Since we're coming off a long break and are ramping back up into the season, let's give everyone equal time. And let's go in order.
And ... begin:
Gerhard Struber made some positional adjustments, moving Tom Edwards to d-mid and Sean Davis to the right side of the diamond while Frankie Amaya became the left-side shuttler and Caden Clark moved up to the No. 10. It paid off on the second goal, for which I'm giving Clark our Pass of the Week. Watch how his body shape receiving the pass completely throws off Dax McCarty (not an easy thing to do!) and sets him up to play across the game channel to Kyle Duncan:
Clark then books it into the final third, dragging McCarty with him in order to clear out Zone 14 for Duncan to cut inside and have a rip. Just a beautifully worked goal from those two guys.
Nashville are not, and that's a change because last year's Nashville team didn't give up Route 1 goals. They're just a little bit softer this year, and while this was their first loss of the season, that softness has cost them a bunch of points.
"When you're a goal or two down, as we've been in previous games, somebody's got to step up and and get us back into the game," Nashville head coach Gary Smith said after the match. "But, maybe this is one game too many, where we've been asked to recover two goals. We just can't do it all the time."
They really can't, especially given that their attack is still so hit-and-miss. As Smith said, there was no one to get them back into the game — no one to finish off the often attractive sequences of play that got them into good spots and put RBNY under real duress.
This is exactly who Nashville have been all year. It hasn't changed since Week 1.
It needs to.
There are a lot of nice stories around RSL this year: Damir Kreilach being an absolute menace as a roving, Lampard-esque No. 10; Freddy Juarez re-embracing the #PlayYourKids ethos; Rubio Rubin's career resurrection. All of that has overshadowed by a good bit the rise of fullback Andrew Brody. He looked destined to be a USL lifer with Real Monarchs, but injuries opened up some playing time for him earlier this year and he delivered to the point that he's now basically a starter playing as an inverted left back. Juarez has him push up a ton, giving him liberty to be the fifth man into the attack and even, at times, having him function as an ad hoc playmaker. He has become one of the more fun attacking full backs in MLS.
Bigger picture: Monarchs had been massively underused as a player development pipeline for RSL prior to this year. But with Brody, Nick Besler, Pablo Ruiz and David Ochoa all in the XI and playing well, it feels like a corner has been turned. And this is essential for an RSL side that's never going to be the type to attract glamorous, big-name signings, or to outspend everyone. If they're going to win consistently they're going to have to be smarter and better at player development, and this year's roster construction and minutes distribution suggests they're finally leaning into that truth.
Still, the landlords had to work for this one. Vancouver were the better team throughout the second half, equalized and probably should have taken the lead, and more or less controlled the game for about 35 minutes. Then they made the unfortunate decision to drop deep into a bunker to try to see out what would've been a 1-1 draw.
Bunkering when you're not particularly great at defending in your own box is not a great choice. And that's how you turn a valuable "road" point into a dispiriting loss courtesy of two stoppage-time goals.
“What's disappointing is the way they get the 2-1 is in a play that we were very aware [of], we worked a lot," said Vancouver head coach Marc dos Santos. "Everybody knew that was coming, we defended a couple of them, they were not able to break us and get dangerous shots in the second half, but then the ball from the throw in is disappointing. It's too bad to concede, especially the goal in that throw in. That changed the game.”
Robin Fraser bet that FC Cincinnati would come out in a 4-3-3, play a relatively high line and try to possess, and that if they did that, his Rapids side could hit them on the break or over the top. So he put them out in a 3-5-2 (or a 5-3-2 depending upon your point of view) and played for exactly that.
"We’ve used it a couple of times to close out games, we started one game in it," Fraser said of the formation change. "We certainly like the flexibility of being able to play in a couple of different shapes, depending on what the opponent does and what the conditions are. It’s been a work in progress."
Cincy actually pushed forward well at times, creating some legitimate danger in the second half. But 1) the game was already out of reach at that point, and 2) they never stopped getting gashed by Colorado on the break. Even when they were pushing up doing a good job of retaining the ball, they were opening themselves up for opportunities going in the other direction:
Right now the only time Cincy look competent defensively is when they drop everyone behind the ball, but if they do that then they generate nothing in attack. There've been few hints that they're any closer to striking a balance than they were in the middle of last season.
The final game in Historic Crew Stadium's run was, as is incredibly appropriate, a dos-a-cero win for the home team. Can't script it any better than that.
