With Matt Doyle fully stuck into all things USMNT after their shaky 1-0 win over Curacao in the Gold Cup quarterfinals with a newsletter (that you can sign up for here) and column (which you can read here) while appearing on both Club & Country and Matchday Central, he was a bit busy this weekend. This is a man with many, many takes that float across many platforms.
As such, it was the philanthropic thing to do for him to get the weekend off from diving deep into MLS Week 17 in written form. Load management for Doyle, you can call it. Gotta keep those fingers fresh and the takes sharp. Put me in, coach!
Doyle's rebuttal: "I’m happy being the late-career Tim Duncan of this operation."
This weekend was a wild one in MLS, so we ain't got time to waste time before getting stuck in. Here we go:
Can't stop, won't stop
This week, the Earthquakes beat the Houston Dynamo 2-0 on Wednesday then the LA Galaxy 3-0 on Saturday. It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the two games could've gone any better. The Quakes have been one of the most fun teams in the league all season — even when they started with four straight losses.
It's been a masterclass from Matias Almeyda in getting the most of what's in front of him, especially in a season which two coaches were let go not long after publicly asserting their roster wasn't up to snuff. It's tactics, man-management and motivation.
It seems every other week it's a different player balling out of his mind. Danny Hoesen scored three goals in their first two wins. Shea Salinas was unplayable for a month. Jackson Yueill and Tommy Thompson have been in the spotlight for their consistently strong performances. Nick Lima, too. Chris Wondolowski had eight goals over four games. Now, Vako seems unstoppable. He had three goals this week.
Reminder: All of these players were on the roster last year when they finished bottom of the league. It legitimately cannot be said enough how great Almeyda has done. It's a simple observation, one that many have made. I don't care. Keep saying it.
Bobby Warshaw wrote it best on Thursday: "San Jose have turned into a free-wheeling, swag-stepping, dream-stomping monster. They can kick you off the field, as Bob Bradley attested to last week, or pass the soul out of you." To add one more: They do creative things off set-pieces, too.
Maximizing everything at their disposal.
San Jose certainly won't be sneaking up on anyone soon, they won't be overlooked as they may have been in May. I'm excited to see the counter-moves by opposing teams to Almeyda's system. Which coach is going to figure out how to best exploit space left by the Quakes? Will it come down to a ball-playing center back overloading numbers in midfield, or more runs from deep?
The Galaxy, meanwhile, still don't look overly convincing. While we're giving coaches credit, send some props to Guillermo Barros Schelotto for his side grinding out results while not looking their best. Given the talent on the team, they have more gears to hit. The pressure is off to realize their potential immediately because of how many points they've picked up already.
One for the record books
Brian Fernandez has pulled on a Portland Timbers jersey then stepped onto a professional soccer field seven times. Not once has he walked off pitch without having a goal to celebrate. It's tremendous. He now owns the league record for scoring in consecutive MLS games upon debuting.
His sublime first-time outside of the foot finish into the top corner from outside of the box gives him nine goals in seven games across all competitions. He spearheads of what might be the league's best attacking quartet, a group that compliments one another perfectly. Jeremy Ebobisse's shift to left wing has freed the US international from the weight of expectation to be the team's go-to goal scorer. Fernandez's movement and combination play is cut from the same superstar Argentinian cloth as Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco.
Fernandez was acquired for big money by the Timbers. He's been worth every penny and more. Poetically, on the other side of the field, FC Dallas will soon be looking at big-money transfers, too, except they'll be the seller, not buyer. FCD started a Homegrown midfield trio once again, with Paxton Pomykal (19), Brandon Servania (20) and Edwin Cerrillo (18). Jesus Ferreira (18) led the lines. Ricardo Pepi (16) entered off the bench.
Pomykal passed another test on Sunday night. His battle with Diego Chara in central midfield (and everywhere on the field, with the way those two cover ground) was worth the price of admission alone. The veteran got the better of the teenager early, but Pomykal kept coming back and grew stronger as the match wore on.
Deja vu all over again
Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Fire looked dominant, spurned multiple chances to score, conceded due to an individual error, spurned multiple chances to equalize and dropped points despite having a healthy advantage in expected goals. Chicago's 3-1 loss to the Red Bulls was a microcosm of their 2019 season.
The Fire out-possessed the Red Bulls 62%-38%, outshot them 26-10 and had the xG edge 2.42 to 1.21. Yes, game states matter, which partially explains why they're 2019's xG darlings if they're often chasing. It was more of the same Friday, as Kenneth Kronholm's heavy touch gave Kaku a tap-in after eight minutes. It's the kind of error that continues to doom the club and particularly frustrating considering Kronholm was acquired in large part due to his ability with his feet.
