Armchair Analyst: New York is Blue, no D in Dallas & more from Week 22

"New York is large, glamorous, easygoing, kindly and incurious, but above all it is a crucible."Ford Maddox Ford


Run This Town

It is fair to say that NYCFC vs. RBNY has become a true rivalry. Even the ball kids are getting into it:

New York City FC, following their 3-2 win over the visiting Red Bulls on Sunday, have officially clinched the season series – at worst they'll have won two out of three (the teams meet again on August 25th as part of the next Heineken Rivalry Week). This one was sweet for that reason, and sweet because it ended the New York Red Bulls' four-game winning streak, and sweet because it kept the Cityzens above the Red Bulls in the standings. It wasn't just a rivalry win, but a crucial win with playoff and home-field advantage implications a couple of months down the road.

It was also a reminder of who Bradley Wright-Phillips is, and who David Villa is. These two guys, who will finish their respective careers at some point on the Mount Rushmore of all-time MLS strikers, combined for all five goals on the day. NYCFC's defense, much improved this year, could not track BWP's off-the-ball movement. RBNY's, which has regressed despite their recent form, struggled with everything Villa did on the day.

Patrick Vieira was effusive. "Both teams, I believe, played well which is why I believe that everybody that was in the stands and watching on TV really enjoyed the game – that was a really good game of football, and what made it a good game of football was players like Wright-Phillips, like David, they perform at their level," he said afterward. "I have to say this game today, we have to put it in the top three best games that we played since I’ve been the coach of the team."

There's almost nothing to analyze beyond that. NYCFC played their typical game, trying to force turnovers off of high pressure, throwing numbers forward out of central midfield and on the wing, and generally trying to create enough chaos out there to pull defenders away from Villa. RBNY played their typical game, compressing space in the center of the pitch, trying to get Sacha Kljestan on the ball between the lines, and pushing both wingbacks up. Nothing we saw was surprising, save for the fact that the hosts' fullbacks really didn't move into the attack.

It all went according to script, and that meant one thing: This match came down to two of the best forwards in league history going head-to-head, and one finishing his chances just a little bit better than the other.

In the past, in this particular derby, it's been BWP who wore that crown. Thus far in 2017 it's mostly been Villa's chance to reign(*).

(*) At least in the regular season.

Also, credit to RBNY fans for showing out in Manhattan. We've seen these types of marches elsewhere, of course, but it tickles me to see it right in front of MSG:

It's fun to watch non-soccer people attempt to process soccer things.


Young Forever

When FC Dallas got stomped 4-0 by Vancouver last week, I (and others) wrote it off as the usual one-off FCD aberration. Whether it comes early in the season, in the middle or very late, Dallas are always able to produce one catastrophic defensive game per year that ends up as a featured exhibit in the Museum of WTF MLS Results.

Just one though, right? So it usually goes, but this time they followed that Vancouver loss by going to Philly and then going down 2-0 inside of 25 minutes, including this bit of attacking wizardry from the hosts:

I don't want to take anything away from the Union here, as this turned into a convincing 3-1 for them. That play had much more to do with them doing something magical than it did with Dallas being bad or a step slow or anything like that.

But Los Toros Tejanos were, nonetheless, a step too slow and too passive and disjointed at the back, and that has been the deciding factor in their last two outings. Just on this play Maynor Figueroa is too lost to put any sort of pressure on Ilsinho, and Victor Ulloa lets Haris Medunjanin trot right past him. Matt Hedges is caught in two minds, and because of that he never really commits to any course of action. Hernan Grana is, like everyone else, transfixed by the ball and never gets on the right side of C.J. Sapong

If this was a one-off, or just one game, I really would write it off. But these same tendencies – getting pulled to the ball, rotating a step slow, failing to track runners – showed themselves on the third Union goal as well. Dallas, who are a team of veterans at this point, have spent most of the last 180 minutes looking like a bunch of kids playing up a level for the first time. It's been unexpected.

It's also been enough to knock them down to third in the West standings (though they retain the top slot by a sliver in points per game). A few weeks ago it felt like, with Mauro Diaz back, they would finally kick it into high gear and start running away from the competition. Instead they've stumbled, and the pack has reeled them in.

The question, then, is "will Dallas at some point be able to just flip a switch and hit peak form?" Only once this season, in last month's 3-1 win over visiting Toronto, have they pushed out an A+ performance.

Playing their best is a habit that FCD have yet to establish for themselves in 2017. Sooner or later they'll no longer be "the Supporters' Shield-winning 2016 team plus some reinforcements," but rather "a group that's often been less than the sum of its parts."

I'm not quite there yet – I still think they'll win the West and that they're apex contenders for MLS Cup. But they're only 4W-5L-4D in regular season play since May 14, and it's possible that the switch we're all waiting for them to find will remain just out of reach.


A few more things to ponder...

9. The big news for D.C. United this past week came off the field rather than on it, as they're in the process of adding a Hungarian international DP in playmaking winger Zoltan Steiber (not official yet, but it certainly looks like it will be), and they went back to their Bolivian roots by signing 19-year-old forward Bruno Miranda. There's also this report of a 2-year, $10 million offer for Chilean hard man Gary Medel.

