This weekend, by my reckoning, marked the start of the stretch run. There’s about a third of the season left, roughly an 11-game sprint to a shot at postseason glory or a very long winter spent trying to figure out what went wrong.
Seems like a good excuse to just go through the entire weekend a game at a time to get a 10,000-foot view of what’s happening. We’ll do it chronologically.
Atlanta United 3, Orlando City 0
Since firing Gabriel Heinze, Atlanta are 5-3-2. That’s 1.7 ppg, which would be good for third in the East overall.
If they just did that they’d be a playoff team. But they’re doing much, much more than that lately. On Friday night they smoked an Orlando City side that was previously second in the East, and did so without Josef Martinez and Miles Robinson — arguably, I’d say, Atlanta’s two best players. They also did it while addressing the gigantic spacing issues that Nashville had so ruthlessly exploited two weeks ago in Gonzalo Pineda’s sideline debut.
“They solved some tactical kinks on their own,” Pineda said of his players, “and that is where I am very happy. Sometimes, we as coaches can really pay attention to the solutions that the players provide to us, not us always providing the solutions. I love to analyze the training sessions because we can see certain behaviors from them that we can continue in the game plan, and they did it fantastically today.”
They really did, and not just defensively. Atlanta’s 3-5-2 with a pair of false 9s caused all sorts of confusion in Orlando’s usually stout defense, and Pineda should take a bow for that. But the bedrock of this turnaround is that the guys the Five Stripes are paying to be really, really good — Marcelino Moreno, Luiz Araujo and even, yes, Ezequiel Barco — are finally being really, really good virtually every week they’re out there. Over the past six weeks Atlanta’s best players have actually been their best players; it’s no longer “just get it out wide to Brooks Lennon and pray.”
What I’m saying is that I think they’re back. They probably won’t achieve A-Tier contender status, but they’ve won five of six and are only four points out of fourth place and the no-doubt-about-it sold-out playoff opener that comes with it.
Hope you all had your fun on social media while Atlanta’s fans were in hibernation for the past 18 months.
This is the Lions’ first loss in seven, so there should be no panic there. But on a longer view, maybe some concern as they’re just 4-4-5 since the start of July, and while some of that can be chalked up to absences, Daryl Dike and Mauricio Pereyra were back for this one, and Nani’s healthy and in the XI.
I don’t think the bottom’s going to drop out or anything, but it’s been a long while since Orlando have put forth the type of performance they’re capable of.
Vancouver Whitecaps 0, Portland Timbers 1
The bottom did, in fact, appear to drop out on the Timbers a month ago at home to Seattle. They’d just taken a record defeat to a rival and were staring at a season-defining five-game road trip. If it went badly, then that was it.
It mostly went very, very well. I’d say it was already a successful trip even before this game, but the win sealed it: the Timbers wrapped up…