Another great week of MLS games went down this past weekend. Even though I didn't have the pleasure of watching all 90 minutes of Cascadia bliss from Portland (I do my best to mix up which teams I watch for this post, and this wasn't a Seattle or Portland week), there were still plenty of solid rivalry matches to go around. Without further ado, here's how it happened for six teams last weekend:
Houston Dynamo 1 - 4 FC Dallas
Stat that told the story for Houston: Ricardo Salazar's heat map
If you don't recognize Ricardo Salazar's name from the Houston roster, you aren't alone. He was the referee for this one, and while I refuse to rip on officials because they have a really difficult job, it's impossible to deny the influence he had on this game (image above shows all the fouls called - three of which turned directly into goals). I actually don't think Salazar did a terrible job given the circumstances: this game was a true rivalry match where both teams came out and played super physically from the opening whistle. But Houston and Dallas were neck-and-neck until the red card was doled out to David Horst, and the Dynamo almost immediately capitulated once they went down a man. Sure, the red card was a debatable decision, but Houston has to show better composure after going down a man.
Stat that told the story for Dallas: 11 set pieces taken by Mauro Diaz and Michel
It would be easy to pick a stat from the last half hour of this one, when Houston had basically given up and the Dallas midfield had full control of the park. But what's arguably more impressive from this one was how Dallas was still in this game for the first hour, despite being on the road to a tough opponent in the Dynamo. Truthfully, FCD hadn't been playing particularly well; Houston was successful in limiting space for Diaz and they had control of the midfield. But even playing mediocre, Dallas had created a number of really good chances and a goal, all from set pieces. Both Diaz and Michel are wizards over a dead ball, and any set piece in the attacking half is a chance waiting to happen for the Hoops.
Sporting KC 0 - 0 Real Salt Lake
Stat that told the story for Kansas City: 16 key passes
For me, this stat/image is more about where the key passes took place than how many of them there were. KC and RSL have a bit of a history now, and the teams definitely know what to expect when they faceoff. I thought Sporting did a really good job of a couple things: (1) pressing RSL into turnovers and (2) attacking the Salt Lake diamond midfield. I'll talk more about #1 below, so here's my take on KC's attack. They created most of their shots or chances by either playing wide around the narrow midfield or by bypassing it entirely and going over the top. While it didn't result in any goals for Sporting, that was more of a function of RSL's great goalkeeping and KC's mediocre finishing. Overall, I liked the gameplan of Peter Vermes this weekend.
Stat that told the story for Salt Lake: 257/282 (91.1%) of completed passes were in the first two thirds of the field
Real Salt Lake is a possession team, and everyone knows it. They try to pass all over the field, and when they're at their best they control the ball into and around the penalty area before getting chances. In this one, Kansas City really let them have it with their high-pressing defense. RSL couldn't find much space anywhere in the middle third of the field, let alone the attacking third, leading Salt Lake to play mostly in their own half. This was particularly the case early in the game: in the games first 40 minutes, 76/113 (67%) of RSL's completed passes were in the defensive half of the field. It was a bit surprising that a veteran team like RSL didn't seem prepared for this one, but given the makeshift lineup Jeff Cassar fielded, a scoreless draw has to be seen as a point gained rather than two lost in Utah.
Chivas USA 0 - 3 LA Galaxy
Stat that told the story for LA: 131 completed passes in the center of the field by midfielders
Bruce Arena did something that was pretty unexpected this Sunday, deploying a diamond midfield of four nominally central midfielders: Juninho, Stefan Ishizaki, Marcelo Sarvas and Baggio Husidic. The move was a clear message that despite their best attempts, the Galaxy had been unable thus far to find any decent wide play in the midfield opposite Landon Donovan. Instead of trying yet another option out there, LA played their four best overall midfielders in a diamond, and instructed them to figure it out as they went. As the scoreline suggests, this was hugely successful as the Galaxy just overran Chivas in the midfield time and again. The starting midfield completed 131 passes in the center of the field compared to the Goats' midfield's 79, and that's to say nothing of the 2 goals on 8 shots that the midfielders also added. As I'll note in the next paragraph, Chivas' midfield is hardly a force to be reckoned with, but early signs on the diamond midfield are strictly positive.
Stat that told the story for Chivas: 1 weird starting lineup
OK, this isn't a stat, but it's hard to find anything in particular to focus on when most of the game was Chivas getting run over. There were some decent attacking combinations when the Goats were able to possess the ball and get forward, but those times were few and far between. From looking at the team that Wilmer Cabrera put on the field, it's hard to imagine a much better result. I know the general narrative surrounding Chivas is that the club is much improved since Cabrera's come onboard, but this is still a weirdly constructed roster. Trying to fit this team of very few fullbacks and a ton of attack-minded midfielders into a 4-4-2 is quite a task, which is why this week's lineup looked so weird. The strange fits included featuring midfielder Eric Avila and centerback Andrew Jean-Baptiste at fullback, and Agustin Pelletieri* and mostly attack-minded Carlos Alvarez in central midfield.
*I think Pelletieri is supposed to be more of a holding midfielder, but all I've seen of him is an early red card vs. Vancouver and getting run over by LA. Too early to pass judgment, but he wasn't impressive this weekend.
Agree with my assessments? Think I’m an idiot? I always appreciate feedback. @MLSAtheist