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After 45 minutes of hard work and rough play, FC Cincinnati let New York Red Bulls escape from the Queen City with a 2-0 victory, …
After 45 minutes of hard work and rough play, FC Cincinnati let New York Red Bulls escape from the Queen City with a 2-0 victory, sending the Orange & Blue to their eighth loss in their last ten games. While the team managed to hold an advantage in shots on target and kept possession largely 50/50, the second half was again a letdown. A turnover by Matthew Deplagne led to a swiped goal by Kaku in the 78th minute, and Omir Fernandez’s first MLS goal punctuated the loss in stoppage time.
While FCC’s roster was depleted from nine injuries and illnesses, the game featured the MLS debut of Nazmi Albadawi in the late stages of the game.
FC Cincinnati return home to face the New York Red Bulls for their third match under interim head coach Yoann Damet. The Orange & Blue are …
FC Cincinnati return home to face the New York Red Bulls for their third match under interim head coach Yoann Damet. The Orange & Blue are licking wounds after last weekend’s 5-1 thrashing in Orlando, and hoping to return to winning ways in front of a Memorial Day weekend crowd at Nippert stadium.
After a slow start to the season, Chris Armas’ Red Bulls have won four of their last six matches and are now in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday’s match is the second meeting this season between these two teams. On April 28th, Red Bull won the first match 1-0 in New Jersey, despite a strong second half performance from FCC. Defender Connor Lade scored the lone goal in the 38th minute of that contest.
The Red Bulls come to Cincinnati after a disappointing 2-2 midweek draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps at home. A rotated Red Bulls lineup led 2-1 until the 61st minute when Freddy Montero equalized from the penalty spot after VAR spotted a handball in the box.
New York will have a few key absentees for this match. Bradley Wright-Phillips, Vincent Bezecourt, and Andreas Ivan are all doubtful due to injury. However, the center back pairing of Aaron Long and Tim Parker is likely to be reinstated on Saturday per Joe Goldstein. Long was injured and Parker was suspended for the match against Vancouver.
Corben Bone, Greg Garza, and Allan Cruz are all listed as questionable for FC Cincinnati. Forward Rashawn Dally has been recalled from his loan and is available for selection in this match.
Mathieu Deplagne has logged 1,170 minutes for FC Cincinnati this season, more than any player on either team. Luis Robles of the Red Bulls has played every minute in 12 starts in 2019, 90 minutes less than Deplagne.
According to the oddsmakers, FC Cincinnati’s chance of winning, at the time of publishing, is paying the exact same as the odds of New York winning, 2.6 to 1.
FC Cincinnati needs to beware of set piece situations. The NY Red Bulls have scored the second most set piece goals in MLS, at 6, and FC Cincinnati have conceded the second most set piece goals, 5.
The Red Bulls are one of the few teams in the league with less yellow cards than FC Cincinnati. Their total of 15 cautions is the fewest in MLS. They do however have 2 red cards, including Kaku’s infamous ejection against Sporting Kansas City.
FC Cincinnati and the Red Bulls are second and third in MLS with the most interceptions per game at 13 and 12.5 respectively.
To start with a little good news/bad news, I found the semi-obvious location to which the MLS app moved the condensed games (under the “Highlights” tab; more information, less life…did I win?). Moving on The Big Picture, Major League Soccer’s 12th week files under “one helluva.” We are getting trend-lines people, momentum(/season?) altering turns of events, some of them with Games of Thrones-esque blood-letting (timely), and with those hitting the mightiest houses, the plot thickens. Elsewhere, picking week 12’s Goal of the Week came one hell of a lot easier than picking the Save of the Week (Candidate 1 and Candidate 2). Some truly trash officiating rounds out the weekend, and what can be more on-brand than that for MLS? VAR doesn’t work and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.
I’ve got one final note for this preamble, and largely because this is an FC Cincinnati-centric site: every game I watched this weekend apart from the…poor display (that’s an aggressive euphemism) between FC Cincinnati and Orlando City SC put that game in sickening relief. To paraphrase an old album by The Cranberries, Everyone’s Competent, So Why Aren’t We? (For more punishment, here are my extended notes on yesterday’s disappointment.) As for what’s below, I came up with three main talking points for the MLS Week 12 – the stuff that seems more relevant or, in one case, historic – but I’ll touch on every game in the past week down below…assuming I don’t forget something. With that, let’s start with the blessed, happy history.
The Ultimate Underdog(s) Go Into the History Books
“…like the clinical finisher he is…in the MLS.”
