Real Salt Lake dropped points in Seattle this weekend, losing 2-1 to a rejuvenated, Nicolas Lodeiro-lead club in what could turn out to be an important match with playoff implications. The Sounders are now just five points out of a playoff berth after another home three points, and they have an opportunity to pull within two if they can manage a third-straight victory against sixth-place Portland.
RSL, meanwhile, remain in fourth-place, five points ahead of the Timbers and ten ahead of Seattle. But it seems unlikely that they’ll get any higher, as Colorado and LA — second and third in the conference — have two games in hand on them.
They continue to struggle with defensive organization, and, as Matt Doyle of MLSsoccer.com pointed out, the issues run from back-to-front. They are unable to stay compact — particularly in the midfield — and tighten their lines up to prevent players like Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris from breaking through them.
While that remains their biggest problem, their other large issue was quietly solved on Sunday. Yura Movsisyan was subbed on at halftime, and he made a noticeable difference to how their attacks formed and what they did to challenge Seattle’s backline. The Armenian, whose hip flexor strain had kept him out for the previous three weeks, is huge for their flank-focused attack.
Jeff Cassar’s team usually creates their chances with creativity from wingers Juan Manuel Martinez and Joao Plata, who are two of the best dribblers in MLS. They like to take full backs on 1v1 and try to cut into the box, where they either send in a cross or find a second or third runner near the penalty spot or the top of the box.
They do their best work when they have a No. 9 up top to draw defenders and provide a target for them to hit in the box. Movsisyan’s replacement, Olmes Garcia, doesn’t provide that, and that’s one of the reasons why they had trouble moving the ball forward in the first half and generating penetration.
In the second half, this changed with Yura in the game. Their counters were more efficient with someone holding the ball up, and Plata and Martinez had more room to run on the flanks against Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones.
RSL have their problems, but with Movsisyan back, they have one less thing to worry about.
Now they can focus on their crucial match with FC Dallas coming up this weekend.
— Vancouver lost to San Jose on Friday, which is a heavy uppercut to their dwindling playoff hopes. Kekuta Manneh’s injured, Pedro Morales is off his game, and Giles Barnes won’t be able to save the sinking ship. In addition, Kendall Waston and David Ousted have seen their wonderful 2015 seasons replaced by mistake-prone 2016 campaigns.
It’s been a rough year in Vancouver. They’ll need to pick it up, and fast, because they’re two points out of the postseason with Seattle charging behind them.
— The diamond formation didn’t work for the Montreal Impact. They failed to create penetration through midfield even with Ignacio Piatti, Didier Drogba, and Matteo Mancosu on the field at the same time, and they lost to the Red Bulls by a score of 3-1.
The diamond is not the correct formation for them. It requires midfield shuttlers — I don’t think Hernan Bernadello and Callum Mallace are the answer there — and it forces the entire team to stay central rather than exploiting the flanks, which is something they’ve done well this season thanks to Piatti.
Mauro Biello is still searching for the right combination of players to put on the field. He’ll need to figure it out soon, because they’re going to get passed by in this competitive Eastern Conference.
— New England’s defense is an absolute disaster. They’re bad from open play, they’re bad from set pieces, they’re just awful. The Philadelphia Union — with new signing Alejandro Bedoya in midfield — walked into Foxborough and took advantage, winning 4-0 thanks to complete disorganization from the Revolution.
They can’t go much longer with Je-Vaughn Watson starting at center back and nobody except Scott Caldwell playing any defense from midfield, or else they will fall out of the playoff race in an instant.
Meanwhile, for the Union, Bedoya got his first start and was a difference-maker. He helped lock down the space in front of the defense while providing attacking know-how alongside Tranquillo Barnetta and Illsinho, basically supplying the services of a No. 8. Philly have needed someone like him since Vincent Nogueira left.
Once Brian Carroll and Maurice Edu come back, the Union could become Eastern Conference favorites.
— Columbus vs. NYCFC was the most exciting game of the weekend, without a doubt. I would know, because I was at MAPFRE that evening.
The game was marked by long stretches of possession from either team followed by a chance in the box that resulted in either a goal, a penalty shout, or a save. The Crew had a lot of possession early in the game — mostly filtered around the back between Michael Parkhurst, Wil Trapp, and Nicolai Naess, who looked good in his debut — and they had numerous chances in the first 20 minutes or so, but it was NYCFC that broke through first.
Frank Lampard was the goal-scorer. He ran it in with his knee after an Andrea Pirlo free-kick was saved off the post by Steve Clark, putting Columbus in a hole they wouldn’t get out of until 49th-minute, when Justin Meram headed home yet another Crew cross.
This action, however, was all preliminary in preparation for a ridiculous last 15 minutes. Ethan Finlay got it started in the 80th-minute when he converted a PK into the bottom right corner after he was chopped down in the box. David Villa tied it back up at two with a calm finish of a brilliant Pirlo ball, and NYC nabbed the lead in the second minute of stoppage when Villa scored a PK after Harrison Afful had the ball deflect off his hand in the box.
It looked over after that — many Crew supporters packed it up to beat the traffic — but Columbus threw everything they had at the Eastern Conference leaders and managed to scrape out a last-ditch equalizer courtesy of Finlay, who found a rebound in the box and jammed it home to send the remaining crowd into a frenzy.
From a neutral’s perspective, it was an incredible game despite the wet and gloomy conditions.
— Toronto FC had a major opportunity to grab three road points from the Houston Dynamo on Sunday in the third weather-delayed game of the weekend, but they were unable to capitalize on Abdoulie Mansally’s first half red card as they settled for a dispiriting 1-1 draw at BBVA Compass Stadium.
This is not the end of the world for TFC — a road point is a road point, after all — but if they are going to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield (and I think they should be able to) they have to get more from those type of games.