Here are the top 10 things we learned from gameweek 7 of the 2016 MLS season from April 15-17:
1. Referees Remain in the Spotlight
MLS PRO’s nightmare continues. Red cards didn’t play a huge part in MLS’ seventh week, but, “thanks” to Baldomero Toledo’s meltdown at the end of Orlando City’s game against New England, referees remained in the spotlight.
It wasn’t just Toledo. Chris Penso didn’t help matters by losing control of the Portland-San Jose game. In truth, both officials had good games until stoppage time. But that, of course, is not enough.
Refereeing is hard – and every league struggles with it to a varying extent. But in MLS, the truth is that unless you get Alan Kelly, Chico Grajeda, or Armando Villarreal, good luck. You’re going to need it.
2. Robinson On The Hot Seat?
Carl Robinson is very highly regarded in Vancouver and around MLS, but there’s absolutely no denying that the last eight months have been a disaster for his Whitecaps.
Vancouver, losers again on Saturday at Real Salt Lake, have scored just six goals through seven games so far in 2016 and sit in ninth place in the Western Conference.
More concerning than that, though, is what’s going on beneath the surface. Namely, Robinson looks lost tactically. He’s used no fewer than four different formations this year, and his team continues to look disjointed and short on ideas offensively.
Octavio Rivero hasn’t scored in almost eighteen hours of game-time, and the ‘Caps have gotten just one goal from forwards – the now-retired Robert Earnshaw – since last summer.
The attacking problems trace back to last fall when the Whitecaps limped to the finish line in 2015 and were blanked over two legs in the playoffs by the Portland Timbers.
Robinson’s offseason acquisitions predictably haven’t changed the equation, and both he and his team are pressing right now. They need a breakout performance in a bad way.
3. Jermaine Jones Returns
No one had any idea where we’d see Jermaine Jones next after the German-American assaulted Mark Geiger in the playoffs last year, but it was more than fitting that he made his return on Saturday after serving a six-match suspension in a snowstorm in Colorado.
Lining up as the number 10 – a discussion for a different day – Jones got the opening goal in an all-action performance as the Rapids beat the Red Bulls 2-1 in a match Colorado dubbed SnowClasico2.
Jones’ MLS career has been about making ordinary teams playoffs contenders. The Rapids, no more than sturdy at their best, fit the profile of a team that can give Jones the outsize role he needs to be his most effective.
Now in third place after seven games, it’s time to start taking Colorado seriously.
4. Jordan Morris Gets Off The Mark
Morris’ labored start to life in MLS has been as much a product of his team’s struggles as his own, but he did everyone a favor by scoring his first goal on Saturday night to lift the Sounders to a sorely-needed home win over the Philadelphia Union.
Seattle needs help. Players like Morris have to keep the Sounders – and, by extension, Sigi Schmid, afloat until the summer transfer window opens.
5. NYCFC Is A Mess
Patrick Vieira was abused tactically by Gregg Berhalter in Columbus’ first win of the season over NYCFC on Sunday, and Vieira’s club is generally a mess.
NYCFC hasn’t won since Opening Day in Chicago, and failed to get three points in any of their four consecutive home games through the end of March and beginning of April.
All might not be well inside the team either. Vieira acted harshly in suspending Mikey Lopez and Khiry Shelton for the game last weekend against Chicago for a fairly innocuous video, meanwhile, Frank Lampard is MIA and has been given time off from training with the team.
Perhaps Jason Kreis and Ned Grabavoy weren’t the only problems after all.
6. Gio Responds
Giovani dos Santos was rightly lampooned for his performance against Portland last Sunday, and, more generally, his career in MLS so far.
But he responded in a big way on Friday night in Houston, with two goals in the Galaxy’s rout of the Dynamo. dos Santos will always be a luxury player, but the bottom line is that its good for MLS if he succeeds and wins his place back with Mexico.
That would signify to the likes of Chicharito that the league is an option for Mexican national teamers.
7. Houston Implodes
Take away a first minute set piece goal from David Horst, and the Dynamo effectively lost 4-0 at home to a fairly ordinary Galaxy team on Friday night.
Owen Coyle was incensed with the defensive effort his team put in, but, at least in part, he has himself to blame. The coach hasn’t made any changes to his back six this season – or his entire team, for that matter – and Houston have been a wreck defensively all year.
For a team with DaMarcus Beasley, Rico Clark, and Horst, that’s somewhat surprising. But the additions in the offseason – the likes of Alex, Jalil Anibaba, and second year player Raul Rodriguez – haven’t been good enough.
Houston didn’t sort its defense out in the winter, and Coyle really doesn’t have anyone to turn to now. The Dynamo is in last place – and that despite scoring the most goals in the league so far. Remarkable.
8. Montreal is the Best Team in the League
On its own, Montreal’s 2-1 win over Chicago at Toyota Park on Saturday wasn’t incredibly impressive. But the fact that the Impact’s comeback was started by Didier Drogba tells you all you need to know about why Montreal is feeling so bullish right now.
The Impact are top of the Eastern Conference – and comfortably so. With Columbus and New York languishing at the bottom of the league, the teams closest to Montreal are Philadelphia and Orlando.
This Montreal team is for real. They have ball-players throughout their team, a star playmaker in Ignacio Piatti, an underrated goalkeeper in Evan Bush, and Drogba now settling in for the long haul. Toronto may join them, but for now, the Impact are Shield favorites.
9. Speaking of the Shield Winners . . .
The Red Bulls are now 1-6. Even by MLS standards, that’s astonishing. But center-back woes aside, New York under Jesse Marsch last year was successful because its front six was in form all year.
But this isn’t and never has been a team with a lot of individual game-winners. They don’t have someone to turn to who can win a game by himself. With Orlando and Dallas coming up, the slide may not be over.
10. Why MLS Won’t Play A Winter Schedule, Part 57
FC Dallas’ Soccer Sunday clash with Sporting Kansas City was sold out, but storms in the Frisco kept the vast majority of fans away.
The result was a flat atmosphere that didn’t do a very good game justice. A good crowd is one of the single best ways to engage fans on television and grow ratings. MLS is a better television product when played in front of sellout crowds.
In a small way, Sunday goes down as a missed opportunity for Dallas and the league. The weather matters. It’s one of the biggest reasons MLS isn’t moving away from a summer schedule.
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