Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

LA Galaxy look transformed, Red Bulls show promise & more from Matchday 3

Matchday 3 wrap - 2024 season - Doyle

Before we can even jump into the column, we’ve got a rare Sunday morning trade to discuss a little bit: Inter Miami sending starting right back DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati for $172,000 in General Allocation (GAM), as first reported by Pat Brennan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Yedlin deal went official Monday morning.

Cincy’s motivations here are obvious: they are a trophy-caliber team who’ve been hit hard with off-season departures and don’t really have a first-choice right wingback because of that. Also because of that, they have enough room under the cap to take on a max salary. And while Yedlin’s not at Santi Arias’ level when it comes to providing the final ball, he’s a better two-way player who stretches the hell out of the field, is durable and has proven to be a winner.

It’s plug-and-play here for the Garys, who are on four points from two games after their 2-1 win at Chicago on Saturday night. Just an absolute no-brainer of a trade for them, and not just in the short term. They now probably don’t have to worry about right wingback until 2027.

I am more dubious about this from Miami’s perspective. Yedlin was probably not an ideal fit for the Herons in a few ways, but his endline-to-endline coverage was, from where I sit, close to essential, and Saturday’s 5-0 win over Orlando showed as much. On one side he’d go step for step with Iván Angulo, neutralizing the Lions’ fastest open-field threat; on the other, he’d get forward and stay wide, and staying wide opened up a ton of space for Julian Gressel, and Gressel was inhabited by the spirit of Andrés Iniesta with all that space, and, well… 5-0 in a derby doesn’t happen all that often.

Beyond that, there is now no natural right back on Miami’s roster. Gressel can play there, but 1) he’s been really good in central midfield in two out of Miami’s three games this season, and 2) it’s probably not wise to have two ultra-attacking fullbacks (Jordi Alba being the other, obviously). And again: Gressel just played a key role in destroying Orlando City. He was the best midfielder on the pitch by a mile! Is Tata really gonna call him into the office for this talk?

Doyle meme - right back - Miami

First-round MLS SuperDraft pick Yannick Bright could play the position, but he’s still unsigned. Homegrown David Ruiz could play there, probably – he has, for small cameos, in the past – and even younger homegrown Tyler Hall maybe projects better as a defense-minded RB than as a CB, which is where he’s played in the youth ranks.

But Miami don’t strike me as the type of team to open up a max cap slot in order to get a rookie or a couple of homegrowns more minutes. They are the win-now-iest club in the history of winning now, and “win now” is code for “get more veterans.” Someone made a Sergi Roberto joke on social media and I chortled momentarily. And then I didn’t. Because it makes a good amount of sense, and I can confirm Miami have an international roster slot open to use on him if they want to.

Anyway, this is now one of the more interesting things to keep an eye on in MLS. Especially since it might presage a move to a 3-5-2, which IMO does not fit the personnel as well as the 4-3-3 we've seen so far.

As for the game, I’m not going to bother breaking it down since they did a nice, long segment on it on the Wrap Up on MLS Season Pass. Miami were excellent in the ways you’d expect a team with that talent level to be excellent (I still can’t believe how much some of y’all over-indexed a couple of preseason friendlies), and Orlando have earned enough equity with me to get a mulligan (though I’m starting to worry about their chance creation).

Ok, in we go for real:

The Great Divide

“Are the Galaxy back?” was a question asked around the green room on Saturday night as they came out of the gates at PayPal Park and bludgeoned the Quakes to death. The 3-1 scoreline was deceiving, since LA went up 1-0 early, 2-0 just before the break and 3-0 just after it. The only question was whether they’d keep the shutout, and ex-Galaxy forward Preston Judd got his side’s consolation goal with around 20 minutes left. So no clean sheet.

And even if they’d kept one, and even if they’d scored six goals instead of three, the Galaxy would still not be “back.” Being “back” for the Galaxy means trophies. It means dominance. It means being the biggest team in the Western Conference and the league. Right now they’re not even the biggest team in LA.

But what they’re doing for the first time in a long time is playing good soccer on both sides of the ball. Head coach Greg Vanney deserves a lot of credit because I think Vanney would prefer to play every game with 70% possession and his team high upfield. But LA’s pieces are more suited to a lower block so Riqui Puig can ping through-balls and the new wingers can run into space, and so that’s what the Galaxy did last weekend vs. Miami (a great performance with a disappointing result) and for chunks of this weekend in San Jose.

The week-over-week difference – other than the scoreline – is that while the 1-1 vs. Miami was a pure counterattacking gambit, the 3-1 was more of a synthesis between the methodical, flowing possession Vanney has always preached and the direct-into-space his squad seems wonderfully suited for. Watch:

In the moment it kind of felt like a counterattack, but the truth is there was no more patient, more beautiful team goal in MLS this weekend. That’s the two halves of LA’s attacking brain coming together to work as one.