If you ever needed proof that literally record-breaking success in one arena can never escape the gravity of a failure in another one, there it is. I don’t even know if the announcer intended to conjure the ghost of Chris Wondolowski’s greatest failure, but he qualified that statement, not me.
Where to begin? Yes, I did cry manly tears after every goal Chris Wondolowski scored against the Chicago Fire on his/the San Jose Earthquakes’ way to the 4-1 rout in which he made history. Also, credit Bobby Warshaw and Matt Doyle for giving good background on the scale of Wondo’s unlikeliest of accomplishments. Players beyond counting came into MLS with infinitely more promise of chasing Landon Donovan’s regular-season goal-scoring record, never mind beating it, and that only makes it, for lack of a better word, awesomer. (People who don’t root for underdogs are rightly recognized as terrible human beings.)
Warshaw and Doyle named their own moments for what makes Wondolowski such a special player, but I pulled a different one out of this game – and, fittingly, it’s something I can’t link to. After scoring his first goal and tying the record, another great chance fell to Wondolowski and he got closer to the sideline than the goal with his shot. After that miss, he didn’t slap the turf, or lay on the grass (it’s grass at Avaya, right?) dramatically “contemplating” the miss. He immediately shoved himself off the turf, and got back to it. Three more goals followed, thereby raising the bar that the next challenger to the throne will have to clear.
Each goal he scored showcased an aspect of Wondolowski’s game that it’s worth passing on to the youth. His third came from the (rather attractive) finish that prompted the quote up top, while his second – the one that broke the record – showed what makes a great forward – e.g., following up on every shot. His fourth demonstrates why a forward should never stop looking for an opening, on the grounds that the ball might defy physics and find you. Personally, I’ll always cherish the record-tying goal, and that’s 1,000% down to the fact that Shea Salinas delivered it. That connection – Salinas to Wondolowski – signals to every player who didn’t even make varsity that not all paths to glory take the same route, and to never stop dreaming. In a perfect world, this record will stand forever, or at least for decades, and for that exact reason. And, if MLS really does become a selling league, it should last longer.
One last note on this game: Chicago’s defense has been a wall lately, so it’s significant that the ‘Quakes pulled them apart as badly as they did. There was the rain, I suppose, but Chicago hadn’t allowed a goal in its last three games; hell, they’d only allowed 1.0 goals a game over its last 10 games, and that was only because the Seattle Sounders dropped four on them 11 games before this one. In the end, it took David Ousted enduring a succession of nightmares to make this specific result happen (see the 2nd and 4th goals, especially), on top of the Fire missing shots that few teams do. Don’t sell your Chicago stock yet, because this loss had a freak-ish air to it.
Shots Fired Over the Rockies
First, Diego Polenta should have absolutely seen his second yellow when he stood on the foot of…a player whose identity I can’t recall (but think it was Sam Nicholson) and stopped him from carrying the ball forward and out of the Rapids’ attacking third. Why? I feel alright making that judgment because I saw him staring at the man’s foot as he stood on it, just to make sure he got the placement right. And that’s your first officiating snafu for the weekend…most of which involved LA-based teams. At the same time, I’m glad the Galaxy got away with it because that brushes off any of the asterisks that might have otherwise hung over the Colorado Rapids’ first win of the season.
This has been a long time coming: Colorado has morebraveloses in its recent history than most teams see all season. Second, they’ve scored more or as many goals in 2019 (17) than 10 other teams in MLS – some of them in the conversation as credible challengers (e.g., Atlanta United FC (13 goals), New York City FC (15)). The fact that their defense has killed them follows from, but, the Rapids have always had a little something going on. The real surprise, then, is that it took them this long to win. The game primarily featured both teams trading misses – with Colorado’s Kei Kamara leading the bonerparade (I got to use the word “boner!”) – but bothteams also cleared a ball off the line. It had the feel of an open game too, which means both LA and the Rapids liked their chances enough to go for it. The funny thing is that arrangement worked better for Colorado, who actually out-shot the Galaxy on their home-field.
