The Orange & Blue outlasted rival Louisville City FC at Nippert Stadium on Wednesday to advance to the fifth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The teams traded goals in an even and rain-soaked first half. A Fanendo Adi strike in the 23rd minute was cancelled out seven minutes later by a goal from Louisville City’s Lucky Mkosana. The match went to extra time when a header by Kekuta Manneh in the 103rd minute decided the match. Adi’s first half goal was his first of 2019. The fifth round of the U.S. Open Cup is schedule for next week. Thursday’s draw will determine FC Cincinnati’s opponent and will likely be one of Atlanta United, Charleston Battery, Columbus Crew or Saint Louis FC.
Louisville City FC: Chris Hubbard, Taylor Peay, Alexis Souahy, Paco Craig, Napo Matsoso (Sunny Jane EHT’), Oscar Jimenez, Magnus Rasmussen, Paolo DelPiccolo 102’), Brian Ownby (George Davis IV 81’), Niall McCabe, Lucky Mkosana (Luke Spencer 70’)
Bench: Tim Dobrowolski, Pat MacMahon, Geoffrey Dee
As any breathing, thinking fan of Major League Soccer knows, the league is taking a break until June 22nd – U.S. Open Cup action excepted,…
As any breathing, thinking fan of Major League Soccer knows, the league is taking a break until June 22nd – U.S. Open Cup action excepted, something that matters more to some teams than, um, others (a-hem, FC Cincinnati). With those two weeks off and 15 games behind every team in MLS except the Houston Dynamo, New York City FC, and my Portland Timbers, this seems like as good a time as any to step back and assess where every team in the league stands going into the brief hiatus.
I started the process over on my home site, Conifers & Citrus, with the latest Form Guide ULTRA. Related thereto, I’ve added “strength of schedule” data to the mix, something that proved enlightening for teams like the Chicago Fire, Minnesota United FC, Real Salt Lake, the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution. To get right into it, there’s a curious/fun divide between all those teams – and it’s one that gets to why I obsess about results so much. As much as both Colorado and the Revs deserve credit for turning around, frankly, abysmal seasons, both teams benefitted by playing against teams going through their own sh*t – and that applies to Colorado more than it does New England (see their last game, especially). As for the other four teams, they’ve all struggled recently, and mightily. They’ve also run through a gauntlet of tough games, something that could 1) explain their mid-season woes while also, 2) providing some context for seemingly inexplicable surges later in the 2019 season.
Before moving on to the general, and to make anyone who needs to feel better, FC Cincinnati has played a tough schedule recently – by my count, they’ve played five of their last 10 games against teams that I rated as “contenders” in the Form Guide ULTRA. In other words, while it’s both easy and reasonable to feel down about FC Cincy’s chances this season, there’s a plausible case to be made that they went through the worst of it over these past 10 weeks. Having just looked ahead, that could actually hold up. “Grey skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face…” (Sing along if you know the words!)
That’s enough for local interests; how’s everyone else doing? With the hurly-burly of regular results going quiet for a while, let’s take a look – something I’m doing by staring at the standings and all the work that went into the Form Guide ULTRA.
The first thing that stands out is the distinct possibility that the teams now in positions 2 & 3 in the East, and the teams between 2-7 in the West might not be in those same spots when the playoffs start. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Toronto FC slide deeper into oblivion based on current form, and major questions loom over teams like the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders, Houston, Sporting Kansas City and, yes, the Timbers. Overall, I’d call only the top of the Western Conference and the bottom of the Eastern Conference the known quantities in the MLS right now. Everything else feels like a million moving parts, and with even more variables in play. Mind you, that’s not the same thing as saying it’s all random, because it’s not. There are very real trends in play surrounding every single team listed above, as well as all the rest, and I’m going to spend the rest of this post teasing out the 10 biggest stories from around MLS, as I see them.
