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The Big Picture: The Fire(ing), bicycle rides & reveling in “rivalries”

Massive Report’s Josh Mlot & Nathaniel Marhefka discuss Week 17 in MLS

MLS: Orlando City SC at Chicago Fire
We golf clap to you, Mr. Accam
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Seventeen weeks in the book.

Massive Report writers Josh Mlot and Nathaniel Marhefka are here to discuss what they saw around MLS this past week.

JOSH

What I watched: Minnesota United vs. Portland Timbers (3-2), Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas (1-1), New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC (0-2), Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City (4-0), San Jose Earthquakes vs. Real Salt Lake (2-1), LA Galaxy vs. Sporting Kansas City (1-2), Portland vs. Seattle Sounders (2-2)

Why I watched: Houston-Dallas and Portland-Seattle are two of the legit rivalries in MLS, so that was definitely on my agenda. I expected Chicago-Orlando to reveal a little about how the Eastern Conference will shake out. Everything else just kind of fit in my schedule.

What I noticed: Orlando appears to be sliding down the Eastern ladder, the Galaxy continue to put up the most bizarre home/road split and Clint Dempsey still loves to play the villain. Most of my viewing this week was extremely casual, so I didn’t get to dive too deeply into much of it.

NATHANIEL

What I watched: Seattle Sounders vs. Orlando City (1-1), Toronto FC vs. New England Revolution (2-0), Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas, Chicago Fire vs. Orlando City SC, LA Galaxy vs. Sporting Kansas City

Why I watched: Midweek matches are often pretty tough for me, so I was only able to squeeze in the late one to my schedule. Friday we had two great matches in TFC vs. Revs and a nice rivalry match in Houston against Dallas, the latter of which was at the top of my weekend watch list. Saturday was a long day at work for me, but after I got home I watched nearly every second of MLS that I could. I was hoping to watch the Cascadia Cup but apparently not having cable has some downfalls after all.

What I noticed: What is Orlando without Cyle Larin? You may have read in the news what happened to him. So as a result, he has not playing for the team since June 4th. Since then, the team is 0-2-2, including a loss to Miami FC and a 4-0 thrashing this week against Chicago. Larin has been cleared to play by the league and will be eligible to be in the match day squad on Friday in Salt Lake City. SKC grabbed one of only two away wins over the weekend, edging on-fire LA 2-1 thanks to a fantastic goal by Ike Opara. In Houston it seemed to be Urruti vs. the world. Houston played pretty well, its offense fell just short and I would say unlucky but their defense left a lot to be desired.


Discuss ...

JOSH: What stuck out most to you this week? We’ll start there.

NATHANIEL: Let’s start with the Chicago-Orlando match. For me, it was the most decisive match of the weekend. And David Accam, the 26-year-old Ghanaian had the game of his career. A 9.9 rating from OPTA, a hat trick, an assist and a standing ovation after 80 minutes.

As for the whole Chicago Fire side, the club that was bottom-dwellers last season now has not lost since April — a 10-match unbeaten streak.

What did you think of them this match?

J: I think it was a pretty decisive showing from Chicago. It’s especially dangerous now because it has enough pieces now where one guy isn’t forced to carry the load. And I think the Fire stumbled into a nice fit with Matt Polster at right back.

Chicago is playing very well right now and I think it’s safe to say this is the real deal.

With Orlando, I think we are seeing the impact Larin can make, but also that it’s not as good as some may have wanted to think early on. There are flaws, and while clearly improved defensively, still probably needs to be a little sturdier.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC
Cyle Larin can score, but can he walk in a straight line?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Accam was very impressive, though. For me, clearly the MLS Player of the Week.

When you consider that the previous two results for Orlando were draws grabbed at the death, it’s fair to say they’ve hit a rough patch.

Speaking of rough patches, I don’t think the New York Red Bulls should be in panic mode, but it seems safe to say the team isn’t likely to just pull out of its funk like it did last year. NYCFC was clearly the far superior team.

What do you make of the two New York sides? Do you hive much credence to the hubbub about Jesse Marsch leaving last week? I don’t buy it. The players have to have known for a while that he’s chasing bigger things, but maybe it is enough to disrupt the chemistry that has driven things for NYRB in the Marsch era.

N: I like Jesse Marsch and I don’t see him leaving immediately. Sure, the Red Bulls have not had a great start to the year, but I look back at some of the offseason moves and some of some of the tactical changes made. I do think ownership (Red Bull) has forced their influence to make their New York team adhere to the “brand” — be more like Leipzig and Salzburg. After 10 or so matches it seemed that Marsch was able to readjust his team more towards a “Marsch team” as we know it. As it readjusts I think we should see an improved club going forward the rest of the season.

J: What did you think of the Houston and Dallas game? People like to rip MLS for its contrived rivalries, but I think that’s one of three or four actual rivalries that exist in the league.

