Another week of Major League Soccer is in the books. What were the major storylines to emerge out of the 2017 season’s sixth week of action?
Orlando City Debut the Diamond
For years, Jason Kreis’s Real Salt Lake played a 4-4-2 diamond formation. It helped them win an MLS Cup, appear in another, and make the playoffs every full season Kreis coached. When he left RSL to take over NYCFC, he never brought the diamond to the Bronx and was let go after one season.
Kreis went a half-year with Orlando City, who he took over in July of 2016, without using his signature formation. But, to bury the lede, it returned to a Kreis-coached team on Sunday in OCSC’s home win over the Red Bulls.
There were positives to build on and kinks to work out, but for the most part, it can be deemed a success. A 1-0 home victory against a good team like New York is always a solid result.
The problems with the formation start with Orlando’s ability to create attacking production from places outside of the strikers. Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas are great together, and they don’t necessarily need the support of a dedicated central creator, but Orlando’s lack of secondary options — i.e. overlapping full backs or attacking midfielders — can make their attacking patterns too predictable.
Matias Perez Garcia was the only other player in the starting lineup with any real attacking intent, and he is never going to make much of a difference by himself. Besides the occasional cross from overlapping right back Scott Sutter, there wasn’t much production going forward from places other than Larin and Rivas.
If you’re wondering why they only scored once, that would be why.
Larin and Rivas produced solid scoring chances mostly on their own, and forced Luis Robles to make a couple of crucial saves. But they’ve arguably been better this season when they have played with players on the wings. Eventually, Kreis put Giles Barnes on as a true winger and switched the formation to a flat 4-4-2, intending to add penetration in different areas of the field.
Defensively, it was better. Antonio Nocerino, playing at the base of the diamond, was injured midway through the first half and had to be replaced by Servando Carrasco, who played well in his absence. Will Johnson, a veteran MLSer with significant experience playing as a midfield shuttler in various diamonds, started with Cristian Higuita behind MPG in the forwards, and they formed a designated defensive shape:
At times, it resembled a narrow 4-3-1-2, with ‘outside’ central midfielders shuttling between the wing and the middle. Sacha Kljestan was ineffective, and they finally helped convince Jesse Marsch to switch back to the 4-2-3-1, so you could say they were effective.
The issues here stem from their ability to defend the wings. It’s not hard for clever teams to create odd-man situations on the flanks by pushing and pulling Higuita and Johnson so much. That’s another reason for the Barnes sub and formation switch.
I also see concern at the full back position, where Orlando don’t have either elite defenders or threatening attackers, which can hurt playing a formation that basically requires more reserved wing backs given their midfield personnel. There is no Justin Morrow or Chris Tierney flying up and down the sideline.
Still, there were plenty of positives to take from this contest, and, don’t forget, Kaka is still on the roster. Put him in Perez-Garcia’s position and see what happens.
Minnesota Find Stability, but Not Goals
The chaotic nature of Minnesota United matches so far this season necessitated their blockbuster deal with the Colorado Rapids last week. They acquired d-mid Sam Cronin and right back Marc Burch, both key factors of the Rapids’ record-breaking defense last year, and each of them got the start in Minnesota’s 2-0 loss in Dallas on Saturday.
That loss was considerably less hectic for the Loons, who managed to hold an angry FC Dallas side just coming off a heartbreaking loss in midweek. They held FCD to only two goals and could have had multiple goals of their own if not for an incredible performance from Jesse Gonzalez.
Starting Christian Ramirez up top and Johan Venegas in free role just behind him, Adrian Heath let his team move into a look that resembled a 4-2-2-2, and it helped them gain more numbers in the box without giving up too much on the other end. They threatened the goal numerous times in the second half by playing off of Ramirez’s hold-up play and clever movement from the wing. Gonzalez had to make a number of full-extension saves:
A problem for Minnesota is that while they were able to make the young keeper work, most of their big chances came on blasts from outside the box or individual moves. These are low-percentage. Don’t expect Sam Cronin to hit upper-corner screamers every week.