“What's nice is we came off of a good performance last week at home against a good team in Miami. Then we backed it up again with a good performance tonight, a good road performance,” Vanney said in the postgame. “So what I take away from it is just the consistency that we have been able to put together in a very short amount of time with this season, a home game and then having a road game and playing at a consistent level, showing a consistent threat on the attacking side.”

Ok, and now here’s the actually much more salient difference for LA this year: the rest defense. Did you catch it in the clip above? Here, in case you missed it, I’ve circled the guy to watch:

Yamane paint - Matchday 3 column

That’s right back Miki Yamane. He’s not where most folks would expect a right back to be, and he’s not headed up on the overlap.

He is, instead, in the spot where he’d be most useful if the Galaxy turned the ball over. And he stays in that spot for most of the rest of the sequence. You can see it even better on the replay:

See him scanning? Usually we associate that with players looking for space in possession. In this case, Yamane is scanning to get a feel for how San Jose’s defenders are arrayed to best assess where he, himself, should be to blunt a potential counter. He stays in the center circle doing that while the other Galaxy midfielders eventually filter into his zone, and then when Joseph Paintsil dives inside to finish off the attacking sequence, Yamane scoots back out wide so LA have full field coverage.

From what I’ve seen so far, Yamane’s not the only one paying extra care to the team’s defensive shape in possession. All three deep-lying midfielders (Mark Delgado, Edwin Cerrillo and Gastón Brugman) have been locked in, as have the center backs. Even Riqui’s paying more attention.

And it shows in the numbers. Small sample size alert, of course, but the Galaxy are allowing just .073 xG per shot, as per Opta. Last year that number was .104 xG per shot. So yeah, the eye test tracks: there’s been a massive defensive improvement from LA through two games.

They’re not back, and they won’t officially be back until they’re adding hardware. That’s the standard in Carson.

But man, they’re playing really good soccer. The pieces fit, and Vanney’s using them really, really well.

The Quakes, meanwhile… not great. We’ll be talking more about them and their need for a chance creator midweek on This is MLS.

Nightmares and Daydreams

Gonna pass this part over to Calen Carr, who was on the mic for RBNY’s come-from-behind 2-1 win at Houston on Saturday night. The Red Bulls now have four points from two roadies to start the season, with Emil Forsberg looking the part of the high-level creator they’ve lacked for half a decade. It’s the other Swede, though, who’s catching the eye.

Here’s Calen:

On the surface, the match highlights will tell you it was any other smash-and-grab Red Bull road win. Two pressing moments (and careless midfield play from a Héctor Herrera-less Dynamo) = two road goals.

A step deeper though, and Sandro Schwarz’s new pieces have made this Red Bulls team a more evolved version of previous iterations – dangerous against the ball but also… with it?

This starts at the back. The 21-year-old Swedish center back Noah Eile has the makings of most Red Bull CBs (6-foot-5) but is constantly looking to break lines with his passing and even at times with the ball at his feet. Forsberg has yet to factor with a goal himself (he has smashed crossbars on free kicks two weeks in a row) but gives them someone with ideas when their press wins the ball in advanced spots, as seen in the Elias Manoel goal. Adding a fit Lewis Morgan to the mix – and immediately seeing his finishing ability they’ve missed throughout his many injuries – and you can see why Red Bull fans will be excited.

That all tracks, and is a big part of why I had the Red Bulls as a Tier 2 team entering the season (the “Elite Contenders” tier). They are still excellent at turning every game they play into an endless nightmare of 50/50s, but Forsberg elevates the whole thing to another level in the attack. He turns that chaos into chances, and even the RBNY forwards sometimes turn chances into goals.

Eile, though, has added an unexpected dimension and is maybe an even bigger reason for the team’s evolution away from pure murderball into something more aesthetically pleasing. It shows in the numbers: through two games he’s completing 7.56% more passes than expected as per American Soccer Analysis, which is the best number in the league among center backs. When you consider RBNY’s center backs are never asked to play safe, simple, high-percentage passes – as expertly pointed out by Arman Kafai for last week – you start to get a picture of how rapidly and thoroughly the kid is influencing the entire project.

This is how the Red Bulls responded immediately after going down 1-0:

I know that’s a long, long clip. But watch it. Look at how many times Eile gets on the ball, look at how patient he is swinging possession side-to-side, and look at the pass he hits at the end once he’s flattened Houston out and created gaps in that 4-4-2 shape.

This is elite stuff. He’s not quite Robin Jansson-level with his ball-carrying, but it’s Jansson-esque distribution and game management from a 21-year-old they paid a shade less than $1 million for. And remember, I voted Jansson Defender of the Year last year.