The on-field events were just straight business from the Crew. They knew that Chicago struggle defending set pieces, but are particularly bad at defending second phase, recycled attempts. And that's what Gyasi Zardes scored the first goal from. They knew that Chicago's under-constant-reconstruction backline was prone to massive individual errors and blown offside traps, and that's how they got the second goal, with Derrick Etienne ultimately giving Zardes a tap-in.
The Crew have the feel of a team still easing their way into the season. They're still in maybe second or third gear, but they've nonetheless won three straight and managed a pretty hefty slate of injuries. As they get healthier they will keep getting better.
Chicago are who they are at this point, no matter who they put out there. The Fire haven't won a road game in the 2020s and still make those colossal individual errors.
“Yeah, that shouldn't happen," head coach Raphael Wicky said about the second goal off that blown offside trap. "There wasn't pressure on the ball, so we shouldn't have a high line, and then we should probably drop. But first of all, we should have more pressure on the ball so it shouldn't happen."
This is basic stuff that the Fire have not been able to get right under Wicky or previous coaches. It's weird.
On top of the weirdness, Chicago aren't getting much production from the top of their roster. They have scored just four goals all season — two of those came in the first 15 minutes of the year — and are dead last in the league on PPG.
They now head into a four-game homestand. I think they need at least nine points if they're to stay within touching distance of the bottom of the East playoff picture.
Maybe the best game I've seen in MLS this season?
The Revs have earned their place at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. After some early-season waffling between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 Bruce Arena settled on that latter formation on May 12 and they've now taken 13 of a possible 15 points since, and have usually controlled (sometimes dominated) proceedings. There are still concerns about productivity from the wingers, and a lot of whether or not the 4-2-3-1 works comes down to Arena choosing right between Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou. In this one he chose Bou, and it was the correct choice.
Midway through the second half, though, he chose both, reverting to a 4-4-2 in an effort to extend the game into the channels, and that was the correct choice as well.
The reality that makes the above possible is that the Revs have Matt Turner. I tweeted during the game that he's the best shot-stopper I've ever seen in this league and I'm honestly not being hyperbolic. He should be the Player of the Week:
NYCFC have won just once in five and this loss, as in their home loss a month ago vs. Columbus, is particularly painful for how it happened.
As good as the Revs were, NYCFC were clearly better for most of the game. They dominated the first 10 minutes and earned a PK. Turner saved it. Ten minutes later Taty Castellanos got in on Turner 1v1. Turner saved it. They had a late chance to equalize on a breakaway, and Turner saved it then saved the rebound. Maxi Moralez had an open look from eight yards for yet another equalizer in second-half stoppage. Turner. Saved. It.
It is hard to win when an opposing star goes supernova against you, as has now happened twice in NYCFC's past three games. More to the point, though: between the saved penalty and the opposing star stealing the show, this felt a lot like how NYCFC always go out in the playoffs. The whole thing was eerily reminiscent of a lot of miserable November nights this club have had over the past half-decade.
Still, NYCFC are playing really good soccer — belied by their current place in the standings — and we saw some of that talent infusion as Thiago Andrade got on the board. If they keep playing like this they'll be fine.
The Chris Armas Era in Toronto — which, remember, is not actually happening \in\ Toronto — has not begun as hoped. The Reds were a shambles early on in this one, letting Mauricio Pereyra get between the lines of a disjointed central midfield and central defense to orchestrate the first goal, and subsequently just giving away the second. It was a brutal first few minutes.
It was a brutal last few minutes as well. Mark(y) Delgado didn't track Junior Urso, and nobody else rotated quickly enough to cover the empty space at the top of the box where the game-winner was scored from. Dom Dwyer missed an empty net from two yards. Pain.
In between there was some good stuff from TFC. They can still pass the hell out of the ball, and Alejandro Pozuelo's return led to some very obvious and irresistible high-level attacking sequences. Ayo Akinola is a predator in the box, and it doesn't take much imagination to picture Yeferson Soteldo feasting once he returns and has time to create a bit of chemistry with the rest of the starters.
But the defense is not there anymore, and the field coverage in central midfield doesn't appear to be there, either. Toronto have just one win, and just five points from eight games. They are hanging out with the Chicagos and Cincys of the world.
Orlando City are keeping much better company, sitting second in the East on both points (15) and PPG (1.88), and have handled missing pieces and juggled lineups with aplomb. They're still not completely whole — no Uri Rosell and Jhegson Mendez on international duty meant Andres Perea played with Urso in a double pivot, and young Brandon Austin got the start in goal with Pedro Gallese at the Copa America — but they've shown repeatedly that they don't have to be.