This is the first time in a few years that both teams have been competitive at the same time.

N: I absolutely agree. This rivalry has a lot of fire behind it and I like it a lot. I thought Houston was going to have the fire power to get edge this one out at home, as I thought it was the better side for most of the match. Dallas looked like a team of pieces offensively, whereas Houston seemed to have it all tightly knit. However, the defense of Houston continues to be non-combative and I think that most of their matches result in gunslinging showdowns.

As we saw in this one, the Dynamo’s strikers aren’t very clinical; they fall short.

J: Houston definitely had some chances, especially in the first half, if I remember correctly, to get a leg up and failed.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve watched Toronto or New England. Was this a pretty straight forward victory for TFC?

N: I think so, yes. Look at the lineup for TFC — no Michael Bradley, Steven Beitashour, Raheem Edwards or Eriq Zavaleta in the starting 11. Even without these guys, the home side was decisive in its win, even more than the 2-0 score line would suggest.

I never really felt that New England had any foothold in the match at all. It was one of those games for them, like we’ve talked about before, where the attack seems to fight over the ball and is unable to procure solid chances as a unit.

J: Not fake news: Toronto FC is the deepest team in MLS history (overheard coming from Greg Vanney’s mouth).

N: To LA we go. Sporting Kansas City went up early on the road and the Galaxy were never really able to catch up. How big of an impact did that crazy goal by Ike Opara in the 35th minute have on the game? Did that set the tone for the rest of the evening?

J: I think the tone was set even before then, but that definitely stole the show. The bigger question is if Clement Diop is the worst goalkeeper currently starting in MLS.

MLS: Sporting KC at Los Angeles Galaxy
Now that’s what you call falling with style
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It was a good win for SKC, which has failed to breakthrough on the road often this season, but it was also another home mess for LAG, which is, of course, still short handed. I kept waiting for Romain Alessandrini to work his magic, but that’s a lot to ask week in and week out.

But the Galaxy’s home/road split this season is bizarre.

N: It has been strange, hasn’t it? It has been near-impossible to win on the road this season in MLS (more so than usual), but LA is trying to change that on its own. They’ve been bad at home all year, yet winning on the road? Can you make any sense of that?

This evening I’m going to isolate out LA matches and adjust for away win percentage in the league. It’s already crazy low, I bet if you disregard them it will be.

J: I’m inclined to say it’s a fluke. I’m not sure how you would account for something like that.

N: It might be. Alessandrini remarked that he thinks it’s how the team is set up for home as opposed to away matches. That when they play away they play more conservative and it works better for them. That, and the “pressure to impress in front of home fans.”

J: I buy the first part of that more than the second, since, you know, every team has a home crowd to impress.

Since you didn’t watch the Cascadia game, I’ll just say that we got a classic installment with Clint Dempsey playing the villain. These are things that make rivalries fun, and even if you question the integrity of most MLS “rivalries,” Seattle and Portland is unquestionable.

We’ll close out on a bit of news — Dom Kinnear is out as San Jose coach. This is something we talked about earlier in the season.

The move is not terribly surprising, but the timing is a bit odd, considering the Quakes won on Saturday and do currently sit in a playoff position (regardless of whether you believe they’ll hold it). What do you make of all this?

N: As you mentioned, we’ve talked about the long-term viability of Kinnear in the league. The start of the season was not good at all. But interestingly enough, they have been improving as of late.

I saw a comment a few hours after the announcement that said, “Clearly only beating RSL 2-1 was unacceptable.”

[Editor’s note: That fulfill’s Nate’s weekly quota of RSL trolling.]

I think it points to the fact that either there was something else going on behind the scenes involving Kinnear, or the club had already made its decision a while ago. What do you think of the firing?

J: The timing is strange but I think the move was probably inevitable. Maybe San Jose wanted to do it before the upcoming break just to give the team some extra time to settle in with new leadership. San Jose really needs a fresh start, i think, to move forward.


THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MISSED THIS WEEK

N: It broke the internet, so you probably have already seen it...

J: It doesn’t get any better than that.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK

N: Chicago Fire in their decisive victory against Orlando City. Sure, this one was at home, but Chicago absolutely out-classed their opponent. Individual performance to David Accam and his hat-trick plus an assist.

J: I’ll keep the finger pointed at Accam.

HYPE TRAIN

N: Seba be good. ... Opara is gold. ... Urruti is the messenger. ... Accam is god. ... MLS may have been all about star players a few years ago, but now we have some emerging stars. Not just the one's bought for billions, but those bred in this league are on the way to matching this stardom.

J: Chicago Fire will win the World Cup AND the European Championships. ... SKC will build a statue outside the stadium of Opara’s bike. ... Jason Kreis won’t be buying anymore beers for Cyle Larin. ... #klinsmannforsanjose

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

N: Fourth in the East.

J: Ahead of New York Red Bulls.