Armchair Analyst: All 24 MLS teams in review | Week 12 analysis

It's time to take a break from the usual column format. I'm still going through every game and every team (and yes, NYCFC folks, that'll include your squad as well), but let's take a look at this from 1,000 feet high rather than getting down into the minutiae and pulling each team's every game apart.

For a recap of what happened on Wednesday, you can read Andrew Wiebe's column HERE.

And now we dive in:

Montreal Impact 0, New England Revolution 0

So I don't really have any idea of what to say about this game, from an Impact point of view, that I haven't said a million times before. And I don't have any takes about the Impact after this game that differ from the takes I had going into it, which, in a nutshell: They're solid defensively when they don't get their confidence up too high and start pushing upfield in possession — when they do that, they're meat.

That's it! The Impact are who they are, and the silver lining from this one is that they're once again are who they are with Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine DP made his return from a long-term injury, getting on the field for the final 24 minutes and looking rusty, which was expected. They went 4-4-2 without him, which was not.

One reason they were so helpless, from an offensive standpoint, without Piatti is because Maxi Urruti continues to struggle. He has one goal in 12 starts this year (13 appearances), and three in his last 35. This is their seven-figure contract, DP center forward.

The more damning part is this: Urruti remains an exceptional defensive forward, especially with regard to his pressing. But Montreal can't press because in order to do so they have to bring their backline up... in which case they get annihilated. It feels like a square peg, round hole situation.

This was damn near my favorite moment of the weekend, and damn near a perfect Gareth Bale impression, by the way:

The Revs have taken four points from two games while conceding just one goal in their initial outings in the post-Brad Friedel era, and have played 180 minutes filled with verve and commitment. It's been fun to watch on a few levels.

One thing to consider long-term: Andrew Farrell has been starting at CB. New England tried this experiment once before (2015) and it failed miserably, but it's working better this time. Farrell's more experienced and just smarter out there, which is perhaps the reason why.

The reason to keep pursuing it long-term is because of his ability to eliminate pressing defenders off the dribble. I'm not talking about Beckenbauer-esque 60-yard sprints into the attacking third, but if you can skin the first line of pressure you open up some very inviting avenues of attack if you're a team that can run.

And man, do the Revs have some guys who can run.

Real Salt Lake 3, Toronto FC 0

Getting Nick Besler and Justen Glad into the lineup over the past month has given this side a desperately needed dose of mobility up the spine in the defensive third. RSL can actually scramble now, which is often necessary in this league or any other. They're 4-2-0 with seven goals allowed in Glad's six starts, and 1-4-1 with 13 allowed in their other six games this year. Correlation isn't necessarily causality, but they're related.

The attack continues to look mostly very good, and continues to be predicated on the ability to get their wingers in isolation, in space. The fact that it functioned as well as it did this weekend without Sam Johnson — who was benched for being late to a team meeting — was at least a little bit eye-opening.

And yeah, the Johnson thing is worth monitoring. He's already had one outburst this year, and followed it up two weeks later with what amounted to a disciplinary DNP-CD. How will he respond to his teammates playing better without him?

That's a question nobody on Toronto has to answer right now, as they've hit a pretty significant slump. The Reds are winless in four and have just one win in six. They've been shut out three times in their last four, and their backline problems are still there, staring at them almost every single weekend.

Another, less-discussed problem is just how slow of foot their midfield is. It's allowed teams to compress space, which has forced TFC in to a level of precision in possession that they haven't been able to manage for a long, long time.

San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 1

The big story from this is that Chris Wondolowski is now the all-time leading MLS goalscorer, which Bobby Warshaw and I wrote about on Saturday after it happened.

The big story from Chicago's point of view is that Nemanja Nikolic couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat right now, which Ben Baer wrote about. My general take on that is "trust the guy who finds chances to eventually start finishing them, especially if that guy has Nikolic's track record." But good lord has he missed some sitters.

