I love that my favorite league played a game this weekend widely referred to as the Set Piece Orgy. I love that a broadcaster broadcasting the game invented the moniker as opposed to an internet commenter, and I love that it was probably the best MLS game so far. But I won’t be discussing it much in my weekly review of the MLS Power Tiers.
Ineligible to be moved until Week 7
Ineligible to be moved until Week 8
Vancouver Whitecaps (up one)
In 2013, Vancouver barely missed out on the playoffs despite fielding Camilo, the league’s Golden Boot winner. Last year, they made drastic improvements to the midfield but couldn’t replace the consistency of Camilo and only managed the 5-seed in the West.
This year, they’ve put it all together. Pedro Morales and Kekuta Manneh are setting up Octavio Rivero to terrorize the league and it’s legitimately fun to watch. This is probably Vancouver’s first ever appearance in the title discussion and it’s all because I officially don’t want to play them right now.
Oh, and they took apart the mostly healthy defending champions and didn’t let Robbie Keane do anything. I’m not usually one to care when strikers go unnoticed, but Keane isn’t one of those guys who lets himself go unnoticed.
Incidentally, I love watching Vancouver productions on MLS Live more than any other. The crowd is always rambunctious, helped by the stadium itself but whatever, and the TSN commentators bring that extra level a Canadian smidge adds to a British accent.
By the way, all three teams in this tier are in the West. One of them will win Supporters’ Shield. Another will get a bye to the Conference Semis. The third will not. I’m excited.
One Piece Away
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls (up two)
I moved up the Red Bulls this week despite them not playing because I decided to make my rules more lenient. Basically I am a wuss.
No team fits the “One Piece Away” descriptor better than the Revs, for I don’t buy them as a true contender until they find a better partner for Jose Goncalves than Andrew Farrell. That might be a weird thing to say about a team coming off a shutout, but everyone’s shutting out the Rapids so far.
Colorado came closer to scoring against New England than they have all year, including a muffed chance at the half, several posts, and an offside call that for no particular reason nullified a called penalty, even though the penalty foul happened before the offside play. But you don’t have to take my word for it! According to Michael Caley’s fantastic Expected Goals charts (I had a lot of problems with the Expected Goals models out there until I read his protracted piece explaining his new methodology that debuted last September. It’s pretty fucking thorough and the only thing it doesn’t really take into account is the only data we don’t have: defenders’ locations at t=shot.), Colorado “scored” more expected goals (1.4) than they have all season.
Before the season, I feared that Goncalves and Farrell wouldn’t be able to figure out who the stay-at-home CB should be, and those fears have thus far been confirmed. It might not end up mattering once Jermaine Jones comes back and scares everyone away from challenging that pairing in the first place, but if that doesn’t happen, the Revs will leak too many goals to overturn a 2nd leg deficit in the playoffs at some point.
Solid if Unspectacular
Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City
Toronto FC (one down)
I talk about centerbacks all the time on the podcast and pretty much just life in general (much to Kelsey’s chagrin), and it’s about time Toronto started listening. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Giovinco, and Benoit Cheyrou are nice, but a Caldwell-Perquis pairing could lose you a home play-in game. That said, I do think Toronto will be fine in the long run. And don’t make fun of Toronto for losing to Chicago, who is probably better than most everyone in preseason thought and could even make a run at the playoffs (I’ll get to this later).
Let it be known, however, that I hate Josh for letting his Portland pessimism color my opinion last week and dropping them to this tier, making them ineligible to return to their rightful place among the pretty good until next week. They’ve outplayed title contenders in two consecutive weeks, even if they only have one win to show for it.
Portland fans started to fret after four winless weeks, which is fair. But it reminded them of their eight winless weeks to start last year, which is not fair. So far, Portland has hosted Dallas, LA, and RSL, and visited Vancouver and Kansas City. From those five games, they’ve won one, lost one, and drawn three. That’s not ideal if you want to be among MLS’s elite, but it’s fine if you want to hold serve and stay in the hunt until Will Johnson and Diego Valeri come back.
Last year’s eight-game winless streak included draws against Chivas, Houston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and a loss in Colorado (before they started losing epically, but still). Even then, the Timbers managed to rebound and, had it not been for a particularly heroic Nick Rimando performance in the season’s final week, would have made the playoffs in a difficult West.
These seven teams all play in the West: Dallas, Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, LA, RSL, and Kansas City. At least one of them will have to miss the playoffs, a fact that should make everyone involved at least a little nervous. But through five weeks, Portland fans can relish being better than Kansas City and LA at least. Oh, and do you want Nagbe, Asprilla, and Valeri all attacking you in a month? I didn’t think so.
New York City FC
San Jose Earthquakes
On the surface, losing to a Javier Morales wonderstrike, even at home, is hardly a disgrace. But soccer is a game of few goals, and Morales’s goal came at the end of the first half, meaning the Earthquakes had a whole half to respond.
