What I watched: Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (2-1), Colorado Rapids vs. San Jose Earthquakes (3-0), Orlando City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City (2-2), FC Dallas vs. New York City FC (1-1). Other games I watched, but very casually and with distraction, Toronto FC vs. Minnesota United (3-2), Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders (4-1), Portland Timbers vs. Atlanta United (1-1), New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy (1-3).
Why I watched: I watched a ton of games, but only a few which I really focused on for 90+ minutes. It was mostly about when my schedule was open, but Orlando-SKC, FCD-NYCFC and Portland-Atlanta all were matchups that interested me. And I had heard that Colorado whipped San Jose, so I watched that one to analyze the team’s offensive explosion.
What I noticed: Houston is dynamic offensively, but is also getting some good contributions from new defensive-minded players. Kaka is pretty good. Kansas City: still one of my favorite clubs to watch. Jozy Altidore and Toussaint Ricketts don't care if Sebastian Giovinco is healthy. Seattle is maybe not up to the type of run it made in the final third of last season (and its true identity may be equal parts the bad stuff from last year and good stuff from last year). Kellyn Acosta should be starting in the World Cup in 2018. And in a linked observation, the Galaxy were better without a certain someone (and maybe Curt Onalfo's message was received).
What I watched: Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps , Orlando City SC vs. Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC vs. Minnesota United, New England Revolution vs. Real Salt Lake (4-0) and Chicago Fire vs. Seattle Sounders,
Why I watched: I didn't get as many viewings in as I would typically like, as life sometimes dictates, there were quite a few surprises and solid matches to behold. My Saturday was pretty well free so I was able to take in almost every match that day. I was also eager to watch Houston on Friday night and once again was not disappointed. Of the others, Orlando City vs. SKC was top of my list solely because of their high spots in the conference tables.
What I noticed: The Houston counter attack was a force to be reckoned with and should have come up with more goals in the match but their shooting was wild once again. High-octane winger Alberth Elis went out in the 31st minute after already scoring a goal but his apparent hamstring injury was labeled as "not too bad" by coach Wilmer Cabrera and he will travel with the team this week. Real Salt Lake played with their JV team and it showed.By my mark, they played with only four regular starters. The Revs did not have much to do other than tap the ball in — it was bad. Another team that played poor was Seattle. While the Fire attack is no slouch in 2017, this is not the kind of result you would expect to see from the reigning MLS Cup holders.
JOSH: So, where do you want to start?
NATHANIEL: Let’s start with the marquee matchup of the week: OCSC vs. SKC.
Two things I pull away from this game are that Kaka is going to be the last piece to bring the Lions together, and that the record-track SKC defense may not be sustainable in the long term. What are your thoughts on these two teams?
J: I’m not too worried about SKC’s defense yet. I thought Kaka’s goal was special, and Cyle Larin’s was a perfect ball from Carlos Rivas and a great finish. The mistake was not closing out on Rivas, but part of that was good ball movement from Orlando.
If the expectation was that SKC was going to pitch a shutout 25 times this season, then no, it’s not that good. But remember this was in Orlando. For all intents and purposes, this was dropped points by OCSC, not a failure for SKC. A draw in that place is probably a good result. Plus, two goals without Dom Dwyer.
N: What did you think of Latif Blessing, Dwyer’s replacement?
J: I thought Blessing was good. He fit into the system pretty seamlessly. He wasn’t as good as Dwyer, but looks capable. Obviously it’s a small sample size, though.
I thought the game was highly entertaining. What was the most entertaining game you saw this past weekend?
N: Can I say the Crew SC match? It was a marvel. Outside of Columbus, I thought the Chicago Fire match had it all: a penalty, a retaken penalty, a slew of goals, drama, a red card, tactical shifts and, most importantly, heavy waves of momentum for either side.
J: I didn’t pay attention to every minute of that game, but it seemed like a lot of it came down to defensive breakdowns by Seattle. Is that what you saw?
N: Defensive organization for Chicago was actually quite poor and it’s a wonder it didn’t concede more than a single goal.
Backside coverage was an issue for the Sounders and the brilliant movement by Chicago left Seattle clueless on how to defend.
The goal of the week, for me, was Chicago’s final which came from terrific positional play by Johan Kappelhof. Playing center back, his forward run rivals only that of Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham. Just take a look at this play:
On top of Chicago’s superb play, Seattle fullback Joevin Jones had one of the worst defensive performances in recent memory in MLS. On top of which he got two yellow cards, likely due to the fact that his lazy play finally caught up to him and the ref had enough.
J: The second yellow was as much a mental mistake as anything.
I think Roman Torres is very important for that Seattle back line.
For me, this is all kind of a peeling back of the onion for the Sounders. What we’re seeing is that the real Sounders fall somewhere between the struggling side of the first two-thirds of last season and the one that made the spectacular run to get into the playoffs and to win MLS Cup. I’m not sure that run was the club finding itself as much as it was an outlier.
Also worth noting ... the best soccer the team has played in the last 18 months has been without Clint Dempsey. (That’s not a statement on his ability, but rather the club figuring out its identity, and some mental motivation when his career was in limbo.)
