Armchair Analyst: On the Radar for Week 29 of the MLS season

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Welcome to autumn. Welcome to the weekend.


Everything Scatter

New York City FC will get David Villa back from the start this weekend, and that’s obviously a good thing since he’s David Freaking Villa. Even if he doesn’t win his second straight MVP award (and that’s an open question now thanks to the greatness of Diego Valeri and – yes – Josef Martinez) he’s still having a remarkable season and he’s obviously been missed.

I’d argue, though, that the guys in midfield have been missed just as much. Alex Ring and Yangel Herrera have both been out for the last three games (Ring should be back this weekend), and NYCFC have gone soft in the middle as a result. You can set up shop against them in Zone 14 at least a little bit, even if you’re the attack-starved Rapids:

Yellow arrows are key passes (passes that lead to a shot), and that soccer ball with a green arrow is a goal. You can see where it was scored from in the 1-1 draw last week.

In NYCFC’s 1-0 loss to Portland the week before… yeah, this is no bueno:

A lot of those touches are coming in transition, of course. It’s not like teams are pinning NYCFC back from the start and just dominating games, but it’s probably safe to say the Cityzens have mostly been outplayed for the last month, and a distinct lack of coverage in the most important real estate on a soccer pitch has to do with why.

Getting Ring back should help a bunch, as he’s a very good organizer and is ideal as a stopper. But it’s Herrera – the one-man re-press who makes everyone in the wrong colors miserable – whose absence has been glaring.

We’ll see if Houston can take advantage on Saturday (3 pm ET; UniMás, Facebook.com in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada) in East Hartford.

I’ll also be watching: This seems like a chance for Houston to get back to doing what they managed so well in the first half of the season, i.e. “we’re just gonna hang deep and then counter into space.”


Sorrow Tears and Blood

I’ve mostly stopped writing about the Galaxy for the last couple of months because there’s just not much left to say, but I’ll reiterate the points that I think have killed them all season:

  • Lack of a defensive midfielder makes it easy to build against them
  • Lack of production from the forwards means they’re not dangerous
  • Both fullback slots – but in particular right back – have been problematic
  • Central defense has been beyond problematic
  • Goalkeeper has been catastrophic
  • The dosSantos brothers have not been difference-making DPs

As a whole they bet way too hard on veterans with tanks that have been long-emptied, and paired that with either an inability to properly assess, or an inability to properly develop the young talent that’s on their roster.

I think it’s that last bit that has Galaxy fans so on edge. The fact that there’s no silver lining of “well yes, we’ve had a terrible season but at least academy product X and Y have started to look like difference-makers, so we can at least plan for the future” is so damning for a team that sits on what is, traditionally, the hottest of talent hotbeds in the US. This isn’t just a first-team problem, though: there’s no Galaxy representative on the US U-17 World Cup squad, and there were none on the US U-20 squad that made the World Cup quarterfinals, and there was only one (Bradford Jamieson IV) on the 2015 US U-20 squad that made the quarterfinals.

All of this is bad, and all of this has consigned the Galaxy to their worst season in franchise history. It feels like that hole should get deeper on Sunday when they go to newly crowned U.S. Open Cup champions Sporting KC (2 pm ET; FOX & FOX Deportes in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada), because Sporting do not lose at home.

I’ll also be watching: That first bullet point above – the lack of a d-mid making it easy to build against LA – is a significant worry against an SKC team that will happily string passes together if you let them. This is what they did against New York on Wednesday night the one time they were able to suck Felipe up field and out of his spot in front of the backline:


Confusion Break Bones

Montreal ended Toronto FC‘s run in emphatic fashion on Wednesday night, at BMO Field. They will need to pull off an encore performance at Atlanta on Sunday (5 pm ET; FOX & FOX Deportes in the US | TVA Sports in Canada) if they’re going to stay in the playoff race in the East.

This is where I’m at:

And this is where things are going:

I just can’t see it happening, but remember this: MLS is wild.

I’ll also be watching: The thing that made Montreal so hard to play against in last year’s playoffs was that they never missed a rotation – you always had to go around them, never through them. Those rotations haven’t been quite as quick and the gaps have gotten larger, and nobody in this league hits gaps the way the Five Stripes do.

Watch those defensive rotations. If you see multiple Impact players getting pulled to the same spot by a pass, they’re in trouble.


One more thing to ponder:

Happy weekending, everybody.

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