Monday, March 18, 2019

MLS Form Guide ULTRA, Week 3: The Last Pure, Hot-Take-Free Vessel (for it makes us morons)

If "pure vessel" doesn't lead with something terrifying, maybe there's hope.
I’ve flirted with reviewing some of the condensed games before posting this in the past, but Week 3 stood up for the virtues of the current (accidental) system. The reality is that if I start to poke around box scores and even the highlights, some (potentially) false narratives start getting introduced. To give a particularly…poignant example, if I’d only checked the box score for FC Cincinnati’s 3-0 win over the Portland Timbers, I might read them having a chance into it. The highlights probably would have corrected it, but that still risks putting inaccurate, faulty, or, in so many words, delusional bullshit into the mix, because Portland folded like fucking orgami when they folded.

Down below, and perhaps for the last time this regular season, all the commentary below follows exclusively from the results – that’s excepting FC Cincinnati’s win over the Portland Timbers, upon which I commented on at some length here (and this is your source for any references to “extended comments” in connection with Portland or Cincinnati down below). As much as I believe in the purity of a results-only process – as opposed to seeing that “next great thing” that gives your team hope, but that also has to come together at some point, or who gives a shit – my personal (largely self-enforced) schedule precludes that kind of purity. This time, though, I haven’t seen so much as one highlight reel (with intent), or read even one recap about any other game besides Cincinnati v. Portland. The focus here is on the final product produced by each team over the past three weeks, exclusively.

Finally, as close observers might notice, I do keep rearranging the teams every week…yes, loosely “ranking” them according to some loose frame of how I read each team’s strength. To underscore the overall point, everything below is based on 1) Week 3’s results and, 2) any impressions that carried over from watching previous condensed games and/or last season (see: the San Jose Earthquakes, Toronto FC, and Real Salt Lake, if to varying degrees). Until I/we have more to work with, the recent past, combined with the muscle memory stuff is all MLS fans have to work on. With that, below is a modestly-global shot of the recent records for every team in Major League Soccer and, less importantly, my comments on them. Until the data firms up, these are guesses. Also, enjoy!

SEATTLE SOUNDERS, 3-0-0, 9 points, 10 gf, 3 ga, (2-0-0 home, 1-0-0 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
W
W
v CIN
v COL
@ CHI
4-1
2-0
4-2
N/A
N/A
N/A
Current Judgment: Perfect record, scoring freely, defending just fine…just note the competiton.
Next Game: @ Vancouver Whitecaps. And the hits keep on a-coming! REALLY hard to see Seattle losing this one…

DC UNITED, 2-0-1, 7 points, 7 gf, 0 ga, (2-0-0 home, 0-0-1 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
D
W
v ATL
@ NYC
v RSL
2-0
0-0
5-0
N/A
N/A
N/A
Current Judgment: On the one hand, they’re playing teams with problems running from slow starts (e.g., Atlanta and NYCFC) to sucking eggs on the road (RSL). On the other…they haven’t given up a goal, guys.
Next Game: Bye week! Yay, time! @ Orlando. It’s hard to beat Orlando (for now) when you’re looking for a chance to get your road game going.

LOS ANGELES FC, 2-0-1, 7 points, 8 gf, 4 ga, (2-0-0 home, 0-0-1 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
W
D
v SKC
v POR
@ NYC
2-1
4-1
2-2
N/A
N/A
N/A
Current Judgment: The main thing I’m looking for between the condensed game and the box score is whether LAFC out-played NYCFC. All good results so far.
Next Game: v. RSL, aka, another chance to flounce their reputation.

FC Cincinnati 3-0 Portland Timbers: On Watching Your Favorite Child Fail

Fuck it. You sort out who is who.
Don't pretend. You love one kid more than the other(s). You have the sense not to announce it to the world, never mind the kid, but it shows in the way you enroll both kids in all the expected programs, but you really only push the one kid. It’s nothing personal: he/she is just a little more special, smarter maybe, or just kissed with god-given talent that you’re sure you see. Oh, and your other kid(s) knows this to the core of their his/her being and through the next 20 years of therapy.

I’m sure most people can track where this is going. The Portland Timbers are, of course, the special child in this scenario, the team just two goals short of a dark-horse shot at a title last season, the squad of mighty streaks, etc. FC Cincinnati, meanwhile, is the one people have to remind you to talk about now and again.

It was possible to keep up the pretense, probably as deep as 60 minutes into yesterday’s game between the two. Sure, Cincinnati scored the first goal (and that celebration is delightful; let your heart of stone break), but Portland rallied at the end of the first, even managed a little flurry of more or less wild attempts on goal. Somewhere during the next time the game-state rolled Portland’s way, surely they’d equalize.

