Here are the ten things we learned from Week 13 of the 2016 MLS season.
1. Owen Coyle Out in Houston
Owen Coyle became the first manager to lose his job this season, as the Scotsman and the Houston Dynamo parted ways on Wednesday night.
It was a move that had to be made. Coyle took over a team that was sliding under Dominic Kinnear, and – with Houston pinned to the bottom of the Western Conference with just 12 points from their first 13 games – he appeared totally incapable of stopping the rot.
There were further problems under the surface. Coyle couldn’t get the most – or anything – out of the team’s would-be star Cubo Torres, and, according to SI’s Grant Wahl, the manager was still living out of a hotel in his second year in Houston while his family resided back in the UK.
He never adapted, and his team never really adapted to a style of play that he promised would be progressive and attacking but rarely was anything but ordinary.
There were some factors working against Coyle. Houston’s front office, led by GM Matt Jordan, hasn’t had a good two years either.
Coyle leaves the US – in all likelihood never to return – with nothing but well wishes. His affability and genuine enthusiasm for the game and the league made a positive impression on most everyone whom he crossed paths with.
But he also didn’t do a good enough job. It was time for Houston to move on.
2. Who’s Next Up for the Dynamo?
There are plenty of good candidates who’d be interested in the Houston job – namely Jason Kreis – but the Dynamo would be foolish to look further than their USL affiliate Rio Grande’s manager Wilmer Cabrera.
Cabrera wasn’t exactly a success when he coached Chivas USA in 2014 – how could he have been? – but he did have an excellent rapport with the aforementioned Torres, and is very highly thought of in MLS cirlces.
Cabrera would be able to hit the ground running, and his familiarity with Houston’s front office would be an asset.
Of course, getting Kreis wouldn’t be bad either – and assistant coach Wade Barrett, who took charge of the team against Vancouver on Saturday, is viewed as a potential manager at some point in the future.
3. Toronto Struggles
TFC is sliding. Since opening the renovated BMO Field with a 1-0 win over Dallas on May 7th, the Reds have drawn two and lost two – the latest setback a 3-0 shellacking at the hands of Bradley Wright-Phillips and the New York Red Bulls.
But while it’d be easy to point to imploding only after a surviving a season-opening seven game road trip as Toronto being Toronto, the reality is that injuries and absences are mostly to blame for TFC’s recent woes.
1-11, Toronto might be the best team in the league. But 12-20, they’re not very good. The team has sorely missed Jozy Altidore since he left the Vancouver game injured two weeks ago – paying a steep price not carrying a second true #9 – and appears to have no idea how to create chances without Sebastian Giovinco.
Still – TFC’s ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference looked all but assured when their road-trip ended a month ago. Now with the team mired in sixth, Greg Vanney has his work cut out for him.
4. The Sporting Kansas City Nightmare Worsens
Sporting Kansas City’s Friday night included a whole lot of dismal soccer, an hour-long weather delay, and a late loss to what, quite frankly, should be an inferior DC United team. It was an evening that all but summed up the mood of Sporting’s 2016 so far.
Peter Vermes’ team has won just once in their last ten games – losing seven times since the middle of April – and is scoring less than a goal per game on the season.
Vermes has tried plenty – including airing his players out in the media several weeks ago – but nothing has worked.
And that’s probably because the team Vermes is fielding these days isn’t very good. No one should be surprised that a midfield of Paulo Nagamura, Jordi Quintilla, and Lawrence Olum isn’t creating chances.
It also can’t be shocking that 34-year-old Brad Davis – deemed surplus to requirements in Houston – hasn’t adequately replaced the production of Krisztian Nemeth.
Vermes has to get his best eleven on the field after the Copa America break. That eleven includes Graham Zusi and Matt Besler as soon as they return, it certainly includes Benny Feilhaber, it includes Roger Espinoza, and it probably includes Chance Myers.
Sporting, even in their good days, have rarely made the game look easy. They do, however, know how to win. The nucleus of this team – which, through injuries and benchings, rarely played together in the last two months – has won a lot of games. Vermes needs to lean on them to turn things around.
5. If I Was Didier Drogba…
I’d never retire.
Drogba’s 40-odd yard 94th minute free-kick winner against Los Angeles on Saturday night was just another chapter in the MLS career of a player who is both still on top of his game and, if looks aren’t deceiving, having the time of his life.
Meanwhile, former goalkeeper Bruce Arena has a familiar problem: Goalkeeping. With neither Brian Rowe nor Dan Kennedy impressing, it’s looking like the position is going to haunt the Galaxy again this year.
6. DaMarcus Beasley
Houston’s first game without Coyle, a 1-1 draw under the direction of interim manager Wade Barrett in Vancouver on Saturday, was a fun game.
A dubious double red card decision took out Pedro Morales and Alex just before halftime, while David Ousted made the Save of the Week on David Horst to keep a point in Vancouver late.
But the performance of DaMarcus Beasley, who wore the captain’s armband and scored from left-back, shouldn’t be overlooked. The veteran of four World Cups with the United States remains a marvel – and his support of whoever Houston’s next coach is will be key.
7. Mike Grella
It’s been a hell of a few weeks for the Red Bulls, and while it’s mostly been Dax McCarty and especially Bradley Wright-Phillips in the headlines, Mike Grella’s play can’t be overlooked.
In all three of the Red Bulls’ best performances of the year – at home against Orlando, at New York City, and at home on Saturday against Toronto – Grella has been nothing short of spellbinding.
While he isn’t as consistently dangerous as the crème de la crème of MLS attackers, there are very few players in the league with Grella’s sense of daring and pure dribbling ability.
It’s almost impossible to find talented natural wingers in MLS, but Grella is exactly that – and, as a player who has resurrected his career with his hometown club, he serves as an illustration of why the Red Bulls are one of the easiest clubs to pull for in the league.
8. More Woe For Seattle
The Sounders took a road lead in New England, but let it slip thanks to a truly hilarious penalty call from lightly-used referee Fotis Bazakos and a moment of magic from Revs rookie Femi Hollinger-Janzen.
The defeat was Seattle’s third straight, and it means that Sigi Schmid’s team is now sitting in ninth place in the Western Conference.
The Sounders, quite plainly, can’t score any goals. And while Schmid and GM Garth Lagerway get passes for the moment because of the timing of Obafemi Martins’ departure, this is new ground for the club: Seattle isn’t suffering from strife or dysfunction, they’re just not very good.
So far, the Lagerway era hasn’t been anything special. In fact, it’s been less successful than the Adrian Hanauer era that proceeded it. Bringing in Nicolas Lodeiro would be a sorely needed step in the right direction. It’s going to be a make-or-break late summer and fall for the entire Seattle setup.
9. New York City FC
Just can’t get out of its own way.
On a day when Andrea Pirlo and David Villa combined for one of the sweetest goals of the season against fellow second-year club Orlando City, NYCFC still managed to concede in stoppage time and fail to win at home for the seventh time this year.
And while giving up two goals to Dax McCarty from corner-kicks is bad, that can’t be more embarrassing that letting Carlos Rivas assist a crucial game-tying goal.
It’s getting more and more difficult to see how NYCFC is going to make the playoffs. They’re going to need to win a number of games on the road in the summer and fall, which is just exceedingly rare to see in MLS.
10. Playoff Predictions
Save for a handful of Wednesday and Thursday night games, we’ve hit the Copa America break. So, a little less than halfway through the season, here are updated postseason picks.
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