Saturday, March 25, 2017

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United FC: I Can't Scout Under These Conditions

Minnesota is ruining science.
Until further notice, it makes sense to set results against Minnesota United FC outside the normal run of results. Their defense is that bad, worse even than the (holy shit!) 18 goals they’ve allowed this season. That’s over four games, or a faint-inducing 4.5 goals conceded per game.

I just, oh, 2/3 watched the New England Revolution beat Minnesota 5-2 (you can get most the information noted herein by bouncing around in there), and that 1/3-level distraction owes pretty much everything to the point made above. This thing ended as a contest at the half, so, when given the chance to read about the shit-show that is Southern manufacturing (Note: depressing), I didn’t mind the distraction so much. It only occurred to me around the 70th minute that I was watching the Portland Timbers’ next opponent after Columbus Crew SC today, but I don’t think a game this screwy gives much in the way of insight…

…but, I’m here, and now you’re here, so I may as well say something. Here goes.

Scouting New England
- With allowances for what I’m now calling the Vadim Demidov rule, Juan Agudelo had a great game. He scored two goals and drew a penalty (against Demidov), but his first was a headed tap-in, and his second owes at least a little to bad goalkeeping by Bobby Shuttleworth.
- Diego Fagundez impressed me today as much as anyone, and mostly with the range and quality of his passing. While not even sort of perfect, his feed to Lee Nguyen (of whom, meh) for New England’s 2nd broke a bad spell for the Revs that saw them playing too wide. Minnesota also struggled to contain his runs, letting him break the midfield line again and again and again (and again).
- I like where I’m seeing Kelyn Rowe for New England. He’s a pugnacious little shit, so I think playing him more centrally, and a little deeper suits him.
- Given how freakishly lopsided this game was, the breakdowns in New England’s defense should have them worried/Timbers fans salivating. I’m talking less about that first goal – which required a deflection from the gods – than the second set-piece goal, or the couple times ‘keeper Cody Cropper bobbled crosses. Cropper did come up with a big save, but the way that ball bobbled around didn't look so good. With Portland’s attack putting defenses in a blender, that doesn’t augur well for New England’s upcoming visit to the Rose City.

Pitying Minnesota
So far, this team has set out to answer the question, is there an MLS level? And they are answering in a strong positive. I could note that Bashkim Kadrii managed a couple decent crosses in the first half (but not enough of them, clearly, seeing as he got subbed at the half), but nothing really matters for Minnesota till they get their defense in order. And I mean all of their defense, because the problems run far, far, deeper than Demidov, or even just the back four. The midfield separated from the defense repeatedly in the first half, which left Revolution attackers running free in the space in between…and Minnesota just can’t do that, not with defenders that are that bad/slow/shitty.

Because Minnesota can’t just bring in defenders willy-nilly, this team needs to change how they defend. And urgently. Even if it’s just stacking the two banks of four inside the 18, they simply have to stop bleeding goals or they are going to have a shitty, shitty, shitty – and, one more – SHITTY season. Unless I miss my count, they’re sitting on a -12 goal differential. Four games in. That is disastrous.

Monday, March 20, 2017

MLS Week 3 Review: I Don't Know, Man...It's Just a Buncha Shit!

Moments do matter...

Because life got the better of me over the course of Major League Soccer’s Week 3, I only managed to catch the Portland Timbers inspiring 4-2 win over the Houston Dynamo…and because I ate yummy (expensive) food, and was given the chance to watch the Timbers win in loud, live sound, I regret nothing.

I blabbed about both teams plenty here (though mostly about the Timbers), but all the other games will get all the treatment I can give them – e.g. whatever I can make out from my notes of watching them play for 20 minutes, plus whatever other stuff I can find before posting this thing (which, when you read it, will all have happened…in the past! (We play with time here, at Conifers & Citrus; it’s like Looper, but we’re all much, much uglier)).

Also, in keeping with another tradition, every week means a tweak to the format. I’m going to give a couple thoughts on each of the games (I can do this…short synopses, Bull, SHORT!), and then close out again with five topics that slip in and out of some grand theme.

OK, looking at my notes….WHAT?! Jesus, who wrote these things?! (I know not the hand, for it is not my own.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Portland Timbers 4-2 Houston Dynamo: Referees and Comeback's a Bitch

Referees pictured at right, toward the top...

