Armchair Analyst: All 24 MLS teams in review | Week 6 analysis

Sometimes it’s good to do a full run-through of all the weekend’s games rather than the usual pull-outs of two big ones and then a briefer review of the others. Since this was the last weekend before we dive into the part of the schedule (read: the rest of the year) that’s heavy with midweek action, now seems as good a times as any to give a look at everything that happened since Friday night.

Let’s go chronologically:

Vancouver Whitecaps 0, LA Galaxy 2

It didn't take us long to get to our Face of the Week:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had 1g/1a in LA's win, their fourth in five games this season. They also picked up their first shutout. Galaxy fans are something in the neighborhood of "happy" and "confident" for the first time since 2016, and that makes sense.

There remain, however, some concerning underlying issues – issues of the sort that suggest while the Galaxy are pretty good and should expect a return to the playoffs, they are some ways away from the ranks of elite teams in their own conference (including the one that plays 20 minutes up the 110). 

The biggest one is that they are just head-over-heels in love with crossing the ball, hitting about 24 of them per game from open play (that's easily the most crosses per 90 of any team for as far back as we have Opta data, which is the 2010 season). That's not entirely useless, as they've scored three times via crosses this year, but it's also not the type of approach you'd expect from a team with a center forward whose feet and playmaking ability are legendary, and whose central midfield is packed with guys who can ball.

They're settling. They are so eager to get the ball up toward Zlatan that they don't make the extra pass or run when it's there, and that's not going to be good enough against the likes of LAFC or Seattle.

Another thing to consider: They've crossed the ball 119 times from open play, and converted only three of them. Given clearances, catches, punches and second balls, those 119 crosses represent probably something like 50 turnovers that could lead to breakaways.

There's a reason the bests teams in the world cross the ball infrequently, and only from select spots.

As for the 'Caps, it's a safe bet that Ali Adnan won't be taking any more penalties for the time being. That's the big, discrete takeaway from the week.

On the larger timeline, I've written repeatedly that there has been some internal improvement with regard to this team's shape and ability to defend, and I can still see that. But at some point one of the raft of new attackers they brought in this offseason – Inbeom Hwang, Lass Bangoura, Lucas Venuto, Fredy Montero, Joaquin Ardaiz – has to distinguish themselves by, you know, actually putting the ball int he net.

Those five guys have combined for 2g/1a in over 1,000 minutes across Vancouver's five games this season. It's not good enough.

NYCFC 0, Montreal Impact 0

The Impact started out this season on a six-game road trip, of which this was their fifth. And to be honest, it couldn't have gone much better for them, as they've already picked up seven points – including a pair of results (Saturday's draw, and a 3-1 win a few weeks back at Orlando) against Eastern Conference foes who you'd expect to be battling Montreal for a playoff spot.

So this wasn't just a point gained for Montreal; it was two home points denied to NYCFC, who really, really need them.

Montreal's approach was simple, and "simple" is usually when they're at their best on the road. They avoided the embarrassing individual mistakes of last weekend at Sporting, and avoided the overall strategic mistake in that they made no pretense toward actually playing. Instead they dropped everyone behind the ball, conceded 65% possession, and played for the point.

The fact that they got it is obviously a mountain-sized worry for the Cityzens, who are now 0-1-4 on the season and have just four goals in five games. They have just four wins in their past 21 games across all competitions since late July of last year.

Dome Torrent tinkered a bit – stop me if you're heard that one before – and settled on a 4-2-3-1 with Alexandru Mitrita as a central playmaker who usually drifted left to create overloads, and it had its moments.

No goals, though. One gets the sense that the clock is ticking.

D.C. United 0, LAFC 4

There is no question regarding who will be No. 1 in the Power Rankings this week, and it's by a mile. LAFC strolled into Audi Field against previously unbeaten D.C. and just ripped them limb from limb by repeatedly punishing any sort of sloppiness by getting out into transition and putting the ball into the net.

The show was spectacular, and included our Pass of the Week:

Carlos Vela has been beyond words, with his 7g/4a in 529 minutes. He leads the league in both categories, and is the main reason why LAFC's goal differential (+14) is twice that of the next best in the league. They are phenomenal.

D.C. contributed to the LAFC phenomenon with some uncharacteristically loose play in central midfield, where Eduard Atuesta and Mark-Anthony Kaye dominated Russell Canouse and Junior Moreno.  I couldn't pick up anything unusual from LAFC in terms of how they approached the game from a tactical perspective – it seemed like the wingers were just funneling play central, as they always do – but this does feel like the sort of loss where it's something close to necessary to spend some extra time in the film room.

