Adrian Heath and fans - Minnesota United

A lot happened on Wednesday night. Almost too much, dare I venture to say. 


There was USMNT's Gold Cup semifinal victory over Jamaica -- rudely interrupted by a lengthy weather delay -- and seven MLS games all happening over the course of five hours. 


With all that's going on, let's get right into the takeaways from tonight's MLS action:


Loons soar


Minnesota United got a win in what Adrian Heath called his team's biggest game of the season thus far. Beating the red-hot San Jose Earthquakes is no small feat.


Darwin Quintero got the scoring started in the Loons 3-1 win, as the team played with some swagger from the start then overcame an equalizer just before halftime and held on as the Quakes ramped up the pressure in the second half. Then Ike Opara (!) did this to ice the game. Pass of the (mid)week. 

The game also might have shown a blueprint against the Quakes' man-marking system that has proved so tricky since March: Playing through a target man, back-to-goal striker. The Loons often played into Angelo Rodriguez's feet as runners buzzed around him looking for the next pass. Admittedly, not every team has a player with that skill set (nor Quintero as the one running around him) and who knows if this was just a one-off or not. But it's something. 


Their second goal was definitely a (risky) way to exploit space and overload numbers: Center back pushes forward. Michael Boxall just kept running forward and scored after a deflected pass. 


Matias Almeyda's system has all of his outfield players mark someone, except for one of the Quakes' centerbacks, who plays free as a libero. It leaves one of the other team's center backs unmarked. It's a simple numbers game. Is that replicable on a consistent basis? Probably not. If you keep sending one of your center backs forward then you'll always be outnumbered going the other way. But, strategically and occasionally, maybe it's the overload needed to tip the balance. 


SKC sink 


There are two obvious thoughts from SKC's loss to LAFC:


  1. With every passing week, SKC's 2019 looks more and more like Toronto's perplexing 2018 season.
  2. SKC's lack of a 15-goal-type striker glares bright.

It's almost impressive to lose 5-1 with that kind of xG map. On top of Krisztian Nemeth's struggles lately, it doesn't help that last season's leading scorer Daniel Salloi has yet to find the back of the net in 2019.


It was more weird individual mistakes that helped doom SKC again, like it was for Toronto last year even after the injuries healed. On Wednesday, it was Ilie jumping in the wall, allowing Christian Ramirez's free kick to roll on under into the back of the net, much to the frustration of Tim Melia.


They still have the talent to make the playoffs. But, even at the beginning of July, time is running out to reverse fortunes and jump five teams to vault over the playoff line.


Fire burning


The Chicago Fire weren't significantly better than Atlanta United after 13 minutes, yet found themselves up 3-0 and suddenly a man up. That's not meant to be slander of the Fire -- they deserved to be in the driver's seat. Then they won 5-1. 


A mistimed jump gave Francisco Calvo an open header on a corner kick to open the scoring. Leandro Gonzalez Pirez's mistimed clearance gave CJ Sapong a 1v1 with Brad Guzan to double the lead, then LGP's handball and red card gave the Fire a penalty with the chance to make it 3-0. The Fire capitalized on every mistake and won the game. That hasn't been the case all year. More often than not, it's been the Fire who have made costly mistakes during otherwise strong performances.


It was a desperately-needed win, after Chicago had slipped to 10th in the Eastern Conference amid a six-game winless run. There was a report this week in The Athletic that the club would be sellers should their fortunes remain down. It doesn't mean the season is saved yet and all is good, but, you've got to start somewhere. The Fire have the top-end talent to beat Atlanta and the other top dogs in the East -- especially when Nico Gaitan is playing like that. 


It must have felt good to smash in five goals, too. 


Red cards color Sunday's ATL vs. RBNY match


At the beginning of the night, Gonzalez Pirez's red card meant he'd be unavailable for Atlanta against New York. It'll be the first game he'll miss this season.


Then, the Red Bulls' night in Houston went from bad to worse when Michael Murrillo caught a red card with the game already out of hand in the 83rd minute then Kaku got his marching orders with literal seconds left before the referee blew his whistle for an off-ball incident that also saw Maynor Figueroa sent off. 


It's not ideal for either team. 


It'll be a non-complicated switch for Atlanta, who will put Michael Parkhurst or Flo Pogba next to Miles Robinson. The Red Bulls, though, tried a 5-3-2 formation -- the rare two striker set-up for RBNY -- in their 4-0 loss to the Dynamo to little effect. Bradley Wright-Phillips got another cameo off the bench as he regains fitness and shakes off rust following his injury lay-off. Will he be ready to start on Sunday?


NYCFC keep rolling


NYCFC are now second in the league in points per game, trailing only LAFC. They might be playing their best soccer ... ever. Full credit to Dome Torrent for having the team hitting their stride.


Maxi Moralez is the alpha right now. His goal in their 3-0 win over the Seattle Sounders (which was a lot closer than the scoreline indicates) gives him six goals and eight assists in his last seven games. That's 14 goal contributions. Are. You. Kidding. Me. 


The success, at least recently under Torrent, has been elevated consistency in both tactics and personnel. Now, the little changes he makes are more fine-tuning rather than scrapping the blueprint semi-weekly. With James Sands out, it's back to a flat back four (even if Alex Ring drops to split the center backs in possession, giving the familiar shape as when it had been Sands there with three center backs).


As much as I've droned on about the Union having another gear to reach if/when Marco Fabian reached full fitness and form, what would NYCFC look like when Alexandru Mitrita hits full form? 


Midweek observations


  • Speaking of the Union: Since the Philadelphia Union signed Andrew Wooten, Kacper Przybylko has four goals in three games and Fafa Picault has three goals in three starts. Elevated competition is already paying dividends. Both were on the scoresheet in the Union‚Äôs 3-1 win over Orlando City, who finished with nine men. These two teams will run it back in Philly on Saturday.
  • The final 77 minutes must have been absolutely brutal for the remaining Atlanta players after being reduced to 10 men and down 3-0 after 13 minutes.
  • There was a point in NYCFC's win where Keaton Parks slipped and, while laying on the ground, tackled the ball with his head to retain possession. He went full Phil Jones. It was glorious. 
  • Can we get a Nick Rimando-inspired penalty saving contest at the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge? During a Video Review check for a potential penalty (granted, it would have been his foul that awarded the penalty, but whatever) I couldn't think of a better way to honor him. 
  • There were a bunch of things to like about the partnership between Kim Kee-Hee and Xavier Arreaga in the center of defense for Seattle, despite the 3-0 loss to NYCFC. 
  • Is it time to say LAFC backup keeper Pablo Sisniega is good? Because it just might be. 
  • Staying with LAFC... where (and when) do they use that third DP slot? 
  • Happy Fourth, everybody. (And a belated happy Canada Day, everybody.)