Last year, the Seattle Sounders went into dormant mode in the summer. With Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins out of the starting lineup for various reasons, the Sounders lost nine of 11 summer matches, nearly ruining their playoff chances and prompting talk of legendary manager Sigi Schmid getting fired. The lack of depth in attack — Chad Barrett, Lamar Neagle, and Andy Craven were among the main pieces — is what killed them, as they scored a total of five goals in that 11 game stretch. Dempsey and Martins combined to play 209 minutes in those 11 matches.
It's not been as bad for them in June of 2016, but, with Dempsey out on international duty, they are experiencing similar struggles in attack. Jordan Morris isn't getting the service he needs (that may change if they decide to use a DP slot on a chance creator), Aaron Kovar and Joevin Jones are struggling to produce on the wings, and Nelson Valdez is getting paid a ridiculously large sum of money to do absolutely nothing. They just can't seem to find the right combination of players to put on the field.
That 4-3-3 they've been pushing? Not working. Morris and Kovar aren't finishing the few chances they get, Jones doesn't do much other than run up and down the flank sending in low-percentage crosses, and they are getting no chance creation from central midfield at all. They can't afford to be getting shut out in home games against beatable Eastern Conference opponents. A 2-0 loss to New York City FC put them deeper in the gallows of the suffocatingly-close Western Conference, and their non-functional attack is not the only problem.
The backline was just as bad, if not worse. There was clearly a disconnect between the center backs, and the full backs were often isolated on the flanks when wingers didn't track back. When you see this clip, watch how easily NYCFC find space in the box, and how much room the Sounders give them:
Also, notice how when center back Brad Evans steps into the midfield, he gets no support and NYC break through the vacated space with ease. The disorganization is clear and concerning for the Seattle faithful.
The attack remains the biggest problem, however. They can't seem to put anyone in a place that will bring the best out of them, and the results show it. They've scored the least amount of goals in MLS this season — with only 13 — and they sit ninth in the Western Conference, six points out of a playoff spot. Confidence is at an all-time low — take it from Evans — and Sigi Schmid can't find a way to fix it.
At least it isn't as bad as last season.
The Portland Timbers have not been their championship selves this season. They are just barely hanging on to a playoff spot in the Western Conference, and they have uncharacteristically experienced significant defensive problems. The Timbers just haven't been able to figure themselves out so far.
All those struggles looked like they were going to culminate in one indifferent performance on Sunday against the Houston Dynamo. Going down two goals at halftime in Portland against the worst team in the West, Portland were playing flat and without purpose. They were headed to a really, really discouraging result.
Then Diego Valeri happened.
The Argentine No. 10 assisted the first goal with a deadly through-ball to Lucas Melano, helped orchestrate the build-up to the second penalty-kick call, and scored both of the Timbers' PKs to give them a 3-2 victory. Valeri was instrumental in the midfield all game, dictating the tempo and creating many of the game's best chances. As he always is, Valeri was huge for Portland all day.
Here's his complete passing chart:
Notice how many balls he puts into the box. His effectiveness when creating chances and distributing to the forwards was unmatched, and it eventually killed the Dynamo.
This, of course, is not new for Valeri. Let's take a look at some of his most telling statistics:
— He has the most key passes per game in MLS, with 4.0.
— He has five assists, tied for third-best in the league with Sebastian Giovinco, Kaka, Joao Plata, and others. He also has seven goals, just as many as Chris Wondolowski and Giovani dos Santos.
— He has the most shots per game of any non-forward in MLS, with 3.9. The players ahead of him in the league-wide race? Giovinco, David Villa, Didier Drogba, and Kei Kamara.
— He has 64 chances created, the most of anyone this season, by Squawka's metrics.
— He has a 12.6 touch percentage, the best of anybody in MLS who is not a ball-circulating defensive midfielder.
— He has the best xA in the league by a wide margin, and the third-best xG+xA.
Valeri has quietly been the best No. 10 in the league. He is the one who makes the Timbers click.
—D.C. United tried out some variation of a 4-1-4-1 in their 2-0 victory over New England on Saturday. Marcelo (not Sarvas) sat deep as the holding midfielder and Luciano Acosta played as a hybrid No. 10/second forward next to Nick DeLeon higher up the field. Sometimes it looked like a 4-1-4-1, other times it was a 4-4-2, and sometimes it became a 4-3-3 with Fabian Espindola pushed higher up the field. Whatever it was, it worked, as they picked up a good win over an Eastern Conference rival.
—Dom Dwyer owned the Montreal Impact in Sporting KC's 2-2 draw.
—Kekuta Manneh is really good, and I can't wait until he gets played out of position by Jurgen. In other news, Roland Alberg can't stop scoring goals.
—The Cali Clasico ended in a 1-1 draw. Was it exciting? Sorry, didn't watch it.
—Ola Kamara has filled in for Kei Kamara seamlessly. Well, maybe not seamlessly, but still pretty well. He scored again against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
—FC Dallas beat RSL's B-team. Congratulations.
—Man, I feel for Lionel Messi. He made one mistake, and boy, was it costly. He is the best player of all time no matter what happens, and I hope he gets a major trophy. He deserves it.