We saw our first slate of mid-week games on Wednesday. The evening started with a match between the Colorado Rapids and Sporting Kansas City, won by the Rapids after a couple fortuitous bounces and Shkelzen Gashi's first MLS goal. Don't look now, but Colorado have Jermaine Jones arriving in the lineup next week, and without some critical Zac MacMath errors, they could be among the best in the league (more on that later).
The next two games saw comfortable victories for the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas. The Quakes easily defeated the New York Red Bulls at home, while FCD used high-pressure up top to down the Portland Timbers in Dallas, putting them at the top of the league.
What to watch for this weekend
D.C. United sputtered out of the gates to begin this year, scoring just three goals in their first five MLS matches while accumulating just three points; they appeared to be feeling the effects of their offseason losses. They struggled to produce much on goal despite the addition of Argentine attacker Luciano Acosta, confirming the predictions of many pundits that they would have trouble after seeing multiple core members of last year's team depart in the offseason.
The reason for those struggles are varied, but coach Ben Olsen was able to cool off his hot seat at least for the moment by producing four goals in a dominating win over the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday.
Their offensive difficulties are far from solved—Alvaro Sabario isn't going to score a brace every week—but they were able to gain some confidence with their impressive victory. DCU have another opportunity to grab a big three points at home on Saturday against Toronto FC.
In this game, it is key for the home side that Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore are at least somewhat neutralized, because if they aren't, Travis Worra will have a rough night in goal. But that's something that every team facing TFC have to do—and I covered how New England negated the duo in last week's Post-Mortem—so we'll focus on the offensive end this week. The biggest thing there for United is Acosta, who has been a curious case so far this season.
Acosta, acquired on loan from Boca Juniors in the offseason, showed plenty of talent on the ball in the CONCACAF Champions League, but has yet to play a full 90 minutes in Major League Soccer. That decision has been put into question by fans, as D.C. have experienced struggles in chance creation early on in the season. But Acosta's teammate Marcelo Sarvas told MLSsoccer.com it was just part of adjusting to a new league:
"If you look at the history in this league, all the good players, talented midfielders, No. 10s that are very rare in this league, their first season is always hard," the veteran midfielder said. "It’s not Lucho. It’s how it is.
"I’ve been talking to him," Sarvas added. "It’s more about to keep him motivated. Always, when you come overseas, you think you’re going to be playing, everything is going to be a dream and a paradise. But the reality is a little bit different."
He will get there. But in the meantime, the Black and Red could definitely use some of his skills and playmaking ability at the number-ten spot. Just look at what he did against the Whitecaps:
That was one of two assists Acosta delivered to Saborio after coming on as a substitute in the 77th-minute. He deserves a chance at a starting XI place.
New York City FC have had an interesting campaign thus far. Their only win came on opening day—a hectic 4-3 decision against the Chicago Fire—and have lost just once, 1-0 against Orlando City a few weeks ago. They go out on the road for the next two weeks after four straight matches at home, playing Saturday in Columbus following draws in three of their last four.
The Crew have struggled recently, allowing NYCFC some hope at nabbing a full three points for the first time since March 6. The visitors have relied on the success of their attacking midfielders—namely Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud—so far this season, as well as the rest of their ever-changing front five.
Take a look at the attack's passing chart from last week's 0-0 draw with Chicago:
They overload the area outside the box, putting pressure on the opposing defensive midfield and using their possession in this area to find David Villa and the other forwards running in behind. Columbus has had trouble dealing with pressure in that area of the field, so watch for that to be an issue for them on Saturday.
Rapids look good
The Colorado Rapids faced Sporting KC on Wednesday night, as mentioned before, and they grabbed a nice win in Kansas City. In that game, the Rapids played a lineup that featured multiple changes, and saw it work well.
For one, Dillon Serna got an opportunity in the starting XI and looked pretty good at right-back, and Eric Miller, another young defender, played a serviceable match at center-back. They let Marco Pappa, their top chance creator, play in the middle and have free reign, therefore allowing speedy attacker Dominique Badji to run up and down the right wing. They're not a skillful attacking team, but if they take their chances and play well on the counter, they'll do just fine, because the defense can do the job.
Colorado are not a fun team to watch. But they get the job done, because they sit deep, play physical and they make defensive plays like this:
They keep the ball out of the net, plain and simple. The Rapids have the second-least amount of goals allowed in MLS, and it would be less if MacMath didn't have two crucial errors that lead to dropped points. The backline is always organized—save for SKC's goal on Wednesday, when a center-back miscommunication led to Dom Dwyer being wide open on a cross—and Sam Cronin is quietly playing like one of the best number-sixes in the league.
Jermaine Jones should be in the starting lineup when the Red Bulls come to town on Saturday, adding a box-to-box talent they don't really have when Dillon Powers is played as a number-ten, and he usually is. Galaxy fans, don't get too worried about the Rapids yet, because they still lack incisiveness around the box offensively and have trouble producing an end product, but they are a team that, if they keep up what they've been doing recently, could find themselves in playoff contention later in the season.
In the meantime, they face New York this weekend, a team who failed to score again against San Jose mid-week. RBNY have some serious offensive problems, so watch for Colorado to possibly grab another shutout. That only happens, of course, if MacMath doesn't make another howler.
The Rapids can't wait until Tim Howard arrives.