MLS Weekly, Week 10: The Rich Quantity of Data That Tells Us Who Sucks

With the arrival of MLS Week 10, fans of Major League Soccer finally have a body of current context to help them understand the results they’re seeing…

Credit: Rainclaw7 / License

I want to start this week’s post by correcting the record. If it wasn’t last week that I slagged off on the condensed games on the MLS App as a path to enlightenment, it was the week before. All it took to get me back into the fold was the decision to preview the state of the San Jose Earthquakes by watching their three games prior to this weekend’s (100%-guaranteed sleeping-meds) win over FC Cincinnati. A longer taste of what they’d done over that period shrank them a little. While it’s still true that the condensed games rob you of any and all sense of what happens in the middle of the – and that poop is vital (often) – they still deliver a larger sample of opportunities (by the attack) and failures (from the defense), and that’s more information in your head no matter how you slice it.

At any rate, watching all those condensed games gave me a better read on San Jose’s “revival,” which looks even less impressive still after suffering through 90 minutes of watching them pass circles around FC Cincy (for those who want more pain, see my extended notes). A handful of thoughts circle over the corpse of Cincinnati’s loss to the ‘Quakes – chief among them, that San Jose didn’t do much with all that time on the ball, and that Cincy could have stolen a point but for Daniel Vega’s right hand(?).

All the same, few things push back against any narrative about San Jose becoming a force quite as hard as the sub-text of all the results that built their eight-point haul from their last four games. For one thing, the streak started against a Sporting Kansas City squad that hasn’t won since the end of March. The road draw that followed came against a Seattle Sounders team that last won over a pair of squeakers at home against Real Salt Lake and Toronto FC; and the game before that saw them stymied by FC Dallas and Jesse Gonzalez’s right hand. The point isn’t to crap on all those results – eight points out of 12 is never bad, especially with two of the games on the road – but to put that narrow win over Cincinnati in the proper context of San Jose narrowly beating a team that has been pretty damn bad lately, and at Avaya Stadium.

The grander point I want to make is that, with the arrival of MLS Week 10, fans and observers of Major League Soccer finally have a body of current context to help them understand the results they’re seeing, Hallelujah. Just six teams in the league haven’t yet played 10 games, which means that 18 teams have, and that means we have data, guys!

As (the few) close observers of this space know, I used to compile all that stuff into the Form Guide ULTRA, the table of results (etc.) that I use to track results. That will show only the last 10 results for each team for the rest of 2019 going forward, but 10 games reaches back far enough into any given team’s history to establish a sense of their “form.” For reasons of timing and sanity, I’ve decided to post the Form Guide ULTRA later in the week (but here’s last week’s post for reference), but, with 10 games under the collective belts of 3/4 of MLS, the ground beneath my feet finally feels firm enough to allow for me to judge a slippery concept like form. With that context in the back of our minds, let’s talk about all the results from the past week and what they might actually mean.

I’ll start by writing off the games that didn’t really move the needle – which isn’t the same thing as calling the results meaningless. DC United’s 3-1 helping of hate over Columbus Crew SC files doesn’t budge the needle for the same reason as Cincinnati’s loss to San Jose – e.g., Ohio is in free-fall, y’all, as in both Ohio teams have lost their last five games. In other words, beating either Columbus or Cincinnati doesn’t matter until further notice. In their defense, both teams have played a bunch of recent games on the road – three of their last four for Columbus and four of their last five for Cincinnati – so maybe they’ll both turn things around upon arriving home. Against that, both teams have struggled with scoring all season; Columbus has scored only 9 goals, while Cincinnati has…oof, just eight. The horror deepens for Cincy after that, sadly, in that they haven’t scored in five whole damn weeks, leaving them at 0 goals scored, versus nine allowed. Columbus, meanwhile, has had…moments on the field, both offensively (and ruled offside) and offensively (huh, MLS was too ashamed to highlight it), and, this week at least, DC got some bounces. Still, five straight losses are what they are and, given the venues where each played this past weekend, and the circumstances under which they arrived, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see that both Columbus and Cincinnati lost this past weekend.

The other predictable/meaningless results included Minnesota United FC’s 1-1 draw at Allianz versus Seattle and, to make the bigger stretch, Los Angeles FC’s goal-less draw in LA against the Chicago Fire. To start with the latter, I only watched the highlights and checked the box score – which showed what I expected (e.g., LAFC domination, and they came close) – but that happens; when Chicago turns the tables on LAFC at home, that’s news. With Seattle at Minnesota, it’s great to see Ike Opara get rewarded with a goal (and over Chad “F-ing” Marshall) after getting stoned twice against the Los Angeles Galaxy two weekends ago, but, even with Seattle’s Cristian Roldan answering back with a screamer/GOTW candidate (I have another favorite), the essential dynamic of this game looked the same coming out as it did going in – i.e., Minnesota is a good team that’s still a couple of steps behind perfect progress (though it was good to see them play well (enough) without Darwin Quintero Jr. out there), while Seattle is a strong team that has under-achieved enough lately to make it feel predictable.

The last game that files under “It Doesn’t Matter” was the Portland Timbers 2-1 road win over RSL. As discussed at length in my extended notes, by no means did Portland outplay Real Salt Lake; both their goals relied on a mixture of talent and divine intervention, but the general underlying trend held up: Portland has its formation and sense of self sorted out, while it’s entirely possible that RSL only got their two most recent wins by playing bad teams in good circumstances (or, in FC Cincy’s case, just circumstances). With that, we turn to the real stuff, the games that really might have mattered this past weekend. May as well start with the headline…

So, is the Philadelphia Union the sh*t, or did they just happen to line up against two sh*t teams over Week 10? Their week started Wednesday when they fairly outclassed FC Cincy – if only in the second half – and it ended with them absolutely steam-rolling the New England Revolution – if only after the 65th minute. If there’s one result to linger on, it’s the New England game: the Union coughed up a lot of quality chances for a game that ended 6-1, but they also put up literally crazy numbers against them (which, here, means 15 freakin’ shots on goal). Because it’s virtually impossible to understate how slackly the Revolution can defend (there are no words), I recommend eating a salt lick as you digest those goals, but the reality is that Philly does have talent, their young defenders look good when they should, and, no matter how crappy it is, Sergio Santos became the latest guy to score a goal for them. They’ve got a couple of biggies coming up – e.g., at Toronto and versus Seattle – and that should clarify things a bit.

