We're 10 weeks into the MLS season, so we're at that point where it's turning into a grind. Teams are facing long road trips and midweek games, and it's not easy for anyone anymore. That means no more rolling out the same XI every week. It shows.
Here are our takeaways of Week 10:
Bill StreicherBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Galaxy hope they've finally turned a corner – but it raises a big dilemma
It's been as awful a start to the season as any Galaxy fan can remember. Curt Onalfo, the Galaxy's new coach, has seemingly been in the hot seat for his squad's inability to perform, both on an individual basis and as a group. But after falling 2-0 to the Chicago Fire on Saturday, it seemed like Onalfo and the Galaxy were finally fed up with losing and found a way to eke out a 2-2 draw.
Onalfo made a substitution that didn't seem like the most obvious solution to the Galaxy's woes and looked like a big risk: he benched captain and centerback Jelle Van Damme in the 33rd minute. Not long after, Jermaine Jones came out after a collision. The result? The Galaxy played better without Van Damme and Jones, who tend to do their own things and expect the team to conform to their styles of play, which has created chaos for the Galaxy.
The second half was maybe the Galaxy's best all season – Giovani Dos Santos was freer to get into pockets where he could get the ball and be dangerous, the central midfield was tighter and more organized, and the Galaxy found two goals. While Onalfo and the Galaxy are keen to spin the improved performance as a positive, there's that alarming, lingering detail: The Galaxy's best half of the season came without one Designated Player and without one TAM player on the field.
Will Onalfo start benching Van Damme or Jones?
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Union finally win, thanks to Sapong
C.J. Sapong's first hat trick of his career could not have come at a better time for Union coach Jim Curtin, whose seat seemed to be getting hot.
The Union throttled the New York Red Bulls with a 3-0 win on Saturday and they are hoping it's just the start of an improvement. Coming into this weekend, the Union hadn't won since August of last year – and sure, they didn't play any games for a few of those months, but they needed to end this streak so they could play with more confidence.
It's too soon to know if this is a fluke – the blips we see in MLS all the time – or a blueprint for the Union going forward. But it's something the Union needed desperately.
Bill StreicherBill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Rapids are probably the worst team in the league
Who's at the bottom of the league in points, goals scored, shots taken and chances created? It's the Colorado Rapids, who are proving with every passing week that 2016's success was an anomaly. Last year, they didn't score much but they were ultra defensive, grinding out draws and wins by one-goal margins. But now, their defense is letting them down and they still can't score, which is a recipe for disaster.
Sure, they've been missing centerback Axel Sjoberg to injury but that alone can't be blamed on the Rapids' problems. They seem to have given up on the idea of repeating last year's defensive performance and they traded away fullback Marc Burch and defensive midfielder Sam Cronin, which doesn't help. And yet, they don't have any goal-scorers who can be counted on to find the back of the net consistently.
It's ugly, tough soccer to watch and the Rapids have time to try to start to figure things out and then add more pieces in the summer transfer window. But they might just call this a transition year and set their expectations low because not much is going right so far.
Ron ChenoyRon Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Toronto FC has good depth in homegrown Jay Chapman
Toronto vs. Seattle may have been a rematch of last year's MLS Cup, but Saturday's match-up was still just a regular season match between two teams in different conferences. So TFC coach Greg Vanney rested starters for the long road trip, including the talismanic Sebastian Giovinco, and they still got the 1-0 win.
Depth played a key role in Toronto's win, including the good work from Jay Chapman in place of Giovinco during the rookie's 2017 starting debut. It was his through-ball that forced the penalty that Toronto scored the game-winner on, but he was aggressive throughout the afternoon. He showed promising vision to get the ball to the right players and he was good off the ball at creating space. No, Chapman isn't going to be replacing the one-time MLS MVP Giovinco anytime soon, but if Toronto are going to make a play for the Supporter's Shield, they will need depth pieces like Chapman to keep having games like he did on Saturday.
Jennifer BuchananJennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Spor
Depth is starting to matter a lot for everyone
If there was a running theme for Week 10, it was that starters were being rested because long road stretches and midweek games are becoming more prevalent (and in some cases, there were also injuries). With that, teams had to turn to depth and some looked better equipped to lose starters than others.
Sporting Kansas City got throttled by Minnesota United and changes on the back line looked to blame. The aforementioned Toronto FC used depth to their advantage vs. Seattle. And the Portland Timbers were forced to try to replace injured Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe and found out that those two stars are irreplaceable in a loss to the San Jose Earthquakes.
MLS teams have to be built for squad rotation. No team is going to win an MLS Cup with just 11 players, and we're starting to find out who has a complete roster and who doesn’t.
Troy WayrynenTroy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
NYCFC started Pirlo on the bench again, and they looked better for it
Last week wasn't just a one-off. It looks like Andrea Pirlo starting games on the bench is the new normal for New York City FC and, well, they look all the better for it. They won both those games, including their dominant 3-1 win over Atlanta United on Sunday this week.
We've talked about how Pirlo may be a luxury player who doesn't fit with NYCFC, but a big part of the difference in how NYCFC plays without Pirlo is the presence of Yangel Herrera. He allows Alex Ring to sit deeper as more a traditional holding midfielder in Pirlo's place and Herrera is able to push up the field and cover a lot of ground on both sides of the ball. NYCFC have needed that because with Pirlo, they've gotten overrun in the central midfield too easily.
While there are real questions about Pirlo's status as a starter going forward, it was particularly key to have Herrera in Sunday's match vs. Atlanta United. That's because Atlanta is all about speed and counterattacking and going straight down the spine – Pirlo would've been a liability but Herrera helped contain it.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY SportsAdam Hunger
The Atlanta United hype train might need to slow down, at least a bit
There's no denying the talent and the fun style that Atlanta brought to MLS as an expansion team this season. But in all the excitement over their young, impressive Designated Players and their state-of-the-art training facilities, it's perhaps been lost that Atlanta is still an expansion team and they are vulnerable in a lot of ways.
Earlier in the week, we asked how good Atlanta United really is as a team, and Sunday's 3-1 loss to New York City FC was the perfect reminder that this team still has growing pains to get through. The cramped, small pitch at Yankee Stadium didn't help matters, but NYCFC made sure Atlanta couldn't get sprung up the field in transition and Atlanta had trouble creating scoring chances. The result was a frustrating 3-1 loss and Tata Martino needs to figure something out against teams who play like NYCFC did.
Jason GetzJason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
MNUFC sit ahead of the Sounders and the Galaxy in the table
Yes, you read that right. The Loons sit in seventh place of the Western Conference, just below the red playoff line. Now, to be fair, Minnesota has played one more match than the Sounders and the Galaxy, but they are averaging 1.1 points, which is nearly the same as the Sounders and is better than the Galaxy. Now that the Loons have stemmed the hemorrhaging of goals conceded, they look like a pretty decent team.
This isn't new, but it's worth repeating. Orlando City came into the weekend as the top team in the East and got blown away 4-0 by the Houston Dynamo. The aforementioned Union came in looking like they were in freefall and pummeled the Red Bulls. Same with second-last Minnesota United beating top-of-the-table Sporting Kansas City. The Timbers were indeed missing Valeri and Nagbe, but seeing them lose so resoundingly 3-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes probably wasn't anyone's prediction.
Welcome to MLS. Just don't get too cozy and start thinking you know what's going to happen.