Oh, and Daryl Dike is back. I don't know for how long; my money is still on him making a big move this summer. But either way I feel like Orlando just had to survive the first part of the season, and instead they thrived. And now it looks like things are probably going to start getting even better for them.
My eyes were kind of playing tricks on me. D.C. were so commanding in this game, so able and content to knock the ball around and use possession to pull the visitors apart that I began to suspect this was a longer-running pattern in their games.
But it's not. As per Second Spectrum's tracking data D.C. had their highest passes per possession (5.7 — their previous high was 4.3) of the season, and the most total time in possession, and their highest completion percentage (85% — their previous single-game high was 80%). They hit their fewest number of long-balls in any game this year, and completed a higher percentage of them. They limited the total number of possessions in the game instead of ramping it up, and they lost possession themselves the fewest times of any game they've played this year.
In other words the way this game unfolded for D.C. was an outlier in every way, and that's fine. Sometimes the right tactical choice is to just take what the opponent gives you. They were utterly dominant, and if Ola Kamara had brought his finishing boots this would've been 2- or 3-0, or even worse.
Miami are likely to be on a lot of scorelines like that in the months to come. Gregore and Ryan Shawcross both saw red, the defense is packed with chaos merchants and Gonzalo Higuain missed the game to "work on his fitness" as per a team spokesperson.
Head coach Phil Neville praised his side afterward but, I mean, what else is he going to do right now?
"Desire, togetherness, spirit, confidence, support in each other. I thought we had that in abundance tonight," Neville said. "Even when we went down to nine men we had a team on the field that was 100% committed to the Inter Miami badge and that’s why I was super proud of them.”
It's shaping up to be a long rest-of-the-year for Miami.
The Loons did what the Loons have done to good effect for more than two years now, going out on the road with the intent to be compact and hit on the counter. As so:
There's nothing complex about that, just a nose for winning the ball at midfield and then taking space as quickly as possible. Don't risk too much, and don't get stretched out, and collect points. The truth is, based upon the types of chances they were able to carve out, Minnesota probably should've walked away with all three.
Perhaps that will become the norm as they get healthier. Adrian Heath used all five of his substitutes in this one, so maybe the spate of soft-tissue injuries his side have suffered has given him a more American perspective on squad rotation. We shall see.
Dallas have had a couple of "should've had all three" performances in recent outings, but this was a regression. New d-mid Facundo Quignon struggled badly with the pace and physicality of his first MLS game, while Bryan Acosta struggled to conduct the game in his new, more liberated role. Andres Ricaurte has an eye for a nice pass, but doesn't really do anything else and is a massive net negative defensively. The defense was not good enough to dig them out of the hole on Saturday, and generally have not been good enough to do so all year.
Face of the Week goes to Austin FC co-owner, minister of culture and bongos aficionado Matthew McConaughey:
Q2 Stadium is gorgeous. A scoreless draw vs. the visiting Quakes to open it is disappointing, though, and one of the things that Austin head coach Josh Wolff has to confront is the fact that his team's approach — ball dominance and positional play out of a 4-3-3 — isn't really working that well. To put a point on it: positional play is great if you're clean, well-drilled and talented in possession.
If you're lacking in those departments you end up turning the ball over quite a bit, which leaves a ton of work for the defense and especially the goalkeeper.
Thankfully for Austin, Brad Stuver has been immense; I'd have him second on my Goalkeeper of the Year ballot if voting was today. But relying upon Stuver to put in a Team of the Week-level performance every game out is not sustainable, and it's getting to that point for the Verde.
The other thing this team has to confront — and this is a front-office thing, not a head coach thing — is that there's no goalscorer on this roster. It was obvious back in March and it's even more obvious now, as Austin are winless in six and have scored two goals in that time. The personnel to change that trend isn't there yet.
San Jose are winless in five and have scored once in that span so, you know, misery loves company. Matias Almeyda switched things up this week, shifting from his preferred 4-3-3 to a 3-4-2-1. The Second Spectrum passing combinations map gives a pretty good idea of how they were trying to approach things:
Mostly ditching the wingers, who have not been productive, is a worthwhile experiment. But Javier "La Chofis" Lopez hasn't provided much as a playmaker or as a finisher, and using Chris Wondolowski as a halfspace merchant is ... a choice. All Andy Rios minutes, meanwhile, are the living embodiment of the sunk cost fallacy.
