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What’s plaguing the 6 winless MLS teams & how to fix them | MLSSoccer.com

What’s plaguing the 6 winless MLS teams & how to fix them | MLSSoccer.com

We’re just about a month into the 2024 MLS season, and six teams are still searching for their first win.

What’s wrong: They’re leaking chances

Through four games, the New England Revolution have allowed 10 goals and an Eastern Conference-leading 7.9 non-penalty xG, according to FBref. The Revs were solid defensively against Toronto FC and held up well in the first half against FC Cincinnati on Sunday. But against D.C. United (granted largely with 10 men) to start their season? And against Atlanta United on Matchday 4? Yikes.

Like the other two Eastern Conference teams we’ll touch on today, Caleb Porter’s side has clearly struggled to balance Concacaf Champions Cup play with the MLS regular-season schedule. At a more basic level, they’ve struggled to maintain enough defensive compactness in pressing moments or in a lower block.

The solution: Drop the line of confrontation

So far in 2024, the Revs have spent a decent amount of time pressing. According to Opta, they’re outside the top third of MLS teams when it comes to passes allowed per defensive action. They’re currently 11th in MLS in that metric, engaging the ball every 11.1 opposing passes. And yet, it sorta feels like everyone is a beat late in the press, doesn’t it?

Maybe it’s time to turn the defensive pressure down a few notches in hopes of more stability in the back. Porter doesn’t have to go full bunker-and-counter. Still, establishing a set defensive foundation is critical for this team.

What’s wrong: Attacking inconsistency

Signing Luis Muriel in the offseason was a fun move. Keeping Duncan McGuire gives Orlando City a legitimate short-term boost in the forward line. But does any of that matter if you can’t find your forwards in dangerous spots? If you’ve been watching Orlando games this year, you know the answer to that question is a firm “no.”

Outside of their 3-2 home loss to Minnesota United FC, Orlando have come up short in the chance creation department this year. They were toothless against CF Montréal to start the year and had similar issues against Inter Miami CF and Atlanta United, scoring a grand total of zero goals across those three games.

The solution: Tilt the scales in the attack’s favor

I’m going to say something that might make Oscar Pareja shutter: maybe it’s time to try not starting Iván Angulo?

The Colombian brings energy and off-ball movement to Orlando’s attack, but he’s eating up a wing spot that could be put to better use by a smoother possession player. Angulo has been a non-factor in the final third this year, and it’s worth trying to tilt the scales in the attack’s favor by shifting the personnel.

What’s wrong: A lack of rhythm

Between the fact they’re yet to actually lose a regular-season game, their CCC schedule, and their postponed match with the Seattle Sounders, I’m not all that worried about the Philadelphia Union. That 6-0 loss to Pachuca in the Champions Cup? Inexcusable. But you can bet your bottom dollar head coach Jim Curtin both knows that and has communicated that fact in no uncertain words to his team.

Setting their CCC ouster aside, the Union’s attack hasn’t been great – but it hasn’t been awful, either. The same goes for the defense. Really, Philly look like a team that’s begging for a little rhythm.

The solution: Patience

Look, I don’t think the Union are going to finish inside the top four out East this year. Without any real offseason upgrades, it’s easy to see why fans have had their frustrations with ownership and the front office.

But make no mistake: with this proven core, the Union are still going to be a solid team. With a little patience (and maybe a tactical tweak or two), they’ll find their form.

What’s wrong: There’s no midfield creativity

No team in MLS has moved the ball into the final third less than Austin FC this year. According to FBref, they’re averaging just 18.5 passes into that part of the field every 90 minutes. Things don’t get much rosier when you look towards the box – Josh Wolff’s team sits 27th in MLS in box entry passes per 90, again per FBref.

With some mixture of Jhojan Valencia, Alex Ring, Dani Pereira, and Owen Wolff starting as the central midfielders in Austin’s 4-3-3, it’s not a surprise that they’ve struggled for incision in the attack.

The solution: Let Diego Rubio cook

Diego Fagundez, providing the service, and Sebastián Driussi, providing the box-crashing runs, terrorized opposing defenses back during Austin’s fun 2022 season. Last year, Austin’s attack shifted away from that dynamic while somehow becoming even more reliant on crosses at the same time. With Diego Rubio signed in free agency over the offseason, Wolff can hope for some combination play between the versatile Chilean and Driussi.

Austin FC’s No. 10 (who, lest we forget, is more scorer than creator) made his season debut on Saturday night. If he and Rubio can develop chemistry, Rubio’s clever vision and useful passing range as he drops from the No. 9 spot could add a much-needed dose of creativity.

What’s wrong: There are too many bumps and bruises

The big on-field problem for the Sounders is they’ve been unable to create quality chances in their first three games of the year. According to FBref, they have the worst shot quality in MLS, averaging just 0.06 non-penalty xG per shot. The players are trying to make Brian Schmetzer’s 3-2-5 possession shape work as best they can, but it’s just… not working.

The single greatest reason why Seattle are struggling to create chances in the final third isn’t necessarily a tactical issue, though. Rather, it’s a personnel issue. So far this season, Albert Rusnák, João Paulo, and a slew of others are yet to start. Pedro de la Vega is currently out with a hamstring injury, too. The injury bug has sunk its teeth straight into the Sounders – and it’s causing problems.

The solution: Ride it out

It’s not a fun solution, but that’s the long-term answer here, isn’t it? I can count the number of MLS teams that would thrive without five starters for the first month of the season on my invisible hand, so it’s no surprise Seattle have dipped early on in the year.

The good news for the Sounders is Rusnák made his season debut on Saturday. The same goes for Yeimar Gómez Andrade. This team is getting healthier, bit by bit.

What’s wrong: 2024 Daniel doesn’t look like 2023 Daniel

Daniel makes this save last year:

He probably makes this one too, though seeing through all of the traffic is no easy feat:

The Brazilian goalkeeper was the most efficient shot-stopper in MLS last year, saving just over a third of a goal more than expected every 90 minutes, according to FBref. Through four games this year, the 29-year-old has been the worst shot-stopper in MLS. Sure, there’s a lot of noise in the early-season data. But that swing is downright wild. Daniel is far from the Quakes’ only problem, but he’s been the most obvious one.

The solution: Hope Daniel finds his form and sharpen in possession

We have years of data that points to Daniel being an excellent goalkeeper, so the prevailing wisdom is he’ll find his footing here before too long.

Even still, potential improvement from Daniel doesn’t guarantee a Quakes’ turnaround. The ball is moving far too slowly in possession, out of either Luchi Gonzalez’s 4-2-3-1 or the straight 4-4-2 he used over the weekend. Without an elite central playmaker, San Jose have to raise their collective attacking game to find their wingers in good spots to create chances. We haven’t seen nearly enough of that in 2024.

Adding a truly high-level third DP would help the attack the most. But will that happen? History says “no.”

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