MLS Weekly, Week 2: Results, son. That’s All That Matters

Image: Noah Riffe

“It’s early, but trends for 2019 are starting to form in Major League Soccer after just a week.”

I read that sentence…five(?) days ago (here) and it still hasn’t come out from under my skin. Go past beyond the oxymoronic idea of conjuring a “trend” out of a single piece of information (a game, in this case) and ask the more relevant question: is every team in Major League Soccer a kind of generic “widget” that compares with every other team apples-to-apples? Just…stop making a mockery of all the work I put into these damn posts, yeah?

Of which, here’s the results tracker I use as a reference for this and all future posts, updated so it’s current on results/trends. (Full disclosure: you will find typos in there; I try and I will always correct, but that’s a lotta moving parts.)

To stick up for it a little, the article isn’t hot garbage – e.g., the note that Minnesota United FC will play just one team that made the 2018 playoffs counts as news you can use – but talk of a “new and improved attack” for the Chicago Fire, talk about Atlanta United FC regaining momentum, and Los Angeles FC “winning ugly,” all fell flat to varying degrees once the results for MLS Week 2 rolled in. Just to give one example, LAFC kicked the Portland Timbers’ collective ass, and most of the ugly came from Portland. (Any FC Cincinnati fans looking for a little encouragement about next weekend’s home opener should look into the Timbers’ record without Diego Chara in the starting XI).

With that off my chest (no, thank you), allow me to turn your attention to what actually happened during Week 2 of the 2019 MLS season, starting with the games that failed to cough up any kind of real news or useful data. For example, get rid of draws between “perceptually equal” teams – i.e., games between teams that most reasonable people would reasonably lump into the same tier of talent – and there goes Chicago’s 1-1 draw in Chicago against Orlando City SC and New York City and DC United knotting up at nowhere (aka, a 0-0 draw in The Bronx). Next, yank all the games that follow expectations or reputations – e.g., the Seattle Sounders beating the Colorado Rapids in Seattle, as they would, and always will on most timelines. To extend the idea using one team as an example, the Fire had a chance to back up the (or that one dude’s) speculation that their attack had improved; by failing to do that, Chicago failed to rewrite its reputation as a team that neutrals can safely ignore. By association, Orlando will remain the team that sucked in 2018 until they flip the script.

As for the rest, I’ll take a closer look at the five games that sent weird signals, big signals, or both. That will leave one last game unlooked at (but not unloved): FC Dallas’ 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. That’s a solid win for Dallas, if just on paper, while also not likely to cause a massive stir back in LA – especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his ego sitting that one out.

More significantly, the stars aligned to where I happened to tune in for the full 90 minutes of the two more defining of the weekend results – Portland’s dark-night-of-the-soul loss to LAFC mentioned above, and FC Cincinnati’s perhaps-less-stunning-than-it-should-be draw against the reigning champs (Atlanta) in Atlanta (those links will take you to the extended notes on both of those games). The results meant more to the teams opposite the ones I follow – e.g., LAFC has started very strong and against two respected teams (if at home), while Atlanta looks like a deeply-puzzled shadow of their former selves – but, with them averaging 3.5 goals against per game so far, Portland fans have every reason to feel anxious about their defense. As for Cincinnati…ask me what I think after they play the Timbers next Sunday.

Of which, here’s the results tracker I use as a reference for this and all future posts, updated so it’s current on results/trends. (Full disclosure: you will find typos in there; I try and I will always correct, but that’s a lotta moving parts.)

All right, that’s the state of things generally. Now, let’s see what I can sort out of those other five games.