That said, Colorado made some adjustments before one trading window or another closed (Full Disclosure: I’m terrible at tracking those things), by bringing Lalas Abubakar from Columbus Crew SC and Jonathan Lewis from NYCFC. Both players looked solid, with Lewis causing all kinds of headaches today and Abubakar looking steady and solid. Time will tell if that’s what turned them around, but details aside, but Colorado finally turning a promising performance into a road win officially serves notice to all the even potentially terrible team in MLS. To name some names, time to perk up Orlando, FC Cincinnati, New England Revolution, and maybe even Sporting Kansas City. Your days of muttering “at least we’re not Colorado” could very well be at an end. Speaking of the Galaxy…
Large Houses on Fire
That was the LA Galaxy’s 4th straight loss – and two of those happened in LA’s suburbs, and that means they lost a couple of excuses with this one. Sure, you could chalk up the loss to NYCFC to them finding every one of their feet, but that same sleight of hand doesn’t work with Colorado. The second excuse – e.g., no Zlatan Ibrahimovic – cuts from a different angle, but it’s still concerning. Any team that requires one player to keep it afloat has a margin exactly as wide as said player’s health/capacity to not do stupid sh*t (so they can stay on the field); LA failed the first test, while Zlatan failed the second. The Galaxy might be safe in the standings, they might have plenty of talent, but that’s an official skid in any league, and it’s gone global with this result.
Toronto FC is the other team in trouble, even if they’re a slightly trickier case. They posted crazy numbers against D.C. United in Toronto at mid-week without ever really managing to look menacing. They created too few chances and too many of those fell to Jordan Hamilton, a player on the bare cusp of MLS-level. Things get worse/weirder when you look at the box score for Toronto’s dispiriting loss to Real Salt Lake in Utah. They’re still (barely) holding the ball and dictating the game…but it keeps winding up in a dead end. RSL, meanwhile, banged three low–probabilitygoals past the rando TFC starts in net and, crucially, that’s not the first time that’s happened. The problems go deeper than Jozy Altidore not starting, basically. At this point, it looks fundamental – even with Alejandro Pozuelo still looking promising and capable as any team in MLS.
Going the other way, both TFC and the Galaxy remain above the playoff cut-off, and LA is eight points above danger to boot. They have ambitious ownership groups that spend real money on talent…I mean, Zlatan? Pozuelo? At the same time, both teams share a present reality with Sporting KC: talented as all get out on the roster side – and with some upgrades under the hood to boot – but who cares if you own a sports car when it’s on blocks in the front yard? I’ll expand on SKC below, but that’s where those three teams are parked right now: sleeping giants that may never wake up. There’s plenty of season left, of course, but sometimes the car never comes off the blocks.
Those are the three big topics (or mine), so let’s move on to the rest of the results. And, sure, maybe I relegated the main event to the under-card.
Los Angeles FC and FC Dallas played a home-and-home series over Week 12, and LAFC took four points of six. There’s not much with which to quibble in LAFC’s home win, but the return leg in Dallas featured the other reffing boner of the weekend – and this prompts another, where to begin conundrum. It starts with the soft penalty call on Bressan, and ends with the question of why Chris Hedges rightly gets sent off for dragging down Carlos Vela while LAFC’s Tyler Miller doesn’t get sent off for football-holding Jesus Ferreira later in the same game. (Also, to spit in their eye a bit, why the fresh hell is that not in the highlight clip, MLS? I found it (see around 1:50), but kindly stop elevating the brand over truth/reality.) These were strange games and I think you can get several reads out of them. Even if Dallas looked far from helpless playing in LA, there’s a solid case that LAFC deserved three points minimum from this swing. Going the other way, how Dallas managed LAFC raised their stock a little for me.
Elsewhere in Texas, the Houston Dynamo deserve credit for another big week at home. After the Portland Timbers made them sweat midweek (and I’ve got extended notes on that), and with Houston still (allegedly?) needing to stockpile points before they play a lot of the second half of the season on the road, the game against D.C. became the main event for their Week 12. The Dynamo passed the test with richly-detailed flying colors: they had to come from behind to win, and they scored both their goals with neither Alberth Elis (concussion precautions) and Romell Quioto on the field. Memo Rodriguez bagged one D.C. should have stopped and seeing Bill Hamid lose his whole damn mind after Tommy McNamara scored the winner tells you everything you need to know about D.C. They’re a frustrated, stuttering team at the moment, and Paul Arriola’s stupid, hostile sending off reveals a little rot in their confidence.
Like the Galaxy and TFC, D.C. is better than fine. Moreover, there aren’t many teams making noise below them. At the same time, TFC really did play them off the park at midweek, no matter how ineffectually. If you review their results, D.C. really does look more like a part of a pack than a contender lately.
