MLS Weekly, Week 12: History and Storylines (People)

Image: Joe Craven

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 more brave loses 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 boner parade (I got to use the word “boner!”) – but both teams 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 lowprobability goals 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…

We are getting MLS trend-lines people, momentum(/season?) altering turns of events, some of them with Games of Thrones-esque blood-letting (timely)...

Deeper Cuts: FC Cincinnati’s Power-Grid Out(r)ages

FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling…

Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati’s fifth consecutive loss comes at a moment where the team could really use the boost in morale. The uplifting feeling from starting hot against some of the strongest teams from last season has now given way to sullen acceptance that achieving the playoffs might be a pipe dream if something doesn’t change. It’s getting harder to locate the good coming from the games when the team is struggling to get healthy and cohesive.

Short-Term Blips

It is hard to say if the team hit rock bottom from their 1-0 loss at San Jose, but a better team would have found a way to win with the advantages presented to them. The first 51 minutes of the match were understandably in San Jose’s favor. FCC has found it difficult to out-possess teams this season, and Saturday was no different. The ‘Quakes had hefty advantages in possession and pass success, as well as a 9-3 advantage in shots.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) before 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

Suffice to say, had Cristian Espinoza not gotten his red card in the 51st minute, we may have seen more of the same. However, the man advantage did flip the statistics—FCC enjoyed a possession advantage after the red card that brought the overall possession to a 52/48 split for San Jose. Despite not finding the net, FCC had their own 9-2 advantage in shots.

Major stats for San Jose (orange) and FCC (blue) after 51st-minute red card
Source: whoscored.com

Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that, even with a man advantage over 40 minutes in the second half, FCC weren’t able to break through with the goal they so dearly miss. Despite substituting in players with offensive potential—Manu Ledesma, Roland Lamah, and the returning Fanendo Adi—the zero was hung for another game. Only two shots were attempted on frame in the second half, and both were from midfielder Fatai Alashe.

The tide could still be turning. The big number that stood out when FCC beat Portland for their first win this year was the number of shots taken inside the 18-yard box (12/6). Even with the penalty kick factored in, seven of FCC’s eight goals have been from inside the box. However, despite having eight shots inside the box to San Jose’s four, the results have been threadbare. And perhaps that is where Adi can finally produce now that he’s healthy and hopefully ready for full 90-minute games.

Long-Term Blackouts

So far, the Orange & Blue have failed to score in five games and a total of 501 minutes. Those numbers have been announced repeatedly and are starting to build. FCC has been shut out in six games already this season, something that happened only five times last year.

Stretches of play without a goal is, fortunately, not as much a rarity in MLS play as people would imagine. Matthew Doyle pointed out the longest stretches of inefficiency when Montreal was undergoing a small stretch of their own last year. While the Impact figured out their issues and almost made the playoffs in 2018, history doesn’t paint a rosy picture for FCC.

The worst stretch belonged to Toronto FC in their inaugural 2007 season. Not only did they start their first season with four straight clean-sheet losses, but they eventually went nine games without scoring a goal, losing seven and drawing two. That TFC squad won only 6 times in 30 games, ending the season with only 25 goals and a -24 goal differential. Expectedly, both of those numbers put them dead last in their first year in the league.

MLS scoreless streaks and how the teams finished in standings and goal differential

Of note, both Toronto FC and Real Salt Lake opened their first season with longer scoreless streaks, and both finished near the bottom of the MLS table. Their goal differentials also were believably bad, which is to be expected from teams that could not produce offense.

However, if there is any sort of bright spot, Colorado had a similar scoreless streak in 1999, but still managed to make the playoffs. Yes, the number of teams in the league is now double that of the league in 1999, but it’s still a positive sign. There is time to turn the ship around, especially now that FCC gets two home games and two (hopefully) winnable road games against Orlando and Colorado.

Of note, this power outage is affecting the entire state of Ohio. Columbus have lost their last five games, having scored only 2 goals of their own.

The Bright Bulbs

At least this game gave us a chance to analyze Frankie Amaya in his first professional start with FC Cincinnati. Given the chance to work before his substitution in the 67th minute, Amaya was efficient when he had the opportunity with the ball. He led the starters in pass success (95%) and tied with Kenny Saief in team-high for tackles (4). However, his possession numbers were still relatively low (2.5%), as the ball was primarily controlled by Ulloa (10.5%), Waston (5.5%), and Lasso (5.1%).

The other positive is that this was the first game where both Adi and Ledesma were on the pitch at the same time, albeit both in a substitution role. Ledesma had a significant amount of possession (2.3%) and was 4th on the team in Audi Index numbers for only 25 minutes of play. While Adi’s numbers were hard to monitor, getting him onto the pitch was the first step.

It’s a small victory in itself, but considering that both last year’s USL MVP and major DP signing have only played 24% and 18% of the minutes this season, it was good to get them back to Square One. If Greg Garza is able to return to full health and the best midfield tandem can be decided, maybe Koch can crank out the fullest, most effective lineup and bail this sinking ship out.

Until the next goal for FCC can be scored, however, the fans will be wondering when the lights will come back on.


Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press as FCC prepares for their home tilt against Montreal next Saturday.

San Jose Earthquakes 1 – 0 FC Cincinnati

A long-range effort from San Jose midfielder Nick Lima in the 22nd minute delivered the only goal of Saturday’s contest between…

Graphic: Connor Paquette

A long-range effort from San Jose midfielder Nick Lima in the 22nd minute delivered the only goal of Saturday’s contest between FC Cincinnati and the Earthquakes.

The Orange & Blue played the match with a man advantage for over 40 minutes but could not score a goal. San Jose midfielder Cristian Espinoza was dismissed after being issued a second yellow card in the 51st minute.

Fanendo Adi started the match on the bench but played 11 minutes as a substitute. It was his first time suiting-up since March 17 in FC Cincinnati’s home opener. Frankie Amaya, recently recalled from his loan to Orange County SC, made his first MLS start on Saturday and played 67 minutes.

FC Cincinnati remains in 11th place in the Eastern Conference. They tread water above the New England Revolution who lost 6-1 to the Philadelphia Union on Saturday and have a -14 goal differential.

