Decision Day analysis
Red Bulls Triumph & RSL back in while Dallas, Atlanta, and Galaxy choke
Decision Day 2018 was not without drama as it brought about three spectacular chokes. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls continue to be well run and earn another piece of silverware. Brian Sciaretta is here with his thoughts.
BY Brian Sciaretta PostedDECSION DAY 2018 in MLS was a good one. It provided unexpected and stunning results with some wild entertainment. It is further proof that the decision a few years ago to have all the team’s play on the same time of the final day was a great one.
October 29, 2018
October 29, 2018
The theme of this year’s decision day was choking. The LA Galaxy, Atlanta United, and FC Dallas all had a lot riding in their final games and were all gift-wrapped opponents who failed to make the playoffs. Every single one of them came up empty.
The three biggest winners of Decision Day were the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and, funny enough, Real Salt Lake – which was the one team who didn’t even play. To RSL’s credit, it’s twitter account provided entertainment cheering for Houston over the Galaxy.
Lozz Angelez https://t.co/uyvUDfFNmc— Real Salt Lake (@realsaltlake) October 28, 2018
Here is a deeper dive
Disaster for the Galaxy
On Friday’s weekend preview, I said the Galaxy – Houston was one of the 10 things to watch this weekend because it was going to be a treat watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic run through the Houston defense as if he was James Bond and the Dynamo played the role of anonymous henchman. Zlatan had been on war path lately and was carrying the Galaxy almost by himself.
I said there was no chance the Galaxy was going to lose this game.
Ooops. I was very, very wrong.
The Galaxy actually had a 2-0 lead at halftime but suffered a stunning collapse at home to lose 3-2 and finish in seventh place. For the first time in six games, Zlatan did not score.
It’s a bummer for the league’s PR machine to have the Galaxy miss out on the playoffs because Zaltan is a master entertainer in addition to be being a master footballer. He makes people want to tune in. Then national appeal of RSL is a fraction of Zlatan.
But this is probably good for the Galaxy in the long term. Zlatan’s 22 goals and 10 assists this year singlehandedly covered up an organization that has not been run well for a long time. If Zlatan wasn’t there this year, the Galaxy would probably be found at the bottom of a Western Conference that has some very bad teams.
Zlatan left the stadium before he could address the media. That certainly doesn’t give the impression that he’s coming back for a second year in California. This team needs a rebuild and that probably starts with the front office, the coaching staff, and finally the players.
Had the Galaxy snuck into the playoffs, or even advanced, it would have kicked the can down the road in terms of making changes. Now, there is no excuse for addressing the many needed changes.
Questions surround Atlanta
All Atlanta needed to do on Sunday to win the Supporters Shield was defeat an eliminated and bad Toronto team. Atlanta didn’t just fail to win, it failed to show up.
Losses certainly do happen and Atlanta had great season, but the Red Bulls were better and deserved the Shield.
But questions must be asked about how Atlanta comes up short in big games when a lot is on the line.
It lost both games to the New York Red Bulls in 2018 by a multigoal margin (3-1 at home in May and 2-0 on the road in September when the Red Bulls were without Tyler Adams and Bradley Wright-Phillips). It lost at home against Chicago in the U.S. Open Cup (it was the first round Atlanta had to play MLS-level opposition). Now needing a win for a Supporters Shield, it again came up empty.
So much about the MLS playoffs is mentality. The season is a marathon but the playoffs are a sprint. In situations where Atlanta needed those specific wins, it didn’t deliver.
As good as Atlanta has been, there are a lot of questions about why this team doesn’t deliver in big games. And if you’re a fan of the Mexican national team, your team’s next coach is responsible for this.
Red Bull triumph
The Red Bulls were masterful this season and finished with 71 points in the regular season. Unlike Atlanta, the Red Bulls had answers in big games.
The Red Bulls have now won three Supporters Shields in six years with three different coaches at the helm on Decision Day. The players come and go but the organization thrives because the system is working so well at the moment.
No other organization has a better developmental path with local young players. It starts with the academy.
Then the team’s USL team continues to be among the best in its league (Red Bulls II defeated top seeded FC Cincinnati on the road in the playoffs on Saturday) while, and more importantly, providing a seamless transition to the first team.
The organization sells top developed players to Europe better than any other team in the league.
Finally, the Red Bulls team continues to be among the best in the league year after year despite coaching changes and player sales. The system just works so well.
The missing piece of the equation is MLS Cup – which it is yet to win. For neutral fans looking for a team to support in the playoffs, the Red Bulls make a solid case as a team that really does things well.
Let down in Philadelphia
When New York City hosted the Philadelphia Union on Decision Day, it seemed as if Union had the advantage. Philadelphia had been playing well and New York City had been tanking ever since Patrick Vieira left in June.
Last week the Philadelphia Union lost to the Red Bulls but still played well against an outstanding opponent.
Against New York City in the Bronx, the Union were awful and something appeared to be wrong. It was not the type of performance you want to have heading into the playoffs. The body language and expressions of the players reflected frustration.
Yes, the narrow Yankee Stadium pitch is a poor fit for some teams, but that’s no excuse for this.
Union losing 3-1 and yelling at each other: pic.twitter.com/eVmctDqkeJ— Kevin Kinkead (@Kevin_Kinkead) October 28, 2018
Jim Curtin has a lot to work on as the same two teams will meet at the same location this week in the playoffs. But in addition to tactics, Curtin now has to worry about confidence and team unity.
Is Seattle a favorite to reach MLS Cup again?
Seattle Sounders are becoming known for their second half surges and over the past two years, Seattle has carried its momentum from the season into the playoffs to reach MLS Cup.
This team is tougher to get a read on.
Seattle finished the season with five straight wins although none of the opponents in this stretch finished in the playoff positions. Seattle has actually still lost its two most recent games against playoff-caliber opponents. If the favored LAFC advances past Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the playoffs, it will face Seattle.
Against LAFC, it will face a team that is very well coached and has more talent that any of Seattle’s recent opponents.
That being said, the only other Western Conference team heading into the playoffs with momentum is Sporting Kansas City. All the rest are liming into the postseason.
Crew avoid disaster
The Columbus Crew came into Decision Day needing a win to be safe. Due to a delayed start, however, it knew it had clinched a postseason spot before its game against Minnesota started.
After losing to Orlando last weekend, another loss would have been a real blackmark on a season where the team’s supporters fought off a relocation and one where its head coach is likely to take over the job for the men’s national team.
In the end, the Crew snuck into the playoffs but heading to DC is going to be a really tough task as United has been a very, very tough opponent at him since the arrival or Wayne Rooney.