Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

New England trust the process, Houston’s DP conundrum & more from Matchday 22


The first matchday of summer is in the books, and with it we’ve bid farewell to a local hero in Columbus, seen an attacker in Orlando start to find his form amid a formation switch, called an end to RSL’s 15-game unbeaten run, and saw the start of what might be a Sounders playoff push.

Plus, everything else from around the league this weekend. In we go!


And now it’s four.

The New England Revolution were dead and buried a month ago, winners in just two of their first 13 outings on the season. And it wasn’t just that they were mostly losing: it was the way they were losing these games.

  • A punchless 1-0 loss at a TFC side missing a good chunk of its starters.
  • A 4-2 loss at RBNY with four separate scorers getting on the board.
  • A miserable 3-0 at home to a Philly team that hasn’t beaten anyone else in months.

The Revs weren’t just struggling; they were brutally, historically bad. As of the end of May, FBRef had them at -1.00 expected goal differential per 90, which is the worst mark in their MLS database going back to the 2018 season, more than 50% worse than last year’s Wooden Spoon-winning TFC side. American Soccer Analysis’s more robust goals added metric had them as the second-worst team in their database, which goes back to 2013. Only the legendarily bad 2013 Chivas USA side was worse.

And now, on the heels of a 2-1 win at FC Cincinnati, New England have gone 4-0-0 in June. DP No. 9 Giacomo Vrioni had a first-half brace, the first assisted by Carles Gil and the second by Ema Boateng, and then the Revs battened down the hatches to survive Cincy’s inevitable second-half push. As a result, they have climbed toward the playoff line on points, and are fractionally above it on points per game. It’s happened so quickly, and seemingly out of the blue.

Head coach Caleb Porter said in the postgame presser that the seeds of this turnaround were there all along.

“We followed our process. We haven't wavered. We've had a steady hand,” Porter said. “I said it even when we were kind of, from Chicago on, playing well but not winning. I didn't change a thing. I just kept going back to the process. I saw the signs that this was going to turn, and I said it, I think this is just a byproduct of us working really hard on the training ground.

“But we were working hard when we were losing, so nothing changed.”

I’ll take his word for it in terms of process. But in terms of on-field product, the obvious change has been how often they’re getting Gil on the ball in the middle of the attacking third.

Here is Gil’s heat map through the end of May:


Notice how barren it is in zone 14? Well, here’s what it looks like since then:


Way less time on the flanks. Way more time in the middle, increasing his touches there by about 35% per 90. He’s also hitting fewer crosses, while a better understanding with the wingers means he’s bumped his completion percentage up a huge amount.

In short, he’s not dropping out of the best spots on the field to hunt for more touches. Instead, he’s pulling the strings and getting guys like Vrioni – who’s now got 3g/1a this month – better looks and more touches in the box.

“We knew that we had a new coach with new ideas. Sometimes you need more time than you think,” Vrioni said to reporters afterward. “I told the guys after the New York City game [on May 25] when we lost 1-0 to keep believing because in football everything can change in one game. I said to them, ‘Go home, relax, and enjoy with the family and come back on Tuesday with a good mentality,’ because everything can change in 10 minutes, in five minutes. This is what’s happening.”

New England’s not out of the woods yet. They’ve won the xG battle just once during this winning streak, and welcome an excellent Crew side to town next weekend. They are still a team that most metrics are extremely wary of, four-game winning streak or not.

But the schedule gets a lot easier in July. Gil’s now in the right spot so goals have followed, and with them have come points and wins. There’s now a path forward for this group that didn’t appear to exist even a month ago.

We’ll see if they can take it.

For Cincy I think this loss is more of a blip than a harbinger of things to come, but they got more bad news on that backline as Nick Hagglund suffered a broken fibula, which came on the heels of Matt Miazga’s major injury last week.

GM Chris Albright is going to have to make some moves when the window opens next month.

Sooner Than You Think

Houston’s place as one of the league’s premier “yeah, but…” teams has been secure for the better part of a year. It was, after all, around this point last season when non-Dynamo fans who follow the league closely really started taking notice of how Ben Olsen had his team playing.

Artur healthy again? That’s cool. Coco Carrasquilla sort of playing as a wing/No. 8 hybrid? Don’t see that a lot. Héctor Herrera getting 100+ touches per game? That’s pretty dope!

Yeah, but… who’s going to score the goals?