San Jose Earthquakes 1, FC Cincinnati 0

Avaya Stadium | San Jose, Calif.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

SCORING SUMMARY

SJ – Nick Lima (Cristian Espinoza) 22’

FC Cincinnati: Przemysław Tytoń, Justin Hoyte (Fanendo Adi 79’), Mathieu Deplagne, Forrest Lasso, Kendall Waston ©, Caleb Stanko, Fatai Alashe, Victor Ulloa, Frankie Amaya (Roland Lamah 67’), Kenny Saief, Darren Mattocks (Emmanuel Ledesma 65’)

Bench: Spencer Richey, Nick Hagglund, Allan Cruz, Kekuta Manneh,

Stats: Shots 11, Shots on goal 3, Saves 0, Corner kicks 7, Offsides 0, Fouls 13, Possession 48.1%, Passes 404 (81.4%)

San Jose Earthquakes: Daniel Vega, Tommy Thompson (Guram Kashia 81’), Nick Lima, Harold Cummings, Florian Jungwirth, Magnus Eriksson, Cristian Espinoza, Jackson Yueill, Anibal Godoy, Shea Salinas © (Judson 72’), Danny Hoesen (Chris Wondolowski 90’)

Bench: Eric Calvillo, Marcos Lopez, Andrew Tarbell, Valeri Qazaishvili,

Stats: Shots 11, Shots on goal 1, Saves 3, Corner kicks 8, Offsides 5, Fouls 15, Possession 51.9%, Passes 448 (83.3%)

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY

CIN – Caleb Stanko (caution) 6’

SJ – Shea Salinas (caution) 13’

SJ – Cristian Espinoza (caution) 15’  

SJ – Nick Lima (caution) 29’

CIN – Forrest Lasso (caution) 31’

SJ – Cristian Espinoza (second yellow, ejection) 51’

CIN – Fatai Alashe (caution) 67’

Referee: Dave Gantar

Assistant Referees: Mike Rottersman, Diego Blas

Fourth Official: Elton Garcia

VAR: Daniel Radford

AVAR: Peter Balciunas

Weather: 62 degrees and sunny

Attendance: 16,743

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at San Jose Earthquakes

FC Cincinnati will have a chance to stop their Eastern Conference freefall on Saturday when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes…

Design: CSDIV / Image: Joe Craven

FC Cincinnati have a chance to stop their Eastern Conference freefall on Saturday when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes at Avaya Stadium. A midweek defeat to the Philadelphia Union means four consecutive losses for Alan Koch’s men, and five losses in their last six matches played. The biggest concern now is the team’s extended goal drought, which stands at 431 minutes.

FC Cincinnati may have picked the wrong time to visit San Jose. After losing their first three matches at Avaya this season, Matias Almeyda’s side surprised MLS with a 3-0 drubbing of the Portland Timbers at home on April 6th. They are 1-1-2 since that win with results that include a 4-1 home victory over Sporting KC and road draws with the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas.

Fanendo Adi, Greg Garza, Kenny Saief, and Corben Bone are all listed as questionable for this contest. Kickoff is at 10:00 pm Eastern Time.

Fast Facts

  • The San Jose Earthquakes have more disciplinary infractions than any team in MLS with 24 yellow cards and 1 red card after 9 matches. Expect a physical opponent on Saturday.
  • In contrast, FC Cincinnati has accumulated 11 yellows this season (tied for third fewest) and 0 reds. They also have the fifth-fewest fouls per game in MLS. Could Alan Koch’s side find success with a more physical approach?
  • Both teams allow their opponents a lot of looks at goal. San Jose allows an average of 16.1 shots per game and FC Cincinnati allows 15.9 per game. Those are the second and third highest shots allowed per game averages in MLS.
  • San Jose score 1.6 goals per game at home on average and FC Cincinnati concede 1.7 goals per game away from home. FCC will have to score 2-3 goals to get something out of this match if those averages hold up —not a great stat for FCC given their current offensive form.
  • San Jose averages the third most key passes per game in MLS at 11. FC Cincinnati, by comparison, is last in the league at 6.9 per game.
  • Want a statistical category where FC Cincinnati leads the league? FCC has the fewest dispossessions per game, at 6.9, of any team in MLS. Dispossessed is defined as “Player is dispossessed on the ball by an opponent – no dribble involved.” Basically, it represents being caught on the ball.

All stats via mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati versus the San Jose Earthquakes.

MLS Weekly, Week 9: Who Made the Most of Their Busy Week?

With one glaring exception, MLS Week 9 coughed up broadly predictable results, or, failing that, explicable ones. That exception was…

Image: Joe Craven

To start with a wee spread of interrelated good news and bad news, the time-swallowing Sunday night bowling league that has dominated my life for the past 30+ weeks just ended (yay!). The bad news is that that final roll (in which I performed horribly) coincided with…just a MASSIVE week’s worth of Major League Soccer…soccer. A suffocating, sadistic seventeen (17) games went from first to final whistle over the past week and, if you’re a guy trying to wrap all that up in a weekly post, that feels like loading 16 tons, and for just as little as the guy gets in the old song.

With one glaring exception, MLS Week 9 coughed up broadly predictable results, or, failing that, explicable ones. That exception was Sporting Kansas City’s utterly puzzling, thoroughly desperate 4-4 draw at home against a New England Revolution team that seems as dedicated to finding fresh arguments for firing Brad Friedel as they are at playing the game. Then again, with the injury bug biting SKC pretty hard, they fielded a thin/make-shift middle three in a 4-3-3, and maybe that, along with Matt Besler’s absence, and Ilie Sanchez’s absence explains how the Revs could easily play over and through them. New England committed heavily to the counter – to the tune of 537 passes to 184 – and with all the gaps left by the wounded, that worked for them. In a testament to the talent they still have left on the table, SKC battled back twice, and Krizstian Nemeth had himself another game. Best case, this becomes a game they rally around, like the Alamo, only with fewer in-game fatalities.

[* I’m taking a station break for a short, by very important caveat. Any week time is tight, all I have time to check with each of these games is the box score (yes, I know it can be one word, but I hate it like that) and the shortened highlights. For what it’s worth, the box scores are useful so long as you don’t read too much into them; with those, I mostly scout for oddities – e.g., the numbers Real Salt Lake put up against the Los Angeles Galaxy in LA. I’m on firmer footing with the two games I watched in full, Red Bull New York’s hideous win over FC Cincinnati (see my extended notes) and the Portland Timbers’ gentle throttling of Toronto FC (see my extended notes). Moving on…]

With most of the other results, two things stood out: 1) the scores are generally tightening, which suggests a general, collective finding of feet for most teams in MLS; and 2) most of the surprises happened for a fairly specific reason. A larger sub-plot dominated the week: 10 teams played two games in MLS Week 9, and that gave it a dose of nitrous. In last week’s post, while I failed to give a “full list” of those teams (apologies to D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders), I did provide thumbnail theories as to what I expected each team to pick up during Week 9. I’ll at least note all the results before wrapping up, but measuring last week’s expectations against what actually happened will stand most teams in MLS against the ruler to see how they stack up. For no particular reason, I’ve decided the list those 10 teams according to the descending order of how much they suffered over Week 9.


Chicago Fire

Prediction: “2 points would impress me and that says a lot.”
Actual Results: 0 points, two 0-1 road losses, one at New York City FC, the other at the Montreal Impact, zero points, and no goals scored, but, hey! Thin margins!
Notes: Both games looked like low-opportunity affairs, and both turned on moments the Fire would almost certainly rather forget. The Fire, specifically, had few memorable chances in either game (Djordje Mihailovic had a decent rip against NYCFC, and they managed to miss a bunch of different ways against Montreal), and that’s why the hype-train for the Fire should stay put until it has a few more miles behind it.

Columbus Crew SC

Prediction: “higher than three points would be great.”
Actual Results: That’d be 0 points again. A 0-1 loss to D.C. in Columbus, followed by a less surprising 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in Houston.
Notes: I heard some kind words for Columbus even during the highlights (“some of the best passing we’ve seen out of Columbus this year”), and, per the numbers, they played pretty even against both teams, Pedro Santos had some good looks, etc. No matter how you slice it, though, getting zero points out of this swing hurts – especially when you give up goals like this, which very much runs against type for Columbus in 2019.

