We're still not quite at "you are what your record says you are" territory just yet, though we are getting very close. The 2018 season pushed through the 20 percent mark this past weekend, with 87 of 391 games played and that really is a pretty decent sample size. We know some stuff.


One of the things we know? Teams are out there going for the full three points in a way that they kind of haven't in the recent past:

Season
Home Wins
Home Losses
Draws
% Drawn
Home PPG
2018
49
22
16
18.4
1.87
2017
208
76
90
24.1
1.91
2016
168
64
107
31.5
1.8
2015
183
85
72
21.2
1.83
2014
156
78
89
27.6
1.72
2013
164
77
82
25.4
1.78
2012
167
79
77
23.8
1.79
2011
133
67
106
34.6
1.65
2010
115
66
59
24.6
1.68

Percent draw is the column that should be drawing your eye. The question I'd like to know is why it's like that.


So far I have two running theories:


1) Teams have invested more in attackers than defenders over the last few years, and the talent disparity makes it more difficult to try to hang on for a point. The draws we've seen this year have felt almost like they've happened by accident – there have been very few cases of "ok, we've got our result so let's just bunker in." In years past that just wasn't the case.


Playing for a draw is always tough. It gets exponentially tougher when you're going against the likes of Josef Martinez, David Villa, Bradley Wright-Phillips or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. I don't know if it demands analysis beyond that.


2) Nearly half of the games played thus far (40 of the 88) have been interconference games, i.e. East v. West. A road draw in an interconference game is only worth a point earned, so if I was coaching I would always, always always work like hell for the full three points in those games, throwing all caution to the wind.


Intraconference games are a different story. If you get a road point, you're not only helping your own cause in the playoff picture, you're also directly harming a rival. You get the point earned, but also benefit from two points denied.


Supporting that theory: 13 of 48 intraconference games have ended in draws. Just three of 40 interconference games have. Managers are getting savvier about the math.


Let's take a look at what happened this weekend:


I Can't Explain


Zlatan is great, but he has not single-handedly saved the Galaxy. Far from it.


His 3g/2a in 307 minutes are an MVP-caliber ROI, but following Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the Red Bulls in Carson, LA are now just 2-3-0 since the big man entered the lineup. Four of those five games have been at home, and I don't think the big man was joking when he said after the game that this is the first time ever, anywhere, that he's lost three home games in a row.


Based upon talent and total expenditures LA should probably run roughshod over most opponents. So what, exactly, is the problem?


Mostly I think it's that their team shape doesn't quite fit the system they're trying to run. Against the Red Bulls it was called a 4-3-3 but in all honesty it was a 4-2-4 that ceded way too much of the central midfield:

Armchair Analyst: Zlatan issues in LA, Revs for real & more from Week 9 -

That's a network passing map courtesy of Opta. Each numbered circle represents the location of the corresponding player's average touch, while the thickness of the lines connecting them represents the volume of passes exchanged.


Zlatan is No. 9. Ola Kamara, a true center forward, is No. 11 – he's been shunted off to the wing here (and to be fair to him, he was decent and got himself a goal despite playing a relatively unfamiliar position). Gio dos Santos is No. 10, and there's the problem.


Gio – who also got himself a goal, his first for club or country in nearly a year – has shown time and again that he can really only play as a second forward, and not really as a midfielder nor as a winger. Look at how high he is there, playing basically in Zlatan's back pocket. He got very few touches overall, and almost none in the midfield. And when he pushes up to occupy that space, he drags extra defenders toward Ibrahimovic instead of away, compressing the game and making the Galaxy easier to defend instead of harder.


Why play that high up the field if you have Ibrahimovic, one of the best passing forwards ever to play the game, and two wingers (Kamara and Romain Alessandrini) who you can release into space?  


More damning still is that the above happened against an RBNY team giving Sean Davis some run as essentially a lone defensive midfielder. Davis is a useful player, but he's not that. Had Gio dropped deeper the Galaxy could've overwhelmed the Red Bulls in central midfield, gotten the ball to Zlatan when he checked back into the gap between the lines, and had him dominate the game with his hold-up play and passing.


LA, in short, needed another midfielder. Instead they had a second forward.


The talent is there but the parts are wildly mismatched, and the defense is miles from good enough to paper over the cracks while the midfield and attack sort themselves out. It's not a crisis for LA, but it is an inflection point. What happens next – what adjustments are made in terms of personnel and team shape – will go a long way toward determining what kind of year 2018 ends up being for the Galaxy.


The Real Me


In Friday's weekend preview I called New England vs. Sporting KC a "litmus test game" in large part because I still don't really trust either of these teams. Yes, Sporting came into the weekend (and left it!) atop the Western Conference, and were the first team to 20 goals on the season. They'd been drubbing all comers since Week 1, and doing it differently – little high pressure, iffy defense, lots of goals – than SKC teams of any vintage.


The Revs, on the other hand, finished last season as one of the league's leakiest teams but entered this weekend as one of the stingiest. And they exited as one of the stingiest, putting the clamps on Sporting in a cagey, chippy, utterly-devoid-of-rhythm 1-0 result at Foxborough.


Here's the expected goals map from the game:

I am beginning to believe that the Revs defense, which was such a weak spot for so long, has figured itself out. D-mid Wilfried Zahibo has improved immensely since Week 1, just in terms on-field awareness, while the central defense has been smarter about when, where and how to be physical. Add in an under-the-radar Goalkeeper of the Year contender in Matt Turner, and it's probably time to tip the hat to head coach Brad Friedel. He knows how he wants his team to play – they squeeze hard up front, delay through the midfield and then defend hard when they're on the back foot – and he's gotten them to do so.