The answer to that question last year was sometimes Corey Baird, and sometimes “they’ll do it by committee,” and often “no one at all.” Houston were great – they played distinct, legitimately great, aesthetically pleasing soccer – and on their day, they could just carve you open and walk the ball into the net. They had a lot of those days en route to winning last year’s US Open Cup, which they thoroughly deserved.

But by the time the playoffs came around, they were pretty thoroughly outgunned. And then Baird left via free agency in the offseason, and they were eliminated from the Concacaf Champions Cup by the Crew, and most of 2024 has been an exercise in using the ball to prevent damage rather than using it to inflict pain.

Tied up in all of this has been the status of Paraguayan DP Sebastián Ferreira, a No. 9 brought in under a previous regime who fell out of Olsen’s plans almost instantly last season despite having scored 13 goals in 2022.

Ferreira was going to get another chance at the job this year, but injuries have kept him mostly sidelined. He came into this week with an all of one start on the year, back on March 30. Because of injuries, various and sundry, he’d played all of 43 minutes since then.

Ferreira finally got healthy for real this week and got on the pitch for the final 14 minutes of last weekend’s 2-2 at Atlanta. Then he played the final 21 of a midweek 2-2 at home vs. the Sounders. And then, finally, he was back on the field from the whistle on Saturday in D.C.

By the time the final whistle sounded, Ferreira was a hat-trick hero. He led a furious Dynamo comeback with goals in the 51st, 54th and 86th minutes to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 win at United. He did the kind of “right place, right time” No. 9 stuff that Houston has only rarely had over the past year-and-a-half:

It’s Keystone Kops from D.C. at the end there, but that build-up? That’s what the Dynamo have done best under Olsen, and Ferreira being a part of it offers a welcome dose of opportunism.

“Sebas has only been healthy for a couple of weeks and is getting back into form. We know he’s a killer in front of the goal and he can score,” Olsen said. “This is a big night for us and him, for his teammates to have confidence in him and for him to have a bigger stature with the team. This makes my life a little bit more difficult in who I choose to put on the pitch and increases depth.

“So I give him a lot of credit. I’m proud of him.”

Here’s the rub: Houston have already gone out and gotten Ferreira’s replacement, spending a reported record fee on Argentine No. 9 Ezequiel Ponce from AEK Athens. I don’t think it’s wrong to assume that when you spend a record number on a new DP, that new DP is likely to start as soon as he’s able (the transfer window opens on July 18; Houston have a game that day at San Jose).

Does it make sense to have multiple goalscoring forwards on the team? Of course. Does it make sense to have them both occupying DP slots and one’s going to see only spot minutes? Absolutely not. The best teams’ DPs are almost always undisputed starters – the guys who carry the heaviest loads and raise the level of everyone else.

Ferreira is 26 years old, in the prime of his career. He’s got 17g/4a in just shy of 2900 minutes with the Dynamo over the past 2.5 years, which isn’t super elite production but is still really, really good. And a month from now he’s going to be surplus to Houston’s requirements. As hard as Olsen’s decisions are after this performance, they’re probably pretty easy once Ponce arrives.

If there is no international market for Ferreira – and given how he struggled on loan at Vasco da Gama last year, there seems unlikely to be – then Houston should look to find an internal one in MLS. Considering Ferreira’s age and productivity in the league… well, we haven’t seen a ton of DPs traded over the years, but this guy would make a lot of sense in Philly or with the Red Bulls, wouldn’t he? What about Seattle, who could be on the verge of parting ways with Raúl Ruidíaz?

Ferreira’s a proven MLS goalscorer. There are a half-dozen (at least) MLS teams that could use him, and for roster-building purposes, I’d wager the Dynamo front office could generate more allocation cash from an intra-league trade than any kind of overseas sale. Plus – more important than the allocation cash, which they could use on a back-up to Ponce – they’d open up a DP slot to add a goalscoring winger. And suddenly they’ve added two DPs to their attack.

Do that and we’re not talking about a “yeah, but…” team anymore. Do that and we’re talking about one of the very best squads in the league, one with attacking firepower to match their midfield flair.

I found it impossible not to think about all of that as I was watching this game. Even with the hat-trick, Ferreira’s clearly not the right long-term fit for the Dynamo, but they can still turn him into something that rockets this team into the top tier of MLS, while at the same time finding him a home within the league that better suits him.

As for D.C., the wheels were coming off even before Christian Benteke got himself a red card. So much of what they do is predicated on winning 50/50s, but the lack of individual quality in this roster means they’re often a step late, which turns 50/50s into 40/60s, which then turns a 1-0 lead into a 4-1 loss.

I’ve been in on D.C. all year. I am finally out.

