Armchair Analyst: Dike breaks out, Sporting slipping & more from Week 8

Here is the best lede I will ever write:

Black Lives Matter

I can't thank the players enough for the stand they took this past week, risking so much to make the world more than just fractionally better. Thanks to each of you for your courage and leadership.

It feels uncomfortable to immediately jump back to soccer, but the world keeps spinning. So into Weeks 7 and 8 we go:


American Merchandise

Orlando City went on the road without four starters (Mauricio Pereyra, Nani, Ruan, Jhegson Mendez), were on short rest and got their first-ever win over Atlanta, 3-1.

Read that sentence again: Orlando City went on the road without four starters (!!), were short on rest (!!!) and actually finally freaking beat Atlanta United (!!!!). Somehow, someway, this is the year that Orlando fans have been waiting for. Lots of things that used to go wrong are suddenly going right for the Purple Lions

What made the win over Atlanta so stunning that at the heart of everything that's gone right have been Pereyra, Nani and Ruan. Other players have had their moments, and Oscar Pareja has taken a holistic approach to his roster usage, but the stars drive the bus. Nani and Pereyra are stars, and they've been doing the driving. Ruan is an unmatchable, rocketized overlapping threat who can single-handedly unbalance a defense. What would Orlando have, even against a weakened Atlanta side, without them?

This week, both in their win over Atlanta and on Wednesday's 3-1 win over Nashville, the answer was rookie center forward Daryl Dike. He put on a masterclass with 2g/1a vs. Nashville, but I actually liked what I saw from him against Atlanta even more:

Credit to him and to Pareja for getting him on the field so quickly, and credit to his teammates, guys like Chris Mueller and Benji Michel, for understanding how to use the space he creates.

"That dynamic combination between the two wingers and the striker... we were able to create that one goal was beautiful," Mueller said afterward. "One of the best goals that we’ve scored this season so far. It was great and I’m really happy for Daryl especially, getting a lot of playing time and he’s doing really well at moving off the ball.

"I know he didn’t score today, but I think he had another good, effective game in terms of just playing a solid No. 9 role where it’s tough sometimes when we need him to hold the ball and make runs in behind."

For Atlanta, the Pity-driven win over Nashville last week glossed over the fact that the Five Stripes still look like a team in preseason mode. Their defensive rotations are poor, their ball retention is poor, and they don't have established patterns in build-up. If they can't brute force a win via superior talent, they don't have may other paths to three points.


A Positive Spin

I don't think anybody is panicking for Sporting KC after a one-point week. But a lot of the things we saw last year — stretched out defense, inability to make crucial individual defensive plays — reared their heads in Tuesday's 5-2 thrashing by Houston, and then even as KC played much more conservatively on the road in a 1-1 draw at Colorado, they were still kind of there. Sporting still have moments where they look like what most of us think of as themselves, and they are clearly well-drilled and coordinated. But it's clearly a four-alarm fire any time the ball turns over.

The deal Peter Vermes has made with himself, and his team: Take risks, particularly with the positioning of his fullbacks. Get numbers forward early in the possession in order to overwhelm and disorganize the opponents with the ball. Bet that *that* is going to be worth it over the course of 90 minutes and over the course of a season, even if there are times where it becomes a liability.

This week it became a liability:

Note that the two clips I showed, first from the Houston loss and then from Rapids draw, came during very different game states. Against Houston it was the second half and Sporting were trailing by multiple goals, so of course "risk" was on the menu. But against Colorado it was the second half and Sporting were sitting on a perfectly acceptable result, and had actually been playing conservatively (and fairly well).

"I thought the whole group did a really good job responding to the last game," is how goalkeeper Tim Melia put it after the Colorado result. "I thought tonight we did a good job maintaining our low block defensively, not really giving away a lot of opportunities."

Emphasis mine. Sporting had actually come out in a low block, and the point of that was specifically to try to minimize the type of play that had killed them against the Dynamo.

And yet Colorado got 'em once anyway. Even with the differing game states and game plans, teams are just leaving a guy in Graham Zusi's shadow and playing for quick transitions, and it's working.

It's to Sporting's credit that they got a road point regardless, especially after going down a man for the final 15 minutes. Even though I don't think they've completely solved the issues that buried them in 2019, I would be shocked if we saw a similar, 2019-style collapse.

They've got to figure this out, though. It's a legitimate Achilles' heel and everybody's out there taking aim.


A few more things to ponder...

10. Montreal and Toronto combined for exactly one shot in the first half of TFC's 1-0 win on Friday night, which is to say it was a tight and cagey game ultimately decided by an Alejandro Pozuelo penalty.

The Reds managed this without Jozy Altidore (personal reasons) and Ayo Akinola (hamstring), and then third-string center forward Patrick Mullins did his hamstring and, well, I'm pretty tired of watching TFC play without forwards. They've done so a lot, but are nonetheless unbeaten in 18 regular-season games (the league record is 19), so they're actually quite good at it even if their entertainment value dips.

Montreal weren't able to create the deep, wide overloads they used to good effect in their 2-0 win over Vancouver earlier in the week. And I'm still not sure what their formation is, with Lassi Lappalainen lining up at left wing but no actual right winger and Romell Quioto as a center forward and Maxi Urruti as a second forward ...

It's awkward and unbalanced and it's not really working.

