Wiebe: Five big questions heading into MLS Week 10

As always, your AV club guide to the MLS weekend comes via Extratime.

Another reminder: MLS Matchday Central’s got you covered with pre- and postgame shows sandwiched around Sporting KC vs. Atlanta United on Sunday night (9 pm ET | Full TV and streaming info). Details HERE.

The postgame show – and Week 10 wrap – goes LIVE at 11:30 pm ET. Think of it as an MLS version of Match of the Day. Everything you could possibly want to see or know from 12 games in about 40 minutes.

Now what for the Colorado Rapids?

The results weren’t there, and the writing was on the wall for Anthony Hudson. Colorado have zero wins and just two draws from nine games. They’re the last winless team in MLS. They’re allowing more than 2.5 goals per game.

So it came as no real surprise to see Hudson relieved of his duties this week after he said the Rapids were “fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players” following a 1-0 loss in Atlanta. Colorado may not have entertained illusions of grandeur in the build-up to this season, but the expectation from general manager Padraig Smith was that the team would be “playoff competitive,” especially considering a flurry of offseason moves for MLS veterans.

“I'm genuinely proud of the players we have in that locker room,” Smith told us on Extratime in an exclusive interview. “Nobody can tell me that the likes of Howard, Kamara, Benny, Acosta, Rosenberry, Rubio, Price – they're not bottom-level players. They're really not.”

Any chance of “playoff competitive” was slipping away by the game – and by the goal; the Rapids have allowed a league-worst 24 – and so Smith made a change just a year and a half after hiring Hudson following a “worldwide search.” Taking over on an interim basis is club legend Conor Casey.

The next hire for Smith and the Rapids will determine the short-, medium- and long-term futures of the club. Colorado are setting up to make a splash in 2020, when the Designated Player contracts of Shkelzen Gashi and Tim Howard come off the books, along with a couple TAM deals. Long story short, they’ll have the cap space and roster slots to go out and spend big.

“Everything has been geared towards providing maximum flexibility forward for 2020,” Smith said. “We certainly need to bring in that high-quality No. 10 that I think this club has been searching for, you know, for a long, long time and they haven't been able to get it right. So we need to get that right. We need to bring that player in.”

The plan was to add that difference-making piece (and a handful of others) to a team who’d steadily built a winning culture and got a taste of the playoffs. When the postseason started slipping away and the culture got undercut publicly, Smith had no choice but to make a move.

He has two transfer windows to set up for 2020. By making the change now and not dilly-dallying, Smith can go after coaches in the US as well as Europe. He says the resumes are already pouring in. Whoever gets the job will help plot the way forward, both on the field and in the transfer market.

Smith knows he’s got to get this hire right.

“Yeah, of course I take responsibility. Any leader who doesn't look at their own accountability isn't doing their job right,” he said. “I think the key thing here is to accept that we all make mistakes. Just don't double down on them. Learn from them. Make the changes that are necessary. Don't make the same mistake again.”

Can a depleted Sporting KC keep pace in the West?

Peter Vermes is losing the numbers game. So much so that he canceled training on Tuesday ahead of Sunday night’s home match against Atlanta.

It’s getting hard to keep track of who’s unavailable for selection in Kansas City. Here’s an injury/unavailability update, with estimated remaining recovery time from the date of injury. I’ve ordered these from earliest return to the latest. As always, the full MLS injury report is available HERE.

For accounting purposes, that’s arguably the team’s two most irreplaceable players in Besler and Espinoza, another starter in Gerso as well as a whole host of super subs, spot starters and generally useful players who could help keep legs fresh after a grueling, two-front start to the season that sees Sporting below the playoff line in the Western Conference.

The good news is that four of their next five games come at Children’s Mercy Park. The bad news is that Kansas City’s record since whooping Montreal 7-1 at home on March 30 is three draws, three losses and 21 goals allowed, including the only goal FC Cincinnati have scored during their six-game march back to expansion reality. Home games don’t equal easy games.

