Armchair Analyst: Home-field advantage keeps growing & more from Week 14

Home teams went 12-0-3 this week, which is a level of dominance that's unusual even for MLS. But it's part of a continuing trend over the last few seasons that's seen home-field advantage become more and more pronounced:

Year Games Home win pct Home PPG
2017 156 0.688 1.96
2016 340 0.654 1.81
2015 340 0.644 1.83
2014 323 0.621 1.72
2013 323 0.635 1.78
2012 323 0.636 1.79
2011 306 0.608 1.65
2010 240 0.604 1.69
2009 225 0.629 1.73
2008 210 0.640 1.79
2007 195 0.595 1.66
2006 192 0.625 1.73
2005 192 0.594 1.67
2004 150 0.633 1.75
2003 150 0.610 1.69
2002 140 0.629 1.81
2001 158 0.614 1.75
2000 192 0.635 1.82

Those numbers were put together by the great Paul Carr (thanks, Paul!), who you probably are already following on Twitter and definitely should be if you're not. And for clarity's sake: draws are counted as half a win.

So the question becomes "Why, in a league where home-field advantage is already an outlier, are these numbers rising so drastically?" The schedule hasn't changed much since 2011, after all – still early March to late October, 34 regular season games and Open Cup/Canadian Championship, and call-ups, and maybe the odd friendly thrown in as well.

Thus "workload" isn't really an issue. There are a couple of obvious theories as to what is, one of which is that the better atmospheres seen in MLS stadia over the past six or seven years have made it more difficult to get an away result. That's part of the rubric, for sure.

Another part is that teams are becoming savvier about how and when to rest their key players. Got a short-rest road game against an interconference foe? This is a good time to leave your star DP striker on the bench, or get your veteran backline leader a few minutes of downtime, or even to try that young 'keeper out. Maybe even do all three, and give your relentless, unheralded fullback the day off to boot!

Doing any or all of the above decreases your chances of winning on the day, but will increase your chances of winning in the long haul. "Squad rotation" is much more of a thing now, in this league, than it's ever been in the past.

And that squad rotation, in the era of TAM, produces outsized results. In 2014 you would suffer if you rested any of your top three or four, but you could rest your seventh best player to give minutes to your 16th-best, and the drop-off probably wasn't huge. By 2017, for most teams, that's gap has become more pronounced.

The good news is I expect it will close over the coming years as teams get better at developing their own, academy products, and as they get smarter about scouting for affordable talent overseas. As everything eventually does with me, this all comes back to the "crafted talent vs. found talent" dichotomy. The "crafted talent" era is just beginning to dawn, and when it fully arrives – when every MLS team can reach down its bench and find their own Victor Ulloa or Raheem Edwards – the home-field advantage numbers will start heading in the other direction.


When the Going is Smooth & Good

I've written almost nothing about the Impact this year in large part because I was waiting for Blerim Dzemaili to arrive and give the team its semi-permanent shape.

Dzemaili arrived three weeks ago, and has already added both a goal (the decider in Montreal's 1-0 win over RBNY on Saturday) and an assist in his 269 minutes, but I'm still not sure exactly what to say about the Impact when they're in attack. They play that same 4-3-3, for the most part, they've run out for the past 20-odd months under Mauro Biello, and they're still more comfortable on the counter than in any other set-up. Patrice Bernier is smart and occasionally game-breaking with his passing, and Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla is, when he plays, a worthy counterweight to Ignacio Piatti's greatness on the left wing.

And I'm not sure the Impact have quite figured out what they are yet, either. Dzemaili in particular has had less of an impact as a game-shaping central midfielder than I'd suspected he would, and is instead playing almost as a raumdeuter, just interpreting space in attack and being opportunistic with his movement.

So that means he kind of just drifts out to the left side in order to combine with Piatti – which is exactly how they scored this weekend. It's like he got to Stade Saputo and said "Hey this guy is obviously the best player on the field, so I think I'll just play with him while we all figure the rest of this stuff out."

It's not a bad strategy, and the Impact are 2-1-0 since he arrived.

The one big change from last year's Montreal team is how aggressive center back Kyle Fisher is when it comes to stepping into midfield to make plays:

Stuff like this doesn't seem like much, but it's a big deal. Slowing down an attack like that is the difference between RBNY attacking against a scrambling, back-pedaling defense vs. attacking against a set defense. Montreal are older and not super mobile and thus don't scramble well, but their "old man game" is strong. They never miss a rotation through midfield, and Marco Donadel is one of the league's smartest d-mids when he can defend within a predetermined structure in his own third.

Thus both Fisher and Laurent Ciman will sell out in order to make sure that transition opportunities advance at a snail's pace so that Donadel and the rest have plenty of time to retreat, get their lines set, and dare the world to break them down.

For now, it's working. But I do think we're going to see the Impact evolve at least a little bit in the coming weeks.


A few more things to ponder...

9. Wednesday was a full slate, which I wrote about HERE. Alex was great for Houston and Federico Higuain for Columbus, but the star of the evening was D.C. head coach Ben Olsen, who gave us a worldy for our Face of the Week:

He's got his head in his hands because Joe Bendik's save was just that good, and because United continue to be cursed. They lost that midweek game 2-0 at Orlando City, then followed it up with a scoreless home draw against LA – a game D.C. probably should've won, and probably their best performance since early March.

OCSC, for their part, also came out of that midweek game into a scoreless draw on the weekend. Theirs was at home against the visiting Fire, and while dropping any sorts of home points is never a good thing, Jason Kreis can at least take solace in the fact that his team battled through two red cards for the result.