9. Chicago lost 3-1 at NYCFC. The Fire have ideas but aren't executing them in sync:

There are moments throughout this build-up — but I'm thinking specifically of when the ball goes wide at the 31:22 mark — where it is, potentially, quite on. But Chicago's movement isn't coordinated and the next pass isn't immediately available and nothing they've done has actually disorganized the Cityzens' defense, so everything just kind of stalls out.

They have ideas, though.

Ronny Deila's got ideas, too, and the big one was "get Anton Tinnerholm looking like the previous two years." That was a good idea, and so was Alex Ring playing at left wing (weird, right?).

8. I don't think Yuya Kubo expected to be playing as a box-to-box midfielder in MLS but that was kind of his role in FC Cincinnati's very credible scoreless draw against a suddenly struggling Columbus side.

The Crew, finally with a full-strength lineup, generated almost nothing: just seven shots total, and only three on goal. Frankie Amaya playing as a true No. 6 kept Lucas Zelarayan or anyone else from doing anything of note in zone 14:

7. Philly destroyed a short-handed and demoralized D.C. United team by 4-1, scoring goals from set-pieces and possession and on the break. It was a thorough and ruthless stomping, and United were never in the game.

I'm not sure how much it means for Philly, but one of the ways you show you're a good team is by easily dispatching the bad teams. Don't make a thing of it, just end 'em.

6. Our Pass of the Week comes from RBNY attacker Omir Fernandez, who also scored the game's first goal in New York's 1-1 draw at New England and was all-around awesome:

Most RBNY players have looked confused and tentative this season, but Fernandez hasn't. He's made a strong case for more playing time, and would have done so even if he hadn't finished his chance (he missed a couple of big ones in the MLS is Back tournament and got benched for it, but shouldn't have; play the guys who are finding chances).

The Revs — who were able to effectively play over RBNY's press despite being without Carles Gil — created plenty and just didn't finish. The worry is that DP No. 9 Adam Buksa had little impact on any of it, and looks a step-and-a-half off the pace in MLS thus far.

5. FC Dallas got two early goals and basically just held on from there in what eventually became a 3-1 win over Minnesota. Fafa Picault — who had the second — was particularly effective (before having to come off with a knock) just getting on the ball, carrying it upfield and tormenting Romain Metanire. This was the basic thing Dallas had been struggling with all season when Paxton Pomykal, who now looks like he might be done for 2020, wasn't on the field: just getting into the final third.

Adrian Heath made a line change after a weather-delayed halftime, subbing out his entire attack. And to be fair the Loons were much better and were a layer of paint away from equalizing, but just didn't have enough.

4. I thought the Galaxy were done, but Ben's question here is the correct one following a largely impressive 3-2 win over San Jose in the Cali Clasico:

Single-game xG is a finicky beast but in this one it lined up nicely with what actually happened on the field. The Galaxy had a plan and executed it.

In attack: Get the ball on Cristian Pavon's foot and let him go at Tommy Thompson in isolation, forcing the rest of San Jose's man-marking scheme to come apart as they leave their assignments to put out the fire. I'd give them a B- for the concept and an A- for execution.

In defense: Sit on Jackson Yueill and don't let him spray long diagonals to create wing overloads. A for the concept and C for the execution, though that's harsh since Yueill really wasn't able to dictate the game (though both Quakes goals came from out wide, so I had to dock the Galaxy a letter grade for each).

And the most important part was to dominate set pieces. It's an area of glaring weakness for San Jose while in Nick DePuy and Daniel Steres, LA now have two of the better targets in the league.

3. In terms of raw entertainment value it's tough to top Real Salt Lake's 4-4 draw at Portland on Saturday night. The visitors came from behind three separate times, including a goal in the 90th minute and then another four minutes into stoppage time for the final.

I've banged on about how too much of RSL's attacking ideas end up as "give it to Corey Baird and hope he can dribble a bunch of guys," but my god did it work on that late equalizer:

The overall defensive solidity that defined Portland's run to the title of the MLS is Back Tournament has deserted them the past two weekends. Is this a blip, or was the defensive performance in Orlando a blip?

2. A week after smashing Portland, Seattle welcomed LAFC to CenturyLink and just smashed them to bits as well, with the final score of 3-1 being fairly representative of proceedings. The Sounders did to LAFC what they always try to do to LAFC: Win second balls then play quickly into the channel and try to beat the high line. It was wildly successful, especially in the second half when they mixed it with a little bit of pressing as well.

LAFC, meanwhile, are currently reeling. Kenneth Vermeer has been a downgrade from Tyler Miller, and they have not adequately replaced either Walker Zimmerman or Steven Beitashour. The team that conceded just about a goal per game in 2019 is now conceding better than (worse than?) two goals per game in 2020. They are incomplete, and it shows.

Getting Eduard Atuesta back should help, but it's jarring to see how fragile LAFC have been — on both sides of the ball — without him.

1. And finally, our Face of the Week goes to a very happy Nashville SC bunch following Anibal Godoy's golazo for the 1-0 win over Inter Miami on Sunday night:

Nashville are an unadventurous and mostly good defensive team, despite what Dike and Orlando did to them on Tuesday. They do need to go get a center forward, though.

Miami will benefit from Blaise Matuidi, who hasn't suited up yet, but the last 15 minutes showed just how unimaginative they can be and often are when chasing the game. I know there's been Luis Suarez talk, but how useful is Luis Suarez if there's nobody around to get him the ball?

Inter need a playmaker. That's what their open DP slot should be for.

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