Atlanta United are talented and maybe (???) figuring it out, Seattle and the LA Galaxy seem to be safely ensconced among the league’s elite. It’s easy to assume Vancouver will be three points, but that logic also applied to New England last weekend. Sandwiched in there is a trip to D.C. United. After that, four straight road games. Potentially rough. Peter Vermes has to find a way to survive until the triage list isn’t so devastatingly deep.

Ten points from five games would be a good haul. If they’re going to get 10 points, probably got to beat an Atlanta side that’s been dealing with a results crisis of their own. If they’re going to get 10 points, 2018 Daniel Salloi needs to walk through that door, Kelyn Rowe’s got to justify the offseason trade, one of Botond Barath or Abdul Rwatubyaye will have to play close to mistake-free and Krisztian Nemeth can’t slow the goal-scoring pace (or get hurt), among other things.

Yes, there are lots of items on the checklist, but Vermes has proven to be a problem solver over the past decade. This is his deepest squad ever. He’s going to need to wring every drop from it to keep pace in the West.

WEEK 10 UNSOLICITED ADVICE: If I was Frank de Boer, I’d start Tito Villalba and tell him to run at SKC’s Yohan Croizet, a one-time No. 10 DP signing now playing left back to give Seth Sinovic a breather, until his legs can’t carry him anymore. Sporting struggled with the Revs’ direct, physical play last week. You can play a possession game while still recognizing the right times to beeline for goal.

Which players will I have my eye on?

RBNY's Brian White | USA Today Sports Images

Brian White (New York Red Bulls) – No Bradley Wright-Phillips for the second straight game, as the veteran recovers from a groin issue. That means another start for White, who’s played a grand total of 324 MLS minutes with two goals and an assist to show for it. Nobody’s allowed fewer goals than the Galaxy. Will the system (and perhaps White, by extension) be the star on Saturday (2 pm ET, ESPN)?

Jordan Hamilton (Toronto FC) – Let’s stick with young, domestic strikers, this one Canadian. Hamilton led Toronto to a wild three points against Minnesota, but Jozy Altidore’s presence was clearly missed against the Timbers in last weekend’s 2-1 loss. This is the 23-year-old’s chance to get some extended run in the XI. Time to make the most of it.

Pedro Santos/Justin Meram/Robinho (Columbus Crew SC) – Someone (anyone!) needs to give the Crew some chance creation and a goal-dangerous moment or two from the wings. Gyasi Zardes is a capable hammer, but he needs someone to set the nail. With Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful out, that responsibility falls to Santos, Meram and Robinho. So far, two goals and three assists in 10 games. Caleb Porter needs one or more of the trio to start producing.

What’s the quote of the week?

It’s truly a golden age for MLS soundbytes. This gem, arriving via press release following a GAM-for-TAM trade (!!!) between LA and Minnesota, is from Galaxy general manager Dennis te Kloese.

“As everyone knows, it is imperative to trade GAM for TAM as we look to remain competitive in the global market. Securing TAM for GAM will provide us flexibility to improve our roster prior to the closing of the primary MLS transfer window.”

I appreciate Te Kloese and the Galaxy’s crack communications staff providing some welcome levity to an extremely MLS-y transaction. As you know, trades involving only acronyms are absurd in the best ways. In case you didn’t know, Sam Stejskal wrote about this particular MLS quirk more than a year ago.

What’s the must-watch ESPN+ game of the weekend?

Ozzie Alonso with Brian Schmetzer in his Seattle days | USA Today Sports Images

I’ll take the Ozzie Alonso game: Minnesota United hosting the Seattle Sounders on Saturday night (8 pm ET | Full TV and streaming info).

Predictably, this week has been all about the legacy of a man who has a very legitimate claim to the title of best defensive midfielder in MLS history. Alonso and Seattle didn’t last forever, but that doesn’t mean that the mutual respect will ever fade. It’s cool, too, that the Cuban and Cristian Roldan will get to hug it out then go to battle following Roldan’s successful red-card appeal.

As for Minnesota, they’ve got back-to-back shutouts for the first time in their MLS existence. Yeah, you read that right. Now’s not a time to open the game up, as they did in the Allianz Field opener against NYCFC. Get goose eggs, let Angelo Rodriguez battle it out up top and figure out the rest as it comes.

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