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The Big Picture: A slow weekend, mistakes and the Open Cup

Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka discuss a brief Week 14 in Major League Soccer

MLS: Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC
What is this U.S. Open Cup you speak of?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the FIFA international break in swing last weekend, MLS played just three games.

Our writers Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka discuss a hodge podge of things with the quiet week and the U.S. Open Cup involving MLS teams this week.

JOSH

What I watched: Sporting Kansas City vs. Montreal Impact (1-1), Portland Timbers vs. FC Dallas (2-0), Chicago Fire vs. Atlanta United (2-0).

Why I watched: There weren’t a whole lot of choices, were there?

What I noticed: Ilie Sanchez might be the most underrated MLS newcomer this season. Montreal might be poised for an upward rise. Portland is playing with fire but managing. Atlanta’s probably tired of playing on the road. Insert obligatory MLS home-field advantage clause.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: SKC vs. Montreal, Portland vs. Dallas, Chicago vs. Atlanta.

Why I watched: See Josh’s response.

What I noticed: Read on to find out...


Discuss ...

NATHANIEL: How about let’s start with SKC and the Montreal Monster Matteo Mancosu.

JOSH: SKC clearly deserved to win that game. I thought it was a good performance from Kansas City. But it the Impact took a smart approach and got lucky. It shows how fragile this game can be. One terrible mistake leads to one great finish and dropped points that never should have been dropped.

Montreal is smiling about its luck on this one, right?

N: If I’m a Montreal fan or coach, I have a smile on my face. Kansas City has been unbeaten at home in 17 matches. SKC dominated, surely, but the Impact counter was actually quite good. Montreal bunkered in this one and I can’t blame them — missing six players due to international call-ups.

They sat in a 5-4-1. Do you know if they have used this before? It was the first I had seen it.

I like this:

J: I have not seen them use a 5-4-1 (or 5-2-3, if you’d like) in recent memory.

I felt bad for Soni Mustivar. The announcers spent the first minute after he came on talking about how Mustivar wanted to prove himself and earn more playing time. A minute later, well ...

N: That was a harsh way to enter the game. I know he hasn’t played much because of the likes of Ilie, but honestly from when he stepped on the pitch he looked a bit off and not necessarily in “game mode.”

J: Ilie has been so good. If people aren’t watching SKC, I don’t think they realize what he is doing. He was in prime form in this game, and his assist on the goal was perfectly placed over the top. But he is just really good at breaking up plays and making simple passes to drive possession forward.

N: I have been very impressed with him. One of, if not the top signing this year in MLS, in my opinion. He has been primary to the success of SKC this season.

J: If I’m a Montreal fan, I’m very excited about the result because of the circumstances surrounding it. You mentioned the absences. No Blerim Dzemaili, no Ambroise Oyongo, no Laurent Ciman. Those are basically players 2-4 in terms of most important pieces.

So you factor in their returns, then you see Mancosu come back from injury in this one and Andres Romero make his first appearance in a season and a half. If I’m an Impact fan, I’m getting very excited about what this team might be able to put together in the second half of the season at full strength.

N: Heck yeah. They have been putting together a good team. Not too long ago this team was dead in the water in my eyes, but I really like the direction it is headed.

J: Every MLS season has a couple of teams do it — survive until summer then figure things out and make a run. Montreal is definitely a candidate, though I still think they need to, in general, be better defensively.

How about Dallas and Portland?

N: Well, Portland won, but they lost big time. Both Liam Ridgewell and Roy Miller went out with injuries. Injuries are piling up for the Timbers. Add that to the list of Chance Myers, Darren Mattocks and Jack Barmby.

For FC Dallas, it’s a road game which has haunted them (and every MLS team) and they were without a few key players. For them it’s not a harsh takeaway to lose this one.

J: Most of those Timbers are just depth, but those center backs are big losses. Especially for a team where that’s the biggest question mark. I thought the timbers performed pretty admirably considering they used three different CB pairings in one game.

I agree FCD shouldn’t lose sleep over this one, but in a battle between teams with high aspirations in the West, Portland has already taken four out of a possible six points between the two.

Soccer: FIFA World Cup Qulifier-Trinidad & Tobago at USA
A USMNT future for Acosta hurts Dallas
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas was missing Kellyn Acosta, Walker Zimmerman and Hedges, which are massive absences. With those three out and being on the road, FCD was super conservative and probably didn’t have much hope after conceding first.

Dallas nearly scored on some great buildup in the 22nd minute and it was cleared off the line. Had that gone in, it’s a very different game.

What have you thought of the play of Dallas’ wingers this season? I know Roland Lamah had a big game last week, but I’m speaking more in general terms. Do you think they’re getting enough? I don’t feel like Michael Barrios has been as good this year as last.