1) LAFC and Atlanta Are On a Collision Course, Yes? If there’s one undisputed reality in MLS this season, it’s that LAFC is running away with the league and rushing toward one or more titles. They’ve developed a system that pins even the best teams in the league against the ropes and pummels them into giving up one or more goals (with some exceptions). Underneath all of LAFC’s noise, Atlanta United FC has managed to tie them on points (21, all ‘round, along with Philly) over the past 10 games. The trick is that Atlanta has built their success around the league’s stingiest defense – just 11 goals allowed over just 15 games. (I say just twice because 15 teams of the 24 in the league have now played 16 games). While it’s impossible to argue (as I did in the Form Guide ULTRA) that Atlanta’s attack has “come online,” there’s something appealing about the best attack in the MLS squaring off against its best defense. Fortunately, we’ll get a preview on July 26. Here’s to hoping that’s not the only time they meet this season…unless the Timbers get a shot at it, because I’m totally down with that. Speaking of…
2) False Signals Dialed to Eleven The Dynamo sit at fourth place in the West, just four points off the Galaxy in the pack that LAFC continues to leave behind. The Timbers, meanwhile, sit stalled at the bottom of the conference, four points below the playoff line and, to note it, 10 points behind Houston. The most obvious difference between them comes with the number of games played at home – nine out of 13 for Houston versus 12 on the road for Portland, plus one bear of a game (against LAFC) at home. No one knows what happens with either team going forward, but Houston’s 1-3-0 road record seems every bit as suggestive as the 13 points from 18 available that Portland picked up over the last six games of its road trip. On a deeper level, the Timbers splurged on a striker who certainly looks real (Brian Fernandez) and, until LAFC kicked their asses, they had a solidly functioning defensive scheme. This is just one signal as to why the West feels more open than the East. Of further note, both Houston and Portland play three games between June 22 and the end of the same month (just…why?), and with travel involved in both cases – more for Houston than Portland, for the record. And that’s something else to watch.
3) The Post-Chad Marshall Era Related, the Sounders currently occupy third place in the West, but recent results (2-4-4 in their last 10 games) makes it seem really unlikely that they’ll stay there. Seattle has been reliably terrifying since joining MLS, and they’ve had this habit of starting slow before grinding down all comers on their way to MLS Cup – or at least that’s what happened in 2016 and 2017, when Seattle reached the MLS Cup and won it once. If you look at the standings for every season between 2015 and now, you’ll see a team that never scored a ton of goals, and that’s kind of the point. Seattle’s success came from keeping other teams to zero goals scored and knocking in one or two of their own. When they can’t do that – see their last three games – they’re pretty damn helpless. They signed a guy – Xavier Arreaga – and he’s going to go a long way to determining how far they go this season. That said, the Chad Marshall Effect died this season. And that’s a big deal.
4) Average in Every Way FC Dallas went into the break with a 6-6-4 record, 22 goals scored and 22 allowed. If that doesn’t make them the most average team in MLS, that’s awfully damn close. Once you get into the details, you see a team that is neither great at home (4-1-3) nor useful on the road (2-5-1), and that makes them something of a litmus test for the league at large. They are the Kung Pao Chicken of MLS, the team you measure against as a mean – e.g., solid, but capable of neither absolute failure nor greatness. If I had to name an Eastern Conference equivalent – and this is a stretch – I’d go with the Chicago Fire. Speaking of…
5) The Struggle Is Real… As with Cincinnati, it only became apparent that Chicago, Vancouver and RSL played through tough schedules when I went through the whole business of sorting out strength of schedule. RSL definitely had it easier than the other two – both of whom faced four teams I ranked as Contenders four times over their past 10 games, while RSL picked up only three. That gets to the curious telling thing about all this: Chicago picked up two points from 12 while Vancouver got five points from 12. That feels like a pretty sound barometer in the here and now with all three teams. There’s another level too…
6) Olde Tyme Wrassling Around the turn of the century, really winning a fight meant taking an eye out of the other guy’s head. I think RSL falls into that camp, right alongside Orlando City SC and the San Jose Earthquakes. I don’t think any of those three teams will challenge for the title this year or the next (or, frankly, the one after that), but all three of them have players that will fight you whistle to whistle. Better still, each of them have something – whether it’s Chris Wondolowski, Nani (anywhere but the penalty spot), or Jefferson Savarino – that can turn a game on a dime. They’re also good enough – all of them – to straddle the playoff line all season long, and that means the path to the Promised Land goes through them. You do, in fact, have to be better than they are to make it.
7) A Dark Horse When you look at New York City FC, it’s hard not to be underwhelmed; after all, they have more draws than wins and losses combined, and with two games to burn. And that has to matter at some point…right? They’re also kind of a weird team because they’re doing fine. I mean, they just picked up 8 points of 12 from a four-game road-trip, and things only look better when you expand the sample size to their last eight games. I had the opportunity to watch them absolutely dissect the worst team in MLS last weekend (Cincinnati), and that’s kind of the point: a good team that knows what it’s doing does that kind of thing, they go on this type of run. Watch NYCFC.
8) Even a Horse Needs a Spine I count Sporting Kansas City’s bout of turning sickness as one of the biggest shocks of the 2019 season. By the few accounts I read, the assumption was they had talent and depth to spare. As it happens, they are bad – as in they have as many wins as FC Cincy, which should drive the point home nicely. SKC got worse when they lost Roger Espinoza, but they only became hopeless when Matt Besler went down. At the same time, that’s the deeper story of this team: neither of those players will be around forever, so what’s next? Outside of that, SKC has so much talent (Johnny Russell) and promise (Gianluco Busio) to make things feel good, but, barring a major turn-around this looks like a lost season for, frankly, an amazing set of players.
