Thanks to the international date Week 4 was an abbreviated, limited week. There was still, however, enough happening for us to divine a few truths from 270 minutes of MLS action.
Let's go in chronological order:
Minnesota United has set an MLS record by allowing 18 goals through the first six games of a season.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) March 25, 2017
They've played four games.
MNUFC went to New England and got thumped – again – by the Revolution, losing 5-2. It's the third time in four games they've conceded five or more goals, and I'm not sure that more needs to be added regarding Minnesota United's predicament than Paul's tweet. Though this from Andy Edwards also helps tell the story:
A mitigating factor is that the Loons were without what I think will be the regular starting left side of their defense, as Francisco Calvo is on international duty with Costa Rica and Justin Davis was suspended. Neither have been world-beaters but both were pretty clearly missed, and replacements Vadim Demidov (who should not be put in the backline again under any circumstances) and Jerome Thiesson (miscast at left back) struggled in their stead.
Things got better in the second half after a switch to a 5-3-2 formation, but I think that had more to do with the Revs taking their foot off the pedal a bit than with Minnesota figuring something out.
There are many troubling things about this team's start in MLS, but the one that bothers me most is this: How did a club that spend its entire existence in the second tier of the pyramid manage to underrate the quality of players available on very, very salary budget-friendly contracts, and instead invest substantial sums of GAM, TAM and cap space on imports of questionable quality? Minnesota's best players have been Christian Ramirez and Brent Kallman, holdovers from their NASL days, as well as Kevin Molino, a former USL MVP. Finding more like that to plug into more spots in the XI should've been their biggest advantage, and should've given them the flexibility to be more targeted and precise with their imports.
There's other talent of that sort to be found in NASL and USL, and we're seeing it elsewhere with guys like Aaron Long, Daniel Steres and Donny Toia starting for playoff-caliber backlines. If MNUFC need new depth – and they clearly do, especially in defense since Calvo is likely to be gone on Gold Cup duty this summer – they need to recalibrate their expectations and look local. Adrian Heath, Manny Lagos et al need to leverage their experience and connections in the lower tiers to find some answers.
And they need to internalize this lessson: sub-elite players from the Scandinavian leagues have proved to be almost uniformly disappointing (remember Mix Diskerud? Kennedy Igboananike? Kristinn Steindorsson? Markus Halsti? Eirik Johansen?) across MLS over the last three or four seasons.
The first game of the post-Jeff Cassar era for RSL provided a point thanks to a scoreless draw at RBNY. RSL still played in their scattershot 4-3-3, and RBNY in their mostly frenetic 4-2-2-2, and the game was short on moments of inspiration thanks to injuries and international absences.
What it was notable for? The number of Homegrowns each side fielded. New York started Connor Lade at right back, Tyler Adams in deep midfield and Alex Muyl as an attacking midfielder, and brought Sean Davis off the bench; RSL started Brooks Lennon and Bofo Saucedo on the wings, brought Ricardo Velazco in as a sub for Saucedo with eight minutes to go, and gave Jose Hernandez his MLS debut as a No. 10.
Of that list, Adams was the standout:
I've spoken with some very smart folks who think he is the best non-Christian Pulisic prospect in the USMNT pipeline. I need to see more of Weston McKennie and Andrew Carleton before I buy a ticket for that particular hype train, but I'm in the process of getting my wallet out just in case. The 18-year-old was outstanding in his first 90-minute MLS performance.
Ashes to Ashes
Portland lost track of Federico Higuain in Saturday's 3-2 loss at Columbus and in the process lost ahold of their perfect start to the season. Higuain had been active rather than effective to start the season, but that changed against the Timbers:
It was a throwback performance from the Argentine enganche, whose calling card when playing well has always been his indefatigable nature and ability to do the work of three.
The two questions for Columbus are obvious:
- Was this performance an outlier, given his age and recent form?
- Will it matter if the defense continues to struggle?
The implications baked into both questions are obvious. If it was indeed an outlier of a performance, then Gregg Berhalter & Co. need to find a Plan B. We may have seen a bit of that in last week's 3-6-1 formation that de-emphasized spreading the field, instead focusing on direct opportunism.
As for the defense, DP center back Jonathan Mensah went off with a thigh injury midway through the second half, and was replaced by rookie Alex Crognale. Based upon their early MLS form, I'm not sure that's a downgrade and thus this situation may solve itself.
A few more things to ponder...
3. Revs fans are probably steamed at me for not focusing more on their attacking explosion after two tepid games on the road to start the season but here's our Face of the Week:
TFW you see the scoreline from a Minnesota match pic.twitter.com/yVdumUGvJm— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) March 26, 2017
Let's see how New England do against a more credible backline when they're in Portland next weekend.
Still, there's reason to be enthusiastic about Juan Agudelo's performance on the front line, and Lee Nguyen's as a No. 10. Jay Heaps tried something potentially clever by flipping their roles to start the year and it didn't work. Give him credit for not dawdling in making a necessary switch back to something more conventional.
2. After Portland's loss the only perfect team left? Orlando City. Did not see that coming.
1. And here's our Pass of the Week, courtesy of Sebastian Blanco:
Any time you cut out six defenders in one play, you get dap.