By Luis Bueno – RIVERSIDE, CA (Sep 5, 2019) US Soccer Players – Every three months, there is a great number of coaching casualties. At least that’s the trend that exists in MLS in 2019. It happened in May when three coaches got the sack. It happened again in August when another three coaches joined the MLS unemployed.
MLS Teams have either become frustrated with the performance or, in the case of Real Salt Lake, with the coach himself. Either way, things have not been going well for at least these six teams with possibly more moves to come.
Of course, that will happen in October so coaches should feel safe from now until then. What happens in the season’s last five weeks could determine if coaches should start to put their names in with other teams.
1. LAFC (1 in August)
Carlos Vela is the league MVP. That will not be official until after the season, but a look at the final half-hour against the LA Galaxy on August 25 and the club’s game against Minnesota on September 1 reveals as much. LAFC did not score a goal without Vela on the field for that time. LAFC might benefit since now they know what it’s like without him on the field. Even with Vela, someone will have to contribute offensively for LAFC to walk away with some silverware this season.
2. NYCFC (4)
At first glance, NYCFC’s four-game winning streak and 4-2-0 record in August looks impressive. Look deeper at the results though and some of the shine comes off. NYCFC lost to RSL and Atlanta, two of the three teams the club played last month that are in playoff contention. NYCFC beat up on the likes of Columbus, Vancouver, and Houston. Still, NYCFC is coming together well, having won six of its last eight overall. Heber though went down with a quadriceps injury in the club’s last game of the month and could miss games because of it. As long as he returns by the playoffs, the club will be fine.
3. San Jose Earthquakes (2)
A three-game losing streak is nothing new for San Jose. The Quakes suffered through that stretch in August, losing at Colorado, Sporting KC, and LAFC. But the club had lost just twice in the 17 matches before that. San Jose though is still the real deal and proved as much with wins over Vancouver and Orlando City to close out August. Still, the slip-up cost the team in the standings as San Jose enters September in fourth-place. With coach Mathias Almeyda is serving a suspension for on-field misconduct, but that didn’t stop San Jose from winning without him on the sideline.
4. Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia had a shaky month of July and the season appeared set to take a downturn after an otherwise successful campaign. That never happened. Philadelphia won four of five games last month, the only setback a head-scratching 2-0 loss at Chicago. Philadelphia though outscored its rivals 13-4 in the other matches. Philadelphia looked like the force it has been throughout much of 2019. Striker Kacper Przybylko continued his fine campaign by scoring a goal in each of the club’s four wins last month. The club though could use a second player to step up and score goals regularly.
5. New England Revolution (5)
Bruce Arena’s most challenging month to date with New England was still better than any month prior to his arrival. New England tasted defeat for the first time with Arena in charge, although a 2-0 loss to frontrunners LAFC is nothing to worry about. Going 1-1-3 in August, good for just six points, might be. New England is a tough opponent to beat, and once in the playoffs that is a trait any team would love to possess.
6. LA Galaxy (3)
The Galaxy is capable of much more than it is producing. The 4-3 loss at Seattle was disappointing because the game was there for the taking. Still, newcomer Cristian Pavon looks like a star. Once he gets settled in, which is not very far off, this team will respond. If Pavon and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can connect and become a dangerous pairing, the Galaxy’s attack could be a force. Also, the Galaxy has what has always been a strength. It’s their confidence and ability to pull out results. No Western Conference team will want to draw the Galaxy come playoff time.
7. Minnesota United FC (8)
Minnesota has shown signs of strength throughout the season but has also put out some poor results. A 5-3 loss to FC Dallas, for instance. The club showed what it is capable of with a 2-0 win at LAFC. Sure, the top team in the league played without MVP frontrunner Carlos Vela, but Minnesota still kept a clean sheet against the team that has throttled the league throughout the year. Mason Toye bagged both goals in the game. Tthe hype surrounding the young American has elevated substantially since. Minnesota faces nothing but Western rivals the rest of the way. Save for Houston, all of six of them are battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. United will be battle-tested by the time the postseason starts.
