MLS Weekly, Week 4, Leg 1: Absentees and a Frank Admission of Limitations

To anyone wondering whether I’d do one of these on a short week, the answer is yes. At the same, no, this isn’t “MLS Week 4.” Only 10 of the 24 teams in Major League Soccer played this weekend – less than half – so, to lay down a house rule, I won’t call any given week “Week [X]” until over half the teams and league have played as many games, and you’re welcome for the confusion, now pronounce “banal,” because it turns out I’d been doing it wrong for years.

Fans owe the shorted schedule to an international weekend, of course, and the teams that played weren’t all there. This mattered more (Los Angeles FC v Real Salt Lake), less (FC Dallas v. Colorado), or not at all (New York Red Bulls v Orlando City SC), but it might have mattered most in the Philadelphia Union’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC (links and further notes/adventures soon). The Union missed Corey Burke and Andre Blake (both Jamaica), but it probably hurt Columbus more to go without Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes (and maybe they’ll go back to missing Justin Meram soon). Based on the how well Philly played (more below), I think they would have taken all three points regardless. All the same, I think most people would accept that a talent/output drop off happens between Zardes and Patrick Mullins. What a goal might have done for Columbus during those opening 20 minutes…

With the Portland Timbers (happily) off for the first leg of MLS Week 4 (send help 2 us, plz), I had time free to watch all of that game and, to elaborate on the obvious, watching 20 minutes of a game will never compare to watching the full 90. As a rule, I don’t claim to “know” any team I don’t follow week to week. The same thing goes with the condensed games, products that are simultaneously interpreted and impressionistic. At any rate (what’s did that mean?), I would have come away with a completely different impression of Philadelphia’s win had I only watched the condensed game. Even combined, the box score and the condensed game aren’t equipped to translate how comfortably the Union controlled that second half. Of Philly, I wrote “they’ve found the seams” in my notes somewhere around the 55th minute. Bottom-line, I never thought for a second that Columbus would come back. And I wouldn’t have known that without either watching the whole game or pissing away far too much time on the internet.

In the final equation, I watch four teams a week for 90 full minutes (Cincinnati, Portland and special guests); I watch five condensed games after that, review all the box scores, and that’s pretty much it. Just…adjust your expectations to that level. I’m full-disclosure kind of person. I know where my skis are at all times. Or most of the time.

OK, notes on the rest of Week 4, Leg 1’s games are down below and, thanks to the small sample, I got to literally all of them. Fans of the site might have noticed by now that I haven’t yet mentioned FC Cincinnati’s dashing 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. I wrote extended notes on that (kinda mean) win back on my home site, but, to contextualize Cincinnati’s weekend with all the above: Cincinnati had a real handful of players missing, and the fact that they proved that mattered not at all is the least complicated, best feeling I’ve experienced all season. Also, Cincinnati kicked the crap out of New England, and pretty much across the whole game. Seriously, this was close to the lowest point, and Spencer Richey kicked its ass twice.

Onto the games!


Philadelphia Union 3-0 Columbus Crew SC

As I should have noted in the MLS Form Guide ULTRA (aka, source material for this post), if the Union lost this one, it would have forced the asking of questions. While it took some time for Philly to get this game by the short danglies, just about every player stood up and grabbed a handful when they did. David Accam, who announced his intentions early and then followed through with two goals (including one that bent physics) and a half-accidental assist on an emotional night, hogged the spotlight, but that win doesn’t happen without Faca Picault (involved on both of Accam’s goals) and Haris Medunjanin, a player I just…like, for what he does. For what it’s worth, this was a fun game to watch, with most of it played inside the lines and with very controlled, intelligent passing. After starting strong and sharper, Columbus slowly succumbed to where the Union controlled the game – and despite holding the edge in possession (so much for that “passing them to death” theory in the Form Guide ULTRA). The low shot total by both teams suggests some amount of dicking around, I suppose, but this one delivered above-average aesthetics. And…yeah, given everything covered above, I feel pretty good about leaving this game here. Next!