The other big mentionables from Week 12 include two more “big clubs” – Seattle Sounders FC and Atlanta dropping points, at least arguably. To clear up any confusion and/or alleviate any hurt feelings, both teams remain strongly in the hunt. A lot of context, however, surrounds the Sounders in this particular moment: these games – a narrow win over a heavily-rotated Orlando squad and surviving a there-but-for-the-grace-of-Brenden-Aaronson’s-youth-go-I goalless draw at the Philadelphia Union – look at lot different when you consider the three straight draws in their recent past. Like Seattle, Atlanta is the opposite of soft. Until Sunday’s loss to the New York Red Bulls, they’d allowed 0 goals over their last five games (also notable: they’d just scored eight over the same period). They had 55 minutes’ worth of game to take advantage after Tim Parker got sent off, but New York stifled them, then went on to steal the game. Like Seattle, again, Atlanta picked up a fairly soft win midweek, when they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps on the back of a(nother) dodgy penalty. In Atlanta’s defense, or maybe more against the ‘Caps, they kept Vancouver from taking a decent shot all the way until the 84th minute.
That leaves just three games from MLS Week 12, and only one of them really registers. Minnesota United FC is simultaneously unbeaten at home and also not that good at home; beating Columbus in Minnesota really only registers for lifting the Loons to a 2-0-3 home record (meaning they’re under 50% on points at home). To give Minnesota its due, they look to have a solid core around Darwin Quintero, Jr. in Brett Kallman, Osvaldo Alonso and Romain Metanaire – and all those guys (on 1/6th evidence; condensed games have shrunk a bit) played pivotal roles in getting this win – but, as must be noted, Columbus has been bloody awful lately. I’m talking puke-bucket-awful, 1-7-0 in their last eight games, and why would you disgrace the two wins that came before those eight games by association. Worse, they were sloppy in this one and, to float an opinion, signing Gyasi Zardes to a DP contract hints at an issue with the fish rotting from the head with this bunch.
To wrap up with the results that only mattered to each teams’ mothers and respective fans, Ignacio Piatti’s substitution appearance was surely the biggest news out of the Montreal Impact’s goalless home draw against the New England Revolution. (Fun side note: they actually posted a highlight clip for that, but not for potential red cards in the games listed above.) Like Cincinnati and Orlando, those are two teams going nowhere at the moment. Elsewhere, Krisztian Nemeth’s full-spectrum performance defined Sporting KC’s 1-1 home draw against Vancouver. Still, Vancouver’s equalizer came ridiculously late and Nemeth’s celebration of the goal he scored moves that one to a solid second in the running for MLS Week 12’s Goal of the Week.
That’s it for this week, see you the next one. Also, just like winter, Gold Cup is coming…
Despite an improved second-half performance, FC Cincinnati couldn’t recover from a 38th-minute Connor Lade strike and lost the fourth match in their last five outings. This edition of Deeper Cuts takes a look two very different halves, the Orange & Blue’s struggling offense, and the bright spot in the captain’s performance.
Tale of Two Halves
For the second straight match, FC Cincinnati maintained an overall possession advantage (albeit slight) but didn’t score a goal. In this match, New York had the majority of possession (55%) in the first 45 minutes, but the roles shifted in the second half as FCC found a spark and the home side protected a slim lead.
New York had an 8-2 shot advantage in the first half, while FC Cincinnati had a 6-4 shot advantage in the second. The Orange & Blue made 2 successful dribbles in the first half, but 9 in the second. They had only 2 recoveries in New York’s half in the first 45 minutes, but 10 in the second 45.
After the match, Kendall Waston, FC Cincinnati’s captain, bemoaned the team inability to start the game with the same intensity they played with after the break.
“If we start every game the same way we did in the second half, we are going to have more chances to win than to lose,” said Waston. “We’ve just got to continue fighting and the minimum thing is we have to show that we find a togetherness. Second half, we did it.”
Still Searching for Offense
Two months into their 2019 season, FC Cincinnati is still searching for success in the final third. They have been shutout in their last three matches and haven’t scored from open play since Week 4 against the New England Revolution.
The players may feel unlucky not to have scored against the Red Bulls after hitting the woodwork three times. However, after nine matches they have the third lowest goal total in MLS and are lowest in the league in both shots per game, and shots on target per game.
Emmanuel Ledesma, who recently returned from a hamstring injury, started this match at forward as a change-up to Darren Mattocks. FCC is still without Fanendo Adi, who did not travel to New Jersey despite being reinstated by MLS last Thursday.
Ledesma had 34 touches, 1 blocked shot, 4 unsuccessful crosses (3 were corner kicks), a 74% passing accuracy, but also 10 unsuccessful passes in the opposition half. The offense wasn’t clicking, and Manu likely needs more time to play into good form. He was substituted in favor of Darren Mattocks in the 63rd minute.