And now your weekly dose of Jackson Yueill:

This whole sequence is a freaking masterpiece. From the patience to let the run unfold and draw the opposing midfield to him, to the skill to play Shea Salinas into space with the outside of his boot, to the opportunism to realize Dax McCarty's caught out and beat him upfield, to the inventiveness to backheel Salinas's just-off-stride pass to Wondo, to the awareness to stay on his toes and crash the box after Cristian Espinoza's shot, to the patience and skill to finally finish the play off by sliding it across the six and onto Wondo's boot.

He's looked like a national team player for the better part of two months now, and Matias Almeyda has said as much. USMNT fans won't see him this summer at the Gold Cup, but I think we won't have to wait too long after that.

I'm calling our first pass above our Pass of the Week.

Philadelphia Union 0, Seattle Sounders 0

This is going to be hard for some people to accept, but here we go: The Union are clearly the second- or third-best team in MLS at this point based upon the eye test (always fun, often dominant), the underlying numbers (third in expected goals differential) and the boxscore numbers (atop the East in points and PPG, and second overall in goal differential).

They're, at worst, really good. They play fun, fast, flexible, exciting and entertaining soccer, and they've done that despite suffering an ongoing litany of injuries that have necessitated constant rotation and formation switches. They're 7-1-3 in their past 11 games, and that's been earned.

The reason I'm not willing to say they're a level above "really good" is because of games like the one that happened on Saturday. They had about 70% of the ball and plenty of chances, but lacked that presence in the final third – a 15-goal guy who can just punish a team for sitting in. I think you have to have a guy like that in order to be one of the very best teams in the league, and so far Philly do not.

Seattle have that when Raul Ruidiaz is healthy and available. They've eased him back in from his injury, though they'll be bidding farewell soon as he heads out on international duty for Peru in the Copa América. The Sounders are going to struggle without him and without Nico Lodeiro, and the Chad Marshall's absence is growing conspicuous.

But they just got seven points in a week, are sitting on 2 ppg, and who's going to bet against them lighting the world on fire down the stretch for the fourth straight season?

Minnesota United 1, Columbus Crew 0

Alarms would've sounded had the Loons failed to get the full three points in this one, and it would've been justified: this is the type of home game you have to win if you're going to take a trip to the postseason. They got a goal off a set piece and their defense held firm, which is good enough for now.

Is it good enough long-term? I still can't tell you what kind of team they are, really. They don't do much on the break, they don't press and they don't build chances via possession. If you were to describe a typical MNUFC goal, or a typical MNUFC sequence, what would it look like?

I don't know.

I do know that Columbus's typical sequence has changed a lot under Caleb Porter after what seemed like only a minor evolution through the month of March:

That tweet above is from the end of April. We're now entering the last 10 days of May and... it hasn't changed. Columbus don't spread the field by pushing their fullbacks high and wide anymore, and as a result more of the game runs through center forward Gyasi Zardes's hold-up play (his usage rate is up significantly).

On a related note, Columbus have lost seven of eight and have been shut out in five of those.

Sporting KC 1, Vancouver Whitecaps 1

Sporting have dealt with a lot this year, but some of it has been self-inflicted. This is just unacceptable from Yohan Croizet:

Are SKC still a playoff-caliber team? I think so — when they hit fifth gear they're as devastating as any team in the league. But they're becoming eerily reminiscent of last year's TFC between the CCL run, the injuries and the "hey these guys are hurting themselves" mistakes all over the pitch. Mentally, they're not all there.

Vancouver remain locked in and tough to beat, which is why they're hanging around just below the playoff line despite the fact that none of their new attacking pieces actually looks like an "attacking" piece.

I'm curious to see how/if this is addressed in the summer window.

Houston Dynamo 2, D.C. United 1

On balance, it's probably the Dynamo who are the second-best team in MLS right now, and they have the PPG to prove it. What was significant about this one is that they went out there and got the result despite Alberth Elis coming off with an early injury, and despite Romell Quioto putting in an even more indifferent performance than usual.

They also got a goal from Tommy McNamara, who becomes just the fifth Dynamo player to put the ball in the net this season. They have not spread the love.

They'll need to start. Elis is off to the Gold Cup (so is Quioto), and... he might not come back. This is happening as the schedule finally toughens up, with seven of the next 10 on the road over the next two months. Houston, when they are healthy and fit and have a full squad and are at home, are very much for real. On the road, without most of that other stuff? We're about to find out.