9) A Normal Man Sleeping The lowliest category I have for any team in MLS in the Form Guide ULTRA is road-kill. Toronto FC have played themselves into the outhouse by the simple act of going 2-5-3 over their past 10 games. In other words, this team has to grow a litle before I call it a sleeping giant. And, as a reminder, all this happened with a pretty slick DP coming into the team (Alejandro Pozuelo), and with most of TFC’s key players on the field. Given their last…seven results (0-4-3), and given that they’ve played…really average teams over their last five games – vs DC, @ RSL, vs SJ, @ VAN, vs SKC – and to get only three points out of that run? You’re no longer a contender.
10) A Touchy Subject It took some serious investigation to get the full measure of Colorado’s and New England’s turn-around since they fired Anthony Hudson (right?) and Brad Freidel, respectively. While I down-graded both teams from an “M+” to an “M-“ in the Form Guide ULTRA, I’d argue that Colorado picked up the easier points over the past five-six weeks. At the same time, both of those teams chucked their coaches around the same time FC Cincinnati and, factually, both of those teams have done wildly better since then, while FC Cincy has…done something different. And that should make you think, FC Cincy fans. Not in the sense of what could have been stopped in the here and now, but in terms of what to watch for as a “Danger, Will Robinson” moment in the future. All the same, I have never seen a coaching/team mismatch quite a manifest as Friedel’s meltdown with New England. I wouldn’t hire that guy to coach my kid’s team, and she doesn’t even play soccer.
And that’s it. I mean, that’s literally it. This will be the last MLS Weekly for Orange & Blue Press, unless they get someone else to do it – and I hope they do. I wish I could keep posting here, but, god’s honest truth, I only want to spend so much time on soccer every week, and this added too much weight. If you want to write for them and they let you, they’re good people to work with.
After that, I wish FC Cincinnati and their fans all the best. If I had to guess, the next few seasons will be…well, fucking miserable. I mean, like Minnesota and Orlando, but also maybe worse, so brace yourselves. As for me, I’m going to follow and love the team all the same. If it’s any consolation, I think every team should suck for a while, aka, they should put their fans through seasons of dismay and torment (for those who choose the latter), if only to make the sun shine brighter when it does. It makes the ultimate victory, whatever form it takes– MLS Cup, the U.S. Open Cup, or (yes, The Holy Grail) The Supporters’ Shield – feel better, and more real and earned. Goddammit.
And, to wrap this up fully, thank you to Michael Walker, Geoff Tebbetts, Stephen Buckeridge, and Connor Paquette, and I wish I had more time with some others. It was fun posting here, but I also have one hell of a time saying no to things. Cheers.
FC Cincinnati reaches the midpoint of their inaugural MLS season. Are they more likely to reach the playoffs or earn the Wooden Spoon award?
As we enter the CONCACAF Gold Cup break and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth-round action, FC Cincinnati looks to regroup on a challenging inaugural MLS season. Through 16 matches, just under the midpoint mark, FCC has only 11 points. Since starting the season with two promising wins and a draw in the first four matches, they are presently on a 1-10-1 skid.
Insert any metaphorical phrase you’d like—the train is off the tracks, the wheels have come off the wagon, and so on. What comes to mind for me is a a circle-of-life moment my family and I experienced two years ago this month —the great Wildebeest Migration across the Mara River on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. Over two million wildebeest, zebras, and gazelles move through the Serengeti and Masai Mara ecosystems in search of green pasture in an annual pattern.
Although we knew the likely outcome, our eyes were still fixed upon the famished crocodiles picking off the weakest wildebeest and zebras migrating the river. Now, this may seem a bit graphic of an analogy to the Orange & Blue’s 2019 season. However, the search for greener pasture is clearly where this team sits mid-season. The question remains how and if the team can navigate the remainder of the season without further peril. Possibly the Dirty River Derby Wednesday is an opportunity to jump-start the team like 2017?
The original plan for this mid-season piece was to share how close our local squad was to chasing their preseason goal—an Eastern Conference playoff spot. As FCC has not been mathematically eliminated yet, we’ll still bring you the playoff goods and throw in a spoon for good measure.
Looking at the current Eastern Conference standings below, this playoff waterline is right on target with Toronto FC currently sitting in seventh place on 1.27 PPG (as is the last playoff team in the West, currently).
