A limited week, but still plenty to talk about. And don’t worry – we’ll still touch on each and every team.
In we go:
Advances, None Miraculous
Orlando City went out there on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena and just destroyed everybody’s MLS Fantasy team. Because this one was easy, right? Pick three Red Bulls – one in defense, one in midfield, one up top – and let them do work.
RBNY are one of the league’s best teams (we think), and they’re at home (a legitimate fortress) against one of the league’s very worst sides. The Lions had won twice in the last 28 games! That’s 315 days! We don’t do double-digit underdogs in this game of ours, but that’s what this felt like.
So naturally, 1-0 to the visitors. Well done.
The way they did it? First and foremost against the Red Bulls, you have to match their intensity – you have to be as physical with them as you damn well know they’re going to be with you (which is to say, very physical). Orlando did that.
Second, you have to be precise enough to play through their press, or willing to lump it forward if that’s what the situation calls for. And, well, Orlando City played fully 25 percent of their passes long. They had no interest in trying to build from the back when boot to the front was safer.
And third… just stay out of the middle if you can. Which the Lions absolutely did:
It should be no surprise that the game’s only goal came off a long ball that Dom Dwyer held up quite well, which allowed left wingback Joao Moutinho to get all the way forward to put in a lovely cross for the onrushing Sacha Kljestan. James O’Connor did a nice job of understanding where he needed to play RBNY to an ugly, attritional draw and where he might be able to find enough gaps to eke out an entirely unexpected win.
“I think we made it very difficult for them to attack, when they wanted to attack,” is how O’Connor put it afterward. “We caused a lot of problems [out wide]. And we got hit a few times and I think that the attitude and the work ethic from the players was very good.
“I thought we played smart. We made it very difficult to attack when they wanted to.”
That's probably a sentiment Chris Armas & Co. would agree with, though a lot of their analysis was turned inward after this one. The Red Bulls played with a lack of certainty and conviction, and that's not something that ever, ever flies in Harrison.
I would imagine the coming week of practice will be brutal.
Full Faith and Credit
Ok, we're not crowning anybody here, but we can certainly dap up FC Cincinnati's front office and coaching staff – and most importantly, the players – following Sunday's pretty matter-of-fact 2-0 win at New England.
Cincy now have four points from three road games. They blew Portland out in their one home game. They've conceded one goal in the last 270 minutes after a brutal opening 90 (which feels like a million years ago) at Seattle. They've acquired some under-the-radar, out-of-favor, "hey-remember-that-guy" pieces like Victor Ulloa, Kenny Saief and Kekuta Manneh, all of whom have delivered.
They're also doing the deed by just simplifying things. Remember back in the day when teams would keep it simple, and just play a 4-4-2 and their approach to building chances was "short short long, lads!" Well... that's what we're seeing in the Orange & Blue.
The defenders play the way they're facing and just move the ball quickly and simply, and if it ends up on the foot of Ulloa or Saief or Leonardo Bertone, then it's off to the races.
So they're tough to beat, and that's allowed them to beat teams that beat themselves. Enter the Revs:
Three big things here:
1. If you're Wilfried Zahibo, you can't get beat to that midfield 50/50 and then not even bother Manneh a little bit.
2. If you're Wilfried Zahibo, you can't lose track of that run. You can't let Manneh beat you into that spot. There's only one place Saief's cross is going. Why are you not there?
That inability to track runners out of midfield has been habitual for the 2018 All-Star.
3. If you're Brad Knighton... what are you doing????? The team is arrayed for you to build short, and if you boot it long right there, directly at the pair of 6-foot-3 center backs Cincy trotted out, and you haven't given your own backline a chance to move up and compress space by shooing them forward, you're exponentially increasing the chance of exactly that kind of play coming back in your face!
(I had a visceral reaction to watching this goal happen since Tim Howard made the exact same mistake against Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier two years ago.)
Details like this matter, and the Revs have not been getting them right for a long, long time. They're now 3-12-5 in their last 20 MLS games dating back to last summer, and on Sunday got bossed at home by an expansion side missing four of their starters. They've lost three straight, the defense has not improved following last year's death spiral, and Cristian Penilla isn't bailing them out like he did the first half of last year.
This game kicked off a stretch during which New England have five of six at home. It's too early to call them in "a team in crisis," but with the way they've been playing the crisis is coming. Soon.
A few more things to ponder...
3. For the first time all year, the new-look Philadelphia Union high press really, really worked as they thrashed the visiting Columbus Crew by 3-0. It was Philly's first win of the year, and David Accam was the star with a well-taken brace (and it would mean, big, big things for the Union if the Accam of 2017 – who was so good for the Fire – is set to show up for 20-odd games in 2019).
The Union were good. I don't know how much, or even what, exactly, to take out of the result given that the Crew without Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp are vastly different from the Crew with those two players. But I imagine everybody in Chester can exhale now that they have at least some proof of concept about their system change.
2. Our Face of the Week and Pass of the Week both come from the same game, as LAFC's 2-1 win over RSL proved to be a real treat.
First, Ismail Elfath:
That is colossal.
