Only one more full week of games before the World Cup break kicks in. Let's all pretend to be club before country for a while longer, shall we?
Onto the games, with a particular focus on fullback play:
1. TFC get exposed
The point of the modern, overlapping fullback is to provide width and penetration in the attack. The fullback has to do this because most teams want to flood the central midfield and control - or at the very least disrupt - the run of play.
The issue with the modern, overlapping fullback is that pushing that far up the field can leave spaces to exploit, which is particularly dangerous these days as the winger has come back into vogue. This became a real problem for TFC very early in what eventually turned into a thrilling 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew.
Below is TFC in possession, with right back Mark Bloom pushed up to provide width and service:
He sends in a nice cross that Jermain Defoe should have done better with. But he doesn't, and when TFC can't pin the Crew deep, it's off to the races.
Here's Bloom about 10 seconds and 60 yards later:
He's not yet in full "oh crap, I've got to recover" mode, but he should be. Justin Meram is one of the trickiest 1-v-1 players around and the correct tack from Bloom is to deny him service in the open field, rather than trying to contain.
But, well, this:
Bloom never catches up to the play, and the Reds find themselves in an early hole.
This isn't really Bloom's fault, as two other TFC youngsters - central midfielder Kyle Bekker and central defender Doneil Henry - exacerbated every single problem by jumping in and failing to win the ball, a no-no when either fullback is pushed up high and out of position. So let's chalk this goal up to a learning experience.
It's also worth noting that more athletically gifted fullbacks can push up and still track back to recover defensively. US fans, this is why - right or wrong - Jurgen Klinsmann prefers speedsters like DeAndre Yedlin and Timmy Chandler for the World Cup. Canadian fans, the "World Cup" is a quadrennial soccer tournament contested by the greatest soccer nations in the world, and Mexico.
2. The beauty of the 4-3-3
The 4-3-3 is a difficult formation to master, because the two wingers have to be willing and able to swap between facilitator and finisher almost instantly. They also have to track back defensively, and know when to press towards the middle or trap players on the sideline. Attack the back post? Got to do that as well.
4-3-3 managers ask a lot. Not all players can give it.
Cristian Maidana of the Philadelphia Union has, thus far, fallen into the "not all players" category. He hits one of the best dead balls in the league, and can do some wonderful stuff with the ball on his foot. But he's had all kinds of problems finding the right spots without it, and has only rarely been dangerous.
Then Saturday's 3-0 win over Chivas TBA happened. Maidana put in nearly a man of the match performance - which, to be fair, he was entirely invited to do:
Note that this play starts with a Chivas turnover out of the back. Eric Avila, who is still in the process of converting from midfield to defense, has pushed up appropriately to provide an outlet for Eriq Zavaleta, but when the turnover happens, he hesitates for a fatal second.
That's Maidana circled in yellow and Avila in red a moment before the turnover. Maurice Edu has read the play and is putting textbook pressure on the Chivas midfield, knowing that this is an opportunity for a turnover.
Maidana knows it, too. As soon as the turnover happens, he's sprinting in the other direction:
Maidana gets a jump on the play. That, and the 10-yard cushion he has on Avila, means he gets to send in that unimpeded service you see above.
These are the kinds of mistakes fullbacks make when they're learning the spot. The beauty of MLS over the next five-to-10 years is that players like Avila who can be a legitimate threat from this position will be identified earlier and drilled better in the fundamentals. Instead of starting to learn the job at age 26, he'll learn it at age 16.
And central defenders like Zavaleta won't try silly, high-risk low-reward passes through the middle of the park.
To put it another way: there is a big jump in the quality of MLS coming soon. And it will be primarily based upon tactical awareness.
3. LA finds an opportunist
Robbie Rogers is, like Avila, a talented wide attacker who probably would have been identified as/converted to fullback early in his career if MLS had a more mature player development system.
Still, we can admire the hell out of this pick and cross for the equalizer in LA's 1-1 draw at Chicago:
That's how you draw it up from a high pressure perspective. Rogers and midfielder Stefan Ishizaki have swapped roles temporarily after an attack, and rather than try to scramble back, they hold their spots with the idea of either pinning Chicago in or pilfering a goal outright. Obviously it worked.
Rogers got caught on the wrong side defensively a few minutes later, nearly conceding a penalty, so don't get too used to seeing him in this spot. But late in the game, pushing for a goal? He'll be a weapon Bruce Arena's not afraid to use.
A few more points to make...
11. I wrote a bit about Seattle's 4-0 destruction of Real Salt Lake on Saturday. Worth noting the third Seattle goal on that game was a classic "take advantage of the ultra-aggressive overlap" type of play. Watch it HERE.
RSL boss Jeff Cassar told his team to forget about that goal and the fourth, both of which happened with the team desperately trying to claw back into the game. He's right to - any team that pushes up that hard to erase a deficit leaves the door open like that.
10. The Montreal Impact had what was easily their best performance of the year in a 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. Yes, the Revs were flat, but let's give credit where it's due: Montreal was plain good.
Look at this. MTL happy to cede space and then collapse. Most of NE’s passing toothless. Bernardello’s been great. pic.twitter.com/sTTLvx3jMr— Will Parchman (@WillParchman) June 1, 2014
The Rapids annihilated an undermanned Houston team 3-0 on Sunday, and have broken out of their scoring slump by pushing Dillon powers waaaaay high up the field. It's basically a 4-4-1-1 in Colorado, and it's working.
2. Our Pass of the Week came from Portland's loss to Vancouver, courtesy of Fanendo Adi:
1. That was the good news of the week for Portland. The bad news was just how vulnerable and disorganized their defense looked in Sunday night's 4-3 loss the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps. Second-year man Erik Hurtado, who grew up in Beaverton and played for the Timbers U-23s, absolutely tormented his former team, and punished the slow feet and slower reactions of Timbers defenders.
Even more worrisome was their inability to close Vancouver down through midfield:
Quick look at that #WhitecapsFC Harvey goal: 10 passes by 8 players in 33 seconds. Brilliant. All started from a Reo-Coker tackle.— Mike Martignago (@MikeMartignago) June 2, 2014
Portland have now given up 24 goals and have four losses in 14 games; last year they gave up 33 and had five losses in 34. 2014 hasn't gone according to plan.