New England Revolution 0-2 Columbus Crew SC

I always type Columbus Screw, and it bugs me, but, short version, they were good for the win. It took them nearly to the expiration of the policy to score their insurance goal – which, for the record, was embarrassingly simple from the Revs perspective – this match-up comes down to a simple question of quality. Wrapping your head around the question only takes asking yourself, would you rather have Gyasi Zardes or Teal Bunbury, Gaston Sauro or Michael Mancienne, Federico Higuain or Carles Gil? And, dragging this all the way in Columbus’ favor, Pedro Santos showed up Cristian Penilla, the one player New England has who could complicate that decidedly lopsided game of War (the card game). It wasn’t just that one player got an assist (on Columbus’ first goal; do note how the Revs defense conspired to allow two dudes to pull that off) while the other didn’t; Santos worked better with the space and timing he had – much as he did on that assist. Too many of New England’s “attacks” boiled down to “mazy runs” into a dead-end of Columbus players; count Penilla, Juan Agudelo and Edgar Castillo all guilty of that sin of excess. New England did manage to earn a penalty kick, but, sticking with the theme, Zac Steffen (who you’d rather have than New England’s Brad Knighton) stuffed it. One of the most telling stats/patterns I’m seeing is when the team that puts up the fewest total shots still manages to put more shots on goal. Whatever their actual level of talent, there’s just something…off about the Revs, and there has been for some years – and, more to the point, until further notice.

Houston Dynamo 2-1 Montreal Impact

“Does your friend have a name?” “His name is Ben.”
“That is a show that is not going away. Classic.”

I’m guessing the second quote is about…Friends(?), but I have no idea who Ben is or how his name came up, but that is the bless’d sound of broadcast booth boredom (take a bow, Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson!). I mostly dipped into this game to check on Houston; their record against mediocre teams (e.g., RSL and Montreal) was the only hook I needed. When the announcers got around to talking about the game, they described the same thing shown in the condensed highlights: Houston dominance for the first 30 minutes. Montreal scored first against that back-drop (cool goal, too; and Michael Azira?), but it was only appropriate for Houston to clap-back (and louder; that’s gotta be in for Goal of the Week). A lot of credit goes to Houston’s Tomas Martinez for combining grit with grace the same way he did in the assist on that first goal, but the Dynamo looked like they had some ideas going forward. After nearly 40 minutes on their backs, L’Impact dragged itself back closer to equal footing, and that only makes Houston’s scrappy winner more impressive. Overall, though, there’s no question this game played out as expected, if on largely historical terms: both Montreal and Houston sucked on the road last season, and Houston made BBVA a fortress…if a pregnable one when the right suitor came around (sorry…I’ve been considering the meaning and origin of the word “impregnable” all day, and I don’t love where it’s taking me). I’m not sure what I was looking for here – especially given that I expect* both the Galaxy and FC Dallas to go deeper than Houston – but I’m wondering whether my personal rooting interests (i.e., Portland and Cincinnati) aren’t making me more curious about mid-table competition. (*That’s expect, because nothing would surprise me with any of those three teams.)

Real Salt Lake 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

While they’ve got ample reason to complain about the penalty kick – I’m pretty confident Corey Baird was leaning ground-wards before he got touched. Vancouver really can’t scream injustice about the final result. Credit where it’s due, Albert Rusnak scored one of your more technical penalty kicks, but, by the same logic, the Whitecaps played RSL pretty damn even at Rio Tinto (as confirmed), and that should give a rebuilt team still trying to come together some comfort (yes, they’d rather have the point, but…). They can draw more positives not just from their steady goal creation, but from solid play by Yordy Reyna and what looks like a tidy bundle of technique and stamina from new (literal) kid, Hwang In-beom (srsly, this kid might have some real upside). Doneil Henry also deserves a shout, more for how often I heard his name in the context of thwarting RSL attacks than his one misplaced shot at glory. Since they’re working with (mostly) same players, it’s hard to read (or make easy excuses for) RSL. The usual suspects stood out – e.g., Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and the rest (fine, Damir Kreilach) – their lack of multiple “money” players really does stand out with RSL. Their “live-or-die-by-committee” ethos might be as old as the club, but they haven’t had players like Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, and Kyle-Beckerman-from-10-years-ago since, oh, 10 years ago. And yet they had at least two cracks at taking advantage of Vancouver’s failure to equalize late in the game. To flag one detail that could spell joy for RSL, Nedum Onuoha was both usefully large (he’s 210, people, and looks every pound) and all over the game. If RSL can stop leaking goals – the curse of their stable of promising youngsters – they could compete in 2019.

I want to pause here to point out a dangerous symptom of watching the condensed games as opposed to strictly tracking the results. Every time you see a player like Yordy Reyna come close to killing it, you start thinking “man, what would it mean if he starts killing it?” This is how focusing harder on results pays off: the results Vancouver gets will say whether or not he’s killing it – or, on a finer point, it will tell you whether or not that matters. Right, aside over, back to the capsules.

