Welcome to the ESPN+ era. Let's dive in...
Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City
Over the last two weeks Orlando City have won back-to-back games – in dramatic, almost preposterous fashion – for the first time in nearly a year. They've done it by toggling through formations (diamond 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 to a box-ish 4-4-2) and tossing one of the league's more robust collections of attacking talent onto the field at any given time.
The defense, meanwhile, has been a tire fire. No one on the backline has been average or better this season, and the defensive midfield combo of Will Johnson and Yoshi Yotun has not offered anywhere near enough protection.
Perhaps all of the above is what the Union need in order to get their attack untracked. Philly have scored just three goals all season, and only one (Alejandro Bedoya's headed equalizer last week) at even strength. It's been no bueno, and Bedoya said as much after the game (and yeah, I kind of wonder how that will play in the locker room).
Two things I want to point out here: Philly have gotten a decent amount of decent chances this year. C.J. Sapong and David Accam have combined for 20 shots inside the box, and have scored just one of them. Even if you factor in that shots off of crosses have a lower percentage chance of going in than shots created vs. other methods, that's an abject scoring rate. They have a combined expected goals total of 3.79 and managed to score just once.
Second is that the best method of creating a chance that's got a high percentage of hitting the back of the net is to hit on a breakaway. Of the Union's 52 shots this year, zero have come from that method.
They need to play through the lines a little bit. When Sapong checks back to the play, Accam needs to dive inside into the gap his movement creates. And it probably wouldn't kill Borek Dockal to make a direct run every now and then, either.
Update: Orlando's potent attack beat out Philly's wavering lineup, as the Lions won 2-0.
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LAFC
We've written so much about LAFC already this year because 1) they're an expansion team, and it's fun to take apart a new toy, and 2) they've been fascinating. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about them is the paradox at the heart of how they play, namely: They are a team whose best defense is their ability to pass and possess the ball, yet they seem to play better – more purposeful and dangerous – when they're not getting a lot of possession.
I think that's the reason so many of their games have felt so open.
The 'Caps are still the 'Caps. They don't play open games, and that's by design. They're still hitting a ton of long balls (amongst the league leaders) and a ton of crosses (amongst the league leaders), and they don't possess much at all (fourth from bottom at 41.74%). They are a very British team in approach, and Kei Kamara's willingness to be a target in every phase of the game lets that happen without it being weird.
That said, this team has an X-factor previous Vancouver teams have not: Alphonso Davies. He's not quite the finished product yet, but every time he's on the ball the three closest defenders are in danger of getting dunked on:
70' - Canadian Alphonso Davies outwaits the keeper on a superb effort, but it's all for not after the play was reviewed and it was determined that there was a hand ball. @WhitecapsFC and @ColumbusCrewSC are still deadlocked at 1-1. #WhitecapsFC pic.twitter.com/iaOgzN7ynW— TSN (@TSN_Sports) March 31, 2018
This was called back for a handball, but you get the idea. He's attempted 44 dribbles, which leads the league. He's completed 30 of them, which leads the league. That success rate of just over 68 percent is absurd – general rule of thumb is that anything over 40% is actually pretty good. For high-volume attacking dribblers, Darlington Nagbe has long been the gold standard in MLS, and last year was his best ever at 65 percent.
Davies is starting to attach end product to his work as well. He's got 1g/2a in 464 minutes, and isn't settling for no-hoper crosses from the sideline as much as he did in the season's first two weeks.
You still gameplan for the 'Caps the same way you have done the last couple of years. But Davies is slowly changing that.
Update: Davies had one sharp shot in the first half that forced a save, but LAFC pulled ahead in the second half to win 2-0.
New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact
With the Impact coming off of last week's dispiriting 4-0 loss at New England and the Red Bulls surely suffering from a Concacaf Champions League hangover... I really have no idea here. I do know, however, that Ignacio Piatti has long been able to conjure special performances in Harrison.
Colorado Rapids vs. Toronto FC
Let's face it: TFC have no choice but to treat this as a test for their USL side, as well as a type of tune-up for Victor Vazquez, Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga – three regular starters who've spent most of the past month hurt, but are working their way back to fitness in time for the CCL final. I wouldn't be shocked to see all three of them sub in as a group just past the hour mark.
They're very good at getting goals gifted to them early this season (as are Columbus and Chicago, for what it's worth). I'm not sure if it's their system (though I don't think it is, as they're not exactly pressing teams into mistakes out there) or just some early season small-sample-size theatre that they've taken advantage of. Either way they're kind of breaking the model right now and it's amusing.
It should also serve them well against what I'm imagining will be a very young and/or rusty Reds team.
Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy
I don't think playing him at sweeper is a reasonable long-term solution as it leaves them too vulnerable defensively and too bereft of playmaking ability in midfield. They need Homegrown rookie CB Grant Lillard to be ready. Now.
After re-watching last week's 2-0 home loss to SKC, I've come to this conclusion: The Galaxy need to mostly do what they did in that game, except faster. They generated more than 20 shots, hit the woodwork a bunch and forced Tim Melia into a Player of the Week performance. Pressing forward a half-step quicker could've/would've made those gaps fractionally wider, and when that happens players of the quality of Ola Kamara and Zlatan Ibrahimovic put the ball in the net.
D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew SC
I'm willing to call this a mini-slump for Columbus, who've lost two straight and won just once in their last four after blazing out of the gate this year. That one win? It was 3-1 over... yeah it was over D.C. United.
The outstanding feature of that game was, as it often is with Columbus, how high the Crew SC fullbacks got:
When they play like that they basically envelop you and force your defense into constant scramble mode. If you come out to meet them and deny service, you allow the Columbus attackers more running lanes to hit and pockets of space to operate in.
D.C. are 0-3-2, have the league's third-worst defensive record, and don't play another home game for three months. They probably need to win this one or 2018 could get away from them before they even set foot in Washington, D.C.
New England Revolution vs. FC Dallas
1+1+1 should equal three points for the home team. We shall see.
Portland Timbers vs. Minnesota United FC
This game should mark the debut of MNUFC's first-ever Designated Player, Colombian attacker Darwin Quintero. He's most often been played as a winger in his long and successful Liga MX career, though he's also played at times as a second forward. He is fast and fun, has a penchant for scoring bangers from outside the box and absolutely tormented MLS defenders for both Santos Laguna and Club América in CCL over the past seven years:
Darwin Quintero has had great success against #MLS teams in #CCL, with both #SantosLaguna and #ClubAmérica. He has 7 goals + 4 assists vs #MLS teams in his career and terrorized backlines with pace and trickery (he also got a red card and sparked a brawl vs #TFC in 2012). #MNUFC pic.twitter.com/MabNIOSi4x— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 31, 2018
This is not a fun prospect for a Portland defense that's struggled all season no matter the team shape or personnel.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Houston Dynamo
I think I'm going to do a deep dive on the Quakes after this weekend. They're a team who I thought would be better than they have been – they have talent at every stop from front to back, they're capable of playing some attractive soccer (as Magnus Eriksson's goal last weekend showed), and their results haven't been bad.
But they also haven't been good, and that's why Mikael Stahre is talking about making some lineup changes. The big issue for me has been in central midfield, where Florian Jungwirth has been meh and Anibal Godoy has been actively bad. We're getting deep into the weeds here, but let me link you to the Expected Goal Chain page on AmericanSoccerAnalysis. Toy around with it a bit and you'll see that, in terms of measurable contribution to the attack, Godoy ranks below pretty much all of the league's starting midfielders and most of the league's starting center backs.
He does not, and has not moved the ball well. In this case the eye test matches the underlying numbers that the nerds have cobbled together.
Same, to be honest, with Houston. The eye test says they've played well, but 1) they can't defend on the break because they're slow at the back, and 2) they can't finish. And lo-and-behold, nobody's given up more fastbreak goals and nobody's squandered more big chances.
Sporting KC vs. Seattle Sounders
|Club||Big Chance Created||Big Chance Scored||Big Chance Missed|
|NY Red Bulls||12||9||4|
|Real Salt Lake||7||3||8|
Atlanta United vs. NYCFC
Easily the most interesting match-up, tactically or otherwise, of the weekend. NYCFC had huge success midweek by tinkering with using Jesus Medina as a false 9 – basically just stationing him in the gap between RSL's central midfield and defense and letting a pair of inverted wingers run inside off of him. They won 4-0 and the visitors were never in the game, not for a single second.
I don't necessarily expect to see that again in this one. David Villa made his return to action after a month, and that should mean Medina can return to his more natural winger role. But it's a good club for Patrick Vieira to have in his bag (and let's all remember that Villa pretty famously played as an inverted winger off a false 9 himself for that 2011 Barcelona team that won the Champions League).
Atlanta United, meanwhile, have in part flipped their identity from 2017. Last year they were about pinning teams into the defensive third and forcing defenders to scramble back toward their own goal. This year they're holding the ball deeper, building from the back and trying to pull defenders upfield:
That's provided them with acres of space to attack pretty regularly. And when Atlanta get space to attack, they put the ball in the net.
Feel free to enjoy this one even if you hate both teams. Good soccer is its own reward.
One more thing to ponder...
Be right down!
Happy weekending, everybody.