The Red Bulls still have work to do. Manoel’s goal was nice, but they traded for an international roster slot two weeks ago for a reason, and according to sources around the club, they’re still looking at bringing in a new No. 9.

Get that move done in a big way, and it’ll be time for fans in Harrison to dream big dreams again.

Houston’s dreams aren’t dashed, by any means, and sources close to the team say to expect multiple signings – including a Young DP – imminently.

A few more things to ponder…

11. As mentioned above, the Fire lost 2-1 at home to FC Cincinnati.

As mentioned this winter, the Fire were 24th in xA last year and 29th – dead last – in key passes. And they went out and spent a club-record transfer fee on a No. 9 who absolutely, positively, 100% needs service to be effective.

Through 178 minutes this season, Hugo Cuypers has one shot.

Chicago have an open DP slot and a burning need for a No. 10.

10. Here’s how Minnesota started the game, pressing Columbus every time the Crew got on the ball:

And here’s another clip, 12 minutes later:

And another:

And so at the break, Wilfried Nancy dropped midfielder Alex Matan for center forward Christian Ramirez. The idea was that Ramirez would drop off the front line so deep that the Loons’ center backs wouldn’t go with him, but the midfielders would be too preoccupied to pick him up.

They literally kicked off the half with that pattern of play:

Twelve minutes later, it was Cucho Hernández dropping into that spot to set up a break that would lead to the game’s opening goal:

I just love watching this team figure things out on the fly, and I continue to love how brave they are on the ball. I’m giving this whole pattern of play our Pass of the Week because repeatable movement of and off the ball to generate high-level chances is the foundation of great soccer.

Minnesota deserve some dap here as well. They’re not as much fun to watch as the Crew, but they turned that 1-0 deficit into a 1-1 draw thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer from Tani Oluwaseyi off a long throw. The Loons, as currently constructed, are not a great team. I nonetheless feel comfortable saying they’re probably a good team – with room to grow beyond that – given the way they’ve played through two matchdays.

9. Vancouver’s 3-4-2-1 was wobbly and unbalanced, I thought, in their disappointing 1-1 home draw vs. Charlotte. They’re missing a good amount of thrust up the right side, and because of that the Crown’s wingers got a lot of free runs at the box in transition. One of them ended up in a goal for Iuri Tavares after a very, very clever dummy by Enzo Copetti (I think he meant it!).

Charlotte have been very good at keeping their back four compact and connected thus far under Dean Smith. They’re not taking many risks – to be fair, because of game states they haven’t had to yet – and that’s given their wingers the ability to play a little bit higher and cheat into the attack.

8. I found it hard to disagree too much with LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo’s postgame assessment of the conditions during his side’s 3-0 loss at RSL. I was mostly just glad nobody got hurt. Here’s our Face of the Week:

RSL have impressed me through three games, by the way. None of them have been easy, but they’re mixing the xDAWG Pablo Mastroeni always demands (and usually extracts) with what looks to be more midfield compactness and better backline balance. I’m buying stock right now.

7. The start of the Laurent Courtois era has gone swimmingly, as CF Montréal have taken four points from two road games following their 2-1 win at FC Dallas on Saturday night.

Courtois was billed as a Wilfried Nancy-type of coach who would want his team to build from the back no matter what, but if that’s really in his makeup, we haven’t seen it yet. Instead, Montréal are being pragmatic about sitting deep and then playing vertically (almost always keeping the ball on the ground, mind you) to attack into space, and are happy to give up possession to do it.

This is all fine and good! I hope Courtois eventually morphs into Nancy v2.0 – if you’re reading this column, you know by now that it is my favorite brand of soccer to watch – but the job requires buy-in from everyone in the org, owners down to players down to the kit man, and the best way to get buy-in is to get points.

So they’ve got four of them on the road. Last year, in total, they had eight. Courtois has done well.

Dallas got a debut goal from Petar Musa and returns to action from Jesús Ferreira and Paxton Pomykal, but otherwise found only disappointment. Very tough one for them to drop.

6. I’m going to skip the refereeing discussion following Philly’s very, very late 1-1 draw at Sporting KC, which came with a rotated squad, and instead shine a light on the notion of Alejandro Bedoya, super-sub. Here’s what Jim Curtin had to say after his captain came off the bench to rescue a point:

“He did a great job for us tonight. He gave us a real calming presence in the second half. He connected his passes,” Curtin said, as reported via Joe Tansey’s excellent Union Soccer Blog.

“In the biggest moment, when we’re throwing guys forward on basically the last kick of the game, for him to have the composure there. You see so many guys try to full swing that one and hit it a ton and it winds up in the 30th row. To just guide it into the top corner speaks to the composure and talent. It’s not an easy finish because there’s a lot of traffic in front of him, but it’s a big play from him.”

