MLS Week 14 recap
Steffen bids farewell, Colorado & Revs win under new coaches, & much more
June 03, 2019
Right now, in MLS, it’s pretty clear who the good teams are right now but there is a whole slew of mediocrity in the middle and bottom of each conference that the playoff race will be tight down to the stretch. Fortunately, the new playoff format will only give the better teams home games, so the weaker teams could very well see their playoff runs short-lived.
While a few teams had rough weekends, the cream of the crop this season is Atlanta, the Red Bulls, DC United, Philadelphia, LAFC, the LA Galaxy, and the Seattle Sounders. After that, there is everyone else.
We will see how that changes in the second half of the season but my guess is that it will remain those teams.
LAFC is the best
There is no question that LAFC is the best team in the league right now. It's 3-2 away win over Portland was outstanding. Portland obviously had the rush of playing in its upgraded stadium for its first home game of the year. But LAFC had none of it. LAFC could end up smashing records across the league with points and goal scored. They have picked up where Atlanta United left off after last season.
But for Portland, what a stadium.
A decade ago, there were prominent members of Portland's sports media who argued--loudly--that this was a waste of the city's time and money, that no one would go or care. Others (????) argued back, sometimes live on the radio. So, yes, this is special tonight pic.twitter.com/lZvy7TeyoA— John Strong (@JohnStrong) June 2, 2019
It is not unusual for teams to play well right off the bat when a new coach comes on board but the recent results from Colorado and New England are pretty eye-opening. Both teams were playing spectacularly bad soccer earlier in the season. Colorado’s Anthony Hudson went out in a blaze of glory after ripping his team’s lack of talent following a loss to Atlanta before being fired days later. In New England, the team flat out quit on Brad Friedel were it was on the wrong end of a string of embarrassingly lopsided results.
New coach sugar high in Colorado and New England?
On Sunday night, Bruce Arena and the Revolution strolled into the Stubhub center and walked away with three points following a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy, of course, are succeeding but are far from a complete team. Eventually, there is plenty of legitimate reasons to believe Guillermo Barros Schelotto will get the Galaxy back but right now, it’s Zlatan’s team and the team goes as far as he takes him – which can be far, but still not among the league’s elite.
The New England players right now look thrilled to have Friedel gone and are enjoying freedom. Arena should be able to win games with this team but over the next two seasons, look for a huge degree of player turnover. Winning on a consistent basis will still be tough with the current group.
Regardless, Sunday’s win over the Galaxy was still a huge upset – even if New England’s hopes still aren’t great with the current roster. The team contained Zlatan for all but one highlight reel moment at the end. It is still hard to determine if this is more due to the excitement of Friedel being gone or the boost of Arena. Either way, it doesn’t look good on Brad’s CV.
In case you were asleep last night when this happened. This is what you missed pic.twitter.com/2yDyNrj0Jb— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) June 3, 2019
Meanwhile, Colorado now has three wins and a draw in its last four games following a comfortable 3-1 win over a bad Cincinnati team. During that stretch, Colorado has won in Columbus, and at the Galaxy while also drawing away at Philadelphia. It is an interesting team as young players continue to play in Cole Bassett and now Jonathan Lewis. The offense is more effective.
But unlike New England, Colorado still has an interim coach in Conor Casey. Will it be tempted to continue to push forward with Casey? Or will it look for another coach? Perhaps Tab Ramos after the U-20 World Cup?
Red Bulls and Atlanta
The Red Bulls and Atlanta each won in convincing fashion over the weekend. It would hardly be surprising to see both teams finish first and second in the East again this year. But the identity of each team is pretty interesting right now.
For Atlanta, the Frank de Boer system is really taking root. It isn’t as freewheeling as it was under Tata Martino but defensively, it is becoming a nightmare to score against. It won two games this past week by a combined 5-0 score. Even when it loses, it takes a pretty outstanding effort to win (like the Savarino or Barlow goals which beat them during games in May). Pity Martinez is steadily, albeit slowly, improving to the point where he is an impact player. Josef Martinez can often tip the balance.
