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The Big Picture: Plata is a snow angel, Atlanta rising and confetti

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Massive Report’s Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka chat about MLS action

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake
Carl Robinson dreams of winning soccer games inside a snow globe. Or just winning soccer games.
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve completed Week 6 of the 2017 MLS season. Massive Report’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka watched a bunch of games, as usual, and discussed what they saw, shining a light on some other things around the league outside of the Crewniverse.

What did you watch last weekend? What are you excited for this weekend? Let us know in the comments below.

JOSH

What I watched: Los Angeles Galaxy vs. Montreal Impact (2-0), New England Revolution vs. Houston Dynamo (2-0), Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United (2-2), Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (3-0), Orlando City SC vs. New York Red Bulls (1-0) and Sporting Kansas City vs. Colorado Rapids (3-1). And, of course, Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew SC.

Why I watched: NER vs. Houston provided another opportunity to judge the Dynamo's legitimacy, plus I thought there were some exciting possibilities for attacking fun. Toronto and Atlanta was an Eastern Conference favorite against an upstart (and another tough road test for ATL). And I watched the RSL game after the fact, not knowing the result but knowing there had been some snow, and snow games are quirky to watch and always provide the chance for some strange things to happen. The rest were mostly convenience viewing.

What I noticed: Montreal is lifeless without Ignacio Piatti, and might be in trouble even with him. New England offered continued proof that their defense is better; Diego Fagundez looked great, and it's absolutely mind-blowing he's still only 22. Hasn't he been in MLS for 10 years now? I think the Dynamo are showing their true colors — improved, but still feasted on some home cooking early.

Toronto and Atlanta was, I thought, the best game of the weekend (at least the ones I watched). Hector Villalba was really good; it seems like those Atlanta attackers just take turns impressing. I thought it was an interesting tactical matchup between Toronto's 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond from United, which is something we hadn't seen yet from them. It's fun to see Tata Martino willing to tweak things strategically.

And seeing SKC put up three goals was a little surprising. It looks like Colorado may drop off big time from last season. That trade the other week shocked me a little, and although it may just take time to find midfield chemistry again, in a casual viewing Bismark Boateng didn't impress me all that much.

Oh, and the snow game lived up to my expectations. I feel like the league should be obligated to play one or two games every season in blizzard-esque conditions.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: Chicago Fire vs. Columbus Crew SC (1-0), Toronto FC vs. Atlanta United (2-2), Real Salt Lake vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (3-0), and the last 20 minutes of San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders (1-1).

Why I watched: In Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco was looking to get on the score sheet for the first time this year as Atlanta came to town with their high-powered attack. I watched RSL because I was very interested to see what Mike Petke would do in his first game managing the club. Meanwhile, Tony Tchani was debuting in the starting XI for Vancouver so I was interested to see how he would do. I caught the tail end of San Jose vs. Seattle beacause I was tipped off that the last ten minutes were well worth watching — I was not disappointed.

What I noticed: Atlanta is a very fun team to watch but it is clearly hurting them missing Josef Martinez. That being said, their attack is still electric and they have some mighty-fine pieces to that attack in Hector Villalba and Miguel Almiron. Toronto seems to finally be picking up their game as a cohesive unit. Seba grabbed his first goal of the season and overall they were fun to watch while in possession. I really like their 3-5-2, they just need to clean up some defensive issues and they can easily challenge for the East.

In Salt Lake City the game started out with some light snow, and ended in a snow storm. The first half was decent, but the second half... Once the snow started picking up and RSL's attack starting chugging, wow, was that a fun half to watch. Albert Rusnak is finally settled in at the club and ended the match with a goal and two assists, including a world-class pass to Yura to put the team up by two.

In San Jose I only witnessed the last 20 minutes, so there was not much to see other than goals (plus a fantastic one at that), but you should certainly check it out for yourself.


Discuss...

J: Let’s start with Atlanta and Toronto. In a week when Columbus shifted some things strategically and it didn’t work, Atlanta brought out another look and had some success — a draw on the road at TFC is definitely a success.

The 4-4-2 diamond is, I believe, the third different formation ATL has rolled out, and they’ve managed to maintain their identity and play well in all shapes and forms thus far. To me, Tata Martino has come as advertised. What have you thought of the coach in the early going?

N: Well, he is a world-class coach and has shown that in the early parts of the season.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Atlanta United FC
All hail Tata.
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With his new team in Atlanta he’s been toying with different tactics but has kept one thing consistent: a willingness to OK attacking football. It has made the team one of the most entertaining to watch in the league and I fully expect him to take them to the top of the league through the end of the season.

