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The Big Picture: Cascading handballs, Almiron’s world and the Cali Clasico

Massive Report’s Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka review Week 13 in MLS

MLS: Portland Timbers at Seattle Sounders FC
Seattle soccer — where you dance and use your hands.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a very busy week ahead, but first let’s sneak in under the wire and take a look back at Week 13 in MLS

Massive Report’s Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discuss what they watched last week and what stood out to them.


What I watched: Chicago Fire vs. FC Dallas (2-1), Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United (0-1), San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy (2-4), Atlanta United vs. New York City FC (3-1)

Why I watched: In order: I like the color red?; I don’t know why I keep watching D.C.; Rivalry; A battle among the swiftly-rising new guard. I would have liked to watch more games this week, including the Cascadia battle, but time just didn’t allow it.

What I noticed: As much as it tempts the MLS gods, Chicago looks like it’s not going to go away. Despite the loss, Vancouver is quietly putting itself right in the thick of things in the West. Enjoy Miguel Almiron while you can.

MLS: New York City FC at Atlanta United FC
Who is this brilliant baby-faced man child?
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports


What I watched: Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers (1-0), New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution (2-1), Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting Kansas City (1-0), San Jose vs. LA Galaxy, and Atlanta United vs. New York City FC

Why I watched: A lot of my viewings this week were done on replay as my weekend was very busy with work and traveling. However, a few were must-watches for me. Firstly, the Seattle vs. Portland match was a rivalry match that is entertaining every year with two contenders in the west. Another rivalry that was of great interest to me was the San Jose and LA Galaxy match, and it did not disappoint in the slightest.

What I noticed: The New York Red Bulls walked over the Revs; even though the scoresheet and expected goals show a wide margin, if you watched it you would get what I mean. New York just always seemed in charge, throughout the middle of the pitch they were basically uncontested. In Colorado, Kansas City lost points once again away from home and have showed that while their defense remains strong, offensive production has been very inconsistent without Dom Dwyer leading the line. In Atlanta, the opening 24 minutes saw the home side up three over NYCFC and sat in for the rest of the match to see it out. There was a magical game in San Jose and a solid one in Seattle.


JOSH: Let’s start with the one that got away for me — the Cascadia rivalary. What do you make of the latest installment? After earning a lot of positive attention early on in the season, it seems like the shine has come off Portland just a little bit. Do you feel the same way? What was the deciding factor here?

NATE: Portland has now gone five matches without a win. The deciding factor in this one was the two highlights of the match: a fourth-minute corner goal by Christian Roldan and a no-call handball by Chad Marshall inside the box midway through the match. While the ref and the announcers said it was not a handball, I strongly believe otherwise.

It was a harsh one for the Timbers, but they did themselves no favors in the match. The Portland defensive block was very unorganized and left a tone of space in the middle of the park. Jordan Morris could have had a brace, with two superb chances. The defense looks to be in pieces at the moment.

J: There’s no doubt the Timbers missed Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe at times in this difficult stretch, but there have always been question marks about the defense. They were just overshadowed by the fireworks display in the attacking half.

I did get a chance to watch another 1-0 game, as D.C. stole three points on the road at Vancouver. And I do mean stole. It was a pretty undeserving victory for DCU, but you have to finish chances in this league, and Vancouver missed too many in the first half.

And now it looks like Bill Hamid might be finding his footing again and trying to remind everyone why he should still be considered a contender for the next great American goalkeeper.

MLS: D.C. United at Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Josh prays for his soul every time he watches D.C. United, as well.
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I still don’t think D.C. is a team to worry about in the East, but as we’ve seen on the road against Vancouver and Atlanta, they can surprise teams. That’s something that should worry Columbus a little bit, as it looks like Crew SC will be right in the heart of the playoff race.

Two other teams I’m stilling trying to figure out in the East are Red Bulls and the Revs. What did you take away from that one?

N: The Revs took an early lead thanks to a Lee Nguyen penalty kick, but after that they looked very shaky through the middle of the pitch. Nguyen was superb throughout the match, but was really the only spark that team had. A few bright moments from Kelyn Rowe, but otherwise this team was the lesser of the two sides.

The Red Bulls dominates in the middle third and we’re able to gain access to the box very easily able to muster a lot of chances on net. Ne wEngland was the more physical side, but New York seemed a step ahead and could have easily had two more goals in the match.

Chicago vs. Dallas had some early goals too. Were the opening 10 minutes exciting as the scoresheet suggests?

J: They were. I was sitting there wondering what was going to happen next, but the game settled in from there.

Nemanja Nikolic just keeps doing it for the Fire. I think Dallas is going through some mild soul-searching right now and sat some players in a mid-week game, but this is still another notch in Chicago’s real-contender belt, as much as that might pain some Crew SC fans.

