A few weeks ago I opined that I'd never seen a team as good as FC Dallas just inexplicably start to crater so completely that their playoff lives became imperiled. One of the pushbacks I got for that observation was "well the Red Bulls are doing the same damn thing right now so actually you're wrong."
I wasn't, tho. First: This year's RBNY team was good, but were a constant work-in-progress. They were never supposed to be as complete and threatening, from Day 1, as Los Toros Tejanos. And for the first three months of the year, they decidedly weren't.
Second, the reason they fell off was entirely explicable: Daniel Royer got hurt. As soon as he did his knee 14 minutes into that 3-2 loss to NYCFC two months ago the Red Bulls became a different and much less dangerous team. The other guys Jesse Marsch tried in Royer's spot, as a sort of inside-right attacking midfielder/second forward/narrow winger, either weren't ready or weren't clinical or weren't playing a position at which they could excel.
It's Royer's spot, and he's played it so well that he was literally the league's player of the month back in July.
He's healthy again now. Last week in a respectable 4-2 loss at Toronto FC he grabbed a goal and an assist. On Saturday in a playoff-clinching 3-0 win over Vancouver, one that ended an eight-game winless skid, he got the game-winning goal. It came off an assist from Sacha Kljestan and a lovely dummy from Bradley Wright-Phillips, and just look...
This is why I think the Red Bulls are a darkhorse pick to do baaaaaad things to people in the playoffs. They get dynamic width from their wingbacks on both sides, and one of the league's best strikers leading the line, and in Royer they've got a secondary scoring option who operates in weird spots – teams don't quite know how to track him out of that 3-3-3-1 New York play. It makes them fun and unpredictable and in the last nine games they've started Kljestan, Royer and BWP together in that formation they're 7-2-0 with a +15 goal differential.
The still-makeshift backline can still be beat, mind you. And if you break their press they're in trouble; everything is still "high-risk, high-reward" with them.
But with Royer back and doing his thing now, they can go out there and win a few shootouts. Nobody is going to be particularly happy to see them come the postseason.
Colorado Rapids 1, FC Dallas 1: Nobody might see Dallas, at all, come the postseason. By virtue of the ruling on the Michael Barrios sub situation in Orlando and a road point in Colorado on Saturday, they're above the playoff line. But all the games in hand are gone now, the cushion over RSL is a single point, the forwards aren't scoring, the defense remains unsettled, and there's no reason to believe they won't drop points in their final two games, at Seattle next weekend and then home against LA to close the season.
Teams that give up looks like this don't do much when it matters:
Nice save from Jesse Gonzalez, but come on. Why's he having to make it anyway? That situation was totally non-threatening.
This all remains inexplicable to me. Obviously some international absences weren't great news for FCD, and obviously the locker room issues that have plagued them since early summer are still there to one extent or another. They seem certainly to have taken a toll on Maxi Urruti, who at one point had a Best XI claim but has now scored one goal in his last 21 hours on the field.
One goal in his last 21 hours.
I don't know where Dallas go from here. They should be too good for this, but quite clearly they're not.
Minnesota United 1, Sporting KC 1: First, a bit of a hat-tip to the Loons. Obviously they were never going to make the playoffs, but it took until the third-to-last weekend of the season to eliminate them, and they have claimed some scalps along the way – including Atlanta United back on Tuesday in that boy-it-had-to-be-satisfying-for-all-involved 3-2 road win. That came out of a 4-3-3 formation, while Saturday's draw against Sporting was done out of a 4-4-2. This team has looks and weapons in either, and the winter has to be at least a bit about figuring out which is the default setting for 2018.
Sporting aren't thinking about 2018 yet, obviously. They're thinking about home-field advantage in the playoffs, and how they once again managed to leave points on the table. Here's one of the problems, folks:
Diego Rubio had another nicely taken goal, but SKC's shot conversion rate is a miserable 10.9 percent, second-to-last in the league. For context, Toronto FC are a tick over 21 percent and Atlanta United are just below that number. Only three teams – D.C., Colorado and San Jose – have scored fewer goals than Sporting's 38.
If KC were defending like they had been earlier in the year, this would be less of a concern. They're not, though. The much-vaunted SKC defense has posted just one shutout in the last four months, and in that time they've gone 5-3-6 with a +4 goal differential. Not bad, and still good enough to have a grip on second place in the West plus a shot at the top if the 'Caps slip up.
Nonetheless, this is not the same team they were over the first three months of the season.