8. The Timbers broke their five-game winless skid on Friday night with a comprehensive 2-0 win over the visiting Quakes, who were undone by a first-half red card to Darwin Ceren.

7. Sporting KC got a little bit of revenge on Minnesota United with a no-doubt-about-it 3-0 win in Kansas on Saturday. Jimmy Medranda moved into the midfield from the front line, and I thought it helped both segments of SKC's lineup. It was also clear that MNUFC had no idea what to do in terms of closing down midfield space once Rasmus Schuller had to enter as an early injury sub.

Saad Abdul-Salaam, playing his first extended minutes of the season with Graham Zusi on international duty, was very good at right back for the hosts.

6. Vancouver looked like they were going to be Atlanta United's latest victims once the visitors got out to an early lead (volume up for analysis):

But credit to Carl Robinson for understanding what his team could do, and what they shouldn't. All their back line's distribution was toward the flanks since they didn't want to risk any sort of 50/50s in midfield, and they didn't bother at all with trying to maintain possession.

Instead it was all about getting set pieces and punishing their guests. The 'Caps dominated Atlanta with brutal verticality and scored on three corners for the deserved 3-1 final margin.

5. New England had a really good week. First they got a point at NYCFC on Wednesday with a 2-2 result, and then they followed it up by utterly dominating TFC en route to a 3-0 home win on Saturday, just the second Toronto loss of the year in MLS.

The big takeaway from that game for me was that the Revs finally went to a 4-2-3-1 with Kelyn Rowe as the midfield string-puller in the middle of that "3" line. He is at his best there, and Lee Nguyen is at his best as a second forward, and if that means one of Kei Kamara or Juan Agudelo has to be a super-sub, so be it. It's time to make this a permanent move.

4. NYCFC's second game was nearly as disappointing as their first, but Patrick Vieira made some good subs and the Cityzens dominated the final 20 minutes of a come-from-behind 2-1 win over visiting Philly on Saturday.

The second half of May was not kind to NYCFC, who had five games in 17 days and won just once. But June started better, and by the time they take the field again Yangel Herrera should be back from his adventures with the Venezuelan U-20s (and my guess is he'll have a trophy with him).

3. Columbus's first game of the week was a "Can it possibly get any better than this?"-variety 3-0 home win over Seattle, who did in fact rest a bunch of key players as they should've. Their second game of the week was a gut-punch of a 2-1 loss at Colorado after having led most of the game.

I keep harping on the fact that cross-conference road losses really aren't that big a deal, and I'd go so far as to say that a home draw against a conference foe is actually worse than a road loss against a non-conference foe. Even so, every point matters and there are now five teams in the East on either 1.33 or 1.38 points per game, including Crew SC. At least three of them will miss the playoffs.

Those dropped points in Commerce City, which came after their DP center back was subbed in late to help lock down a result instead lost his mark at the back post, feel like they're going to hurt in the long run.

2. Houston continued to be Houston: They dominated RSL in a 5-1 midweek laugher thanks in large part to Alex's exquisite midfield work (volume up for analysis):

Then they went on the road and produced a dreary, tentative performance in a 1-0 loss at Seattle on Sunday night. The Dynamo are 7-0-1 at home and 0-6-1 on the road, in third place in the West on PPG and probably in good enough shape to consider themselves a playoff team.

Can the same be said of Seattle? Their win lifts them above the red line into sixth place for the first time all season, and they've now won three of their last four. Of course, three of their next four are on the road, so even if the Sounders appear to be a playoff team right now, understand that appearances can be deceiving.

1. And finally, we all knew that once Mauro Diaz came back we'd start seeing some killer through-balls out of the FC Dallas midfield. Except this isn't Mauro Diaz:

That's Victor Ulloa with what is obviously the Pass of the Week from FCD's embarrassingly easy 6-2 stomping of RSL, who are now 3-25-3 all-time in Texas. Roland Lamah got a hat-trick, and Jesus Ferreira became the second-youngest goalscorer in MLS history, and Michael Barrios had a hat-trick of assists. Everything went right for Dallas.

Nothing went right for RSL, who were outscored 11-3 in 180 minutes this week (and were so gappy defensively that I ended up making two videos using them as an example of "how not to defend," which was not planned).

Head coach Mike Petke gave one of the quotes of the season after the Dallas loss:

“We have a break now. I made it very clear to the guys: go enjoy yourself, you need a break. I advised them to work out during their break because when they get back, and we have the Under-20 and injured boys back, they are going to be fighting like dogs for positions because it's not good enough," he said. "It's not good enough individually, collectively, from key players in key positions, not talking about everybody on the field, but I'm at a point now where I can't protect people anymore. I've never been through something like this. It's blowing my mind, but perhaps this is the right time for a break.

"When we get back, it's going to be fun to watch them fight like dogs to get on that field. If I was a player, I wouldn't be at the beach. I wouldn't be wherever perhaps some of them are going to go. I would be in the gym. I would be on the soccer field. I would be going to see a sports psychiatrist. That's exactly what I would do.”

Those U-20s he's referring to are center back Justen Glad, wingers Brooks Lennon and Bofo Saucedo, and left back Danilo Acosta. Glad and Lennon will walk into starting jobs, and the other two will compete for minutes. That does indeed mean some guys who've been getting fairly regular playing time this year will find themselves stapled to the bench in the immediate future.

And who can blame Petke, really? When Minnesota United were getting stomped like this at the start of the season, Adrian Heath did what he had to and sat guys who were penciled in to be big contributors. The Loons are better for it.

RSL will now have to do the exact same thing. 

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