I can’t speak for the rest of Providence Park, but, the second the halftime whistle blew, my little corner of it positively raged at the referee (Alex Chapman, right?). So many middle fingers; didn’t think there were enough hands to hold all of ‘em. And  yet, a couple notes on this.

First, referees are as the gods; we are but their playthings. To put that another way, try to think of them the same way the ancient Greek thought of their gods – i.e., as capricious beings meddling in the affairs of mortals – and you’ll keep your blood pressure in check, your face won’t develop lines later in life because you’ll twist it into contortions less often, etc. I guess this makes the crowd a Greek chorus of the crowd, and the players the armies at the foot of Troy’s walls…c’mon, we’ve all read The Iliad, yes?

As for the job of refereeing itself, I view keeping a lid on potential violence during a game as their primary mission. After that, I assume they all try get things right, but I also understand that they’ll bone a few calls most games, and it is what it is. All in all, it’s a shitty, thankless job that both fans and players make worse. A world without referees is a world without soccer, so can we all move on from this particular whining point?

OK, next point…hold on…gotta climb down from my high horse…

Second, in most cases a referee can only hurt a team when they’ve left themselves in a position to be hurt. And that’s at least a bit of what happened last night in the Portland Timbers' (eventual) 4-2 win over the Houston Dynamo: the Timbers coughed up free kicks all around their 18, and most of the fouls were legit – including the one that lead to Houston’s penalty kick. Roy Miller got his leg around Erick “Cubo” Torres, a call was reasonably made, etc.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MLS Week 2 Review: Of Rebuilds and Blowouts

Step 1. Have the baby...or you can't ruin her 14th.
As anyone who hit my Major League Soccer Week 1 Review, I went global on that thing. That was a big part of why that post went up Wednesday. Not the only part, but a big one.

The impulse to cover it all, while understandable, doesn’t really make sense. Sure, half of this comes from a place of tearful exhaustion (I…tried. Don’t you EVER tell me that I didn’t TRY, damn you!), but, on a practical level, how many interesting things can you really say about, oh, the New York Red Bulls’ 1-0 home win over the Colorado Rapids? I mean, I struggled to squeeze 10 lines total out of that turd (don’t worry; won’t pin the image to that line) between both teams, because, based on the condensed game, New York smothered Colorado’s broadly mediocre attack, Rapids’ ‘keeper Tim Howard made 3-4 good saves (and one great one against New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips), and New York attained “glory” on an own-goal by Eric Miller. Rah-rah.

As such, I’m cutting that shit out and going with a Top 5 this year, a hard Top 5…wait…shit. I was going to stick all the results somewhere in here, but now I realize that it’s late (midnight is 4 a.m. to the over 40 set), and I don’t wanna do it. Next week, people, next week (Make a note, Judy; we need to tighten our deadlines...). There’s a couple steps to that, however, and frequent visitors surely know my love for long preambles, so here’s that. I’ll run each of the five topics I choose against some form of local media – maybe the official site, maybe just the relevant SB Nation blog, maybe something I find on my own, or that someone suggests on her own – to confirm that I’m not missing something, or that I’m not reading too much signal from a noise I picked up in a condensed replay.

And that’s part two: I’ll write a reviews/analysis/bad-joke collection for any game the Portland Timbers play (See: this week’s 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy), plus two other games that I choose – and probably because, sure, it’s a game that interests no one but the local fans, and only half of them, but I take fewer risks with spoilers if I watch that one, so…that’s how you wind up writing up the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake (not even MLS can spoil the weekend's first game) and Sporting Kansas City’s intrigue-laden goal-less home draw versus FC Dallas (watch the babies, people; the babies).

And, finally, that takes us to Part 2 1/2: because those three games (or two games, on a slow week) get that much attention, I figure I should pull the Top 5 from the games I don’t watch all the way through. Sure, I risk passing on more lightly observed thoughts, but that’s where the local confirmation thing (e.g. running each point past local media) comes in...

…what? Why are you looking at my like the biological father who just brought a Barbie doll to his daughter’s 14th birthday? Christ, man, I’m doing the best I can out here…look, it’s my new girlfriend. She’s just really demanding…

We’ll talk about that later. Here’s this week’s Top 5.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-0 Los Angeles Galaxy: A Parade of False Flags

Early season stupor. Also, unfamiliar.
Tonight, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people of good, clear insight. The Portland Timbers picked up their first road win since 2015 when they beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0, and that’s a big deal. Something else slipped past me, given my anxious state, but the Timbers also kept a clean sheet today. So, thanks to @cobolsky and @brioe162, for being wiser men than me.