Next, Bofo Saucedo:
Seconds later, Bofo Saucedo (who's been awesome tonight and should be a starter on this team) hit this pass. Outrageous. pic.twitter.com/pUZlX8kBM2— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 24, 2019
That is, as I tweeted, outrageous. A one-time-half-volleyed-out-swerving-switch-of-play-in-the-final-third? Outrageous.
RSL worked like hell and have a gripe about this one, given the interpretation of the offside rule (make sure you check out Instant Replay for the full rundown). They set a new league record by starting six Homegrowns, and truth be told, none of them looked out of place. They could've had a point in this one.
That said, they got outshot 19-3. LAFC were the protagonists all night, and even if you can't quite find the right tempo or right angles – which they mostly didn't – there's a strong correlation between teams generating that many shots/that much possession and winning. It's not a 1-to-1 thing, but if you can force your opponent to defend in their keeper's lap, you probably should.
1. I'm not going to write at length about Paxton Pomykal every week, but suffice it to say he's becoming a Nico Lodeiro-esque presence in central midfield for FC Dallas, who won 2-1 against the visiting Rapids on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Pomykal, however, was the grizzled veteran of the Dallas midfield by the time the game was won. He'd been joined from the start by 18-year-old d-mid Edwin Cerrillo, and for the final 12 minutes by 17-year-old playmaker Thomas Roberts, who was integral in building the game-winning goal:
Dallas have leaned into their identity as the foremost #PlayYourKids team in MLS, and so far it is working for them.
The thing that's not been working is their finishing, as they damn near left points on the board in this one. Luchi Gonzalez tinkered with the starting XI and subs on Saturday, and it's a fair bet that there's more tinkering to come.
Same for the Rapids, who've put together some nice moments but no wins so far on the young season. They're just not getting enough of anything out of the No. 10 role, which blunts the effectiveness of the 4-4-2 diamond they've been married to.
And for fun, one quick note from each of the rest of the MLS teams during this international break:
• From a friend who was at the 2-2 draw between the US U-20s and France's U-20s (an excellent friendly result for the US, and a game that was not broadcast or streamed): "Chris Durkin was the best player on the field for either team."
• Sam Piette, steady as a rock for his club. Maaaaybe want to watch those back passes for his country, though. Clean it up.
• Jonathan Osorio... I need a little bit more. He wasn't bad against French Guiana by any stretch, but should be more influential.
• I find it completely strange that James Sands wasn't called up for the US U-23s. I get that Tab Ramos rates other players – including Durkin – ahead of him for the U-20s, and since we're so close to the U-20 World Cup it's too late to reverse course. But the U-23s could've used Sands at d-mid for their two friendlies this weekend.
• Jan Gregus was an unused sub for Slovakia this weekend, but at least he gets to come home to this:
• Djordje Mihailovic was solid if unspectacular for the US U-23s this past weekend, and was only too happy to go toe-to-toe with a very good Netherlands squad in central midfield (it finished scoreless; the US had better chances, but couldn't find the final touch).
Mihailovic wears the No. 8, and will probably be moving back to the No. 8 for the Fire, but once again in US colors he was the No. 10.
• Nobody drew a tougher assignment in that U-23 game than 17-year-old Galaxy RB Julian Araujo, who was matched up against Justin Kluivert – a full Netherlands international who commanded a $20 million transfer fee for his move to Roma this past summer
Araujo was awesome. Sometimes you only have to see a player a couple of times and you just know.
• I'm not there yet with Cade Cowell, but I know a lot of folks who follow the USSDA closely and consider him the best '03 in the country:
• Gedion Zelalem (remember him?) made his debut for Swope Park Rangers in the USL, and was playing as the No. 6. It makes sense given how much control of the game Peter Vermes asks of Sporting KC's Ilie Sanchez.
Zelalem has a comfort level receiving the ball in traffic that is probably still the very best in the USMNT pool (let's assume it's a BIG pool). If he learns to assert himself defensively, he'll be a weapon.
• Tacoma Defiance are struggling. They got pounded 4-0 by Tulsa, and are spending 90 minutes each week literally in "boys vs. men" scenarios.
I understand the impetus behind this decision – having young players "play up" is a tried and true developmental technique. I do think, though, that it's too far up for this group, and that with blowout losses will come frustration and bad habits.
• This would be a nice habit for Dairon Asprilla to get into for the Timbers:
Dairon's had his struggles at the MLS level, but he's a juggernaut in USL.
• DaMarcus Beasley's surgery means that we're going to get to see a few months of Adam Lundkvist at left back for the Dynamo. In terms of his ability to overlap and be dangerous, Lundkvist has brought quite a bit to the table. In terms of the "defending" part of being a defender, he's taken a lot off of it.
No more security blanket now. The Swede's got to deliver.
• And finally, this is from last week but you get a little taste of what Marc Dos Santos is trying to build in Vancouver:
Lots of comfort during a solid minute of possession here from @WhitecapsFC. No penetration yet, but a clear indication of how Dos Santos will want his team to play. #HOUvVAN pic.twitter.com/7yqI1EUrcT— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) March 16, 2019
The big issue (in attack) is that Vancouver have been slow and uncoordinated off the ball, so when they do get into dangerous spots on the ball they invariably give the defense time to retreat and get into their block. This is not dissimilar to watching the USMNT play at the moment.
The bigger issue overall is that the defense needs, ah, a bit of work.