It was the weekend of the goalkeeper blunder:
- Eloy Room slapped a dropped cross into his own net.
- Carlos Coronel had an all-time “when ‘keeper sweeping goes wrong” moment at midfield.
- Gaga Slonina flapped at a cross.
- Maxime Crepeau stranded himself in no-man’s land.
- Brad Knighton spilled a shot directly into Leo Campagna’s feet.
- Zac MacMath tossed an outlet directly into traffic and then got beat from 35 yards.
- William Yarbrough got straight beat from 45 yards.
- Brad Guzan got olimpico’d.
What the hell, man. Really weird.
In we go:
Orlando City SC finally put together 50 minutes of soccer that look like the soccer we all kind of expected them to play this year, pounding the Fire after going up a man in a 1-0 win that was not as close as the scoreline.
And yet I don’t know where I stand on this team. The Purple Lions have a lot of talent in the attack, but it’s not meshing yet. They have less talent in defense, but it’s mostly been holding together – and did so even without Antonio Carlos this weekend (they’ll have to get used to that). Of course, your mileage may vary with regard to how much you value the defensive performance given the Fire were without Xherdan Shaqiri, who missed out with an injury, and given the effects of Brian Gutierrez’s 43rd-minute red card.
Let’s go back to the attack, though. Orlando did a very nice job of getting and staying on the front foot once they went up a man, and then being constantly dangerous in transition when Chicago had to push for an equalizer after Ercan Kara finally got on the board in the 59th minute (this is one of the two times Slonina stranded himself, which he copped to in the postgame presser). I think the fans will remember the two or three extra goals Orlando left on the board – Kara missed a wide-open net on a rebound; Benji Michel couldn’t test Slonina off a delicious cross from Alexandre Pato; Pato rang the crossbar after Tesho Akindele had played him in alone on Slonina – but the immutable fact is that if you generate good chances for your attackers like this, then your attackers will eventually start to finish.
The thing is, though, that Orlando City have not been able to consistently generate good chances for their attackers like this. Through seven games they’re on 1.14 xG per 90, as per TruMedia via StatsPerform, which is smack in the middle of the table. They fare better in progressive passes per 90 and a couple of other key indicators, which suggests better attacking days are ahead, but all those numbers are skewed by their attacking output on Saturday.
In other words, playing against the 10-man Fire they were rampant. Prior to Gutierrez’s sending off, though, there was a lot of this:
Facundo Torres, the 21-year-old DP winger from Uruguay, is still clearly finding his feet in this league, and part of that is he just hasn’t figured out how to put pressure directly on goal. He lives in the final third – he’s in the top 20 of pass attempts in the final third per 90 among players who have at least 300 minutes, and that’s good. But he drops down to around 50 in terms of touches in the box per 90, and his heat map looks uncannily similar to Nani’s from the second half of last season:
That’s way too passive, and he’s way too content to chill out wide and swing in low-percentage crosses. The box is not lava. You can get into the 18 more than that if you’re a winger, and part of being an attacking player is taking a chance every now and then. You will occasionally lose the ball when you do, but it’s ok! You’re out there to leverage those moments into goals.
There are other worries with this team, obviously, but this is a decently sized one with 20% of the season in the books. Oscar Pareja has to convince his DP wunderkind to actually be goal dangerous. It’s imperative because Orlando, by bringing Mauricio Pereyra back, made the conscious decision to punt on getting goals from the No. 10 (Pereyra has just three goals in 61 regular-season and playoff appearances).
Pareja focused more on the finishing in his postgame presser, but you don’t have to strain too hard reading between the lines here to understand he wants more from everyone in the front four.
“We got three points, important victory, got back on track with winning at home. Our No. 9 scored the first goal for the team – many things happened today,” Pareja said. “But also it’s the reality that we walk out concerned about our effectiveness [in] these last games at home. It’s not a minor thing. We should have scored three or four goals today. That advantage that you mentioned, we were not that effective. We’re conscious about it. This will push all just to get that much better.”
I trust Pareja will figure it out. It’ll be interesting to see whether that happens in lockstep with Torres doing the same.
As for the Fire, their carefully constructed, ultra-compact 4-2-3-1 that’s been impenetrable up until this weekend fell apart once they dropped down a man. It happens – I don’t think there’s anything in that to truly worry about. But both before this game and after it, I think it’s fair to be concerned about the attack’s ability to generate high-level chances. It can’t just all be Shaqiri.
