On Saturday, 11 matches kicked off within a three-hour span. Let's get straight back into the hurricane that was this weekend's MLS action:
Tweaks along I-95
As Bruce Arena continues to search for the Revolution's optimal starting XI, he isn't afraid to try new things and, most importantly, isn't afraid to abort when it just ain't working.
Against the Red Bulls he tried three center backs again, with Juan Agudelo at right wingback. RBNY pinned the Revs back, defeating the purpose of having Agudelo at wingback while the three central defenders helped contribute to the team being stuck so deep. Once Marc Rzatkowski volleyed the Red Bulls in the lead, only after misclearances from Michael Mancienne and Edgar Castillo, things had to change. So, by 30 minutes, Arena scrapped the experiment and reverted to a back four.
It sounds simple, but recognizing when a plan isn't working and changing out of it quickly is absolutely a skill. Not all coaches would do it.
"Well, my assessment would be that we got beat fairly consistently for 45 minutes," Arena told the Revs broadcast at halftime, before adding: "The best thing I'd say about that half is it's a miracle we're only down a goal."
The back four stabilized the Revs. The budding partnership between Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou is fun (or scary, if you're an Eastern Conference opponent) to watch and the pair struck again for an equalizer, with Gil assisting Bou in the second half. They hung on for a tie at Red Bull Arena, as local kid Matt Turner made the most of his homecoming in goal.
It's two points dropped for the Red Bulls, who had a tactical tweak of their own. Daniel Royer played as a second striker next to Brian White rather than on the wing, with Kaku just behind the pair. It worked well and gave Kaku even more carte blanche between the lines. Royer carved out a number of chances and looked lively, though never got his goal. Then White went down in the 29th minute and Bradley White-Phillips got an extended run in the team for the first time since April.
Is that second-striker role specific to Royer's skillset and/or the opponent, or is that how Chris Armas plans to get both White and BWP on the field at the same time?
A whole lot went into Atlanta United's 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers.
Ability to play through pressure. The Timbers did a bit of pressing but Atlanta passed right through it. Having Leandro Gonzalez Pirez and Florentin Pogba in central defense doesn't hurt, neither does having natural ballplayers at wingback either, while Darlington Nagbe has built a USMNT-level career by being able to play through tight spaces. Portland never created easy opportunities and they never rattled Atlanta.
Winning moments of transition. The Timbers did find some success in transition, given the wide-open nature of the evening, but they weren't entirely sharp. Atlanta were equally as threatening when running at pace and found a goal.
Never switching off. The ball kids at Providence Park were on their game on Sunday night, particularly when the Timbers were in possession. If Portland wanted to play the ball quickly on a throw in, goal kick or corner, they always had the option. Jurgen Klopp specifically directed the Liverpool ball kids to do that ahead of his side's famous comeback against Barcelona last spring because he found that the Spanish club often argued or mentally switched off for a second when the ball went out of play. At the highest levels, this game is won in the margins. Regardless if Portland were looking to exploit that, Atlanta never did switch off.
Individual brilliance. Josef Martinez's goal was a touch of class, as was the assist by Julian Gressel. How many times was Miles Robinson left alone with Brian Fernandez? How many different quick reaction saves did Brad Guzan have?
More than the three points in the standings that takes the reigning champs to top of the East, winning on the road against a top team will give Atlanta a boost. They've had their troubles on the road, last winning away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium in May against Vancouver.
Look out, folks. The champs are rounding into form.
10. Somehow, a game in which the Galaxy were down a man after just six minutes and conceded first, it felt like two points dropped for LA. It doesn't make any sense, but, hey, here we are.
It was a weird game at Dignity Health Sports Park, where the 10-man Galaxy drew Seattle 2-2. Daniel Steres was sent off early, then Guillermo Barros Schelotto waited 27 minutes before introducing another center back, pushing Rolf Feltscher to central defense and Uriel Antuna to right back, before Giancarlo Gonzalez came on. Seattle went ahead, with the Galaxy still playing a high line despite the numerical disadvantage, and could have had another goal or two before Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalized. Then, Ibrahimovic won a penalty and scored.
