Victor Rodriguez - Seattle Sounders - blows a kiss
USA Today Sports

Warshaw: Running the rule over Wednesday's MLS action

There were three games Wednesday night, all with playoff implications. Here are a couple notes on all six teams to roundup the night:

D.C. United 1, Toronto FC 0

For United, aside from Wayne Rooney making me write “omfg” to three different friends after his game-winning free kick

  • A low-key thing D.C. should feel good about is their flexibility with lineup choices. They can play different types of players within the same formation for different needs. On Wednesday night, Chris Durkin, Zoltan Stieber, and Nick DeLeon started. Sunday, it might be Junior Moreno, Ulises Segura, and Paul Arriola in their spots. Alternate lineups, alternate skill sets, without a drop in overall quality. As a result, the team can maintain its general style and principles while also adjusting for specific opponents.
  • We don’t think about possession enough for how it makes players feel. Touching the ball feels good. Every time a player puts his foot on the soccer ball, he feels a spurt of happiness. Sometimes you should pass the ball just to make players feel good; it builds energy and confidence. Even though that individual pass doesn’t matter, the fact that the player feels happy and confident will matter when it’s time to make a more decisive play. One reason Luciano Acosta has been so good over the last couple months (aside from the Rooney fella) is that he’s been getting lots of extra, seemingly needless touches.
  • For Toronto FC, the biggest difference between the Michael Bradley of 2018 and the Michael Bradley of 2017 appears to be the ability to get his body to do the “hard” things. The hard things on a soccer field aren’t tekkers skills; they are the tasks you have to dig into your heart to complete. Imagine those last three pushups when your arms are shaking and it feels like you can’t possibly push anymore and you have to make a conscious decisions to push through the pain. In soccer, those are acts like defensive transitions, sticking a toe in for a second or third time on a challenge, and moving your feet when someone tries to beat you 1v1.
  • Watch this foul that Bradley concedes that leads to Rooney’s free kick. He doesn’t move his feet to get a better defensive angle to cut off the passing angle; he doesn’t seem interested to fight with Yamil Asad for the next two yards. He makes the easy decision.

I’ll die on the hill that Bradley has been under-appreciated by US national team fans for years. But he hasn’t been the same in 2018.

  • Lucas Janson has been a good addition for Toronto. He’s a different type of player for them. For as amazing as they were last year, they didn’t have someone with his change of pace and energy off the bench. He didn’t score on Wednesday, but he stressed out D.C.’s center backs. It’s unclear whether Janson is win-a-Cup-as-a-starter good, but he’s certainly a nice third option behind Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

Orlando 1, Seattle 2

Victor Rodriguez and Handwalla Bwana got the goals tonight for Seattle, so…

  • Rodriguez is finally showing why the Sounders made a TAM-level investment on him. He’s comfortable on the ball and uses his low center of gravity to glide past defenders. More importantly to this specific Sounders team, he’s makes smart, dangerous runs off the ball. I highlight the word dangerous. Cristian Roldan and Nico Lodeiro have excellent movement, but it’s usually not directly dangerous toward goal. Lodeiro and Roldan often move to find the ball to feet or to make room for teammates, and Rodriguez makes that action into a goal scoring position. Rodriguez offers counter movements to the other players in his line on the field that makes the Sounders more dangerous.
  • Like Rodriguez, Bwana offers something unique that the Sounders might need in the playoffs. Bwana can change a game; he’s fast, fearless, and unpredictable. He’s not clean enough to be a starter yet, but he has the ability to do game-changing moments. If Seattle need a goal late in a game, Bwana is a nice option to turn to.
  • Seattle are now three points back of Sporting KC and LAFC, and Seattle have Houston and San Jose left on the schedule. SKC play Dallas and LAFC, while LAFC have Sporting and Vancouver. Considering at least one of SKC or LAFC need to drop points when they play each other, Seattle has a real shot of getting *at least* home field advantage for the Knockout Round.
  • Orlando scored! It was their first goal in more than five games. And they actually carried the match in the second half and maybe deserved an equalizer.
  • Matt Doyle sent me a message after Seattle’s first goal, “Dude, Orlando’s defense…” He’s right. I don’t have much to say about Orlando at this point, so let’s break down how that conversation (shouting match) probably went down in the locker room at half time. Here’s the goal to refresh your memory:

It’s Scott Sutter at right back, Shane O’Neill at right center back, Lamine Sane at left center back, and Will Johnson at left back.

O’Neill: “Lamine, where were you going?! Why did you get dragged out so far!?”

Sane: “What do you want me to do?! The guy got beyond Will! If I didn’t slide over, that runner was in on goal! You should have seen that and moved central to cover the space!”

 

O’Neill: “I couldn’t slide over! I had an attacker to my right! If I had come closer to you, the guy to my right would have been in!”

 

At which point both center backs should have turned to Sutter to yell “And what were you doing?!!!”

 

To which Sutter wouldn’t have a good answer. He has no reason to be so far wide on the weak side. The basic rule says the weak-side defender should be inside an imaginary line to the far post on a play like this. If the ball goes to an attacker that far wide, the defense can deal with it. If Sutter is tighter to the middle, he’s closer to the Seattle player that’s pinning O’Neill to his spot, then O’Neill could move central and track Rodriguez’s run down the middle.

We are too critical on professional players for some things. This is something we should be more critical of players for. This is an elementary tactical mistake from Sutter and the Orlando City defense.

Vancouver 1, Sporting KC 4

  • At the 60-minute mark, I was thinking to myself, “You know what’s going to doom SKC in the end? They don’t have a player with the little extra skill or quality to make something out of nothing when they don’t look like scoring.” Then Yohan Croizet banged home a one-time curler from 18 out to tie the game. It both negates and accentuates my initial concern. Croizet was brought into this team to be that guy. They have a bunch of very good players, but they don’t have a moment-of-magic guy (think: Carlos Vela, Zlatan, Nico Lodeiro, Diego Valeri, etc). SKC don’t have the artist who sees the things the others don’t. Croizet was supposed to be it. And his goal Wednesday night reminds us of that fact, but also how rarely he does it.

SKC are good at pretty much everything. But they don’t have someone they can reliably lean on when they need it. History says you usually need that guy at some point in the playoffs.

  • Just when we thought Diego Rubio had won the starting striker position, Khiry Shelton makes a huge play to get Sporting their go-ahead-goal. It was a prototypical Shelton play -- not pretty, and more for his teammate than himself. Then he added another assist in garbage time. In just his second appearance in three months, Shelton has possibly reasserted himself into the starting XI conversation.
  • BONUS: 16-year-old Gianluca Busio got his first MLS goal. He owes Johnny Russell a milkshake.

 

  • On Vancouver's side, oof. Talk about opportunity missed. Vancouver controlled their own destiny. Yeah, it was a difficult journey left, with three playoff teams left on the schedule. But a win on Wednesday could have tied them on points for the 6th spot in the West. and they went up 1-0, and they led until the 60th minute. It’s a tough one to stomach. The ‘Caps can still get in, but they need help now.
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