Speaking of excitement ... San Jose and the Galaxy. Just before halftime my note was, “WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS GAME??”

N: Wasn’t that game crazy? I know you and I spoke last week of our anticipation for the game because they are often thrilling, but, wow, that was something indeed. And to think the Galaxy put up four goals on just six shots — one penalty and an own goal help the case.

What did you think of that electric match?

J: The second half didn’t quite match the first, but how could it?

San Jose has its issues, and missing Anibal Godoy didn’t help thought. I thought SJ let LA do what it wanted, especially with right back Bradley Diallo pushed up very high, and the Earthquakes never forced LAG out of that.

It shocked me a little to see the Quakes out-shot LA 19-6 because, after a wild first half, I felt like San Jose was unable to really play the game on its own terms, even at home and having to push forward while chasing the game.

MLS: Los Angeles Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes
Six minutes in. A moment when it still looked like these two teams might play some defense.
Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Right now the Allesandrini - Giovani dos Santos connection is as good as any attacking duo in the league. It will be interesting to see if they can continue to carry the weight of so much responsibility for the course of a grinding season. But LA has three straight road wins and is unbeaten in five matches.

I also made a note: “Is Brian Rowe underrated?”

N: I totally agree with the Alessandrini-Gio connection. That last goal? That was a great one and really sums up just how important these two have been to the team. Not many players in the league could have made that play.

To answer your Rowe question, I think maybe. He only made two saves on the day, technically, but I was very impressed with his overall play.

J: What about the last game of the weekend? NYCFC looked woefully underprepared for that. You’ve got to know at this point that you have to prevent Atlanta from breaking out in transition.

Where do you think things went wrong/right (depending on which side you were on)?

N: Miguel Almiron continues his tear.

The opening goal came from what NYCFC thought was a press, but Atlanta played the long ball and the away side’s defense was stretched extremely wide and way too deep. Almiron got his first there. Then Hector Villalba played in behind the defensive line, which seemed to have no interest in closing him down. The third came just moments later, as once again Atlanta United played the long ball out of the back and with the defense stretched, it was one-on-one again.

From there my viewing was disinterested, as NYCFC was always behind and desperately chasing the game.

J: ATL has been good, but the teams they’ve hammered have all played right into United’s strengths. You can’t do that for anyone in this league.

We’ll go ahead and jump into what you’re excited to watch this week ...

N: First on the list is SKC vs. Minnesota, because I’m curious to see how this one goes on the reverse fixture. Minnesota upset them last time around, but I expect a big answer from Peter Vermes’ squad at home.

I’m also really wanting to see how San Jose does in Portland. The Quakes looked good against LA but couldn’t seal it. Are they good enough to be this fallen Timbers side in Portland?

J: That Portland-San Jose game does have the potential to be interesting.

I think that Orlando-Chicago match is intriguing, as both those sides try to prove they belong in the upper third of the East.

For nostalgia purposes, I like D.C. vs. LAG. Two of the original power clubs in MLS going at it. But maybe that’s just the MLS nerd in me.

N: Chicago and Orlando sounds intriguing. I’ll leave the nerd game to you. I’m still not convinced on either of those teams to commit to viewing it.

J: Yes, somehow I’m going to end up watching DCU again.

There are a couple more I’d like to watch, but those are the big ones. It’s certainly a busy week with 15 games.


N: MLS issued five match suspensions this week alone (one two-match ban, to Teal Bunbury) as well as two other fines for hands to face/head/neck.

(Note from Josh: Remember this, Crew SC fans?)

J: This Pablo Mastroeni rant:


N: Tommy Thompson. Against LA he was superb and it was the best I have ever seen him play. He picked up a very nice assist and was a great fulcrum to the Quakes attack. If he keeps playing like this every week, the team will finally have that creative spark that they have long needed.

J: I’ll go with Atlanta’s Julian Gressel. Almiron may grab the highlights, but the fact that a rookie is having this much impact on that team and often shining just as brightly as the big signings speaks volumes for how Gressel has played.


N: Atlanta United is back in full steam. ... It took a Champions League-caliber RSL team to knock off the best team in the union, the Philadelphia Union. ... Columbus Crew didn't play this week, right? ... I’m jumping off the train on Houston Dynamo's sputtering offense.

J: Brian Rowe for USMNT goalkeeper. ... GDS and Romain Allesandrini can legally marry in the state of California. ... Signs of the apocalypse: the end of Nate’s unabashed love for the 2017 Dynamo.


N: Oh gosh, do we have to? Eighth in the East, and that might be my first honest prediction of the year so far. Send the hate mail.

J: Fourth. Because the sky is still pinned above us and this is MLS, so why not? Step back from the ledge. Send your accusations of being on Berhalter’s payroll.