A few more things to ponder…

12. Columbus returned home for the first time in a month, finally giving their fans a chance to celebrate the team that had marched all the way to the Concacaf Champions Cup final and, at the same time, to bid farewell to homegrown product Aidan Morris:

Morris was 89/89 passing, including an assist, in his final (for now) game for the Crew. He’s on his way to Middlesborough of the English Championship for a reported $4 million fee.

That assist of his was to Cucho Hernández, who had a hat trick in Columbus’s 4-0 thrashing of what has become a very bad Sporting KC side, one whose owner is openly talking about a multi-transfer-widow rebuild and whose manager is so fed up that he’s actually moving away from the 4-3-3 every now and again (Peter Vermes tried to mirror the Crew’s 3-4-2-1 in this one; it didn’t work).

Cucho’s now up to 9 goals in 972 regular-season minutes, which puts him ahead of last year’s pace. I don’t think anybody’s going to reel Chicho Arango in, but I’m at least keeping a little bit of an eye on it.

11. This is the second time this season I’m giving Noah Eile our Pass of the Week for this exact pass:

Just phenomenal. He tagged that thing, breaking two lines and putting it right into Elias Manoel’s pocket, which never gave Toronto a chance at closing the Brazilian down. This is a type of pass that we haven’t seen with any regularity from RBNY since 2018, or maybe even before.

New York broke their mini three-game winless skid with a weather-delayed 3-0 win over visiting Toronto, who are in a full-on tailspin. The Reds are now winless in six, with three straight losses and just one win in their past nine. After a promising start to the year, they’re down to eighth and sinking fast.

10. Being left off of Uruguay’s Copa America roster seems to have woken Facu Torres up. He followed up his best outing of the year – Wednesday’s 2-2 at Charlotte in which he had a goal and an assist – with a brace in his side’s much-needed 4-2 home win over Chicago on Saturday night.

Facu’s been playing as a sort of advanced, inverted right midfielder in Oscar Pareja’s newish 4-1-3-2, which has a couple of wonky things about it:

  • The No. 10 (Nico Lodeiro) plays a little bit deeper than the two wide midfielders, which is why it’s more of what I’d call a 4-1-3-2 than any sort of 4-4-2 diamond.
  • The right fullback pushes up much higher than the left back, so it ends up playing as a back three quite often when Orlando are in possession.

More than anything it reminds me of the old 4-4-2 “Y” midfield Bruce Arena had his dynasty-era Galaxy play, where the more attacking of the two central midfielders would play ahead of the true defensive midfielder, but the true playmaking would come from the wide midfielders – who were really wingers rather than true midfielders.

The returns through three matches with this shape are pretty positive, though Orlando are still massively fragile defensively. They were lucky they shipped only two to a Fire team that suffered their first loss in a month.

9. Patrick Agyemang dominated Philly’s center backs, registering both goals in Charlotte’s impressive and deserved 2-0 win in Chester. The big man was constantly able to out-work, out-muscle and out-run Jack Elliott and Jakob Glesnes.

The Crown are now 6-1-3 (W-L-D) in their past 10, having climbed to 4th in the East on points and 5th in PPG. This win started a run in which they play five of six on the road, and by being so dominant over the past two months, they’ve given themselves a significant margin for error as we head into the second half of the season.

Philly are heading in the other direction. They have one win in their past 13 in regular-season play, and this loss finished a stretch in which they had four of five at home but managed to take just two points along the way.

There are a lot of things going wrong. The strikers aren’t scoring regularly, and the team’s chance creation in any phase but the counter has cratered. With Andre Blake hurt, head coach Jim Curtin has had to turn to Oliver Semmle. With Semmle underperforming, Curtin turned to 18-year-old homegrown Andrew Rick in goal (he was fine). The fullbacks have been less impactful and the midfield’s been kind of soft.

But the biggest thing, to bring it back to the blurb, is the central defense. Elliott and, in particular, Glesnes have been getting dunked on each and every week.

“I haven’t been good enough for me as well,” Glesnes told reporters after the game. “I should be one of the leaders out there. Now I just have to move forward and do something with what I can do.”

8. Austin capitalized on an early Hassani Dotson red card and Diego Rubio capitalized on an ill-advised attempted clearance from Minnesota’s Clint Irwin to slot home the game’s only goal in the Verde’s 1-0 win at the Loons on Saturday. It snapped a 5-game winless skid for the guests, who played out of a pretty standard 4-4-2 (maybe you could call it a 4-4-1-1 with Rubio free underneath Gyasi Zardes, who led the line) with Sebastián Driussi unavailable.