Seattle Sounders FC

Prediction: Didn’t, um, make one, but both I and they would have expected four points at a minimum.
Actual Results: 2 points from two draws in as many home games, one a 2-2 against the San Jose Earthquakes that they rescued and almost lost over 10-15 minute period, the other a bitter, red-tainted 1-1 draw against Los Angeles FC.
Notes: Kelvin Leerdam had himself a very full week, what with all that two-way dueling against Shea Salinas and (I think) getting hosed (but how?) by Diego Rossi to set up the assist for LAFC’s (puzzling) lone goal. I hereby hold up Harry Shipp’s equalizer as proof that Seattle can still ball, but these were two home games, one of them against a comparative minnow, and two points can’t be enough.

New England Revolution

Prediction: “I can see zero, I can see four; two would be good.”
Actual Results: They surprised me with one point, the one they earned against SKC. The other was a 0-3 cringe-fest at Montreal, brutal in every dimension.
Notes: I decided they felt less pain over the weekend than Seattle on the grounds they should be used to it by now, but that loss to Montreal was devastating. First, Cody Cropper, a rare, reliable bright spot for them, bobbled a free kick, but the real pain comes with the fact that they put zero (0) shots on goal in that game. After fail-investing in a defense, this is a team in profound trouble.

D.C. United

Prediction: Had I guessed, I would have called it between three and four points.
Actual Results: 3 points, better than a kick in the head. A 1-0 road win over Columbus that I could have called, but would never have predicted and a 1-0 loss at Minnesota that reverses that argument.
Notes: Not bad for a two-game road swing, obviously, even if they got the results in the wrong place. They looked about as sharp on paper in both cases, at which point it becomes a question of whether or not, say, Wayne Rooney nails a free kick, or whether Chris Durkin (as in, not Bill Hamid) saves a goal.

Los Angeles Galaxy

Prediction: “4 points minimum.”
Actual Results: Of course they did it, and on the back of a goal-less draw in Minnesota and an arguably fortunate (and weirdly angry) 2-1 win over RSL in LA.
Notes: The Zlatan Show always gets lots of press, but I was impressed by the way Minnesota’s Ike Opara matched him in that game, maybe even topped him. He poked home the winner against RSL, of course, but do check the box score because 22 shots against, 7 on goal is not what you expect from a home team with LA’s record. When you see that, and hear they’re on shaky ground, it starts to add up.

San Jose Earthquakes

Prediction: “getting tested in real time; anything above 2 is real.”
Actual Results: 2 solid points on what looked like a genuinely unremarkable draw at FC Dallas, preceded by a gutsy 2-2 draw at Seattle that truly looked like it could end either way.
Notes: It took 10 totally chaotic moments for Seattle to undo San Jose’s 2-0 lead, and I took that to mean they took the kind of chances that nearly allowed San Jose to retake the lead. As noted above, Shea Salinas stole the show, but Cristian Espinoza has looked good-to-menacing often as I’ve seen him lately (again, not often). Even if they fell short of my threshold to declare them interesting (e.g., 3 or more points), San Jose picked up two draws on the road against their alleged betters. Watch them.

Minnesota United FC

Prediction: “as many as they can get, but it better be 4.”
Actual Results: Yep, 4 points, courtesy of that goal-less draw against LA, and a thieving 1-0 win over D.C. United in Minnesota.
Notes: The numbers say they didn’t front-foot either game – and D.C. even had a goal called back – but positives ranged from enough points collected to Angelo Rodriguez racking up a respectable set of chances (and one goal), to Opara putting shots on goal that score, oh, 7 times out of 10. The only warning sign is that their heretofore reliable attack struggled a bit. Just something to watch.

New York City FC

Prediction: “All 6; [then in all caps, there, not here]: this would be one of the bigger deals of the week.”
Actual Results: 4 points, by beating Chicago in New York, then drawing Orlando City SC 1-1 at the same venue.
Notes: They didn’t stall against Orlando for lack of trying – surely, it’s significant that Orlando only topped them in fouls, yellow cards, clearances and saves – but Nani lived up to his billing (while Dom Dwyer did not) and NYCFC failed to bury their key chances. Chicago played them very tight (a theme with the Fire), and that makes the Orlando draw feel like the bigger blown opportunity. Still, a decent week for a team looking to turn around its season, and Heber looks pretty damn real.

Montreal Impact

Prediction: “6 would say a ton, but anything 3 and north is fine.”
Actual results: 6 points, aka, they said a ton, with a 3-0 precision-guided whuppin’ at New England, followed up by a narrow win over Chicago won by an inspired goal from Omar Browne.
Notes: Look, it’s late and I snuck them into the prediction frame, like a twit. The most impressive thing is that they beat New England away, and by quite a bit. Now that I’ve given serious thought to Chicago, they present as a fairly tough nut to crack. Good week for Daniel Lovitz, though, and who needs Ignacio Piatti when you’ve got Anthony Jackson-Hamel? (While I’m here, the defending on that shot is New England in a nutshell.) (I’m kidding, obviously, any team in MLS needs Piatti until his legs give out.)


OK, that’s everyone. And, if I haven’t apologized already, sorry to make all the above so bullet-point driven. Hopefully, the absence of bowling and light yard grooming will open up more time to tell a better story next week. To wrap up the results I haven’t covered yet, let’s see…Portland’s win over Toronto was really something, and mostly because the way TFC totally lost the “intensity battle” says a lot about how much they trust their own defense. Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Union picked up a respectable 1-1 draw at the Vancouver Whitecaps; that’s a solid result for Philly, but Vancouver does look better – Jordy Reyna, in particular looks saucy. Uh, no one should care about Atlanta United FC beating the Colorado Rapids in the season’s first Toilet Bowl because, 1) that’s the minimum expectation, and 2) they still don’t look like 2018 Atlanta, and that still matters till something changes.

I guess that just leaves the Red Bulls “hideous win” over FC Cincinnati, but that was depressingly, decidedly uneventful – and for both teams.

OK, that’s all for this week. I’ll aspire to something prettier next time around.

MLS Weekly, Nearly-7: The Rare Occasion It All Finally Makes Sense

With MLS Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results…

Photo Credit: Stephanie Romero

[Ed. – I’m abandoning the five (5) game-condensed format, and for a couple of reasons – chief among them that watching 2/9th of a game cuts out too much of how the ball gets from Point A to Point B, aka, the soul of the game, and who wants to cut that out? To move forward in a spirit of honesty and kindness (you’re welcome), I will always disclose all the soccer I watched any given weekend. And, for this week, that includes all of FC Cincinnati’s loss to Los Angeles FC, and all of the Portland Timbers (inevitable, but…) loss to FC Dallas. Outside that, I watched condensed games for Minnesota United FC v New York City FC (sad!), the Chicago Fire’s…just whimpering home draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps (maybe even worse), Seattle Sounders 3-2 win over Toronto FC, and Sporting Kansas City’s eye-raising 2-2 draw in KC against the New York Red Bulls. Now, to the action…]

With Major League Soccer Week Nearly-7 in the books (look, still over half the teams have played six or fewer games), fans finally have a week’s worth of results that more or less followed completely legitimate trends and/or properties. As in, holy crap, every result this weekend made sense, and, for people who traffic in the idea that MLS is more predictable than most people seem to believe, that’s like a fist-bump from God. I credit all this obsession for what makes it work; basically, if you track trends closely enough, you’ll be surprised a lot less by MLS, generally, but that’s my weird little gospel. Going the other way, don’t think of anything I say below as obvious. Unless, I guess, I actually write, “this is obvious,” or something a lot like it.