It’s progress, though. While they weren’t great chances, at least they were chances, and they look a bit better when considering they hung four last week against RSL. They’re capable of scoring some, and with newfound defensive organization from Cronin, they can now do that without sacrificing a ton on the other end.
Awards of the week
Let’s look at some of the best from week six:
Game of the week: TFC-Atlanta. Read more here.
MLS result of the week: 3-0 RSL over Vancouver, because they were coming off a 4-2 loss to Minnesota, of all teams.
Debut of the week: Kortne Ford, Colorado. The center back started in Kansas City, and John Strong told his incredible story on the FS1 broadcast.
Defender of the week: Ike Opara, SKC. Defender of the year, really.
MVP of the week: Dax McCarty, Chicago. He’s made the Schweinsteiger situation work in Chicago.
Team of the week:
GK: Jesse Gonzalez, FCD
RB: Steven Beitashour, Toronto
CB: Ike Opara, SKC
CB: Walker Zimmerman, FCD
LB: Seth Sinovic, SKC
LM: Romain Alessandrini, LA Galaxy
CDM: Dax McCarty, Chicago
CM: Carlos Carmona, Atlanta
RM: Michael Barrios, FCD
ST: Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC
ST: Dom Dwyer, SKC
— Montreal are not a playoff team right now. They lost 2-0 on the road to LA this week, putting them at three points and five goals from five games. Ignacio Piatti is injured, and they have no attacking plan B. Also, the midfield is too old and has no difference-maker.
For LA, they got Gyasi Zardes back and when he is paired up top with Giovani dos Santos, good things happen:
It’s been rare, but when dos Santos and Zardes connect, the Galaxy become an attacking juggernaut in a hurry: pic.twitter.com/5xaKYqR96E
— Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21) April 8, 2017
— The Fire picked up a 1-0 win against Columbus despite being without Juninho. I give McCarty a ton of credit for helping make up for Bastian Schweinsteiger’s deficiencies.
Columbus need to stop taking games off and start picking up points, or they’re going to regret it come the end of the season. They used three d-mids in Chicago — Wil Trapp, Artur, and Mohammed Abu — and lost opportunities for attacking production.
— New England’s 4-4-2 diamond is working pretty well. Orlando aren’t the only team finding success with the formation. The Revs moved Juan Agudelo back up top three weeks ago and have eight goals and seven points from those three games, including a 1-1 road draw in Portland. They beat Houston 2-0 at home on Saturday.
The Dynamo have played five games, three at home and two on the road. They have three wins and two losses. It’s time to figure out how to play on the road.
— D.C United beat NYCFC 2-1 at home, with the help of the generous RFK Stadium field. Bill Hamid is very good.
— Portland picked up a nice away win over Philadelphia. The Timbers score goals, plain and simple, and the backline has held up nicely over the last couple of weeks. It’s great to see a literal high school student — Marco Farfan — playing so well for them at left back.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, persist with Alejandro Bedoya as a No. 10, and that’s just not going to work. The Union have two points from five games, and this can be attributed to the lack of creative intent coming from players higher up the field than Haris Medunjanin.
— In Snowmageddon Part 2, Real Salt Lake beat Vancouver 3-0 in Mike Petke’s debut as head coach. I’m not taking too much from this game, because teams all across the world experience a sudden boost in performance in their first game with a new coach.
I will say, though, that Vancouver look very bad right now. Carl Robinson should have the hottest seat in the league.
— San Jose salvaged a home draw with Seattle thanks to a classic Chris Wondolowski equalizer at the death. I have confidence that the Quakes will start finding results, because that lineup looks better than 1-1 home draws.
— Sporting KC basically shut out Colorado if not for a garbage time penalty. SKC are playing incredible defense right now, and if that attack keeps working — Gerso Fernandes and Dwyer got going for the first time against the Rapids — then SKC could become serious Western Conference contenders.
The Rapids want to become more of an attacking team, and they started that process by trading Cronin and Burch and starting Bismark Adej-Boateng in central midfield next to Michael Azira. Shkelzen Gashi got an opportunity to be a No. 10, and while he didn’t show much, it’s hard to really impress when you’re distributing to Kevin Doyle.