Armchair Analyst: On the Radar for Week 9

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LISTEN: Be ready to laugh out loud because Andrew, David and Matt had a blast talking drama (see Manneh, Kekuta) and storylines (Dax’s NYC return) ahead of a big MLS weekend. Plus, behind the scenes in ATL with captain Michael Parkhurst and the LA Times’ Kevin Baxter on the Galaxy’s woes. Subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode!

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The big story this week is that the Portland Timbers will be going down to Frisco on Saturday night to face FC Dallas (8 pm ET; MLS Live) without Diego Valeri – clearly their, and arguably the league’s, best player. My man Ben Baer broke down what that means for the Timbers.

On to the other games I’ll have an eye on:


A Day At the Races

Give credit to Wilmer Cabrera and the Houston Dynamo: They came out fast, hit a bump or two, and have made some adjustments along the way in order to keep their momentum. I’m still not all-in on the Houston resurrection, but I’m appreciating the hell out of it and you should too.

The biggest adjustment can be seen here:

Good tweet, and a good, illustrative clip. The Dynamo swapped out of the 4-3-3 they’ve spent most of the season in for last weekend’s 4-4-2 diamond in an effort to choke off central midfield and get more pressure to opposing playmakers. It largely worked against the Quakes in a 2-0 win.

Of course, Friday night’s trip to face Toronto FC (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE in the US | TSN4 & TSN5 in Canada) is a different sort of adventure. The Reds have sputtered a bit out of the gates but found third gear at least, and will be fearsome when they find fourth. It’s not inconceivable that they’d be able to ram the ball directly up the middle even if Houston packs numbers centrally.

I’ll also be watching: The wings. By its nature, diamond midfields concede the wide areas, and over the last year few teams have been better attacking from out wide than the Reds, who often push both wingbacks forward in their 3-5-2. One of those wingbacks will be youngster Raheem Edwards, who’s a more natural attacker but who’s been a revelation in his two-way role on the left side.


Remember His Name

Dax McCarty makes his return to Harrison on Saturday, when he leads his Chicago Fire into battle against the Red Bulls (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). I’d expect him to get a good reception.

I’d also expect him and the Fire to be put under immediate and near-constant pressure by a RBNY team that’s rediscovered itself since the switch back to the 4-2-3-1. Last week’s win over Columbus Crew SC was particularly commanding, and in the process the Red Bulls showed a little bit of back-to-front patience in the build – something notable for its absence thus far this season as they’ve been relentlessly direct.

This is a nine-pass build-up from last week, and it might be the longest sustained build for a goal since Jesse Marsch took over in 2015. RBNY have had an almost religious devotion to doing their damage in four passes or less, but perhaps that’s changing?

However many passes it takes, you can see that New York are going directly at the spot vacated by right back Harrison Afful. Expect them to set up shop in the same area and attempt to torment Chicago’s Michael Harrington for the full 90 on Saturday. 

I’ll also be watching: Because of their energetic style, RBNY can often run out of gas late in games. And because of their high pressure, that can mean plenty of space for fleet attackers to run into.

That dovetails nicely with the role David Accam has played over the last two weeks for the Fire, coming off the bench in the second half to provide an assist against New England, and then a goal at Toronto. 


Action Satisfaction

I’ll once again eat crow regarding my preseason prediction that Miguel Almiron would struggle to adjust to MLS (he hasn’t), that he’s only capable of playing on the wing (he isn’t), and that he’ll be more useful as a defensive winger than as a pure playmaker (ok I’m dumb, I get it). I was wrong – he’s been phenomenal on the wing, really good when he’s been a No. 10, and as game-breaking in attack with the ball as he is working to get it back.

With that as preamble, it needs to be understood that Almiron has been a devastating defensive force for Atlanta United thus far, and the Opta chalkboard from last week’s 3-1 win over RSL paints the picture. Here are all the positive, measurable defensive actions from RSL’s No. 10, Albert Rusnak:

Those are recoveries (orange) and a tackle (green).

One should never mistake activity for achievement, and one should understand that Rusnak isn’t used in the same way, by RSL, that Almiron is used by Atlanta.

Nonetheless:

Every one of those incidents is a transition opportunity, and Atlanta United kills teams when given transition opportunities. Almiron being active and smart and fast and fit and skilled at the center of what they’re doing has been… well, nobody’s quite solved it.

D.C. United will be next to run that particular gauntlet, on Sunday (3 pm ET; FS1 in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada).

I’ll also be watching:Sebastien Le Toux, running in behind the defense. D.C. are going to absorb pressure than counter into space, and Le Toux has always been very, very good at timing those runs as a center forward.


One more thing to ponder:

Happy weekending, folks.

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