Even if it’s not your first-choice explanation, every game from MLS Week Nearly-7 followed from a plausible explanation. Honestly, name your game and I’m pretty sure I can summon up a (reasonably) factually-based logic to explain it. To cherry-pick the easy ones: maybe FC Cincinnati stresses Los Angeles FC in another world, but in this time-line, LAFC has a bat-poop insane (huh, euphemisms are kinda silly fun) goal differential, and a ton of that is built on allowing just five goals across seven games (just to note it, they are playing a combination of minnows and the unbalanced; see the Form Guide ULTRA for details). Elsewhere, Real Salt Lake is strong enough at home to beat a (sincerely battling; see below…but don’t expect more than a bare question) Orlando City SC team, and the Colorado Rapids are bad enough to lose anywhere, including in Commerce City, and especially against DC United (and these goals are terrible). And that’s what made this an oddly, broadly predictable weekend in a league that, allegedly, defies prediction.

Even within a Week Nearly-7 where everything was as it should be, cracks appeared, and on just about every side of the glass. For instance, as much as you’d expect both Sporting KC and the Sounders to manage a heretofore stumbling New York Red Bulls and even a much stronger Toronto FC, respectively, they didn’t and they did, respectively. These are fun results precisely because they tinker with several narratives, including the most obvious ones. For instance, what does it mean that the Red Bulls looked reasonably like the Red Bulls of 2018 (and from previous seasons) tonight, and against an SKC team that just about everybody rates (even if the support that upholds that rating grows more tenuous by the day)? With Toronto, sure, maybe they didn’t beat Seattle – and, golly, is this as simple as the difference between having solid, predictable defense versus one with an awful tendency to lay out the welcome mat (these are egregious and/or worth your time) – but how many other teams can Toronto beat with their current personnel? I think the answer comes in on the high side, for what it’s worth, so how much do you really care about this result if you’re a TFC fan? As demonstrated by Altidore’s remarkable, almost immediate connection with Alejandro Pozuelo (see their first goal, and this one), TFC can steal a game, and that’s something to watch going forward.

It gets pretty down-market from there, a succession of games that didn’t move any particular needle, whether it’s Montreal’s opportunistic win over Columbus, or the Houston Dynamo following in the foot-steps of every team (except the Portland Timbers) to beat the San Jose Earthquakes. Some results just don’t matter, so why talk about them? (And, even if I don’t link to it, Portland’s loss to Dallas absolutely belongs here.)

The same story continues with Atlanta United FC’s win over the New England Revolution. Based on everything I read or watched, the Dirty South ran all the way over the Revs. The fact that any reasonable person saw this coming is all the commentary anyone should need on New England. Sadly, they join the short list for all the sh*t teams in MLS right now – which, on the plus side, keeps shrinking as the rest of the league shifts into one blurb of quality, and another of striving. In the here and now, though, the cast-outs include: the Revolution, RSL, San Jose, Vancouver, Colorado, and Portland. Depressing as it is, I see upsides for every team in MLS, except those six teams.

Moving on now, let’s talk about the most significant results of the Week Nearly-7.


Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0 Philadelphia Union

It confirmed LA’s home bona fides, as much as it proved Philadelphia’s real-world limitations. At the same time, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both goals, one from the run of play, one from a penalty, and neither of those feel like a map to 2021, if you know what I mean. If I had to bet on a long-term future for either team…I don’t know which way I’d go. If nothing else, LA has won some trophies, no matter how long ago, while Philadelphia hasn’t. Bottom line: Money versus a plan is a tricky call to make.

Houston Dynamo 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes

In spite of what Tommy Thompson said, San Jose did not fix anything, and the Dynamo have yet to be tested this season, so…(again, consult the Form Guide UTLRA to see what I mean). While both teams exist on the cusp of becoming, I’m way more nervous for the Dynamo. Because they have room to experience disappointment. At the same time, anyone who wants to feel better about Alberth Elis should contrast his weekend with the New York Red Bulls’ Kaku, a man whose greatest visible contribution to the result was a tantrum/richly-deserved red card.

I’m going to close out this post with some things to watch, nearly all of them having to do with what I might have guessed wrong. In no particular order:

Orlando City SC

Are they figuring things out or is losing nobly their fate till further notice?

D.C. United

God’s honest truth, I could be selling them massively short, but I still think they’re the most over-hyped team in MLS, both structurally and based on random factors (e.g., Luciano Acosta maybe leaving).

In Closing…

I have no idea what I’d read into the Eastern Conference standings at time of writing, right now, but the hierarchy in the Western Conference feels depressingly sound. And that’s all for this week. I hope to round it into something more coherent next week, but I’m not sure this isn’t the state of things. Till next time.

MLS Weekly, Week 4/5: About the Futures Market

Credit: Porsche997SBS / License

Here we are just four weeks into Major League Soccer’s 2019 regular season (well, five weeks in for eight teams), and Week 4/5’s Form Guide ULTRA, the source material for these narratives, is already busily spinning off the kinds of sweet, subtle caveats that cause a man to question everything he thinks he knows. It’s also predicting the future, if only the very near future, or at least suggesting it. With that, time to dig in.

To start with the latter, say someone asked you to opine on whether the Chicago Fire or the New England Revolution will build on their first wins of the season, or whether Real Salt Lake might crawl out of the never-ending paddle-wheel that’s been wailing on their fannies for the past three weeks. The answers to all of the above are the same: oh, hell no – because they face Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, and the Seattle Sounders, respectively, and on the road in every single case. That doesn’t mean none of those three teams will recover by the end of the season, it just means they’re highly unlikely to do it next weekend. Going the other way, what kind of signal would it send if all three of those teams yanked unlikely wins from unsavory places in those games? (For what it’s worth, I’d start to take the hype a little more seriously on Chicago if they win, but it’ll take more to re-write the sorry scripts the other two teams have written for themselves so far.)

Basically, whatever happens in the three games above, the result will either reinforce a narrative (e.g., weak teams in bad circumstances losing), or they won’t be enough to create a new narrative on their own. That doesn’t apply to all of this weekend’s games, fortunately, and that’s how I chose which games I decided to treat as “important” by giving them extended commentary down below. By my reckoning, DC United v. Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union v. FC Dallas have evolved into the marquee match-ups of MLS Week 5/sorta 6. In the latter case, you’ve got two teams who’ve started…reasonably well (i.e., Dallas has started well, while Philly’s only come on recently), while the former pits two teams widely regarded (if in my own tiny circle) as the best in MLS in 2019. And this is where the Form Guide ULTRA does double duty – specifically by putting sharp questions to exactly which teams DC has beaten so far this season, versus all the teams from which LAFC have stolen many points. They’ve both been perfect so far, or close to it – and they both pummeled a vulnerable team by the same, shameful 5-0 score-line – but something tells me LAFC will go farther in 2019, scare more teams, etc. That said, no matter what happens between them next weekend, I expect both teams go far this season, and to cause problems for the teams around them. The same goes for Dallas and Philly, even if their fates/upsides look less settled than the other two.

