Weekend Recap: Lowery’s MLS takeaways, Pulisic shines for Chelsea in the FA Cup final, and San Diego Wave stay undefeated

Quick
Hits
  • The Philadelphia Union and the New York Red Bulls faced off in the Direct Derby, SKC is in trouble, and more from MLS
  • U.S. and Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic caused Liverpool real problems in the FA Cup final
  • Expansion team San Diego Wave won their third straight game and are on top of the NWSL table
May 15, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Wave FC forward Alex Morgan (13) acknowledges fans after their win over the Chicago Red Stars during the second half at Torero Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ray Acevedo-USA TODAY Sports

We’re back with another edition of the Weekend Recap. Every Monday, we make it easier for you to keep up with the most interesting and important things in American soccer by taking you through some of the past weekend’s key storylines.

Today, we’re looking back at a truly fun weekend in MLS, Christian Pulisic’s performance in the FA Cup final, and San Diego Wave’s win streak.

MLS

Lowery: Three MLS things that caught my eye this weekend

There was too much good stuff in MLS this weekend for me to focus on just one game. So instead we’re diving into three MLS things that caught my eye over the last few days.

1. Philly and the Red Bulls battle in the Direct Derby

Jim Curtin said it best. When asked for his thoughts on the first half of the Union’s eventual 1-1 draw with the Red Bulls, he described the game as one between “two teams that…are comfortable with chaos”. 

There was certainly plenty of chaos on Saturday between two of the most direct, pressing teams in MLS. According to Second Spectrum, the game had the fourth lowest effective playing time of any MLS game so far in 2022. The ball was only in play for just over 44 minutes, which is 10 minutes less than the average MLS match this year. 

As that effective playing time number indicates, it really was a Direct Derby. 

There were plenty of stoppages to go along with aggressive forward passing and defensive pressure. It was a game between two teams that know exactly how they want to play – and are quite good at playing their way. Philadelphia and New York’s similar tactical approaches showed up in the goals. 

Philly struck first with a perfectly Union goal. They played a hopeful long ball into the final third, won the second ball, and then let their central attackers go to work. 

Not to be outdone, the Red Bulls scored an on-brand goal of their own later in the second half. They played a hopeful ball into the attack before a bit of quick passing found Luquinhas in the box for the finish.

Neither team managed to secure all three points from this game, but they both showed why they’re near the top of the Eastern Conference. I, for one, am looking forward to the second Direct Derby later this season.

2. Sporting Kansas City give up a touchdown

Peter Vermes’ team is struggling. They lost 7-2 to the Portland Timbers on Saturday night, becoming just the second MLS team to lose a game by that scoreline, according to American soccer stats guru Paul Carr. The other team to lose 7-2? Sporting Kansas City, back in 2019. 

That scoreline flattered the Timbers, who were better, but probably not five goals better than SKC. Still, this is far from the first worrying data point on Kansas City this season. According to FBref, Sporting Kansas City are tied for 23rd in MLS in expected goals differential per 90 minutes. That means that they’re giving up far more chances than they’re collecting in the attack. 

Due to injuries, SKC’s roster is missing a lot of their attacking firepower. What’s left is largely a mixture of young players who are trying to find their way in MLS and veterans who appear past their primes. It’s not a great combination. 

That combination is particularly porous in defensive transition. Per Second Spectrum, only Toronto FC allow more xG per 90 minutes while defending in transition and only the Red Bulls allowed more xG in a single game in transition than SKC did on Saturday. Things like this happened far, far too much against Portland.

With very limited roster flexibility, SKC could end up missing the playoffs for the second time in the last four years.

3. Nancy’s CF Montreal is oh-so-fun

I’ve been buying Montreal stock since last year when Wilfried Nancy took over and oh-boy is that stock paying off. After the first third of the season, Montreal is on top of the Eastern Conference. They haven’t lost a game in two months and they impressed yet again in a 2-0 win over Charlotte FC on Saturday. 

Playing out of their 3-4-3 shape, Montreal consistently unbalanced Charlotte’s 4-4-2 diamond, using smart lateral ball movement to play around their opponents narrow midfield. They also regularly used Djordje Mihailovic and Joaquin Torres to overload Charlotte FC’s No. 6, Brandt Bronico, in midfield. 

Montreal like having the ball – and they’re better at using it than most teams in the league. This goal, with the ball moving from Kamal Miller in the back to Torres in the center circle to Romell Quioto in behind and then finally to Mihailovic at the edge of the six-yard-box for a tap-in, is just the latest example of their skill in possession.