The Jamaican forward injected some pace into FCC’s attack, but produced just 1 off-target shot, which was one of the three that hit the post. He had 17 touches and completed 8 passes at a 50% accuracy. Had his angled shot found the back of the net, the narrative might be more upbeat, but the total offensive numbers are pretty sparse in this game and this season.
The Red Bulls aren’t exactly setting offensive records either. They started Brian White in place of the injured Bradley Wright-Phillips and mustered only 1 shot on target in 12 attempts. That shot from Connor Lade decided the match and brings them up to 9 goals on the season, the fifth-lowest total in MLS.
Waston on Frustration
Not many FC Cincinnati player stats from this match paint a favorable picture, but Waston’s numbers are an exception. He had 92 touches (most on the team) and won 10 aerial duels. He also won 3 tackles, made 3 interceptions and 4 clearances, and completed 7 of 13 long passes. The captain hit the woodwork in stoppage time, in another “almost” moment for FCC.
“We feel frustrated with ourselves because we tried our best,” said Waston after the match. “We were thinking before the game, okay this is the game we have to win . . . Sometimes in football things don’t go your way, but this is where the real character of the individual shows.”
Up next are two more on the road, including FC Cincinnati’s first midweek match against the Philadelphia Union, a team that defeated them soundly one month ago at Nippert. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the busy week ahead.
A Connor Lade goal in the 38th minute was the difference in this contest at Red Bull Arena. FC Cincinnati improved their performance …
A Connor Lade goal in the 38th minute was the difference in this contest at Red Bull Arena. FC Cincinnati improved their performance in the second half and hit the woodwork three times but could not find an equalizer.
“You cannot go anywhere in this league and not play and give everything for a full 90 minutes and expect to get anything out of the game,” said head coach Alan Koch. “The first 45 minutes was a challenge and we had a momentary lapse in concentration to allow the Red Bulls to score a goal. But I think Kendall’s spot on: the response in the second half was excellent. It was exactly what we needed and something we’ll have to build on. But we have to come out and play with a required intensity for a full 90 minutes.”
New York Red Bulls 1 , FC Cincinnati 0
Red Bull Arena | Harrison, N.J.
Saturday, April 27, 2019
RBNY – Connor Lade (Daniel Royer, Brian White) 38’
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles, Tim Parker, Connor Lade, Aaron Long, Amro Tarek (Kemar Lawrence 77’), Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Marc Rzatkowski, Daniel Royer, Omir Fernandez (Michael Murillo 69’), Brian White (Mathias Jørgensen 86’)
Bench: Ryan Meara, Vincent Bezecourt, Derrick Etienne, Andreas Ivan
Alan Koch and company begin a three-game road trip at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. The big news, of course, is that Fanendo Adi…
Alan Koch and company begin a three-game road trip at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. The big news, of course, is that Fanendo Adi has been reinstated. He returned to training Thursday and is available for selection in this match.
How badly does the team miss Tyler Adams? Do current problems stem from his absence or other factors?
I wrote a lengthy article this week chalking up the Red Bulls struggles to the loss of Adams in ways that are expressed outside of the midfield. The answer is, immensely. Adams ferocity and personality were a big part of the 2018 team, and they haven’t figured out how to replace him just yet.
Kaku’s absence for the next few games is a negative, but don’t overlook that the Red Bulls have not won an MLS game with Kaku on the field in 2019. Not a huge data set to work with. As the Red Bulls are playing a lot of long-ball this season, Kaku’s best attributes have been sort of negated. They will miss him but not as much as they would have at the beginning of last season.
Are Armas and RBNY are looking at Cincinnati, who are struggling also, as a good opportunity to get things moving in the right direction?
I don’t think they are approaching this match as a way to right the ship, but the fans are certainly looking at it that way. Armas feels that the Red Bulls are doing a lot of the right things, but paying for all of their mistakes in 2019. Their issues up the field are compounding their backline struggles, but it isn’t as bad as it looks for the most part. Given FCCs struggles scoring in their last four matches, it may relieve some of the pressure the Red Bulls have been under. Still, FCC poses a significant counter-attack risk, so even if FCC bunker and let Red Bulls get into a rhythm, they need to be careful not to overcommit.
What else should Cincinnati fans should know about RBNY ahead of this match? Were people in NY taking the Henry rumors seriously?
Because of the slow start, many Red Bull fans were hoping the Henry rumors were true, more than strictly believing them to be true. My sources remained consistent throughout saying there was no truth to the rumor, but that didn’t stop the restless Red Bull fans from trying to will the move simply to remove Armas. While they have started poorly this season, many parallels can be made back to the 2016 season, where the team started slowly under Jesse Marsch and their high hopes for their Argentine DP (Gonzalo Veron) didn’t come to fruition. It is too soon to call this a disaster, but should they lose this weekend at home to expansion FCC, fan ire will intensify.