It might just be one of those seasons for the Fire. With the top-end talent on the roster, a quick scan suggests they should be better than 4-7-7, good for 10th place in the Eastern Conference and four points below the playoff line. Defense is still an issue, particularly at fullback, and despite all the chances created, finishing has been inconsistent at best.
Proving @PaulTenorio's intuition correct, the 2019 Chicago Fire are collecting 0.63 fewer points per game than expected, the most of any team in the @AnalysisEvolved era. https://t.co/NTYjpnPy9F pic.twitter.com/8CEm1Efg8Q— Eliot McKinley (@etmckinley) June 29, 2019
Trying times in Chicago.
As for the Red Bulls, Bradley Wright-Phillips returned off the bench for his first minutes since April 20. That's good news and, even in his absence, forward hasn't been an issue. That's because Brian White is legit. The machine keeps cultivating talent ready for first-team opportunities when they come.
9. It was a phenomenal spectacle at Yankee Stadium as NYCFC beat the Philadelphia Union 4-2. Two of the East's best did not disappoint.
Full marks to the finish, too.
But it wasn't enough. The Union threw a haymaker right from the opening bell, NYCFC absorbed it and got stronger as the match went on. Philly fans may argue that the hosts had two soft penalties, but that's subjective. Keaton Parks got his first MLS start, which is noteworthy. More noteworthy? NYCFC looked great even without Heber, who has had a huge effect on the team since he arrived. Taty Castellanos is good.
The Union are still clinging to first place in the Eastern Conference, though now Atlanta and NYCFC are ahead of them on PPG. They shouldn't hold their heads much on the loss, it was a strong performance. Plus, this team still has the potential to get much better, hinging on two variables:
- Marco Fabian and his health. He played the final 17 minutes, his first appearance since June 2.
- Andrew Wooten. Will he be appreciably better than the club's current options up top?
The first will always be a question mark looming over the team. They have been very good without him; they could be great with him. They have been very good with Przybylko as the primary goal scorer; what if Wooten takes the burden?
8. Instant Replay won't be short talking points this week, as VAR ruled out a golazo from Danny Leyva in his first MLS start. The 16-year-old recognized the goalkeeper on the ground, spun a delicate chip over five defenders furiously retreating to the goal line. It was beautiful, even if it didn't count.
Despite their frustrations over Leyva's non-goal and missing key players Raul Ruidiaz, Nico Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, Victor Rodriguez, Cristian Roldan and Xavier Arreaga, the Sounders found a way to get all three points over Cascadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps through a stoppage-time winner by Kelvin Leerdam. The best part of the goal is it's a right back scoring from the center of the box after combining with the left back (Brad Smith) during the run of play.
The early returns on the Marc Dos Santos-led Caps rebuild are positive. They play every single game tight, which isn't a terrible foundation to lay. This project is going to take a bit of time — that's no surprise given the uprooting done all offseason — but they have lost by more than one goal just once this season, back at the beginning of April to the Galaxy.
Where would they be in the standings if they got DP-production out of either one of their two DP strikers? What would the Whitecaps look like with Ruidiaz?
A few simplistic tweaks by interim boss Conor Casey — less structure thus more freedom in attack, defending a little deeper, emphasis on transition, a renewed belief in the locker room — has worked wonders. That is definitely a skill, by the way, diagnosing how to best set your players up for success rather than fixating on one rigid style of play if it's not in the team's best interest.
Nothing to worry about for LAFC. It was their first of five games in two weeks. It included an hour-long weather delay and none of Walker Zimmerman, Tyler Miller, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Atuesta nor Christian Ramirez were in the starting XI. They'll be fine.
Random thought: Does Carlos Vela have the best hair in MLS? (Other nominees include Lalas Abubakar and David Bingham — dude always has a skin-tight fade. Gotta respect the hours in the lab to always be game-day ready.)
It must have felt nice for the Loons to let out all of their attacking frustrations over 90 minutes. Before entering Open Cup play where they plunged four goals on SKC and three on Houston, they had scored multiple goals in just once over their prior nine MLS matches. That's 14 goals in three straight games.