Part of the theory behind the Union keeping virtually the whole group together but still elevating a level and finally winning a Cup of some sort lies in having Bedoya bring that composure off the bench while youngsters Quinn Sullivan, Jesús Bueno and Markus Anderson soak up most of the starter's minutes (and subsequently level up because of it. Kids need reps!). It is a tough deal to make for any coach because veterans with Bedoya’s stature are like a security blanket – it’s easy to play them, and play them, and keep playing them because the baseline level of talent and tactical wisdom is so high.

Curtin has avoided that trap thus far in 2024, though, as Bedoya’s started just one of the Union’s four games across all competitions. Philly aren’t playing great, but they are unbeaten through those four games, and Sullivan’s been one of the breakout youngsters in the league this year.

Peter Vermes went on a pretty decent-sized rant after the game, and it was largely understandable. But the real issue is Sporting were playing a fully rotated squad – essentially a Philly B team – at home and didn’t even really come close to killing the game off with an insurance goal.

5. Austin went to Seattle and dropped an 0.04 xG masterclass:

Austin FC - xG at Seattle

This is the exact type of 0-0 draw the acquisition of Pedro de la Vega was supposed to prevent for the Sounders, but while he’s been dynamic 1v1, he hasn’t yet been able to provide the final ball.

To be fair, the Sounders should’ve managed to grab a goal anyway. But Jordan Morris and Raúl Ruidíaz are both still misfiring and Brad Stuver did Brad Stuver stuff in goal, so one point each is what they got.

4. One point apiece for Colorado and Nashville as well after Jonathan Lewis’ insane handball gifted the visitors a late equalizer in the 1-1 at Commerce City.

Colorado played better – much better – than on their MLS is Back trip to Portland, but if you can’t win at home against a ‘Yotes side missing both their attacking DPs, you’re probably not going to manage the massive season-to-season turnaround the fans were hoping for.

3. Also one point apiece for D.C. United and the Timbers in Portland thanks to a 2-2 final. I think if you’d offered Portland four points through two games – despite getting zero minutes from DPs thus far this season – they’d have taken it. But man, dropping anything after going up 2-0 just past the hour has to hurt.

D.C. might just be those dudes this year, though. Even without Christian Benteke (he was a late scratch) they hammered at the hosts throughout, eventually finding two deserved goals in the final 20 minutes.

Over their first two games of the season D.C. have 7.1 xG. Only one other team is over five (RSL at 5.23 – it’s taken them three games to hit that mark). I entered this season concerned about the lack of playmaking their No. 10 Gabriel Pirani showed last season, but that slack’s been picked up by Aaron Herrera on the overlap, Benteke as a target-man who can set up any/everyone around him, and Ted Ku-DiPietro’s ability to turn any midfield change of possession into a run-out:

Any time he makes the first man miss – and he does that a lot – it’s an avalanche for D.C. going in the other direction.

2. NYCFC felt that same avalanche in St. Louis, as the hosts inflicted a 2-0 loss upon the visitors. NYCFC played a more defensively robust version of their typical three-man midfield, with Andrés Perea (a true No. 8) in and no No. 10 as the shape morphed from the default, slightly lopsided 4-2-3-1 to a very clear 4-3-3. You can see both of the team shapes here:

NYC STL positions - Matchday 3

They never made that man advantage in central midfield count against St. Louis’ typical 4-2-2-2. So the hosts pressed without fear of getting played out of the game and counterattacked once they went up 1-0.

Nick Cushing might be in some trouble. St. Louis manager Bradley Carnell, on the other hand, was much happier than last week.

“We came out today to send a message to show that we were a little bit angry with ourselves in the past performance, and to set things straight,” Carnell said after the game. “And I've seen the intentions in training. I've seen the intentions in the messaging within the locker rooms.”

The rest of us saw it on the pitch. It was a good win for a team that needed to get right following a disappointing start to the year.

1. When Toronto FC brought Lorenzo Insigne in, and then went out in MLS free agency and signed Sean Johnson, they were hoping for goals and saves like these:

For any team, your match winners need to win matches for you every now and then. Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi and Johnson mostly haven’t done that for the Reds – they’ve all, for one reason or another, played below their talent level as individuals, so TFC have played below their talent level collectively.

That hasn’t been the case through two weeks of the MLS season. The Reds were not great on Sunday afternoon in Foxborough, but two of their match winners were, so they got out of Gillette Stadium with a 1-0 win over the Revs. Sometimes, that’s the spark you need to light the way to a successful season.

New England were missing that spark. Giacomo Vrioni is definitely going to get himself another chance to prove he can be it next week, because damn is this team missing a No. 9 at the moment.

I still think they’ll be better than ok in the long run, but the East is a meat grinder and the Revs have learned very quickly that the margins are thinner than expected.