A big thanks for Joe for his time and insights. Go check out his work on The Red Bulls News Network, Seeing Red and Raising Bulls podcasts. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus New York Red Bulls.
Jeff Bull is back with his luxurious and link-laden look at MLS Week 4 and a round of matches abridged by the international break.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A look at the teams that took the Eastern Conference by the scruff of the neck last year, to see how they finished, transfers, and their playoff potential.
The thing about racing is that it only takes a bad turn to lead to disaster.
Perhaps you could say Toronto missing the 2018 playoffs was an anomaly. A year after finishing third in the East, Chicago crashed out of the race. Hey, even the fastest cars with the strongest engines hit the wall or dawdle too long in the pit stop. (Don’t know what to tell you guys, Orlando—y’all drove a golf cart most of the season.)
However, the standings in the East last year may not have been so different from reality. Over the past ten years, Orlando, Chicago, Toronto, New England, and Montreal have missed the playoffs over half of the time (13 total appearances over 41 attempts). Meanwhile, the top teams from last year have made the playoffs 29 times over the last 45 attempts.
I’m not saying that these six teams are a lock to make the playoffs again. I’m just saying that they have good arguments that they’ll stay competitive in 2019 and beyond. Here’s how they’ve retooled to make sure they do so.
2018 Finish Line: 6th in Eastern Conference (15-14-5), 50 pts. 49 goals for, 50 goals against.
Despite a rough start to the season, the Union went on a solid run over the last three months to sneak into the playoffs. It’s probably fair to consider 2018 an overall success—the Union blew through the Red Bulls, Chicago, and Orlando to get to the U.S. Open Cup final before losing 3-0 to Houston. However, lack of a consistent scoring threat left the team toothless—none of their scorers ranked in the Top 25 in goals. The Union wilted to close out the season, losing to NYCFC 3-1 in both the season finale and the knockout round. .
OUT: M Fabian Herbers, D Keegan Rosenberry, M Borek Dockal
IN: F Sergio Santos, D Kai Wagner, M Marco Fabian
Sneaking into the playoffs may not sound like a big step, but the 2018 version of the Union was arguably their best team yet, scoring the highest number of wins (15) and points (50) in their nine-year existence. The promotion of goalkeeper Matt Freese and midfielder Brenden Aaronsen means the Union now have seven homegrown players on their roster. The midfield appeared to be a question mark, but the signing of Mexican international Marco Fabian may be the biggest DP splash in team history. The addition of Sergio Santos also provides a third scoring threat that the Union couldn’t get from David Accam last year.
On paper, this is the most improved team in the East. On paper. Philly already had one of the stronger USL squads to begin with, and those youngsters are starting to get deserved call-ups. Goalkeeper Andre Blake asserted his status as one of the best in the league last season, racking up 118 saves and 10 clean sheets. More importantly, Fabian should immediately produce dividends with both feet and be able to feed forwards Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong. Those assists lost from letting Dockal go should return in bunches. Philly could find themselves challenging for the top of the conference, as long as the youth grows into their defensive roles.
2018 Finish Line: 5th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 43 goals for, 45 goals against.
Ownership issues? What, me worry?
Despite a season of attendance worries and threats to split for Austin, the Crew exceeded expectations to make the playoffs. Yes, their 43 goals scored tied them with Orlando for second-lowest in the league, but their trade for Gyasi Zardes paid back in spades (20 goals in 2018 after 15 in the previous three seasons). The Crew almost shocked the Red Bulls in the playoffs, beating New York 1-0 at home before losing 3-0 on the away leg.
OUT: M Cristian Martinez, M Mike Grella, GK Zack Steffen
IN: GK Joe Bendik, M Robinho Barbosa, D Waylon Francis, F
While not much movement has taken place within the roster, the largest movement was obviously within the front office and coaching staff. Gregg Berhalter departs to coach the U.S. national men’s team, and Caleb Porter moves in to coach the team he beat in the 2015 MLS Cup when coaching Portland. The ownership group will turn over and gladly spark more joy within the fanbase, especially with Anthony Precourt on his way out and an in-state rival on the way in.
The lack of movement may mean that the team is comfortable with its lineup, but the Crew will need to activate its offense by midseason. The 43 goals scored by Columbus was the lowest of all 12 playoff teams, with 44% scored by Zardes. Another scoring threat will be required to take pressure off the midfield of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, and Pedro Santos, who will all be 30 or older. The anticipated departure of Steffen will require Joe Bendik to step in seamlessly, so if offense hasn’t arrived by then, it’s hard to say if the defense will stay solid to repeat their form. Look for Columbus to be one of the teams to take a step downward.
