Armchair Analyst: Sorting through a slimmed-down Week 16

Just six games on the docket as MLS begins ramping back up following the Gold Cup break. Let's take a quick spin through the league:

FC Cincinnati 0, LA Galaxy 2

This is maybe the most interesting thing that happened all weekend in MLS. Or maybe it's nothing:

A bit of gentle criticism toward Zlatan Ibrahimovic from his teammates for his regular and possibly detrimental histrionics... yeah, it's interesting, isn't it?

The Galaxy won anyway (the scoreboard's not lying). Newly arrived Argentine playmaker Favio Alvarez had a goal and an assist, and Lletget returned to the lineup earlier than expected, and Perry Kitchen looked pretty good (!!!) filling in for Jonathan dos Santos, and LA are now comfortably in second in the West on both points and PPG. Everything should be good.

Can't shake the notion that it's not, though. Zlatan is still operating as a man apart on both sides of the ball, and people have stopped pretending not to notice. It's a thing. LA might be talented enough to win despite it, but it's a thing.

Cincinnati are not talented enough to win much at all. Every single player on that roster needs to play every single minute like their job depends on it, because my guess is that they do. There's going to be a house-cleaning in each of the next four transfer windows.

FC Dallas 3, Toronto FC 0

Dallas outshot Toronto 22-6, they put 12 of them on target (Quentin Westberg was massive for the Reds), they completed 90% of their passes, and they had 56% of possession. They repeatedly drew TFC upfield, and then hammered the hell out of them with the speed and mobility of their midfield and attack.

It was a clinic. And they did it in a way that no other team in MLS could've, relying upon their academy products to do much of the heavy lifting. Paxton Pomykal returned from the U-20 World Cup and picked up where he left off, and he was joined in the starting midfield three by fellow US U-20 teammates Edwin Cerrillo and Brandon Servania. Up top was Jesus Ferreira. In goal was Jesse Gonzalez. Off the bench came 17-year-old right back Bryan Reynolds and 16-year-old center forward Ricardo Pepi (remember the name).

All of this happened while two more FC Dallas academy products (Kellyn Acosta for Colorado and Victor Ulloa for Cincy) started in MLS, and two more (Weston McKennie started, while Reggie Cannon came off the bench) played for the US men's national team. The next group, meanwhile, are into the USSDA quarterfinals despite missing players like Ferreira, Pepi and Reynolds, all of whom are eligible for that level.

These kids are obviously a business investment. They keep showing, though – both for FC Dallas for the US – that they're a sporting investment as well. And it's starting to pay on both fronts.

TFC's slide is pronounced. They're now winless in eight (0-5-3, -10 goal differential in that span) and really appear to be in waiting for the Gold Cup to end/waiting for the transfer window to open mode. They're going to need a very big July, or there are probably going to be very big changes.

Chicago Fire 1, Real Salt Lake 1

I've written repeatedly that I don't quite get Veljko Paunovic's approach as head coach, the way that he tries to get his team to be good at everything all at once instead of becoming really, really good at one thing and then ratcheting up everything else along the way. I think it's an approach that's more likely to cost them results than get them results.

Here are two separate quotes from the postgame of this match, one in which the Fire scored early via a set piece, then immediately turtled up into a shell – at home, up a goal – in order to, presumably, protect a lead for 85 minutes:

"And in all of our games you can see the same thing. There is no team that can defend against us but we are not capable of killing."

Ok. And...

"We believe that we improved today on defense. We had a pretty good showing defensively. I think we kept our goal safe."

But they didn't! Chicago conceded an equalizer on 33 minutes, and then when they had to come out of the shell, they kinda couldn't. There were real questions about lethargy in this one because that was the story from a Chicago perspective: Once it got back to 1-1, they couldn't get their motors running again. They couldn't and didn't impose themselves on the game. They couldn't and didn't shift from one approach to another to another to another on the fly. 

Earlier dropped results you could pin on poor finishing, which... fair enough. Not this one, though. In this one the team was at sea and created almost nothing:

RSL got themselves a good, tough point, their only one from this three-game Eastern Conference road trip. Four of their next five are at home now, and how they handle this stretch will go a long way toward determining whether or not they stay above the playoff line.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2, Colorado Rapids 2

My colleague Bobby Warshaw wants you to take the Rapids seriously. They are now 4-0-2 in their last six, and he wrote extensively about how they've done it HERE.

The 'Caps have not won once in their past six. After making steady progress through mid-May, they've sunk since then and will spend yet another week staring up at the playoff line. They have badly missed Doneil Henry over the past month.

Four of the next five for Vancouver are on the road. They'll have to grind out some results.

Portland Timbers 4, Houston Dynamo 0

The Timbers are probably the second-best team in the league right now, and I am absolutely betting on them to keep climbing up the table and eventually knock somebody out of a playoff spot. The highlights somehow both tell the whole story and don't do them justice at the same time:

Brian Fernandez has been worth every penny, and besides the stars this team seems like – for the first time in their MLS existence, mind you – they have both youth and depth. Jeremy Ebobisse put in another pretty good performance on the wing as he breaks out of his slump, while Renzo Zambrano made his second MLS appearance and Marvin Loria made his debut. All of those guys are under 25, as are Tomas Conechny and Eryk Williamson, both of whom came off the bench to see this one out.

It's a needed infusion of youth, but the real top-end difference has been Fernandez. Ebobisse is a good center forward in this league, and if you pro-rate his per-90 stats he's probably a 15g/7a guy over the course of a season. Pro-rate Fernandez's per-90 stats over the course of a full season and even Carlos Vela would be looking up at him in the Golden Boot race.

Portland spent their money well.

Houston have done so, too, but without Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas, Romell Quioto and Maynor Figueroa, this one was over before the ball was kicked.

Columbus Crew 0, Sporting KC 1

Sporting got their first road win of the season, but it was far from clinical as their weakness in defending set pieces, their lack of pace almost everywhere, the up-and-down nature of Krisztian Nemeth in front of net and the lack of Roger Espinoza to run the midfield all showed up and were issues to one degree or another. It's hard not to look at this group and think "well, Peter Vermes took a risk going all-in on possession and it has just not worked out."

It did, though, work out on the day, and that's because nobody is in worse shape than the Crew right now. They're 1-9-1 in their past 11 games, having scored just nine times and conceded 20.

They have just seven home games left this season. Life has gotten complicated quick in the Tim Bezbatchenko/Caleb Porter era, and I suspect this transfer/trade window is going to see some major moves as they entirely give up the ghost on continuing Gregg Berhalter's blueprint and truly start implementing one of their own.

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