Four Wednesday night games this week. Lots to cover so let’s get straight into it:
Atlanta United 5, Houston Dynamo 0
Matthew Doyle: I know that there are probably other issues on people’s minds after these games, but let’s start here, Bobby: It looks to me like Houston are cooked. Their 5-0 loss at Atlanta last night started with comedy (Marlon Hairston’s miss), moved quickly to farce (Alberth Elis’s petulant and utterly deserved sending off), and ended in tragedy (everything about how the Dynamo have been playing lately).
They weren’t great to start the season, but they were at least “pretty good.” And now… yikes.
Bobby Warshaw: Watching Houston play down a man gave us a chance to see the skeleton. We got to see the real structure underneath the Alberth Elis-golazo tan and muscles. When you’re playing with 10, you have to rely on your team shape and coordination. You literally need to play as more than the sum of the parts to give yourself a chance.
Sit in your lines, remain compact, usher the ball wide, get to the spots early, track runners. It’s difficult to play down a man, but it’s not as difficult as Houston made it look. The Dynamo got dragged all over the place. You can mask structural deficiencies when it’s 11-v-11 and you have talented players who cover ground and win duels. But, ultimately, the quality of your team generally comes back to that skeleton, that structure. It’s not a surprise that this Houston team, whose structure hasn’t looked right since April, got rocked when they went down a player. Their skeleton couldn’t sustain the pressure.
MD: I agree with that, but also: Aren’t Tomas Martinez (24), Romell Quioto (27), Mauro Manotas (24) and Elis (23) veterans at this point? Shouldn’t we expect them to have figured out how to bring consistent effort and production week after week at this age, regardless of team structure?
These guys are in their respective primes at this point. If this is what they are, I think Houston fans are right to feel frustrated and a little bit let down.
BW: Is there anything worth taking from Atlanta, or would anything less than 3-0 over this Houston team have been a disappointment?
MD: Nothing to take from this from an Atlanta perspective in my opinion. They just need to exhale, enjoy the three points, and get their focus on D.C. United. That’s the big one for them this week.
New England Revolution 4, Vancouver Whitecaps 0
BW: Okay… onto to New England vs. Vancouver then. What’d you think of the 4-1-4-1 that New England used in their 4-0 win?
MD: It is bizarrely fun to see a Bruce Arena team play this way – flooding central midfield with mostly very technical players, interchanging a ton, and pushing both fullbacks way up to the endline in order to pin Vancouver waaay the hell back.
They outshot the ‘Caps 17-0 in the first half, out-possessed them 65-35%. Vancouver were going to park the bus no matter what – that’s what they crossed the country to do – but New England made them park it. This is the chalkboard of Vancouver’s successful passes in the first 45:
Exactly one came within 50 yards of goal, and that was a back-pass.
The Revs are good, and the Revs are fun. The Brad Friedel era seems like a century ago.
BW: That’s what I imagine your insides look like – lots in the belly region and pretty empty up in the soul area.
You and I were talking before the game about how the Revs could arrange their lineup. You guessed a 4-2-2-2; I guessed a traditional 4-3-3. We were both wrong. We were both thinking too simple, and not nearly enough like Arena. Arena’s Galaxy teams were fluid and unpredictable, and he’s tried to take the same thing to Foxboro. He gave Gustavo Bou, Carles Gil, Juan Agudelo, and Teal Bunbury what looked to me like complete freedom to roam, find the ball, and fill in the gaps.
MD: They keep giving him reasons to trust them to do stuff like that. Even when they came out in the second half and weren’t quite as sharp – the ‘Caps definitely could’ve gotten one on the break – they all, as a unit, eventually figured it out. And that’s how 1-0 ended up as 4-0.
BW: It feels safe to call the Revs the current “If you haven’t seen them play lately — and nobody would blame you for that — it’s time to turn them on” nameplate holder.
MD: And we just shouldn’t mention the ‘Caps, right?
Toronto FC 3, New York Red Bulls 1
BW: The next game up was Toronto hosting the Red Bulls. This, to me, was the matchup of the two teams most likely to make it to MLS Cup out of the East at the moment (you know I really like Philadelphia, but I need to see them win a big game in a big moment to fully trust them). I think I feel the same way coming out of the game. Both teams were good at the thing they are very good and the thing that they would ride through the playoffs. Toronto looked confident in possession and broke lines well, and Red Bulls found times to press and make the game chaotic.
MD: I feel like you’re giving Toronto too much credit here. They struggled to create anything the entire game, but were bailed out by Jozy Altidore’s absolute stunner, two moments of madness from the RBNY fullbacks and a heroic performance from Quentin Westberg.
I don’t know. I feel about TFC kind of the same way that I feel about Atlanta – they completely underwhelm me, but at the same time I’m totally aware that they have so much talent they’re likely to just brute force a situation.
Maybe it’s Jozy scoring on a backheel, or maybe it’s Alejandro Pozuelo being a wizard, or maybe something else. But… that’s kind of it. They don’t build chances like they did in 2017, and they’re so vulnerable at the back (still) that I’m finding it hard to believe, even if they’ve got a couple of wins on the trot now.
Totally opposite feeling about the Red Bulls. They have complete buy-in with regard to their identity, but still lack the top-end talent necessary in the attacking third. It showed tonight.
BW: That RBNY statement feels right to me. If you’re Denis Hamlett, then, do you roll the dice on bringing in a new attacker and hoping he figures out the system? Or do you ride what you have and hope they outperform the percentages three games in a row?
MD: I think they have to bring in a new attacker. They’ve felt like they’re one piece away since 2015, and from my armchair (which is really a recliner – my whole brand is a lie) that piece is a high-level, attacking winger. They need someone who can win them a game based on talent.
BW: I completely understand the urge to sign another piece, yet I think I’d prioritize the system over new talent on this. But we can expand on that conversation another day.
Chicago Fire 2, Columbus Crew 2
MD: Let’s wrap up the night with Chicago’s home draw against Columbus, which in my mind basically eliminates the Fire. They just got one point from two home games against FC Cincinnati and the Crew, who are – by the numbers – the two worst teams in the league.
If there was going to be a playoff push from the Fire, this was gonna be the week. It wasn’t.
BW: If Chicago had lost, we could have thrown them into the marinating bag with Houston. Right now, they are only defrosting on the counter. As such, I’m not giving up on them… mostly because I don’t want to. I want the Fire to be good; when the Fire are good, they play soccer that’s fun and makes the world a better place. I don’t want to quit them; I can’t quit them.
MD: You like lousy rom-coms tho.
BW: I do. I really do.
Which reminds me, are we still doing the La La Land viewing party this weekend?
MD: You need to watch Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s better.
But let me ask you this: Which rom-com best sums up the final 20 minutes for Chicago? They were completely in charge of that game through 70 minutes, then decided to bunker, at home, up 2-1, against a Crew team that has one win since April 6.
This was an utterly inexplicable coaching decision to me. It let the Crew get comfortable, it let the Crew get chances, and it let the Crew get a point. Is there a rom-com for this, Bobby?
BW: If you knew anything about rom-coms, Matthew, you’d know that they never go wrong in the end.