Yeah, that fell all the fucking way apart when Allan Cruz back-heeled home FC Cincy’s second goal (turns out the game winner already happened). I don’t remember how many times the Timbers defense chased back to their goal like children running from the waves before that goal went in, but, in that precise moment, Junior dunked on Chad. There go your present assumptions about which kid would really benefit from piano lessons. (You will chained to that fucking piano, Chad, till you make me proud, rich or both.) As I was winding down Sunday night, I happened on a tweet from the Portland Timbers' official twitter feed that shouted a big "are you ready for the big leagues?" at Cincinnati like the slowest, most helpless pitch over the middle of the plate in human history. Junior dunks on Chad again, assist by Chad.

Just to throw it out there, save that shit for a present when you haven't allowed seven goals over two games - now 10 goals over three...hey, brought the average down from 3.5 goals/game to 3.0 goals/game. You really cherish the small victories, when they’re all you have.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Atlanta United FC 1-1 FC Cincinnati: Is It Still a Magic When You Can See the Strings?

If there's no body, it's just people standing around....
Full disclosure: I was fixing a flat on my bike during the first half of Atlanta United FC v. FC Cincinnati. For those wondering, no, it’s not a fixee.

Counter-point: if you pull up the MLS App’s summary for the eventual 1-1 draw and check the timeline, you will see very few dots on the thin grey line that corresponds with that time period. Don’t think I missed much, in other words (and, holy shit, do I need bifocals). Here is what I did see:

Two classic banks of four that looked solid, if not impenetrable. Heartening as it was to see that, my personal most heartening moment came with Mathieu Deplagne crossed the ball and Fanendo Adi nodded it home. A conspiracy of “rules” declared the goal offside (again, I would have allowed it*, this is how I roll), but that moment gives at least an answer to the question of whether Cincinnati can be competitive in 2019. Cincinnati did not create many chances overall (WARNING: the box score may cause depression; other side effects may include a burning sensation, mild psychosis, the runs and immediate death), but that move came during open play and, if you worry about the team surviving on set-pieces alone, seeing decent attacking play of any kind spells R-E-L-I-E-F.

Better still, Roland Lamah scored FC Cincy’s late, reasonably deserved equalizer in open play as well, and this is how one winds up with hot cockles (and helluva(n) assist by Kenny Saief!). Just to note it, Lamah looks better than I thought he would coming into the season. Also, the selected highlights on MLSSoccer.com come just one clip shy of showing every single one of Cincinnati’s chances in this game. Marinate on that for a minute.

(* To wrap up the offside thing, I had an interesting debate with a guy on twitter about this and, as conceded there, calling offside on a strict black-and-white system simplifies things for all concerned; and yet I would adjust the rule to read that, if a player is mostly on-side (say, 80% or more), the goal should count. The way I see it, players already have to adjust to the way any given referee calls a game, so what’s one more wrinkle? But I digress.)

Los Angeles FC 4-1 Portland Timbers: Letting Jeff Down.

A wrong turn was clearly taken.
[Ed. – Spring forward caught up with me around midnight last night. Or it might have been the large containers of very strong ale. Either way, midnight felt like 3 a.m. I regret the delay.]

Had you turned off the TV (or, you piece of shit, opted to break the Seventh Seal on all things that are holy and left the stadium during) the Portland Timbers' 1-4 loss to Los Angeles FC at the half, where would you have pegged the final score for yesterday’s game? Close observers will recall that the score was 1-2 at the half, and in LAFC’s favor, but, based on what you’d seen to that point, how where would you have thought the game would end? A 2-2 draw? A 3-2 win for Portland? A 2-3 win for LAFC? What about a 1-5 loss for the Timbers?

That dip into a counter-factual comes in as an attempt to retrace the steps between here (call it the end of the first half) and there (the final whistle) to see if we can’t figure out where the wrong turn (in which they missed the bridge and plunged off the cliff and into the river) happened. Overall, the game played out fairly clear game states: LAFC scored the first goal during an opening 20 minutes of beating Portland to every ball and winning ever duel; the Timbers responded over the next 20-25 minutes by doing very close to no wrong, and scoring a goal of their own (at least they won the duel of the headers). LAFC would take over completely in the third and final game state, or, as some would call it, the second half.

I think the only question comes with identifying the precise moment that cracked the Timbers’ will. As much as it hurt in the moment, I’m hereby pulling the nomination for Christian Ramirez’s first-half-capping game winner, and on the advice of my gut (the thinnest of all grounds). With just two candidates left in the running, was it Carlos Vela feeding Adama Diomande for LAFC’s 3rd goal, or was it Diomande feeding Vela for LAFC’s fourth 3-4 minutes later? Or were those awful 3-4 minutes the Timbers pivot straight to Hell? On a higher level, did the Timbers fall apart or did LAFC pull them apart and is LAFC (perhaps) that good this season? In the end, where is the balance between LAFC’s (allegedly) great attack or the Timbers (allegedly) shitty defense?