The Quakes play a lot of good soccer and get into a lot of good spots, but their attacking personnel have not delivered.
God bless Greg Vanney for going out there and trying to beat the best team in the league by passing them to death. Vanney started four guys who can/have played as No. 10s — Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Lletget, Victor Vazquez and Efra Alvarez — in a 4-4-2 and tried to defend purely by holding the ball.
It kind of worked! LA weren't as dangerous as they could've been, but Seattle had way, way less control over this game than in their previous meeting a month-and-a-half ago. And the Sounders created very little from open play.
But the Sounders really are the best team in the league, and have a million different ways to hurt you. In this one they chose "restarts" and while the Galaxy are better than they have been, they're just not quite good enough to handle the Sounders across every phase of play.
“Through a good stretch of the game I thought we had nice control of the game," Vanney said. "I think the goals, when you're playing against Seattle Sounders or a top team in this league, you can't give up goals like that at times like that, and I think giving up a goal off of a set piece when we're organized and we're behind it, we have to do better."
That about sums it up.
It was a performance we've seen dozens of times throughout the years from Gio Savarese's teams, but not as often over the past year. Portland's problem in 2020 was that they \couldn't\ just shut it down — they were the worst team in the league over the final 15 minutes of games, repeatedly coughing up leads no matter who they were playing against. That continued right into and then out of the playoffs.
So this was a very nice change against a very good Sporting KC team.
"I thought we did a very good job of handling what Sporting brought to us," Savarese said in the postgame presser. "We put up a good fight and we defended well."
They did, and at the same time were content to let Sporting be the protagonists in the second half. SKC dominated the ball and dominated all kinds of chance-creation stats in the second half. They took 11 shots; Portland took one, and it came from 35 yards out off the foot of a center back. Sporting just couldn't break down the very, very deep Timbers bunker.
"I get it, it’s all about winning. Believe me, that’s at the forefront of every game we play," head coach Peter Vermes said. "Outside of losing the game, I feel really good about the fact that the guys are in sync with each other and the quality in which we play is very good. It’s going to get results."
I don't think there's any good reason to disagree with that.
LAFC had 65 percent possession and outshot Houston 15-3. Five of those shots were taken by last year's Golden Boot winner, Diego Rossi, and four of those were good looks from inside the box. They won the xG battle 2.4 to 0.2.
A lot of things look right for LAFC, though at the same time I think it's fair to say that there's something off. They feel much more like last year's regular-season version rather than the version we saw in the CCL — which is the one I expected to show up on Day 1 for 2021. The tempo going into the final third is just a little bit too slow, and the touches around the box just aren't quite sharp enough. It is cliche to say they lack a killer instinct in the box, but they ... lack a killer instinct in the box. It's passionless and mechanical at times, which is a weird thing to say about a team that still plays such good soccer.
They, as is now the usual, also gave up a pretty soft transition goal. Credit to Houston's Fafa Picault for skinning a pair of LAFC defenders and credit to Maxi Urruti for the finish, but this is not a pattern LAFC want to continue.
Houston will obviously take it — they were playing for the exact result they got. The Dynamo have been maxing out their effort since first kick and have not stopped. Even when they were getting pumped in this one, and then even when they went down 1-0, they just kept doing what they set out to do: make it hard for LAFC to start running up the score, and be ready when those transition moments arrived.
My mind is still reeling from this Jakob Glesnes strike, which is even better with the ESPN Deportes sound:
This game was roughly what you'd expect of one between two teams who built up a healthy dislike for each other in the CCL earlier this year: It was hard-fought and physical and mostly even. Atlanta tried to establish control via possession while Philadelphia were constantly dangerous in transition. Andre Blake made some fantastic saves, as did Brad Guzan (who's having an excellent bounce-back season), and it looked like the Five Stripes being better on set pieces was going to be the story.
And then that definitely was no longer the story. Jim Curtin's subs changed the energy of the event and brought them back into the game, while Gabriel Heinze's sub of Alan Franco for Franco Ibarra softened the central midfield and confused the backline rotations a bit — just enough, anyway, for Jamiro Monteiro and Glesnes to stride forward and undo the work of the previous 85 minutes.
The Union would've been in good shape no matter the outcome. Atlanta ... I think they'll be fine, too, but they've now coughed up two-goal leads twice in a row at home, and as per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Doug Roberson, only one player was willing to talk to the media after the game (it was Brooks Lennon, who was excellent). That is not the type of thing that happens if things actually are fine, and clearly everyone in the locker room knows it.