Jairo Torres, who arrives from Liga MX's Atlas in early May, needs to help a ton.
Inter Miami CF picked up their first win of the season, riding a Leo Campana hat-trick to a 3-2 win over the visiting Revs. Phil Neville made a couple of big changes in this one, dropping Gonzalo Higuain (who was reportedly carrying a knock and didn’t dress, so maybe Neville didn’t technically drop him but I’m going to go ahead and ride my suspicions here), inverting the midfield triangle and running out a pretty pure 4-3-3.
Obviously it worked, with both wingers influential and Campagna rampant. You can see how easy it was for them to just flow forward:
There is nothing fancy here, just an attack going at a scrambled defense at pace and putting them under pressure. It’s not even like Miami are throwing crazy numbers into the box – they’re just moving with purpose.
"We spoke a lot about what we want to be reflected, and the basic thing in football is what we saw on that pitch today: a team that played with freedom, a team that played with togetherness, and a team that was never ever going to be beaten with those qualities," Neville said afterward, and who am I to argue? This was certainly the best Miami have looked all season, and there was a certain joie de vivre in their approach that has only fleetingly been apparent since their entry into the league two years ago.
There is no joie de vivre in anything emanating from the Revs these days. This is the first time in Bruce Arena’s MLS career that he’s lost four straight games in regulation (he lost his first four with D.C. United back in 1996, though the last of those was a shootout loss after a regulation draw). I’m going to put this whole quote from Arena in because he is rarely as straightforward in postgame pressers as he was after this game on Saturday:
“We're not getting very good play out of a number of players. I think our attack has been stifled with not having a combination of [Gustavo] Bou and [Adam] Buksa with [Carles] Gil. I think our goalkeeping can be better, and we've had a very difficult time in the center back position with the injuries to [Henry] Kessler and that injury to [Andrew] Farrell that changed things around as we went into the week of Champions League and the game in Charlotte. So we've had a couple of people that have been called on [and] haven't been able to get the job done in all honesty.
“Today, it's another gift. We gave away some points at the end of the game. We have to make a play at the end of the game and not give up a loose ball and burn the goal and just get off the field with a point. I've told our team a number of times – think about it, the Salt Lake game, the Red Bull game last week – we're in the closing minutes of games. We just take the point and get out of there and say, 'Listen, it wasn't our best day but we take the point.' We have failed to do that. A combination of things but we certainly haven't played well enough.”
I think he’s right in pointing to injuries and underperformance. Of the six best players on last year’s team, only two (Gil and Matt Polster) have regularly been in the lineup this year, and neither guy has been anywhere as effective as they were in 2021.
But also, look at those goals again. No matter who’s out there, you have to be better at limiting the opponent's forward momentum than that. Make them think, at least a little bit, that they're taking a hellacious chance pushing numbers up.
The Revs don’t. They are so, so easy to slice through, and thus everything’s a scramble for them defensively. As per Second Spectrum’s tracking data they allow the fourth-most expected goals in transition, and the second-most penalty box entries. It's a mess.
If I’m forced to point to one particular thing causing this year’s decline, I think it’s the cascade effect caused by the teamwide individual slump. In short:
- Because their attackers are slumping, they have to chase the game more.
- Because they’re chasing the game more, they’re playing a higher line much more often (that’s showing up in the tracking data).
- Because they’re playing a higher line more often, they are more vulnerable in transition.
On top of that, the game state has always had a significant impact on Arena’s tactical approach – you don’t win a bajillion one-goal games if it doesn’t. If that’s the way you go about things, then individual errors can have an even more pronounced impact than they already do.
So it’s a vicious cycle for the Revs right now. Any time they lose the ball it’s a five-alarm fire, and right now the whole damn house is burning.
10. Paulo Nagamura has evolved as a coach real quick, and has his Dynamo on a nice little run because of it, as their 4-3 win over the Quakes on Saturday night pushed Houston’s unbeaten streak to four games. There have been two big changes Nagamura has implemented, both of which I’ve mentioned previously: first is going to a 4-2-3-1 to get Darwin Quintero on the field as a No. 10, which provides this team with some creative thrust, and second is that they’ve become just much more comfortable in their identity as a counterattacking team.
They’ve also, now, shown the ability to get creative on set pieces:
Are the Quakes asking for it right there? Yes, absolutely. But one of the first steps to take on the road to becoming a good team is to punish un-good teams that leave themselves open for situations like this.
