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The Big Picture: Which was thinner, the MLS slate or Minnesota’s defense?

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Massive Report’s Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka talk about last week’s MLS action.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New England Revolution
Minnesota United continued leaking goals against New England Revolution in Week 4 of the MLS season.
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

We spend a lot of time every week breaking down the performance of Columbus Crew SC, but how do the Black & Gold fit into the overall Major League Soccer landscape?

In what we hope to become a weekly feature, Massive Report writer’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka chat about what they’re seeing around MLS in an attempt to offer a bigger picture...

(Give us some feedback. How can we make this better? What are you interested in learning about MLS each week?)

Josh

What I watched: All of it. Three games makes that easy. Besides the Columbus-Portland game, I also watched New England Revolution vs. Minnesota United and New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake. The latter I watched while also doing some work, so it was a more casual viewing.

Why I watched: It was a thin slate that made it easily digestible, and all the games this week had a little bit of intrigue — even without my built-in interest, Columbus and Portland had the potential to produce some goals (and I'll watch anything that features the Timbers attack right now), the Minnesota defense is a car wreck you can't turn away from (also with the promise of goals) and RSL just fired its coach, so I was curious what we'd see (and I'm a fan of how NYRB plays).

What I noticed: I think things will get better for Minnesota. A little bit. I still think this is an all-time worst MLS defense. The organization is bad, there are issues with individual pieces and there's not a whole lot of help in terms of shielding or possession. And what does Mohammed Saeid have to do to get a gig where his team doesn't leak goals like an open spigot?

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

All that said, Minnesota has set a low bar, and if you put things in context, it's likely it won't be this bad all season. I think when we look back we'll be a little bit kinder to the Loons. Portland, Atlanta, New England — you'd be hard-pressed to put together a more skillful group of attacks than that.

Still ... my first statement about the defense stands. Ola Kamara will be licking his chops when he faces those guys.

In the other game, New York is still adjusting to the post-Dax McCarty era, and Sacha Klejstan wasn't there. So I get it. I think it's a shame Mike Grella's not getting more minutes. I think Tyler Adams is going to be a week-in, week-out starter in the defensive midfield before long.

If I'm Salt Lake, I’m hoping full health will eventually help, but there will need to be some changes. I'm sad Jeff Cassar failed, because I was a Miami Fusion fan back in the day (my first MLS game was at Lockhart Stadium). The timing of the firing is kind of strange, but I don't see any way there was much future with him. Injuries and absences are killing that team right now, and, honestly, I think a scoreless draw on the road against NYRB is a positive result, all things considered.

One thing I noticed in general was poor attendance. It was a small sample size, I know, but the games in Columbus and New York were both noticeably empty. I don't know what that had to do with. Weather? People at home watching the NCAA Tournament?

Nathaniel

What I watched: I watched the Columbus - Portland and the New England - Minnesota match, in full. I caught the extended highlights of the NYRB - RSL game. To be frank, I wasn't home to watch the match but it did not necessarily peak my interest.

Why I watched: Columbus - Portland: I have watched three Portland matches now and they are one of my favorite teams to watch. Their relentless offense, aggressive defense, and overall quality makes them a contender for MLS Cup, even this early in the season.

New England - Minnesota: I was, in part, interested in watching the Revs for the first time this season as well as catching first hand the issues in Minnesota. The game ended as expected.

NYRB - RSL: While NYRB is a solid team, RSL has been very unimpressive so far this season, scoring just one goal in three matches. I fully expected the Red Bulls to handle things easily. I was wrong, but otherwise not disappointed I did not catch the game in its entirety. The extended highlights might have even been a little too long.


Discuss...

J: Let’s start with Minnesota...

N: You hit the nail on the head about Minnesota's defense — poor organization. Actually it is far worse than poor, it is abysmal. Players running in circles; very little pressure on the man in possession. This defense, well, it needs a lot of help.

There was one bright note: Minnesota's defense did improve as the match went on as their defensive quality seemingly has an inverse relationship with the amount of effort -- The less they try, the better their defense is.

But long, direct passes down the wing from the Revolution left the Loons’ defense with no time to breathe.

The Crew SC defense is still no iron curtain though it's (thankfully) not the single-ply it was last season. But what they struggle with is closing down players. The tactical setup tends to be too passive against these direct teams and Crew SC may struggle against the Revs as a result.

J: Everyone wants to give Adrian Heath credit and say he can figure this out, but his teams in Orlando weren’t defensive stalwarts either. Do you think he can fix this? How do you think they fix it?

N: Well, before January 23, Heath only had eight rostered players. I think time can fix it. Once the players and coaching staff become more acclimated with each other, I think we will see improvements. But from a technical standpoint the team needs to be more active and organized defensively. Do you think that is enough? Do you think heath or the player pool is more to blame?

J: Right now, I’d say some combination of both. It’s obviously a less than ideal situation, but it’s so abysmally bad. I think Heath has to make some tactical shifts, even at the cost of the attack, which already isn’t that scary.

I think MNU needs more grit in front of the back line too. Collen Warner and

Mohammed Saeid got dragged all over the place and NE had whatever space it wanted to attack that back line Warner is kind of an MLS-baseline player — the type who’s made a career of playing for bad teams and expansion sides. He’s a complementary type of puzzle piece, and right now is being asked to carry the load.

And we saw first hand that Seid struggled more when asked to play in Wil Trapp’s No. 6 role. So I think the whole team needs to get grittier and help more.

Am I the only one wondering whether Heath was given enough leash to make it through this year? Would one of the worst seasons in MLS history force the club’s hand to make a change? For now, I’ll gladly have an opponent for Columbus that is ripe for the taking.

Moving on to RSL ... you asked about Yura. I don’t think he has enough left to help the team in its current state. Jaoa Plata makes that team tick in attack, and without him it leaves a guy figuring out MLS who looks like a complementary creator (Albert Rusnak) and a young guy who’s figuring out how to be a pro (Brooks Lennon). That puts a lot of pressure on Kyle Beckerman, who maybe isn’t at quite the level he was even two or three years ago.

MLS: Toronto FC at Real Salt Lake Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

N: I think you’re right about Movsisyan needing support. At the present, he doesn’t have much. Beckerman certainly hasn’t been his old self and the team has lacked overall creativity. Plata and Jordan Allen are back in full training, and that may spark new life into the team. Having Minnesota as an opponent this weekend may help as well.

J: I don’t think there’s much question about that.

We can wrap up the discussion looking ahead a little. What are you looking forward to this coming weekend in MLS?

N: I’m definitely interested in watching Seattle and Atlanta United on Friday night. Both teams have impressed early this season and this match is set to be a very entertaining one.

Houston vs. New York Red Bulls looks intriguing too. Two teams that are in the top three of their conferences and two offenses that have the potential for goals.

Are you looking to watch the same matches, or are you looking elsewhere?

J: The two that stand out immediately are, first, that Seattle-Atlanta United game. I think we’re all waiting for Atlanta to crash back down to earth for at least a moment, and some people are referring to Atlanta United as the “Sounders of the South,” so that seems fun.

Secondly, the final game of the weekend, Portland Timbers and New England Revolution, catches my eye. Both teams profile similarly in that there is attacking talent and some defensive question marks. There could be the potential for some fireworks there.

Enjoy the games. And let us know what you’ll be watching in the comments below.