Armchair Analyst: 22 teams, 22 takes following Week 16 of the MLS season

We jumped from international play to the US Open Cup to a full slate of weekend games, so I'm a little fried and my thoughts are a little scattered. Let's work through them together, shall we?

Here, following Week 16, are 22 takes for 22 teams:


Atlanta United

• Won 3-1 vs. Columbus

Got two of their three goals off of high pressure and – more important, in the long run – they got Josef Martinez back and on the scoreboard. Martinez is simply ruthless in front of goal, and adds a different dynamic as a center forward because of how and where he makes his runs (and, obviously, because of his "God Mode" finishing).

The Five Stripes (which is a dope and seemingly organic nickname, so well done to the fans down there) still don't like to be pressed themselves, and that will be their undoing this season at some point. But I'm convinced this is going to be the best expansion team since the 2009 Sounders.

Chicago Fire

• Won 2-1 at New England

They had one win in their previous 48 road games entering May. They've now got two in their last three, and their three biggest winter signings – Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic and Dax McCarty – have been among or above the league's best at their respective positions.

McCarty is as relentless as ever in terms of driving the game forward into the most dangerous spots, and punishing midfields that can't or don't close down lanes (volume up for analysis):

That kind of distribution is why Nikolic and the rest of the Chicago attack keeps getting the ball in good spots.

Columbus Crew SC

Lost 3-1 at Atlanta United

Could have been up 3-1 or more at halftime because Justin "Pass of the Week" Meram was balling:

Everything about that was so good, to the point that I actually felt a little bad for Leandro Gonzalez Pirez.

But that finish from Ethan Finlay was of a piece with what the rest of the Crew SC attackers did in this game, and as usual the defense proved to be too leaky and too prone to dawdling on the ball, which proved to be problematic and then decisive. This... just... keeps... happening.

Crew SC started the season 3-1-1. Since then they're 4-9-0 with a -8 goal differential across all competitions, including this week's loss at FC Cincinnati in Open Cup play.

Colorado Rapids

Won 2-1 vs. Portland

"Human Spirit" now has a three-game winning streak up at 5280. Colorado held down the fort for the first 55 minutes or so, then ran a lagging Timbers team off the field in the last 35 before Alan Gordon once again did Alan Gordon Things™. I hope he never retires.

The Rapids were content to play 2-v-3 in central midfield and tried to shuttle all play out toward the touchline, letting the wide midfielders do the work. It paid off, as that's where the game-winning goal came from.

How excited should Rapids fans be right now? Hard to say precisely, but they have three of four at home before the Gold Cup break. If they keep collecting points in Commerce City, they will once again wreck all the experts and their dumb opinions (yours truly included).

FC Dallas

Drew 1-1 at Vancouver

A point on the road is fine, and on PPG Dallas actually top the West. They're working Mauro Diaz back into shape, they're compensating without Walker Zimmerman, and they're waiting for their big offseason signings to show their worth. They have both quality and depth in central midfield, and in Maxi Urruti they have a forward who is having a breakthrough season in terms of finishing.

All of the above, and there's this: It doesn't feel like they've taken it out of third gear in MLS yet. The best game(s) Dallas have played in 2017 came against Pachuca in the CCL. 

D.C. United

Lost 2-0 at Toronto

There was a time late in the first half and early in the second half in which D.C. looked pretty good, and this team clearly has some talent. But they haven't scored a goal from open play since April, and...

Structurally, I don't think there's anything wrong with continuing to do what they've done the last two games: 4-2-3-1 with Kelyn Rowe as the No. 10 and Lee Nguyen drifting.

New York Red Bulls

Won 2-0 at Philly

Go back to the Chicago section and look at the pass that McCarty hit. Here's his 18-year-old replacement:

It didn't turn into anything because Felipe simply couldn't complete a pass against the Union, but Tyler Adams is already significantly better than he was when the season started in March. The fact that Jesse Marsch had Sacha Kljestan – a No. 10 over the last two years, but a deeper-lying distributor before that in Belgium – swap spots with the Brazilian may be a hint toward the summer transfer window moves to come.

Whoever Adams is playing next to, he has to continue to hit those third-line passes. It's what RBNY's success is built upon.

New York City FC

Won 2-1 vs. Seattle

Over the past month Patrick Vieira has repeatedly made game-changing subs, and he did it once again in this one. By bringing Sean Okoli in for the last 15 minutes, he made certain that the Seattle center backs would be occupied and that would, in turn, allow David Villa to drift in alone at the back post.

Okoli is one of several contributors that NYCFC have found either in the lower divisions or off the MLS scrap heap. Villa is the guy who defines this team and probably the league MVP, but he's hardly a one-man show, and NYCFC haven't just spent their way into the league's top tier. 

Orlando City SC

Drew 3-3 vs. Montreal

That's our Face of the Week, of course. And let's just assume the young man has earned a fulltime job as Jason Kreis's enthusiasm coach.

