MLS is Back
MLS in Orlando: thoughts on Week 1: Crew rising, Seattle sinking & much more
July 14, 2020
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER is enjoying a great deal of the spotlight these days with many of Europe’s league’s over and England decided. Overall, it’s been very up and down in Orlando as teams are trying to readjust to games after a long layoff while playing meaningful games in the context of a tournament that is hopefully a one-off.
It is completely unfair to expect the games to be anything other than rusty. Teams have not played in four months and are now expected to play meaningful games that are in the heat of Florida, in the chaos of a “bubble,” during a global pandemic, and in-front of no crowds.
The overall quality of play is not close to mid-season form, or even at the 3-3 draw that LAFC and Philadelphia played to just before the shutdown, but most of the games have been eventful and some have been good. The only tough game to watch was Seattle and San Jose’s 0-0 draw on Friday.The optimist t’s probably been better than expected with some team’s probably improving over the course of the event.
Here are some of my thoughts through the first week of competition.
Zeleryan steals the show
Lucas Zelerayan lived up to top billing when he helped Columbus soar to a 4-0 blowout win over FC Cincinnati. It was a game where it was tough to tell if Columbus was this good or Cincinnati was this bad.
The Argentine playmaker had a goal and an assist in this one and was playing like Robbie Keane or Sebastian Giovinco – one of the players who could elevate a team by himself. His freekick goal was elite level.
U.S. national team forward Gyasi was clinical in his finishing and had two goals. Cincinnati’s defense was porous but Zardes will do well with proper service.
It was a learning experience for new Cincinnati manager Jaap Stam who saw his team play live for the first team and it probably hit him how far his team is away from competing at this level. A legendary defender in his time, Stam may or may not be a good manager but his team is so poorly constructed that, unless he’s in it for the long haul, he may never see this team compete well in MLS.
But the rebirth of Columbus is exciting. It is one of the original teams in the league and has played a huge role in getting the league to where it is today.
SKC & TFC blow leads
Another storyline of the first week was the 2-1 win from Minnesota United over Kansas City and Toronto’s 2-2 draw against DC United. For Kansas City and Toronto, it was a bitterly disappointing and both teams should have won. Minnesota scored two goals in stoppage time for the win and DC United scored twice in stoppage time for the draw.
SKC and TFC both had trouble hanging onto leads in 2019 and early 2020 so these results aren’t isolated events but rather part of an ongoing problem.
For TFC, it was the club’s second two-goal blown lead of the season and it gave up 18 points from winning positions in 2019. Manager Greg Vanney made the curious decision to sub both starting central defenders out of the game in the first half – despite DC United not having scored up to that point. That is a position where rhythm and chemistry is everything and where subs are rarely made outside of injury. In this case, Vanney made the strange move and it cost the team.
In complete control. Greg Vanney will be disappointed with the defending after his changes. #TFCLive give up a two goal lead for the second time this season. Gave up 18pts from losing positions last season including blowing leads down the stretch at Columbus, LAFC, Chicago, NE.— Kristian Jack (@KristianJack) July 13, 2020
Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City’s late game defense continued to struggle and the team lost as a result. When Minnesota raised its game late, Kansas City tried to sit back and absorb the pressure and failed in the end.
The good news is that Alan Pulido was sharp for Kansas City and the team should be fine with offense but Vermes will have to rethink his approach and the fact he was slow to make subs. Orlando will be a tough place to right the ship given the heat and limited breaks between games.
Duncan was stellar
Kyle Duncan was one of the best players through the first round of the tournament due to his outing in New York’s 1-0 win over Atlanta United.
Kyle Duncan: raw # for RBNY in 1-0 win v ATL— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 12, 2020
2 key passes*
6 aerials won**
67% passing 16/24
1 blocked shot
1/3 acc. crosses
1/5 acc. LBs
1/1 acc. TB@WhoScored MOTM
*most on RBNY
**most in game
There was so much talk among Red Bull fans when Michael Murillo was sold but Duncan has a higher ceiling and is one that has bright future. Had he not torn his ACL in 2018, he might have been where Reggie Cannon is at this stage. Duncan was probably the best player on the Red Bulls in the first two games of the season in March and he has not let up.
If the U.S. U-23 team restarts in 2020, Duncan could moving into a starting role should Cannon move up to the U.S. team on a full-time basis.
The Seattle Sounders have looked bad in their first two games in Orlando. The first 0-0 draw vs. San Jose was unwatchable and the 2-1 loss to Chicago on Tuesday also was a subpar effort.
The reigning champions are known for being slow starters that get better towards the second half of seasons but this year, the team does not have that luxury. We have no idea how short the season will be so a poor showing in Orlando could doom Seattle come playoff time.
Ramos and Houston show promise
LAFC and the Houston Dynamo played to an eventful 3-3 draw on Tuesday night. LAFC were lucky to escape with a point after falling behind 3-1.
For Houston, the team stylistically was similar to how the U.S. U-20 team played under Tab Ramos when it faced off against top opposition. It was defensive-oriented but not bunkering. Houston was methodical in the limited chances it had to score. Ramos also preaches defense from all of his players to win possession and quickly go at the other side.
For awhile it looked as if it was going to work but Diego Rossi and LAFC was too good in the end. There is a chance that once Houston hits midseason form and is strong fitness-wise, it will be able to close a game like this out. Ramos is just getting started.
LAFC’s backline lags behind its attack and Houston also played similarly to how Seattle played against LAFC in the 2019 playoffs when it pulled the upset. It is easy to point the finger at Carlos Vela not being in Orlando but LAFC can score goals even without the Mexican superstar. Whether or not it wins in Orlando or in the rest of 2020, the question will be the backline.
Galaxy’s woes continue
Prior to the shutdown, the Galaxy were a frustrated team because it could not score and forward Chicharito was starved for service.
That continued on Monday night in a 2-1 loss to Portland. While Chicharito scored the final goal of the match, he also missed a penalty and was invisible for long stretches. He is a very different player from Zlatan who could create his own chances and score from anywhere. Chicharito is a player that needs others to get him the ball close.
In signing Chicharito, the Galaxy didn’t seem to give enough thought as to how it would work in the context of his team. Where would the service come from? Who could get Chicharito the ball close to the net?
The result in the loss was that the Galaxy simply sent cross after cross from wide into the box and hoped for the best with Chicharito. With Portland picking up on this, there was no way for Chicharito to make his typical off-ball runs that are his signature move. Instead, he became a target forward.
Now heading into a rivalry game between the two Los Angeles teams, there are questions abound for both managers. It does seem like Chicharito will have a weaker backline to exploit but it won’t be about him. It will be about how it gets to him.