San Jose Earthquakes 0-3 Minnesota United FC

I put down a marker before checking the box score for this one and…drum roll…nope, that doesn’t line up with what I saw in the condensed game. If I had to hypothesize on a reason, it would start with the eye-bulging number of crosses San Jose played (some of them rather good by Cristian Espinoza and even Chris Wondolowski once), but the more salient detail shows up (again) in the shots/shots-on-goal numbers. Now, that matched what I saw in the condensed game – e.g., Minnesota creating whole, sound chances against the scraps San Jose dragged off the table. Most of the credit I saw drifted Darwin Quintero’s way (and, yes, he played a role), but there should be shouts just as loud about Miguel Ibarra’s decisivecontributions – and, yes, yes, that is a hand ball on San Jose’s opener. To linger a little on Ibarra, Minnesota has had…at least minimally respectable attacking players for as long as they’ve been around – none on Quintero’s level, but a solid, healthy-Kevin-Molino good. What they’ve lacked – outside six(-ish) short games when Michael Azira and Sam Cronin were both healthy – was the spine they’ve now built around Ike Opara, Osvaldo Alonso, and, can I say just how impressed I was with Jan Grey Goose in this match (fine, Gregus, and is anyone else getting thirsty?). Nice as it was to see him ping a double-insurance goal off Harold Cummings, he’s pretty quick, looks like he knows how to pass and tackle, and he has good size to boot. If Minnesota’s spine holds – and, literally, all I mean by that is if they stay healthy – I’d be stunned if Minnesota didn’t make the playoffs. The same thing goes for San Jose, only going the other way. Bless the vets (Wondo) and the high-priced new additions (Espinoza), but give DanielVega a raise and do his errands for him. This game could have ended 0-6 real damn easy. San Jose…it’s gonna be a long season…

Sporting Kansas City 2-0 Philadelphia Union

First, Marco Fabian absolutely went after Johnny Russell. Elsewhere, and despite some first-blush qualms, I even agreed on the penalty call against Seth Sinovic once I came at it from a “natural movement” point of view. Going the other way, the call that lead to the first penalty kick hasn’t stopped throwing me since I watched it. (I can only ask “where?” so many times before I give up, so I did.) Maybe SKC got lucky in the end, maybe they made their own luck; either way, I’d call this MLS Week 2’s “clash of the titans.” But for the grace of God and Tim Melia (who really deserves more highlight clips than he got), this game could have ended very differently for SKC – and that’s the bright spot for Philly. That’s the bottom of the Eastern Conference with not even one number on the positive side of the ledger, Philadelphia Union. Going the other way, SKC won this game because, 1) because Melia was there and, 2) Sporting held up its end of the fight. For what it’s worth, I think they’ll manage the same all season – and in spite of the permanent conversation about how they don’t have a forward. What SKC does have, and right now, is a group of players who are talented enough that, when one line of attack fails, they always have another one on which to fall back. If it’s not Russell’s night, what’s Gerso Fernandes up to? Or if Krisztian Nemeth has a “bout of the breezes” what’s the harm in starting Daniel Salloi? The 18 I see for SKC in the box score (which is both educational, and, to second Jim Curtin, a spark of hope for the Union), and, if it’s not the best 18 players in MLS on average, it’s close. Emphasis added for the complexity of the ask. Overall, I’d call this a good all-around outing for Sporting KC and a good response to a bad set-up for Philly. I do think they’ll both hang in and around the chase this season.


And…yep, that’s me tapped out. As with last week, I hope most of the above makes sense (it does…right?). As I see it, most of what’s going on right now feels like confirmation – e.g., that Kansas City and Seattle have good teams, and that there’s this massive queue of decidedly middling teams peaking over their shoulders to the promised land. As much as I think the order of that queue will shift around during 2019, I’m not sure how exciting most people will find the shifts. Speaking for myself, I’d like a few plot twists. And I appreciate Atlanta for providing them. Gucci*.

(* If you haven’t seen 8th Grade, see 8th Grade.)



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