That’s not to say there aren’t some damned solid under-cards ahead – among them, e.g., Vancouver Whitecaps v. Los Angeles Galaxy (a race to get their sh*t together), New York City FC v. Montreal Impact (will the least wounded team please stand up), and Red Bulls New York v. Minnesota (how bad is Red Bull, really?). And, because I follow them both, the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati have equally interesting Week 5/6’s ahead, but for the opposite reason. For obvious reasons, Portland had better [placeholder for very naughty words] have no trouble tagging in and continuing the embarrassing beat-down LAFC started last weekend. As for FC Cincy, they’re staring down a game that every single thought worth minding says they’ll lose, maybe even badly. At the same time, both Cincinnati and Portland are freaky precisely because it’s too early to be either sure or surprised at either result. In other words, I’d be no less surprised to, say, see Cincinnati wrestle SKC to a draw than I would to see the Timbers fall apart against the San (the worst set of words you’ve ever heard, no worse) Jose Earthquakes.

Golly, that is a lot of preamble, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Down below is brief commentary on all the games I chose to focus on this weekend, and for the reasons hinted at and alluded to above. Just like every week, I posted extended commentary on the weekend’s games for Portland and Cincinnati and, for the first time in 2019, I was happier with the Timbers. Anyway, let’s dissect 2/9ths of some games.


San Jose Earthquakes 0-5 Los Angeles FC

“The best that could happen for San Jose right now is…just for this first half to end. Regroup. Come out in the second and see what you can do.”

I’m not sure who called this game, but, holy crap, did he find all the ways to kick San Jose (the above comment came about 33-35 minutes after the same guy went off-and-on for 3+ minutes about San Jose’s “amateur mistakes”). That guy never let up, not least because the ‘Quakes never gave him cause. So went this game, so goes the season that feels unrelentingly, even pathologically hopeless for San Jose. They’ve literally given up one more goal in every game so far this season, if nothing else, and that’s closer to concept art than professional sports, people. To close out the intro, LAFC rather cruelly declined to give San Jose that chance to regroup, because Carlos Vela scored his second goal, LAFC’s third, about a minute before the first half ended – and that’s one hell of an assist by the generally effective Diego Rossi. And to drag “amateur mistakes” out of the parentheses, Vela scored his first goal off one of them and, to float a theory, this is what dunking looks like in soccer. (Also, with an eye to the sub-theme, that was a hat trick for Vela). There’s not a lot of mystery to this game: LAFC is good, San Jose is whatever you call the historically bad opposite of good. For what it’s worth, I gasped “Oh my God” out loud while checking the box score, because that was an ass-whuppin’ in number form, and hide the children. I guess what I wanted to see by watching this was the scope of Vela’s role in the win. I caught up on Vela’s goals via ExtraTime Radio You Can See, or whatever the hell MLSSoccer.com calls their weekly recap show, but this was the kind of dominant performance you’d expect when a good team meets [other].

Orlando City SC 1-2 D.C. United

I’ve always been squeamish(?) about watching Orlando play, but I at least have a good reason in 2019: it breaks the heart to watch a team fight hard and fall short. And that looks like such a happy and colorful supporters group down there. They deserve a win, you want them to win…and then they don’t, and with some reliability. They don’t lack for ambition – see, Portugal’s Nani, if nothing else, but Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, and Uri Rossell don’t come cheap – but, until they stop falling short on results, who gives a crap where Nani played? Both Dwyer and Chris Mueller have done more for Orlando so far (and, to second MLS’s Armchair Analyst, Mueller should start). After watching the condensed game, the box score was the first thing I wanted to see, Orlando looked awfully busy, etc. Sure enough, they put up a good number of shots – far more than little league darlings, DCU; they lobbed in a hefty number of crosses* too, and maybe that says something about their chances, even if they scored off a cross. (* I don’t like crosses, so I ignore them, so I don’t know how many crosses is a lot, also I’ll get better.) On a deeper level, a lot of those shots came late and my 2/9th knowledge tells me Orlando had D.C. under real, if chaotic pressure late in the game. Orlando had a plausible shot at holding onto at least one point till the end, basically. From DC’s side, hell of a goal by Wayne Rooney, obviously, even if controversy lurks in the alpha (was that a foul? (yes)) and omega (was Orlando’s Brian Rowe obstructed on the play? (….yes?)) of that goal. After glancing at D.C.’s line-up, I was less surprised to see that defense cope under pressure. Oh, and it’s when you’re watching a team coming back against DC that you realize how good Bill Hamid can be. Now that I’ve reminded myself about D.C.’s defense/spine, the hype makes a little more sense. Still, caveat lector because, again, it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that D.C. is coasting on a soft schedule, circumstantially or otherwise.

New England Revolution 2-1 Minnesota United FC

I’d call surviving the five minutes after Minnesota equalized and pushed for the go-ahead goal the first little victory of New England’s 2019 season; during that time, had Ethan Finlay poked home the ball that suddenly appeared at his feet, or if Cody Cropper didn’t save the header tripped over its heels, God knows how much panic would have seeped into the hearts of a team that has known nothing but panic and an angry coach lately. It looked like it took the Revs 10 minutes to contain the surge and they ultimately pushed back long and hard enough to find the game-winning goal themselves off what turned out to be a fortunate miss by Teal Bunbury. Credit where it’s due, the run Bunbury made and the pass that new (literal) kid DeJuan Jones hit to find it where your focus should go. New England found a way past Minnesota’s defenders in something like the same way several times on Saturday, most often with Carles Gil doing the hunting/probing. It’s just one win at home, and New England’s first three points of the season, but they really do seem to have landed something special with Gil (dude can find a needle in a damn haystack so long as he’s got a ball at his feet), and so long as Bunbury, Jones, and Brendan Bye (who scored the second), the Revs have the upside if they can figure out how to use it. As for Minnesota, they don’t need to panic – playing .500 ball on a road trip (one more game to go!) – but the asterisks after those first two wins become bolder with each successive stumble.

