The Montreal Impact played their 17th game of the season this weekend, which means everybody in the the leauge has officially hit the halfway point. As such, we'll be handing out our midseason awards tomorrow.
Onto the games:
1. Kid A
The New York Red Bulls took a weird, 2-0 win home from Orlando City. It was the latest weird win in a year of weirdness for this team, which has gone from "Founding Member of the 1% Derby" to "Moneyball on the Passaic."
It's been an abrupt and jarring adjustment for long-time fans of the team, many of whom go back to the days of Donadoni, Matthaeus and Djorkaeff, let alone Angel, Henry and Cahill. This franchise has always bought names, and put less-than-enough focus on building players. It is, in its own strange way, one of the problems seemingly endemic to big-market teams. After all, if you can get Thierry Henry, you go get him, right? And it doesn't matter if that promising attacker who you just spent a high draft pick on goes to the bench for the next few years.
Nobody's shedding any tears for teams that face that particular bind (and yeah, I'm gonna talk about LA in the next segment). Blending old talent and young talent is part of the job. The best coaches – and you could argue, given his record over his two years in charge, that Mike Petke was one of them – manage a way to do it.
It's a different rubric these days in New York, and Jesse Marsch is working with a different balance in terms of talent distribution. There is no worldwide superstar.
There are, however, multiple Best XI-caliber MLS veterans peppering the lineup, and there is extraordinary chemistry with the top 14 or 15 guys on the roster, and there is high pressure, and there is this:
That is simply breathtaking from 20-year-old central defender Matt Miazga. Just cutting out the outlet is a really good play; cutting it out with a one-time, laser-beam pass to Lloyd Sam's feet is... well, when I've showed this clip around to some smart, understated people, the phrase "world class" has come up.
If you want to see how center backs are supposed to play when you're a high pressure team, there's your moment. And then after OCSC clear, Miazga's on hand to win a cushioned little header directly to Dax McCarty. He is not aimless with his interceptions; he is measured and precise, and in being so he makes New York's pressure harder to break than it should be.
Fifteen seconds after that clip ends, Orlando were pulling the ball out of their net thanks to a Sacha Kljestan golazo. It doens't happen without Miazga pinning the Lions into their own end. He stays switched on for the full 90 minutes, and understands well how to operate with the guys around him.
He has been an answer to the problem of building a team without a superstar. The next problem RBNY must face is their relative lack of depth. As Seattle are showing, nobody in MLS really has a ton of it, but for New York it's pronounced and possibly fatal. When Miazga and Damien Perrinelle start in central defense with McCarty in front of them at d-mid, the Red Bulls are a trophy-worthy 7-0-3. In all other games they are "kill it with fire!"-worthy 1-6-2.
So then, will they spend on reinforcements this summer, with the transfer window open for another few weeks? I don't expect them to sign a superstar, and I don't think they need one. The chemistry risk is too great.
But they need depth, badly, because the triumverate of Miazga, Perrinelle and McCarty has been irreplaceable.
Consider it a compliment. The powers that be need to consider it a warning as well.
2. No Surprises
In my Friday preview I talked about the LA Galaxy and their new arrival, Steven Gerrard. I talked about chemistry, I talked about fit, I talked about one guy or another being shifted to the bench and how this would be a tricky situation for Bruce Arena to handle.
All of it was premised on the idea that Gerrard would play as a No. 8, which has long been his preferred role and which has been a sore spot this season in LA following the departure of Marcelo Sarvas.
So naturally, Arena lined Gerrard up as a No. 10 in Friday's 5-2 destruction of San Jose and yeah, they scored five goals. It worked pretty damn well.
You can see from the network passing graph that Gerrard was basically a forward:
He's No. 8 above. The thickness of the lines between the numbers represent the number of passes completed between the two players, and the spot on the graph represents their aggregate passing position, using Opta data.
A big part of what made it work was that Gerrard was brilliant and Robbie Keane was really unselfish in his movement. Another big part is that Quakes youngster Fatai Alashe struggled badly at d-mid trying to track the both of them when they dropped off the line. And a third part was that LA didn't play through Gerrard and Keane, but through Sebastian Lletget. When he dropped back, that compromosied San Jose's defensive shape and allowed Gerrard to act purely as an attacker.