The same is probably true of Peter Vermes as well (and it absolutely should be noted that they played this game without prize DP midfielder Felipe Gutierrez, who continues to work his way back to full fitness). After a rough defensive start to the season SKC have conceded only three times in their last five. As I said at the top it still doesn't look like the Sporting teams we're used to, but sacrificing some of that defensive solidity for a little more je ne sais quoi going forward has mostly been worth the trade-off so far.


So in short: Both teams passed the litmus test. The Revs got a scrappy and semi-controversial goal; SKC defended well and got unlucky on the road. It happens. I'm officially more confident about both being good teams (or thereabouts) than I was 72 hours ago.


A few more things to ponder...


9. I am officially way less confident about Houston following their 2-1 loss at Minnesota United on Saturday night. Credit to the Loons for their fighting spirit and all that, but at some point the attackers on the Dynamo have to start finishing and the defenders have to start defending. As good as they've looked – and they're really looked quite good for long stretches – since blitzing Atlanta in Week 1 the only team they've managed to beat was basically the Toronto FC USL cadre two weekends back.


The West is soft and forgiving and I still expect the Dynamo to make their way to the postseason. But after two months of this kind of stuff, it's starting to feel very "2017 Revs" to me.


8. Since being blitzed in Week 1 Atlanta have grabbed a pair of pliers and a blowtorch and applied them to just about all comers. The latest victims were the Montreal Impact, whose bunker lasted 70 minutes before breaking down in the final 20 of what became a 4-1 loss:

The Five Stripes have been ridiculously good. Montreal have not, and with 21 goals conceded in just eight games they're on pace to shatter the mark MNUFC set last year for worst defense in league history.


7. The only team to take a point off Atlanta in the last seven weeks is NYCFC, whose 3-1 win over FC Dallas on Sunday kept them atop the Eastern Conference on points (20) if not PPG (they're second on 2.22, while Atlanta's at 2.38).


It was FC Dallas' first loss of the year, but truth be told I don't think they played poorly at all. The Cityzens are just damn near unbeatable in Yankee Stadium, and when David Villa's cooking he's damn near impossible to stop.


6. The third team in what I think most rational people would consider the elite group are, of course, Toronto FC. And they had a rough week, first falling short against Chivas in the CCL final and then surrendering a 2-0 lead en route to a 2-2 home draw against the Fire. That's the kind of thing that happens when every center back on the roster is hurt, I guess.


That draw gave Chicago four points from a two-game road trip. It's – get this – their first undefeated road trip of any lengths in three years, and it's their first time taking four points from a two-game road trip since July of 2014. They have been insanely bad away from Bridgeview for the vast majority of this decade.


I'm not convinced that they've quite figured everything out just yet, but their cadre of rookies (d-mid Mo Adams, CB Grant Lillard, attackers Elliot Collier and Jon Bakero, and midfielder Diego Campos) have given them more of a defensive spine than they had a month ago, as well as more versatility in attack. It's not the modern, MLS 3.0 (or 4.0 or wherever we are now) way to build a team, but it's worked.


As for TFC, they've got four points through six games. Through six games last year they had seven points – not a huge difference at all. They'll be fine as soon as they get one or two more guys healthy.


5. Our Face of the Week goes to Cristian Techera, who took what will surely be the silliest red card of the year after banging home a PK in Vancouver's 2-0 win over visiting RSL:


This game was going to be another nothingburger at home for the 'Caps, but then Alphonso Davies came on at the hour mark and saved the day. He is unstoppable in the open field.


4. Stefan Frei's howler gifted LAFC their inaugural win at their new stadium in downtown LA, 1-0 for the hosts.


Neither team played particularly well, and obviously the Sounders will be very, very disappointed with the result. But here's the silver lining: They went out there without Chad Marshall or Roman Torres (Gustav Svensson and Kim Kee-Hee started at CB) and didn't even remotely get overrun. I think just about everybody was surprised by that.


3. D.C. United did get overrun in their 3-2 loss at Philly, and spent most of the day largely unable to cope with the Union overloading D.C.'s left flank. But in the early going they were able to conjure a lovely goal from their high press, reminiscent of what they did in the second half of 2016:

D.C. probably need to use something close to that blueprint if they're going to have a puncher's chance in the East.


As for the Union... Ilsinho got his first goal since last year, C.J. Sapong got his first goal since Week 1, and Borek Dockal got his first goal, period. Was this a blip or a sign of things to come? Tough to tell since it was against D.C. at home, so it's not exactly the sternest test. But you can only beat the team in front of you.


2. Columbus stopped their four-game winless skid with a very necessary 2-1 win over the visiting Quakes. Mike Grella, in his first action in nearly a year (and first appearance for Crew SC) got on the field and then got on the board. 


He could end up being crucial for a Columbus team that continues to generate chances, but has had nobody but Gyasi Zardes (!!!) to finish them consistently. They need to replace Justin Meram's production, and so far they haven't been able to.


1. Speaking of Meram, he had our Pass of the Week in Orlando City's 2-1 win at Colorado:

The Lions have now won five straight games since 1) getting mostly healthy and 2) switching out of the 4-4-2 diamond and into a 4-2-3-1. Their attack's sorted out – two goals in the first three games, followed by 14 in the subsequent five. And since Cristian Higuita's been slotted into defensive midfield they've been better there as well.


But I'm still not convinced by their defense. The backline remains gappy and prone to ball-watching, and they can be had on set pieces. With Atlanta, TFC, and NYCFC all on the schedule in the next five weeks, we'll get a very good feel for just how much this team has actually improved. And if it'll be enough to hang with the East's best.