Santiago Mosquera - FC Dallas - celebrating - against Minnesota

With Doyle wandering somewhere along a beach in Cabo, perhaps in an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, but definitely a Paloma in hand, he's a bit, erm, preoccupied this weekend. 


But, The Game Is The Game so whenever he awaits his cup with a colorful, bendy straw and little umbrella to be refilled, he's snuck away to Twitter to share thoughts, which will be sprinkled throughout this space, beginning with:

Also: Bobby Warshaw covered Saturday night's action in real-time, so check that out too.


Not one of the 24 teams in MLS kept a clean sheet this weekend. Let's roll.


Champs rising


The question has been asked a few times, and despite the obvious risk of redundancy, let's ask again: Are Atlanta United back? In their 2-1 win over NYCFC, they sure looked like it.


First, Josef Martinez is scoring at a historic pace once again. Breaking records is his resting state, and Sunday marked another one, becoming the first player in league history to score in 10 straight games. Irrespective of anything else tactically, he's a game-breaker. It's almost unfair. He played below 100 percent with an adductor injury, yet flies into this header like a Venezuelan meteor. 

Secondly, the shift to a 3-5-2, thus returning Julian Gressel to his favored right wingback role, has worked wonders. Playing your best players at their best positions works — who knew! Ezequiel Barco is back to fitness, too. Pity Martinez is starting to settle in. Justin Meram has subtly been very good at left wingback, too, helping hold together the formation change. 


Thirdly, Miles Robinson took a leap. Atlanta are playing with tempo, on the front foot like they had in their first two seasons in the league. To do so, you need defenders who are preternaturally capable of defending in the excess of space left behind by the midfield and attack. Think Aaron Long and Tim Parker with the New York Red Bulls. Robinson has no issues defending in space. 


They're passing the eye test. The vibes are right, the mood is improved and all appears well once again. If Pity's performance Sunday — his best in an Atlanta kit — is a sign of things to come, then there's going to be a clear favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in MLS Cup. 


One more random note on the back three: A wrinkle they have is one of the center backs either side of Robinson (Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Franco Escobar) join the attack at a high rate at any given time, whether it's stepped into the space without the ball or completing a pass and continuing the run forward. That's also possible because one is a fullback and the other is one of the league's best passing center backs. 


Silver linings for Red Bulls


The New York Red Bulls loaded up and threw their best fastball, with as much juice as they could muster. But it still wasn't enough on the road against LAFC, as this year's Supporters' Shield-elect beat last year's Supporters' Shield holders 4-2.


Despite the loss, the Red Bulls should exit Banc of California Stadium in good spirits. The result says more about LAFC's near-infallibility than any Red Bulls' futility. In all of their big matches recently against the league's best, the Red Bulls have brought it.


But LAFC are just in another stratosphere. Through 24 games they're the best regular season team in league history. Even at 80 percent of their ability, they're borderline unbeatable. That's no fun to focus on, we've done it time and time again this season. Read Wiebe on LAFC's excellence from this week. Read Warshaw on their elite midfield from May. Read Doyle on why they're so good from April.


Anyway, the Red Bulls look playoff-ready. 


So many things the Red Bulls did deserve deeper recognition: Kaku's overall performance, Cristian Casseres Jr.'s two-way excellence, Brian White continuing to keep Bradley Wright-Phillips on the bench and more, but one stands above the rest: Kemar Lawrence defended Carlos Vela better than anyone in 2019. More than a few times Vela even drifted to his unfavored left wing to take a run at Rece Buckmaster.


Vela got his goal still from the penalty spot — because of course he did, it's his year. Vela still got two assists from set pieces — because of course he did, it's his year. But he found little joy through the run of play.


Not to oversimplify things, but, Lawrence took a tactic you'd imagine everyone would try: Desperately force Vela to his weaker right foot. Sit off a bit so he can't run by you, then shift back to his left. Sure, it's not perfect, but pick your poison. Make something other than Vela's left foot beat you, even if that ends up being his right foot. Hope he plays sideways or backward — because that's a win given his insane 2019 season — and get a ton of help defense from the strong side center back, defensive mid and winger. 


Obviously, not everyone can pull it off. Lawrence is one of the league's best defenders. All this came behind an aggressive, vintage, RBNY press, meaning Lawrence regularly was tasked defending the man on pace for the league's single best individual season alone and at high speed.


Weekend observations 


10. It was a tough start for the Galaxy's Galacticos. 


Cristian Pavon's debut was overshadowed by D.C. United's inspiring stand at Audi Field, as United beat the Galaxy 2-1 without Wayne Rooney and Lucho Acosta.


We were promised Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs. Rooney all week, but we got Zlatan vs. Quincy Amarikwa. Rooney, who traveled to and from England again this week to seal his impending move to Derby County as a player-coach, missed the match through illness. And Instead of Acosta at No. 10, it was Paul Arriola, with the Argentine benched by Ben Olsen. Leo Jara helped fill in at center mid. Felipe put a D.C. shirt on for the first time and it looks weird. 


Pavon was solid, if unspectacular and more than a few times went out of his way to cater to Zlatan. A few forced passes here, a couple forced crosses towards the Swede there. It's going to take a little time to work out the kinks.


While Josef Martinez was setting a record for scoring goals in consecutive games, Ibrahimovic set his own record Sunday night: No one has attempted more shots in a single game than his 15 against D.C.


9. It was another new formation for Bruce Arena's New England Revolutiona 5-3-2 as Michael Mancienne made his return to the lineup, his first appearance since Brad Friedel departed the club. Things have changed a little bit between appearances. 


The Revs attacking portion of the squad is very good. With DPs Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou leading the way, it's a group that compares favorably to most in the league. The defense, though, remains a big question mark. They have a talent deficiency across the back line. Arena ostensibly attempted to compensate by adding an extra center back against Seattle, which was interesting, though didn't have the desired effect in a wild 3-3 draw.


