As usual, Week 15 in MLS left us with plenty to discuss, as a couple struggling teams posted bounceback efforts, while the league's frontrunners continue to jostle for positioning at the top of the table. Here are takeaways for every team in the league coming off all the action.
Only time will tell if the big win over D.C. United will spark the much needed turnaround they so desperately need, but one thing they showed is that they have more quality than we’ve seen this season—even without Josef Martinez. Jon Gallagher’s second goal was as good of a team goal as we’ve seen in MLS this year and indicates that they may yet have the quality to solidify their playoff spot between now and the end of the season.
Chicago Fire FC
With five goals in his last five games, forward Robert Beric has been magnificent and he is one of the primary reasons why the Fire are still in the hunt for a playoff spot. To get over the playoff line, Beric will need help and C.J. Sapong, Djordje Mihailovic and Ignacio Aliseda will have to start impacting the box score. If they don’t, the Fire are in danger of missing the postseason.
Although they didn’t play this weekend, they should be excited by their outlook because if they win their two games in hand on some of the teams above them, they could go as high as 2nd or 3rd in the table. Lalas Abubakar (above) has been ever present in the back line and is a big reason they have kept three clean sheets in their past four games. He’ll need to be at his very best to fend off the LAFC attacking juggernaut in midweek although the latter will be without some of their best attackers.
Columbus Crew SC
Winless in their last two, but still there’s no need to panic because every team has a dip in form at some point in the season and the Crew may well be having theirs right now. The last time Gyasi Zardes went three games without a goal, he bounced back with a two-goal performance and I expect to see that kind of response from him, and a Crew win against Montreal this week.
If ever a team needed a win to silence the off-field distractions, it’s this D.C. United team. Key players continue to underperform, their coach’s future is uncertain and they are rock bottom in the East. I’m afraid to say that anything short of a win and a draw from their two games this week will bring their playoff hopes to an end. As the experienced man in the attacking group, they’ll need Ola Kamara to hit a run of form if they are to salvage anything from a subpar season so far.
To say their attack is struggling is an understatement at this point. Two goals in 10 games, misfiring Designated Players and just three wins all season—there's plenty about which to be critical. Quite unbelievably, they are only four points outside of a playoff spot. However, I fully expect those slim playoff hopes to be laid to rest very soon as their next three opponents are the Philadelphia Union, Columbus and Toronto FC.
Their last nine goals have come from six different scorers and that may be their biggest strength. Franco Jara will be who they depend on to be their consistent goal scorer, but their ability to get contributions from all over the pitch may be what keeps them firmly above the playoff line and in pursuit of the top two seeds in the West.
With no wins in the last six games—three draws and three defeats—the Dynamo have lost their way after a promising start to the season. The problem? They are giving up too many chances. Only once in the past six games have they kept a team from having fewer than 10 shots against them. This has led them to concede the first goal in five of their last six games. So if a turnaround is to happen, they will need a fast start and an early goal against FC Dallas on Wednesday to take away the pressure of always having to play from behind.
Inter Miami CF
They remain on the outside looking in, but I believe they have the players to make a run for the last playoff spot. In Gonzalo Higuain (above), Rodolfo Pizarro and Blaise Matuidi there is enough quality to generate goals and chances (although Pizarro will be gone with Mexico for several games). The attack is improving and they’ve only failed to score once in the last six games, but question marks remain around their defending—no clean sheets since a goalless draw on September 6. And now captain and starting GK Luis Robles has an arm fracture. If anything costs them a playoff spot, it’ll be their inability to keep shutouts.
There is no easy fix for this team right now, but there is one player who can turn it around for them if he regains his best form. Yes, Chicharito could do with a goal and yes, they need to stop playing a high defensive line because they don’t have the players to do that. But the key to a late playoff push is Jonathan dos Santos. He’s their most important player and he is the one who sets the tempo with his passing when he is firing on all cylinders. He has yet to look 100 percent fit since his injury and that’s a huge reason why they continue to struggle. His departure to join the Mexican national team will no doubt hurt the Galaxy.
For all their struggles this season, they are still the league’s top-scoring team (35 goals). I maintain that no other team produces the type of passing patterns and triangles in the final third that LAFC do. They are masters at moving opponents all over the field and creating easy chances. And with Bradley Wright-Phillips in the form he’s in, they have the perfect forward to get on the end of all the opportunities they create—he has been sensational. We'll see if the LAFC system can still generate the same chances for him without Uruguay national team call-ups Brian Rodriguez and Diego Rossi.
All of a sudden their attack looks scary. Kei Kamara will always get you goals. That’s expected. But if they can keep Emanuel Reynoso and Kevin Molino in good form—they linked up brilliantly for the second goal—then they’ll have an outside chance at the No. 1 seed in the West. Molino may be the key for the Loons as the X-factor: Skillful, unpredictable, but inconsistent. If he can play well often, and torment outside backs for 90 minutes, Minnesota will have a strong finish to the season.
They were able to snap a four-game losing streak, but some of the same issues persist. Manager Thierry Henry (above) continues to change the formation as he seeks to find the setup that works best, but so far there’s been nothing he has been able to do to stop his defense leaking goals. Only once in the last seven games have they not conceded at least two goals. That is a deeply concerning trend, especially as they head to two of the league's best teams in Columbus and Philadelphia next.