Toronto FC 4-0 New York City FC

Just because I happened to look at, I have to say I don’t see a great defensive midfield player in Toronto’s lineup. Seems to be working out so far in 2019, but I caught a stray comment that said this was TFC’s first clean sheet since July 28, 2018 (checks out too). NYCFC came close to keeping that trend alive somewhere around 50’, but nothing about the condensed game makes a case they would have held onto any points – so says the TFC’s shots on goal as well. They made all those shots by making BMO Field look about twice as big every time they had the ball; NYCFC’s defenders seemed miles away far too often, and they failed to do much to slow down TFC when they were around (see TFC’s 4th goal; and does Dome Torrent have NYCFC playing zonal?). If you’ve tuned into any MLS reporting at since Friday, you’ve already seen the Alejandro Pozuelo’s second goal, and he looked as good as advertised over 2/9th of the game I saw (his work in creating Toronto’s game-winner impressed me more, honestly). Had NYCFC’s Alexandriu Mitrita showed bigger than he did, this had real “battle of the stars” potential, but Mitrita’s apparent contribution toward only as high as failing to put due enthusiasm around two opportunities (that they didn’t make the highlights…). As laid out in the Form Guide ULTRA, this loss feels like NYCFC finally falling all the way down after stumbling through the open weeks of the season. They finally succumbed to the pressure…maybe of their own incoherence. It’s not unlike how they broke completely after giving up the penalty (Alexander Callens; good call) that lead to TFC’s second. As for Toronto, they look pretty impressive…you gotta wonder when the hype train will get rolling…

Real Salt Lake 2-4 FC Dallas

I’ll start by thanking the folks who splice the condensed games for giving Brian Dunseth’s half thoughts the under card of that video/audio experience (see “whatever the narrative with regard to PRO when it comes to ‘clamping down…’” And? What?). As for the game, it pissed me off a little that I’ve watched and half-watched (through one eye) the Officially Sanctioned Video around this game and at no point did something see fit to mention that RSL’s Deimar Krielach got sent off at the 17th minute. When a red card happens that early that is, and always will be, top-of-the-inverted-pyramid kind of information. That makes some sense of why Dallas more than doubled RSL in passes, but even if they got out-shot (and with particularly devastating timing every team they experienced hope) and smothered in passes, none of that came through in the condensed game. Sure, I still think Everton Luiz isn’t the solution to RSL’s problems, but it’s also possible that their alarmingly consistent problem with red cards could have as much to do with their record as anything. It’s also true that all of Dallas’ goals, their depantsing-equivalent first goal notwithstanding, came after Kreilach’s departure, but I also saw enough in the condensed game to make this present as the same bad day at the office RSL was destined to have, even with eleven dudes present and accounted for. In spite of their lowly ranking in the Form Guide ULTRA, not to mention the generally low regard in which they’re generally held, RSL does have some good players – e.g., Albert Rusnack, Brooks Lennon, and Jefferson Savarino, especially – the talent around them shows no sign of holding up. Dallas, meanwhile, feels like a different team under Luchi Gonzalez than it did under Oscar Pareja. If nothing else, putting the guy who knows “the kids” best in charge of “playing your kids” feels like a wise choice. To pose a question I haven’t heard, is FC Dallas one of the teams in MLS most willing to ship its players, whether within or outside of the league, and on the grounds they’ll reliably have replacements handy? The only two people I have in mind to back up that statement are Walker Zimmerman and Maximiliano Urruti, only wait, I just remembered Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa. How many players did Dallas lose in the off-season? And where are they? After finally seeing Paxton Pomykal tear it up (the thing to note is where he took that ball with his first touch), it seems like something they can afford…but can they win titles on it?


And that’s all for this weekend. To wrap up the sub-theme, I’m mostly counting new, high(-ish) profile players successful, but with Nani and Mitrita as the highest profile outliers. We’ll see how I do with calling the games that will really matter next weekend.

2019 MLS Western Conference Preview: Part 1 – The Victims of 2018

A look at last year’s Western Conference teams that missed the MLS playoffs – to look at transfers, how they finished, and their playoff odds.

The 2018 Major League Soccer regular season was something that happened, obviously, but for the teams below, it was something that happened to them. Each team’s experience ran the gamut from nagging doubt, through uncomfortable physical sensation, all the way down to nights, weeks, even months of wrestling with one’s choice of careers, maybe even his basic self-worth. (Chin-up, Chris Wondolowski.) With that, welcome to this 2019 preview for the teams that finished on the wrong side of MLS’s Western Conference.

The format largely explains itself, but I do want to reference a couple resources at the top – just big picture things to help you cut corners while keeping current. First, MLSSoccer.com has a page that keeps a running tally of all the players coming into and going out of every team in the league – also, key disclosure, I do not list every player that left or joined each of the teams down below, only the players that have potential to change things. The Mothership (as I’ve long called MLSSoccer.com) also posts a feature that provides some context to all that coming and going; when I reference the “Transaction Interpreter” deep in the bowels of this post, that’s what I’m talking about. Fair warning, finding that article is hell any time it’s not on top of the main page. You’d think they’d do better with a regularly rotating feature, but how often does MLSSoccer.com feel like scrolling through a poorly-conceptualized twitter feed? But I digress.

My best understanding of what happened to each struggling team in the Western Conference last season is below, along with my best guess as to why they struggled. What they intend to do about it follows after that, along with a lot of guesswork about whether or not it’ll come off. Again, these are the bad ones, whether awful, cursed and awful, or just top-heavy, so don’t expect a lot of happy endings. To put a sub-headline to this piece, “Bright Futures Equally Scarce.” Now, starting with the worst…

San Jose Earthquakes

2018 Finish Line: 12th in the Western Conference (4-21-9), 21 pts. 49 goals for, 71 goals against

Dead, painful last, just shy of historically painful (DC United 2013 is the benchmark), the ‘Quakes had a uniquely painful 2018. They lost valiantly up until around August, but lost almost exactly 2/3 of the time across the season. In the middle of the season, (out-of-position) centerback, Florian Jungwirth publicly admitted the obvious: the ‘Quakes didn’t have the personnel to compete. The coach they’d hired at the beginning of 2018 to turn the team around (Mikael Stahre), would first lose the team, then get fired before the season ended. Bleak.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Yeferson Quintana, M Jakmir Hyka…see above, does it matter?

IN: F Cristian Espinoza, M Judson, D Marcos Lopez, F Cade Cowell (youngest-ever homegrown player, btw)

San Jose let former New England Revolution star Steve Ralston escort them off the plank at the end of 2018, but the ‘Quakes went massive with a coaching hire: Matias Almeyda, aka, the most successful coach in Chivas Guadalajara history (and elsewhere). They let go a handful of players who never really arrived in MLS (e.g., Hyka and Quintana), while taking an oddly short-term approach on their rebuild. They’ll have their splashiest signing, Argentine forward Espinoza, for only as long as Spain’s Villareal will allow. The two players they signed to actual contracts – Peru’s Marcos Lopez at left back and Brazilian defensive midfielder Judson – didn’t arrive with much for hype.

2019 Forecast:

When you tied for the West’s worst defensive record (71 goals allowed), a player with Judson’s profile acknowledges a need; the idea of having a right back to counter-balance your team’s best player (Nick Lima) also presents as sound. The new players shouldn’t make them any worse, but they are being added to roughly the same group of players that rather violently under-performed in 2018. A successful season – even just a better one – would build Almeyda’s legend.


