It is the only reliable predictor of results in a league that spits out points seemingly at random and the reason why MLS Cup dark horses Vancouver and New England are in deep trouble.
Asked after his team’s 2-1 loss on Sunday at CenturyLink Field what was so different about these new-look Sounders, Real Salt Lake coach Jeff Cassar described a more aggressive opponent than the one that travelled to Rio Tinto Stadium in March. He said Brian Schmetzer’s squad pressed higher up the field, fought for one another, played with a renewed spirit.
Cassar concluded his answer with his most obvious point, his tone suggesting someone who was explaining a widely accepted truth: “And they’re at home. When you give up goals, the crowd really gets going here.”
If there is such a thing as a guiding principle in Major League Soccer, this is it: Win your home games.
It is the bare-minimum requirement for any wannabe contenders, the only reliable predictor of results in a league that spits out points seemingly at random.
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It is the reason why the Vancouver Whitecaps and New England Revolution, two teams widely considered MLS Cup dark horses entering this season, are in deep trouble as the campaign turns for the home stretch.
Winning on the road is so difficult in MLS for a variety of factors that I examined at length earlier this season — travel distance, lack of an established routine, the mentality of settling for a point. The numbers are even more dramatic at this point in the year with a larger sample size. The defending champion Timbers are 8-3-2 at home and 0-6-6 on the road. Chicago, in last place in the entire league, is 4-2-5 at home and 0-9-2 away from it.
Home form may be the truest litmus test in a league where results fluctuate so wildly through a campaign.
The Sounders pointed to encouraging overall performances over the first chunk of this season as proof that they’d turn things around without a significant shakeup — their five home losses, most in MLS, painted a different and appropriately starker picture.
The ‘Caps and Revs were the only two teams to have lost at home this past weekend in MLS, and each did so in embarrassingly comprehensive fashion.
New England lost 4-0 to Philadelphia at Gillette Stadium, though that final score was probably a bit harsh. Vancouver fell 2-1 to San Jose at BC Place, and that tally was generous. The Whitecaps looked flat and uninspired, ready for the game to be over with as soon as it kicked off.
The Revs were an up-and-down team even in the best of times — like, say, 2014, when they reached the MLS Cup final. When its group of technically skilled attackers is clicking, New England is among the most aesthetically pleasing teams in the league. When they’re not, the Revolution have struggled to come up with a Plan B.
The youth of Vancouver’s roster was pointed to as one of the driving forces behind its breakout success in 2015. As the losses have piled up this season, the ‘Caps could probably use a steadier hand.
Both Vancouver and New England now find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. There is plenty of time to turn things around — the Revs have 10 games remaining in their regular season, the Whitecaps have nine — but little in last weekend’s performances inspires much hope for a late surge.
– Both Dallas and Colorado dropped points this past weekend, but nothing has changed atop the Western Conference. FCD and Kansas City exchanged leads before settling on a 2-2 draw in Frisco, while Tim Howard’s heroics in goal led the Rapids rescued a road point at Los Angeles on Saturday night.
– This weekend could prove significant for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference. The fourth-place Union host second-place Toronto on Saturday, a golden opportunity for Philly to further establish its bonafides as a legitimate contender. New York City FC can take a preemptive step away from the pack when it welcomes Los Angeles to Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and D.C. can solidify its hold on the final postseason berth when it hosts the third-place Red Bulls on Sunday.
– The competition may be flying under the radar locally with the Sounders having not qualified, but the CONCACAF Champions League is again in full swing. MLS participants Portland, Vancouver, New York and Dallas each opened their respective group stages with wins, and Kansas City enters the fray this coming week against Central FC of Trinidad & Tobago.
– Goal of the week: Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC.
Slim pickings this week, so I’m using this space to point out that the longtime U.S. national team standby is starting to find his form for TFC. Altidore’s blast from the center of the box resulted in his third goal in four games — not too shabby for a player that missed a chunk of this season (and Copa America Centenario) with a hamstring injury.
Related: Remember when Houston looked poised to become one of the destination franchises, an annual contender with a brand-new, downtown, soccer-only stadium? Far more empty orange seats than paying spectators watched as the last-place Dynamo draw 1-1 with Toronto.
– Games to watch in the coming week: Los Angeles at New York City FC (Saturday at 12 p.m. PST on ESPN), Toronto at Philadelphia (Saturday at 4 p.m. on MLS Live), Dallas at Salt Lake (Saturday at 7 p.m. on MLS Live), New York Red Bulls at D.C. (Sunday at 12 p.m. on ESPN).
|New York City FC||38||1.52||25||10||7||8|
|New York Red Bulls||36||1.44||25||10||9||6|
|Orlando City SC||27||1.17||23||5||6||12|
|New England Revolution||26||1.08||24||6||10||8|
|Columbus Crew SC||20||0.91||22||3||8||11|
|Real Salt Lake||37||1.48||25||10||8||7|
|Sporting Kansas City||35||1.35||26||10||11||5|
|San Jose Earthquakes||31||1.35||23||7||6||10|
|Vancouver Whitecaps FC||30||1.2||25||8||11||6|
|Seattle Sounders FC||27||1.17||23||8||12||3|