Sitting in last place, FCC has a wide and deep river to cross to reach the 2019 playoffs. With eighteen matches remaining, they will need to earn a points clip of 1.83 PPG (a rate that’s higher than any Eastern team currently has this season), or roughly 33 more points. This translates to a second-half record of 9-3-6 or similar. It will certainly help playing 11 of these final 18 games at Nippert.
Realistically though, it’s highly unlikely that FC Cincinnati can overcome the statistical odds and make the 2019 MLS playoffs. Therefore, we will wade into the waters of a different type of competition.
The Wooden Spoon
The “Wooden Spoon” is a prize for finishing last in a sporting event or other competition. It derives from a Cambridge University custom of presenting such a spoon to the person that finished last in the annual Faculty of Mathematics course.
The MLS version was created in 2015 by the
Independent Supporter’s Council of MLS. It
is a satirical trophy and ignominious distinction given to the supporter’s
group of the club that finishes last in the Supporters’ Shield (full league
Here are the most recent winners of the Wooden Spoon award—or should we say last-place losers—of the of the 2015-2018 MLS Supporter’s Shield races.
At present, the 2019 Wooden Spoon appears to have a slight Orange & Blue hue. The “fight for the spoon” standings below include the nine MLS teams currently with a 1.2 PPG or worse record.
The recent loss at Colorado certainly did not help matters out. However, if there is a glimpse of hope, FCC plays six of their remaining 18 matches against Orlando City, Chicago, Columbus, and the Bruce Arena-led Revolution. The 2019 version of the “Hell is Real” Derby may have inauspicious hardware implications.
Also of note, the last three Wooden Spoon recipients have either gone on to make the playoffs the following season (Chicago in 2017) or were in the hunt for the last playoff spot in their conference (Galaxy in 2018 and Earthquakes this season). There is hope, Orange & Blue fans!
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for all your Wooden Spoon updates and FC Cincinnati coverage.
It was all New York City FC on Thursday in FC Cincinnati’s last match before the CONCACAF Gold Cup break. The hosts were up…
It was all New York City FC on Thursday in FC Cincinnati’s last match before the CONCACAF Gold Cup break. The hosts were up three goals by the 29th minute and went into cruise control thereafter. The Orange & Blue got on the board near the end of the first half courtesy of an Héber own goal. The hosts then added two more goals in the second half and yet another own goal. Maxi Moralez was a man possessed for NYCFC, tallying three assists and a goal on the night.
FC Cincinnati remains in the cellar of the Eastern Conference with the result, five points adrift from then next closest team. New York City FC remains in sixth despite the win, now with 25 points total.
FC Cincinnati concludes a two-match road trip on Thursday with a visit to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC. The Orange & Blue come into…
FC Cincinnati concludes a two-match road trip on Thursday with a visit to Yankee Stadium to face New York City FC. The Orange & Blue come into the match on the heels of a 3-1 defeat to the Colorado Rapids, their third consecutive loss. Despite tying that contest 1-1 in the 72nd minute, two late goals from Colorado sunk FCC yet again. Yoann Damet’s team comes into the match in last place in the Eastern Conference after losing eight of their last nine matches.
NYCFC enters the contest in decent form — the draw specialists of MLS are in 6th place on 20 points. They have two more draws than anyone else in the league — 8 total on the season. They are undefeated in their last nine played and most recently tied the Crew at Mapfre Stadium in a game that ended with a 2-2 scoreline.
Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Alvas Powell, and Darren Mattocks are on Gold Cup duty and will miss the match. Fatai Alashe, Leo Bertone, and Kenny Saief are still listed as questionable, all due to hamstring injuries.
NYCFC will be without USMNT keeper Sean Johnson, Tico Mataritta, and Alexander Callens because of international call-ups.
Kickoff is at 7:00pm Eastern.
Yankee Stadium will be a tough venue for FCC to implement its newly-adopted possession-based style under Yoann Damet. New York City FC is second overall in MLS in possession at home with an average of 57.5%. Only Atlanta United does it better.
This is battle of two of the bottom five teams in MLS in terms of goals scored. FC Cincinnati has 12 total on the season, worst in the league and 4 fewer than any other team. NYCFC has 18 total goals which is fifth worst.
Former Dayton Dutch Lions and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Brad Stuver should get the call between the pipes for NYCFC in the absence of Sean Johnson.
After FC Cincinnati plays in the Bronx, they will not play another MLS match for 16 days, when the LA Galaxy come to Nippert on Saturday, June 22.
Nick Hagglund is likely to make his 100th MLS appearance against NYCFC on Thursday.
