By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)
Cristian Techera at the back post
As coherent and competent as they have looked this year, the New England Revolution returned to their old tropes in Week 13. Their high-flying draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday was a merger of two eras: the Jay Heaps-led, defensive mistake-filled one and the current Brad Friedel one, in which they have found a definite style (the gegenpress!) and are successfully masking their ongoing defensive issues.
They were quick to attack and electric on the ball for stretches in Vancouver. Cristian Penilla roasted ‘Caps right back Sean Franklin numerous times. Teal Bunbury continues to stretch backlines with smart channel runs, freeing Diego Fagundez to float. Friedel’s favored press produced chances on its own despite the Whitecaps’ unwillingness to keep the ball.
But all of this was offset by shakiness at the back. Sound familiar?
Prior to Techera’s 49th-minute icebreaker of a goal, Vancouver were punchless going forward. They were credited with just two shots in the first 50 or so minutes of the game, one of which was Aly Ghazal’s brutal first-half own goal. Mere minutes after Penilla put the Revs up 2-0, though, Vancouver broke the press and pulled one back.
It was a flaw of the press’s design that resulted in its destruction. New England sent four players in a singular line of pressure following Vancouver’s kick-off. When they did this, it made it easy to find a pass to Alphonso Davies on the wing. Midfielder Luis Caicedo did not rotate quickly enough, forcing right back Andrew Farrell to step:
Marcel de Jong overlapped behind Farrell and found acres of space. Davies found the pass with ease, and when your right back is hung out to dry like this, it is difficult for center backs to make the decision whether to fill that space. If they do, they leave the backline in a further state of disorganization. If they don’t, they fail to deny easy service into the box.
In this case, Jalil Anibaba stayed home. There wasn’t much he would have been able to do in either direction. De Jong’s ball found a wide-open Techera at the back-post. Left back Gabriel Somi, as was the case on the other goals, was left chasing the Uruguayan.
Somi had been stationed high for the original pressing purposes, but once the press was broken, Techera had no trouble finding the space he vacated.
New England can’t be this easy to break. Their attack has been promising, but not all is perfect; Penilla has overperformed his xG by 3.1, tied for third in MLS behind Ismael Tajouri and Bradley Wright-Phillips. The Revs as a team have overperformed their xGD by an even 10.0, easily the highest in the league. They are due for a regression.
The Impact are terrible. I mean, what kind of defending is this?
It wasn’t just the disastrous turnover or the weak goalkeeping on this Minnesota United goal. It was Jukka Raitala strolling back to his position on the backline, keeping Christian Ramirez easily onside well behind the rest of the Impact’s defense.
Raitala’s attempt at clearing it off the line was poor and was another example of Montreal’s inability to make any sort of difference-making defensive play. They shouldn’t have to rely on goal-line clearances, but sometimes you just need someone to step up and make a play. Very rarely has that happened for the Impact.
Remi Garde’s club lost this game 2-0, their eighth loss in nine matches. They’ve given up 28 goals in 13 games, 24 in their last nine. They are underperforming their xGA for the season, but this is an instance where the eye test takes over: Montreal do not have the personnel to competently defend at the MLS level.
Houston’s set pieces
The Dynamo beat NYCFC this week, a great win for a team that seems to be overcoming its early season demons. They know what they do best. They’ll aggressively press from the top, sit deep to get on the counter, and let Alberth Elis work magic.
Also a key tenant of their success? Set pieces. Their knack for getting defenders open at the back post is like the Patriots’ success in punt coverage. It’s an overlooked detail, but they have turned it into their advantage.
They scored another one against NYC. There isn’t that much going on here. Alejandro Fuenmayor just stood wide open at the back-post and Romell Quioto found him:
As Joseph Lowry wrote, the Dynamo are doing more with less. Set pieces are a part of that.
What a week it was for the worldwide art of goalkeeping. Loris Karius had one heck of a rough day in the UEFA Champions League final, and Bolivian keeper Carlos Lampe struggled in the second half of Bolivia’s 3-0 loss to the US (those are of the same significance, right?).
On the MLS front, Tim Howard did this against Portland:
He has to punch that, and he knows it. Howard has had a difficult season, although not all of it is his fault: the average distance of shots given up by the Rapids this season is 16.9, one of the lower numbers in the league.
Still, Howard has been below average. That is killer for the lowly Rapids, who have invested 18 percent of their total salary into him alone. Howard’s contract is an albatross and is not helping the situation in Colorado.
Speaking of the Rapids, they did something kind of cool in their 3-2 home loss to the Timbers: they tried something creative off the opening kickoff.
This looked like something you would see in FIFA. The player receiving the tap at the center circle, Edgar Castillo, dribbled the ball full steam ahead with a sea of other Rapids players at his side. Anthony Hudson’s motives behind choosing Castillo, his right wing-back, to perform this task rather than one of his two strikers is unknown.
It didn’t work. Portland swarmed the ball and had no trouble gaining possession. But it was cool seeing them try this.