Colorado Rapids

2018 Finish Line: 11th in the Western Conference (8-19-7), 31 pts. 36 goals for, 63 goals against

The Rapids tried to “play soccer” in 2018 – y’know, possess the ball, work it upfield, etc. They’ve arguably been doing that since signing Shelzhen Gashi, but he’s better as a shorthand for what ails the Rapids: he fits into no known scheme, and that’s how Colorado builds rosters (so far): grab whatever’s handy, throw it at the wall, and, often as not, weep. They got a couple days’ buzz/hope out of beating the Los Angeles Galaxy in a mid-season home-and-home series, but, if the team ever got over the playoff redline last season, they didn’t stay long. The Rapids finished miles under it instead, and the scoring was particularly…infrequent all season. Just north of 1.0 goals per game. Again, bleak.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: F Jack McBean, GK Zac MacMath, D Edgar Castillo, M Marlon Hairston, M Enzo Martinez

IN: F Kei Kamara, M Nicolas Mezquida, GK Clint Irwin, M Benny Feilhaber, F Diego Rubio

Colorado let some interesting pieces go in the off-season – e.g., Hairston and Castillo (arguably their best player going both directions in 2018) – and they’ve played “Moneyball” since then. Familiar, quality(?) cast-offs like Kamara, Feilhaber, Mezquida, Rosenberry, and (to a lesser extent) Diego Rubio were either signed on or shanghaied in a bid to make the Rapids competitive.

2019 Forecast:

Will it work? I can imagine some positives – e.g., Rubio playing off Kamara, and Rosenberry as a long-term fixture at right back. Going the other way, neither Kamara nor Feilhaber have much career left, so, even if both players have a stellar 2019, the question of succession remains open and (to take another step into the future) what keeps Colorado from going from one year to the next as a permanent remodel? I happened to listen to ExtraTime Radio’s 2019 previews (for bad teams) this past week and, remarkably, the panel split on Colorado. Faith in Colorado wound up requiring faith in depth pieces like Cole Bassett and Kortne Ford.


Minnesota United FC

2018 Finish Line: 10th in Western Conference (11-20-3), 36 pts. 49 goals for, 71 goals against

Close observers will notice that Minnesota matched San Jose on goals for and against, but still finished 15 points above them. For those new to it, welcome to MLS. I kid, but wins do matter in any league, and the Loons had something San Jose didn’t: Darwin Quintero creating offense from nothing, sometimes entirely on his own. This is how The Battle of the Basement was won. Their defense was homicidally terrible, obviously (or suicidally; however that works), and nothing confirms a team’s attack isn’t overcoming quite like a -22 goal differential. And, with that, Minnesota adds another bitter season of falling short.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Marc Burch (Cincy!), Fernando Bob (best damn name in MLS history), M Collen Warner, and…

IN: M Jan Gregus, M Osvaldo Alonso, D Romain Metanire, D Ike Opara, GK Vito Mannone

Judging by their signings – a proven (if oft-injured) quantity Opara in central defense (and there’s a story there), paying for an upgrade at right back in Metanire, the still-more expensive Gregus with what’s left of Alonso in central midfield – Minnesota did the vital work of pointing to where it hurt and at least trying to make it stop. Expecting a slightly-diminished normal out of Alonso feels like a safe bet, and that leaves Gregus feeling like the main X-Factor (even having Sam Cronin healthy would help). To reduce what the Loons let go to just one solid, yet unspectacular player, the fact they got rid of Collen Warner shows that Minnesota gets what’s happening across the league.

2019 Forecast:

I can’t believe the changes listed above won’t help Minnesota, but the question of whether they can make a push – or, God forbid, make the playoffs – probably turns on which existing players show up and how. For instance, can Quintero get a little help, whether by Angelo Rodriguez leveling up to even 3/4 of his potential, or Kevin Molino staying healthy for 3/4 of a season? Minnesota has the talent, perhaps for the first time in its existence, but can they finally shake off the “expansion team” ball-and-chain in their third season?


Houston Dynamo

2018 Finish Line: 9th in the Western Conference (10-16-8), 38 pts. 58 goals for, 58 goals against

The Dynamo spent 2/3 of the season on the cusp of maybe, aka, the insufferable state of having the players to win a title (e.g., Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, and, as much as anyone, Mauro Manotas), but not the team. Those 58 goals against leave a couple of the sharper details out of Houston’s tale of 2018 heartbreak – i.e., games they should have won ending as draws, and draws ending in losses. Houston could beat any other team last season, but they could lose just as easily.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Leandro, D Adolfo Machado, D/M Jared Watts, M Arturo Alvarez, M Andrew Wenger, M Luis Gil, M Eric Alexander (because pertinent to the audience)

IN: M Matias Vera, M Tommy MacNamara, M Marlon Hairston, D Maynor Figueroa, D Aljaz “Kiki” Struna

Sometimes, a team hints at a problem; other times, they go in for Soviet-style purges to obliterate the very memory of it. The Dynamo approached its defensive overhaul in that spirit, letting go of, oh, everybody (e.g., see above, down a shot of vodka for the fallen). They also dropped guys like Andrew Wenger and Luis Gil, once promising youngsters who, in spite of serious indulgence, failed to launch. When looking for replacements, Houston played a little moneyball of their own, grabbing guys like one-time New York City FC fan-favorite MacNamara and Hairston (see above). Their biggest bid to resuscitate the defense is named Aljaz “Kiki” Struna, a Slovenian centerback. He’ll be assisted by Adam Lundkvist – who played half of 2018 (but survived the purge), plus youngsters like homegrown kid, Eric McCue. Vera (a Chilean) also came on board at defensive midfield. Again, they identified the problem, but…?

2019 Forecast:

How a team that cut that many players can feel so unchanged is either a mystery or a statement of personal biases. Worse, Houston looks likely to lose Elis, who has fielded real offers this off-season (but Houston wanted more $). Going the other way, his raw talent is matched by his inconsistency – and that’s sort of a theme for the Dynamo. In the end, though, whatever success the Dynamo has next season will turn on whether Vera and Struna, et. al. can provide a foundation. Maybe a little more peace of my mind will transform the attack? (Just to note it, I watched Houston play the Seattle Sounders in preseason, and they were just a mess; sounds like the same thing happened against Sporting Kansas City. Still a work in progress, apparently.)


Vancouver Whitecaps

2018 Finish Line: 8th in the Western Conference (13-13-8), 47 pts. 54 goals for, 67 goals against

Vancouver came close last season, but, if you look more closely (using my personal, over-elaborate tracking system), that was more illusion than reality. A stretch against either bad teams, under-performing teams, or middling teams in favorable circumstances kept them afloat down the stretch, and running into better competition ended a lot like running into a wall. That they under-performed Houston in both goals for and against hints at how they lost too many games (e.g., blowouts). That poses some questions as to why they blew up the team over the off-season (see below), unless, of course, that was the price they paid for landing the coach they wanted…

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Alphonso Davies, D/M Brek Shea, F Kei Kamara, M Efrain Juarez, M Nicolas Mezquida, D Kendall Waston, and many, many, many more.

IN: GK Zac MacMath, D/M Victor “PC” Giro, D Derek Cornelius, M Andy Rose, M Jon Erice, M Lass Bangoura, M Lucas Venuto, M Hwang In-beom, D Jasser Khmiri, F Joaquin Ardaiz

Vancouver famously sold one player (Alphonso Davies), but sh*t-canned an astonishing 20(!) more players (or, fine, let them go). The list included long-time starters like Nicolas Mezquida and Cristian Techera, guys who operate below The New Standard, but also very large, fast man, Kendall Watson (by sending him to sunnier climes). It was all but an acknowledgment that the problem was the style of play itself. They charged Marc dos Santos, who has…a pedigree, with the rebuild. First, there’s no reasonable way to do justice to that many moving parts. As such, enjoy this parade of links on the replacements, all of whom I’m sure have very special stories: Cornelius, Erice, Bangoura, Venuto, Hwang In-beom, Khmiri, Erik Godoy (hold on; almost done) and Ardaiz.

