MLS Week 24 breakdown

Week 24: Dallas has a pulse, Toronto has problems, Atlanta surging

Week 24 was fairly revealing in terms of how MLS typically goes. The East finally has some clarity although who grabs the last two playoff spots is up for grabs. In the West, just 5 points separate second place Minnesota from eighth place Dallas. Who will make the playoffs is a mystery but the specific races are clear. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 19, 2019
10:00 AM
AFTER MONTHS where it seemed like the Eastern Conference was just a bunch of average teams where none of them wanted to standout, the conference finally has a pair of teams that are separating itself from the pack. The Western Conference, meanwhile, continues to be much better with a perhaps the best team in the history of the league.

What were the takeaways from Week 24? Here were mine.

Dallas has a pulse

Predicting the teams that will nab the final playoff spots is tough becauss every year there is never a lot separating middle five teams in each conference. So it’s a toss up among a bunch of teams that are typically of the quality where they can win any game but lose any game.

Dallas is a little bit different because this is a team that is trying to win playing with a different approach that consists of a young core as opposed to high priced designated players. Success at Dallas likely means others will try to play the same way – which would be nice.

But Dallas has an uphill climb to make the playoffs and it seemed as if the team really hit a wall on Saturday when it fell behind Montreal 3-0 in the second half. But against all odds it rallied for a 3-3 draw.

Montreal is tanking at the moment, and without Ignacio Piatti, they’re weak. Not to mention the team is bleeding goals (12 goals conceded over its last three games) and somehow still in the playoff places. It has won just once in its last eight games.

This was a game Dallas had to have. It would seem as if its playoff chances are below 50-50 but this draw felt like a win (as opposed to the Red Bulls draw which felt like a loss). Dallas now has its next two games at home against Houston and Cincinnati followed by a visit to Chicago. If Dallas makes the playoffs, it will be because of a run during these three games.

On top of it, Portland looked poor against Atlanta, San Jose has now lost two in a row, and Seattle has just two points from its last four games. Portland is probably going to be tough to catch as it has seven more games on a 10-game homestand. But Dallas has some outs to play – as long as it can rack up serious points in the next three games.

This game against Montreal at least gave it momentum heading into this stretch.

Philadelphia & DC United disappoint

Is it possible to figure out the Philadelphia Union? I am not sure. Two weeks ago it demolished DC United away and followed it up with a respectable win over Houston. Just went Jim Curtain’s team looked to be back in business, it loses to Chicago without Aleksandar Katai. This is not the type of game top seeded teams should lose.

But Chicago is surprisingly rising and making a playoff push – which is weird to say. It has a nice stretch ahead but has played more games (28) than all other teams in the conference.

DC United, meanwhile, lost to Vancouver 1-0 and now has just one win in its last five games. Ever since the Wayne Rooney announcement, the team has faded and Luciano Acosta is playing way below his level to boot.

Arena goes ugly, gets result

The Red Bulls and the New England Revolution played to 1-1 draw and the Red Bulls essentially had to pay for not putting the game out of reach in the first half. The first half was one-way traffic as New England was on its heels as a result of playing three in the back.

But in the second half Bruce Arena made the game ugly, put four in the back, slowed the pace, and relied on capitalizing on one or two chances it would create. In this case, it got one chance via a mistake and equalized. The Red Bulls could not take advantage of its chances down the stretch. But credit to Arena for realizing his team couldn’t play with the Red Bulls when the game was at a fast pace.

For the Red Bulls, it was a terrible result to let slip away and two points would have seen it even for third place. The loss of Brian White to injury in the first half was a real blow as the local product has nine goals on the season and has been a big part of the team’s success.

NYCFC and Atlanta easily the best

All these games mentioned above with Montreal’s skid, the Red Bulls failing to take advantage of a lead, and disappointments to DC United and Philadelphia clearly establish New York City and Atlanta as the best teams in the Eastern Conference right now. Neither of these teams are suffering bad losses anymore and are easily winning the games they have. That consistency has them miles ahead.

Atlanta United somehow used the mess at the All-Star break when it looked like a team in meltdown with all the nasty comments directed at Frank de Boer, and used that as motivation. Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez, Darlington Nagbe, and Ezequiel Barco are all playing their best soccer of the year.

This goal from Martinez and pass from Julian Gressel was a thing of beauty. 

Winning 2-0 in Portland is a massive statement for Atlanta and one that now should put it in a two-team race for the number-one seed and home field advantage in the playoffs. If Atlanta wins that and the road to MLS Cup must go through Mercedes Benz Arena, then it would be hard to bet against them.

For New York City, it has had a favorable schedule with a lot of non-playoff opponents but with every opportunity it has won. It began with Colorado, but also Sporting Kansas City, Houston, and on Saturday it was an easy 4-1 win over Cincinnati.

But NYCFC has a condensed schedule down the road and will have to play for awhile without James Sands who broke his collarbone. Sands had become a big figure in the club’s three-man backline, so moving forward without him will be tough.

Fortunately for NYCFC, it continues to have winnable games ahead with Columbus, the Red Bulls, Vancouver, New England, and Toronto as its next five opponents.

The questions is whether or not NYCFC will run out of gas.

Real Salt Lake’s chances

Despite the 2-0 loss to LAFC on Saturday, I think Real Salt Lake has a chance to finish as high as second place in the Western Conference. This is a good team at home that has a lot of options to beat opponents – if its not Savarino, it’s Rusnák or Kreilach. The team almost seems to be playing better since the firing of head coach Mike Petke.

Unlike other teams like Toronto that have an expensive DP list but a weak supporting cast, RSL has that supporting cast that plays well together – in no small part to having players come from within its academy.

But Matt Doyle made this great point about homegrown product Justen Glad, who was rested for this game against LAFC.

Seattle and Toronto are in trouble

If I am buying stock in teams like NYCFC, Atlanta, and RSL, I am selling Seattle and Toronto.

There is no reason why Toronto should have some of the players it does but still be below the playoff line in a weak Eastern Conference. On Saturday it played to a draw against Columbus and that fits the trend of it being unable to beat these nonplayoff teams. A week before it was a draw to Orlando. A few weeks before that it was a loss to Houston. The only win it has in its last five was a narrow 2-1 win over Cincinnati.

Alejandro Pozeulo and Jozy Altidore are very good but there is only a limit to how much they can do. Right now, those two have scored 19 out of Toronto’s 41 goals this season. The next highest amounts are Osorio and DeLeon with four and five respectively. On Toronto, there exists only Plan A and no Plan B or Plan C. This was evident in the draw against Columbus – which should be a winnable game.

As for Seattle, the team is tumbling at a time when Real Salt Lake and Minnesota are overtaking it. This is a team playing as if it has a lot of pressure on it and it can’t handle it. For the last few weeks it has been conceding avoidable goals, failing to convert chances, and just making too many mistakes.

In a 2-2 draw against the Galaxy, it went up a man in the sixth minute but couldn’t take advantage. In the end, it needed an own goal to walk away with a point. Unlike with Toronto, there isn’t an exact problem but rather the struggles have been a collective effort. This is the perfect time when a team would like to have an FC Cincinnati next on the schedule to relieve the pressure and build up confidence but, instead, Seattle’s upcoming schedule is rough. Next up is a visit to Portland.

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