No Wayne Rooney for Tuesday's game vs. Montreal obviously hurts a ton, by the way.

Toronto FC 2, Chicago Fire 2

When, back in February, I talked myself into the idea that the Fire could be a team that competes for a playoff spot, I did so by riding the notion that this team would ape what they did in 2017: get a lot of the ball, use it well, and score tons of goals. It only makes sense, given that they're loaded with international caliber talent in the attack (even before Nico Gaitan's arrival) and are, um, a bit questionable at the back.

It's still very much a wait-and-see thing with regard to Chicago's playoff hopes, and right now they're just 1-2-2 while sitting in eighth place. But the funny thing is that their best results – including this one on Saturday in Toronto – have come from the Fire doing the opposite of their 2017 thing.

They absolutely did not knock the ball around against the Reds, grabbing just 29.7% possession and attempting just 86 passes in the attacking third (Toronto attempted 302). They were forced into 27 clearances, and David Ousted once again had to be outstanding.

This all looked pretty reminiscent of their last outing, a 1-0 win at RBNY. Chicago are, right now, a grit-and-grind team. It's weird.

Alejandro Pozuelo was not thrilled about the Fire's approach, by the way.

"They only came here to defend and kick [us], not football. This is not football," the Spanish playmaker said afterward.

Toronto could use some of that grit-and-grind, though. Once again they allowed a pair of that-was-way-too-easy goals (full credit to CJ Sapong for that godly first touch), and for as impressive as their passing's been over the past few weeks, there are still major questions about their defense and ability to be hard through defensive midfield.

New York Red Bulls 1, Minnesota United 2

Of the teams with extended road trips to start the season – Montreal (6), Portland (12), Minnesota (5) – it's the Loons who are happiest right now. They responded to back-to-back frustrating losses with a scrappy and opportunistic win, one that 1) came without Darwin Quintero, and 2) gave them nine points from their five-game swing. 

They had 11 road points in all of 2017, and just five all of last year. Our friends over at 538 now have Minnesota at a 66% chance of making the playoffs, and to be honest that feels right. Getting these kinds of wins on the road, early in the season, is exactly what you'd expect a playoff team to do.

RBNY are not looking like that. There have been lots of words written about their deviation from their old, high-pressing ways, and Chris Armas once again had a bit to say about that. At halftime he lamented that his team was getting too much of the ball, then after the game said that his team's adjustments have come as his own hand has been forced by the adjustments of others.

And you know what? Fair enough.

What I will say about this one is that RBNY didn't lose because of adjustments. They lost because of poor decision-making in the attacking third and individual mental lapses in defense.

Here's Minnesota's first goal:

And here's their second:

Michael Murillo had a shocker. There is no approach to the game – high pressing, possession, counterattacking – that can be successful if part of your backline is sleepwalking and just watching things unfold as they go.

There is an uncharacteristic malaise about this team.

Columbus Crew 1, New England Revolution 0

Ain't no malaise about the Crew, who are now atop the East at 4-1-1 through six games. They won this one off a set piece goal (their third of the year) and a shut out (their fourth of the season). Here is their formula:

  • solid-as-a-rock 4-2-2-2 formation when defending a team in possession
  • selective high pressing
  • dominate restarts
  • Zack Steffen takes care of the rest

So far, so good, though I'll point out two worries. First is that they're just a middling team in terms of expected goal differential, sitting 11th at +1.31 just behind Orlando City. Second is that Steffen's not going to be around all year to snuff out chance after chance – he's conceded just once this year, and will be taking his talents to Manchester this summer.

That's a worry for another time, though. For now, Crew fans should smile.

Revs fans probably shouldn't. They lost for the fourth time in five games and it's hard to pin down what their style or approach is, so it's tough to say where they will (or can, I guess) improve.

Orlando City 4, Colorado Rapids 3

They're now 2-2-2 through six games, with a goal differential of -1. It's not great, but it's so much better than what Orlando City fans have had to look at in recent years, that it's probably something close to impossible for most to complain about.

So what's the big change? It's mostly that Orlando City have a thing now, and their thing is that they send both wingbacks/fullbacks forward, at speed, pretty much every chance the get. And against the Rapids it worked beautifully:

Now that they have something they do well, they can (and probably will) build around that, as they should.

There is nothing wrong with being a lightning-fast counterattacking team, by the way.

The Rapids, meanwhile, are floundering. They're 0-3-2 and their 16 goals conceded are the league's worst (though to be fair they've played one fewer game than Portland and San Jose). Anthony Hudson switched his team's shape in this one, going away from the diamond and into a 4-2-3-1 that was supposed to play a little tighter defensively, but it didn't work.