FC Dallas 2-1 Colorado Rapids

This played out per the famous soccer cliché, a tale of two halves (Dallas owned the first, but the Rapids attempted a hostile takeover in the second), but one can arguably measure the distance between these two teams through their short South American players. Dallas continues to rely on Colombian winger, Michael Barrios, and he keeps coming good, scoring goals and providing a really consistent outlet – which was huge for a Dallas team visibly invested in playing out of the back. The Rapids, meanwhile, brought Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Mezquida over from the Vancouver Whitecaps and…he’s doing everything for Colorado that he did for the ‘Caps, and that’s why he was moved. After surviving an early onslaught, Colorado recovered enough to put in a respectable road performance. Going the other way, they rarely looked dangerous, Tim Howard had to bail them out with a couple saves, and they strained to score their one goal. They’re nothing like an easy opponent, but the way that divide between Barrios and Mezquida carries across personnel, generally tells me Dallas wins this match-up 7 times out of 10. On a detail level, I finally got glimpse of Pablo Aranguiz, and he looks like a handful (and that’s it so far) and I like the way Dallas uses Reggie Cannon (their right looks good, generally, e.g., see “scoring goals” above), but I’ll have to wait another day to see the hub-bub surrounding Paxton Pomykal. The one thing that most impressed me: the ice-cold pass by (17-year-old) Thomas Roberts to break the Rapids’ defense on Dallas’ winner. Oh, and I’d count fighting back for the win a good sign for Dallas.

New York Red Bulls 0-1 Orlando City SC

Hats off to whoever edited the condensed game: he/she gave about a quarter of the time (20 minutes) to Red Bulls’ flailing after the equalizer to Orlando’s game-winning goal – which, for the record, Dom Dwyer helped immensely with one of the better back-to-goal passes you’ll see this weekend (small sample). The Red Bulls couldn’t get close enough to generate danger and, judging by the box score, Orlando did very well to limit New York generally. Stray comments from the broadcast booth hinted at deeper struggles – e.g., in the words of Shep Messing, circa the 66th minute, “finally, this game is tilted in favor of Red Bull.” (Again, when your diet consists of mini-games, clues in the commentary can reinforce what you’re watching, or Messing’s a twit and his words are valuable as the sawdust in yer dog’s food.) What’s up with the Red Bulls, one of MLS’s most-reliable regular season teams, now a (for them) pitiable 1-1-1 to start 2019? And against Orlando in Harrison, NJ? For all the beautiful plays/passes (Bradley Wright-Phillips had an absolutely majestic centering ball in the first half), they simply didn’t create a lot of clean looks. The question is how much to credit Orlando for that. It’s not a team I know well – they’ve lingered on a permanent “to-do list” for me for as long as they’ve been in MLS – but this result made me care enough to look into the names I don’t know. I started with Carlos Ascues, and not just because he cleared the equalizer off the line three minutes after Orlando went up. Defense killed Orlando last season, so if they can clean that up (without relying on fouls and/or breaking Connor Lade), the Lions do have some weapons. Getting a point where they least expected; that’s a good three points for Orlando. New York, meanwhile, loses some reputation points with this one.

Los Angeles FC 2-1 Real Salt Lake

LAFC’s choices of substitutes interested me as much as anything (e.g., can’t think of the last time I saw a player cross-over from indoor), but they tested three young, for lack of a better word, randos in a competitive match and that makes you wonder what they have up their sleeves. They also dropped the kids into what looked like a pretty damn rugged game, one with cards flying, yellow and (a soft) red (again, with the hands to face thing). What else? I wouldn’t credit the whispers about a close contest, because that didn’t really show up in anything I saw. Sure, LAFC was lucky to have a central defender score…that (also, Walker Zimmerman celebrations make me uncomfortable), but the box score confirmed a telling detail that the condensed game suggested: RSL might have given them Hell around midfield, but they didn’t get close to goal much, Nick Rimando had more saves than RSL had shots, etc. Despite that lowly output, RSL came real close to putting another goal past LAFC (offside called it back; good call, apparently, one of several), and, given that Zimmerman waited all game to scare the children (i.e., he scored late, then horror celebration), who knows what having a taller hill to climb would have done to the dynamic? This was another game with players missing, and I have two further notes on that: that Eduard Atuesta and, of all people, Latif Blessing held down LAFC’s central midfield (and Andre Horta probably did stuff too) in the absence of Mark-Anthony Kaye, and that puts them on solid footing at that position for the season. As for RSL, it’s possible that Albert Rusnak could have given RSL a better mix of shots versus saves, but I’m more fixated on whether Everton Luiz is up for the job. He is…untidy, and otherwise underwhelming. The search for New Kyle Beckerman continues.


And, that’s it for this week. Can’t wait to see how the rest of Week 4 plays out. And, for some teams, the beginning of Week 5. Just…forget the calendar thing, MLS. Till next week.

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