N: You make a great point about Barrios. This season I think that Barrios has been both tasked with more defensive responsibilities and playing on a deeper line. His numbers have reflected this. Last season, in 32 matches, he had nine goals and two assists. this season, in 14 matches, he has one goal and four assists. I question whether this new “support” role really suits him.

J: I do think there’s something to that. Also worth considering that last year he generally had Fabian Castillo or Mauro Diaz on the field, occasionally both, for a good chunk of the season.

N: Exactly. The tactics have been changed to drop a true No. 10 and instead play a two-striker front with more creation from the wings. that has been what caused Barrios to play deeper.

J: Before we move on from this game, i need to lodge a complaint. ROOT SPORTS, the TV broadcaster of Portland’s games, had MLS standings in which they used god awful logos for the teams that look like something someone did in five seconds with word art. It made my eyes burn. Do better, professional broadcast network!

N: I didn’t notice that. I have to go back and check that out.

J: Do so at your own peril.

My other rant this week is for people who pronounce Matteo Mancosu’s name wrong (i.e., the SKC announcing team and many others.) Just like it’s spelled. Not ManCUso. It’s ManCOSU.

MLS: Montreal Impact at Sporting KC
Say my name (correctly, please)
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

So, I “watched” the Chicago-Atlanta game, but mostly in the background. So I didn’t take a whole lot away from it, other than Chicago won without Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic keeps scoring and Josef Martinez is back for Atlanta.

Mostly I wanted to see who played for the Fire, since I’m going to the U.S. Open Cup game in St. Louis and wanted to figure out who I might see on the field.

N: For Atlanta, which plays Columbus this upcoming weekend, having Josef Martinez back is huge. We’ve already seen them improve since the beginning of the season. Does having a guy like this return take the team to another level?

What do you expect from Chicago in the Open Cup?

J: I don’t know if Martinez’s impact will be immediate, but after he a couple of weeks when he’s settled back in, it’s a big plus for ATL, at least on the attacking side.

I’ll be interested to see what happens with Julian Gressel now. Does he slide back as a box-to-box mid, despite being sharp higher up the field? Does he become a super sub? You have to assumed Hector Villalba remains a starter since he’s performed well and is getting paid, but something has to give. Maybe it’s Yamil Asad who becomes a super sub. Anyway, it will be interesting to see Tata Martino’s management of the situation.

I’m not sure what to expect from Chicago. They’ve struggled for long enough that I think they have to keep their eggs in the MLS season basket and make sure they continue to perform as a playoff-caliber team. Which means going with a ‘B’ side for the Open Cup (which would be a nice get, but I’m guessing the fans will care more about a return to the postseason).

I’ll be curious to see if they play Dax. He had a heavy travel weekend, but didn’t play for the U.S., so he has fresh legs and would anchor a less experienced side nicely.

I just want Daniel Johnson to start. My request is to get Dax and Johnson.

Also, I think it’s disingenuous to market the game in St. Louis using Bastian Schweinsteiger’s name. I know that’s pretty much standard practice everywhere, but I can’t believe he will play in a mid-week game against a lower-level team on turf. I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t even travel.

I’ll be interested to see if St. Louis can push the Fire. STL just played in a very hot afternoon game Sunday and while they did save some starters, there were also some regular starters who played. I don’t know if they’ll go again a few days later. I think STL will put a close to full-strength lineup, but there may be some pieces missing.

Regardless of that result, though, Columbus won’t be able to meet Chicago until the tournament final, unlike in the past.

D.C. United beat Christos FC on Tuesday night, so they await the Crew-Cincinnati winner.

What do you expect from tonight’s Columbus-FCC game?

N: For the Crew match in Cincinnati, I honestly have no idea what to expect. I’ve not been able to watch a single Cincinnati match. So we’ll see.

As for marketing, we know that will always be the case and there is 0.5 percent chance Schweinsteiger actually plays.

J: We’ll see how many first-11 players Gregg Berhalter plays as well. I’m guessing we won’t see much of a change in approach from the past, with a few starters surrounded by reserves. The club’s downplaying of any “rivalry” between the two sides plays right into that. Columbus just hasn’t show an interest in the Open Cup. That doesn’t mean the team can’t make a run deep enough to start caring about it, but I think we’re still a couple of wins away from that.


(Nate’s life got a little crazy early this week, so he skipped out on this section...)

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED

J: How things can go so wrong so quickly (ignore incorrect pronunciation):

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

J: Ilie Sanchez, Sporting Kansas City. Boss.

HYPE TRAIN

J: Portland will move to a center-back-less tactical setup. ... Matteo Mancosu is about to go on a Drogba-like goal-scoring tear. ... Christos FC becomes the 13th candidate for MLS expansion.

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

J: In our hearts or in the league table?

BONUS CLIP

Enjoy the magic of a Diego Chara-sprung counter attack, his sprint, his dummy and Fanendo Adi’s absolute calm in front of goal: