Week 2 of the MLS season had 11 games, and plenty to think about. Let's jump right in with takeaways from the weekend for every team.
I can’t say I ever expected to hear an MLS team, Manchester United, and the University of Alabama lumped into the same thread.
Things you also didn’t expect to happen – striker who was benched six months ago for not being able to finish beats out a Golden Boot winner for the starting striker position. It could happen next week, if/when CJ Sapong, who has two goals in two games, starts over Nemanja Nikolic, who missed two sitters on Saturday.
Text from that friend in the 70th minute, after FCC had stifled Atlanta for the 65 minutes after the goal: “FCC got it figured out.”
Alan Koch had his team drop about 15 yards deeper after the goal. It allowed them to keep tighter distances between the forwards, midfielders, and defenders, and protect the space behind their defensive block. It worked and got them their first point in MLS.
My biggest concern about the Rapids entering the season was their center backs, specifically their ability to pass under pressure. If you want to play a midfield diamond, you need to be able to hold possession, as turnovers will leave you exposed to transitions wide. It’s incredibly tough to hold possession if you don’t have center backs who can pass. They don’t need to be able to drop dimes, they just have to keep from getting frazzled under pressure. While recognizing that the Rapids have injury problems at center back right now so it’s unclear who their first choice pairing will be, it’s the top of my list for things to watch for the Rapids.
Columbus Crew SC
Matt Doyle said multiple smart things about the Crew in his Sunday column. I also analyzed them at the touchscreen in Matchday Central.
Lots of teams play with a single pivot, a defensive mid who links the back four to the rest of the team. Lots of teams play with a double pivot, two players who share the duty of getting the ball off the defenders and shielding them defensively. Dallas have deployed something close to a triple pivot so far this season, using all three midfielders to rotate into spots to receive simple passes from the defenders. FCD = Team of the Weekend for Week 2.
Player of the Weekend = Bill Hamid. The reason we don’t get more interesting quotes from players is that they are worried about public perception of said quotes. Quotes raise the stakes. If you don’t play well, you look like a fool. But making the comments also gives you a chance to be on the front page and be a star. There were multiple good GK performances this weekend, but everyone wants to talk about Hamid. Everyone was watching him, and he stepped up. Real, human answers have potential benefits, too.
Houston went 1-1-1 in all competitions this week, but it shouldn’t be lost what a good week they had. The Dynamo got a home draw against RSL; then played near-even with Tigres for 80 minutes; then at the end of the sprint, beat Montreal. Each would be a solid performance on its own, and stringing them together gives you a week that deserves attention.
The Galaxy rolled out the midfield trio of Jonathan dos Santos, Sebastian Lletget, and Joe Corona for the first time. It is, in my opinion, the exact type of midfield to play behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan doesn’t need a playmaker behind him; he needs smart, energetic players to win the ball and get it to his feet.
Calen Carr suggested on the Matchday Central postgame show that Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS now that Miguel Almiron has departed. I’m not about to disagree after Vela’s one-goal, two-assist performance. But I thought the most eye-popping display for LAFC came from Eduard Atuesta. Atuesta provided a next-level combo of defensive instincts and savvy passing.
Actually, I will disagree with Calen re: the best player in MLS. Through the first two weeks, it’s been Darwin Quintero. It’s a small sample size and writers should be banned from saying things like, “Player X has been the standout performer through two weeks” but Minnesota fans have been so starved of things like “Minnesota player has been the standout performer through two weeks” that I’m perfectly fine writing “Quintero has been the standout performer through two weeks.”
Look at these pictures that show the locations of the assist passes that Montreal conceded in the two games so far (vs. San Jose on the left, vs. Houston on the right). The third goal that they conceded, Mauro Manotas’ winner on Saturday, stemmed from a pass from Romell Quioto from a similar area.
To give up opportunities in that part of the field is concerning for all teams, and more so for Montreal, who pride themselves on using their shape to protect that zone of the field.
(On a positive note, Saphir Taider is working his way into the higher tiers of “Most fun players to watch.”)
New England Revolution
The Revs were very good in 2018 at two things – pressing and creating transition opportunities – and not as good at two things – defending in their own half and using possession to create opportunities. The question heading into 2019 was whether they would double down on the pressing and transitions or try to improve the frailties. Brad Friedel decided to go with the latter; the Revs haven’t pressed as high and attempted nearly 100 more passes on Saturday than their 2018 average. After the game, Friedel told reporters, “Some people thought we weren’t making changes this season and as you can see, there are a lot of changes.”
New York Red Bulls
This quote from Chris Armas after the midweek loss to Santos Laguna feels really important: “We saw that as a team, they're not always sprinting at you and their backline is always dropping in transition, so there’s time and space if we can just calm down a little bit. There did seem to be some unforced errors that we just didn't get right.” It is factually 100 percent accurate, and feels like the perfect articulation of the last frontier for RBNY. The question is whether it’s feasible to add such a significant wrinkle into the team’s DNA.
James Sands has looked at home as a starting-caliber center mid. With that said, I’d bet a significant amount that Sands ends up as a center back – he looks much more comfortable when he can face the field than when he has to deal with 360 degrees of pressure – and when he’s considered one of the best passing defenders in the league, we’ll remember these starts in the middle.
I tweeted this around the 80th minute of Orlando’s game:
And Doyle texted me, “Feels like an overstatement, no? I would have said ‘improved’” Well, Matthew, I’m sticking to it. Chicago, who carved through the Galaxy in Week 1, looked stifled for the middle 75 minutes against Orlando in Week 2.
I’ve been struggling to conceptualize the Union right now, so I’ll leave it to David Gass: “The Union controlled most of the first half against SKC and the score didn’t reflect the performance. They pressed the best possession team in MLS into mistakes, and their possession remains a threat. Haris Medunjanin has been criticized for his ability to defend as a lone defensive midfielder, but he provides an important balance to Marco Fabian. If teams drop and crowd Fabian, Medunjanin can hurt them. If they step to Medunjanin, they are leaving Fabian open. Now they just need to finish the opportunities they create.”
I don’t want to make too much of Portland’s 4-1 loss LAFC; I think that was more about LAFC being excellent than anything Portland did wrong. So I’m going to point out this chart made by Sam Stejskal about how teams use Allocation Money. The Timbers appear to have the most Over the Max salary:
Real Salt Lake
Aaron Herrera was excellent on Saturday, taking care of all the little actions we don’t notice about an outside back unless he or she messes them up. He followed his runner on the back pst; blocked entry passes into the box; and handled 1v1 situations. He and Brooks Lennon have the chance to make a top-tier outside back pairing this season.
San Jose Earthquakes
I like Magnus Eriksson as a player. I think Magnus Eriksson could be a good MLS player in the right system. I can’t imagine what Matias Almeyda thinks of using Eriksson in a man-marking system – or what Eriksson thinks of having to play in the system.
I’ve been critical in the past that the Sounders’ attack, even when they were winning, was slow and boring. They have been the opposite this year. They have so many dynamic yet complementary pieces. Seven players fly forward at the same time from different depths and different angles and it’s been wonderful to watch.
Sporting Kansas City
Ilie Sanchez got subbed out in the 84th minute of Sunday’s game versus Philadelphia. Ilie has been on SKC’s roster since the start of 2017, 75 games in total. Sunday was only the 2nd time he hasn’t played all 90 minutes in those 75 games. He hadn’t played less than 90 minutes since August of 2017.
TFC come off their bye and will have three straight home games: New England, NYCFC and Chicago. Those aren’t easy games, but there’s also a solid chance the Reds start the season 4-0-0 as Alejandro Pozuelo and the other reinforcements integrate themselves into the squad.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
I don’t believe in hype trains. Hype trains are stupid and annoying. If hype trains weren’t stupid and annoying, I’d gladly buy a ticket aboard Inbeom Hwang’s. He’s smooth. He feels like Nico Lodeiro-light to me right now. He’s obviously not Lodeiro, but he goes about a game the same way.