Armchair Analyst: All 24 MLS teams in review | Week 30 analysis
There were six games on at the same time, and then there were six other games on at the same time. So don't expect any great tactical insights here. You've been warned!
Let's talk some soccer:
For the past two months it's looked like the Revs were just going to back into the playoffs with no real signature moments – and certainly not signature wins – to speak of down the stretch. And now, thanks to the result at Foxborough on Saturday evening, they've got both.
First, the signature moment:
Yeah, you probably thought I was going to go with Teal Bunbury's opener (which was very nice) or Gustavo Bou's coup de grace (which was spectacular), but nah. Matt Turner is the difference-maker for the Revs, a match-winner between the sticks unlike anyone else in the league right now. If they go down 1-0 to the Pigeons right there, I don't think New England claw their way back into this one. They're just not built to play from behind.
Thanks to Turner, who should be the Goalkeeper of the Year, they once again didn't have to. And instead of backing into the postseason, they'll make their first trip there since 2015 in real style. A win over NYCFC — even an injury- and suspension-hit NYCFC — is no joke. This was a real moment for the Revs, and gives them real reason to both celebrate, and believe they're capable of even more next month.
The Cityzens clinched the No. 1 spot in the East despite the loss. They have earned it, and the way this team has played over the past five months is a great argument for 1) juego de posición, and 2) being patient with a new coach. Dome Torrent had a point to prove when he arrived last year, and he's well on his way to doing so.
Two things stuck out to me in this one:
- Both these teams were playing at 9,000 RPM. It was demolition derby, and every 50/50 ball was a car crash.
- The Red Bulls are going to break somebody's heart on a set piece this postseason.
New York are still just so well-drilled and creative on restarts. D.C. are one of the best teams in the league defending on set pieces, but Bill Hamid was tested repeatedly. He put in an A+ performance, which was the biggest reason this game finished scoreless.
Both teams need to keep up this level of engagement next month, because neither has nearly enough attacking talent to do damage in the playoffs without I'm-going-to-run-through-this-wall-level intensity.
The nightmare scenario for any team that's already clinched a playoff spot is not to lose one of these games and maybe drop down from second to third, but it's to lose a starter to injury. And it looks like that's what may have happened to Philly, whose captain, Alejandro Bedoya, limped off just before halftime with a non-contact injury. Bedoya is the engine in that central midfield, and the fact that he wears the armband should say plenty about what he means as a leader.
Even before the injury, though, Philly looked sluggish. They have more individual weapons than either D.C. or RBNY, but like those teams they still need to play pretty close to the edge to be anything close to a good bet. They didn't do it, and Columbus took advantage.
The Crew have relished playing spoiler over the past few months, and have only one loss since July 13.
Chicago are one of the teams whose season Columbus spoiled, but they did a good job of spoiling themselves as well. They had to have known that Toronto were going to throw their fullbacks forward early in the play, yet for the third game in a row Aleksandar Katai did not start. Then when he came on...
Obviously with New England winning it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Chicago could've won 5-0 and still would've been eliminated on the day. It just felt like a weird, and yet perfectly appropriate way for their playoff hopes to officially come to an end.
The Reds both live and die by that overlap, and I'm just not sure they have enough defensive solidity, ball-winning ability and range to take such risks in the playoffs. They are a high ceiling, low floor team.
The Impact were another team who saw the curtain ring down. It's worth remembering that at one point they were 9-7-3, comfortably in a playoff spot and with nine of their final 15 games left at home. They should've made it with room to spare.
Obviously they did not, and I do suspect another winter rebuild is in the works.
As for Atlanta, they got Ezequiel Barco back into the lineup, but I still question how much that actually is going to help:
If you're going to be a high-level attacking player you have to make this very obvious pass to put Justin Meram into space, and you have to do so with zero hesitation. That's the whole point of having wingbacks.
Atlanta climbed up to second in the East thanks to a draw, and have a good chance of staying there given the difficulty of Philly's game (they host NYCFC) next week. But it's pretty clear they are nowhere near the same without Josef Martinez.
Cincy put in their fourth straight excellent defensive performance, but did finally set a new mark for goals conceded in a season thanks to Benji Michel's equalizer in second-half stoppage.
Both these rosters will look quite different next year.
We were so convinced that Colorado's season was done that Bobby Warshaw did their obituary last week. But the Rapids still live. If they go to LAFC and win next week, and both San Jose and FC Dallas lose, then the Rapids will have made the biggest miracle run to the postseason in league history, surpassing what Seattle did in 2016. This is a team that began the year 0-9-2. They've gone 12-6-4 since then with wins over pretty much everyone that matters in the West playoff race. It's been a staggering and legitimately fun turnaround.
Nothing much to speak of was fun for Dallas, who went 0-2-2 in September. But they somehow still control their own destiny: A home win next week over Sporting KC means there will be a postseason in Big D.
But this is MLS, and strange things can happen.
