Welcome to the wonderful world of Major League Soccer.
It was the MLS-iest of MLS weekends. Peak MLS, if you will.
Massive Report’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discuss what they watched in a weird Week 10 — a week so wacky it put Nate in the hospital.
What I watched: Toronto FC vs. Orlando City (2-1), Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls (2-0), Seattle Sounders vs. Toronto (0-1), Philadelphia Union vs. NYRB (3-0), Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas (0-3), Minnesota United vs. SKC (2-0) and New York City FC vs. Atlanta United (3-1).
Why I watched: Most of these games just fit into my schedule, but I've been making it a point to watch SKC, plus the midweek game against NYRB was an interesting one due to tactics and form. Seattle and Toronto, obviously, was an MLS Cup rematch (with about as many goals) and NYCFC and Atlanta seemed like it had the potential for some goals, with some nice skill on display. Philly and Red Bulls I watched after I knew the final score and wanted to see how in the world that came to be.
What I learned: Maybe the Red Bulls do have something to worry about (but probably not). Toronto is playing really, really well right now. Minnesota is immensely improved from the start of the year. The depth questions for Kansas City that we brought up last week are legitimate. This weekend was peak MLS-iness. I have some theories for why, but we can get into those in the discussion.
What I watched: Toronto FC vs. Orlando City (2-1), Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls (2-0), Colorado Rapids vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (0-1), Houston Dynamo vs. Orlando City (4-0), Real Salt Lake vs. FC Dallas (0-3), LA Galaxy vs Chicago Fire (2-2), and San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers (3-0)
Why I watched: My Wednesday was totally free so I fit in both games that day with the added benefit of watching both SKC and Toronto. (Sorry Crew fans, I don't share the hatred for the fake rivalry team. DC is another story.) I watched the Friday game between Colorado and Vancouver because I was bored — SPOILER ALERT: I actually fell asleep some time in the second half. I was excited to see what Houston was going to do to Orlando at home and I always like watching Portland.
What I learned: This week was a mix of both surprises and vastly fulfilling expectations. Toronto keeps showing that they can eek out results. Colorado Rapids have so many issues I don't know where to start -- definitely more on this later. Houston and its front three of Romell Quioto, Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis were possibly the most entertaining attacking trio I have ever seen in MLS. If you have a chance to watch the replay or even the highlights of the game just do it. Maxi Urruti and FC Dallas proved what Josh and I said last week: that he is an underrated powerhouse (even if they only played RSL). LA Galaxy somehow rallied from being totally lost in the first half, featuring one of the oddest substitutions I have ever seen. Also, Jermaine Jones will be out 3-4 weeks with a knee injury. Wondo is still gonna Wondo.
JOSH: So, first I’ll make sure everyone understand’s Nate’s dedication to this, doing it from his death bed.
And then I’ll open by asking about the Orlando-Houston game. I didn’t watch it, so break it down for me. Just when everyone is thinking that Orlando is legit, it gets stomped. What happened?
NATE: Haha, why thank you. Now I’m on meds I’m doing much better.
On to Houston...
With Erick Torres out of the lineup with concussion-like symptom’s, Wilmer Cabrera opted to go back to a 4-3-3 and it worked wonders. Meanwhile, Orlando changed its attack up a bit with a diamond midfield and left Kaka, Carlos Rivas, Jonathan Spector, Christian Higuita and Servando Carrasco on the bench, all starters against TFC midweek.
Overall, Houston was simply too quick and too dynamic for this Orlando team. Every attack Houston set out with pace and clever movements on the counter. Mauro Manotas had two goals and an assist and that is even with missing a penalty. Joe Bendik may have been questionable, but Houston ran ragged over Orlando. The second half was one of the most exciting halves of soccer I have seen in MLS. Houston could have and probably should have scored six or seven.
You (and anyone reading this) needs to watch the second half of this match when you have a chance.
J: That kind of roster rotation explains a lot.
Manotas is turning a lot of heads right now. And I think I said a week or two ago that I much preferred the 4-3-3 for Houston, as opposed to the diamond, so it’s promising to hear they went back to that and it seemed to pay immediate dividends.
We won’t spend much time on Vancouver-Colorado, but you mentioned the Rapids’ issues. Their back line last year was strong and has traditionally been strong under Pablo Mastroeni. But they had two linchpins last year — Jermaine Jones in the attack (when healthy) and Sam Cronin anchoring the defense.
Jones moving on was not a surprise. The club’s decision to ship out Cornin was. To me, they no longer have an engine on either side of the field. You see how Minnesota is benefiting from Cronin’s presence. Is that too simplistic a diagnosis for Colorado’s woes?
N: I think the 4-3-3 in Houston allows their forwards more space to utilize their pace and their dribbling abilities. It’s the best complement to their style.
In Colorado, they are not playing in a way that suits them. What that would be, I’m not sure. But currently it’s very uninspiring.
The defense has not been great, but the true deficiency this season has been the offense — worst in the league and half as many goals as the next worst team.
You mention they lost two key players, but who did they bring in? Alan Gordon and Mohammed Saeid. While solid support players, neither are the quality to replicate Cronin and Jones.
I’ve long said that Pablo Mastroeni’s style has developed into playing with six defenders and four attackers and nothing shows me that’s changed. And it is very easy to counter with the Rapids’ lack of anything resembling a midfield.
