There were just six games this week, and most of them featured a pair of short-handed teams thanks to injuries and/or international call-ups. Let's dive into an abbreviated Week 15:
Things haven't been great, or even particularly good for both these sides. But a given the circumstances — the game was played at Stade Saputo and the Montreal Impact were trying to stay top five in the East on PPG — this game was much more significant to them than it was to the Seattle Sounders, who are battered, bruised, broken and incomplete, and will likely remain so into the second week of July.
And look, these two teams both played exactly like they were missing most/all of their best players. The first half produced literally zero highlights and the whole game produced only 12 shots. Ten of those were by the hosts, and two of those turned into goals (one a penalty) off the foot of midfielder Saphir Taider.
You can and should mostly throw out the tactics because the nature of the rosters made this game non-representative of what's to come from both sides. What mattered was the Impact played with a little bit of desperation in the final 30 minutes, and it worked.
New York City FC actually scored all seven goals in this one. It was a display I'll file under both "impressive" and "hilarious." They truly entertained.
And they did it playing out of a 4-3-3 rather than the 3-4-3 they'd primarily used for the past few months. Here's their network passing graph:
Each circle represents the location corresponding player's aggregate touch, and the thickness of the lines connecting them represents the volume of passes exchanged. You can see that left-side overload with Maxi Moralez (No. 10), Alexandru Mitrita (28) and Tony Rocha (15) was where they set up shop, and for the first time in a long time it actually felt like the old Patrick Vieira teams, moving the ball up that flank and slicing teams apart with some intricate combos.
I'm not sure what it means in the long run, as results against FC Cincinnati right now have to be taken with a grain of salt. The expansion side have lost nine of 10 and have conceded 15 goals in their past four games, all losses.
Regardless, it had to feel good for NYC to get just their second home win of the season. They have good energy heading into the break.
Pass of the frigging Week, man. Alejandro Pozuelo is a wizard:
It seemed like Toronto FC understood they don’t have individual brilliance or hold-up play without Jozy Altidore, so they just pushed the outside backs super high and created a bunch of overloads. Both goals were from the play getting super narrow and then Pozuelo finding an overlapping outside back.
The draw saved a point for the Reds and they desperately, desperately needed it, as that point is what has the above the line at the break. They have not won since May 4, and have gone just 2-6-4 since that season-opening, three-game winning streak. They are a different team now.
What kind of team, exactly? It still feels very much like that question hasn't really been answered. They don't sit deep and defend particularly well, nor do they have the speed to hit on the counter. They use possession a bit, but are turnover prone in bad spots and don't scramble well. They try to funnel play through Pozuelo — as they did on Friday night, and as they should if teams let them — but when teams have kicked him out of the game, they haven't had a Plan B.
I think TFC needed this break more than anyone. I also think they need the July transfer window more than anyone.
Sporting Kansas City are right there with them, though we all know that Peter Vermes plays it as tight on the transfer market as anyone. Of course, they're in more dire straits than pretty much ever before, having gone 13 games without a shutout. As Paul Carr pointed out, this is the second-longest streak in club history, only behind a 14-gamer from way back in 1996.
I get why Vermes went all in on possession heading into the year, because when Sporting are fully fit and healthy, they are a beautiful machine. So far they've been fully fit and healthy twice.
Both teams should be happy — they took a point despite playing with a bunch of key regulars. Both teams should be angry — they dropped points against a team missing key regulars.
Pick any narrative you like, since they all work.
Narratives aside, I think we saw San Jose play what has become typical Quakes soccer in the attack, spreading the ball from central midfield to either chalk-on-the-boots wingers or overlapping fullbacks. If the fullback doesn't push up, the winger stays as wide as possible. If the fullback does push up, the winger ducks inside and becomes a second forward.
It's uncomplicated but effective, as San Jose went 5-2-4 in the 11 games heading into the break after that pointless and seemingly hopeless March.
Dallas got their seemingly hopeless and almost pointless month out of the way in May (0-5-1 in six games), and have bounced back with a win and a draw in June. They are primarily playing out of a fairly high pressing 4-2-3-1 no matter their personnel now, and this has the feel of a team that's going to benefit from these tough stretches where head coach Luchi Gonzalez has had to go so far down the roster he's fielding multiple kids who aren't yet voting age.
They haven't been great, but they've done well enough treading water to stay afloat.
For context: San Jose play a man-marking scheme that emphasizes 1-v-1 defensive match-ups all over the field and demands that players 1) contest a lot of duels, and 2) win a lot of duels. Dallas are, as I wrote, a fairly high pressing team who like to amp the tempo of the game up, so that one was always going to feature a ton of players coming together and one coming away with the ball.
There were 114 duels in that game, an unusually high number. In the Philadelphia Union's come-from-behind win in Chester on Saturday afternoon, these two teams combined for 138 duels, one of the highest numbers of the season. The Union and New York Red Bulls got at it. And for a good long while, it looked like the Red Bulls were going to win comfortably despite all the demolition derby, taking a 2-0 lead and keeping it until the hour mark.
Philly go into the break atop the East and second overall in the standings. Their plus-11 goal differential is second-best in the league, as are their 31 goals scored. Even with their slump to end May, when they took two points from a three-game homestand, they're still on pace for 62 points, which would easily be the best total in club history.
The Red Bulls aren't anywhere near that pace, but they're comfortably a playoff team and look like they'll remain so in spite of a year's worth of injuries and absences crammed into the last few months.
This one, though, would've been very nice for them to have. It had to hurt to drop that result after taking that lead.
The Colorado Rapids are now 4-0-1 in their last five and have somehow climbed to within just four points of the playoff line. The Rapids have an honest-to-goodness shot at making the playoffs out West.
Here is a point I want to make, though, because there was nothing new or different, tactically speaking, in this game: The final defensive play registered by the Rapids, seven-and-a-half minutes into second-half stoppage time, was made by Kei Kamara, at the near post, protecting his team's six-yard box as the Loons threw numbers forward. Kamara also had the game's only goal, and it's his hold-up play that moves opposing defenders around and creates space for the Rapids' wingers to burst forward.
But it's that defensive play that sort of crystallized how and why this team went from one of the worst in league history to one that does not seem willing to lose. Credit to the whole squad, as well as to interim head coach Conor Casey – who has done a pretty sterling job of guiding this team over the past six weeks.
"Interim." We'll see how long he wears that tag.
Things aren't so great for Minnesota United. One of the under-the-radar stories league-wide has been the inability of DPs Angelo Rodriguez and Darwin Quintero to get on the same page. Given the team's defensive improvement (significant, since they're on pace to be around 15 goals stingier than last season) having their two DPs healthy and playing together up top basically all season long should have put the Loons on the front foot for most any game.
But... yeah. Here's our Face of the Week:
MNUFC fell to 6-7-3, the first time all season they have a losing record. They're still above the line, sitting in sixth place, and still have the majority of their remaining games at home. They should be able to hang on.
But they're not playing like it, and their body language is, on a team-wide level, not great. Things have to change for the Loons on the other side of the break.