It was a performance worthy of praise by the Galaxy. They never truly felt at a disadvantage. Jonathan dos Santos is a machine and Antuna selflessly put in a largely defense-minded shift. Cristian Pavon has gotten better with each of his three MLS appearances — his close control and ability to dribble out of pressure will be fodder for highlight reels all season long.
The Sounders only got a point at the end because of a freak own goal and the fact Ibrahimovic missed this tap-in a few minutes prior.
Seattle are in trouble. This has been the time of the year they come alive after slow starts, except this season it's been the inverse: Fast start, lackluster summer. What's going on? How do they stop this slide?
9. We're going on two seasons now waiting for the inevitable Toronto FC run, except maybe it's not as inevitable as we thought?
Last season, after an injury apocalypse, conventional wisdom would suggest a team led by Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley would have risen above the playoff line. It never happened. This season, after a handful of TFC's stars missed time with international tournaments, conventional wisdom would suggest a team led by Alejandro Pozuelo, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley would rise above the playoff line, closer to first than seventh. It's just not happening.
They tied Columbus Crew 2-2, thanks only to a 90th minute equalizer from Altidore. They, similar to the Galaxy, never seem to play up to the sum of their talented parts. Greg Vanney opted for two strikers on Saturday, with Patrick Mullins next to Altidore. Perhaps a shrewd change — 4-3-3 hadn't been working. Neither of the wingers signed this summer were in the starting XI.
Except, they didn't play to those strengths. Altidore and Mullins are very good in the air! Playing direct sometimes is okay! Going route one to smash and grab a win to tread water and make the playoffs is okay! It's not ideal, but it's fine! Thankfully for TFC, the Impact had an epic collapse against Dallas to drop two points and Orlando conceded a stoppage-time equalizer, so all three stay level on 34 points for the East's final playoff place.
Toronto face Montreal next weekend, too.
8. For 45 minutes, RSL weathered LAFC's onslaught. It earned them a brief period of playing a man up. For 14 minutes, RSL — on a six-game unbeaten run, full of confidence and at home — had the chance to put the sword to LAFC a man up after Walker Zimmerman's red card.
But it's 2019. And you know what that means? It's LAFC's year. It's Carlos Vela's year. Fourteen minutes later, LAFC were a goal up and RSL's man-advantage erased after Vela drew, then scored, a penalty and Aaron Herrera got sent off. LAFC's scorched earth season marches on, 2-0 win for the league-leaders. Typical.
The form LAFC are in, it would feel churlish to call it a missed opportunity for RSL. But, the way events transpired, the result has to take a little momentum. If they win Saturday against the Rapids, they're back on track and it's all good. On the horizon? Back-to-back-to-back huge in-conference games: @ Portland, vs. San Jose, @ Minnesota. We're about to learn about Freddy Juarez's RSL real quick.
LAFC clinched a playoff place after 25 games (!), opened a ridiculous lead in the Supporters' Shield race and continue pace to rewrite the single-season record books.
7. What the %$*# happened in Montreal? Seriously. *vigorously rubs eyes* What happened in the Impact's three-goal collapse against FC Dallas?
Three goals up after 56 minutes, still two goals up with six minutes left. At home. After the visitors were architects of their own demise for Montreal's first two goals. Borderline inexplicable for the Impact to draw 3-3 from that stage.
Considering their difficult two months — they now have one win in their last eight, including dropping points to five teams currently below the playoff line — this is going to be a tough one to mentally recover from. Three points would have created a little separation between L'Impact and the playoff line, but they remain in a three-way tie for seventh, with the suddenly surging Fire one point behind that trio.
Full marks for a valiant comeback from Dallas despite their own adversity. Their next three games are against teams below the playoff line, two of which are at home. Can this result act as a catalyst for FCD?
6. It's been a month of vintage Nemanja Nikolic performances for Chicago Fire, and another three points for the hosts on Saturday.
He has five goals in his last four games, in which the Fire have three wins. In the 10 games prior, he had one goal and the Fire went 1-6-3. Can it be that simple?