2018 Finish Line: 4th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 60 goals for, 50 goals against.
There probably hasn’t been such a Jekyll-and-Hyde season
before like DCU’s 2018 season. With their new home stadium set to open in July,
DCU played 12 of their first 14 games on the road, winning only twice. However,
the signing of Wayne Rooney and the opening of Audi Field led to an incredible
turnaround—DCU went undefeated in their final 10 games (7-0-3) to make the
playoffs, only to lose to Columbus in the knockout round.
OUT: F Darren Mattocks, M Yamil Asad, D Nick DeLeon, GK
IN: D Leonardo Jara, M Lucas Rodriguez, GK Chris Seitz, F
The roller-coaster season from 2018 continued in the offseason with the on-again, off-again relationship with midfielder Lucho Acosta. Once thought to be gone to Paris Saint-Germain, Acosta is still with the team and likely looking for a contract signing in 2019. It’s a good thing DCU held onto Acosta and bought the rights to Lucas Rodriguez from Atlanta—the departing Mattocks and Asad had 19 goals last season, so offense will be at a premium. Ousted’s ousting means that this is now goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s team, but the trades for Seitz and Earl Edwards Jr. at least provide depth for backup (or at least a start on the Loudoun United USL team.)
Had it not been for that Zlatan guy in the West, Wayne Rooney probably would have been the Newcomer of the Year. (Admit it—that video of him slide-tackling Will Johnson and setting up a stoppage time game-winner to Acosta’s in your YouTube “Favorites” section.) Still, he’s one of only two experienced forwards on this team’s roster, so can he last 34 games? Where will the goals come from? The midfield tandem with Acosta, Rodriguez, and Paul Arriola should form a strong shield behind Rooney and the newly-signed Amarikwa, but it’s hard to say how much offense can be produced if there’s no help on the horizon. At least the road schedule is less hectic and easier than the grueling trek in 2018—four of the six Western away games are at teams that missed the playoffs last year.
New York City FC
2018 Finish Line: 3rd in Eastern Conference (16-10-8), 56 pts. 59 goals for, 45 goals against.
Say what you will about Yankee Stadium not being a good field for soccer. The constricted dimensions smother an opponent like the summer subway air. The Bronx Boys in Blue lost only twice at home all season (13-2-4), but one of those losses was to Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. Despite Patrick Viera’s departure in June, interim head coach Domènec Torrent kept NYCFC afloat just long enough to earn the permanent role.
OUT: F David Villa, F Jo Inge Berget, M Rodney Wallace, M
IN: F Alexandru Mitrita, M Juan Pablo Torres, M Keaton
Parks, M Tony Rocha
How do you recover quickly from a heart transplant? David Villa was the soul of NYCFC for four years, scoring 77 goals in only 117 games. Only Robbie Keane scored more goals at a faster clip (83 in 125 games). Villa’s departure for Japan meant that the City Football Group had to dig deeper into their pockets to pony up for Alexandru Mitrita. The striker already has 12 goals after 16 games this season with first-tier Craiova in Romania. The team may not be finished, as Spanish striker Carlitos could join as well. Much of the defense remains the same, which will suit goalkeeper Sean Johnson (10 clean sheets) just fine.
As long as NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium and adapts to its smaller dimensions, the home wins should continue. However, the departure of Villa and Berget leaves the team without an actual center forward. Maxi Moralez will have to work to become the new face of the club, and if he’s able to dictate play as a true #10, he will likely lead the league in assists. NYCFC does get the benefit of a soft schedule to start the season—only three of their first 12 matches are against 2018 playoff squads. They also face their rivals only twice in the Hudson River Derby this year, which could be a blessing in disguise. They’ve only beaten the Red Bulls four times in 14 contests.
Atlanta United FC
2018 Finish Line: 2nd in Eastern Conference (21-7-6), 69 pts. 70 goals for, 44 goals against. 2018 MLS Cup champions.
The first match of the season was a surprising 4-0 loss to a Houston team that floundered in midseason. No big deal. The “A-Train” dropped points only 12 times in the next 33 games. Despite finishing below the Red Bulls in the standings, there was no stopping Atlanta on their way to a 2-0 victory over Portland in the MLS Cup final. The Five Stripes have scored 140 regular-season goals over two seasons, and 50 of those have been by Josef Martinez. Over that same two-year span, the entire Colorado Rapids team has scored 67.