Atlanta United (9)
Atlanta might not have the freewheeling high-powered attack of 2018, but the club looked like the force that it was a year ago. However, the only blemish on the club’s schedule was a rather large one. Atlanta dropped a 3-1 result at Eastern rivals Philadelphia on August 31. The team could have vaulted into 1st-place with a win but instead now sit in third place. Atlanta still has a shot at first place with a game in hand over the Union. Josef Martinez’s record streak of 13 consecutive games with a goal is pretty exciting though.
9. Seattle Sounders (7)
Seattle had a bit of a sluggish month of August but looked headed in the right direction at the end. Seattle fell at home to Sporting KC and had just two points through four games until closing out the month with a strong 2-1 win at Portland. September opened with Seattle downing the LA Galaxy in a thrilling 4-3 win. Seattle has been notorious for an early-season slide with a late-season surge. 2019 did not have the former, but the latter might well be on its way.
10. Portland Timbers (11)
Portland has everything set up for success. Sure, the team enters September in 8th-place but is just six points out of 2nd. The Timbers also have played at least one fewer match than all other teams ahead of them in the table. Best of all, though, Portland has six of its final seven games at home. If the season goes sideways, there will be nobody to blame but the team itself. Portland has not been unbeatable at home, but they have been competitive. The Timbers need to be a bit more consistent and dangerous in the front of the goal to have a realistic chance of reaching MLS Cup once more.
11. Real Salt Lake (13)
August was a rather tumultuous month for RSL. Coach Mike Petke lost his job under disruptive circumstances. Freddy Juarez took over as interim coach as the situation appeared difficult for the club. Still, the players have done well not to let that become a distraction. RSL picked up four wins in six matches and beat playoff-bound clubs in Seattle and NYCFC. At this point, a playoff spot is RS L’s to lose.
12. FC Dallas (14)
It took Zdenek Ondrasek 11 games to figure out MLS, but once he did he came alive. Ondrasek scored all four of his goals for FC Dallas over the final three games of the month, helping FC Dallas pile up seven points in those matches. The attack finally showed signs of life as the club scored 16 goals in August, this despite two shutout losses. Michael Barrios broke his scoring slump on August 25 in the 5-1 win over Houston, his first goal since March 23. FC Dallas is wildly inconsistent. If the team can have more highs than lows down the stretch, then a playoff spot and a home game is not out of reach.
13. Toronto FC (15)
The bad news for Toronto FC was that August yielded just one league win from five matches. The good news is that the Eastern Conference is very mediocre. Even better, Toronto FC had just one loss last month and has solidified its standing since early July. Toronto FC has a 4-2-3 since July 13. By comparison, the club had a 1-5-3 record in the previous eight matches. Part of Toronto’s problem is the team does not have a go-to player on the attack. No player had more than one goal in August.
14. New York Red Bulls (10)
This season has been a strange one for the New York Red Bulls. The club looks like it’s falling apart, unable to mount any sort of consistency throughout the campaign. Yet the team has 41 points and is in line for a playoff spot. Still, the team is going through tough times, and it seems unlikely that the Red Bulls would make a run at MLS Cup. Instead, October could be the impetus for major changes in north Jersey.
15. Sporting KC (19)
Sporting KC had been having a terrible season, but the club chose a good time to wake up. Sporting KC closed out August with a three-game winning streak and had 12 points overall last month. While the playoffs seem like a longshot at this point, that the team is even within sight of a playoff spot speaks to the team’s current form. Unfortunately, the schedule does not line up well. Four of the five teams left on Sporting KC’s schedule have more points.
16. DC United (12)
The Wayne Rooney Era came to an unceremonious end in MLS. Rooney is not done playing in the league but announced his exit, which will take place following the season. Rooney has been just okay this year, scoring some spectacular goals but otherwise just having himself a mediocre campaign. Rooney has taken to Twitter to spout off on several things over the last weeks, including travel nightmares and a row with the British media. DC United is following his lead as the club has not been the dominant force many expected. Still, DC United should reach the playoffs. If the club can figure out how to play cohesively over the last four matches, then Rooney might be able to leave on a high note.
