Most teams have hit the halfway point of their schedule, making it a good time to take stock of the year so far through two key questions:
- What has each team done well?
- How has each team struggled?
With input from Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle, here's a quick breakdown of the Good and the Bad of every MLS team thus far in 2018.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Honestly, it’s everything. Atlanta United have struggled a touch against 50/50 teams and don’t have a great record against playoff teams, but by the eye test – and most numbers – they’re the best team in MLS.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Dictating a game when the opponent forces them to control the ball. Atlanta have dropped points against New England, the Red Bulls, and Portland, all teams that shape their gameplan around forcing mistakes from the opposition.
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Getting the most out of unheralded young players. The Fire have given major minutes to four rookies and devised game plans to effectively mix inexperienced youth with proven stars.
- BAD: [Doyle] Allowing soft goals. Even when they “play well” and win, they have a knack for giving away cheapies that have cost them points. And it’s not just a goalkeeper issue.
Columbus Crew SC
- GOOD: [Doyle] Understanding and trusting their system. Columbus are all on the same page, all the time, and because of that they go out there game after game and get consistent performances from pretty much everyone.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Finishing goal scoring opportunities. Crew SC rank ninth in the league in Chances Created per 90, but they have the worst shots-on-target percentage, resulting in the 10th-lowest goals scored total.
- GOOD: [Doyle] The Rapids often allow their most creative player, left wingback Edgar Castillo, free rein to push forward.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Taking too long when building their attacks. Colorado are a counterattacking and/or direct team that doesn’t appear to have any pre-designed patterns for direct play or counter attacks.
- GOOD: [Warshaw] FC Dallas does well disrupting opponents in midfield and controlling the rhythm of the game.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Too much tinkering with their lineup and formation. Keep that up and they aren’t going to adequately hone any single approach.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Bringing out the best out of Darren Mattocks. He's always had the talent, but never the consistency. D.C. have asked him to find space and finish, and he’s mostly been doing it.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Managing games to stop the bleeding. United have started games well, but when they lose control of the game, they haven’t found ways to regain a grasp on the match.
- GOOD: [Warshaw] The Dynamo are good at applying pressure on the opposing defenders from a middle block. Pressing from the middle block opposed to higher up the field gives the more space to sprint into when they win it.
- BAD: [Doyle] Weak subs and poor late-game defending. Houston tend to invite too much pressure over the final 15 minutes of games, and they’re not equipped to handle that – it’s cost them points.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Collecting the points they should. The Galaxy have gone 3-1-2 against non-playoff teams, and given how much their schedule softens in the second half, they’ve got a decent shot at making the postseason.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Transitioning once they lose the ball. The Galaxy may be the worst team in the league (along with Orlando) at fighting to win the ball back as soon as they lose it, giving opponents an easy outlet to move into open space.
- GOOD: [Warshaw] LAFC do well at creating opportunities for throughballs. They get the ball to creative players in good areas of the field, and then make rehearsed runs off the ball to provide options for slipped passes between defenders – per Opta, they lead the league in through balls attempted.
- BAD: [Doyle] Adventure time at the back with Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman. Both guys are relentlessly aggressive defenders – not a bad thing – but it’s led to a bunch of missed tackles and losses against fleet-footed attacking teams like Portland, Dallas, Atlanta.
Minnesota United FC
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Minnesota excels at flowing movements and passing connections between their front four. When Miguel Ibarra, Darwin Quintero, and Christian Ramirez are connecting, they are fun to watch.
- BAD: [Doyle] Zone 14 protection. Nobody in the league has been worse about protecting the patch of real estate just in front of the central defense. The Loons just never make it difficult to play there, which is both a structural and personnel-based concern.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Adjusting their too-leaky defense. The Impact have smartly pulled the central midfield into a tight, three-man shell in order to clog up passing lanes and protect the defense. Four shutouts in five, now . . .
- BAD: [Warshaw] Not sticking to the obvious plan. The recipe for Montreal should be simple – stay tight defensively and give Ignacio Piatti a chance to hit teams on the counter – but given they went away from it for two months before, it's hard to think they won't deviate again.
New England Revolution
- GOOD: [Warshaw] The Revs have pressed opposing defenders and forced turnovers in opportune spots.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Not slowing down opponents who break the press. In those situations, the Revs struggle to prohibit teams from getting balls into the box, and then also cleaning up the service once it gets there.