Let's also assume that Tommy Redding will get the lion's share of the starts alongside Jonathan Spector in central defense now.

Philadelphia Union

Lost 2-0 vs. RBNY

Jim Curtin's had to juggle players and lineups, all year, and that was once again the case on Sunday. No Alejandro Bedoya meant they moved the ball slower and with less precision through midfield, and once they got down to 10 men it was just a matter of time.

As Marsch said during the halftime interview, Philly love to cross the ball (and they're pretty good at it). Partially this is just predilection, but partially it's because they lack a real chance creator as their No. 10. The visionary passing comes from deeper in midfield, which means the ball gets spread wide early, and it's incumbent upon No. 9 C.J. Sapong and the two wingers – usually Chris Pontius and Fafa Picault – to rise up and get a head on the ball.

Finding the right No. 10 remains an ongoing project.

Portland Timbers

Lost 2-1 at Colorado

Portland played with what amounted to their second-string defense at Colorado, and in the second half that was clear as day. They were slow to stop service and struggled mightily winning 50/50s against the Rapids forwards.

The Timbers are one of many Western Conference teams stuck in, at best, third gear. Sebastian Blanco's goal on Saturday was just his second of the season, Fanendo Adi has scored in only one of his last seven games, and Dairon Asprilla has produced just a single assist since March.

Diego Valeri is keeping this thing afloat at the moment.

Real Salt Lake

Won 1-0 vs. Minnesota United

Played pretty easily their best game of the season, thoroughly dominating the visitors (who are, let's remember, an out-of-gas expansion team, so YMMV on how much you want to read into it).

From the point of view of RSL fans, there were two wonderful takeaways. First was that it was the kids – Justen Glad and Danilo Acosta started on the backline, while Jefferson Savarino was the No. 10 and Brooks Lennon played on the wing – that led the way. Two of those guys are 19, and two others are 20. Maybe instead of "Real Salt Lake" we should call them "Ajax Salt Lake."

Second is that Yura Movsisyan got the goal. It was ugly and he flubbed other chances, but sometimes all it takes is an ugly goal for the dam to burst. Movsisyan has put up big numbers in the past and is still on the right side of 30. If he starts playing like he can play, RSL will start being "dangerous," if not quite "good" just yet.

Seattle Sounders

Lost 2-1 at NYCFC

Survived playing in a South Bronx swamp without picking up any injuries, but didn't pick up any points, either. The best story of this season in Seattle continues to be the development of Cristian Roldan as a two-way force (volume up for analysis):

With the exception of Roldan the Sounders still look like they're enduring an extra-long preseason, and given what they did last summer, who can blame them? As long as they don't fall too far behind the pack (and they're just one point below the playoff line at the moment), I'm sure they're confident they'll be able to figure out the right mix from mid-July onward.

Of course, lightning doesn't often strike twice in the same spot.

San Jose Earthquakes

Drew 0-0 vs. SKC

Yes, they were playing without a number of regulars, but the Quakes barely threatened until the final 20 minutes despite being at home. Avaya Stadium has not been a particularly happy place recently, as San Jose have taken only two of the last nine points on offer.

They're not creating much, and they're finishing even less. After the week Jackson Yueill just had there is the chance to get a more creative player into central midfield, and with a pair of Western Conference foes visiting in the next two weeks, there is no time like the present when it comes to throwing caution to the wind. 

Sporting KC

Drew 0-0 at San Jose

They had over 60 percent possession and nearly 90 percent passing accuracy, and took almost three times as many shots as their opponents. But the concern at the start of the season – that they'd be punchless if Dom Dwyer's having a bad day – remains a very real concern now, at the halfway mark. Dwyer hasn't scored in league play since May 3, and SKC are just 2-3-3 since then.

The good news? A shutout on the road is always a good thing, and KC have been pitching a lot of them. Worth noting that the league record for shutouts is 16 by Tony Meola with KC back in 2000, and Tim Melia already has nine in just 17 games.

Toronto FC

Won 2-0 vs. D.C. United

"One of our goals this year was to get the two of them linking up more often than previous years," is what TFC head coach Greg Vanney said about Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. "This season, when we've had them, they've been a little closer together, more aware of each other. Part of that is the system: in the diamond, the attacking midfield would split the two and they would end up far apart. [That's] one of the reasons we went away from that. Now they can utilize one another."

TFC have shown balance and flexibility, and depth in the way they've ridden out an injury-plagued, tepid start to the season from Giovinco (6g/3a in 900 minutes is "tepid" by his standards). They've nonetheless managed two points per game and the league's best goal differential, and are in the final of the Canadian Championship.

Once Giovinco finds his form, what is the ceiling for this group?

Vancouver Whitecaps

Drew 1-1 vs. FC Dallas

The sooner Alphonso Davies is moved into central midfield, the happier I (and all of Canada) will be:

His comfort receiving the ball in traffic and his ability to use his first touch to cut defenders out of a play is so freaking smooth. Playing in central midfield is a big lift for a 16-year-old, but if you're good enough you're old enough.

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