It's night two of Heineken Rivalry Week! Chicago and Columbus kicked it off by playing to a mostly cagey 1-1 draw at Bridgeview – a result that doesn't really do either team much good – while the Texas Derby produced a 1-1 draw in the nightcap.
Once again, Bobby Warshaw and I are here to try to break down what happened. We'll start in Illinois...
Bobby Warshaw (BW): That last 10 minutes was awesome. Watching a team be desperate for points is fun.
Matthew Doyle (MD): The first time I read this I thought you were talking about Crew SC and not the Fire, and I think that’s because I’ve so completely written off Chicago’s season even if they’d taken the full three points. Even if they'd won, they would've been eight points back with eight games to go, and... I mean, that just wasn't going to happen.
Now it's 10 points back with eight to go. If it wasn’t done before this result, it’s done now. Right?
BW: You know I hate this question because a win streak puts anyone back into it, but yeah, they's cooked.
MD: So let's not waste any breath on the Fire beyond saying that their lack of a central playmaker, which has been apparent most of the season, was once again apparent tonight:
They never did get that No. 10.
And now let's move onto Crew SC. Did you like what you saw?
BW: Did I like what I saw from them? No. I haven't really liked what I've seen from Columbus in a couple months (aside from that 1st half against the Red Bulls), and this was more of the same. It seems like it could be one of two things:
1) Federico Higuain got hernia surgery in mid-June, right about when Crew SC started to slip. He hasn't looked the same since returning (bouncing in and out of the starting lineup), and his team haven't been able to make up for his lack of... I'm actually not even sure how to quantify whatever it is. So for all the credit we give Crew SC's system, maybe it all depends on a brilliant individual (or what you would call "the X factor").
2) We've always applauded their control and comfort, but it looks like controlled has moved toward mechanical. They've become overly focused on the system and lost fluidity.
MD: I think that's why I mistook your initial question as being about Columbus, because if you look at the last 15 minutes of the game, Crew SC were a lot more determined to drive the ball forward, to just put numbers into the box and drive the ball in there with them. They still had a plan and still valued the ball, but weren't as mechanical or methodical as they've seemed to be over the past couple of months, and that served them fairly well.
Once they brought on a second forward and started playing a little bit desperate, Chicago suddenly weren't that comfortable defending them.
BW: You love talking about Columbus' two-forward lineup, or maybe you just love talking about Patrick Mullins, so why don't you go ahead and get it out of the way.
MD: I think he's underrated, and it was his ability to establish deep position in the box that created the equalizer. And if you look at the one good half for Crew SC that you picked out, it was the 4-4-2 against the Red Bulls.
To me that's less about Mullins than it is about going with a lineup that allows them to play direct and create penetration – hell, the 4-4-2 forces them to do that. In their typical 4-2-3-1... look, man, are we beating around the bush, here? Isn't the story of Columbus' season still that their wingers just aren't good enough?
BW: I said in the preview show that Crew SC will go as far as Justin Meram takes them. They've shown they can get to a certain level – fourth place – without him, but they've also shown they probably can't do much better than that without another attacking threat (Meram will also push them more in the 'fluid' direction if he gets his confidence back, but they would be perfectly fine if he just contributes some key plays in the final third).
MD: Yup. We came out of this game feeling the exact same way about both teams as we did coming into the game. I don't think there's much else to say about this one beyond that.
How'd you like the Texas Derby? They got themselves a draw, but that felt like a fitting end to Houston's season, more or less. A point wasn't good enough. Only thing left for them is the U.S. Open Cup final.
BW: Can we ignore everything else and just talk about Pablo Aranguiz?
This game was pretty much exactly what we'd expect from 2018 Houston and 2018 Dallas. Houston could have won but found a way to mess it up. Dallas made the game scrappy and kept it close and almost found a way to win. But the real takeaway from this game was about Dallas and their new No. 10 .
MD: Wow you usually hate No. 10s. They're your mortal enemy!
I'm all in on the talk, though, because I agree because Aranguiz is really the most important takeaway, for the same reason that Meram is the most important takeaway from Columbus: He's the guy who potentially raises the ceiling. And he has to raise the ceiling, because Dallas are not the same team they were a few months back.
They're now just 5-5-2 across all competitions since Mauro Diaz was sold. And I still support that sale – they had to do it! Couldn't risk a repeat of last year's locker-room implosion, which destroyed their season.
But man, is it a process. They need him to be good, and they need it to happen fast. What did you see that has you convinced?
BW: I'm lukewarm on 10s because they usually slow the game down so much and hurt their team's rhythm.
But Aranguiz played quickly all night. He didn't dwell on the ball. You'll point out that he didn't make any incisive plays, either, and of course that's the tradeoff with getting the ball off your foot quickly, but I trust he will find ways to do the Mauro passes as he gains confidence and learns his role in the system.
MD: Man, you’ve got a lot of trust. I see a kid with a lot of talent, but he’s not finding the ball a lot, or in the the right spots, and that worries me. Dallas need to invent chemistry in the next couple of months in order to make this happen, and that’s a big ask.
BW: For sure. I'd still prefer they play without a 10 and fully commit to the grind-and-fly style (whatever you say about their record, it seems clear to me that their best shot at beating some of these teams in the West is to let them have the ball and hit the space on the counter), but I think we are both pretty sure they are going to do their best to work Aranguiz in, and with that mind, I'm at least glad he appears to be good.
MD: This is what "grind and fly" looks like:
Dallas have scored a lot of goals recently by absorbing pressure and just clearing the ball upfield. It nearly got them the full three points tonight. It wasn't enough, but at the very least they can be happy the pretty much ended their rival's season. Not a perfect night's work, but good enough?
BW: I'd say it's a little more cultured than that, but yeah, that's a decent description.
And I imagine Dallas don't feel great. Dropped points + as you said, Houston still has a chance for a trophy. It's been a long couple months for Houston, but they still have a big cake to go for.
MD: That's a fair point, and a good point. If you're a Dynamo fan, go ahead and circle Sept. 26 on the calendar, because that's now the one date that really matters from here on out.
If you're a Dallas fan, go ahead and circle next Wednesday. That's FCD's next game, and everyone's next chance to see if Aranguiz can make the leap – and take the team with him.