At times, it became a disjointed 3-2-3-2 and they got burned on the wings. Sometimes the facade of an extra defender can give a false sense of security, plus wingbacks have to own endline-to-endline. Not easy in a game as open as Saturday's was. 

Moving forward, is that what's best for New England? Or is it a back four with two defensive midfielders adding extra protection? Can Mancienne live up to the expectation that comes with being one of the league's most expensive defenders? 


8. At this stage of the season for MLS's two Ohio clubsFC Cincinnati and Columbus Crew SC, it's about moral victories and building for the future. The first Hell is Real derby represented a chance for a big ol' moral victory on Saturday. 


It was fun, it was frantic and it ended 2-2 in Columbus. Cincy stormed out to a 2-0 lead before the hosts sprinted back and should have won. Poor Gyasi Zardes is going to see a snapshot of this chance every single time he closes his eyes. Nightmare stuff.

As for building for the future, Andrew Gutman was active for Cincy. He's on loan through the 2020 season and left back has been quite tricky for Cincy with Greg Garza's injury problems. It was also Ron Jans' first match in charge and his vision will take a bit of time to be applied. Any positive signs of identity will be welcomed with open arms and held onto tightly. 


In Columbus, continued minutes for young DP Luis Diaz is big. Plus, Pedro Santos at No. 10 continues to be fun. 


7. Sporting Kansas City's already slim playoff hopes were slashed again with a 2-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake. It looks like, just as Toronto FC last year, they won't be able to clamber out of an early-season hole, dug with injuries, painful impotence with finishing chances and predilection for fatal defensive errors. 


It feels like a microcosm of their season. They went up 1-0 with a beautiful goal, pegged back 1-1 because of disappointing individual marking, then had a penalty which smashed the post with the game tied. A Corey Baird brace paced the visitors. The fitting dismount was Daniel Salloi's straight red card for a two-footed tackle. He has more red cards (1) than goals (0) in 1,010 MLS minutes in 2019.


Face of the Week to the big smile that must have been across Nick Rimando's face when he tweeted this:

On Sunday, about 24 hours after the win, RSL announced they terminated the contract of head coach Mike Petke, who was already serving a suspension. That's a shake to the playoff race out West. 


It looks like two out of RSL, Dallas and Portland will make the playoffs as the Houston Dynamo continue to freefall ... 


6. ... Which continued in Philly. The Dynamo lost 2-1 to the Union as Christian Ramirez marked his debut with a goal. 


Jose Bizama made his debut, too. Ramirez partnered Mauro Manotas up top, which is an intriguing pairing. At full-strength, a 4-2-2-2 formation with Tomas Martinez and Alberth Elis underneath the two strikers fits well on paper. But, they keep falling further and further back out West. 


They are now six points below the playoff line and 2-10-0 on the road. Not great. 


5. There's a tight playoff race brewing out East, too and the biggest game of the weekend around that playoff line was Toronto vs. Orlando. 


TFC entered the weekend three points ahead of Orlando and that's how they will enter next week, too, after the 1-1 draw in Toronto. The Lions came so, so close to a huge road win. 


Warshaw summed it up best, though: "This is getting a little old. You’re at home with nearly your first-choice lineup available against a team below you in the standings — you gotta win that game. Instead they drew 1-1 against Orlando. There’s too much talent on that Toronto team to be stuck in a playoff scrap." 


4. Chicago are still alive, too, after coming from behind to beat the Montreal Impact 3-2


But first: Zakaria Diallo hits our Pass of the Week. Saphir Taider converted the ensuing penalty. 

That penalty kickstarted a comeback that almost ended with stealing at least a point, before Bastian Schweinsteiger decided now was a good time for his first goal of the season. Four of the game's five goals came directly from a set piece or in the second phase of one. It's the kind of game the Fire have found ways to drop points in all season long, but they're still lurking at the bottom of the playoff race. They still have a pulse. 


Montreal are fading. They're now clinging to the final playoff spot though are tied in points with Toronto, which have a game in hand. Orlando and Chicago are right there, too. 


Can Bojan Krkic or Ballou Tabla strengthen the defense?Sheesh. 


3. To anyone who predicted a 5-3 scoreline before Dallas hosted Minnesota, I don't believe you. Pics or it didn't happen. And if you produce proper evidence: Why? 


Dallas, struggling mightily to score goals, puts five past Minnesota, who were on a double-digit unbeaten run and had conceded just once over their last four league games. Cool! 


It was a heavily rotated side for Minnesota, it must be noted. But a handful of goals must have felt great. The night didn't end without a blemish, though. Rising young star Mason Toye was sent off for spitting on Reggie Cannon

He has since issued an apology.


2. Portland kicked off a 10-game home-stand with a win, even without Brian Fernandez


It was a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps and if they hadn't found a way to overcome the Caps, questions would have been asked as to how good this team really is. Jeremy Ebobisse continues to link the game well when playing as a center forward. Time to tweak the system to shift Fernandez to the right flank, but still keep him free of defensive responsibility? 


As for the Caps, similar to Columbus and Cincy a bit earlier in this space, it's about finding moral victories and moving forward. Homegrown striker Theo Bair opened his account in audacious style.

1. San Jose dropped points against a team below the playoff line for the second straight week, this time falling to the Colorado Rapids2-1. No mention of the plague near Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this week, so, you know, that's progress.


Is it a worrying trend for the Quakes or just one of those things that happens over a 34-game season? Their next match is at SKC. 


While we're on the thread of answering questions I don't have a definitive answer to: What would have happened if the Rapids parted ways with Anthony Hudson a few games earlier? Would they still be alive in the playoff race? Who knows.