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Let's just jump right into it:
Fell On Black Days
D.C. United have lost two straight, have won just once in their last five and are in danger of dropping to the bottom of the Eastern Conference if things don't go right on Saturday when Chicago visit (4 pm ET; UniMás, Facebook.com in US | MLS LIVE in Canada). Literally no one knows better than D.C. how thoroughly a good, late-season run can turn around what had previously been a miserable campaign, but this isn't last year's East. The conference is deep, 1-through-11, and simple math (11 teams this year, 10 last year) says it's going to be harder to make it to the playoffs in 2017.
There've been many pixels spilled about injuries on the backline and in goal, and Lucho Acosta's absence at the start of the year, and Patrick Mullins missing a month with a hamstring. All of those guys are essential, and there's a good reason United play worse when they're gone. But there's not enough that's been said about the gaping void Patrick Nyarko's injury has left.
Dribbles completed in 2017
- Nyarko: 10
- The Rest of D.C.'s wingers, combined: 11
Nyarko's ability to beat his man and then complete the play with a telling pass – he's been one of the league's best open play chance creators on a per 90 basis over the past decade, and is second only to Acosta on D.C. this year – can't be replicated by any of the other guys in United's stable, and thus opposing fullbacks have been very comfortable defending way out on an island against whoever it is Ben Olsen's put out on the left wing. When it's Nyarko in that spot, those fullbacks need help, which means the central defense has to take a step or two out of the middle, which means the rest of D.C.'s attackers have a bit of room to go to work.
I'll also be watching: Twice in two games Chicago have scored goals off of sustained, final third possession. That's a useful trick going against a D.C. team that'll almost certainly try to sit back and absorb, given that both Nyarko and Acosta are out.
Been Away Too Long
Vancouver vs. Sporting KC (Saturday, 7 pm ET; TSN1/4 in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US): Vancouver handled themselves superbly in their recently concluded four-game road trip, winning two and losing two – including last weekend's 2-1 result at Houston, a game in which I thought they outplayed the Dynamo. Going to the 4-1-4-1 from the 4-2-3-1 was a very smart formational and tactical switch from Carl Robinson, and the 'Caps are a standard deviation better than I expected.
They can still be had, though, if you drive the ball from the wing into the heart of the midfield (volume up for analysis):
Armchair Analyst: How Tabla flattened out the ‘Caps defense en route to Donadel's goal pic.twitter.com/Hn1F8loCVw— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 29, 2017
That's a lucky finish from Marco Donadel, but this is also the type of play that A) Gerso can create, and B) Benny Feilhaber can finish. Feihaber already has two goals from way downtown this season, and if the 'Caps give up that space he could end up grabbing a third.
I'll also be watching: Sporting KC's press should be useful against a 'Caps team that can still struggle with distribution from central defense.
Two More Games
Minnesota United FC vs. LA Galaxy (Sunday, 5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada): Both of these teams have gotten recent results by playing pretty conservative soccer. They leave their backlines and central midfields back, and let the wide midfielders and forwards line do all the creative, attacking work.
This could very well feel like a throwback MLS game from, say, 2008 when almost everybody played a pretty standard 4-4-2.
Armchair Analyst: David Villa's great, Nemanja Nikolic's clever, and Abu Danladi? The rookie showed some stuff pic.twitter.com/4fk2qgJkeo— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) May 9, 2017
These two teams make those runs, but go about it in different ways. With NYCFC it's David Villa dropping back that triggers the wings – especially Rodney Wallace – to fly forward. When the defense reacts to that, Villa then trails the play into the honeypot.
One more thing:
Happy weekending, everybody.