San Jose, who got their first two open-play goals of the season in this one (both courtesy of Jeremy Ebobisse), played much better in attack but nonetheless finished the weekend as the league’s only winless team.
9. Coronel hasn’t quite been an S-Tier security blanket for a Red Bull side that plays the highest line in the league, but he’s been damn close to that for a while. So his misplay of a long clearance in their 2-1 home loss to CF Montréal was both uncharacteristic and unexpected, and a crushing way for the hosts to lose a game they’d controlled for the first 60 minutes. Even so, I don’t think there’s anything for RBNY to worry about on that end of the pitch.
There are, however, concerns at the other end. If you read this column you know I’m a big believer in the underlying numbers, and the underlying numbers remain high on DP striker Patryk Klimala. He does a lot of work both on and off the ball, gets into great spots and generally looks the part of a guy who can lead the line for a good MLS team.
He also has just six non-penalty goals in a touch over 2,600 minutes since his arrival in Harrison. That is not enough, and we’re getting up to the type of sample size where it’s starting to feel a little like the sunk cost fallacy is coming into play. He’s got to start producing or he’s going to lose his job and the Red Bulls are going to lose more games.
Montréal’s attack has been producing a ton, and now the entire team seems to have come out of their early-season CCL misery with seven points from three road games, all against Eastern Conference foes. They have progressively looked more up for the fight, and in this case that translated into them controlling the final 20 minutes of the game – a pretty significant reversal from what we saw in the first half of March.
It’s gone under the radar, but their season-opening schedule is brutal, with six of eight on the road. They are three-quarters of the way through that and in good shape.
Columbus, after starting the season with nine goals and seven points in three games against three of the weaker defensive teams around (Vancouver, San Jose and Toronto), have gone bone dry with one goal and one point in three subsequent games against three of the best defensive teams around (RBNY, Nashville and Philly).
Everything they do, both on and off the ball, is just a touch slow to put the best defenses under pressure:
The weird thing is that Miguel Berry has been really good in these situations before, making the fundamentally right run to cause misery in opposing backlines. There’s just this weird malaise in the Crew attack right now, though.
For what it’s worth, they’ve won just three of their past 30 road games dating back to the start of the 2020 season.
7. Toronto went to Utah and got themselves a very credible 2-2 draw at RSL, and are now riding a three-game unbeaten run (two wins and a draw) after a pretty worrying start to the season. Bob Bradley’s still got them in a 3-4-2-1, and he’s still getting a ton out of the kids – the goals came from academy products Kosi Thompson and Jayden Nelson.
Long term, Bradley’s ability to turn academy potential into first-team production should mark a sea change for TFC much in the way that the ambitious signings of Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore did almost a decade back. Given the amount of talent to be found in Toronto, weaponizing the academy like this has been a long time coming.
RSL, who have had to switch from Pablo Mastroeni’s preferred 3-5-2 to a 4-2-3-1 given all the injuries they’re dealing with, got a banger from Justin Meram and a now-classic “flood the box at the back post and count on superior numbers to leave someone free” finish from Damir Kreilach, who is just masterful at conjuring those types of goals. They continue to fight like hell, and are among the league’s best teams at winning those individual moments in the box.
They are, however, on a mini three-game winless skid, and are staring at three of their next four on the road.
6. Brandon Servania, from way downtown… BANG! BANG!!!!
That came 90 seconds into first-half stoppage – a first half that Colorado had utterly dominated, going up 1-0 (a truly lovely goal from Diego Rubio, off an even lovelier assist from Michael Barrios) and holding Dallas without a shot until Servania conjured the deep magic.
Dallas then came out and got a goal from Jesus Ferreira right at the start of the second half, and then another one late for a 3-1 win that flattered them a little bit. A note of concern is warranted as well, as defensive rock Matt Hedges was subbed out at halftime (no word on what the ailment is).
The Rapids are now winless in three.
5. Kansas City, meanwhile, have now lost four of five, and five of seven on the season after Saturday night’s 2-1 home loss to visiting Nashville. The hosts scored a lovely goal, but this was another night where Tim Melia was facing one jailbreak after another (though neither goal Nashville scored was via transition – the first came off a set piece, and the second off a throw-in).
Peter Vermes sounded pretty disgusted afterward.
“Terrible defensively. Terrible mentality,” Vermes said. That's what it really comes down to.