Minnesota have now lost three straight and have one win in their past seven. They are suffering badly without goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair and forward Tani Oluwaseyi, but at least Kervin Arriaga was entertaining:

Arriaga has reportedly been sold to FK Partizan (better known as Partizan Belgrade in the English-speaking world) and saluted the Wonderwall in what sure did look like an official goodbye.

7. Nashville SC pushed their record to 3-1-3 (W-L-D) since Rumba Munthali took over on an interim basis (for now) for Gary Smith in mid-May, beating a very good NYCFC team 1-0 at home on Saturday night.

It wasn’t a banner performance from the ‘Yotes. They were down at about 42% possession, were outshot by an almost 2-1 margin and were dead even on expected goals. Since Munthali took over, most of the changes have been gradual – they’ve climbed from dead last to 26th in field tilt (the share of final third passes each team hits), and are inching towards 50% possession after being down around 45% under Smith.

The real change can be seen in what’s actually happening in the final third. Under Smith, who constantly hammered at his team’s need for more service from wide (right up into his final press conference), fully 24.2% of Nashville’s total final third passes were crosses. That was the most in the league by a mile – only one other team in the league was over 20%.

In the past seven games that number’s dropped to a more respectable 19.2%. Still too high in my opinion, but not quite as one-note as things used to be. And as a result, we’re seeing more moments like this:

Tyler Boyd redeemed himself for that horrid miss by getting the game’s only goal a few minutes later.

Anyway, Valair’s correct: Hany Mukhtar has had the chance to be more of a true No. 10 over the past month rather than just operating as a second forward. As a result, his teammates are getting on the ball in better spots, and are constantly creating more danger. Nashville have climbed to seventh in the East on both points and PPG.

NYCFC are down to sixth by both those metrics. They’ve followed up a five-game winning streak with what has now become a three-game losing streak. MLS is a hell of a drug.

6. Atlanta went to St. Louis and came away with a very respectable road point when Daniel Ríos slotted home the rebound of his own penalty miss – well saved by Roman Bürki – for the 1-1 final.

Interim manager Rob Valentino has had the Five Stripes in a 3-4-2-1 over the past couple of games. We’ll see if that continues once Thiago Almada returns.

Bradley Carnell, meanwhile, is still searching for answers within his squad.

“I thought we created a lot of moments through the lines,” he said in the postgame. “I thought we could have been cleaner in transition a little bit, some wayward passes, can we connect in the final third; can we connect on the weak side; can we play vertical in the red zones. I thought we missed a couple of crucial moments.”

These are all signs of a team that is missing the type of top-end talent that can elevate good moments into decisive moments. Those transfer window reinforcements can’t get here soon enough.

Head ref Filip Dujic gave us an all-timer of a Face of the Week just before the break in whistling off a St. Louis goal:

5. The Rapids did what they were supposed to and thumped Montréal, winning 4-1 at home behind a brace from Calvin Harris and late insurance goals from Djordje Mihailovic and Rafa Navarro. That made it a nine-point week with nine goals scored and just one conceded – an own goal from Lalas Abubakar – heading into next weekend’s big litmus test at LAFC.

Manager Chris Armas, who has done a wonderful job all season, sounded off in the postgame presser.

“If most games are lost, not won, then what does that mean for us? Can we be a team that forces mistakes? We did it again tonight,” he offered. “On that goal where Calvin jumps, we force a mistake, we win the ball, Djordje gives the through ball. There's other metrics and data about shot distance, and what areas we try to attack, which leads to set pieces, which lead to a handball, where Lalas is in there.

“None of this is really accidental. These little moments where it pops up, okay, we take that.”

The Rapids are up to fourth in the West on both points and PPG. They are third in expected goal differential. By virtually every measure, they are a very good team and look like they will continue to be so.

4. A scary early moment – a clash of heads between Chicho Arango and Martín Cáceres in which both players had to be subbed off and enter concussion protocol – took the starch out of what had looked like the game of the weekend. Instead, it turned into a somewhat subdued 1-0 Galaxy win, one that was once again driven by young DP winger Gabriel Pec.

The lefty prefers to play inverted on the right, but fellow DP winger Joseph Paintsil (who’s right-footed) also prefers that right side, so there were some early bumps as the two tried to generate some chemistry. That chemistry has come in recent weeks as the two have settled into a fluid sort of read-and-react approach in which the two of them often swap sides and work in concert with either Riqui Puig or, with Riqui out, Diego Fagúndez.

