The New England Revolution continue to impress in the East, we saw a CCL hangover for several teams and Real Salt Lake got a great come-from-behind win against a Western Conference foe.

1
Are the Revs the team to beat in the East?

The biggest compliment I can give the Revolution right now is that they look like a Bruce Arena team. And that’s normally a very good thing when it comes to MLS. They do have a superstar in Carles Gil — he is a top five playmaker in this league and a truly wonderful footballer — but so far this is a group effort from a team that looks solid from top to bottom and is picking up right where they left off last season when they finished the year strongly. 

I’ve always felt that Arena’s teams can hit you from multiple angles — even when he had the superstars in Los Angeles, every now and then it would be a Juninho or an Edson Buddle who would make the difference — and so far this season the Revs have scored five goals from four different players (the other was an own goal).

They haven’t dominated possession, proving that there are ways to be effective even when having less of the ball than the opponent, and yes I know it is still extremely early in the season, but they’ve laid down their marker and have shown us they will be near the top of the East this season. 

As much as this is a team effort, Gil is the clear standout. His assist to Brandon Bye was absurd. The first touch to bring down the lofted pass to him was so nonchalant that he made a very difficult skill look elementary. Then I loved how direct he was — I always tell wide players to never hesitate and just be direct, defenders hate this and you will either beat your man, get fouled, or lose the ball 80 yards from goal which isn’t a big deal — before applying a pinpoint cross with his supposed weaker foot. He looks like he is capable of producing a moment like that not just every time he plays, but every time he touches the ball.

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They attack and defend well as a team, they are organized, and they will get goals from multiple sources. However, despite them currently topping the Eastern Conference, I won’t go as far as saying they are the team to beat in the East right now as I still think over a 34 game season they remain a notch below the likes of the Crew and Orlando.

Every time I played against a Bruce Arena led team, I knew I’d get chances. It’s just the way he coaches. He’s happy to give up some things defensively in pursuit of creating chances on the counter at the other end. That’s why I don’t foresee New England keeping too many clean sheets and that raises the question of whether they can score at a rate that negates the goals they will leak.

If they can score multiple goals consistently then they will be in pursuit of the very top spot in the East. Short of that, they will lose some points here and there simply because it’s hard to score two or three goals in every game, and that will leave them in the hunt for a top four finish at best.

2
CCL hangover?

A lot has changed since I was a player in MLS — there are about 10 more teams, the overall level is better, the tactical level of the coaching is more advanced and the best teams have several potential match winners as opposed to the one or two you’d have if you were lucky back when I played.

However, one thing remains true and that is that MLS teams playing in the Concacaf Champions League still struggle to maintain a high level domestically while aiming for CCL glory. It seems as though you have to choose one or the other because trying to do both is something the MLS roster set up still makes it difficult to accomplish.

Manchester City essentially fielded two separate teams between their UEFA Champions League semi final against PSG in midweek and their league game vs. Crystal Palace a few days later without missing a beat. No MLS team can do that without sacrificing — often significantly — their best level.

When it comes to rotating your team, you’re almost damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Playing your best team in both games means you are risking injury, fatigue and overloading your best players at a point in the season when they are still searching for prime fitness. But rotating seven or eight players means that what you minimize in injury-risk, you pay for in a drop off in quality.

Either way there’s a trade off and no team has been able to figure it out yet. Every MLS team involved in midweek CCL action failed to win this weekend. That’s not a coincidence.

The Columbus Crew made five changes to their starting 11, at least one was injury related, and they never got out of second gear against CF Montréal — managing just three shots the entire game with zero on target. There’s no question in my mind that had they been able to field a team similar to the one that faced Monterrey, they’d have likely won this game. But you just can’t trot out the exact same 11 three times in a week without serious consequences.

As it stands, through two MLS games so far they’ve yet to score or really get going. In CCL, they have seven goals in four games, so clearly, they know where the back of the net is, and I actually fancy them to get the win against Monterrey on Wednesday. But like many good teams before them, they are finding out that it’s hard to give equally as much to both competitions because MLS teams simply don’t have two players of equal or at least similar quality for every position.

Philadelphia went about it slightly differently and only changed three players from their midweek lineup. This is where the damned if you do and damned if you don’t part comes in — they lacked sharpness, the players did not look fresh, their play was uninspired at times and they only managed four shots with none on target, while NYCFC had over 20 shots with seven on target.

MLS’ other CCL participants didn’t fare any better as both Atlanta and the Portland Timbers suffered defeats. Like the Crew, both rotated heavily but that hurt them more than helped them.

The CCL comes at a stage of the season where no MLS team is in full form or at optimum fitness due to only having a couple of games under their belts. The salary cap approach — which has been a huge success for MLS as whole in terms of stability for over two decades — limits your ability to fill out roster spots 12 through 25 with the same quality you have for spots 1 through 11. So teams will have to keep making a choice on whether to pursue CCL glory at the expense of good, consistent early season MLS form. There’s no right answer.

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3
Quick hits

Performance of the night

The performance of the night goes to Real Salt Lake’s Rubio Rubin. Any come-from-behind win always feels sweeter, but this one was especially impressive because of the quality of Rubin’s goals, especially his second and the team’s third.

Players who can dribble and feint and go left and right will always cause problems because they will commit defenders and create space for themselves or their teammates. Rubin did all of that and more for his second goal before applying a great finish to the near post. RSL won in impressive fashion for the second week running and Rubin announced his rival on this stage in the best way possible — even bringing a tear to his parents' eyes.

Most impressive win

After, to put it kindly, a sluggish start to the 2021 season, FC Dallas have finally joined the party. An impressive win against a strong team like the Timbers is going to do wonders for their confidence.

I am a big fan of Andres Ricaurte and the formula for Dallas is simple — get this man on the ball as much as possible. He can see and complete passes that others can’t, and he has that quality all top players have — he makes his teammates better.

They owe this win to their fast start which was built on intensity, playing at a high tempo and never allowing Portland to settle. The hope will now be to build on this and make sure it wasn’t a one off.

Caden Clark

Every time I see his name on the score sheet I already know it was a banger. It seems to be the only way he knows how to score. It was a well worked team goal but the technical ability to make the right contact, keep the ball down, and place it well in the corner was further proof (as if we needed any) that this kid is the real deal.

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