United fans have been waiting for news like that. Even if Medel says no, this willingness to open the purse strings has been a long time coming.

On the field, things weren't quite so unambiguously "good," even if Saturday's 1-1 draw against visiting Toronto FC is fairly classed as "better than it's been recently." The point was D.C.'s first since June 21, and brought an end to a miserable six-game losing streak.

8. Pablo Mastroeni, Face of the Week:

The Rapids had the lion's share of possession and, generally speaking, the better of the run of play right up until they took a deserved 2-1 lead in the 54th minute. Then they just dropped deep into a shell, invited Vancouver forward and eventually conceded the inevitable equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Commerce City. They had over 65 percent of possession in building a 2-1 lead, and down around 40 percent in squandering it.

"Possession" is not a substitute for "quality" and it's far from a given that the team dominating the ball is the team dominating the game. But in this one Colorado brought more quality when they had the ball than when they didn't. They didn't "dominate" the game per se, but they controlled it when they had the ball then lost control when they didn't.

So this a perfect example of a team winning by doing one thing, then utterly abandoning it as the game state changed.

Vancouver now have seven points from their last three road games, and are hanging in there in the Western Conference playoff race.

7. Probably out of the Western Conference playoff race are the LA Galaxy, who saw their hopes go up in smoke 33 minutes into what became a 3-1 loss at Portland as Diego Valeri lasered home the game-winner.

The most disappointing thing for Sigi Schmid & Co. has to be that this came after a half hour of very solid play that should've seen the Galaxy on top (Gyasi what are you doing????). Instead, they're nine points below the playoff line and just lost to one of the teams they had to pass in order to get a postseason spot.

It's hard to see a path to the playoffs for LA.

6. Anthony Jackson-Hamel's late goal rescued three points for the Impact in their 2-1 win over visiting Orlando City. Ninth-place Montreal (27 points) still have games in hand on Philadelphia (29 points), Orlando City (30 points) and Columbus (32 points). Only one of those teams – or maaaaaaaybe 10th-place New England (26 points), but probably not – will make the playoffs out of the East.

Dropping that game, or even dropping points, would've been a crushing blow for the Impact.

5. New England are probably done because of their inability to stop anybody defensively. They got worked 4-1 at Chicago, the sixth time in seven games the Revs have conceded multiple goals. 

4. Real Salt Lake generated 21 shots against a bunkered-in Houston team, but could only come away with a scoreless draw. That's because this is a map of their on-target shots:

A lot has gone right for RSL since Mike Petke took over (except for the freakin' printer), and there's not a soul in the world who could make a legit case that this team isn't better off now than they were two or three months ago. They're young and hungry and skillful, and they're getting better – they're unbeaten in five.

But they're also winless in three, and it's largely because they're leaving goals on the board with not-so-great finishing.

3. Atlanta United are remarkable. They went to Sporting KC without their best player (Josef Martinez), and with Greg Garza hurt, and they got mostly played off the field for 90 minutes. They probably shouldn't even have been in the game.

Then they pushed the tempo just a little bit, put the SKC backline under some pressure, and walked away with a 1-1 draw. There aren't a lot of teams overall – and only one expansion team since the 1998 Fire – who could go on the road and play so much less than their best but still claim a point in that scenario.

It's probably safe to assume that LAFC and every other upcoming expansion side will be looking hard at the way Tata Martino et al built that roster.

2. More and more the Western Conference looks like seven teams vying for six spots. San Jose held up their end of the bargain by getting the required 2-1 home win over visiting Crew SC on Saturday night, completing a two-game homestand with six necessary points.

Starting next Saturday, the Quakes head out on the road for four of five in a make-or-break portion of their schedule. Recall that the last time they left the cozy confines of Avaya Stadium, they dropped three straight games (at Atlanta, at RBNY, at Seattle) by a combined score of 12-3. If they're anywhere near that leaky defensively over the next month it won't even matter that they finish the season with three-of-four at home, because their season will already be over.

"It's not easy. Let's know what we're up against," head coach Chris Leitch said afterward. "Obviously before this game started we knew we had three games in a week and all three of them are really important. One of them was a home game, the next is a [US Open] Cup semifinal [Wednesday at Sporting KC], which you better believe we're going to take serious. And then the last is an away game at a really tough place to play against a really tough team at their home. So it's a good little gut-check time for us, knowing that it's an important part of the season where there's a lot on the line."

1. And finally, our Pass of the Week goes to Clint Dempsey for finding the right touch to turn a 2-v-5 into a goal, with some help from the Minnesota United central defense (volume up for analysis):

Seattle won 4-0 only because they didn't finish as well as they should've – this game could've seen eight or nine goals all told. 

Regardless, nobody in the West is as hot as the Sounders. They're unbeaten in seven, have won four of their last five and have now pitched three straight shutouts. They're up to fourth in the conference in the standings, and tied for second in points per game with a fairly friendly schedule the rest of the way.

That they've done most of the above without Ozzie Alonso, who's been injured, and without minutes from at least one of their transfer-window signings (I think by Wednesday that number will be two) speaks to the quality they were able to find within the league and from outside of it this winter. Gustav Svensson, who's been locking it down at defensive midfield in Alonso's absence, has been particularly crucial during this recent run.

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