With 10 games on Saturday, there was plenty to digest. A dramatic win for a Lucas Zelarayan-inspired Columbus showcased what separates them from NYCFC, and we got a good look at which teams are best equipped to challenge Seattle in the West.
After the first 45 minutes of the NYCFC vs. Columbus game I was almost ready to declare NYCFC the current best team in the East, at least in terms of quality of play. I say almost because I couldn’t help but feel that their lack of a killer instinct would come back to bite them.
They played Columbus off the park in the first half and should have been more than just a goal ahead. The passing, the movement, the creativity, it was all on display and it was easy to see why they’d already scored 10 goals this season. However, when you let good teams stick around, you always run the risk of letting all of your hard work go undone and that’s exactly what happened here.
NYCFC played very well for most of the game and lost, while Columbus only played well for the final 20 minutes and won. That’s the missing piece from this intriguing NYCFC team — that killer instinct to pull away when you’re on top is still lacking and that’s why I don’t see them finishing above the Crew when it’s all said and done.
HIGHLIGHTS: New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew | May 22, 2021
If Columbus had played as well as NYCFC did in that first half, the score would have been 3-0. Really good teams put you to bed when they have the chance, they don’t let you stick around enough to steal the points.
Another difference between these two teams on the day was Lucas Zelarayan. He wasn’t at his best in this game but great players aren’t considered great because they always play well. No, they are great because they can win you a game even when they aren’t playing well and that’s what Zelarayan did.
This win has the potential to really kick start the Crew’s season. It’s the kind of win that can really galvanize a group — away from home, under pressure for long spells, and yet you find a way to win — and with their next two games being at home, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go on a run that takes them back to toward the very top of the Eastern Conference.
In the Western Conference, the Sounders have been the standout team so far this season, but that’s not to say that their path to the playoffs will be a cakewalk — far from it because the West is always ultra competitive. I sense that we are still a few weeks away from having an idea of who the top three or four teams in the West will be but there are definitely already some patterns beginning to emerge that we should pay attention to.
I’ve talked about the Galaxy often and have repeatedly stated that they will not win anything until they sort out their defense. They’ve had a good start to the season but in their two biggest away games — at Seattle and at Portland — they’ve lost 3-0 both times.
The red card for Derrick Williams was definitely a factor in this particular loss to Portland, but the same defensive gaps and lapses that we saw with ten men, have been seen with 11 many times before. Against the very best teams, the backline, as presently constructed, will leak goals for fun as we are seeing. For this reason, I don’t consider them a true contender for top spot in the West over 34 games, they concede too easily and too often — especially on the road and especially against the better teams.
HIGHLIGHTS: Portland Timbers vs. LA Galaxy | May 22, 2021
I’m not sure what to make of LAFC. At times they can look like the electric team that took the league by storm in 2019, and at other times due partly to injuries and an inability to consistently field their best players, they look like a team in need of new ideas and a revamp. If Carlos Vela can get fully fit and anywhere near his previous level, then that should be enough to keep them competitive but I don’t know if even that will be enough to make them the top dogs in the West.
Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers, both winners on Saturday are probably the two teams I expect to sustain a strong challenge as long as they stay healthy.
I’ve not talked about Sporting much this season but they are very well coached and they possess a couple of real difference makers in Johnny Russell and Alan Pulido. With six goals in their last two games, they are beginning to hit form just as they prepare to play four of their next five games at home. If they do what I expect them to do during that stretch, they will be right up there with Seattle once July rolls around.
Of course the likes of Houston, Colorado, and maybe even a San Jose will believe they’ll have a say in how things shake up in the end, but I will stick with my belief that the top spots in the West will be occupied by Seattle, Sporting Kansas City, Portland, and possibly LAFC. The only question mark is what order those teams will be in.
Can Chicago and Cincinnati build on first wins?
Both Chicago and Cincinnati finally won. Chicago were extremely dominant over Miami, while Cincinnati showed great spirit to come from behind and best Montréal. The only question we should be asking ourselves now is whether either of these teams will be able to use their win as a launch pad to a more successful spell than they’ve been enjoying.
If I had to put my money on it, I’d lean toward Chicago having a better chance of going on a run than Cincinnati and that’s simply because they play five of their next six games at home. They won’t get a better opportunity to string together some wins and find their best form.
HIGHLIGHTS: Chicago Fire FC vs. Inter Miami CF | May 22, 2021
Dallas' winless run goes on
I feel a little let down by FC Dallas so far this year. A few weeks ago when they beat Portland 4-1 I expected them to maintain that level of play and put together some good results. However, they are winless since then and now find themselves at the bottom of the West. While I don’t think they have enough to seriously mount an MLS Cup run, I definitely feel that they should be sitting on more than just one win.
I’m not someone who depends solely on stats to judge a player's form, but it is quite concerning that Andres Ricaurte has zero assists so far this season. He’s a great player to watch, he’s the playmaker, and he was fantastic last season, and FC Dallas are going to need him to start impacting the box score more consistently. Should he fail to rediscover his very best form, I have a hard time seeing his Dallas climbs their way up the table any time soon.