MLS Week 32: No parity, FCD, Picault & Bello impress, RSL disappoints
October 08, 2018
Parity not there in 2018
The 2018 MLS regular season is drawing to a close and that is always a time for a reflection. Typically, MLS games are tough to predict and sometimes there just isn’t a lot separating teams. With the league now at 23 teams, there is far more of a distinction between good and bad.
The bad teams in the league this year are just awful. Orlando City, Colorado, San Jose, Chicago, New England, Houston, and Minnesota are all just tough watch. Whenever matched up against a good team, none of them seem competitive.
The numbers show just how bad some of these teams are. Colorado has lost seven games in a row, has been outscored 22-1 in that span, and has a league-worst -30 goal differential. Orlando has been shutout in four straight games. San Jose has lost six in a row and has a league-worst 20 points this season from 32 games (a total of just four wins).
Of course there have been some upsets along the way, but these teams have been brutal and are typically outmatched by Atlanta United, the New York Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, FC Dallas, and other teams safely in the playoffs. There is a lot separating the teams these days.
This season threw us some curveballs. Who thought Toronto FC would be so bad? Or that LAFC would be so good in its inaugural year? Or that the Philadelphia Union would be this good? But the league is getting easier to predict and that points to the importance of investing in academies and visionary front office personnel.
The growing gap between the haves and have nots in MLS is a good thing. It’s not like Major League Baseball where market size is a huge factor of success. In MLS, teams from small cities and with small budgets can compete well. It’s about decision making from the higher-ups within organizations. The rules in MLS used to be geared towards parity. Now there are simply too many front office decisions that have to be made that have a huge impact on teams.
Hopefully the rules continue to open things up - like with the elimination of geographic homegrown player restrictions, larger budgets for homegrowns, the increased ability to reinvest beyond the cap after the sale of players. The more forward thinking decisions are rewarded, the better the league will be.
Bello starts & scores
Few would deny that George Bello, 16, is one of best American teenage prospects right now. He is the cornerstone of the U.S. U-17 team and it is easy to envision a scenario where he plays in both the U-17 and U-20 World Cups next year – like Josh Sargent did in 2017.
Bello earned his second start for Atlanta United on Saturday at his usual left back position and in the 17th minute, he scored his first professional goal.
Great news seeing US U-17 left back George Bello, 16, score his first goal for Atlanta. Huge upside on this kid https://t.co/xeFMgqmCtB— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 6, 2018
Atlanta won the game against New England 2-1 and remained atop the race for the league’s Supporters Shield. With Bello rewarding the faith placed in him by Tata Martino, will he continue to earn starts into the playoffs?
The injury to Miguel Almiron will certainly see of Martino changes his approach towards playing youth. Can Martino win with as subpar lineup like the Red Bulls can?
Regardless, it is clear that the rest of the media are starting to grasp the potential of Bello.
Tim Parker was not called up to the U.S. national team for the upcoming camp. While the Long Islander had a few bad games in September, he is back in fine form again.
Last weekend, he scored against Atlanta United in a huge 2-0 win. On Saturday, he set up fellow central defender Aaron Long with what was probably the league’s assist of the weekend - Long was called up to the U.S. team but perhaps Parker should have as well.
After scoring vs Atlanta last weekend, did Tim Parker get the MLS assist of the week tonight? Nifty flick set up Long’s header pic.twitter.com/4u4UBS1gl5— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) October 7, 2018
Picault, Union make a statement
As discussed, Aaron Long has made a strong case for earning another call-up to the U.S. national team. With the struggles of American defenders in Europe the past two weeks, it is very possible that Long earns his first cap in the October friendlies.
After earning a call-up to replace the injured Christian Pulisic, Fafa Picault meanwhile made a huge statement on Saturday – as did the entire Philadelphia Union. The Manhattan-born Picault, 27, scored two goals in a dominating 5-1 win over Minnesota United.
There were a lot of grumblings about Picault’s involvement with the U.S. team because of the enormous profile of the player he is replacing at the last minute. There are others that also were asking for Romain Gall instead.
All Picault can do is play well, and play with confidence. He at least gave American fans something to talk about and possibly look forward to in the games ahead.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia clinched a playoff berth and it has one of the more intriguing rosters of all the teams in the playoffs. There are no household designated players. Instead are a bunch of players that fit really well together – including several U.S. youth internationals.
Tonight @PhilaUnion started seven #USMNT-eligible players and two Jamaicans, one of whom played @NCAASoccer, the other two years in @USL. You can build a good team domestically if you put the work in. #Doop #PHIvMIN— Brooke Tunstall (@YesThatBrooke) October 7, 2018
FC Dallas were the weekend’s big winners
There is finally separation at the top of the Western Conference as FC Dallas took advantage of a Sporting Kansas City slip to move four points clear at the top. After its 2-0 win over a poor Orlando City, Oscar Pareja’s team was the biggest winners in MLS this weekend.
Dallas has never played like one of the league’s elite teams this year but it has been mostly steady and has avoided long, poor runs. Next up will be two tricky games against DC United on the road and Sporting Kansas City at home.
There were other very good performances aside from Dallas. Philadelphia was dominant although its playoff status is pretty well known. Montreal came up big against Columbus in a desperate situation although DC United can and should overtake the Impact regardless of how well the Canadian team performs due to games in hand. DC United rallied to beat Chicago although it should beat Chicago at home. LAFC also took care of business against a Colorado team that is in a full meltdown.
But Dallas stood out because it was a game it had to win and it wasn’t necessarily easy given the conditions which forced a lengthy weather dely. It wasn't flashy, but it was effective and professional. Like Picault and others, right back Reggie Cannon will arrive in his first U.S. national team camp with momentum.
Real Salt Lake were weekend’s biggest losers
You expected Orlando, San Jose, Minnesota, and Colorado to have bad performances this time of year. They are bad teams with nothing to play for.
But Real Salt Lake has the talent to make the playoffs (maybe not go far, but at least qualify for the post season). Combine that with the fact the team was playing at home in altitude, against a beatable opponent, with huge playoff implications on the line, there is no excuse for a 4-1 loss to Portland. None.
A win would have seen Mike Petke’s team leapfrog into fourth place and go four points clear of the playoff line. The seventh place Galaxy did not win and it creating an opening. Everything was there for the taking.
Instead, Real Salt Lake did not look ready for the moment. Petke’s young team was simply not prepared mentally to rise to the occasion. The maturity of Portland’s Sebastian Blanco and Diego Valeri was simply too much. RSL should have had a better answer, and it didn’t. That’s not the mark of a playoff team.