Talking Points: Major League Soccer's most disappointing clubs in 2016
With two full months of Major League Soccer matches now in the books, it's time to look at the clubs that have a long summer in store. Jason Davis, Doug McIntyre, Jeff Carlisle and Graham Parker make their cases for the most disappointing clubs in MLS in 2016.
It started so well.
In the first two matches of the season, the Houston Dynamo fired home eight goals, collected four points against two of the league's presumed Cup contenders (including a massively encouraging 5-0 destruction of FC Dallas), and looked like a team worth keeping an eye on all year long. Coach Owen Coyle's promised attacking revolution was here.
Since then, however, everything has fallen apart. Instead of their aggressive approach leading to a host of wins, the Dynamo have dropped into an early-season tailspin. After convincingly beating FCD (a win that seems less impressive after their rivals posted no-shows in other away matches), Houston has earned just one of a possible 18 points. That's five losses in six matches, including a current losing streak that is now at three games.
And the problem isn't just limited to defensive issues that were evident, but understandable, to open the year. As Coyle has tweaked the approach, the attack has regressed as well. Houston has scored just a lone goal in its past four outings. It's one thing to lose games when you're scoring goals in bunches -- at least that will entertain the home fans -- but when the goals stop and the team is allowing a prodigious amount of goals, no one is happy.
So far, Coyle hasn't done much to shake the perception that foreign managers struggle in MLS. The Scotsman was supposed to be different, with his affinity for American players and his open-minded attitude. We can give him credit for wanting to open things up and put on a show in bayou country, but he can't avoid the reality that the results are disastrous.
-- Jason Davis (@davisjsn)
Toward the end of a preseason conversation with Nelson Rodriguez, the Chicago Fire's general manager pleaded for patience with his rebuilding team.
"Please give us time," said Rodriguez, the longtime league executive in his first full year on the job.
Which MLS club has been the biggest disappointment of 2016?
It was a reasonable request by a universally-respected leader. But looking back on it now, one has to wonder exactly how long it's going to take Rodriguez to make the once-proud Fire respectable again. For while early growing pains were expected under new coach Veljko Paunovic, there appears to have been worryingly little progress two months into the 2016 campaign.
The Fire sit dead last in the Eastern Conference after finishing a hellish 2015 with the worst record in MLS. They've won one game so far. And they have been utterly impotent in the attack, scoring just seven goals in their first seven games, tied for the worst output in the league.
It's still early, to be sure. Perhaps the arrival of Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam, signed by the club Wednesday, will help get better and more frequent service to capable striker Kennedy Igboananike, whose three goals lead the Fire.
But in an improved East, one has to wonder if that will be enough -- anywhere close to enough -- to lift the Fire into playoff contention. Given the hole they've dug already, any turnaround has to happen quickly. On the eve of a three-game road trip, (Chicago is 0-2 away from home this year) the task is daunting. The Fire must stop the bleeding or start waiting for next year.
-- Doug McIntyre (@DougMacESPN)
Six weeks ago, I wrote in this space that despite the Vancouver Whitecaps' losing their first two games, the team was occupying a space somewhere between "Remain calm, all is well" and "I don't know whether to be worried or not."
The 'Caps moved toward the former when they won their next two games. But since that modest winning streak, Vancouver has gone 1-3-2, giving it a 3-5-2 mark on the year, and making the 'Caps the biggest disappointment of the year in MLS.
Remember, this not only was a playoff team last year, it was one that seemed to be on the rise thanks to a league-leading defense and some dynamic, young attacking talent.
But the defense has been subpar this season, surrendering 1.50 goals per game -- which puts it in the bottom half of the league in that category -- and allowing a league-worst 12 chances per game. Beyond the numbers, Vancouver has been guilty of some backbreaking giveaways that have resulted in goals.
The attack hasn't been much better due to the fact that the 'Caps just aren't taking care of the ball. Vancouver's pass-completion percentage of 70.5 is tied for the worst mark in the league, with the passing in the middle and attacking thirds especially problematic.
All told, Vancouver has regressed on multiple fronts, but manager Carl Robinson must sort out the defense first in order to give his team any kind of chance at racking up some victories.
-- Jeff Carlisle (@JeffreyCarlisle)
New York City FC
It is not just the lack of statistical improvement for New York City this season -- results are negligibly better than this time last year -- that should be cause for alarm, but rather the fact that it all looks like so much effort, even when things work out.
Getting the first home win at the weekend was a step in the right direction, but it almost had the feel of watching a Cup game, particularly for the final 17 minutes or so as the crowd in the Bronx anxiously counted down to the end of the game.
The fact is that the club still looks like an expansion team. Patrick Vieira's formation experimentations for the Yankee Stadium pitch have the same feeling of triage as Jason Kreis' attempts to stumble onto a workable midfield formula that could accommodate Andrea Pirlo and notionally, Frank Lampard.
Pirlo has been intermittently better this year, most notably in his assist for David Villa's spectacular goal at the weekend. As it stands, Lampard has so far been a functional and symbolic disaster. As for Villa, he looks like a man who must carry out the Sisyphean task of pushing his team uphill in every single game; it is very hard to see any sense of institutional memory building for the team as a whole, other than the steady leaking of goals.
-- Graham Parker (@KidWeil)