I dropped the “Group of Death” cliché last night, so I’m going to refrain this time around as I dig through the smoldering embers of Monday night’s doubleheader.
Besides, I think “Group of Drama” makes more sense here.
Group F treated us to some wacky stuff down in gator country in their first round of matches, so let’s take a look.
For several years now, the Dynamo have been a memorably fun team when they’re at or near their best, and they gave us reasons to believe again in the first half of their wild 3-3 draw with LAFC. Tab Ramos is doing good work so far to polish up La Naranja’s familiar strengths, like individual flair and breakneck transitions led by their band of horses up top.
On Monday it was Memo Rodriguez’s time to shine, and I’ll let the Armchair Analyst explain that more elegantly than I:
The challenge in Houston has been sustaining these bright moments and building out something more durable around them, a fuller portfolio that can sustain results over a season or all the way through a long playoff run. It will take a larger sampler size to learn what Ramos has got under the “Plan B” column, and how they grind out 1-0s and manage through off nights for their mainstays.
The charm of MLS is Back is that Houston might be explosive enough to avoid getting found out over the next few weeks.
The tournament favorites created plenty of scoring chances despite the absence of Carlos Vela. Unfortunately for them they also leaked plenty at the other end, a recurring bugaboo. The Dynamo adeptly exploited their openness at key moments and made efficient use of some transitions and one-on-one situations to snatch a 3-1 halftime lead.
But if you watched LAFC storm back from 2-0 down on aggregate to vanquish Club Leon in the opening round of this year’s Concacaf Champions League or refuse to lose to Philadelphia in that **other** 3-3 barnburner earlier this year, you had to figure they were still in it. And they were.
Many coaches would be vowing to batten down the hatches after a game like this. But not Bob Bradley. He’s all-in on the beautiful way of playing the beautiful game, and that I appreciate:
After LAFC's 3-3 draw with Houston I got the chance to ask Bob Bradley if being involved in shootouts like that makes him want to button things up a bit, or keep pushing the tempo.— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) July 14, 2020
He said damn the torpedoes, basically: pic.twitter.com/dL0QWE6i8f
Now THAT was an FC Hollywood experience.
At times the Galaxy really do feel like something written in a studio, perhaps one with soapy sensibilities. They were a plodding mess for long stretches against the Portland Timbers, and the creakiness of the attack was epitomized by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez’s labored failure to dispatch an early penalty kick that would’ve really helped settle the jangling nerves.
“Soccer, sometimes it's about momentum,” said the Mexican star postgame after the Galaxy's 2-1 loss, who finally netted his first Galaxy goal on a trademark ghosting run to the near post later in the game. “And I understand that is difficult when you see your forward miss a clear chance [like] a penalty, it’s heavy weight to overcome … and I understand it completely. But obviously we need to be more strong mentally. Physically we're very well prepared, but I think mentally, all of us, even myself, we need to overcome that.”
LA got urgent after the careless Dario Zuparic was sent off for a second yellow card and they dominated the final stages, only to run out of time. Another 90 minutes like that and LAFC will feast when they meet up this weekend.
“We finished this game how we’re supposed to start,” noted Chicharito, obliquely directing the question of why that was towards his coach, Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Sacha Kljestan also pondered aloud whether LA should’ve pressed Portland more often and emphasized the importance of unity among the squad.
GBS’s take on things was a bit different.
“I think we don't deserve to lose today,” said the Argentine, acknowledging the gifts proffered to the Timbers and “some bad decisions by the defenders” but mostly upbeat on the performance. “I think it was very unfair.”
For all the time and effort Giovanni Savarese and his staff have invested in cultivating balance and depth and better possession play, the modern Timbers keep drifting back to a certain limited but plucky formula.
Hang in there, compete, keep it tight, park the bus if you must, until the star men up front – almost always steered by Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco – find enough space or magic to make a play and snatch a goal or two. This time Steve Clark also took his turn to don the cape, saving the PK that opened the door for the Timbers to mug the Galaxy.
Count the bodies in the box on the opener; this is a 4v7 situation!
Though it’s made league play a queasy adventure, this scrappy resourcefulness works well in knockout situations and right now there seem to be enough positive vibes in their camp to lift the collective beyond the sum of its parts. But the central defense has to be nearly perfect to sustain it, and Zuparic was definitely not that on Monday night. A soft underbelly will mean an early exit for these Timbers.