For my money, Nancy’s Montreal is one of the best and most entertaining teams in MLS. I’m currently working on bribing J. Sam Jones to move them up his xEnt rankings. It’s slow going, but I think we’re almost there. 

Americans Abroad

Lowery: Christian Pulisic caused Liverpool problems in the FA Cup final

Chelsea ultimately fell to Liverpool in a penalty kick shootout, but Christian Pulisic was a force for Thomas Tuchel’s team during Saturday’s FA Cup final. Pulisic didn’t end up on the score sheet – no one did during the 120 combined minutes of regulation and extra time – but he performed exactly like the kind of player that the U.S. men’s national team needs him to be. He was active with his off-ball movement, dangerous on the dribble, and created a couple of chances for his teammates. 

Starting as Chelsea’s left winger in their 3-4-3 before moving into the No. 9 position late in the game, Pulisic did an excellent job of moving inside the box to create shots for himself. He made a couple of these weak-side to strong-side runs, starting away from the play…

Before cutting inside…

…and getting a shot off.

None of Pulisic’s three shots found the back of the net on Saturday, but producing repeatable goalscoring chances like he did against Liverpool is exactly what you want to do as an attacking player. If you produce enough of those chances, you will start scoring goals. 

Pulisic’s off-ball movement was sharp over the weekend – and he had some quality work on the ball as well. He beat defenders with his dribbling (no one completed more dribbles than the U.S. attacker) and he released the ball early enough to create a couple of chances for his teammates. Given that Pulisic struggled to beat players on the dribble and to release the ball on time during stretches of World Cup qualifying, his performance in the FA Cup final can only be a good thing for the USMNT as the June international break gets closer.

NWSL

Cascone: NWSL newcomers San Diego Wave keep their win streak alive

After three weeks of regular season matches, San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC sit atop the table in the first and second spots, respectively. A first-half Christen Press goal was the difference between Angel City and the Washington Spirit in D.C. on Sunday, with the expansion side coming away with all three points. San Diego also took care of business on the other side of the country, beating the Chicago Red Stars at home with a 2-1 scoreline.

The Wave made two changes to their Week 2 lineup that faced NJ/NY Gotham FC, slotting Kaleigh Riehl and Amirah Ali in for Abby Dahlkemper and Sofia Jakobsson against the Chicago Red Stars. This was head coach Casey Stoney’s third lineup combination in as many games, which might be unsurprising as the expansion side is still parsing out their on-field identity. In any case, each iteration of starting XIs has been successful.

The Wave, sitting on nine points, are the only team that haven’t left points on the table so far this season. 

After a scoreless first half, San Diego finally broke the stalemate in the 56th minute. Jakobsson won the ball from DiBernardo in the middle of the pitch and played Alex Morgan for a quick one-two sequence that sent Jakobsson past Kayla Sharples, Chicago’s lone defender. The breakaway ended with Jakobsson drawing a penalty kick and Sharples being shown a yellow card. Morgan put one past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher from the spot, scoring her fifth goal in two games. Morgan’s now tied for seventh with Carli Lloyd for most NWSL regular-season goals. 

Morgan nearly doubled San Diego’s lead in the 64th minute and Chicago’s Jill Aguilera seemingly notched her first-ever NWSL goal twenty minutes later, but the offside flag spoiled both parties. The scorelined remained 1-0 in favor of San Diego until the 89th minute, when Kelsey Turnow played a perfect ball into an unmarked Riehl, who sent another goal past Naeher from just outside the six-yard box. 

Less than two minutes later, Chicago’s attack joined the party and added a goal in the 91st minute. A poor clearance from the San Diego defense ended up at the feet of Chicago’s Yuki Nagasato, who played a one-touch pass into Ava Cook. Cook beat goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan with a one-touch strike, effectively ending San Diego’s shut-out streak. 

Despite the modest scoreline, Chicago clearly struggled with San Diego’s quick transition game. Their defense, who faced 19 shots, was bailed out by Naeher’s five saves and three offside calls and their offense was only able to put up nine shots. 

It’s worth mentioning that some of Chicago’s mainstays have been unavailable to start the season, including players like Morgan Gautrat, Mallory Pugh, and Kealia Watt. Ella Stevens, who has taken on a more substantial role in Chicago’s lineup this season, was also out for this game after a rib injury. It will be interesting to see whether Chris Petrucelli’s side will find their stride once those key players reintegrate into the lineup. 

Chicago’s availability report aside, the Wave have put on exciting shows in their first three regular-season games. They’ll look to stay on top of the table and extend their win streak to four this Wednesday on the road at Lynn Family Stadium against Racing Louisville FC. 

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