Only three games during this international weekend, and only one midweek game. If you're interested in reliving that one (a 1-0 Revs win at NYCFC), HERE is the conversation Bobby Warshaw and I had that evening.
As for the weekend, let's head back to the Bronx...
First, let's listen to Domè Torrent:
“When I say anytime that I want to create a style, the style is the way they played tonight. Keep the ball, create chances, play inside, after that play outside, but after that the sport in general is about the result and the result is not good for us because we missed five points in the last two games in Yankee Stadium. I think it's not fair for us. We didn't deserve to lose the game and then draw the game but in football if you are able to score, you win, but if you are not able to score you're in trouble. I said to them I'm really proud of you because you played really well. At the end if you are able to play that way every single game, you are ready to play in the playoffs."
Next, let's listen to Anton Tinnerholm:
“I’d rather take a win when we’re playing [poorly] than a point where we’re playing fantastic.”
And now let's take a look at the expected goal map from this weekend's game, in which the result was rescued by a late (and spectacular) David Villa free kick:
A single chance with better than a 7% chance of turning into a goal... pic.twitter.com/JrJ2Fm97Z0— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) September 8, 2018
The above is by way of saying that I don't entirely agree with Domè's analysis. And it'd be dishonest to say that this run of poor results – just one win and six points from eight games – is only a blip, since 1) we're talking about nearly 1/4 of the whole season, and 2) it's the worst eight-game stretch since April and May of 2015, when NYCFC were an expansion team. Something's broken.
I'm not sure I can diagnose it beyond "they're a little too content to hit long balls from the back" and "they're playing a little too slowly and uncertainly in the attacking third." Given their overall talent and approach you can do that against teams like D.C. or the Revs and push them back into a shell, but unless you're clicking you won't be able to crack them open.
It's been that way for two months on the blue side of New York. No idea when/if it will change.
As for D.C. ... I'm sure they'd have rather held onto the win, but a point on the road and seven straight at home means they control their own playoff destiny, full stop. This weekend was ugly, but job done.
If you'd made a pregame checklist of what to expect out of this one, you'd probably have gotten most correct:
- Sporting outshot Orlando by a 2-to-1 margin (16-8)
- Sporting outpossessed them 58%-42%
- The Purple Lions only created chances on the break, twice finding Dom Dwyer over the top (Tim Melia was up to the task both times)
- An SKC frontline missing the three starters too often settled for hopeful crosses (they hit 27, and completed just two) because they lacked chemistry
- There were a bunch of Roger Espinoza and Will Johnson-centric midfield collisions
I don't think there's a ton to analyze beyond that. Orlando City have now taken just five of the last 54 points available to them, so SKC – even without four starters – should be expected to almost entirely control the game. And so they did.
Two notes. First: This marked Melia's 12th shutout of the season. He'd need five in his team's lasts seven games to break the league record of 16, set by Tony Meola back in 2000.
Second: I understand James O'Connor's decision to go to the 4-3-2-1, as it's really shored up a defense that was on track to be the worst in league history. But once you go down a goal, you've got to throw a little bit of caution to the wind by making some aggressive subs. So far he's been reluctant to do that, and... five points from the last 54 on offer kind of says it all.
Another result that falls squarely into the status quo. Yes, the Timbers were missing a few players, but so to were the Rapids. No excuses for Portland!
And they didn't need excuses. They did what they usually try to do and are best at – conceding possession, drawing the opposing backline up and then running into space – and the Rapids obliged. It was a no-doubter.
That said, Portland have found a way to drop these types of results before. I'm old enough to remember when they were running Lucas Melano out in crucial spots:
That was last week's Face of the Week. Here's what that play looks like when Jeremy Ebobisse's on the end of it:
That's obviously this week's Face of the Week. Ebobisse, in his first start of the year, probably should've had two goals. His hold-up play was at times very good, and his movement was mostly pretty sharp as play was unfolding. If there's one thing he clearly needs to work on, it's making some of those runs earlier – before play unfolds at all – in order to help unclog packed-in defenses and create new passing angles for the midfield when it's in possession, but truth be told 90 percent of MLS center forwards need to work on that.
It's definitely fair to ask why Ebobisse hadn't been playing more (at all, actually) during a brutal August stretch in which Portland couldn't buy a goal. Samuel Armenteros has gone ice cold, with just one goal in the past 1.5 months, while Melano and Dairon Asprilla are subpar finishers. By one measure Melano is the fifth-worst high-volume shooter in MLS history, while Asprilla is the very worst.
Ebobisse now has 2g/3a in 400 MLS minutes. He's not about to threaten Josef Martinez in the Golden Boot chase, but he sure seems to have a better idea of where the goal is than two of the three other options on the roster.
If Portland start scoring again they've got a halfway decent shot at playing themselves into a top two spot in the West, or at the very least into a home game in the Knockout Round. If they miss out on either/both, they can look back on their offensive catastrophe throughout August as the reason why.
We're dipping down into the USL for our Pass of the Week, courtesy of Atlanta United's Andrew Carleton:
He was on... pic.twitter.com/XirH1DA7qr— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) September 9, 2018