A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati. A 3-1 loss in the Centennial State…
A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati on Saturday. A 3-1 loss to Colorado in the Centennial State leaves the Orange & Blue with the lowest point total in MLS as they near the midway point of the 2019 season.
Possession in the Final Third
Some may be surprised that FCC maintained a 60%-40% possession* advantage over the Rapids Saturday, their highest possession total this season. However, a closer look suggests that not all possession numbers are created equal, and a more telling metric is possession in the final (offensive) third of the field.
The chart below shows total passes by each team split between the defensive, middle, and offensive thirds of the field. Colorado’s numbers are on the left (orange) and FC Cincinnati’s are on the right (blue).
The Rapids actually completed one more pass than FC Cincinnati in the final third over the 90+ minutes. These numbers highlight that, despite FC Cincinnati’s overall possession advantage, Colorado actually had slightly more possession in their offensive third. 77% of FCC’s possession was held in the non-threatening defensive and middle third.
In another match on Saturday, the New York Red Bulls had a clear advantage in overall possession as well, 62% against Real Salt Lake. However, New York registered a much higher 39% of their possession in the final third in comparison to FC Cincinnati’s 23%. FCC created 8 non-blocked shots against Colorado with that 23%, and only 1 of the 4 on target was a goal. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls created 16 non-blocked shots against RSL, and 4 out of the 9 on target found the back of the net.
Possession even in non-threatening positions does limit the time the opponent has with the ball, which is obviously a good thing. It’s also the platform for the attack, but a team still has to create the chances and convert them.
To keep the short story short, overall possession doesn’t tell much on its own without assessing where possession was held and whether it led to a proportionate number of goal-scoring opportunities.
Hoyte as Captain
Justin Hoyte wore the armband on Saturday in place of the suspended Kendall Waston, who is now on his way to Gold Cup duty for Costa Rica. Hoyte tallied the third-most passes on the team (74) and completed them with a remarkable 96% passing accuracy.
While his passing numbers are nice, the defense’s primary role is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, and that didn’t go so well. Hoyte reflected those sentiments in his post-match comments.
“It’s just disappointing. First half, we’ve done okay in the first 15, 20 minutes, and then we are not sure what happened. Second half, we gave away some silly goals. It was good to come back one-one, and then to concede a goal straight away after we have scored is not good enough. It is just disappointing. We just have to reflect on our performance and we must do better as a team.”
The directness of Hoyte’s comments are refreshing, and they ring more true than narratives about the team being unlucky or not getting rewarded for hard work.
Cup Competitions Looming
The CONCACAF Gold Cup starts in less than two weeks. The group stage begins on June 15th and lasts until the 28th. The knockout stage then extends from June 29th to July 7th.
Key members of the Orange & Blue, including Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell, will therefore be unavailable, as soon as Thursday’s contest against NYCFC.
Yoann Damet will have to roll out some makeshift squads during that time-period especially if the injury list doesn’t getter shorter soon. Leo Bertone, Fatai Alashe, Kenny Saief, Przemysław Tytoń, and Greg Garza have all been injuried or ill for multiple games and there’s no clear indication they will return soon.
Of course, these roster limitation will impact FCC for the start of their participation in the U.S. Open Cup. Given the thin squad, it stands to reason that fans will see some of the less-experienced faces for the matchup with rival Louisville City FC, maybe even appearances by SuperDraft picks like Rashawn Dally and Tommy McCabe. That contest is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12th.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS season.
*Possession definition – During the game, the passes for each team are totaled. Then each team’s total is divided by the game total to produce a percentage figure which shows the percentage of the game that each team has accrued in possession of the ball.
After a late first-half Colorado goal, Kekuta Manneh leveled the score for FC Cincinnati in the 73rd minute. The stalemate lasted for…
After a late first-half Colorado goal, Kekuta Manneh leveled the score for FC Cincinnati in the 73rd minute. The stalemate lasted for less than a minute though, as Nicholas Mezquida scored in the 74th minute, and Diego Rubio added a final goal for the Rapids 9 minutes later. The loss is FC Cincinnati’s third consecutive and their tenth defeat in 15 matches.
Colorado Rapids 3, FC Cincinnati 1
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, Colo.
Saturday, June 1, 2019
COL – Andre Shinyashiki (Sam Nicholson, Cole Bassett) 43’
FC Cincinnati opens a two-match road trip against the Colorado Rapids in the Centennial State on Saturday. The Orange & Blue come into the match following a 2-0 home defeat to the New York Red Bulls last weekend. After a promising but goalless first half in that contest, a defensive error by typically-reliable fullback Mathieu Deplagne led to FCC’s demise.