For the long haul I really think that we'll see Gerrard drop deeper into midfield and run more of the game. But credit to Arena for already coming up with more flexibility than most expected this move would allow for.
3. My Iron Lung
Last week Cristian Maidana ripped the Timbers apart en route to a dominant 3-0 Philadelphia win. This week he got run into the ground so completely that Jim Curtin took Maidana off just after the hour mark.
This is what a DP playmaker's nightmare performance looks like:
No shots, no chances created, no dribbles attempted, and no impact worth speaking of on a game that Toronto FC won 2-1.
It's not that Maidana was bad. It's that TFC very cleverly decided to use Marco Delgado as an advanced destroyer at the tip of their 4-4-2 midfield diamond. If you think "advanced destroyer" is a clunky name, I'm inclined to agree with you. But there's no term - English, Spanish, Italian, French, German or otherwise - that I know of that precisely describes Delgado's role.
So let me sum up: Usually we think of "destroyers" as either sitting in front of the back line in the fashion of an old-style hard man, or of roaming freely, box-to-box like, say, Roger Espinoza.
Delgado served that function, but did so higher up the pitch, playing more forward or advanced. In doing so he alternated between cutting of service to Maidana from the back line, or racing all the way out to the touchlines to close the Union No. 10 down and take away passing lanes. Maidana is a talent, but he's a one dimensional one, and by having Delgado nipping at his heels all day TFC took that dimension away.
There aren't a lot of players in the league who could've covered enough ground to do that. One of those who could is the guy Delgado was deputising for, Michael Bradley, but we often get so caught up in Bradley's distributive abilities that we miss how much value he brings defensively.
We shouldn't make the same mistake with Delgado. His ability to sprint all day on both sides of the ball is a true weapon, and I'd expect TFC to continue to find creative ways of using it.
A few more things to ponder...
7. I'll probably have more to say about Sporting KC for tomorrow's midseason awards. For the time being, the locals should just continue to crow about the fact that they have the best PPG in the league, incredible midfield balance, and a heating-up Dom Dwyer leading the line. Their 2-1 win over Montreal wasn't hugely impressive, but the fact that it was their eighth straight at Sporting Park across all competitions sure as hell is.
Like RBNY, however, they are in need of depth in this transfer window.
6. Chicago Fire rookie Matt Polster hit our Pass of the Week in Wednesday's 1-0 loss to the Crew:
You need to conjure really dark and ancient magic to make a ball bend like that.
Unfortunately that was the best moment of the week for Chicago, who also dropped a 3-1 result to Columbus on Sunday.
5. The Vancouver Whitecaps continued to be a better team on the road than they are at home, thanks to a 1-1 draw at Providence Park against the Timbers on Saturday. Any point on the road against a conference rival is basically gold, but this one had to be especially sweet given the way Portland had mostly bossed this rivalary over the past year.
4. I half expect to be writing about Javier Morales' continued greatness in 2025. Somehow he's 35, he's playing in a new formation with lots of new teammates, he's four years past a broken ankle that could have ended his career, and he's playing arguably the best soccer of his life.
Morales was brilliant in RSL's 2-0 win over Houston on Saturday. I don't think he has an expiration date.
3. Our Face of the Week is a tie! Let's give it to both Juan Agudelo and Jason Hernandez for this moment from New England's 1-0 win over NYCFC:
It's just the Revs' second win since May 2.
2. The ugliest game of the weekend happened in Seattle, but it just so happens that the Rapids are getting really good at winning ugly games.Kevin Doyle got his second goal of the year and the visitors took three points thanks to the 1-0 result at CenturyLink.
It is always delightful to see the normally staid and soft-spoken Sounders fanbase a little bit restless.
1. And finally, FC Dallas won their fourth straight thanks to a 2-1 win over visiting D.C. United on Saturday. Mauro Diaz was again the star, doing a bunch of "He's worth the price of admission all by himself" stuff like this:
And it has to be said that Diaz's uptick in form has coincided neatly with the new contract he signed last month. He didn't get on the scoreboard in this one, but he controlled pretty much every aspect of where the game was played, and what the tempo was.
When Dallas play like that they're one of the league's true elites. Most other teams are adding pieces, while it feels like Dallas are taking what they've already got and making it work better.