Here's what happened across three matches to kick off Heineken Rivalry Week:
NYCFC's identity for their best passages of the season has been as follows: Three central defenders, which allows both wingbacks to bomb forward simultaneously and receive trademark switches of play into space, where they continue their blitz forward. James Sands had been at the heart of that defense, often quarterbacking possession from deep.
In their first game after the 19-year-old broke his collarbone, Dome Torrent opted to switch to a back four, though Alex Ring dropped between the center backs in possession to allow the fullbacks to play as wingbacks once more.
More interesting, though, was Torrent's postgame comments. He said the team played one of their best 45 minutes of the season in the first half and one of their worst in the second. That came together to form a this-shouldn't-be-so-nervy final 30 minutes. With the Crew overmatched and dominated in the first half, NYCFC never found the killer goal.
Torrent explained why. The Crew came out of their shell and pressed higher in the second 45 minutes. NYCFC didn't cope, they began panicking and playing long, he said.
He continued: "My message was to play in the same style, play in the same way, respect the position, make high pressing. I saw in the first five minutes of the second half we didn’t make high pressing, three against three, the wingbacks stayed."
It was a good test run for the Hudson River Derby this weekend. The Red Bulls will press; will NYCFC deal with it better?
As for the Crew: It made total sense to rotate, leaving Gyasi Zardes, Wil Trapp, Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz out of the starting XI. At this point in the season, their looming Hell is Real derby against FC Cincinnati on Sunday is the most important thing left on the schedule.
So. Under normal circumstances, the plan would have been to write about Wayne Rooney playing a nine-and-a-half role next to Ola Kamara, with Lucho Acosta on the bench. That would have naturally lent to a few questions: How did D.C. look in attack? How did Rooney do between the lines? What does this mean for Acosta? It was going to be rad.
But all that went away when Rooney's elbow landed on Cristian Casseres Jr.'s face in the 24th minute, resulting in a red card. No more tactics talk, no more thoughts on the formation or what it means for Acosta.
Still, the Red Bulls did an interesting thing, too. Danny Royer played second striker again as Chris Armas went for a 4-3-1-2 situation for the second game in a row, further unlocking Kaku and adding more of an edge to Royer's game.
But all that went away when Amro Tarek got two yellow cards in eight minutes, bringing the sides both to 10 men. No more tactics talk, no more thoughts on the formation or what it means for Bradley Wright-Phillips, on the bench again despite Brian White being out.
For 45 minutes, we were set for an all out rivalry special: Grit, desire and work rate would play a bigger role than most in the second half. The Red Bulls got a goal when the game was 11-v-11 then Kamara cracked a golazo to equalize when it was 10-v-10. The Red Bulls, with a dubious penalty, got their second goal and set up shop, seeing out a professional 2-1 victory after 60 minutes of utter chaos.
It was fun! Well, maybe not for D.C. who are spiraling with three wins in their last 16 games. Rooney's post-departure-announcement form has been, uhm, not great. He's missed a game due to illness, substituted early before giving the fourth official an earful and now this red card. How quickly things can change in a month.
United embark on a three-game road swing against the Philadelphia Union, Montreal Impact and Portland Timbers. They're only five points above the playoff line and each of the four teams below have at least a game in hand, you know.
You have to enjoy greatness while it's playing out in front of you. Life's too short and historic virtuosity is fleeting.
LAFC's 2019 season is well on its way to being the league's greatest regular season ever. Carlos Vela's 2019 is on its way to being the greatest individual season ever. We've described it often and deeply, now there's nothing to say. There's nothing new to learn. Just enjoy.
They thrashed the Quakes and Vela scored what must be a candidate for AT&T Goal of the Season. It was incredible. Social media lit on fire, Vela dominated the sports world, not just MLS. It was one of those goals where you don't know what to do with your hands, but you do know you have a rush of inexplicable energy, the urge to jump and oh would you look at that I'm screaming.
LAFC aren't just the best team in the league, they're the most entertaining.
They play beautiful, they play aggressive. They pass, they press. They dribble the ball into the net, they score from deep. LAFC have something for every soccer fan, perhaps except for whoever empathizes with a proper parked bus and route one target striker. thinks You know what, if Bob Bradley instructed his side to do that, they'd probably be fine with Vela playing off Adama Diomande. Of course.
The irresistible panache and imperious dominance makes LAFC a joy to watch. They have the Supporters Shield wrapped up, and are closer and closer to the points-record too, before they shift total focus to translating the regular season mastery to the playoffs.
A quick pair of Quakes thoughts to break up the effusive LAFC praise:
- San Jose really weren't bad. It's just LAFC's year. Still, if Danny Hoesen brought his finishing boots (if Chris Wondolowski started?) the Quakes could have had a few goals. They had a legitimate penalty shout. Despite a four game winless run, the sky isn't falling in San Jose (yet).
- Matias Almeyda was sent off in the first half for an outburst and took a while to leave the field. The beginning of the sequence might have been lost in translation, but he didn't receive the news particularly well once there were no doubts. And you know what? It's not a huge deal. Teams are a reflection of their manager. The way San Jose play, Almeyda needs to be a fiery character. It's who he is. As long as he didn't cross the line, it's all good. Passion fuels this team.