Pablo Mastroeni’s recent tirade against analytics drew some criticism, but his Rapids have responded with an impressive run of results
He may no longer be a part of the San Jose Earthquakes’ memorable “Goonies,” who rode last-gasp heroics to the 2012 MLS Supporters’ Shield, but Alan Gordon still knows how to make late magic happen.
The forward’s game-winning goal in the Colorado Rapids’ 2-1 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday not only gave him yet another last-ditch winner for his resume, it also kept his side riding a four-match winning streak in all competitions. Pablo Mastroeni’s men still aren’t dominating the statistical side of things, but they’ve started to climb out of the considerable hole they dug with some awful early-season results.
MLS Week 16 was all about the late goals, from Bradley Wright-Phillips’ double for the New York Red Bulls against 10-man Philadelphia to Jonathan Spector’s dramatic equalizer in Orlando City’s 3-3 draw with Montreal. Romain Alessandrini also joined the late-game fun, helping his LA Galaxy grab a draw against the Houston Dynamo with a 94th-minute equalizer.
The weekend wasn’t all beautiful. New York City FC defeated Seattle on a waterlogged Yankee Stadium field, with David Villa’s volleyed winner providing a sorely needed splash of beauty on an otherwise dreary day in the Bronx. There was plenty of beauty to behold at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where Atlanta United roared past struggling Columbus, welcoming back Josef Martinez to the goal-scoring column in the process.
Here is a look at some of the top storylines from MLS Week 16:
RAPIDS ON A ROLL AFTER MASTROENI TIRADE
When Pablo Mastroeni went on a rather public rant last month about stats and analytics not telling the entire story in soccer matches, he was quickly criticized for not appreciating the importance of numbers. That was never Mastroeni’s point, though.
“Stats will lose to the human spirit every day of the week,” Mastroeni said after the Rapids’ 1-0 win against Sporting Kansas City on May 27, a match that saw the Rapids limited to 27 percent possession and out-shot 24-6. The Rapids had just earned a hard-fought victory after a brutal 1-7-0 stretch, and the last thing Mastroeni was interested in was any suggestion that his team didn’t deserve the win because it was dominated on the stat sheet.
“It’s too simple to say that if you have the better stats you deserve to win the game,” Mastroeni told Goal when asked recently about his ‘Human Spirit” rant. “The game is very nuanced, and that’s the sweet spot of the game.”
Mastroeni laughed at the notion he was some sort of analytics hater because of his comments, and was quick to point out that he appreciates the value numbers can provide.
“There’s plenty of great data, and the data that coaches receive is pretty spot on,” Mastroeni said. “Never does a coach receive the stat sheet at the end of the game and go, ‘Oh my god, we only had the ball 30 percent of the time?’ I don’t need analytics to tell me that on the day we weren’t good with the ball, on the day we didn’t pass the ball well.
“What analytics can’t tell you is how much heart you had, how much fight, how much desire you had to hold on to a lead when you weren’t at your very best.
“That metric, in sport, is what you call the intangibles,” Mastroeni added. “I can’t put my finger in it but this team has something about them, they believe they’re going to win these games. Stats can’t give you that, because you’re going to look at the stats and think, ‘They shouldn’t have won.’ The intangibles are the unknown, but they’re also a stat — we just don’t know how to quantify that.”
Mastroeni was on to something with his rant, which came at the start of what has stretched to a four-match winning streak in all competitions. The Rapids have followed up their win against Sporting KC with victories over Columbus and Portland. In each of those matches the Rapids lost the possession battle and total shots category, though the disparity has grown smaller.
“Nobody cares, at the end of the day, how much possession you have if you’re not winning games,” Mastroeni said. “That’s the thing. Stylistically is never even a concern when you’re not winning games. You win a few ugly, and you know what happens? People start to play a little bit more free, and more relaxed, and there’s not as much pressure on you.”
That has begun to happen with the Rapids, who have steadily improved their play in recent weeks, even if they still aren’t dominating the stat sheet. The Rapids have managed to climb out of the Western Conference basement despite injuries having tested their mettle this season. Their already-thin attack had to cope without Shkelzen Gashi in Saturday’s win against Portland, and standout central defender Axel Sjoberg has battled a leg injury most of the season.
Rumors of attacking reinforcements have lingered this season, but unless and until those arrive this summer, Mastroeni’s men will need to continue grinding out results with disciplined defending and scrappy goal production.
Mastroeni makes no apologies for fielding a team that is earning wins against more stylish opponents. He also isn’t about to apologize for winning games in which his team is beaten on the stat sheet.
“If all those other stats are so critical and so important, then why don’t we just change the game and make those stats decide who wins the game?” Mastroeni asked with a chuckle. “The last time I checked the only stat that counts is the first one on the score sheet, the score of the game.”
Mastroeni isn’t about to ignore statistics, and insists he uses analytics to help prepare his team. But as long as the Rapids continue winning games, he isn’t about to change his belief that the human spirit, and intangibles, are just as important as any statistic. That holds especially true for the 2017 Rapids.
ORLANDO CITY COPES WITHOUT LARIN
Cyle Larin’s shocking DUI arrest and subsequent suspension rocked Orlando City last week. As much as it may have felt inappropriate to be overly concerned with how the striker’s absence will affect the Lions, the reality is Orlando is going to have to cope for the foreseeable future without its must influential player.
The big concern heading into Larin’s MLS-mandated passage through the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program was how Orlando would manage without his goals.