Still, that “anxious state” followed me home, and it revealed itself in the way some sort of invisible safety net left the game when David Guzman walked off, holding his left arm all funny. Guzman jacked his shoulder, as we all know now, even as we don’t know how badly, on what wound up being a second-yellow challenge from the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Jelle Van Damme. I watched that specific replay often as they showed it, and I’m still not 100%-clear as to whether Van Damme hit Guzman at knee level, or whether Guzman hurt himself on a leap/dive to get around Van Damme’s lunge. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, I mean, Guzman will take the same amount of time to heal, whether fair or foul, and that’s my biggest take-away from this game.

Things went some form of haywire after Guzman stepped off. Portland’s central defensive arrangement has functioned like a triangle through preseason and Game 1 2017 – e.g. Liam Ridgewell and Lawrence Olum, and with Guzman running in front of them in defense, and dropping between them when Portland had possession. Basically, Guzman really has (near as I can tell, and I can’t promise proximity) played as pure a No. 6 role as Portland will allow, and, once he went off, Portland reverted to Olum and Roy Miller (Ridgewell’s sufficiently creditable replacement) behind Ben Zemanski and Diego Chara, who receded to the back line in order to protect the lead, and the win. The sweet, sweet road win. Smells like honeysuckle on a June night, I tell you…

That was nice, right, sweet reverlry? Now, back to the panic…

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sporting Kansas City 0-0 FC Dallas, aka a Tense Inter-Generational Indie Comedy

I shit you not, Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming is EXCELLENT.
What Sporting Kansas City v. FC Dallas lacked in heightened moments - ended knotted in zeroes again; like SKC wanna be this year's Colorado - it more than made up for in framing. Call it the bone-dry coming of age comedy to the action movie experience we all expect from spectator sports, but that we get less often than we’d like to admit.

All in all, Dallas had the better game – and not in the way that Sporting’s color commentary kept bitching that they did. Yeah, Dallas played conservative, maybe even safe, but they played the better game: they consistently had defenders where they needed them and they created the best, cleanest chances.

The other subplot in here is the one alluded to in the first paragraph. Dallas…hold on, but, true story, I’m looking at the graphic line-up for the first time (sorry, people on twitter; I just checked the names, not where they lined up), and now where I saw specific players totally makes sense, for all that, continuing, Dallas didn’t just play back-ups; they played first-year players and a freakin’ 17-year-old kid, Paxton Pomykal. And that’s the thing: KC played veterans, plus a couple guys who, by broad consensus, rate in MLS – e.g. Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, etc. Now re-read paragraph 2. And Pomykal? He looked just fine. Even cleaned Benny's clock around the 43rd. So, yeah. Fuck off, old people. Look, even if you think I’m crediting Dallas too much, it’s remarkable that the equivalent of a Dallas B-side played KC to a draw at home.

OK, moving on to talking points now…

Chicago Fire 2-0 Real Salt Lake: It's Just the Mistakes Sometimes

Smooth 'n' creamy.
Well, that was pretty straightforward: Real Salt Lake gifted the Chicago Fire a couple cock-ups, and did a more or less creditable job of keeping out RSL, if abetted by at least one shocking miss by Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan, who looks more like an MLS 2.0 guy with each outing. I’d call RSL’s attack more coherent – especially over about 30 minutes in the second half (and is that “tale of two halves thing just something observers don’t even have to note anymore? Doesn’t that seem closer to the norm than wire-to-wire dominance?) – but superior approach play doesn’t win a team games, no matter how superior.

So, that’s that: Chicago scored one weird goal (Nemanja Nikolic’s; Sunday “Sunny” Stephen ruined a pretty damn clear offside call by poking into his path) and a great, if preventable second on an Arturo Alvarez solo mission, and they walked off 2-0 winners. I tell you, man, Alvarez has been Chicago’s most consistent attacker since the middle of 2016. That said, big credit to Dax McCarty for the ball that forced Sunny’s error; cut through two lines like room temperature butter…

Some notes on both teams…like I said, I want to keed these things simple.