK, but at the same time, why have so many players on that backline regressed year-over-year? Why has he not found a core group and let them ride through the rough patches in order to create a bit of cohesion and chemistry, encouraging the type of familiarity and trust that can make a team play 15 or 20 percent greater than the sum of its parts?


Veljko's thrown everything at the wall this year except that. We've seen a 3-5-2 with a sweeper, a 4-5-1, a 3-4-3, and the 4-2-3-1 that's been in use lately, all with a constant rotation of fullbacks and center backs. Every week it's either a new system or a new formation or a new tactical approach, and the players look uncertain these days every time the step on the pitch.


TFC weren't great last week, and they won 3-0 in the Canadian Championship but weren't super-convincing midweek, and they obviously have defensive issues of their own. But yeah… with Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Victor Vazquez all probably ready to go an hour or so in this one, I like their chances.


D.C. United vs. Colorado Rapids


8 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


United, despite their disappointment at Atlanta last weekend and against the Red Bulls midweek, are almost certainly going to stay in the 4-1-4-1 they've used most of the season, and they're probably going to try to press high then combine around the area. When those moments happen, they're good. When those moments don't happen, they are very, very vulnerable on the break.


For Colorado we'll get to see Kellyn Acosta make his official debut. He played in a midweek friendly against Boca Juniors and did some fun stuff:

That would've been Beckham-esque.


As Terry pointed out in his tweet, Acosta's indeed wearing the No. 10 for the Rapids (a heavy jersey, worn by luminaries such as Waldir Saenz, Facundo Diz and most recently Joe Mason), and that only stokes my concern that Acosta – a natural No. 8 – will be played out of position as a super-advanced, true attacking midfielder.


I hope that's not the case. And if it is, at the very least I'd hope it comes in a 3-5-2, with two true forwards ahead of him, and two marauding wingbacks flanking him.


But it's tough to say with the Rapids these days.


Sporting KC vs. FC Dallas


9 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


This is the first meeting of these two teams in regular season play this year, though they did meet once in U.S. Open Cup play – a 3-2 Sporting win in Kansas. Daniel Salloi got two goals that game, one off the wing and the other while playing as a center forward. Dallas didn't really seem to know how to track him.


That's probably been the high point for SKC over the past couple of months, though. They have won only twice in league play since mid-May as injuries have mounted, as the defense has come apart and has true center forward play has been tough to come by.


And it needs to be said that the defense has been especially bad over the past five games (1-3-1 record), during which Sporting have conceded 13 goals. Peter Vermes reportedly released Emiliano Amor this past week, which is a shot across the bow for just about everyone, I'd say.


What will we see from Dallas, though? There's a decent chance there could be as many as three brand new starters: Dominique Badji up top, Pablo Aranguiz as the No. 10, and Marquinhos Pedroso at left back.


I think Pedroso starts and the other two come off the bench. I also think FCD will play out of a sit-and-counter 4-4-2 rather than their preferred 4-2-3-1.


Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Minnesota United


10 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


So when I mentioned Kellyn Acosta – who, again, is not a No. 10 – playing as the most advanced central midfielder in a 3-5-2, the current mold would be what Minnesota United have become over the past six weeks or so. They finally moved away from Adrian Heath's beloved 4-2-3-1 and into the 3-5-2 that's really a 3-5-1-1, and they do not have a true No. 10 in their midfield.


Rather, they have a true defensive midfielder (Collen Warner) and two box-to-box midfielders (Ibson and Rasmus Schuller). Having those three guys gumming up the works, with the latter two getting forward selectively, has given Darwin Quintero license to go anywhere and everywhere he wants, which is why it really is more of a 3-5-1-1 than a 3-5-2.


Here's their network passing graph from a couple weeks back in a win over New England:

Armchair Analyst: Your complete guide to the Week 22 MLS slate -

This is made using Opta data. The position of each circle represents the location of the corresponding player's aggregate touch, while the thickness of the lines connecting them represents the volume of passes connected.


Warner is No. 26, and he doesn't leave that spot. Schuller's 20, and you can see he's a little more defensive than Ibson (7). Quintero is No. 25. None of this is about combining with the ball. It's just about making Quintero difficult to track, and in that sense it's worked wonderfully.


