I'm back from vacation just in time for a loaded slate of MLS action. A lot happened in week 21, from NYCFC's 5-1 domination of Colorado to Toronto FC's thorough obliteration of the Crew. You could say it was a classic week of Major League Soccer.
So here's what happened:
Seattle's Lodeiro makes debut
The most hyped MLS signing since Drogba stepped foot on MLS turf for the first time on Sunday, and did it in front of almost 50,000 Seattle supporters, with many more fans watching at home on ESPN. Nicolas Lodeiro — acquired by the Sounders the same week they fired Sigi Schmid — was effective for the Rave Green in their 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy, however disappointing the result may have been for the home crowd.
The 27-year old Lodeiro — previously a crucial starter for Boca Juniors — was brought in to be the Sounders' main chance-creator and distributor from the midfield. He would be the Mauro Diaz or Lee Nguyen or Javier Morales of the equation, tasked with spending most of his time in and around the final third and helping get Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris opportunities in front of goal. To put it simply, he'd be a No. 10.
Despite the pre-game lineup graphic put up by interim coach Brian Schmetzer, he was given the opportunity to be the classic playmaker he was intended to be. He did not play winger — and neither did Morris, for that matter — instead drifting centrally underneath Nelson Valdez and Morris, who were effectively paired together up top. Dempsey would drop really deep and then poach in the box. It became what looked like a 4-2-4 at times:
Lodeiro had the freedom to roam wherever he pleased, so when he would get on the ball in different spots, Dempsey had more space to run around in the traditional False 9/second striker space he is so accustomed to. With Valdez holding play up like the target forward he is supposed to be and Morris running the channels, the Sounders created a boatload of chances.
But they didn't finish them, and that's what killed them in the end. They dominated LA in the run of play, and deserved to get the full three points, but despite the impact Lodeiro had, they just couldn't break through.
That will be what keeps them out of the postseason more than anything.
FC Dallas win again at home
The headline story from FC Dallas's 2-0 home victory on Sunday over the Vancouver Whitecaps will be the Fabian Castillo situation, and the news that he will not be sold to Turkey and will be back in training this week. Given Castillo's immense talent and potential, it's not hard to see why this is front-page news.
But I'm going to look at this from the opposite end of the spectrum. The Whitecaps have won just twice in MLS play since May 22, and now are just barely holding on to the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They saw by far their best attacker, Kekuta Manneh, go down with an injury that will sideline him for months, and his replacement — Fabian Espindola — decided he didn't want to go to Canada and ended up being sold to Mexico.
You could say it's been rough times for these Whitecaps. But they were able to make a pretty big trade on Saturday that should go a long way to remedy those woes: Giles Barnes will arrive from Houston in exchange for GAM, ready to play any attacking position that Carl Robinson wants him to.
They may need him to play as a central chance-creator — a role that he has not been used in yet this season by the Dynamo — because in their current formation, they aren't generating many quality chances.
The 4-4-2 they played in Frisco saw Pedro Morales — one of the better playmakers in MLS — pushed out wide to the wing, taking away his positional freedom and his ability to distribute centrally. He did range inside a lot, but he was unable to do much in the final third:
Why Morales is playing on the wing, I have no idea. It's killing the 'Caps right now.
With him often stranded towards the touchline, Vancouver have serious trouble with turning possession into penetration. Too often, they hit the ball around in the back and failed to move forward through either the flanks or through central areas, which meant Blas Perez and Masato Kudo didn't have much to do. When the players who get the most touches on your team are all defenders (the top five reads: Matias Laba, Kendall Waston, Andrew Jacobson, Cole Seiler, and Morales) you know you are doing something wrong.
Barnes should be able to help solve this problem. But he'll have to do it fast, because Vancouver don't have much room for error in this tight, tight playoff race.