J: I still think the grind may keep them from being elite, with a couple of older defensive pieces (Michael Parkhurst, Jeff Larentowicz) and a bunch of guys who have never played in MLS before. But they look every bit capable of crushing two league stereotypes: expansion teams don’t make the playoffs and foreign coaches don’t succeed in this league.

Looking at Toronto, it’s clear they’re better than a one-win team. What kind of game do you expect from them against Columbus on Saturday?

N: If anybody is going to break that stereotype it’s Tata.

I really liked what I saw from Toronto against Atlanta. It was the first full match I watched of them this season, but I really liked what I saw. Seba is going to be a handful for Crew SC’s back line. offensively, both teams seem to favor some type of possession-based attack, so it should be interesting to see who wins out in that department.

What do you find Columbus doing to counter this Toronto team?

J: Do you think this is when we see Columbus try the three-man back line again? TFC doesn’t have as many wide players to contend with and it might provide some cover against Seba/Jozy. Or is Crew SC better off trying to stay wide and pin the wingbacks back? That, of course, depends on healthy personnel for CCSC.

N: I think Columbus might use the three-man back line. Toronto runs a two-man forward line and if Berhalter is to follow Bielsan Theory then we very well may see a 3-4-2-1. TFC is very dangerous through the center of the park, as they pack numbers in there and even bring Chris Mavinga (a center back) into the midfield at times. Because of this, Berhalter may opt for defensive security while trying to gain dominance in the center of the pitch.

J: I think TFC still likes to play pretty direct soccer, but I agree this may be a game where a return to the 3-4-2-1 look that we saw makes sense.

Let’s move on to the snow game. This was more fun than it had any right to be. RSL hadn’t scored a goal since August, but it’s just a different team with Joao Plata on the field. He stretches the field both vertically and horizontally and is a legitimate playmaker, which some may not realize if they haven’t regularly watched Salt Lake in the past couple of years. He’s not just a speedy winger anymore.

I know Albert Rusnak was showcased, but I thought Plata was influential early in the game before the game state changed.

Did you take much from Petke’s debut? Did you see his influence? Or was this just a combination of some players returning plus wacky weather plus an opponent with some issues?

MLS: Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Real Salt Lake
Perfect soccer weather.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

N: Plata is really good. I know you spoke before about how much they were missing him and it totally showed in this match. Yura Movsisyan and Rusnak both seemed to have new life, but I can only imagine Plata’s return played a big part. He opens up those opportunities for these players and takes a lot of pressure off of them.

I liked Petke’s setup a lot. His style brings a more controlled possession style to the team. Set up in a 4-3-3, RSL held majority possession for the second time this season. That being said, I would like a larger sample size due to the players returning and the weather conditions, but I am hopeful for RSL.

J: Former Crew update: Tony Tchani was mostly invisible (and not because he was wearing the snow camo all-white uni). Did you have any thoughts on what you saw from him? The jury is clearly still out.

N: I thought he was pretty poor, but so were most of the Whitecaps. Along with Matias Laba and Russell Teibert, they got massively outplayed in the center of the pitch. When in possession he and his partners seemed OK but both he and Teibert seemingly lapsed on their defensive duties.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED IF YOU DIDN’T WATCH OTHER MLS GAMES

N: This goal by Nicolas Lodeiro:

J: This goal from Sporting Kansas City:

There are so many good parts to this goal, from the overhead clearance to Dom Dwyer’s chested turn and run in center midfield to Roger Espinoza’s deft pass to Gerso Fernandez, who finished with the outside of the boot near post after sprinting the entire length of the field (he was the one with the overhead clearance out of his own box to start that video).

Here’s another angle to better appreciate Dwyer’s piece of the puzzle:

Also, you missed New York City FC doing this. AGAIN.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

N: Real Salt Lake getting getting its first win, in a comfortable 3-0 win against Vancouver.

J: I’ll split the honors between RSL and SKC, two teams that needed some goals and got six combined. I think MLS is better off when both those clubs are good.

ALL ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN

N: Mike Petke will be coaching Barcelona in three years. Albert Rusnak for Player of the Year. Lodeiro for Goal of the Year. Cubo Torres has forgotten how to play soccer. Bobby Shuttleworthless is going to be fighting for a spot in my men's league come the end of the season. Pablo Mastroeni finally realizes that you do, in fact, need a midfield to win soccer matches.

J: Seth Sinovic will win the Golden Boot. Daniel Johnson is still the new Tommy Thompson. Orlando City will go unbeaten at home this year (this might not be hyperbole).

BASED ON WHAT YOU SAW THIS WEEK, PROJECT CREW SC’S FINAL STANDING

N: Relegated to USL.

J: Relegated to PDL. Because Crew SC can’t do this:


Where have I seen this before?

Oh yeah, I live with toddlers...