2019 Forecast:

If you tick through all those links, you’ll see that Vancouver basically rebuilt its entire central defense this season. In spite of new signings like In-beom and Ardaiz, plus a pair of good wingers, they are presently thin in the attack; the 4-5-1 formation listed in the Transaction Interpreter shows you how much work they have to do. Rather than predict how an overhaul of this scale will pan out, I’ll close with one thought: the collective ages of the players Vancouver is signing points to starting with a new foundation. It might be 2020 before they know what they have.


Los Angeles Galaxy

2018 Finish Line: 7th in the Western Conference (13-12-9), 48 pts. 66 goals for, 64 goals against

After suffering two separate, not-yet-catastrophic breakdowns during the season (games 5-14 and games 23-29), the Galaxy righted the ship to where all they had to do to make the playoffs was draw a decidedly shaky Houston Dynamo team in LA. Even with a little breeze of good form at their backs, they choked, losing 2-3 at their literal death (and do mind the 3). That stumbling, so-close, so-far dynamic is a good short-hand for LA’s 2018. It’s a team out of whack, maybe even suffocating on its stars. In so many words, they have Zlatan Ibrahimovic on one end of the field and Daniel Steres on the other. Zlatan can’t win MLS on his own. Also, that’s not Steres’ fault.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Michael Ciani, F Ariel Lassiter, D Sheanon Williams, D Ashley Cole, M Baggio Husidic

IN: M Juninho, GK Matt Lampson, M Uriel Antuna, D Diego Polenta, and that is literally everyone on the “IN” side of the ledger, which is fascinating.

LA coughed up very little over the off-season – the blood-letting probably tops out with Boateng (also, give Cole credit for silencing the doubters during his time-in) – but they’ve only just started bringing in meaningful reinforcements. They retrieved box-to-box midfielder Juninho from the Hell that is the Chicago Fire, and rescued Lampson from Minnesota, but they really only got serious when they added Antuna (on loan from Manchester City) and central defender Polenta from Uruguay’s Nacional FC. It’s still a little shy on ambition, but there throwing to the right target.

2019 Forecast:

Tricky. First, they need a credible center back and, if Polenta fits the bill (good signs), that will clear up the glass jaw issue. Bigger questions lurk in the area in front of that defense: Perry Kitchen has yet to return to the form he had when he played for DC United and Joao Pedro hasn’t looked MLS-ready for as long as he’s been in MLS. They’re also doubling down on that pile of attacking DPs – in this case restructuring Giovanni dos Santos’ contract instead of pushing him out the door. It’s possible they’ll make the playoffs in 2019, but I don’t see anything that makes me expect greatness.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for our verdict the better halves of the East and West Conferences.

What Fatai Alashe Brings to FC Cincinnati

A closer look at Fatai Alashe including his MLS pedigree, his all-American path to the pros, and what attributes the player will bring to FC Cincinnati’s central midfield.

Photo Credit: Noah Salzman

FC Cincinnati held a press conference on Monday to officially introduce their shiny new MLS signings. Midfielder Fatai Alashe and striker Fanendo Adi joined the Orange & Blue as the team’s first two top-division acquisitions. Both will join in short order and play the rest of the 2018 USL season with the club.

For our feature article on Fanendo Adi’s transfer, look here.
Fanendo_Adi_Portland_Timbers_vs_RSL_2016-09-10_(29613845965)
What Fanendo Adi Brings to FC Cincinnati

Fatai Alashe joins as a 24-year-old defensive midfielder and a U.S. U-23 International. He’s been with the Quakes since 2015 when he was the fourth overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Facing a similar situation to Adi, Alashe saw less playing time when the Earthquakes changed coaches. He then seized the opportunity to join FC Cincinnati’s upstart MLS project. Alashe is on loan from the Quakes through the end of the 2018 season, but FCC has obtained his rights for 2019 in exchange for $60,000 in TAM and $75,000 in GAM.

What Fatai Alashe Brings to FC Cincinnati

Young but MLS Tested

At 24 years old, Alashe is now one of the youngest players on FC Cincinnati’s roster. Only Sem De Wit is younger. However, Alashe has amassed a fair bit of MLS experience despite being on the early side of his career. He has three and a half years in the league and was a fixture in Dom Kinnear’s Earthquakes in 2015 and 2016. He has accumulated 69 MLS starts and 89 total appearances.

Alan Koch had the following to say about Alashe joining FC Cincinnati:

“Fatai is a player who brings a wealth of MLS experience at a young age. He’s shown his quality over the last few seasons in MLS, and we envision him contributing to our team both short and long term.”

This 2017 MLS feature “The Prospect” highlights his potential.

All-American Development Product

One interesting aspect of Alashe’s development is the path he’s taken to FC Cincinnati. He’s an unmistakably all-American soccer product. The Michigan native has traversed all of the U.S. soccer stops including the Development Academy (DA), NCAA, PDL, U.S. U-23 squad, USL, and of course MLS.

He played elite youth soccer at the Vardar Academy in Michigan where his U17/U18 team won the U.S. Development Academy national championship in 2010. Alashe went on to Michigan State University where he captained the team his senior year. He also started every match in 2014 and took the Spartans to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.

While in college he played PDL soccer with Reading United in 2013 and the Portland TImbers U23s the following year. In January of 2015 he was drafted by San Jose and began his MLS journey, immediately featuring in the starting roster. He also made a brief stop in the USL in 2017 on two separate loans stints at Reno 1868, San Jose’s affiliate.

Alashe earned his soccer stripes in the American system, and his success underlines the importance of leagues like the PDL that provide players opportunities to prepare for the professional game.

Alashe said of his time in the PDL:

“I would say the PDL helped me a lot in order to reach my dream of playing professionally. I was exposed to high-level soccer playing with some of the best players in the country on every PDL team I played with. My time spent at both Reading United and Portland Timbers U23 were huge parts of my development as a player.”

Player Attributes

Alashe joins FC Cincinnati in the most crowded position on the current roster, central midfield. He’s a rangy holding midfielder with a tireless engine. He’s known for being “very physical” and having “tremendous athletic attributes.” [MLS]

After the MLS Draft, Top Drawer Soccer described Alashe as being a “disruptive force in the center of the field that can cover a lot of ground.”

In a “24 Players Under 24” piece assembled by MLS, one technical staffer described Alashe’s playing style. “He chews up ground. He’s an uber-athlete. He’s one of those guys that if you tacked a paintbrush to his pants, he’d paint the whole field.”

Fatai should be a fine complement to technical and possession-oriented midfielders like Richie Ryan and Corben Bone. Alashe can provide pace, physicality, and ball-winning ability, all while protecting the back four and continuing to grow other aspects of his game.

The following piece from 2017 also gives you some insights into Alashe’s interests,  personality, and favorite Premier League team.

With two signings in the door, the MLS transfer business is officially underway. However, some more news might be right around the corner. Luke Sassano suggested that he is “looking to add maybe one more piece” before the MLS secondary transfer window closes on August 8th.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL season and future MLS transactions.