Regardless, the Fire are suddenly one point below the playoff line. They still get to play New England, Toronto and Orlando this season — three of those four teams are directly ahead of them. After most jumped off the Fire bandwagon, despite their obvious talent and passages of good soccer, Chicago are back in business.
This weekend, they beat the Philadelphia Union 2-0 without Aleksandar Katai, serving a red card suspension. Next week, they'll have to navigate their crucial match against New England without Nico Gaitan, who will also be serving a red card suspension.
5. San Jose might be hitting a wall. Matias Almeyda's side fell to Sporting KC 2-1 and are quietly on a three-game winless run, against three teams below the playoff line. The Quakes are only a point above the playoff line (though they have two games in hand on 8th place FCD).
Blip or trend? To be determined.
San Jose took the lead through a Chris Wondolowski header, marking his 10th goal of the season. He now has double-digit goals in 10 consecutive campaigns, a decade of Wondo being Wondo. The Quakes do some fun, creative stuff on set pieces, getting the competitive edge wherever they can find it. Per Opta, they've created 48 chances from set pieces this season, tied for second most in MLS behind Colorado.
The best part about it? It's more like a style of offense, a la an NBA or NFL team, in the sense that they have multiple options from the same looks. It makes what they do repeatable, rather than a one-off. They always leave a player at the top of the box and often hit that player for a volley. They always create action for multiple different players, leaving Wondo/Danny Hoesen/one of the center backs spinning free to the near or far post. They often run someone short. San Jose have found success throughout each variation. It's a nightmare to defend.
4. Two points dropped for Minnesota or one point gained? It's the eternal question.
Minnesota needed a stoppage time equalizer through Abu Danladi to get a point at home against Orlando City. VAR also called back an Orlando penalty after Danladi equalized. Before the game, a draw would have been a disappointing result for the Loons. In the 89th minute? A point is better than nothing.
As for Orlando? Offer them a point before the game and they take it with both hands. Up 1-0 in stoppage time with Minnesota grabbing a goal from a throw-in? Ehhh, maybe one point isn't enough with the context.
The Loons missed Mason Toye midweek, the attacking quartet on the field finding little success getting in behind. Danladi is a player of a similar mold, though he has been less efficient. He got the equalizing goal, though. If Angelo Rodriguez is unavailable next week, will Toye return from his suspension straight to the starting XI or did Danladi play his way back up the depth chart?
3. The thing about having games in hand is that you have to win them. NYCFC are intent on doing just that. With a 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati, NYCFC are now top of the East in points per game.
NYCFC's identity this season has been playing three at the back — largely with James Sands anchoring the middle and initiating possession -- allowing both wingbacks to bomb forward. Their best sequences came from big, sweeping switches of play into space to a marauding wingback. Sands exited the game with a broken collarbone. Alexander Ring had already dropped to play a deeper role than normal for the match. Is it sustainable moving forward?
Consolation for Cincy? This seeing-eye cross from Andrew Gutman is our pass of the week.
2. For 45 minutes, the new coach bump was more strongly in favor of the Colorado Rapids. For the second 45, it shifted to the Houston Dynamo. Fair result, then, 2-2?
Davy Arnaud led his first game as Dynamo interim head coach but the team's recent run of disappointing results didn't subside. He largely opted for the club's regular first-choice XI, a 4-2-3-1 and left new addition Christian Ramirez on the bench. It was more of the same, too: Mauro Manotas is very good at scoring goals, but the Dynamo are not great at keeping them out.
The first goal conceded was from a simple, route one flick-on, then the second a one-man press from Diego Rubio to jump a pass and go in on goal.
1. D.C. United are still searching to find their elusive top gear once again and that forage continues after a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Wayne Rooney returned to the starting XI, though Lucho Acosta did not, the second consecutive game on the bench for the No. 10. Ola Kamara made his debut. How will Ben Olsen juggle all those pieces? Will it be a formation change to accommodate two strikers ahead of Acosta or will Kamara shift out to the wing as he often did for the Galaxy with Ibrahimovic in the center?
Face of the week to the very satisfied smirk behind this tweet: