MLS week nine began on Wednesday with three mid-week matches. All three finished 1-1; some teams were pleased with the result and some weren't.
First, Dominic Oduro and the Montreal Impact rescued a point from New York City FC at Yankee Stadium with a 91st-minute header goal from the winger, meaning NYCFC only have seven points despite playing six of their eight matches at home. The Portland Timbers then drew with the New England Revolution thanks to a late own goal for the Revs, with Timbers center-back Jermaine Taylor seeing it deflect off him and skip past Jake Gleeson in the 89th-minute.
The final game of the evening was a draw between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Sporting Kansas City. Kendall Waston's red card early in the second half severely damaged Vancouver's hopes at defeating a weakened SKC side.
Onto this weekend's games:
Sleepless in Seattle
In recent years, the Seattle Sounders have been that team with perennial all-stars and a savvy coach who win a lot in the regular season, but always fall hard in the playoffs. Why? The question has been asked a lot—and has always been at the heart of Sigi Schmid's managerial career—but there hasn't been a sufficient answer. The reasons are myriad and hard to pinpoint.
This year—a season after a fourth-placed campaign and two years after a Supporters' Shield—they have mostly fallen flat. It's rare to say that in the Sounders' case before November, but that is what's happening at Century Link Field. The Rave Green have taken seven points from seven games, with their only win coming at home against Montreal, and are sorely missing Obafemi Martins, who bolted for China in the offseason. The attack's short-comings—prompted by Martins' departure—are the main reason for their early struggles.
While it's as hard as ever to diagnose exactly what's going on, the general gist of it is a dysfunctional offense with problems finding the correct way to play.
Let's hone in on some of the problems:
1. What to do without Martins?
This was the golden question in the offseason for the Sounders. They hadn’t played without the Nigerian center-forward since 2013 and didn’t have an immediate replacement who could come close to matching Martins. Nelson Valdez would be the one stepping in at the number-nine spot, but it has become obvious that his skill-set doesn’t fit the needs of players like Clint Dempsey, Andreas Ivanschitz, and Jordan Morris (more on him in a bit).
One of the main reasons the attack was so good with Martins was his relationship with Dempsey, as they played a 4-4-2 with those two strikers up front. The two developed a partnership that frustrated opposing backlines to the fullest extent, combining around the area using Martins’s strength on the ball and hold-up play, which freed Dempsey to find holes either through the channels or in pockets of space.
Valdez plays more like a second forward. The Paraguayan likes to be a target forward in the box and scores plenty of goals—he has at least one goal with all 11 clubs he has played for—but in the 4-3-3 Seattle adopted after the acquisition of Morris, he simply doesn’t fit.
That opened the door for the rookie Morris, who played center forward much of his time dominating college soccer with Stanford. Especially after Valdez was forced miss time with an injury, it has appeared that the capped US-international would be better at the number-nine position. But while he adjusts to pro soccer, Schmid struggles to figure out how to cope with the loss of Martins’s production.
2. The issue of chance creation
Even during Seattle’s successful years with Martins and Dempsey, they never really had someone who creates chances in midfield. They were able to compensate for that with their striking pair, but it has always been a weakness for them.
In their 4-4-2 of the previous seasons, there was never room for a number-ten. They needed to play defense first in that area of the field due to the nature of the formation, so two of Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose, Gonzalo Pineda and Erik Friberg held down the fort in central midfield. Marco Pappa created chances from the wing, but there was never a Lee Nguyen or Mauro Diaz-type number-ten.
Without the benefit of Dempsey and Martins up top, the Sounders have suffered the consequences of not having a top-tier playmaker. Pappa is gone, and Ivanschitz has never been the one to deliver the final ball. They have been playing Cristian Roldan at that spot recently, but it seems likely that they will use their remaining Designated Player spot on a chance-creator.
3. Where does Ivanschitz fit?
Ivanschitz, a consistent Austrian national teamer, can play as a winger or in midfield. He has been in midfield as Seattle’s attempt at a playmaker—which really isn’t who he is—but has gotten opportunities out on the wing while Dempsey has been played under Morris in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3.
That probably isn’t a long-term solution, so the question remains, where do you play Ivanschitz? It’s a tough one, but Schmid will have to figure it out sometime.
Plenty of questions, zero answers at the current moment for the Sounders. They face Columbus Crew SC on Saturday, a team who have had their struggles putting together the pieces as well.
All well in Frisco?
FC Dallas have mostly lived up to their lofty expectations so far this season. Their Supporters' Shield-level outlook at the beginning of the year has not taken a hit—in fact, they are at the top of the Shield standings at the moment. Even with Mauro Diaz injured for a part of the year, they have remained one of the best teams in the league.
But not all is well in Dallas. More games like the one they played in Vancouver last Saturday and they will find it hard to win the trophies they're gunning for.
Already they have lost games in their first nine matches that don't signal larger concerns with the starting XI but show that at any time, this team could blow up and get clobbered by anybody. At first glance, losses to the Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps by a combined score of 8-0 are simply an example of MLS's parity, but they could actually end up previewing important games later in the season.
In week two against the Dynamo, FCD were obliterated 5-0, allowing four goals in the first 30 minutes despite playing a full strength side. There really wasn't a reason for it; it wasn't like Houston were exceptionally good, as the Orange have accumulated exactly one point since the March 12 game. Dallas just didn't show the effort or desire that day, failing to stay disciplined offensively and defensively while losing every ball in midfield. It was an anomaly and they seemed to have corrected the issues, but they played a similar game last week.
Against the Whitecaps—who are currently in seventh place, six points ahead of the Dynamo—they did it again. It was only 3-0, and the Toros were stifled by a ridiculously good David Ousted performance in goal, but all told, it was a game they should never have lost, especially in the manner that they did. It was all too similar to the Dynamo game.
FC Dallas will likely put things back together against the New York Red Bulls on Friday, but we don't know when their next blowout loss will be. Hopefully for Dallas fans, they don't do something like that in the playoffs.
—Toronto FC finish off their road trip against the Portland Timbers on Sunday, and from what they've done recently, I can see them grabbing a full three points from the champions.
—Your LA Galaxy are in Kansas City this weekend. They've recently figured things out, but so have Sporting Kansas City. I expect it will be an entertaining one.
—There's a rematch between Orlando City and the New England Revolution on Saturday, with this one played up in Massachusetts. There's a lot to like about this OCSC attack.