MLS is getting the games in prior to the Gold Cup break with 10 teams in action later tonight. That includes Eastern Conference leaders DC United. As always with the MLS schedule, there's a catch.
DC United leads the Eastern Conference with 25 points from 15 games, a point ahead of Philadelphia on 14 games played. Both teams are in action tonight with DC at home against Chicago and Philadelphia hosting Colorado. DC drew 1-1 at New England over the weekend with Philadelphia losing 3-1 to Portland at Talen Energy Stadium. That gave United the top spot in the East.
Philadelphia is still the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but Portland raised questions the team needs to answer quickly. They play at Minnesota on Sunday with the opportunity to make space between themselves and DC at the top of the table. An ability to fight back after a disappointing loss would say a lot about the Union right now.
"We won’t allow things to get negative at this point," Philadlephia coach Jim Curtin said following the loss to the Timbers. "We’ve done a lot of good hard work, the players emptied their tank. It’s still a very exciting group, just made a couple mistakes in key moments tonight and got punished. It’s our first loss in seven games, it’s hard, we’ll learn from it, but we have a quick turnaround which is a good thing, and we have Colorado [Rapids] at home on Wednesday, so I’m fully confident that we’ll have a very strong response from the group. This feels tough, and we’re disappointed, but some nights when there is quality in the final third, you get punished and tonight was one of those nights."
If Curtin's comments sound familiar, they're following a trend in MLS this season. It's not that a team loses, it's how they lose. More often than not, there's an explanation that flatters the losing team. That this keeps happening is a big picture quality issue for MLS in 2019. It's not just that coaches end up in the position to defend the quality of their clubs after a loss, it's that more often than not they've got a point.
How this ends up reflected in the standings is an interesting scenario across the league. There's the belief that quality will eventually win out, but that isn't necessarily happening so far this season. There are plenty of clubs that can make the case for a hypothetical table where they're doing much better. This isn't the kind of delusional optimism that sees people continuing to justify their decisions as they're shown the door. Instead, it's the reason a team can look good in a 3-1 loss and mediocre taking all three points a week later.
If this turns out to be the new normal in MLS, it will require adjusting expectations across the board. We can only pretend to know so much about these teams week-to-week when the results tell us so little about comparative quality. What that is already creating is the season of expectation management in Major League Soccer.
The Athletic's Sam Stejskal reports that MLS and Liga MX will stage a Leagues Cup this summer. SI.com's Brian Straus takes issue with the National Soccer Hall of Fame voting process. The NY Times' Tariq Panja reports on what information might be in storage facilities owned by the late Chuck Blazer.
The New Yorker's Sam Knight's look at the Football Leaks. The Independent's Jonathan Liew talks to Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp. The Guardian's Dominic Fifield considers the future for Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
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