But it never seemed like that. Dom Kinnear’s side played like the score was 0-0 until they finally showed some urgency and desperation in the 85th minute. “Go out and play like it’s 0-0” is fine halftime advice for a youth team or a Granada, but not for an MLS team in a legitimate playoff race.
I like San Jose, they have a top-five centerback pairing in Clarence Goodson and Victor Bernardez, a good young goalie in Bingham, and Wondo. They have a slightly more impressive resume than Portland, with “quality losses” in Dallas and New England and a win in Seattle to pair with an Avaya Stadium opening victory against Chicago that looks better than it used to. But you should show a little more urgency when you’re down a goal against a team you’re probably competing against if you’re harboring playoff aspirations.
San Jose fans might not be, and I wouldn’t blame them considering that gauntlet of Western teams I mentioned above, but that only enhances the feat if the Earthquakes can (excuse me for this) shake the world and make the playoffs.
Chicago Fire (up one)
Orlando City SC
Full disclosure: Our new producer at slashMLS, Austin, is a Chicago Fire fan. And our first ever MLS player guest is Eric Gehrig, who is a fullback for the Fire and he’ll be on our episode Friday.
But even fuller disclosure: I’ve hated the Fire since I was a little kid and I’ve never been particularly fond of the city itself. I think that metal bean thing is stupid and the river that’s supposed to be beautiful stinks. Sorry, I know this is better fodder for a trash talk thread but I just want you to believe that I legitimately like the Fire now.
First of all, Section 8 seems like a grand old time. I love the Tequila song, I love Tetris, I love Hot Time in Old Town, shit I even love the FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE FIRE song. Originality in American soccer supporters’ sections is relatively uncommon and I give Section 8 props for creativity.
But more importantly, this is a pretty exciting attack going forward! Joevin Jones showed flashes last week against Philly but really put it together this weekend, emphasized by his brilliant run-and-goal. Quincy Amarikwa probably can’t carry an attack all on his own, as he was asked to do last season after Mike Magee went down, but he’s a perfect third or fourth option. Shaun Maloney, brimming with confidence (yeah I didn’t know scoring against Gibraltar was a confidence boost either but hey), took turns with Harry Shipp creating awesome shit. David Accam left his finishing shoes home this weekend but he has pace, he gets open and he doesn’t stray offside! There are plenty of speedy attackers with potential around MLS, like Dom Oduro and Jairo Arrieta, who stray offside too often to have enough real chances on frame to actually put away more than an occasional goal.
If this attack can figure out how to use Mike Magee when he comes back, and I mean come on, he’s a reigning MVP, we’re looking at a team that could play themselves into the Conference Finals with a lucky bounce or two. Even if that doesn’t happen, Sean Johnson and Jeff Larentowicz command a competent enough back line to be slightly better than, say, San Jose. That’s definitely better than the other three Eastern teams in this group, meaning they would just need one of the six teams ahead of them (I’m looking at DC and NYCFC) to slip to sneak in as a 6-seed.
When I write up my 2nd annual Power Rankings of Sadness, it’s likely the Fire will occupy the top slot again, just because that ownership and stadium situation might not ever get any better. But at least the team is fun to watch.
Philadelphia would be here if it were allowed. Though maybe participating in the Set Piece Orgy will be enough to keep their heads sticking out from the trap door that leads downstairs for a couple weeks. We’ll see.
The fun thing about MLS this year, now that we have goals again, is that there isn’t a team that outright sucks. No one is bad at everything, like 2013 DC United or 2014 Chicago were.
Colorado can’t score but it’s not for lack of trying, as noted above. They’re pretty hopeless on the road, but the two times I’ve watched them have been at the Dick’s, where they didn’t fail to create chances and look dangerous.
And I guess you have to characterize Houston’s effort in Seattle as valiant, even though they were up a man for almost 40 minutes. Houston is another of those misleading roster teams I talked about in the preseason slashMLS preview thing. The team has Brad Davis, DaMarcus Beasley, Tyler Deric, Luis Garrido, Oscar Boniek Garcia, and Will Bruin. Surely, that’s a team that can make shit happen!
Despite fielding two players that played significant minutes for us in Brazil, this team isn’t scoring, and they’re hardly ever even coming close. I just don’t think Owen Coyle is right for this team or even MLS. We have oodles of history saying that even celebrated international coaches often get their asses kicked in MLS, why would a failed Bolton manager have any better luck?
My main qualm with Coyle is that while his Bolton style does perfectly fit the dimensions of BBVA Compass Stadium, it doesn’t really fit his personnel. This team will soon be carried by Boniek, Garrido, Cubo Torres, and Beasley, most of whom perfected their craft in Latin American environments, and the last of which revitalized his career in the same. To me, that says someone with at least a Latin background should be brought in. Maybe a Chelis?