Here are the 10 things we learned from week six of the Major League Soccer season.
1. Orlando can be as good as they want to be
The Lions made one of the longest road-trips in MLS to play the newly confident Portland Timbers, and dismantled them in a convincing 2-0 win.
Very few teams make the Timbers look pedestrian at Providence Park. Orlando did it with panache. They have the cohesion and interchange in midfield of a team that has been together for five years, not five months. It starts with Kaka, but when Aurelien Collin is on, Orlando has one of the league’s better defenses as well.
The only problem to this point had been finishing up top, and Cyle Larin could be the answer. The #1 overall pick was dangerous, if not potent, all day against the Timbers, and scored the game-winning goal.
Orlando was due a breakout win. Their performances have been worth it even in the losses to DC and Vancouver. Their early-season form has been a clinic for expansion teams. Adrian Heath said they’d play good soccer, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They could threaten for the Eastern Conference crown this season.
2. Can’t predict MLS, part 1: Colorado
The Rapids went to FC Dallas, the best team in the league in March, and thumped them 4-0. It was Colorado’s first goals and win of a season that was entirely hopeless, but now has glimmers of light.
Certainly, if Colorado plays without the lethargy of their first handful of games and with the energy they showed against a totally flat Dallas team, they’ll be a tough out in plenty of games. This still isn’t anywhere near a playoff team, but they have plenty more potential than they’d lead you to believe.
Pablo Mastroeni simply has to get the best, each and every week, out of the young players that made a playoff run under Oscar Pareja in 2013. That, or he loses his job no matter how exquisitely mustachioed he is. With veterans like Marcelo Sarvas and Kevin Doyle jelling as a core around them eventually, the Rapids’ situation isn’t hopeless.
3. Can’t predict MLS, part 2: Philadelphia
The Union were in full crisis mode last weekend after conceding twice in stoppage time to lose at Sporting Kansas City, and to his credit, Jim Curtin responded.
Curtin, whose stoicism and response in the face of adversity last year won him this job full-time, dropped fumbling goalkeeper Rais M’Bholi, not just from the team, but from the entire organization. He’s back in France.
The result was hometown kid John McCarthy in goal for the Union, a stoppage time winner against NYCFC, a sweet goal call from JP Dellacamera, a rocking PPL Park, and an even sweeter postgame interview from an emotional McCarthy.
In a nutshell, this game wasn’t anything special for the Union. NYCFC is one of the weaker teams in the league, it was a home match, and Philly still played poorly for the vast majority of the game. Still, winning remains sweet no matter the circumstances. The Union players and staff that have stuck out the beginning of the year deserved their moment in the sun on Saturday.
4. Can’t predict MLS, part 3: Houston
The Dynamo had been dreadful, especially offensively, in their first handful of games under Owen Coyle. It had been, in many cases, a worst case scenario for a career bottom-tier Premier League, middle-to-upper-tier Championship manager coming into MLS: Houston were negative, bereft of innovation, and often just plain ugly.
That all turned around on Saturday night with a resounding 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact at BBVA Compass Stadium. Houston played a proactive, open game, and was well worth its three points. But how much of the win was down to the opponent remains to be seen.
The truth is, even now, before the arrival of Cubo Torres, Houston isn’t well set up to play attacking soccer. Their central midfielders are largely defensive, they don’t have a ton of team speed, and they don’t have a forward they really trust. The Impact win might have been a flash in the pan.
5. Vancouver struggles again
The Whitecaps have established themselves as the most inconsistent team in MLS. They highs are sensational, but the lows are equally as frequent – and damaging.
The ‘Caps are weak mentally. They have a team full of erratic personalities, from Kendall Waston, to Pa Modou Kah, to his mercurial Gambian pal Kakuta Manneh. Captain and star Pedro Morales was sent off at the end of a dreadful 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes, and you just have to wonder if this team can string together enough results to make a real postseason run.
Vancouver’s results this year have far outpaced their performances. They were well beaten by Toronto in their opening day loss, but also handily outplayed by Portland and Orlando City in wins.