After that, I assume that Atlanta United FC’s 3-0 demolition of SKC in KC will be the next biggest headline on the weekend. For what it’s worth, that’s not wholly unjustified. As I’ve noted for a few weeks, the Five Stripes have returned to posting last season’s numbers and what they did against SKC (again, in KC) can best be described as assault. If you get a chance to vote on goal of the week, or even MVP, just be honest and vote Ezequiel Barco who, on the back of Josef Martinez’s self-sacrifice, put on a clinic of shooting from distance. With Atlanta’s good works acknowledged, it is vitally important to return to the starting premise of this post: between injuries and a CCL hangover that feels like a spin into cirrhosis, Sporting Kansas City is easy pickin’s right now. We’re talking Ohio-level…

To shift the conversation to happier climes, things are going much better lately for both teams with “New York” in their names. First, the New York Red Bulls lent some credence to the idea that they’d only need one good week to get going when they beat the Galaxy 3-2 in Harrison, NJ – and that was a win they had to salvage to boot. New York City FC made the bigger splash by absolutely stuffing the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo – that’s to the tune of zero (0) shots on goal for the Quebecois. NYCFC is the bigger story, without question, not least because they’ve picked up 10 points from the last 12 available. And this is no home-field fluke, because they beat both Montreal and D.C. away and, in a solid follow-up to the games that came before it, they left L’Impact looking complacent and confused. Dome Torrent’s job looks fairly safe all the sudden. It’s harder to track what’s going on with the Red Bulls. For one, they looked far (far, far, far) better in the condensed game I watched tonight than they ever did against FC Cincinnati last weekend (see “far, far, far” for my extended notes). Part of that surely followed from the Galaxy trying to play a little (ahem!), and the thing to point out there is essential freakishness of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. For what it’s worth, I think LA will become more like a normal team when he’s gone, but there’s no denying that he’s a real weapon in the here and now. In a break with precedent, his size didn’t define the kinds of goals he scored/set up on Saturday (and credit Diego Polenta for both entry passes), but that’s always a factor.

The bigger story is LA’s record on the road – well, that and the fact that they gave up two highly similar goals against the Red Bulls (no video,, srsly?), and as close apart as the goals they scored. To wrap up the Red Bulls, we’ll see; the way they scored the game’s first goal after extended pressure on LA recalled the Red Bulls teams of the last two-three seasons, and that’s potentially huge. The deeper story/question is how much of that result followed from what will ultimately become the Galaxy’s home/road split – i.e., the Galaxy is perfect at home (6-0-0, while reportedly not playing that well), while being…somewhat less on the road (1-2-1 after yesterday). The Galaxy picked up their lone win against Vancouver, and before the ‘Caps settled on an identity, so that’s another candidate for an asterisk. The bigger question is what happens to the Houston Dynamo when they finally leave the snug confines of BBVA Compass Stadium (which truly rolls off the tongue, does it not?).

For as bad as they’re not doing, FC Dallas strikes me one of those mid-table teams that MLS allegedly does not have. By that I mean, they’re always a tough out, while also being fairly damn limited on the attacking side of the ball. I was about to reference their scoring to prove that point, but they’ve scored 15 on the season (even if four of those came against RSL), which puts them comfortably in the top half of the league. In that sense, Houston beating Dallas 2-1 could very well underscore how good Houston could be in 2019 (also, enjoy this goal by Mauro Manotas, who had two on the night, especially the build-up). Dallas doesn’t get a ton of offense outside of what comes through Bryan Acosta and, especially, Michael Barrios. If anything stands out in this game, it’s the box score – Dallas held the ball a lot – but Houston has the sharper edge, and maybe even the better defense. If they can take that on the road and work it, it might be time for everyone to party like it’s the mid-late-aughts.

All the above leaves only one question left to answer: who is the worst team in MLS? My notes on New England’s loss to Philly make a pretty good case for the Revolution, but the Colorado Rapids screamed out a pretty loud shot for the claim this week with a 2-3 home loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. In spite of some serious snafus (very serious, I assure you), I’m still going to hand the crown to New England. If nothing else, the Rapids fought back more credibly – and, had Diego Rubio not gotten sent off for stupid, who knows what might have happened? – but the bigger reason has less to do with the final score-line than it does with how the Revolution’s issues felt global, while the Rapids’ felt more specific somehow, as if it kept going back to one player getting hung out by the scheme. On a simpler level, the Rapids at least tried to fix their issues by firing Anthony Hudson; back in New England, meanwhile, Brad Freidel still sits on the hot seat (and I don’t know what else they have to see before they accept that Friedel has lost all of that team).

To wrap up Vancouver (and, golly, I do hope that’s everyone), Lass Bangoura showed well in this game and the more that happens, the more threatening the ‘Caps look. That said, their concerns include giving up two legit penalty calls – i.e., that’s hardly the path to glory – but Colorado has to feel significantly, permanently worse about how badly Axel Sjoberg screwed up in this game.

All for this week. If all goes well, and nobody dies (it’s been an issue lately), I’ll be back with more next Monday.

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