Atlanta is growing into a Frank de Boer team right now and you can see it when you compare it to his old Ajax teams. It’s not thrilling but it can be very effective. Atlanta is still a ways from where it could be under de Boer, but it is getting there.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, are the most system-oriented team in the league and it is very interesting. Whether it be Red Bulls II, the New York Red Bulls, RB Leipzig, or Red Bull Salzburg, there is an identity across the organization and the teams are playing the same way. It allows for smooth transitions between teams. RB Leipzig benefited from that with Tyler Adams. But the New York Red Bulls are getting similar benefit with the outstanding levels from players promoted from the Red Bulls II. Players who move up from its USL team are just very prepared to jump into RBNY’s MLS team. So the team is very deep. Chris Armas has done well to keep the ship moving in that direction.
This last goal pointed that out as Omir Fernandez scored the team's final goal off an assist from Andres Ivan. Fernandez now has either a goal or an assist for every 101 minutes. Not a bad rate for a rookie.
In his rookie year with #RBNY, playing a lot of ‘garbage’ minutes, Omir Fernandez is averaging a goal/assist every 101 minutes.— Once a Mehtro (@Once_A_Metro) June 2, 2019
On Saturday, the Red Bulls crushed Real Salt Lake 4-0 with all the goals coming in the second half. One again, so much of the heavy lifting was done by players who came through the club’s USL team. But with Bradley Wright-Phillips still injured and Kaku’s future murky, it will be interesting to see if the team will spend money in the summer.
Steffen says farewell
Zack Steffen said his goodbye to Columbus on Saturday in his final game for the club. He will now report to the U.S. national team for the Gold Cup and then leave for Europe to continue his career. Back in January he signed a contract with Manchester City but was loaned back to Columbus for the first half of the season.
It is widely expected that Steffen go on loan somewhere within Europe in the fall. One likely destination is Girona in Spain. The problem, however, is that Steffen’s lack of an EU passport limits presents hurdles in many European countries.
Steffen went the distance on Saturday in a 2-2 draw against New York City and made some nice saves.
But this was a great run for Steffen at the Crew. After an outstanding 2015 U-20 World Cup, Steffen moved to Germany where he had a tough time off the field at Ingolstadt. He moved back to the United States, grew up, developed, became the U.S. team’s number one, and is now signed to one of the best teams in the world.
What to make of Philadelphia?
Philadelphia sit atop the MLS Eastern Conference now and winning away on Sunday to Minnesota by a 3-2 score is impressive. The winning goal came from a great individual effort from U.S. U-23 central defender Auston Trusty out of the backline.
But a look at the team’s past four games gives a mixed bag.
It began with a scoreless draw against Seattle where Philadelphia outplayed Seattle but couldn’t find a goal. Then it lost at home to Portland 3-1. The last Wednesday, it played to a disappointing 1-1 home draw against Western Conference cellar dwellers Colorado. While it beat Minnesota on Sunday, it was outplayed but managed to find the goals against the run of play.
The result is just one loss in its last four, but never convincing soccer. Philadelphia will make the playoffs this year and might just find its first-ever postseason win. But when will it dominate a game against a playoff-caliber team and not just scrap a result? Philadelphia is good and its roster has a nice balance to it. It is hard not to be encouraged if you are a Union fan. But this team isn’t feared yet the way other contending teams are.
San Jose surge
Before the season, I thought there was no chance San Jose would make the playoffs. But Matias Almeyda (like Frank de Boer) has overcome early season skepticism and done a great job. I agree with Matthew Doyle that it is “fun to watch.”
The team has rebounded nicely from last season and Almeyda is putting together a nice system. Over the next few windows, there could be roster turnover to find better players for that system. But this team could very well get into the playoffs this year. The 1-1 away draw with DC United was useful.
But how about Nick Lima playing left back as well. That could be an interesting position for him – although he will likely stay on the right with the national team. After a poor start to the season, Lima is now playing well.
But watch this play where Lima takes Leonardo Jara to school off the dribble.
This play was both well executed by Lima and embarrassing from Jara. Jara makes no effort once beaten and simply just stands around. Jara is at DC United, on loan from Boca Juniors, where he is playing for the first time in his career outside his native Argentina. He’s good at offense but his defense is so bad. On this play, he came into the game in the first half – which is always hard – and was still rusty. But ouch.