To be clear, Vermes also took blame on himself and his staff – he wasn’t just tossing his players under the bus. Regardless, KC is not a happy place to be right now.
Nashville, who have reverted back to last year’s 3-5-2 (and who are getting a higher level of creative output from Randall Leal this season), now have 10 points from six games, with seven of those points coming against Western Conference foes. They have two more games left in this eight-game road journey to start the year, and I think it’s at the point where the trip should be considered a success no matter how aesthetically limited it’s been.
4. There was nothing aesthetically limited about the Galaxy’s 2-1 win over LAFC in Saturday night’s El Trafico, though it is worth noting that this is the first time all year that Greg Vanney decided to drop into a lower line and have his side play against the ball. I think this was a concession to LAFC’s need to dominate possession every time out, but also an acknowledgment that without Mark Delgado in central midfield (suspended after picking up a red card last week), it was probably wise not to test fill-in d-mid Kelvin Leerdam, who’s usually a right back, by putting too much on his plate.
LAFC have been juggling their front line because of injuries all year, and things got a little worse for them in this one as Brian Rodriguez limped off inside of 10 minutes. No update yet.
Producer Anders and I were talking during the game, and this is his take on the newcomers:
They have really clear ideas that are borne out in their spacing and movement. You can see them making decisions about where to go with the ball in the buildup – if the primary option isn't there, they know where to look to find the next outlet. Like you've talked about, they really look good with [Daniel] Rios and [Karol] Swiderski up front because both guys can act as outlets with their hold-up play. So when they try to build, one of those two forwards is always an outlet.
Having those two center forwards is key for a team that can often get bogged down if they don’t have two clear, vertical fulcrums to play off of. I am very curious to see how much of this ends up being a long-term solution for Miguel Angel Ramirez, and how much of it is just him playing the hand he was dealt.
Regardless, what he’s got right now is a team that’s flirting with the playoff line (they are above it on points, below it on PPG) in the East with just more than 20% of their inaugural season in the books. By expansion standards that is very nice.
Atlanta, on the other hand, are having a not very nice time. They’re still above the line and yes, this is their first loss in a month, but getting shut out by the noisy neighbors the same week you learn you’re going to be without Josef Martinez for at least six weeks is not great.
If you want a bit of a silver lining it’s that Thiago Almada had some very, very nice moments in this one. Now Gonzalo Pineda’s got to figure out how to get him and Marcelino Moreno to do a better job of sharing space, because right now when they’re both out there they want to operate in the same areas and it ruins Atlanta’s ability to make the field bigger.
The win ended Austin's three-game winless skid, and gives them 10 points from 12 at home thus far this season.
It is a struggle for this team to create chances, though, and while there are a number of issues to figure out in that regard, one of them is that Austin's wingers don't make opponents pay the gravity tax because they're not a threat off the dribble (this was true even before DP Cecilio Dominguez was suspended for a pending off-field investigation). They are just dying for a wide attacker who can be a threat to eliminate their defender 1v1, which would then have the knock-on effect of dragging the strong side center back out a step or three. Do that and you create more space for the center forward to work, instead of making everything a 1v2 in the box.
The Loons, meanwhile, were shut out for the first time all year, and have just five goals in their six outings. They were punchless last year, though a lot of that was just underperformance in front of goal – i.e. an inability to finish off the chances that Emanuel Reynoso was creating.
This year, though, Reynoso is creating next to nothing (he is just 60th in the league in expected assists as per TruMedia) and nobody else is able to pick up the slack.
They're now 2W-2L-2D in 2022 (heh), which is a better start than last year. But if they can't figure out how to get Bebelo going, they're in trouble.
1. And finally, I’m giving this from the Whitecaps our Pass of the Week because I can’t remember the last time I saw an MLS side try something this cheeky from the kickoff:
It didn’t come off, but I love it when teams get inventive and try new stuff.
HOWEVER, Vanni Sartini might want to tone down the “trying new stuff” in other facets of the game, mostly with regard to personnel. He’s still marching his team out there in a 3-5-2 (that’s often a 3-4-2-1), and while that is fine, Cristian Dajome at left wingback is not fine. He’s a massive defensively liability there, and playing actual left wingback Cristian Gutierrez at left center back means that there are now two guys on that side who are massive defensive liabilities playing in spots that they’re not suited for.
As with all struggling teams there are other issues at play, but it really does feel like Sartini could raise this team’s floor if he just stops being so clever with these choices.