Jeremy Ebobisse had what might've been a season-saving week for the Timbers. First came his midweek brace in a 2-2 draw against New England, and then came this nice little run that drew what would become the game-tying penalty:
I'm a big Ebobisse fan, and I do think the numbers speak for themselves: 11 goals (12 in all comps) in his first season as a starter, including most of the truly big ones Portland have gotten this year (the winner in their first victory; the only goal in their USOC quarterfinal win at LAFC; the equalizer against Sporting at home last month; both goals on Wednesday against New England). He's still not a killer in the box, but you can count on one hand the number of American strikers who had 12 or more goals in their age 22 season.
This little run was just as important as any of those finishes, both for what it led to and what it might mean for Ebobisse's short- and long-term development. The knock on him has been that he's not a great finisher (fair, though he's clearly improving) and that he's not particularly clever at finding dangerous space off the ball in the build-up.
But there he is, in a huge situation in a huge game, channeling his inner Wondo.
Ebobisse will have to do more of that next week, as the Timbers will be without Brian Fernandez on Decision Day presented by AT&T. The Argentine attacker came into the league with a bang, but he's melted down in the second half of the season first with a brutal slump, then with a prolonged illness (reportedly a stomach bug). On Sunday he capped it off with a red card.
Fernandez scored in each of his first five regular-season appearances. He finished the year by scoring in just three of his final 14, and I honestly don't know if he'll be a starter in the playoffs if the Timbers make it.
Dallas, Portland and San Jose all have control of their own destiny: Win and they're in. But obviously the Quakes – also in full meltdown mode – have the steepest hill to climb given they have to go on the road against a desperate Portland team and probably need to get a win to get in.
They'll do so without starting right back Tommy Thompson, who was (justifiably IMO) sent off in this one. Matias Almeyda was once again unhappy with the calls, but the real culprit was his team's lack of finishing (zero goals on 23 shots worth 2.36 xG), and, well, this:
This is the kind of thing that can cost you a playoff spot.
San Jose have now lost five straight, and next weekend is almost certainly win-or-die. The Sounders climbed up to third with a very, very fortunate win. They ought to send Magnus Eriksson a fruit basket, and Stefan Frei (who was magnificent) should never ever have to buy his own drinks in the state of Washington.
The 'Caps had scored more than two goals in a game just once all year. They'd scored more than one goal in a game just twice in the past three months. There's just no explaining this Galaxy team, or this game, so just watch the highlights:
LA and Toronto are basically the same: You could tell me they go into the playoffs and just stop their way through the competition scoring four goals a game, or you could tell me they lose 5-4 in the first round and everybody screams bloody murder. Either scenario seems plausible to me.
I mentioned it earlier in the column, and we've been talking about it a lot down the stretch on Matchday Central: You need match-winners. Having a great coach and a great system matters a ton in the modern game, as do things like home field advantage and match-ups and all on down the list. But one of the boxes to check, way up near the top, is "talent." And after the past month, there were real questions about RSL's talent-level compared to the other teams in the Western Conference.
Those questions are still there, and will stay there into the playoffs. But if there's one guy who has the look of a high-level match-winner in attack for this team, it's Jefferson Savarino. So seeing the Venezuelan winger put the ball into the back of the net in this one – literally scoring the match-winner – had to put a smile on Freddy Juarez's face.
The win means RSL still have a shot at hosting a playoff game. If they win next week at Vancouver, and the Seattle vs. Minnesota game produces a winner (i.e., the teams don't play to a gentleman's draw), the Claret-and-Cobalt will pip whoever loses that game and climb either into third or fourth place, depending upon what the Galaxy manage in their trip to Houston. Even if the Loons and Sounders do tie, RSL can claim fourth with a win and a Galaxy draw or loss.
LAFC are one win away from setting a new record for total points in a season, and three goals away from tying the record for most goals in a season, and have already set the record for best goal differential. They are the best team in MLS.
But any air of invincibility is long gone. Minnesota United were totally content to absorb LAFC's pressure when they had to, and then totally willing to send numbers forward when those moments presented themselves. The Loons were unlucky not to walk away with the full three points on Sunday.
Against the 2nd-through-4th seeds in the West, LAFC have walked away with all three points just once in six meetings this year – way back in April when they beat Seattle 4-1. Since then they're 0-2-3 combined against Seattle, LA and Minnesota. None of those teams is going to be scared at the prospect of playing in downtown LA next month.
The good news for LAFC is that they finally got Carlos Vela back out on the right wing where he belongs:
The Loons, meanwhile, are one point – or one kind result from elsewhere – from getting themselves at least one home game in the playoffs. They have gone 9-3-5 since the Gold Cup break, and are a pure "we're not going to beat ourselves, but we'll go ahead and wear you down and wait for you to beat yourself" bunch. In this game it was a busted offside trap on a restart, and that's the exact kind of moment that a veteran team should expect to capitalize upon.
Beyond that, Minnesota have a very "next man up" approach. When Angelo slumped, Mason Toye took his chance. Now it's Toye slumping, and when Angelo got on he changed the game (he didn't score, but still). Hassani Dotson keeps giving this team big minutes and big moments, and new guy Wilfried Moimbe filled in nicely for the suspended Chase Gasper, and so on down the list.
It's a good identity, and a good way to go into the last game of the season.