Armchair Analyst: The cost of competing, rock bottom & more from Week 21

News broke on Sunday morning that Sounders fullback Joevin Jones, who has nine assists this season and has been a two-way force whether played on the backline or on the wing, has signed a pre-contract with SV Darmstadt 98 of the 2.Bundesliga, which will see him cross the pond and join his new team in January:

It is a painful day for Seattle fans, who've justifiably fallen in love with the Trinidad & Tobago international over the past 19 months. He was a crucial piece of their MLS Cup run last season, and he's probably been the team's best player during their down-and-up (not up-and-down) title defense. Their frustration comes from two places: 1) it stinks to lose any good player, but especially one in his prime; and 2) it stinks to lose any player for free.

But losing Jones for free was kind of a fait accompli given where he is in his career and in his contract. Seattle couldn't have sold him last winter –they had to keep him this year in order to make a credible run at defending their title, and given the age and construct of the roster "defending their title" justifiably took precedence over "making a bit of money on the transfer market." Keeping a championship window open takes investment and risk, and in this case the risk of identifying, acquiring and integrating a new player, and hoping said player could be the difference-maker Jones is, was too much to take on during what was already a busy winter.

To put it another way: Selling Jones last winter would've significantly reduced Seattle's ceiling for 2017 while adding a whole host of new variables to their team-building equation. Best XI-caliber fullbacks don't grow on trees, and selling him would've netted a max of $650,000 of allocation money. On paper you can make that justification, but Seattle's title defense isn't playing out on paper and the short version of the calculus is "no, $650k isn't quite enough to potentially close the window a little bit early."

There are degrees of uncertainty at play here. Seattle management went with the certainty that Jones would be a high-level contributor for 2017.

So yeah, enjoy Jones for the next couple of months, Sounders fans. Take solace in the fact that keeping him has meant a better chance at making it back-to-back cups, and that his heir apparent, 20-year-old Nouhou Tolo, looks the part of a starting left back in this league for years to come. That includes a nice performance on Saturday night against Romain Alessandrini in Seattle's 0-0 draw at LA.


The Old Gods and the New

Sigi Schmid re-debuted as Galaxy head coach in that scoreless draw, and the "scoreless" part means that hey, it was an improvement. But it was still a disappointing result, and in the postgame presser Schmid hit on the very thing that's plagued the Galaxy's attack all season.

"I think our ball movement needs to get quicker and that will help our offense. I think we possess the ball and sometimes we connect passes, I don't know what our passing accuracy was but it was decent," Schmid said. "But it has to move quicker because we have players in [Giovani] Dos Santos, Alessandrini, [Emmanuel] Boatang and even [Gyasi] Zardes who can take people on and beat people, but the difference of the a half-second and getting the ball to them and not to them is the difference of them being able to beat people or not, so that is the part I like.”

This version of the Galaxy have been, all season, polar opposites of the great 2014 squad that set scoring records and played some of the quickest, most incisive and most attractive soccer the league's ever seen. It's not that this team lacks talent, but quite clearly cohesion and purpose playing back-to-front have been lacking.

Often in these instances it's the younger players who struggle, but for LA the veterans have to take a good share of the blame. Jelle Van Damme and Jermaine Jones are particularly susceptible to getting frustrated and starting to hit "hero" passes instead of using the ball to break the game down and open it up. This mindset also translates on the other side of the field:

Jones's instinct to re-press in transition isn't bad, in and of itself, but he does so without checking to see where his midfield partner, Joao Pedro, happens to be. And thus when Jones gets beat, Pedro is left stranded chasing ghosts in a series of 2-v-1s until Van Damme does Van Damme things and earns himself a second booking of the night.

I don't know exactly how Schmid's going to break these guys of these habits, given Jones and Van Damme will be a combined 70 years old once the playoffs begin. It seems late to try to teach old dogs new tricks.

The result is that LA have played like "a collection of individuals" rather than as a "team" all season long, and now they head into the stretch run seven points below the playoff line and in need of something close to a miracle in order to keep playing into November.


The Night Lands

D.C. United, last season, conjured the type of miracle the Galaxy need this year. They will not be reprising the feat in 2017.

The Black-and-Red dropped their sixth straight on Saturday at Minnesota United, going down 4-0. They were never in it; it was never close; at no time did they look like coming back; nobody on the field for D.C. had a good game; the regular season is, for all intents and purposes, over.

This was the third time in four games they've conceded four goals. In the other, last weekend's home loss to Houston, they shipped three in the first 17 minutes and then the Dynamo took their foot off the gas.

There's a lot going wrong for D.C. – everything from goalkeeper to forward. But the first and most obvious is an inability to get pressure to the opposition's No. 1 playmaking option. Last week Alex had three assists for Houston, and this week Kevin Molino had two for Minnesota. The worst part is that those guys aren't getting their numbers from brilliant individual play or sophisticated combination play, but rather from simply drifting into central midfield and unlocking everything:

That's Molino's map from Saturday. Green arrows are completed passes, red incomplete, yellow indicates a key pass (a pass that leads to a shot), and blue arrows are assists. If you let any MLS playmaker set up shop right there, you're gonna have a bad time.