Remember when D.C. United were scoring about two gorgeous goals a game down the stretch last year? They played the hits just a minute out of the break...

... but then they kind of fell apart again. I'll chalk some of it up to the schedule (playing Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday is ridiculous, especially with the latter two games on the road), but Señor Wayne's having none of it.

“I think we were not good enough," Rooney said after the match. "I’ve said it before — we’ve gotten lucky in games and we’ve gotten results and today we didn’t. We didn’t deserve anything out of the game and as I keep saying, we need to learn. And if we can’t learn when we’re top of the league, then we never will.

“It just wasn’t good enough,” Rooney continued. “You can make excuses and say whatever you want to say, but at the end of the day we weren’t good enough and we need to improve. I think individual players need to look at themselves and we need to look at ourselves as a team.”

I think that about says it all.

Orlando City 5, FC Cincinnati 1

Oh man did the (Florida version of the) Lions need this one. They were winless in four, and had scored only four times in their past six games. There has been good will achieved within the fanbase by the team reaching "competence" in possession and defense, but that good will had begun to deteriorate as chances went missing and points went lost.

Neither happened in this one, but please give an assist to FC Cincinnati's Kendall Waston, who did...

... that. Orlando City had already tied it up at that point and Cincy were pretty clearly wilting in the heat, but if the opposition is going to open the door for you like that, you have to kick it in. That's what they did, and while nobody should be spiking the football after beating an expansion team, I don't think it's unfair to say that previous versions of Orlando City would've found a way to drop points here.

FC Cincinnati were once again fun (for a while) with how they were moving the ball. The choice they have to face now is if they want to be that team – one which is much more likely to end up on the wrong end of a few lopsided scorelines – or a team that packs the box, bunkers up and just aims to keep it respectable.

Most teams (especially ones that are short on attacking quality) take Door No. 2. It's not as fun to watch and often has little long-term value, but I get it.

New York Red Bulls 1, Atlanta United 0

For the first 10 or 15 minutes on Sunday, the Red Bulls looked like last year's RBNY team. They pressed high, forced turnovers everywhere, transitioned quickly and generally speaking played like their hair was on fire. And they should've had a lead through all of it, but couldn't quite manage to finish off the plays that they needed to should've.

And suddenly Atlanta started finding space over the top, and suddenly RBNY were down to 10 men, and suddenly what looked like a chance for a statement win at home was instead a "hanging on for dear life" situation.

And then this:

My colleague Tom Bogert put it best: "With all due respect to the immaculate cross by Daniel Royer and fantastic header by Tom Barlow, that goal is made because Sean Nealis had the courage and ability to run forward with the ball from central defense."

While RBNY may have lost a good chunk of their on-field identity, their overall culture remains the same: If your name appears somewhere on the depth chart, chances are you will get a chance to step on the field at some point, and when you do, you are expected to make a play. That's culture.

We talk about tactics and talent because it's easy to get a grip on those things, and because they often win you games. "Culture" is what keeps you good year after year even while you're busy trying to figure out the other stuff (and sometimes even when you're never able to figure it out). RBNY's "next man up" culture is admirable as hell.

Atlanta don't really have that and I think it cost them here, as they were playing their fifth game in 14 days and did so with minimal squad rotation. Most of their attackers looked a step-and-a-half slow — hence Nealis being allowed to waltz into midfield — and Miles Robinson certainly wasn't himself on the game-deciding play.

But at the same time, how much of a worry is that, really? Atlanta won their other four outings in this ridiculously busy stretch, all of them by shutout (part of a record five straight shutout wins), and as I said about a month ago when they were mired in a truly terrible start: They have the raw talent to just brute force a solution. Raw talent is the solution more often than not, and their recent climb (fourth in the East on points, third in PPG) says as much.

I don't know if there's a ton else to say about Atlanta right now. Bobby says he sees structure and growing purpose to their possession, but I still see a group that is slow to transition and mechanical in their decision-making, which is why they're near the bottom of the league in scoring. The flip side is that if you're slow to push forward and take few risks, you won't give up a lot of goals, either.

I guess that's who Atlanta are now. I do wonder how long it'll be before that changes — or if it'll ever really need to.