The other thing it's been about is getting tougher up the spine, and that's worked pretty well, too – Warner's been very good (and Schuller never, ever was a d-mid). If you're a Colorado fan looking for something of a blueprint, here you go.


Still: The defense remains wobbly, and the 'Caps don't give a single damn about possession through the middle. They will happily do everything they can to get behind the Loons' wingbacks, drag their center backs out into space, and then roast 'em.


San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake


10:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


San Jose have only two wins all season, both of them against Minnesota. They're on an 11-game winless streak and a three-game losing streak. The transfer/trade window has been open for nearly two weeks and they haven't addressed their very obvious needs at fullback. Danny Hoesen, who'd been the season's bright spot through the first half, has not scored in a month. 


Here's the goal they gave up on Wednesday:

GOAL: Raul Ruidiaz tallies his 1st in MLS with fierce strike

At the moment the ball is lost they have a 4v2 advantage. By the time the ball is in the final third, they have a 2v3 disadvantage. No pressure is ever really put on Cristian Roldan, and new center back signing Guram Kashia strangely decides to drift away from Ruidiaz toward the back post instead of marking, you know, the guy right in front of him. 


Both fullbacks are pushed way up. Both central mids are jogging. This didn't have to be a fatal moment, but it always, always is with this year's Quakes.


RSL, of course, are just 1-8-1 away from home this season so this is a big, big game for San Jose. It's a legitimate chance to win a game – something they've not managed since May 12.


For the Claret-and-Cobalt, it's now about just two things: Will they use an actual forward at forward, and will Petke resist the urge to lean on the lead-footed central mid pairing?


Portland Timbers vs. Houston Dynamo


11 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


Diego Chara's back, which means that Portland are heavy favorites in this one. By my own count he's top four in the MVP race, along with Josef, BWP and Moralez. His ability to win the ball deep and get the Timbers quickly and reliably into transition has defined the way this team plays, and has covered for other deficiencies elsewhere.


Portland are unbeaten in 13, though they've won just twice in their last seven. Houston are just 1-4-4 on the road, and are about to play their fifth game in 14 days. Hammer the "over."


Sunday Doubleheader


Seattle Sounders vs. NYCFC


5 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


Alex Ring took a late yellow card in NYCFC's win on Wednesday, a foul that looked very much like an "I know I'm going to be rested for the Seattle game on Sunday, so why don't I just take the yellow here and get the suspension out of the way while resetting the 'good behavior' countdown." This was minutes after Moralez limped off with what looked like a bit of an injury.


Those guys have been, more than anyone else, the strength of this NYCFC side. Ring is obviously out and I'm guessing Moralez will get a day off as well, and that means we'll probably see something at least a little bit experimental from NYCFC. 


Everything is a little bit experimental from Seattle these days as they try to integrate new faces and reintegrate some old, injured ones. But what you saw on the goal linked above, in the San Jose section, is what they need more of: An opportunity to drive the game forward opens, and they take it. Too often over the past few years they have been so slow to move from back-to-front, relying too much on square passes and "let's just hope Nico Lodeiro conjures some magic."


I don't know if that's something they've talked about. But it's very definitely something they should talk about, especially now that Ruidiaz is in the fold.


LA Galaxy vs. Orlando City


9:30 pm ET | Match Preview | TV & streaming info


I just don't see any way that, three days after a demoralizing home loss, Orlando City's center backs have a shot at corralling Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ola Kamara.


I will grant that the Galaxy aren't the most tactically sophisticated team in the world and I will grant that the backline is capable of … errors … and I will grant that Romain Alessandrini at either wingback spot is a wild-ass attacking ploy – and good on Sigi Schmid for that, by the way – and I will grant that the goalkeeping situation is not much better than last year and I will grant that the Dos Santos brothers are still capable of drifting out of games entirely.


But raw talent wins a lot of games. I captained Zlatan for my fantasy team this week specifically because I think he's getting a hat trick in this one.


One More Thing to Ponder



Happy weekending, everybody.