And so that's exactly what the four-time champs are having. D.C. are the only team in the league picking up less than one point per game, they're closing in on the Loons for the worst by-the-numbers defense in the league, and their -24 goal differential is eight worse than anybody else.

The time to make a run has come and gone. Now it's become time to figure out which youngsters can really be a part of the rebuild that is surely due this offseason, and which veterans have enough left in the tank to add depth, locker room stability and future value. 


A few more things to ponder...

9. I wrote about Dom Dwyer's debut for Orlando City on Saturday in a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United. OCSC are having something close to the same problems as D.C. in that they struggle to get pressure to the ball in central midfield and aren't quite as slick as they need to be in possession even when they switch to a 4-2-3-1 and try to go even on numbers in the middle of the pitch.

8. Philadelphia beat Columbus 3-0 at home midweek behind a goal and two assists from C.J. Sapong, then lost 3-0 at New England on Saturday. In that latter game Union head coach Jim Curtin gave us our Face of the Week:

That's the look of a man in search of a No. 10.

I've written it a million times, as have the local scribes covering the Union: This team lacks a playmaker, and it's killing them. So much of the creative burden falls on Sapong that teams who sell out to contain him end up containing the Union as a whole.

Philly are six points behind the sixth-placed Crew SC and have a game in hand, so their story's maybe not yet completely written. If they put together a four-game winning streak like the one they had in May, they'll be right back into the thick of things. But that feels like a big ask of a team that struggles to generate anything on the road and has yet to develop a Plan B in attack.

7. Columbus didn't waste their week of road trips, following up that loss in Philly with a 2-2 draw at RSL. They're in a stretch in which they play four-of-five on the road, and thus far they're 1-1-1 outside of Ohio during that trip. It's not great, but it's been enough to keep them in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

6. Portland stayed fourth in the West – though sixth in points per game – following a 2-2 draw at Houston. The Timbers got another great game from Diego Valeri:

But they also blew two leads, and coughed up more points in the final 10 minutes, which leaves them at -10 for the season. There is frustration in Portland right now.

Still, the Timbers have lost just once in their last six, just took four points from a crucial two-game road trip against West foes, and now have three of four at home. If they do what they're supposed to, they'll go into the final two months of the season not looking to make a run, but rather to simply hold the line. They have more than enough talent to make that a reality.

5. One of the teams Portland will be attempting to hold the line against are the Earthquakes, who rode a Nick Lima thunderbolt to a 1-0 home win over Colorado. That snapped San Jose out of a three-game losing streak, and was the first shutout under new head coach Chris Leitch.

4. Currently not holding the line, but instead indulging in something close to a "patented summertime run" are the New York Red Bulls, who stomped the hell out of Montreal by 4-0 at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. They out-possessed the Impact 69% to 31%, and out-shot them 24-5. They've won four straight and five of six, and scored multiple goals in each of those five wins.

All five, though, came against teams below the playoff line. Their only loss since mid-June was 2-0 against NYCFC, a game that the Cityzens dominated back on June 24. Next week's trip to Yankee Stadium is going to be a litmus test for RBNY, especially since the Blue side of NY will be playing angry...

3. Because they went to Toronto and got clobbered 4-0 on Sunday. The Reds drove right at the spot that Andrea Pirlo was not able to defend:

This season has proved to be a mostly sad ending to Pirlo's remarkable career. Expect Yangel Herrera, who will return from suspension, to be back in the starting lineup for NYCFC next week.

2. The Reds pushed their Supporters' Shield lead to five points because the Men in Red went to Sporting KC and came away with their second straight defeat, going down 3-2.

SKC didn't go with the straight-up, high and hard pressure that we're used to seeing from them in this one. Perhaps it was out of respect for Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho and Dax McCarty's collective ability to find runners over the top of the press, or perhaps it was out of desire to sit back and let their own wingers get loose on the counter.

Whatever the reasoning, Sporting looked vibrant and explosive as 20-year-old Latif Blessing and 21-year-old Daniel Salloi both got on the board.

1. And finally, FC Dallas saved their annual inexplicably crushing home defeat for late July this year instead of getting it out of the way in March or April. Vancouver throttled them 4-0, and the final goal of the game produced our Pass of the Week:

A reminder that "Pass of the Week" isn't "Best Pass of the Week," but rather something I use to try to illustrate something I've been thinking about or noticing. And one of those things is that in our league teams have become more and more comfortable using throw-ins to push the tempo (ask the Sounders about this now that Kelvin Leerdam is on board), so if you put your head down you run the risk of having the above happen to you.

Credit to Nicolas Mezquida, of course, for the run and the highlight-reel finish. But credit, too, to Sheanon Williams for staying aware and aggressive, and for making the kind of play that teams often spurn.

There is no rule in place that says "3-0 is good enough." The best teams in the league are out there trying to hang six on you every single week, and it looks like the memo has been passed down the table.

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