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The Big Picture: The Deuce is loose, Cubo, Schweiny and MLS observations

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MR’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka break down what they saw in MLS

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Seattle Sounders FC
Clint Dempsey appears to be a man on a mission.
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

While Columbus Crew SC was busy winning a third match in a row, the rest of Major League Soccer was doing its thing.

Massive Report’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discussed what they saw in Week 5 of MLS.

Let us know what you watched (and what you’ll be watching next) in the comments below.

JOSH

What I watched: In addition to the Columbus Crew SC match, I watched both games of the Friday doubleheader, though somewhat casually — Toronto FC vs. Sporting Kansas City (0-0) and Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United (0-0) — as well as New York City FC vs. San Jose Earthquakes (2-1), Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact (2-2) and Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution (1-1).

Why I watched: Mostly I chose those because they fit into my schedule best, but as far as appointment viewing goes, Seattle and Atlanta held a lot of intrigue as really ambitious clubs, I wanted to catch Bastian Schweinsteiger's debut in Chicago and the Portland-New England matchup just put so much attacking talent on the field.

What I noticed: SKC is still looking for answers in attack. It looked especially toothless with Benny Feilhaber out of the lineup. Meanwhile, I thought it was a quality point on the road for Atlanta. Missing Josef Martinez and in a tough road environment, ATLU showed a lot of poise in a very different type of game than it had been in yet.

Are we past the point where we worry about the eyes on a nationally-televised doubleheader seeing no goals?

I think NYCFC will really challenge again in the Eastern Conference. San Jose's only goal came from a terrible mistake in the back by NYC, which isn't the first time we've seen that, but otherwise this was pretty one-sided.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Chicago Fire
Bastian Schweinsteiger had an impressive MLS debut.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

I didn't expect Chicago and Montreal to be all that entertaining, but it turned out to be maybe the best game I watched all weekend. On one hand, the Fire looked like the better team and Montreal looks kind of soulless without Ignacio Piatti (missing Laurent Ciman didn't help either). On the other, Chicago couldn’t hold off a severely weakened Impact. And although I was critical of Schweinsteiger's signing, he absolutely made that team better. How he holds up in the MLS grind is a totally different question, but he was fun to watch.

In the final game of the weekend I have to give the Revs credit for holding Portland to just one goal on the road, but NE is frustrating to watch offensively. It should be better than it is. I thought the game shined a light on two defensive midfielders who are new to MLS but are making big impacts in Portland's David Guzman and New England's Xavier Kouassi.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: Apart from the Crew SC match, the top game on my list was Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution. As a later match on Saturday, I was able to catch Houston Dynamo vs. New York Red Bulls. To complete the weekend I watched a full replay of Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United as it was on my list and I was not able to watch it live.

Why I watched: I was particularly interested to watch the Portland Timbers, as they are one of my favorite teams to watch, style-wise, in MLS. I also wanted to weigh how New England would perform against a top quality side — the beginning of their schedule has been very "easy". The Houston match was always set to provide several goals, and, lastly, the Atlanta and Seattle match was on my list because I have yet to see either team in full this season.

What I noticed: The Sunday match was everything I had hoped for — Portland looking flashy and the Revs showing some promise against a good side. The start of the match I was rewarded with witnessing a beautiful volley by Diego Valeri (If you haven't watched it ... do so now [Editor’s note: Read through the piece and you might find it...]). Sebastián Blanco might be my favorite new addition to MLS. The pair have created a very fun attack to watch. On the other side, the Revs have pieces that should be producing a high number of goals but continue to lack the chemistry and cohesion while in possession. Still, they managed a draw out of a very tough match and were able to hold Fanendo Adi at bay.

MLS: Houston Dynamo at Portland Timbers
Erick Torres notched a hat trick.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

For Houston, Erick Torres has officially emerged as one of the most determined strikers in the league. Cubo netted a hat trick, with the highlight being a 91st minute free kick. The first two goals were asterisked by questionable refereeing, but he nonetheless shredded the Red Bulls defense. Also for the Dynamo, Alex again showed that he is a prime play maker and Mauro Manotas was the spark plug of the attack. For New York, I was once again underwhelmed as the team continued to create chances but fail to be quick and decisive in front of net. Surely it didn't help that the Houston press is a masterpiece, at current.

Seattle and Atlanta both looked a bit incomplete as some of their stars started the match on the bench. The game noticeably picked up once the likes of Clint Dempsey and Miguel Almirón were introduced into the fray. I think that a bit of work needs to be done with both sides in the transitional game in the center of the park. It could be early-season growing pains, but the "put your head down and charge" tactic will never woo me.


Discuss...

JOSH: So, we both watched Portland-New England.