“Well we have to not give away soft goals like we did. We give really, not good mistakes,” Hudson said afterward. “We have to work for it. But then we make mistakes and individual errors and we gift teams goals.”

Philadelphia Union 2, FC Dallas 1

Philly came from behind with two late goals in this one, which was a pretty choppy affair in Chester. Cory Burke's physicality off the bench gave FCD's backline nightmares and opened up a little space for the skillful and fun midfield to play into and through, as Dallas simply had to drop deeper and deeper to deal with the front line.

When players like Ilsinho or David Accam get to go 1-v-1, fun stuff happens. And that's how you get to Alejandro Bedoya's game-winner.

Expected goals don't get to be predictive, on a season-long scale, until we're about 20% of the way into the year, and we're not quite there yet. But so far the Union are +3.83, which is third-best in the league behind LAFC (+8.03) and the Galaxy (3.86), which lines up pretty snugly with the eye test.

Which is to say: the Union are pretty good! And since they've gotten good value out of a few newcomers, they're also deeper than they were last year (when they were a 50-point team and made the U.S. Open Cup final).

Dallas have been more up-and-down, and that's probably not a surprise for a group that's so young. That includes head coach Luchi Gonzalez, who's mostly been excellent but made a mistake in sacrificing Michael Barrios with 15 minutes left:

Sitting on a lead is tough when the other team has as much attacking skill as Philly does. It was the first glaring mistake, in my opinion, from Gonzalez this season.

San Jose Earthquakes 3, Portland Timbers 0

For the first time in 220 days the San Jose Earthquakes won a competitive soccer game! Rejoice ye residents of the Bay Area!

As promised by head coach Matias Almeyda, their approach to this match was the same as it's been all along: Man-marking all over the field and just win your match-up. And it turns out that left winger Shea Salinas (he's not a left back anymore!) and right winger Cristian Espinoza really, really took that message to heart. You could just about sum up the entire game by focusing on their individual performances vs. Timbers fullbacks Jorge Moreira and Jorge Villafana, respectively. 

It was one-sided out wide, and the knock-on effect was that San Jose were finally able to compete in the midfield. Anibal Godoy had his best game of the season (easily), while Jackson Yueill was solid in his first game of the year as a starter. He added a dose of creativity that had been lacking:

That's Danny Hoesen on the end of it, and yes, this was his starting debut in 2019 as well, and yes, it was a good one.

The Quakes aren't out of the woods by any means, but at least they've finally gotten points on the board.

Portland aren't out of the woods, either, as they've got just one point from their first five games and this was a distinct step backwards after last week's pretty decent showing at LA. They've got seven games left in their season-opening, 12-game trip. June can't get here soon enough for Gio Savarese & Co.

Seattle Sounders 1, Real Salt Lake 0

For the third time in the past four games, Seattle followed this blueprint: Get an early lead, then play a touch more conservatively and see it out. I can't argue with it since it's been working, but it shouldn't go unnoticed that the best the Sounders have looked in 2019 was when they actually had to chase the game and impose themselves upon it a little bit.

This is a veteran team, so I imagine there's a decent amount of "let's just conserve our energy since this season's a marathon, not a sprint" going on, but I don't know if that's for certain.

What is certain is that things have gotten pretty bad pretty quick for RSL, who are just 1-4-1 and have failed, for the second straight year, to bring the previous season's solid second half with them.

"I’m getting sick and tired of coming out here after games and say ‘we deserved more out of the game.’ For me we all need to grow up a little bit," is what head coach Mike Petke said after this one.

FC Cincinnati 1, Sporting KC 1

How on earth did this end 1-1...

Cincinnati brought their backline up again, and at the same time struggled to get pressure to Sporting's midfielders. That adds up to chance after chance after chance...

On the flip side, Sporting once again struggled to deal with pace, as Darren Mattocks, Roland Lamah and Kekuta Manneh all gave them trouble.

Bottom line: Both teams left points on the table here.

• No game for Houston this weekend, as they were on a bye. But they got great news as Juan David Cabezas put in 72 minutes for Rio Grande Valley in the USL. The fact that they took 10 points from four games in March with Cabezas mostly injured... they're under the radar now, but buy some Dynamo stock, folks.

• No such happy news for Atlanta United, who were also on a bye this past weekend. ATLUTD2 struggled to a 2-0 loss against FC St. Louis and none of the potential first-teamers – Andrew Carleton, Romario Williams, and Florentin Pogba – distinguished themselves, while George Bello is apparently still injured.

We talk about and dissect the CCL hangover, but don't overlook the MLS Cup hangover: Both Atlanta and Portland are now 12th place in their respective conferences.

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