MLS Week 10 Review
Seattle Tops NYCFC, Looks Like MLS Cup Contender
May 05, 2015
WEEK 10 OF THE MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER season saw the last remaining unbeaten team finally fall; contenders continue to emerge from the pack; and some of the prettiest build-up to goals ever seen in the league’s history.
The New York Red Bulls lost its "unbeaten" tag Saturday when it dropped a hard-fought and entertaining 2-1 decision to the surging New England Revolution. The Revs are now unbeaten in seven straight and are neck-and-neck with D.C. United atop the Eastern Conference.
Out west, the Seattle Sounders continue to serve notice that when it clicks on all cylinders it is going to be tough to beat. Meanwhile FC Dallas sent a message that it has recovered from a mini slump by going on the road and dominating cross-state rival Houston, 4-1.
But it was the teamwork, precision, and skill in a pair of goals that may be most memorable from this week’s slate of games.
First, watch the one-touch passing and off-the-ball movement that leads to this goal by the Revolution’s Teal Bunbury.
Then check out the series of vertical passes that go right up the spine to allow Obafemi Martins to score an insurance goal against New York City FC last night. It looked like a passing drill from training.
The best news for MLS and its fans is that goals like this, while not quite commonplace yet, are becoming more and more frequent this season—a sign that teams are relying on skill and cohesion to score goals as much as individuality, athleticism, and poor defending.
New England is 5-0-2 since losing its first two games of the season and is clicking at both ends of the field. More specifically, forward Charlie Davies has a goal in three straight games, showing that his form from last year’s playoffs, when he scored four goals and an assist in five post-season games, wasn’t a mirage. Just as importantly, Davies always has the best goal-scoring celebrations.
Against New York, the Revs brought Lee Nguyen, a 2014 MVP finalist, off the bench and he appeared to take that message to heart, playing with conviction and earning the assist on the goal shown above. It is the rare MLS team has the depth to be able to bench someone like Nguyen just to make a point but that is the lineup Jay Heaps and Mike Burns have built in Foxborough, Mass.
Adding to the depth, Jose Goncalves, the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year, also came off the bench after missing two games with a calf injury. His return enabled Jermaine Jones to move from the backline to his preferred midfield position.
Now with 17 points, the Revs are tied atop the Eastern Conference with once-beaten D.C., which has one game in hand. D.C. dispatched a good Columbus Crew team 2-0 at RFK, securing its fourth shutout in the process.
United was the top regular season team the last year and gave up the fewest goals. Ben Olsen's men are using that same formula this year, and the team's six goals allowed is tied with Seattle for best in the league. United has scored just 10 goals and no United player has more than two, but the players grind like no other team in MLS.
The one downside for United is that its success isn’t carrying over to the stands. On a beautiful spring evening with no other local teams playing at home, a first-place team drew an announced crowd of 13,107—making United’s season attendance average the lowest in MLS. This, despite playing in a Top 10 market that is affluent, diverse, and has a long history of supporting soccer.
Elsewhere, we’re not quite ready to say Toronto FC is hot but after losing four straight Greg Vanney's men have won two straight games, by shutout no less, the latest being a 1-0 win over hapless Philadelphia thanks to this awesome free kick by Italian international Sebastian Giovinco.
Out west, FC Dallas continues to see its form bounce around like an EKG reading. The team started the season 3-0-1, then dropped two straight—including an embarrassing 4-0 defeat at home to Colorado—and now it has gone 2-0-1 in its last three after traveling to Houston and stomping the Dynamo 4-1.
Fabian Castillo, who doesn’t turn 23 until next month, had a goal and two assists against Houston and has emerged as an MVP candidate for Dallas with four goals and five assists this season. FC Dallas is averaging 1.67 goals per game, making the Western Conference leaders the highest-scoring team in MLS.
Right on their heels, both in the standings (and with a game in hand) and the goal-scoring charts, is Seattle is nipping at FC Dallas' heels, and the Sounders made it three wins in a row after defeating New York City FC 3-1 at Yankee Stadium. Seattle is getting great productivity from its forwards: Obafemi Martins leads MLS with six goals while Clint Dempsey has five goals and four assists.
AND WHO’S NOT HOT
NYCFC continues to be less than the sum of its parts—despite being an expansion team. City is now winless in seven games and has lost three straight and five out of six. Goals have proven particularly elusive, with Mehdi Ballounchy’s tally against Seattle the club's sixth of the season. Or, put another way, the same number that Martins has scored by himself.
We’d be remiss not to raise a word of caution about New York’s other team here, too. Despite losing for just the first time Saturday, the Red Bulls only managed draws in its previous two games and have only scored one goal per game during this 0-1-2 run. If NYRB wants to be considered an elite team, it needs to step it up.