Hassani Dotson is proving to be a valuable asset for the Loons, who has proved capability at multiple positions now in his rookie season and has started the last seven games across all competitions. He was selected No. 31 overall in this year's SuperDraft, which is a seamless transition to this mildly interesting observation:
There are now 5 2019 @MLS SuperDraft picks on the field in #MINvFCC#MNUFC: Hassani Dotson (RB) & Chase Gaspar (RB)#FCCincy : Frankie Amaya (10), Tommy McCabe (DM), Rashawn Dally (FWD)— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) June 29, 2019
shouts to my guy @Thomas_Formoso for spotting that
In an effort not to pile on Cincy and state the obvious defensive issues seen over the last six weeks, let's dismount with a one-word summary on their afternoon to forget: Sheesh.
5. Atlanta United's win over the Montreal Impact went as expected tactically: The Impact were going to sit in a structured low block, a brick wall that was going to be laborious to break through. It was going to take a moment of brilliance, individual error or a fortuitous moment of transition to get to the other side. Justin Meram decided why try to run through the wall, when you can just fire a rocket over it.
More interesting, though, is the continued struggles of Pity Martinez. Frank de Boer took him out of the game because he was "making too many mistakes." Who would have thought he'd only have two goals and three assists over his first 16 appearances in MLS?
Also interesting: the Flo Pogba left back experience. Brek Shea and Michael Parkhurst have largely held down the position this season, but Pogba might have the most immediate upside. Definitely one to watch moving forward.
4. It was a sweet return to D.C. for Nick DeLeon, who scored in his first game in the District while not wearing United colors. Out of respect (and perhaps a little confusion as to whether or not the assistant would raise their flag for offside), he didn't celebrate. But DeLeon and Toronto would have to settle for just a draw, as Wayne Rooney's stoppage-time penalty earned D.C. a 1-1 draw.
Toronto may be right to feel a bit unlucky.
That’s gonna have to be a “hmm” from me chief 🤔 pic.twitter.com/Wvpz1oGU8J— Eric Giacometti (@Eric_Giacometti) June 30, 2019
The good news? They picked up a road point as they look to tread water before Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez return. Plus, 19-year-old Jacob Shaffelburg is emerging as a promising contributor. And Alejandro Pozuelo as a false nine is working fine to hold the position warm for Jozy, which I wrote about on Wednesday.
Random note: Lucas Rodriguez played a box-to-box midfield role for D.C.
3. Three MLS games, three formations for Bruce Arena, who set the Revs up in a 4-4-2 tight diamond. The desired result followed, as New England fought back after going down 1-0 for a stoppage-time winner from Teal Bunbury to win 2-1.
Does the formation choice mean anything? Is Arena still working through what's best as he gets to know his roster better? Wednesday, it was a 4-2-3-1. Saturday, it was a 4-4-2 tight diamond with Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo as the shuttlers behind Carles Gil in midfield. That's about as attack-minded as that roster can get.
Arena has given his team less rigidity — similar to how Casey is getting the best out of the Rapids since he took over after a manager that loves structure. Freedom and trust goes a long way. He's pulled the high pressing back a bit, too.
Don't look now, but the Houston Dynamo have now lost four of their last five. They've slumped to seventh place in the Western Conference, which is a spot no one above the playoff line wants to be with the Timbers surging from below. It looks like someone is going to drop. The Dynamo face the Red Bulls, LAFC and Atlanta over their next four games. Will they still be above the playoff line come July 17?
2. The Crew are free falling. Their latest result was a 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC.
Obviously, it's never fun to lose constantly — they've dropped 10 of their last 12 — but expectations haven't exactly been high over the last month or so. Caleb Porter has been dealt a bad hand. Milton Valenzuela will miss the entire season. Federico Higuain made 13 starts before tearing his ACL. Harrison Afful missed two months with a broken jaw. Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are missing time at the Gold Cup. Zack Steffen is off to Manchester City now. Tim Bezbatchenko and Porter didn't make huge changes to the team they inherited. Expect that to change heavily moving forward in the next few windows under new ownership.
Given all the players missing for the Crew, it would have been a tough time to drop points for Orlando as they chase the playoff line, even if road wins are rarely straightforward. Now they're two points behind Toronto and 7th place.
The full yellow kits vs. full purple kits are very aesthetically pleasing.
1. So, when is this SKC revival going to happen? It's starting to feel like Toronto's 2018 where we just kept waiting and waiting and waiting for form to change as the team got healthier. Like Toronto, SKC continues to be undone by inexplicable individual defensive mistakes.
Sporting fell 2-0 to Real Salt Lake, and the scoreline doesn't do RSL's dominance justice. SKC have gotten healthier more quickly than Toronto did last year — and have more depth — but they're bottom of the West. It's going to be a long climb to the playoff line.
Benny Feilhaber got a yellow card for coming stepping on the field as a substitute to argue with the referee. RSL's Twitter account enjoyed that very much. Face of the Week, right here: