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MLS Talking Points: Struggling coaches on shaky ground in Week 9

7:07 am AEST 27/4/19
Brad Friedel New England Revolution 04202019
Brad Friedel and Anthony Hudson are the MLS coaches facing the most heat as their teams struggle heading into the second quarter of the 2019 season

Major League Soccer is heading into the second quarter of the 2019 season, meaning enough matches have been played to start getting a feel for the direction teams are heading, and a sense for which teams look likely to fail in their quests to improve on disappointing 2018 campaigns.

While some teams, like the Houston Dynamo and Montreal Impact, have shown clear improvement after failing to reach the playoffs in 2018, some others haven't been so fortunate and those struggles have certain coaches standing on shaky ground.

While seeing teams like the New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids struggle isn't exactly surprising, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United are two teams few could have envisioned sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings at this point in the season. Frank de Boer isn't likely to get the boot in Atlanta any time soon, and Chris Armas appears safe despite recent rumors linking Thierry Henry to his job, but the reigning MLS Cup champions and Supporters' Shield winners head into this weekend with important home matches they each need to win to start climbing back up into the part of the standings they were expected to inhabit.

Two teams are right where we expected them to be when 2019 began face off in Seattle in the match of the weekend, with league-leading Los Angeles FC takes on a banged-up Seattle Sounders side in a clash of West powers and rematch of last week's 4-1 demolition of Seattle by Bob Bradley's bunch. The Sounders will be at home this time around, but injuries and short rest after a midweek battle with the San Jose Earthquakes will make things tough for the Sounders.

Here are some key talking points for the ninth week of the 2019 MLS season. 

Struggling coaches on shaky ground

The New England Revolution and Colorado Rapids stand among the teams that have shown the least improvement in the new season, and that lack of progress is why Revs coach Brad Friedel and Rapids boss Anthony Hudson should be at the top of any list of MLS coaches in danger of being replaced.

The Revs' 3-0 home loss to the Montreal Impact on Wednesday felt like a new rock bottom for Friedel, who has watched his team surrender the most goals in the Eastern Conference and register the most losses in the league (six) so far. The season has felt like a step back for the second-year coach, who led the Revs to a 10-13-11 record in 2018, despite the additions of international signings Carles Gil and Juan Caicedo.

The Rapids have endured an even worse start to the season, managing a league-worst 0-6-2 record that has Colorado standing as the only remaining winless team in the league. That abysmal start comes after Hudson led the Rapids to the third-worst record in MLS in 2018, and it comes despite the Rapids having been very busy revamping their roster this winter, bringing in several established MLS veterans.

Hudson and the Rapids travel to Atlanta in search of that elusive first victory, and it won't come easy against an Atlanta United side desperate for its own season-turning result. The reigning champions have yet to win a home match in 2019, and could make things ugly against a Rapids defense that has allowed an astronomical 23 goals in eight matches, far and away the worst defensive record in MLS.

Friedel's Revs also face a daunting road trip, visiting Sporting Kansas City on Saturday in search of their first road win of the season. A loss to Sporting KC isn't likely to cost Friedel his job, but if New England stumbles through its upcoming three-match road swing, the Revs front office will need to think long and hard about making a change.

Match of the week: Seattle Sounders vs. Los Angeles FC

When the Seattle Sounders left Banc of California Stadium after a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Los Angeles FC the consolation was that they wouldn't have to wait long for some redemption. What they didn't know at the time was that they would head into the rematch even more banged up than they were in the first meeting.

Chad Marshall returned to action in Seattle's midweek 2-2 draw against San Jose, but new knocks picked up by Victor Rodriguez and Gustav Svennsson will complicate things for Brian Schmetzer's side on Sunday. Svensson will miss Sunday's match with a hamstring injury, and Rodriguez's availability is in doubt after taking a hard knock that resulted in him leaving Wednesday's match and undergoing concussion protocol. Raul Ruidiaz and Will Bruin both missed the San Jose match and are questionable for Sunday.

The potential absences of Rodriguez, Svensson, Ruidiaz and Bruin would once again leave the Sounders severely shorthanded against the best team in the league, though having Marshall back is a big boost because his absence was one of the biggest issues in last week match, which saw Roman Torres struggle badly in his place.

LAFC heads to CenturyLink Field with a rest advantage after not having to play on Wednesday. Bob Bradley's men will look to win the battle in midfield once again, as they did last week, with Mark-Anthony Kaye and Eduard Atuesta turning in outstanding shifts to help LAFC dominate Seattle and neutralize Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan.

Quick Kicks

The LA Galaxy are riding a six-match unbeaten streak, and are on the trail of LAFC for the league's best record, but the path to first place will be a bit tougher after news that star midfielder Romain Alessandrini will be sidelined until September after knee surgery. The French winger had been an integral part of the team's early-season success, but Galaxy coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto will need to turn to Ema Boateng and Chris Pontius to plck up the slack. Those are more short-term solutions though, with the Galaxy still having the wiggle room to add another player before the close of the current MLS transfer window.

The Philadelphia Union are riding a good run of form, having won four of their past five, but keeping that run going will be tough heading into their trip to Vancouver. Goalkeeper Andre Blake is out with a groin injury, while Marco Fabian is unlikely to play as he recovers from the ankle injury that has already forced him to miss a match. With left back Kai Wagner suspended and Mark McKenzie recovering from a recent appendectomy, the Union will be extremely shorthanded as they make their trip across the continent to face the Whitecaps.

Bob Bradley would probably run away with MLS coach of the year voting if the award was voted on today, but one coach putting together a quietly impressive season is FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez. The first-year coach is enjoying success with a young team, playing several teenagers and fielding a squad that owns wins against the LA Galaxy and Atlanta United, while showcasing young talents like Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira. Gonzalez will face off against another first-year MLS head coach on Saturday in Matias Almeyda, who has his San Jose Earthquakes looking sharper after a brutal start to the season. The tactical battle between Gonzalez and Almeyda will be one of the best match-ups to watch this weekend, with Gonzalez having the challenge of preparing his young side for San Jose's unique man-to-man style.

Week 9 Predictions

(*Best Bet)

NEW YORK CITY FC 2, Orlando City 1. With Heber fitting in well at striker, and Dome Torrent's shift to three center backs working well, NYCFC should make it three straight wins against an Orlando City team that has been eking out results, but not playing overly well.

TORONTO FC 2, Timbers 1. Jozy Altidore's absence will hurt, but TFC still has Alejandro Pozuelo to find the cracks in a Timbers defense that has been shaky this season.

FC DALLAS 3, Earthquakes 1. This one will be a good back-and-forth affair, and could come down to which team's fullbacks defend the best. Michael Barrios has been key to the FC Dallas attack, but Nick Lima can contain him, while Reggie Cannon will need to slow down red-hot Shea Salinas.

WHITECAPS 2, Union 1. Marc Dos Santos has had to endure a rough start to his tenure in Vancouver, but the Whitecaps appear to be rounding into form, and have a solid defensive performance to slow down the Union, who will be without injured goalkeeper Andre Blake.

*ATLANTA UNITED 4, Rapids 0. This one has bloodbath written all over it. Josef Martinez has been in a slump, but who better to break out against than the worst defense in MLS?

RED BULLS 3, FC Cincinnati 0. The Red Bulls are another surprising struggler that should rebound at home against a shaky opponent. Bradley Wright-Phillips is due for a big game, and this should be it, even with playmaker Kaku suspended.

DYNAMO 2, Crew 1. Two teams coming off disappointing losses square off in Houston, where the Dynamo have been very tough at home. The Crew have the midfield to match up well, but Waylon Francis  will struggle with Alberth Elis.

SPORTING KC 3, Revolution 1. Sporting KC's three-match winless slide can be chalked up at least in part to its CCL run, but now injuries are testing SKCs depth. Luckily for Peter Vermes' side, the Revs are an ideal slump-buster.

IMPACT 2, Fire 0. Montreal's midweek win at New England, after a well-documented travel ordeal, should have the Impact feeling confident on Sunday at home against a Fire side that looked lackluster against NYCFC.

Minnesota United 1, D.C. UNITED 2. The Loons defense enjoyed a good showing in Wednesday's 0-0 draw with the LA Galaxy, but can we count on another good game against D.C. United's dynamic attack? Wayne Rooney says no.

Sounders 1, LOS ANGELES FC 2. The Sounders have too many injuries to give LAFC the challenge necessary to win, especially after having played a midweek game.

GALAXY 3,  Real Salt Lake 1. RSL has put together back-to-back wins, but stopping Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be too much to ask.