The first match of Larin’s absence saw the Lions score three goals in a draw with Montreal. Carlos Rivas stepped in to try and fill the void at forward, as he scored a goal and produced five shots playing alongside Giles Barnes in a 4-4-2 setup.
Matias Perez Garcia scored his first goal of the season, and will be needed to produce much more than he has been this season. His goal and assist Saturday made for a positive sign that the Lions might find alternative sources for goals over the next month.
Of course, Kaka will need to up his recent production, and stay healthy, but the Lions also will need to add some attacking punch in the summer transfer window. This was already something Orlando needed to address, having never really filled the void left by the trade of Kevin Molino last winter. But with no timetable set on Larin’s absence, there will be more pressure on the front office to bring in an impact attacking option as close to the opening of the transfer window as possible.
As for Larin, if he winds up missing 5-6 matches going through the SABH program, it could hurt Orlando’s chances of earning its first trip to the postseason. But the league’s track record of helping players recover from these kind of incidents is a good one.
C.J. Sapong faced a similar situation in 2015, but he went through the program and has seen his career rebound and even surpass his previous best. He was recently named to the U.S. national team’s preliminary Gold Cup roster, and is among the MLS leaders in goals scored.
How Larin responds remains to be seen, but right now his team can’t afford to wait around for him. They have the resources to add some talent, so expect some help to arrive in July.
FIRE EARN STATEMENT ROAD WIN
The Chicago Fire are enjoying their best season in years, but one lingering concern before this week continued to be their unreliable road form. At least that was before their impressive 2-1 win at Gillette Stadium against a New England Revolution side that came into their meeting unbeaten at home and owner of an 11-match home unbeaten streak.
The Fire did it by avoiding the kind of defensive mistakes that have plagued them on the road before. Part of that was down to the support provided from midfielders Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who were able to sit deeper after Chicago took an early lead, and then doubled it in the 61st minute.
Their ability to keep possession against the Revs — managing an almost 50-50 split — also helped limit the Revs’ opportunities. New England did manage 24 shots, but only five were on target.
Making the Fire’s road win even more impressive was the fact it came without Ghanaian speedster David Accam, who missed the match through what Fire coach Veljko Paunovic called “small physical issues.” The Fire didn’t miss Accam, though, in part because of the continued outstanding form of Luis Solignac, who has managed three goals and an assist during the 6-0-1 stretch the Fire are riding.
The win in New England — just the Fire’s second away win this year — should provide a much-needed confidence boost ahead of a looming brutal road trip next month that includes visits to Portland, NYCFC and Kansas City.
Though the Seattle Sounders wound up losing to New York City FC on Saturday, the match still offered the latest evidence that not only should Cristian Roldan be a part of the U.S. Gold Cup squad, he would be a good candidate to start for Bruce Arena’s side.
One of the most improved players in MLS this season, Roldan is on the preliminary Gold Cup roster, with Arena set to name his full squad next week. Roldan, an alternate for the U.S. January camp, is also a dual national Arena would be wise to cap-tie now.
Yangel Herrera turned in a steady performance for NYCFC in his return from a Bronze Ball-winning effort at the Under-20 World Cup for Venezuela. His latest showing makes you wonder just how much longer Andrea Pirlo will stick around NYCFC.
Might he retire this summer, paving the way for a summer designated player signing? Or is Patrick Vieira hoping to save him through the grueling summer in hopes of having him contribute in the postseason? One thing is clear: NYCFC looks like a much better team with Pirlo on the bench.
Herrera wasn’t the only Under-20 World Cup standout to step up in MLS this week. Real Salt Lake’s trio of Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon and Danny Acosta stepped into the lineup to help Mike Petke’s side earn a 1-0 victory against Minnesota United.
Glad was particularly impressive playing in the heart of a defense that had been bleeding goals in recent weeks. Will their return from South Korea be enough to help RSL become a playoff contender? Probably not, but Salt Lake can start being more competitive, and start building toward the future as Petke gets his young nucleus more matches.
Converting midfielders to right back is all the craze in MLS this season. Graham Zusi came into the campaign as the most high-profile example, but Matt Polster has been excellent at right back since moving there for the Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni found himself a good stopgap option in Marlon Hairston, who played there in Saturday’s win against Portland.
Though they are still just one of four teams with a winless road record this season, the Houston Dynamo are continuing to show signs of improvement. Their past three road games have produced a pair of draws and a 1-0 loss to Seattle on a late Will Bruin goal.
In fact, it took a Romain Alessandrini equalizer in stoppage time — one that appeared to be offside — to deny Wilmer Cabrera’s men their first road win of the season Saturday. They will put their 7-0-1 home record on the line this weekend against Texas rival FC Dallas, but after that comes a trip to Colorado, where the Rapids have recaptured their tough home form.
BEST OF MLS WEEK 16
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ignacio Piatti. The Montreal Impact winger produced two goals and an assist in the 3-3 draw against Orlando City.
ROOKIE OF THE WEEK: Nick Lima. The San Jose fullback was excellent in helping keep Sporting KC speedster Latif Blessing quiet while also preventing Benny Feilhaber from finding room to operate on the left flank.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Chicago Fire. Ended New England’s home unbeaten streak in their best road performance of the season.
COACH OF THE WEEK: Pablo Mastroeni. The Rapids coach pulled all the right strings, including sliding Mohammed Saied centrally and bringing on Alan Gordon to score his second straight late winner.
GOAL OF THE WEEK: Cristian Techera. The Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder’s free kick helped the Canadian side earn a draw against FC Dallas.
The reaction pic.twitter.com/cFUxQX2Zbw
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 18, 2017