The Rapids are the not-so-proud owners of the worst points total in all of MLS, with just 9 total. However, they have been resurgent lately, earning two wins and a draw in their last three matches played. Their most recent result came on Wednesday, when they drew 1-1 with the Philadelphia Union in Pennsylvania.
This match is the second “Toilet Bowl” of the 2019 MLS season — a meeting between the last place teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences. On April 27th, Atlanta United was the last place team in the Eastern Conference and defeated the same Colorado Rapids 1-0 in the first toilet bowl.
FC Cincinnati is currently plagued with minor injuries. Fatai Alashe, Leo Bertone, Corben Bone, Greg Garza, Allan Cruz, and Darren Mattocks are all listed as questionable for this contest.
Rookie midfielder Tommy McCabe was recalled from loan this week and is available for selection in this match. McCabe made nine appearances, including eight starts and scored two goals while with North Carolina FC in the USL.
Kendall Waston will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation and therefore left early on Friday for Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica.
Kickoff is at 8:30pm Eastern.
Frankie Amaya leads all players from both teams in passing accuracy, at 88.5%. This stat excludes players that have logged less than 300 minutes of playing time this season.
The Rapids are led by veteran striker Kei Kamara, who has seven goals on the season. Interestingly, Kamara was drafted by FC Cincinnati in the expansion draft last December but was promptly traded to Colorado for an international roster spot.
This match features the only two current interim head coaches in MLS: Yoann Damet and Colorado’s Connor Casey. Casey took the reins for the Rapids on May 1st when Anthony Hudson was fired.
The Rapids average 5 more shots per game than FCC (14.6 to 9.6) and have scored 10 more goals (21 to 11). 43% of their tallies are from set pieces or the penalty spot.
The Colorado Rapids lead the league in red cards with 5. In contrast, FC Cincinnati has yet to receive a red card this season.
Some people agonize over which tie to wear to the annual Christmas Party, other people do the blogging equivalent of 52 Pick-Up..
To answer the first question, of course, I’ll be tinkering with the format this week. Some people agonize over which tie to wear to the annual Christmas Party, other people do the blogging equivalent of 52 Pick-Up…
In order to make sure I get to everything, I’m going to start by covering all the results, noting memorable details, etc. Those will be divided between (first) the results worth talking about, then (second) the results that tracked a reasonable person’s expectations (or just mine). I’ll close out by highlighting some broader trends – including the “the West Owns The East” idea, which both does and doesn’t have merit – and precisely because it follows from another discussion about the Eastern Conference especially. Anyway, all things in their time. Let’s run down the results for Major League Soccer Week 13, starting with the games that really mattered.
The Games That Really Mattered, A Narrative
The biggest result of the weekend happened when the Portland Timbers orchestrated a multi-bank heist against the Philadelphia Union with a 3-1 win. A lot of the talk will focus on Brian Fernandez – who, sure, appears to be very, very good, and he deserves full credit for starting and ending the game-winner – but all the kids, fresh and familiar, made this win happen. I wrote about this game on Conifers & Citrus and, as I didn’t stop saying there, Philly played well. And Portland still won. Timbers’ fans are giddy today, but the games ahead will find the line between confidence and hubris. (Full Disclosure: I have drank the Kool-Aid. You’ll see that in the post).
The rest of the big results include the mind-meld between Cristian Espinoza and Chris “Back for One More Score” Wondolowski that delivered the San Jose Earthquakes a 2-1 win at Toronto FC; I have dubbed this one, The Lamentation of Drew Moor, in honor of his multiple melt-downs – which are earned, because TFC aren’t good right now. Sporting Kansas City’s 3-2 home win over the Seattle Sounders, while wholly remarkable for Johnny Russell beating Seattle with the rest of Sporting KC tiedbehindhis back (I kid, I kid; also, see “behind” for the GOTW), doesn’t mean much either way. Getting the odd necessary win – something SKC has managed twice in its last 10 games – doesn’t paper over going 0-3-5 around those wins, and, just to note it, being winless on the road. Injuries of unknown seriousness to SKC’s Matt Besler and Seattle’s Kim Kee Hee make the sum of this result relevant – doubly for Seattle now that Chad Marshall has retired. A similar cloud hangs over the Vancouver Whitecaps’…respectable 2-1 win at home over FC Dallas (Dallas played them a lot better than even and created chances), but Ali Adnan, who has been stellar for them, limped off early. The simple fact of the loss matters more, though, to Dallas, who have picked up just two points from the last 18 available. True, that’s selective slicing that puts Dallas in the worst possible light, but they’re also 3-5-2 over their last 10 games and 0-4-2 over their last six games, and suddenly that doesn’t feel selective. Oof, time to start another paragraph…