OUT: D Greg Garza, M Miguel Almiron, M Chris McCann
IN: D/M Brek Shea, M Pity Martinez, D Florentin Pogba
The biggest change is obviously the one at the top, as Gerardo
Martino traded his Five Stripes for the Green, Red, and White as the Mexican
national team head coach. While Tata’s shoes are arguably hard to fill,
bringing in Ajax stalwart Frank De Boer
to helm Atlanta was a bold decision. Name recognition is one thing, but De
Boer’s winning percentage hasn’t been great outside of the Netherlands (6-2-11
in two very quick stints over the past three years).
Miguel Almiron’s departure for Newcastle is mammoth, but resigning Martinez and pairing him with another Martinez (Pity) only makes the offense stronger. The biggest loss is likely Garza, as the left back spot now goes to either homegrown George Bello or fallen star Brek Shea. However, many of the pieces are still in place, including the extremely-vocal crowd, which definitely contributed to the 11-2-4 home record last year.
Truthfully, this team should have enough energy from 2018 to coast into the playoffs in 2019. However, the same was said about Toronto FC last year, and the deep run into the CONCACAF Champions League depleted Toronto in the regular season. At least this CCL is a knockout-style tournament, but it’s still a lot of travel in the spring if Atlanta wins their way up the bracket.
While Atlanta’s vibrant offense will be bolstered by Pity’s talent, the pressure will now be on Julian Gressel and Tito Villalba to distribute in Almiron’s place. There are plenty of midfielders to pick up the slack if neither get the job done, but those minutes will be hard to distribute—Darlington Nagbe is already rumored to want out. The defense is a year older in the middle and newer on the edges, so it will be interesting to see if the shots at goalkeeper Brad Guzan increase.
All those points of caution shouldn’t matter. It’s Josef Martinez, guys.
New York Red Bulls
2018 Finish Line: 1st in Eastern Conference (22-7-5), 71 pts. 62 goals for, 33 goals against. 2018 Supporters’ Shield champions.
Despite only missing the playoffs once over their 13 years as the Red Bulls, New York has made only one MLS Cup appearance, losing to Columbus in 2008. They lost their head coach Jesse Marsch to a June transfer to RB Leipzig’s coaching staff, but that didn’t crush their spirits. Their +29 goal differential in 2018 was tied for the fifth-best ever in MLS history, thanks largely to Luis Robles’ 14 clean sheets. Still, all that success only produced an insurmountable deficit against Atlanta in the conference finals, losing 3-1 on aggregate.
OUT: M Tyler Adams, D Aurelien Collin, D Hassan Ndam
IN: M Marcus Epps, D Amro Tarek, F Mathias Jorgensen
The offseason was a bit quiet for incoming transactions, but the Red Bull machine managed a big get by signing 18-year-old forward Mathias Jorgensen, who had excelled in the Danish Superliga’s developmental system. The key loss is, of course, the move of Tyler Adams to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga. While this is an immense developmental move for the 19-year-old, it leaves RBNY empty in the defensive midfielder zone. The natural move is to insert Cristian Casseres Jr., but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the opportunity to promote Andrew Tinari from the Red Bulls II affiliate. Of course, all of the first-team reserves that were cut away can easily be replaced by the USL backups, so there isn’t much movement necessary. That could make the Red Bulls dangerous for years to come.
It could be possible to suggest the only way is down. Chris Armas didn’t have much weight to pull last year as interim head coach, but now the pressure will be on him to produce trophies bigger than a Supporters’ Shield. If the hook is pulled early, don’t be surprised if Red Bulls II coach John Wolyniec gets the promotion.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is showing little signs of rust, blasting his 100th MLS goal for the Red Bulls last season. He has 124 over all competitions in his five years with New York, but he’s also logged a ton of minutes. BWP has played in at least 40 games each of the past four seasons. If he does go down, Jorgensen and local product Brian White will have to be ready to fill the void.
The defense was the best in the league in 2018 (33 goals against) and should still be solid without Adams in the midfield. Re-signing Tim Parker to anchor the back line with 2018 Defender of the Year Aaron Long was key, and goalkeeper Robles should be able to duplicate his performance from last year. If Atlanta is unable to find traction under De Boer, the Red Bulls should be ready to dominate the conference. Again.
That puts a pretty bow on the Eastern Conference previews. There won’t be any quizzes later on, but now you know how the field appears on the starting line. Strap on your seat belts, roll down the window, and enjoy this crazy ride.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more preseason coverage and previews of the remaining Western Conference squads.
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Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2017 season.