In the stretch run of the MLS regular season as the summer months gave way to fall, Saturday's seven-match slate did not disappoint. Here's what we learned:
As if the Union haven't proved their bonafides, they took four points from back-to-back home matches against Atlanta United then LAFC. Saturday's draw was entertaining, intense and transitional. It was fun.
Jim Curtin opted for a 4-2-3-1 again in a huge game, suggesting that'll be the go-to formation moving towards the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. The uber-athletic combination of Jamiro Monteiro, Alejandro Bedoya and Brenden Aaronson frees Haris Medunjanin to be the best version of himself, quarterbacking possession from deep. That group lines up well with any in the league, including LAFC's all-action midfield trio.
Philly dealt with LAFC's suffocating press expertly, too. They were balanced in how they attacked it. Often playing out of the back, they weren't overly predictable, changing it up by playing direct to Kacper Przybylko or straight up kicking it into oblivion a handful of times. LAFC didn't create opportunities with their press, which has been rare for them in 2019.
As for LAFC? Carlos Vela returned and Carlos Vela scored. That's all good. The draw leaves them seven points from tying the New York Red Bulls' single-season record for points with four games left. Three wins would do the trick.
Atlanta's 3-1 home loss to Columbus Crew SC leaves the reigning champs now nine points behind NYCFC for first place in the East: It's a devastating blow in the quest for homefield advantage and a first-round bye.
They hold a game in hand, and have a trip to Yankee Stadium coming later this month, so they had a strong chance to top the conference had they taken care of business between now and Decision Day presented by AT&T. Nine points might be just too much to climb, especially considering NYCFC continue to pick up points without Heber and Maxi Moralez.
The Crew did a lot of damage in transition against Atlanta. Miles Robinson has been so good all season defending in space, but he wasn't at his best and Florentin Pogba wasn't either. Something to watch moving forward.
San Jose looked really good for the first half-hour then hit a wall. It's not hugely surprising given they play the very most intense style of soccer for the past seven months, had four players from their starting XI coming back from international duty plus the team traveled cross-country after a Wednesday night match against Real Salt Lake before this 12:30 pm ET kick off. It's explainable, and the result defendable, but with a hellacious schedule to finish the season, they need to steal points in suboptimal conditions or they'll be spectators come playoff time.
One random interesting thing for the Quakes: Part of why they've been so entertaining on both sides of the ball, they've gradually become more aggressive in possession. Here's a graphic made by @TheDummyRun on Twitter, highlighting the shift:
Could it be as simple as extended familiarity within Almeyda's system, becoming more confident and comfortable or an intentional shift from the coaching staff? Perhaps all three.
Still chasing the playoff line, the Impact fell at home 1-0 to FC Cincinnati, who had not won a game of soccer since July 13 and had not kept a clean sheet since March 24. Ignacio Piatti returned to the starting XI, too.
They're not mathematically done, but, how do you get up from this kind of haymaker? The Impact are in for a transitional summer.
The loan of Orji Okwonkwo expires. Piatti's future has lurked in the background all season, though the Impact brass have been consistent in saying he'll be back. There's an option to extend Lassi Lappalainen's loan. Ballou Tabla's loan expires. Will Wilmer Cabrera be back? How will they change the aging defense? What to do with Maxi Urruti?
Big decisions ahead. Before then, they get to focus on the final of the Canadian Championship.
I mean, come on. This scene should be the advertising centerpiece for an upscale brand of shampoo.
- Orlando City's 3-3 draw with New England was bonkers, with huge playoff implications on the line. Watch the highlights.
- Shoutout to Nani, still doin' the business.
- Luis Diaz is looking like a really good investment for the Columbus Crew. After his golazo against Atlanta, the 20-year-old Young DP now has 2g/3a in 527 minutes.
- Brian Rodriguez is looking like a really good investment for LAFC, too.
- Mark McKenzie coped well with LAFC's pyrotechnic attack, a great sign for Philly heading towards the playoffs.