New York City FC
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Scoring creativity. NYCFC have more ways to score goals and, consequently, win games than anyone else in the league: they can score reliably from long possession, swift counters, set pieces, counterpressing and 1-v-1 situations, not to mention the occasional unplanned wonder goal.
- BAD: [Doyle] Not getting pressure to the ball in central midfield. NYCFC did it last season, and the lack of it is making them easier to play against (and through) in 2018. Yangel Herrera looks, at this point, like he’s irreplaceable.
NY Red Bulls
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Turning forced turnovers into goalscoring opportunities. The Red Bulls make quick, intelligent, accurate passes as soon as they win possession that catch the opponent before they’ve recovered.
- BAD: [Doyle] Not solving a bunker. New York had Chivas dead to rights in the CCL, and had Chicago on the ropes in April, and … nope. This is the same reason we've seen them go out in the playoffs year after year.
Orlando City SC
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Individual talent. OCSC can field many as six players who can make something out of nothing and win a game single-handedly.
- BAD: [Doyle] Not staying connected – on either side of the ball. Largely this stems from too much 1-v-1 play in the attack. Orlando have been spreading the game out and hoping one of the wide players could make it work (Spoiler alert: They haven’t).
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Restricting space in the most important parts of the field. They consistently make it difficult for opponents to play in front of the center backs and behind the center backs.
- BAD: [Doyle] Not carrying the game. So far, Portland have seven wins on the season, and six of them have been by a goal. A win’s a win, but as Colorado proved in 2016, that sort of approach eventually catches up to you.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Having a system and trusting it. The Union have made refinements (especially on the attacking side of the ball) and have become a hard out, with a quality win over the Red Bulls in U.S. Open Cup play – as well as a puncher’s chance at a playoff spot.
- BAD: [Doyle] Finishing. CJ Sapong and David Accam have both endured season-long nightmares in front of goal. Either of those guys finish their looks at even a below-average rate, and they’re probably got 5 or 6 more points, and a big jump up the standings.
Real Salt Lake
- GOOD: [Doyle] Young players stepping up. Several have claimed jobs after a tough start to the season. Competition for spots is always a good thing, even if some veterans get their feathers ruffled.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Tracking opposing attackers. Particularly as they make deep runs from midfield into RSL’s box.
San Jose Earthquakes
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Wide players finding the ball in the half-spaces. When the Quakes are at their best, Vako and Magnus Eriksson tuck inside and find the ball to either combine or turn and run at opposing defenses.
- BAD: [Doyle] Lots of different directions to go here, but the big one: The front four does not defend hardly at all, and because of that, the largely out-manned back six is left to constantly scramble and try to put out fires. It’s been … insufficient.
- GOOD: [Doyle] The possession … on occasion. There are times where the Sounders put enough skill players on the field to really do a nice job of pinging the ball around. In those moments – which are too few and far between – they can be fun to watch, and fairly effective.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Not having a clear plan when attacking. Sometimes they are a patient possession team, sometimes they attack quickly, and too often one player is thinking the former while a teammate wants to do the latter. It leaves them kicking the ball out of bounds.
Sporting Kansas City
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Passing. SKC use the ball to move around opposing defenses and then attack the gaps after they’ve been opened. Sporting lead the league in passes completed per 90, as well as passes into the attacking third and passes within the attacking third.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Dealing with crosses from the wide areas. Even though they’ve conceded the third-fewest goals in MLS, they have been susceptible when crosses come in with runners attacking from the top of the box.
- GOOD: [Warshaw] Breaking the lines with passes and then turning to attack opposing defenses. TFC don’t do anything fancy in possession, they just are excellent at bypassing opposing defenders and not wasting the chance to continue forward.
- BAD: [Doyle] Finishing. There are a bunch of reasons why TFC are nowhere near as good as last year – sloppy errors at the back, injuries, untimely gaffes from Alex Bono – but Sebastian Giovinco hasn’t scored an open play goal in MLS since last August, and nobody’s picked up Jozy Altidore’s slack.
- GOOD: [Doyle] Attacking on the counter. Vancouver found themselves an identity in late spring, using inside-out diagonals to become one of the league’s most fearsome counterattacking teams. It’s not always going to work, but when it does it’s awesome to watch.
- BAD: [Warshaw] Not getting pressure on the ball or keeping tight spaces between their defensive lines. It's a bad combination when you want to be a defend-and-counter team; they are bottom three in goals conceded and have given up at least two goals in six of their last eight games.