The only reason they are still in with a playoff shout is because of their defense. Offensively they just don’t create enough through the run of play, and with about a third of the season left they have fewer goals than Diego Rossi. Each week they seem to get a strong performance from someone on the defensive side and against New England it was goalkeeper Joe Willis who stepped up with five saves to earn his team a point.
New England Revolution
One thing is certain: They will be in the playoffs. What is uncertain, however. is whether they can actually make a run once they get there. They are sorely missing Carles Gil’s playmaking abilities and they really need Lee Nguyen to get in a groove. At his best he can help plug the hole left by Gil with his ability to wiggle out of tight spaces, create chances and unbalance opponents with his dribbling. He has played the No. 10 role in the last four games, so Bruce Arena is clearly hoping a run in the team will unlock Nguyen’s best form. So far it hasn’t happened.
After scoring just 10 goals in their first 13 games, they’ve now scored seven in the last two and sit two wins above the playoff line. A big reason for the change in fortune in front of goal is the red hot form of Alexandru Mitrita who has four goals in the past two games. His first touch on his first goal was exquisite, but the way he was able to finish with such conviction was the best indicator of how high his confidence is right right now. Should he keep this form up, NYCFC will be a team no one wants to face in the postseason.
New York Red Bulls
It wasn’t surprising that RBNY lost to Orlando because any time they’ve faced an Eastern Conference powerhouse—Columbus Crew and Philadelphia—they’ve come away empty handed. They’ll do enough to be in the playoffs, but they will have to find a way to elevate their game against the stronger opponents if they are to make a postseason run.
Orlando City SC
It’s now nine games unbeaten while averaging two goals a game and they continue to get production from all of their key players. Oscar Pareja’s brand of football was on full display for their third goal against the NY Red Bulls (above). The pass from Nani to Benji Michel, and the selflessness of Michel to square it to Antonio Carlos for an easy finish, encapsulates why they have been on such a tear lately. It’s a team effort, they get everyone involved, the ball never stops moving and they are very clinical in front of goal.
They are one of the very best teams in the league and have a chance at the Supporters' Shield. But if there’s an area of concern it would be that they’ve yet to beat Orlando, Toronto and Columbus—their direct rivals for the No. 1 seed. Against Toronto, Brenden Aaronson struggled to find the spaces he normally finds because he was very closely marked all day. That’s an area in which he can still improve: finding ways to still impact the game when he receives special attention from the opponent. It may mean running into wide channels more often, coming a little deeper or even playing much higher, but he’ll have to read the game and find a way to be impactful.
They have the quality and experience to give the Sounders a run for their money for that top spot in the West. The difference between the two teams right now is the number of goals they concede. The Timbers only have a +3 goal difference, but they have two clean sheets in the past two games and if they keep up that defensive form, the race for the top spot will go down to the wire.
Real Salt Lake
They’ve been unable to find any sort of consistency and now that they will be without Albert Rusnak for the foreseeable future, it’s time for their other attacking pieces—Justin Meram, Corey Baird (above), Maikel Chang and Sam Johnson—to step up and start producing consistently.
San Jose Earthquakes
What a difference a couple of wins make! San Jose appear to have solved their defensive frailties, at least for now. They allowed only one shot on goal against the Galaxy and it’s partly because they are doing a better job of denying space in behind. Their defensive line is slightly deeper than it has been, and they also aren’t exclusively man marking, they now cover for teammates that are out of position and drop deep when they need to.
The second half against Vancouver was the Sounders at their very best. High pressing, direct attacking and dangerous crosses from wide areas. Their bigger challenge will be the upcoming FIFA fixture window as they will have to do without Raul Ruidiaz, Gustav Svensson and Xavier Arreaga, who will be gone on international duty. This will be a true test of their highly touted depth. If they can overcome this test by remaining in first place, they’ll solidify themselves as the best team in the West, if not the entire league.
Sporting Kansas City
The win against Houston was much-needed to say the least. On an even bigger positive note, Alan Pulido got his first goals since July and he displayed his diverse skill set on both of them. For the first one, we saw how dangerous he can be when running directly at the back line. He was savvy enough to change direction at the right moment in order to create the space that allowed him to get his shot off. His second goal was just a classy finish as he lifted the ball over the 'keeper. When he returns from international duty, he must find a way to sustain this form for Sporting if the team is to remain in the hunt for first place.
They may have the best player in the league playing for them in Alejandro Pozuelo. He is genuinely two-footed, has such incredible close control in tight spaces and best of all, he is always looking to involve his teammates. He has scored in each of the last four games and is on his way to double-digit goals and assists for the season. If he can lead his team to the Shield, he’ll have the strongest case for MVP.
In the first half against Seattle we saw why the Whitecaps have five wins this season. They were very dangerous on the counter with Fredy Montero and Lucas Cavallini, but they couldn’t find the finishing touch. In the second half we saw why they have lost 10 times and sit near the bottom of the West. They cannot defend crosses. Opponents are allowed to roam freely into Vancouver's penalty area, the 'Caps allow free headers and they don’t put pressure on the player crossing the ball. Teams will continue to exploit that weakness until it is addressed.