And so Pec has come to life with 3g/5a in his past six games. And the Galaxy have come to life as well with a 5-1-0 (W-L-D) record during that span.

“One of the keys is I think he's just really been involved and the more touches we get, then the better it is for him; the more he's happy, you know. With these guys, they want to touch the ball,” Galaxy manager Greg Vanney explained. “I think just his developing relationship with the guys on either side is starting to come around as well.

“So we know the quality he has. His ability on the right side to get in on his left foot, and he's had a couple finishes in the last few games on that. When he's on the left, he gets to the end line and he creates problems setting up goals which he did earlier in the week. He's finding his ways in this league and in this team, and we are finding ways to continue to get him on the ball in good positions.”

The loss snapped a 15-game unbeaten run for RSL, which stretched nearly three-and-a-half months. There’s been no update on Chicho as of yet, but the good news is RSL don’t play again until July 4.

3. The other team in LA has kept the hammer down virtually all spring and didn't let off now that the season’s changed to summer. They generated 26 shots in dismantling San Jose by 6-2 at home on Saturday night, exacting a measure of revenge for the 3-1 the Quakes dropped on them in early May – still LAFC’s most recent loss.

Matheusz Bogusz had a brace, while Denis Bouanga added another goal of his own and was generally terrifying all night. The real headline, though, goes to Kei Kamara for this:

"I don't want to pass Wondo,” Kei said to the media afterward. “Being in California and growing up here I remember going to Cal State Dominguez Hills and I was one year behind Chris Wondolowski, who was at Chico State. We ended up playing in Houston together and that was where we started our brotherhood and love for representing CCAA and representing Division 2 soccer because it wasn't easy for players to make it from Division 2 to the league. He just kept setting the bar higher and higher for me every year and I said to him, ‘You keep going and I'm gonna be right behind you.’

“To be 1 and 2 is a dream. People are going to say, go and chase him, but I just want to be 1 and 2, me and Wondo, that's good there."

Kamara’s had a legendary career and is more than just a placeholder for Olivier Giroud. But the fascinating thing over the past three games – in which Kei’s registered two starts and two goals in his 166 minutes – is seeing how LAFC have functioned with a true No. 9 out there because for most of the past 18 months, it’s been one form of false 9 or another.

The small sample size returns are wildly positive, as LAFC outscored their opponents 7-2 with Kei on the field this week, with an expected goals tally roughly in line with that level of dominance.

2. Jonathan Rodriguez and Felipe Mora each got on the board in a 2-0 Timbers win over Vancouver, pushing Portland’s unbeaten run to six.

It was a thoroughly dominant display from the hosts, though manager Phil Neville was left wanting more.

“I think the scoreline wasn't dominant. If it had been three, four goals, it would have been dominant and that's my disappointment. I said to Evander that it's a game where you probably missed an opportunity to score,” Neville said.

“You know, these are games where you've got to be really ruthless. That's what the best teams do. You look at maybe the best team in the Western Conference for the last two or three years, LAFC would have won that by four today. That's the next step for this team.”

I’ll refer you to the previous blurb if you think he’s wrong about that LAFC observation.

The ‘Caps have now won just twice in their past 10, and are down to ninth in the West – above the playoff line only via tiebreaker.

1. The team they’re ahead of are the Sounders, who posted one of the biggest rallies in club history to come from 2-0 down in the 78th minute to win 3-2 when the final whistle blew after eight minutes of stoppage time.

You can see from American Soccer Analysis’s gameflow just how thoroughly Dallas let go of the rope after taking that 2-0 lead (which came against the run of play in the first place):


I just want to point out a few things here:

  • Rookie Logan Farrington keyed that 2-0 lead for Dallas. He plays with energy and urgency, something this team is often missing.
  • As pointed out by Jeremiah Oshan, Raúl Ruidíaz’s goal to make it 2-1 was one of the most “normal” goals Ruidíaz has scored in the past year-and-a-half.
  • Jordan Morris’s snap-header equalizer off a corner kick was a goal I don’t think I’ve seen him score before.
  • His match-winner, off an Obed Vargas through-ball, is definitely one I’ve seen him score before.

Seattle deserves a lot of credit here, and I honestly think this is the loudest I’ve heard that stadium since they won the 2022 CCL:

That said… how does Dallas concede a breakout like that while protecting a road point in second-half stoppage? That’s wild.

Seattle are now 10th in the West, but this result started a run in which they play five of six at home. If they’re going to climb over the red line and into the playoffs, it’ll happen now.