MLS Western Conference: Zack Steffen’s bad day, Minnesota United’s tactics & more on each team (2024)

Welcome back our two-part weekly MLS column here atBackheeledwhere we break down all 29 teams in the league.

I’ve got the West. Ben Wright’s got the East. Andres Gomez has the MLS cheat codes. Let’s chat about the latest for each Western Conference squad, shall we?

To read up on the East, check out Ben’s rundown.

Austin FC

Result: 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City

Daniel Pereira was asked to pull an Eduard Atuesta against SKC.

The 23-year-old is at his best when playing as a single pivot at the base of a three-man midfield, where his press resistance and silky ball progression can make the biggest impact. But on Saturday, Josh Wolff moved Pereira to the right-sided No. 8 spot in his 4-3-3 shape, ahead of No. 6 Jhojan Valencia and largely level with left-sided No. 8 Sebastian Driussi. Atuesta, once the best No. 6 in MLS before his move to Brazil, is back in MLS and has made a similar positional shift.

It’s not his best position, but Pereira was incisive in more advanced areas in his team’s 3-2 win. He had an early goal disallowed before notching two assists on Jader Obrian’s two first half finishes:

Make it a birthday brace for Jáder Obrian! 👏 pic.twitter.com/M4RVeiRcUq

— Austin FC (@AustinFC) May 19, 2024

There were rumblings about LAFC having real interest in trading for Pereira from Austin FC over the offseason before they ended up bringing Atuesta back from Brazil. With sharp performances like this one and heading into a contract option year next season, Pereira will continue to be in high demand both in Austin and around the league.

Colorado Rapids

Result: 5-3 loss at Real Salt Lake

Goalkeeping was a massive issue for the Colorado Rapids last season, where they allowed more goals than expected than all but four other teams in the league. It’s a good thing, then, that the Rapids front office went out in the winter and spent big on a new goalkeeper in the form of Zack Steffen.

…right?

Goal No. 12 on the year for Chicho!#RivalryWeek by @continentaltire pic.twitter.com/M7nKbME6Zf

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2024

…right?

GOMEZ GIVES SALT LAKE THE LEAD! 🔥#RivalryWeek by @continentaltire pic.twitter.com/7ewVsQEdtw

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2024

…right?

Zack Steffen will be an elite goalkeeper for the Colorado Rapids… right?Here’s what the Rapids should expect from the former U.S. starter.BackheeledArman Kafai

So far this year, Steffen has conceded six goals more than expected, according to FBref’s post-shot xG numbers, which makes him the worst shot-stopper in the entire league by a wide margin. Now that the MLS Players Association released the latest batch of salary numbers, we know that Steffen makes more than all but three goalkeepers in MLS.

*gulp*

I firmly believe the floor is higher for this Colorado Rapids squad than it’s been in quite some time. Thanks to their newfound willingness to press and attack on the break out of Chris Armas’ 4-2-3-1 shape, Saturday’s clash against RSL tilted in the Rapids’ favor in the early stages. But Steffen drops that floor down a few feet with his extreme volatility in front of goal.

FC Dallas

Result: 1-1 draw at Houston Dynamo

Saturday was so, so far from pretty, but it’s not about being pretty right now for FC Dallas.

We’re only a few weeks removed from me pondering the exact temperature of Nico Estevez’s seat – and while I’m not sure it’s time to close the door on that question, they’ve gone a respectable 3W-3D-2L in the last eight games across all competitions. Dallas sat back, absorbed the Houston Dynamo’s attacking forays, and ended up out xG-ing the hosts on the evening en route to picking up a solid point.

Being content with playing against the ball is absolutely the right move from Estevez, who simply doesn’t have the right healthy bodies in the backline or in central midfield to reliably build from the back or break lines into their dangerous attackers. We’re seeing more good stuff from Petar Musa and co. in transition — Dallas’ goal was a lovely bit of play from their three starting attackers in Musa, Jesus Ferreira, and Bernard Kamungo:

Musa ties it up in the Texas Derby! 🤠#RivalryWeek by @continentaltire pic.twitter.com/bHlnjCGYwH

— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 19, 2024

It’s far from the kind of soccer that seemed possible for FC Dallas way back in preseason. But gutsy, combative performances with a twist of top-end attacking talent go a long ways in MLS.

Houston Dynamo

Result: 1-1 draw vs. FC Dallas

The Houston Dynamo’s whole thing right now in the attack — or, at least a massive chunk of their whole thing — is letting their slew of midfielders play a slew of short passes to draw the opposing defense forward before playing a long ball over the top to one of the vertical threats.

When your go-to lineup includes three center backs, Artur, Hector Herrera, Coco Carrasquilla, Amine Bassi, and Sebastian Kowalczyk, you’re broadcasting your intentions to hit a bunch of rhythm-building passes to the world. And that’s fine! It makes sense for Ben Olsen’s team to control the ball, suck the defense in, and hit over the top. It’s a commonly used possession approach, with the Columbus Crew modeling it better than any team in MLS history.

The challenge for the Dynamo right now is that their quick progressive passes up field go to waste because their vertical threats just aren’t skillful enough on the ball. Without their starting No. 9 (Sebastian Ferreira) and their starting left winger (Nelson Quinones, who's never really shown it at this level, but still), it’s really just Griffin Dorsey and Ibrahim Aliyu stretching the line and providing service in Houston’s carefully manufactured transition moments.

And, well, yeah…it’s not great:

pic.twitter.com/wg3R1myUJD

— _ (@21LBRB) May 19, 2024

This is the kind of stuff that gets you Angry Ben Olsen. You don’t want Angry Ben Olsen.

pic.twitter.com/2rTz3ZxkBt

— _ (@21LBRB) May 19, 2024

Los Angeles FC

Result: Bye

MLS Western Conference: Zack Steffen’s bad day, Minnesota United’s tactics & more on each team (2024)

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