N: You bring up a great point about Dempsey and something that Taylor Twellman brought up on the ESPN broadcast: Can this team properly function with both Deuce and Nicolas Lodeiro in the lineup? Or do they take too much away form each other? Something to look out for down the road.
J: The Revs’ win ... did they show much or was this all about what RSL didn’t show?
N: If anything, for the Revs, it was a boost of confidence to show that they are capable of getting several goals in a match. However, this game was a total non-contest. Real Salt Lake would have likely lost to many USL teams with the lack of quality that it showed. Not many MLS teams can put a ‘B’ team out there and be effective, much less an already-struggling RSL side.
J: We’ve talked about depth in this league before. It’s hard to come by.
It makes sense a team that was already struggling would not do well with its ‘B’ squad. I’m still not giving up on RSL long term, though. I think if the team gets healthy, settles in with Petke, gets past U20 call-ups and add maybe one or two pieces in the summer window, Salt Lake could easily make a run at the postseason red line.
I didn’t watch this one at all. Did Jefferson Savarino, RSL’s new signing, play at all?
N: He came on in the 60th minute, but to be quite frank, I lost all interest in the match at that point (it was 4-0 at the half), so I didn’t pay attention to how he looked. However, they have two big matches coming up against New York City FC and Seattle this week, so at least one of those matches will give more opportunity to demonstrate his ability.
J: Turning attention to another bad performance, I thought San Jose was, well, not good against Colorado. The Quakes were uninspired, provided zero service in the attacking third and Chris Wondolowski was invisible.
Colorado was able to feast on some turnovers and punish San Jose. And Mohammed Saeid was very good and made a huge difference in this game.
What do you make of Dominic Kinnear right now? The club made some changes to the team this year that, ideally, you’d like to see play out, but Kinnear has never been able to take the club to the next level. Does he make it to the midway point of the season? Are we silly to think San Jose would make a change midseason with as much loyalty as it’s shown him?
I know San Jose is currently in a playoff spot, but to me that’s just because the West, below the top four, has been bad. What do you make of this Earthquakes team?
N: The Quakes have not been great this season by any stretch. The West, as you mentioned, seems to be “The Wild West” with a lot of uncertainty, and grit-to-gain being the fulcrum of the play each week.
San Jose is, like the LA Galaxy, an uninspiring and straightforward tem. It plays a rather simple brand of soccer that I think is dated in this league and if it wants to have any hopes of an MLS Cup in a few years, it needs to start there.
J: Let’s wrap this up by looking ahead. It’s a busy week with lots of midweek action. What are you looking forward to watching this week?
N: This week there sure is a lot going on. I’m certainly looking forward to both Houston Dynamo matches, against the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday and Atlanta on Saturday. Seattle vs. SKC looks intriguing as the Sounders look to rebound. I expect New York Red Bulls to be able to bounce back, but can they take Toronto at home?
Those are the highlights of the week for me.
J: I’ll be watching SKC and Seattle, and I agree on NYRB-TFC, if only because it’s two big-market teams whose early season fates have been very different.
Atlanta and Houston seems set up to be very exciting, but it will be interesting to see how the Dynamo handle schedule congestion. And Orlando-NYCFC will have my attention. The new stadium is fun to watch, it’s two teams near the top of the East and there’s always that dynamic of two teams that came into MLS at the same time and are kind of racing to find real success first. I also think that Montreal-Portland game could be sneaky fun. Diego Valeri vs. Ignacio Piatti? Count me in.
One final question: The past couple of weekends we’ve gotten some really MLS-y results. Of the games this week, which one do you think is poised for Peak MLS?
N: I think the on-the-rise Philadelphia Union can make a mess of the Houston defense at home. Add in the fact that Houston is playing three games in eight days and the Union have a really good shot at upsetting the Western Conference leaders midweek.
J: That’s my shout as well. Houston player rotation + at Philly + C.J. Sapong ... it all screams Union pulling the wool over Houston’s eyes.
I think that Minnesota-LA game has the potential to be wild too. Now that I say that, it will be a ho-hum, low-scoring draw.
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED
N: David Accam's goal against Seattle Sounders.
J: Kaka’s finish.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
N: Chicago Fire's romp of the Seattle Sounders. It started with a PK early in the game and ended with back-to-back clinical finishing that led to a steamroll against the reigning MLS Cup Sounders. Chicago played with Bastian Schweinsteiger a bit deeper in this one and it seems to be working well as he can orchestrate in from deep and allow the open play of the likes of David Accam and Luis Solignac, who were both stellar in this one.
J: Come on, guys. Justin Meram. Even in the bigger picture, this was great.
N: Cubo Torres is back! ... After scoring just five goals through 10 weeks, Colorado’s attack is back! (Or this is just MLS ... Tosaint Ricketts is actually kind of good. So is Kevin Molino. ... RSL's amateur team is not.
J: Toronto will waive Sebastian Giovnico because, who needs him? ... Jelle Van Damme + Curt Onalfo = best friends ... Latif Blessing needs a non-punny nickname. How do Ghanaians say “El Pescadito Junior”? ... Nate is on the Houston Dynamo’s PR payroll.
BASED ON WHAT YOU SAW THIS WEEK, PROJECT CREW SC’S FINAL STANDING
N: 5th in the league.
J: As long as MLS MVP Justin Meram is on the field ... first.