It’s funny what a road point does to perception. I spent most of that game feeling like New England might be in a little trouble, big-picture-wise. Then it scrapes out a goal and the game feels more like a nice defensive performance from them. I ended up landing on: the Revs look better defensively than in the past, but the attack is kind of befuddling. Shouldn’t they be better than this, attack-wise? What was your take on New England?

NATHANIEL: New England has some good pieces offensively, but at the moment it feels like a group of individual parts rather than a high-functioning machine.

Their attack is, at the moment, too dependent on the long ball and crosses. Not to invalidate that as a strategy, but the team is in need of more creativity and togetherness in the opponent’s half.

What issues have you identified in the attack? Or do you believe it has been more due to misfortune?

J: It’s kind of been a mystery to me, though I could see it perhaps being an issue of individualism. I’ll have to watch more closely. It might be the kind of thing where if they simplify it and swap out a flashy piece for a more workmanlike piece, maybe everyone settles into their roles better.

At the risk of getting subtweeted by Kei Kamara on Twitter ... he’s been a disappointment in New England (it’s pretty clear, I think, Columbus won that trade). When I watched that Portland game, he’s just kind of there.

You also watched the Seattle-Atlanta game. When was the last time you saw Clint Dempsey with the fire he has right now? He comes off four goals in two games for the U.S. Men’s National Team, then subs in against Atlanta and is doing rabonas and standing up defenders with step-overs and casual no-look passes.

N: Deuce has so much confidence right now he might start moving the ball purely with his mind like a Tibetan Monk. He is 34 years old. 34! And he is playing with the youthful vigor of a man who is just now hitting his prime. I haven’t seen this kind of spark from him since his last season at Fulham. A marvel, he is.

J: (Post-discussion footnote: Based on the Yoda-esque dialect and mention of mind powers, one can assume Nate is either really excited about the newest Star Wars installment or legitimately believes Clint Dempsy is a Jedi.)

N: What did you think of the match overall? Atlanta continues to be near the top of the East, and Seattle, now with just one win in four games, is sitting sixth in the West. Do you think the table is an accurate reflection of those two teams?

J: I was impressed by Atlanta’s ability to get a result even without scoring, which is what we’ve known them for through the first month of the season. I think they’ll eventually get pulled into the muck and mire of MLS a bit, but the club has signaled it is legit.

As for Seattle, I think it will be fine if it can stay healthy. We saw with Columbus how an MLS Cup run isn’t always something that can be backed up, and based on how the Sounders made that run last year, there’s a good chance the same applies to them. But I don’t think they’re poised for a Crew SC-like cliff jumping. Too much talent.

There’s a lot in flux in the West right now. Real Salt Lake might be pretty bad (though we’ll use the injury excuse for a little longer), Colorado is going through some tweaks and Houston might be pretty good. At least good enough to vault into the postseason.

I watched the condensed version of the Dynamo game since you told me you watched it. Impressive to see them replace both starting wingers and not skip a beat. I agree with you that Alex has been really good. I think Wilmer Cabrera’s setup really suits him as opposed to asking him to be an on-the-ball No. 10 higher up the field. He’s in a spot where he can play a more well-rounded game and let things come to him more.

I want to see what they’re made of during a tough road stretch, though.

NYRB had a slow start last season and was fine, but what do you make of their issues right now? From what I’ve seen, their press hasn’t been quite as effective.

N: The major change for NYRB has been the tactical switch from the 4-2-3-1. New York has been utilizing a 4-2-2-2, in the style of the German-league rebels donning the same moniker. It seems, in part, an experiment, but their press has been negatively affected. In the second half of matches, however, a switch back to the old formation has shown some moderate improvement in the press.

Houston, on the other hand, has the press down and it has some really dynamic players to complement it. Mauro Manotas put in such a good display in his first start of the season, I would expect him start opposite Romell Quioto next week. [Editor’s note: Quioto is out with a dislocated shoulder and may not be ready next week, but Nate’s point is taken.]


Before you go...

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

N: Bastian Schweinsteiger’s MLS debut in Chicago.

J: This goal by Diego Valeri:

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

N: Erick “Cubo” Torres’ hat trick against New York Red Bulls, capped by this free kick:

J: Minnesota United. Congratulations on win No. 1.

ALL ABOARD THE HYPE TRAIN

N: Crognale is where it's at. Cubo Torres is going to win the Golden Boot. Sebastián Blanco is going to win the Ballon d'Or. And Nick Rimando is going back to college.

J: Wilmer Cabrera is Coach of the Year. Chicago’s Daniel Johnson is the new Tommy Thompson. Alex Crognale will be starting for the USMNT at the 2022 World Cup. There will be a rash of babies named Clint born nine months from now, because...

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

J: Third in the East.

N: World Cup winners! Crew SC are clearly unstoppable and are the best team since the 1997 Papua New Guinean team. Probably going to beat the Chicago Fire in the final.


Even legends make mistakes