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Time for a little bit of sober reckoning, my friends. So here you go:
The six teams that were above the red line in the Eastern Conference at the end of May in 2016 are the six teams that made the playoffs. Four of the six above the red line at that point in the West made the playoffs (Sporting KC and Seattle bumped San Jose and Vancouver).
We all know, because of what Seattle and D.C. did last year and because of what Portland did in 2015, that things can change late in the game. But those are very clearly outliers in the recent history of the league, and the chance seem to be that the old cliche "You are what your record says you are" really does start to apply right about now.
Let's take a look at a few games:
The Thrill Is Gone
Seattle and Portland will renew their vows on Saturday (2:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes in US, TSN2 in Canada) at CenturyLink Field, a place where the Timbers have never won a regular-season game.
Both teams are struggling, to put it gently. Portland are winless in four, and Seattle's win last weekend was their first since April 23 – that 3-0 domination of the Galaxy that seemed to signal a Sounders run was about to happen, but instead sputtered into a draw and three dispiriting losses.
Things haven't clicked for either team, but at least Seattle know their blueprint: They have to get Joevin Jones pushed up the field and into the attack as often as possible (volume up for analysis):
Getting Jones forward pulls defenders out wider, which should allow more room for the likes of Nico Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey to go to work. It's worked in the past and can/should/will work again, and I'm certain the Sounders and their fans would love nothing more than to right the yacht against their southern neighbors.
I'll also be watching: This has been a good year for newcomers, but one who has not lived up to the billing is Timbers attacker Sebastian Blanco, who has just a single goal and a pair of assists in his first 1,000 MLS minutes. He's looked much more of a pass-before-the-pass guy, and a useful shuttler of the ball, but not at all the type who can unlock a packed in defense.
This is pretty shocking to me, since Blanco was awesome for San Lorenzo and is, on paper, a perfect fit with the other Portland attackers.
But it's not happening for him – not yet, anyway. However, he should find plenty of space in this one when Jones pushes forward on the overlap.
Blue Boys Tune
Only two teams in MLS have been better in the last five than San Jose (3-1-1), who've been keyed by their diminutive attacker Jahmir Hyka (volume up for analysis):
Armchair Analyst: Futzing around with the formation has allowed the Quakes to free up attacker Jahmir Hyka, who has a great nickname pic.twitter.com/gxraWx3usC— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) May 25, 2017
San Jose are playing the kind of fun, positionless attacking soccer that folks usually don't associate with Dom Kinnear (to their detriment – many of Kinnear's Houston teams were fun as hell). Hyka has been a, if not necessarily the key.
I'll also be watching: I have no idea what the Galaxy are going to do with their central midfield. Rafa Garcia will almost certainly be a starter, but it's not clear how fit Joao Pedro is, and it's definitely not clear who plays next to Garcia if Pedro can't go.
Atlanta United vs. NYCFC (Sunday, 5 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US, MLS LIVE in Canada): The last time these two teams met, Atlanta had all kinds of trouble tracking David Villa when he dropped off the frontline and picked the ball up in the hole (volume up for analysis):
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
FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo (Sunday, 8 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US, MLS LIVE in Canada): Dallas pretty clearly blew off their midweek trip to Dallas, choosing to play a team of reserves while keeping the starters fresh for this game. That was the right decision – a home game against a conference rival is worth exponentially more than a cross-conference road trip. And thus far in 2017, it seems pretty clear that if you're home and you're fit, you're going to do pretty ok against the Dynamo, who are a woeful 0-5-0 away.
That said, Houston can hurt anybody in the league really bad, and it can/does happen in the blink of an eye (volume up for analysis):
Armchair Analyst: The Dynamo murder you dead in the three seconds after you turn the ball over pic.twitter.com/UptQrVm6dE— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) May 11, 2017
One more thing to ponder:
Happy weekending, everybody.