Los Angeles FC’s (more or less) annihilation of the Montreal Impact in LA is noteworthy as a clean demonstration of how LAFC dismantles teams – something I’ll elaborate on down below – but Montreal…that team can lose in any venue, and win in about half as many. Real Salt Lake topping Atlanta United FC 2-1 in Sandy, UT ranks as the second most significant result of Week 13, after Portland’s. At the moment, RSL operates in a space between being a strong home team, and being a team that loses to good ones. Putting two goals past a heretofore solid Atlanta defense (7 goals allowed in their last 10 games), and doing itfrom range, having the wherewithal to find the lanes to make those shots answers the question of how RSL has succeeded without a steady starting forward. This, with the loss to the New York Red Bulls behind it, sees Atlanta in the tiniest of slumps. Just mind it doesn’t get wider…and, now that I’ve brought up the Red Bulls, let’s wave away the results that didn’t matter with as little respect as possible…sorry if your team is in there…
The fact the Chicago Fire drew New York City FC 1-1 in Chicago has the juicy local angle of the Fire having two games to play before the Gold Cup break, and they’re both on the road where Chicago is…not good. For NYCFC, this was just the latest draw. Wayne Rooney getting run over (and Matt Turner getting a deserved red card) feels like the second kick-off to the New England Revolution’s 1-1 draw at home against D.C. United. New England looks better without Friedel (could a cat do it better?), and DC’s looking dodgy on the road, and that’s about it. A lofted turd of a goal sealed the Houston Dynamo’s fate at Minnesota United FC, and Houston had their chances, and that’s one more reason to hold off on the “Houston-is-terrible-on-the-road” narrative. Even over just the past 10 games, they’ve played your tougher teams every time they’ve traveled. After that, the Colorado Rapids underlined the incredible awfulness of Columbus Crew SC by beating them 3-2 in Commerce City, and the Los Angeles Galaxy stole three points from Orlando City SC on the back of a Jonathan dos Santos goal (good one too), and Nani “DP, Right?” being terrible at penalty kicks. Ugly as that last game looked, it was eating caviar and watching world-class synchronized swimming compared to the Red Bulls drunk-mugging on the road against FC Cincinnati. The fact that FC Cincy played (reasonably) well only makes it feel worse…or that’s probably just the weight of my extended notes on this game, and FC Cincy’s personnel limitations, sinking in a little further.
I think that’s all the results – and let’s hear it for those glorious weeks when every team plays just one game! Let’s keep the tour going with some trend spotting!
West Over East?
Six games from MLS Week 13 pitted inter-conference rivals against one another. It didn’t go unnoticed that the Western Conference teams won all six games. The question, though, is whether anything actually surprising happened. The short answer, yes, but I only count Portland’s win at Philly a clear surprise. I can pull the rest out of a pure “West > East” narrative without much trouble. As noted above, RSL beating Atlanta is up there when it comes to shocking results, but RSL has a history of playing strong at home and, between things like having Michael Parkhurst at right back for Atlanta (which, only arguably) lead to Bofo Saucedo’s goal and RSL keeping them unsettled with (quality) shots from range, RSL essentially used the artillery to beat Atlanta. Atlanta took them to them all the way to the ref inhaling before calling the game over…and the winner came in from range as well. It’s debatably relevant that Atlanta didn’t start Pity Martinez, but, because RSL won this game in midfield, nah. None of that takes anything away from the win, it’s a big one, but I think you can achieve clarity by asking one question: do you think RSL is better than Atlanta more often than not, regardless of venue?
Either form or form-plus-location explains the four remaining games. Orlando hasn’t achieved good for three seasons, so how does the Galaxy beating them surprise anyone? That’s one game down. TFC has struggled in recent weeks – seriously, a goal-less draw against D.C. at home is as good as it gets over its past five games – and, lacking about…3/5th of its forward momentum (neither Bradley nor Pozuelo), Toronto had to rely on its defense, which responded by giving Wondo a pairof openings. Columbus, meanwhile, has lost to everyone lately, so why not the Rapids…wherever? Finally, who takes Montreal beating LAFC in LA without exorbitant odds? (No one, because no one takes 30-1 on any sporting event outside horse racing and expects to win.) Before talking about why the Eastern Conference kinda sucks, let me finish my thought on LAFC.