After a road tie against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Colorado is unbeaten in three games. That’s the glass half-full version. The flip side is that the Rapids have one win this season and are 0-3-1 in its ast four.
Also struggling is Real Salt Lake’s offense. Once the most dynamic attacking team in MLS, RSL have switched to a 4-3-3 formation this year and the team has struggled for goals all season. The club have only two goals in its last four games and one of those came via an own goal scored by San Jose in a 1-1 draw Friday.
On paper, Jeff Cassar’s men have the personnel to make a 4-3-3 work but right now it’s just not happening. A return to a 4-4-2 may be needed to jump-start the attack.
And no talk of who’s not hot in MLS would be complete without a reference to the Philadelphia Union, which has dropped three straight, is winless in four, and has been shutout four times during its 1-5-3 start.
At some point Union ownership needs to look for the common denominator in the club’s perennial failure and under-achieving. Head coaches and players and technical directors have come and gone while hands-on CEO Nick Sakiewicz remains. The problem for Union fans is that Sakiewicz has sweat equity in the club and that gives him an ownership stake that makes him hard to remove.
But the Sons of Ben are some of the best fans in MLS and deserve better. If Sakiewicz can’t orchestrate a turn-around, he should fall on his sword and realize the club might be better off with others running things, at least on the soccer side of the business.
NEITHER HOT NOR COLD
This is a special category we’ve implemented just for this year’s Los Angeles Galaxy, who appear to be pacing themselves, not playing badly but not playing particularly well, either. The defending champs' 3-2-4 record isn’t cause for panic but it has dropped four points the past two games after a home draw with Colorado.
The Galaxy are playing without reigning MVP Robbie Keane, who is nursing an injury that his sidelined him for most of the past month. When the club gets him back and when Steve Gerrard joins the team this summer, the Galaxy will boast an impressive starting XI. But they team is currently tied with Kansas City for fourth in the Western Conference and Bruce Arena's charges will need to start getting some wins to avoid falling further behind Seattle, Dallas, and Vancouver.
NATIONAL TEAM WATCH
After a series of hamstring injuries cause him to miss the last three United States national team friendlies, there was reason for concern when it came to Clint Dempsey. But Deuce’s form for the Sounders has been outstanding, as his previously mentioned stats suggest. That’s bad news for CONCACAF foes if Dempsey brings this level of form and productivity to the Gold Cup this summer.
Dempsey once formed an effective national team partnership with New England's Charlie Davies, and Davies' current form suggests he could be a nice bench option for Jurgen Klinsmann. When you include the end of last year and the playoffs, Davies now has 10 goals and four assists in his last 26 MLS games. He isn’t a likely starter for the U.S. but his pace and experience (four goals in 17 national team games) could be a nice option off the bench.
At the other end of the field, Perry Kitchen continues to excel at the defensive midfield position for D.C. United. Kitchen has his hand full in terms of battling the national team’s central midfield depth even though Klinsmann praised his performance in relief of Kyle Beckerman at the end of last month’s win over Mexico. Perry has the boss’s attention and helping United gut-out all of these low-scoring wins won’t hurt his chances.
Finally, on tournament rosters versatility is a key and fewer players in the U.S. pool are more versatile than Seattle’s Brad Evans. A midfielder most of his MLS career he moved to right back for the U.S. during World Cup qualifying in 2009 and scored a key road goal against Jamaica.
Now he’s playing center back for the Sounders and after a rough start that saw him struggle in a 3-2 loss to the Earthquakes in Week Two, Evans and center back partner Chad Marshall (who we also think should still be on Klinsmann’s roster) have only allowed three more goals.
FUTURE NATIONAL TEAMERS
While none of them found the scoresheet, 16 Americans who are eligible for youth national teams played in MLS this week, including seven who went 90 minutes. That’s good news for Andi Herzog, the U.S. U-23 national team coach who will be looking all summer at the pool of MLS players he can use this fall in Olympic qualifying.
Among those who went 90 this weekend were a handful eligible for this month’s U-20 World Cup. With a roster announcement from U.S. coach Tab Ramos imminent, Philadelphia midfielder Zach Pfeffer, Los Angeles forward Bradford Jameison IV, and Red Bulls center back Matt Miazga all went the distance. Jordan Allen started and played 40 minutes for Salt Lake and Cristian Roldan made a cameo for Seattle.
Additionally, 18-year-old Sebastian Saucedo got eight minutes for Salt Lake while Alejandro Zendejas, who at 17 is age-eligible for Richie Williams' team that will play in this year’s U-17 World Cup, made his MLS debut with four minutes for Dallas.
Brooke Tunstall is an American Soccer Now contributing editor and ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.