FC Dallas 1, LAFC 1

Another utterly dominant outing for LAFC, by the eye test and the xG numbers:

They're now +23 on the season. Their actual goal differential is also +23. I'm not going to revisit everything I wrote last week, I'll just reiterate that any team who's acing the eye test, the boxscore numbers and the underlying numbers as thoroughly as LAFC are this point in the season are favorites to an almost comical degree.

My main question is how they'll hold up over the course of the Gold Cup without Mark-Anthony Kaye, and potentially without Walker Zimmerman and Christian Ramirez as well. I'm guessing they slot in somewhere around "less dominant, but still the best team in the league."

All of the above should make it obvious that Dallas deserve a ton of credit for getting the result here, in a game that was pretty even before FCD went down a man. They did their usual thing, holding a ton of deep possession in order to suck the opponent forward, then blazing into that space and generating chances on the run. The build-up that led to Ryan Hollingshead's goal... they had three or four of those, and were within a whisker of getting their timing right on most of them.

It's a thing, and it's snagged them a point today while ending their three-game losing streak.

They do need more, though. Dallas have suffered over the past month as they haven't been able to press their way into chances, and in transition they haven't been able to replicate what Paxton Pomykal was doing in March and April while he was out hurt (and he's healthy now – but he's also in Poland with the US U-20s for the next few weeks at least).

Dallas are a work in progress. But they really do seem to work hard and smart, which means I like their chances in the weeks and months to come.

LA Galaxy 0, Colorado Rapids 1

I am not exactly bullish on the Galaxy's long-term prospects, but am less concerned than I'd be about most teams in the throes of a pretty embarrassing four-game losing streak. LA were always going to have growing pains under a new coach with this unbalanced and largely incomplete roster, and those pains are the story of their May.

  1. They still don't create chances off anything but crosses
  2. If Jonathan Dos Santos is anything but "spectacular" they don't defend well in transition
  3. Left back is a giant problem

It was issues No. 1 & 2 that led to Sunday night's home loss to previously winless Colorado. The Galaxy obviously will do more work in the summer transfer window, and while I don't necessarily see a path for this team to become a top-level contender in 2019, the groundwork for a better 2020 is there.

That's the whole point of existence right now for Colorado, who ended their truly awful, record-breakingly bad start to the season. Yes, that's cause for a smile, some finger guns, and the Face of the Week from rookie goalscorer Andre Shinyashiki:

The Rapids got out-possessed 67.5% to 32.5% to this one, and interim head coach Conor Casey has dispensed with the "we're a possession team who will build from the back" windmill that Anthony Hudson spent so much time tilting at. They're going to absorb and counter, and see what they can learn about young guys like Shinyashiki on the way.

It's basically the opposite of what Yoann Damet is doing with Cincinnati, and that's fine, too. At least it's an ethos — an approach that is clear, and that the coach (interim or otherwise) is asking everyone to buy into. So far the players, young and old, have responded.

PORTLAND (midweek)

Celebrate, Portlandia! Your new stadium expansion is almost done, and your new king is already here:

Brian Fernandez made a quick impression, and the Timbers got a point at a place where it's not easy to do that.

My take on Portland is the same now as it was a week ago, and a month ago and two months ago: They're going to go on a major run once they return home, and should end up being a top five team in the West. Whether or not they're able to climb higher than that depends upon how much they're able to vary up their approach and be more than just a counterattacking side.

They've showed, at times, they can do that. More often they've shown they can't.

NYCFC (bye)

Weird time for a bye week, right? Anyway:

  • Dome Torrent's first six regular season games: 5-1-0, +8 goal differential
  • Dome Torrent's next 19 regular season games: 3-7-9, -8 goal differential
  • Dome Torrent's last five regular season games: 4-0-1, +7 goal differential

Anybody brave enough to chance a wager at what comes next? For what it's worth I'm pretty sold on the 3-4-3/3-5-2 hybrid with Heber up top – NYCFC have looked legitimately good since he's gotten into the lineup – though I have a few colleagues who are more skeptical.

I understand why. The above numbers do a lot of talking, and nothing gold can stay.

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