Caught In the Ropes
Christian Ramirez’s stuff/goal on Evan Bush’s ludicrous attempt at a clearance foreshadowed what the rest of the afternoon would look like for Montreal. Think a game of dodgeball that can’t end until the kid in a fetal crouch gets hit with the ball 50 times. That exaggerates what happened by a rough order of three (LAFC took only 17 shots all game), but LAFC did to Montreal what I’ve seen them do against both Portland and Cincinnati: they pin teams in with a second-wave half press of Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduardo Atuesta, and Latif Blessing, which basically confines the game to a half-court set-up where they attack over and over and over until they score. So long as Atuesta can feed line-splitters up the gut to Carlos Vela, this will give them result after result. The other thing: Vela deserves the hype, and not just by the numbers, officially crazy as they are. He’s as fast and as strong as any forward in MLS, and he ranks with the best on the technical side, and that’s just hell for the rest of MLS. It’s the Timbers’ turn in the barrel next weekend. I’m happy that it’s Portland’s barrel, if nothing else, but I’m definitely anxious that LAFC will run Portland through the paddle-wheel. And if they do…seriously, look out.
The Truth About the Eastern Conference
To get back to the West versus East conversation, the conversation actually cuts both ways – a detail that’s both useful and interesting. On the one hand, the Eastern Conference’s currently steadiest teams played amongst themselves this weekend – e.g., D.C., the Red Bulls, NYCFC, even Chicago. Now, for those who really want to get confused, look at the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference – that’s Cincinnati, New England, Orlando and Columbus – and ask yourself whether you see any of those teams replacing the top 7 teams in the East. My answer to that is, maybe Columbus, New England, but only if the Exorcism of Brad Friedel was the necessary act; going the other way, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see Montreal falling out of the Top 7, which is neat and all, but…that’s just, like, one spot, and with five teams chasing it.
Move over to the Western Conference, and you’ve got a very different picture. When I look at the current standings, I can see any one of the teams currently at 3rd through 7th getting overtaken by any team currently at 8th through 11th, with no offense intended to Colorado, who, to my mind, has a little more to prove. Some of it’s just quirks in the schedule (e.g., Portland opening with tons of games on the road, while Houston does the opposite), but other parts included a process of feet-finding (Vancouver? Dallas? RSL?), on-boarding new players (Portland), being awesome (LAFC), over-shooting your talent (Galaxy), surviving a(n annual) plague of injuries or a CCL hangover (SKC), or even the long-term health of your squad (Seattle).
I’m not the first person to suggest that the East is more hierarchical than the West, and I understand at least one theory as to why that matters – i.e., because every team in MLS plays two intra-conference games for every one inter-conference, the best teams in the East will inflate their records by picking up easy points from a larger pool of patsies. While that theory makes sense, I took a closer look at the past week’s East-v-West duels to scrub for false signals. And, as noted above, one can make good arguments that other factors could be at work. In the here and now, I can’t think of a way to keep track of East-v-West results that won’t lead to madness, so I’ll have to settle for pricking up my ears any time someone else talks about it. I’m just wary of it as a talking point – and mostly because it feels like a short-cut, sort of like Houston getting dismissed as a bad road team, when the issue really boils down to playing the toughest teams in the league on the road one after the other.
And that’s everything this week. Hope the new layout didn’t throw anyone or give them too much chaff to sort through before getting to the sweet, sweet wheat. I want to wrap up with some odds and ends, stray thoughts that came to me while watching way too much damn soccer this weekend.
– New York City FC has picked up 7 points of nine on a three-game road trip. They have a real chance to make that 10 points out of 12 when they wrap up the four-game road-trip against Columbus.
– It bears noting that Dallas has traveled the Valley of the Shadow of Death for, I’d argue, their last seven games. Recent away games include, Philadelphia, Atlanta (which they won!), Houston, LAFC, and, lately, Vancouver. Small wonder, basically, that they’re 2-4-0 on the road during that time. Meanwhile, at home they’ve played (again) LAFC, the grind-gods (aka, the Red Bulls), and a much-improved San Jose side. Strength of schedule matters…
– D.C. has endured the opposite road record from NYCFC, picking up just two points of 12 from their last four road games – and against arguably softer opposition. Related, they have two home games coming up, and they need the padding.
– Finally, both the LA Galaxy and SKC won this weekend, but broad circumstances make both results immediately irrelevant. Like SKC, LA isn’t winning nearly often enough to make a road win over Orlando interesting. On a deeper level, LA has lost to everyone everywhere in recent weeks – e.g., a yes-then-dreadful Columbus team on the road, and the Rapids in LA. The rule of thumb here is, make them prove they love you (which, I’m told, means taking you to the drive-in). Dammit.
– To flag an interesting trend going in the other direction, the only bad loss I see for RSL in its past 10 games was their Week 10 loss to Portland at home. Everything else makes sense and points to a reasonably bright future.
We’ll see how that goes. We’ll see how everything goes. Till next week.
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