For this match, I also want to put out there that Mekeil Williams not only got a second yellow card in the match, but had the most cringe-worthy moments that I’ve seen in a match this year.
J: As MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle recently wrote, Minnesota is actually approaching games in a similar way to Colorado. But MNU now has Cronin, and the attacking four of Christian Ramirez, Miguel Ibarra, Kevin Molino and Abu Danladi/Johan Venegas is better than what the Rapids are trying to use to accomplish the same thing. Shkelzen Gashi is the only one who appears to have that same ceiling.
I’d like to add that had Ike Opara played for Kansas City, at least one of Minnesota’s goals (the second) would not have occurred.
Staying out West for another moment, RSL lost handily. They won’t be playing FC Dallas every week, but they are losing three or four players to U20s. Do you see that club pulling out of this soon?
The good news is it looks like they have some attacking help on the way, but defensive depth is still an issue.
N I think the biggest thing that needs to be done in Salt Lake is a newfound identity or newfound players. The Mike Petke revolution has helped to a healthy degree, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Currently the style doesn’t suit a lot of their players. Or do the players not suit the style?
What do you think and how do you think Petke will respond to this issue come the next transfer window?
J: I was only watching this week’s game in intermittent periods, and I’m not sure what the answer is. It certainly seems like personnel that can fit, but it’s not working yet. I still think they’ve had such an injury mess that it’s hard to truly assess where the club is.
They just signed a Venezuelan kid as a Young DP, Jefferson Savarino. I don’t know much about him, but from what I’ve seen he looks like he could play across any of the top three spots. In the video I saw, he seemed a little raw, but it was a year or two old and RSL was impressed with his performance in Copa Libertadores. Outside of that tourney, MLS will be a step up.
I think the next few weeks will determine how the team approaches the summer transfer window. But I was on record before Petke’s hire that the club needed a reboot, and I think that takes a little more time and takes more than just a coaching change.
N: They have a lot of exciting young players there now.
J: That’s what RSL has going for it. I know Brooks Lennon is on loan, but there’s a good, young pipeline. It’s just most of that isn’t an immediate fix. But they certainly are in a better situation than some teams around the league.
Speaking of the league ... this was the MLS-iest of MLS weekends. Looking at the weekend as a whole, what the heck happened?
N: Yeah it was! What a wild weekend. I sure had a ton of fun watching the games this week and once I started I couldn’t stop. But that is the nature of this league, right? Anyone can win on any given day, and you really never know what to expect. Like Herculez Gomez said on Twitter, never bet on MLS matches. Ever.
J: Or Bastian Schweinsteiger, talking to European journalists and saying MLS doesn’t compare to European leagues and it’s strange that anyone can win.
If you look at the results more deeply, I think two MLS trends appear.
No. 1, quality depth is hard to come by. Some of the teams that lost unexpectedly rotated some players during a busy time in the schedule and felt the effects. Plus, the travel in MLS is rigorous, and that’s a factor during busy times.
Which brings me to point No. 2 — it’s really hard to win on the road in this league. Witness the fates of New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, SKC, Portland, Atlanta and, to some extent, Chicago.
Those are the MLS narratives, and the result is bizarro world results that fit right in to the Major League Soccer ecosystem (and is one of the things I love about the league).
N: Those are the reasons that I like this league as well. It makes it very entertaining indeed. It’s like watching a good thriller movie — you never know quite what to expect. I think that these midweek games will definitely cause a stir in the league. Let’s hope Crew SC doesn’t fall victim to it as well.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED
N: Alexander Bono's superb double save against Orlando City
For the record, why this wasn't even nominated for MLS Save of the week is beyond me...
J: Among all the craziness in Week 10, there were some great moments. There were some great goals (hello, David Villa). But for me, everyone should watch this Chris Wondolowski goal:
Maybe I have a soft spot for it because Wondo catches a lot of flack and people love to point out when he misses a chance ... but that goal is outstanding. Look how quickly he turns on that ball and curls it inside the post. That’s very, very difficult.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
N: Houston Dynamo against Orlando City SC. Rommel Quioto was an absolute wonder and Mauro Manotas should have had 10 goals. That kid is going to be a true monster if he finds his shooting boots. Why Neither of them were nominated to MLS team of the week is also ridiculous, might I add. Orlando City was top of the league going into the day after all.
J: C.J. Sapong and the Philadelphia Union. There are a number of candidates for this honor, but let’s give it up to Philly. After 252 days without a win ... how do you honor anyone else here?
N: Cubo Torres had a headache and forgot to show up for the game. Team apparently didn't need him. ... Chris Wondolowski was amazing in his own uninspiring sort of way. ... FC Dallas still hasn't lost a game. ... SKC's stellar defense conceded two against Minnesota? -- I'm still confused. ... And I'm picking Philadelphia Union to win the East.
J: Minnesota will make the playoffs and Atlanta won’t. ... Confused by last year’s MLS Cup Final, Seattle will continue to try to beat Toronto by failing to score. ... Curt Onalfo will start Jelle Van Damme every game the rest of the season. And sub him out midway through the first half every game the rest of the season. ... Major League Soccer will implement promotion and relegation solely as a mechanism to rid itself of the Rapids.
BASED ON WHAT YOU SAW THIS WEEK, PROJECT CREW SC’S FINAL STANDING
N: Third in the East
J: On top of the world, baby!