17. Colorado Rapids (18)
After a strong June, Colorado returned to the form fans all know and expect from the Rapids. They took one point in four games in July. However, Colorado stunned onlookers with a 3-2-1 record in August, pulling off strong wins against San Jose and at New York. You don’t have to go too far back for the last time Colorado won three times in one month. That would be June, hitting that number for the first time since October 2016. Colorado seems to have turned the corner from dreadful to respectable, and most of that was before the club hired new coach Robin Fraser.
18. Chicago Fire (22)
Chicago climbed a few spots due to some improved play. They had a dramatic come-from-behind draw at Columbus to finish August with a draw. Chicago piled up 10 points last month, the most points the team has accumulated in one month this season. In fact, it was more than the team had compiled from May 18 to July 27. Not surprisingly, Nemanja Nikolic had his best month of the season, scoring five of his 11 goals in August.
19. Houston Dynamo (16)
Houston started the year off with such promise, holding a 5-1-1 mark through the first seven games. However, the team fell off badly, so much so that management decided to sack coach Wilmer Cabrera. It’s not enough to help salvage the season, but the move shows the team’s dissatisfaction with the output this year. The firing did nothing to boost morale as Houston earned just one point from six outings in August, the final three played after Cabrera’s sacking. A respectable finish at this point seems out of the question.
20. Montreal Impact (17)
Montreal had a rather strange month of August. Montreal entered the month with hopes of staying in playoff contention. The club did not fare well in the first two matches, both losses, but had a 3-0 lead over FC Dallas in its third game. However, FC Dallas scored once on the hour mark and twice in the game’s final five minutes to tie 3-3. The loss was the last straw for management who sacked Remi Garde days after the draw. The club though inexplicably hired Wilmer Cabrera who started August in charge of Houston. Montreal finishes with games against the LA Galaxy, Atlanta and New York Red Bulls, far too steep a hill to climb over to get the postseason, no matter who is coaching.
21. Orlando City SC (20)
Orlando’s painful season can be summed up in their final three games of August. Facing a tough challenge at Minnesota, Orlando took a 1-0 lead late in the second half and used some stellar goalkeeping to maintain a clean sheet for 90-plus minutes. Sadly, Orlando allowed a goal two minutes into stoppage time and dropped two points at the death. Even a penalty kick decision at the death went against Orlando thanks to VAR. The subsequent two matches: a 1-0 home loss to Atlanta and a 3-0 loss at San Jose. The highs are not often enough to build on, and the lows bury the team.
22. Vancouver Whitecaps (21)
One of Vancouver’s many problems all season has been scoring goals. Only FC Cincinnati has scored fewer than Vancouver’s 30. In August, the team took small steps toward resolving that as Vancouver scored in all six games it played. The only problem was that, aside from the first game of the month, the Caps scored just one goal in each game. The defense could not stop opponents as Vancouver was outscored 12-7 in those games. Vancouver’s goal now is to not finish in last place. The Whitecaps have a three-point deficit in the table. A September 14 visit from Houston, who has four points more than Vancouver, could decide who ends up bottom in the Western Conference.
23. Columbus Crew (23)
Every now and again, Columbus shows flickers of life. The Crew had a two-game win streak to close out August and had another brief flicker in the last two matches of August. Reality has splashed cold buckets of water at the Crew. Such was the case when Chicago scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time to steal a draw at Columbus on August 31. The lost points don’t really matter. Columbus’ eight wins have the team nowhere near the playoffs. It would have given the Crew a small bit of positivity to carry into the season’s last few weeks. Instead, it’s simply a reminder for Crew fans that this season and their suffering will end soon.
24. FC Cincinnati (24)
FC Cincinnati could reel off a five-game winning streak and it would still not be enough to get out of the 24th spot. FC Cincinnati’s season has been horrendous and will go down as one of the worst in the expansion era. The club will play four of five games this month at home. At least the team will be able to bid farewell to its fans in person. Of the four home games, only Atlanta and Toronto are in playoff contention so a win might not be asking for too much.
Luis Bueno is a veteran soccer writer. Follow him on twitter @BuenoSoccer.
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Photo by Andrew Katsampes – ISIPhotos.com