MLS has seen an unusual phenomenon during last two weeks. Not unusual for the global soccer world, necessarily, but odd for MLS: coaches being fired, en masse, early in the season.
MLS has a rather forgiving format, both with the lack of relegation threat and the amount annual of postseason berths. For most clubs, win three or four matches in a row, and suddenly you have a shot. Just ask Atlanta United (more on that later). But with the Colorado Rapids, FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution all reacting both to a poor run of results and managers criticizing the quality and performance of their players, a slew of early-season coaching changes took the spotlight entering Week 11, and that's where we'll start our weekly look back at the most notable items of the weekend:
I. The coaching bump works, Part I
The New England Revolution let Brad Friedel go after it was clear the club's defensive woes and overall morale were not improving, and they were rewarded with a 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes in interim coach Mike Lapper's debut on the bench.
This wasn't exactly a Man City-inspired performance (that, apparently, is reserved for LAFC, according to Caleb Porter), and carrying less than 27% possession isn't really a sustainable way of life, but for the Revs, any points at all are cause for celebration, and the win marked an impressive and quick turnaround after a 5-0 midweek thrashing in Chicago.
It's been documented plenty that Friedel was far from the Revolution's only problem, but the club's play in his absence will go a long way in showing just how much of the problem his presence really was.
II. The coaching bump works, Part II
FC Cincinnati didn't really give Alan Koch much leeway at the start of an expansion season, and it even kicked him on the way out of the door (was "After winning the 2018 USL Regular-Season Championship with a league-record 23-3-8 mark, FCC failed to advance past the conference semifinal" that crucial of a point to make in his send-off press release from an MLS job?), but the club enjoyed its first match in the post-Koch era, with Yoann Damet overseeing a 2-1 win over Montreal–his former employer.
The 29-year-old became the youngest MLS coach to win a game, but more importantly, he oversaw a result that helped FCC snap a five-game losing streak and a five-game scoreless streak.
The temporary morale boost will surely help, but, as is the case in New England and as is the case in most instances of a manager change at any club, the problems go beyond one person.
III. The coaching bump still hasn't worked
Poor Colorado. With interim manager Conor Casey at the helm for his second match, the Rapids fell again, this time a 3-2 heartbreaker to Rocky Mountain Cup rival Real Salt Lake. The Rapids showed fight, coming back from 2-0 down to pull even at 2-2–only to concede the go-ahead goal three minutes later and then have Kei Kamara miss on a penalty kick with a chance to pull even again.
The loss dumped Colorado to 0-9-2, the worst 11-game start to an MLS season ever. The club has lost eight straight matches. It spent big to sign U.S. winger Jonathan Lewis from NYCFC, and perhaps that will make a difference, but what an atrocious farewell tour this has turned into for retiring goalkeeper Tim Howard.
IV. That's more like it, Atlanta
The clamoring for Frank de Boer's job is quieting in Atlanta, where the 2018 champions won their fourth straight match. The feat is even more impressive when considering that the Five Stripes haven't conceded a goal during that entire stretch. In fact, all of its five wins this season have come via the clean sheet.
Sunday's triumph over southeastern "rival" Orlando (it's a forced rivalry at this point, let's be honest. Atlanta is 5-0-2 against the Lions in their brief history together) also featured the long-awaited first goal in MLS from Pity Martinez, the offseason record signing.
The full efforts still aren't what we've come to expect from Atlanta, but wins featuring shutouts and goals from the big-money stars will do plenty to continue getting the club on track.
V. Cristian Roldan, master of the golazo
Cristian, or Cristiano? That's a second-straight week that Cristian Roldan has secured a result for the Seattle Sounders with a thunderbolt from long range, following last week's effort in a draw vs. Minnesota United with this game-winner vs. a very solid Houston Dynamo side.
VI. Is this bad?
VII. Choke job?
What exactly was Zlatan Ibrahimovic thinking here, amid a heated moment at the end of the LA Galaxy's 2-0 home loss to NYCFC?
According to Sean Johnson, he knows exactly what he was doing, with the NYCFC goalkeeper saying, "Zlatan is a talented player, he obviously knows what he is doing, he is a clever boy and you know, it is a part of the game. I would be frustrated if I were him too, you know. Can’t blame him for his frustration at that point in the game. Obviously our boys did a job today to keep him off the scoresheet and he is only happy when he is scoring, so job done, we will take the three points and go back."
It's the Galaxy currently in the midst of a choke job, meanwhile, as losers of three straight after a 7-1-1 start to the season. Fortunately for them, a home date vs. lowly Colorado is up next.
VIII. Philadelphia edges Toronto by one shot
If only Toronto FC had Kawhi Leonard.
IX. Chicago's big week
Two wins by a combined 7-0 scoreline amid the backdrop of a move back to Chicago city proper makes for a good few days in and around the Windy City. That Nicolas Gaitan signing is looking better by the game, with the snowball effect the Argentine playmaker is having on the rest of the attack being precisely what it needed.
That he scored his first two goals this week is an added plus.
X. LAFC goes about its business
Ho hum, just another three points for Bob Bradley's side. It took until the end for LAFC to put the Crew away, but a 3-0 win in Columbus extended the club's lead in the Western Conference and put a staggering 15 points between LAFC and the playoff line. By comparison, in the east, that spread is seven points.
XI. A touching tribute
Paul Arriola scored the only goal in D.C. United's 1-0 win over Struggling Sporting Kansas City, and on Mother's Day, he delivered a tribute to both his mom and his late father, who passed away last October.
Arriola wore a T-shirt with him posing with his mom in the stands at a U.S. national team game. For his goal celebration, he took of his cleat and used it as a telephone, mimicking a call he wish he could make to his dad. It was a lovely personal touch for a player clearly feeling some added emotion as he continues to navigate his own personal situation.