It’s been a heady start for Vancouver, but unless they can find some leadership and stability, they’re headed towards another up-and-down season that will most likely finish in the first round of the playoffs.
6. Seattle’s production problems
Last season, the Seattle Sounders got career years from Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett. Kenny Cooper was pitching in with goals. So was Marco Pappa. Gonzalo Pineda scored. Andy Rose bagged a handful.
Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey led the team, of course, but it was those secondary contributions that made Seattle so unstoppable when they were on last year.
So far in 2015, outside of Dempsey and Martins, the Sounders haven’t been able to score. Pappa and Neagle have both struggled in front of goal, Barrett appears to be back to his normal, average self, and Cooper is in Montreal. Expecting that quartet to match their production from last year was always going to be crazy anyway.
Because Seattle’s central midfield of Osvaldo Alonso and Pineda doesn’t score, there is a huge burden placed on the Sounders’ wingers to get goals. Perhaps Garth Lagerway’s first major move in Seattle should be getting the Sounders some real dynamism on the wing – as it stands, this team might be better in defense than attack.
7. Where are the goals?
There was yet more boring soccer and two more scoreless draws in MLS in this weekend – plus the second game already this year in which neither team registered a shot on goal in the first half between Vancouver and San Jose.
It appears to be taking teams even longer than usual to get into the swing of things this season. It certainly doesn’t help that the number of playoff teams has been expanded to six, making it far more affordable to sit on draws both home and away.
It also hasn’t helped that teams we can usually rely on for good soccer and goal-scoring haven’t really delivered to this point. Real Salt Lake haven’t figured out their offense in a new 4-3-3 look. LA have been ponderous at best since mid-March. Portland’s offense is mostly a slog right now without Diego Valeri. It hasn’t been a good six weeks.
8. San Jose continues to fight
The ‘Quakes aren’t going to out-football anyone this year. The encouraging thing for San Jose fans is that Dominic Kinnear’s team is picking up points and wins even as they’re still trying to figure out how to integrate Matias Perez-Garcia and Innocent Emeghara into their attack.
This looks very much like a team in transition – the fact that Chris Wondolowski has been virtually anonymous in the first month and change of the season tells a story in itself – but one that has the fight that it lost last season back.
Kinnear can coach. If the ‘Quakes can keep themselves relevant through the spring, they can hopefully figure out their attack in the summer and be a surprise factor in the Western Conference playoff races later reaches.
9. More questions for LA
The Galaxy got a big win over the Seattle Sounders this Sunday, mostly on the back of their goalkeeper Jamie Penado.
LA is playing the long game. They want to play well enough in the spring to give themselves a chance in the fall. The question is, how is this team going to look by then?
Bruce Arena has tried out a glut of central midfielders next to Juninho, and none of them have either lit the world on fire or totally disappointed. That will be Steven Gerrard’s spot starting in July.
Where this team is missing a key cog is Landon Donovan’s position on the wing. Gyasi Zardes is better up top next to Robbie Keane – whose form so far this season has been just short of officially worrying – and LA is going to need huge things out of Steven Ishisaki and Jose Villareal to play the kind of football they want.
The good news is, both have looked up to the challenge at various points this year. The other good news is that with AJ DeLaGarza back from injury and Robbie Rogers playing one of the best games of his season against the Sounders, the defense looks fine. It’s going to take some working out, but the Galaxy will be right there at the end. They almost always are.
10. Meanwhile in Toronto…
TFC’s bye week was hardly without incident, as rumors circulated throughout MLS circles that Michael Bradley has been taking a role making lineup decisions.
It’s hard to know whether there’s any validity to that rumor, but TFC needs to have perspective and keep its head above water. I know it’s hard. Because of its stadium expansion, Toronto has had to start the season with a seven-game road trip throughout the first nine weeks of the season – something that would crush even the very best teams in the league.
When Toronto gets to May, it’s looking at the vast majority of its remaining games at home at what will be the biggest soccer specific stadium in the league. BMO Field looks terrific, and it should rock if Toronto can finally capitalize on its huge potential. The first part of this season is simply an exercise in patience and not imploding.
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