On Portland’s side of the ledger, the conundrum comes down to this: at times, the Timbers played unstoppable soccer going forward, the kind of switched-on/half-blind riffing that ladders the ball upfield in a way that’s impossible to stop…at least without Jeremy Ebobisse seizing up on the kind of chance that makes a forward a forward (for the record, I really wish that highlight reel came in 2-3 passes earlier). The Timbers played some incredible, seeing-eye stuff yesterday – at times, the attack hummed with ambient beauty – but, Ebobisse’s one goal aside, they could only create danger, but not goals. Still, they put in a respectable shift, one that would do most road teams proud. Their aim wasn’t so good, and giving up four definitely leaves a mark (more below), but they played a better game overall than that score suggests. One simply must wonder what might have been had Ebo put away the gift of a break-away by Sebastian Blanco.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

MLS Form Guide ULTRA, Week 2: The Haves, the Have-Nots, and the Massive Blob in the Middle


Fucking poseurs.
Welcome to the MLS Week 2 index, which, let me tell you, is already a goddamn mess. I’ll try to stitch that into a coherent narrative over on Orange & Blue Press, but the top-level take-aways for every team in MLS appears below. While there are three perfect teams so far, only two of them feel believable right now – that’s Los Angeles FC and Seattle Sounders – but Minnesota United FC could take a step toward legit next weekend with a win against the Los Angeles Galaxy…near LA. In the broader scheme, points aren’t everything yet – by which I mean that I wouldn’t call Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo better than Sporting Kansas City (hence the order below), or even Toronto FC until further notice/results – and some deficits seem more endemic (e.g., the San Jose Earthquakes) than others (e.g., the Philadelphia Union). Also, I see a brighter future for some teams on 0 points (e.g., Vancouver Whitecaps) than I do for some teams on 1 point (e.g., New England Revolution.

Overall, though, MLS Week 2 didn’t re-write the whole damn script or anything. Some teams did goose their status (LAFC and Columbus Crew SC, for me), and the San Jose Earthquakes already look doomed, but there’s more wiggle going on in the MLS standings than you’ll ever see at a Wiggles concert. Not that I’ve ever been to one. Anyway, the good stuff, the data, is below.

Oh, whoops. It occurred to me this morning that I totally failed to explain the extra row at the bottom of all those tables down below, so, with an eye to making amends: at the midway point to the regular season, most teams’ patterns become entrenched enough for me to declare each team “IN” (the playoffs), “OUT” (of the playoffs), or “MARGINAL” (because I don’t know what the Hell to make of them). Over the past several seasons, the real “ins” and shameful “outs” set pretty hard in the standings by the halfway mark and without shifting around a ton, but isn’t that just the freak-case that proves the rule? To give just one recent example, the Sounders picked up just 16 points from 17 games through the middle of last season, only to storm into the post-season like one of those bullshit fast zombies that, when you get right down to it, break the genre…but I digress.

Here’s are the results/infoboxes (what I call the gridded stuff) after MLS Week 2.

MINNESOTA UNITED FC, 2-0-0, 6 points, 6 gf, 2 ga, (0-0-0 home, 2-0-0 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
W
@ VAN
@ SJ
3-2
3-0
N/A
N/A
Current Judgment: If these games weren’t on the road…one helluva start regardless. Worth keeping tabs on till further notice. And, yes, I put them up here because I could.
Next Game: @ Los Angeles Galaxy…and if they win that one, which wouldn’t surprise me…

Monday, March 4, 2019

MLS Form Guide ULTRA, Week 1: Step One


Soon.
This post is part one of a larger project. I’ll be posting the second part – a narrative summary of MLS Week 1 – in another space, and I’ll drop a link in this space [You complete me!] when that goes up. All the stuff below is part of a results-tracking project, which will get more complete and robust as the season progresses. With only one game in the book for the season, there’s very little to work with. Still, all the commentary below that isn’t just a plain, factual statistic* is based on assumptions stated in an earlier post.

Anyway, look at this if you wanna, it’s going up regardless, from now until the end of 2019. Teams are listed in the (very) rough order of the number of points earned so far. * These posts will have typos, and through the season. I do my best, and it is rarely good enough. Bottom line, if something looks off, double-check it. All errors are, and will always be, unintentional.

SEATTLE SOUNDERS, 1-0-0, 3 points, 4 gf, 1 ga, (1-0-0 home, 0-0-0 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
v CIN
4-1
N/A
Current Judgment: That was nothing but the expected.
Next Game: v. Colorado Rapids

TORONTO FC, 1-0-0, 3 points, 3 gf, 1 ga, (0-0-0 home, 1-0-0 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
@ PHI
3-1
N/A
Current Judgment: After Toronto’s CCL flame-out, this catches the eye. I rated Philly…
Next Game: Day off! (then v. New England Revolution on March 17)

DC UNITED, 1-0-0, 3 points, 2 gf, 0 ga, (1-0-0 home, 0-0-0 away)
Last Ten: N/A
W
v ATL
2-0
N/A
Current Judgment: Strong result, but it’s probably worth checking into Atlanta’s line-up.
Next Game: @ New York City FC (where anything but a tie will be notable).

Seattle Sounders 4-1 FC Cincinnati: 14 Glorious Minutes

Wait for it....
For starters, it was a complicated night, lots of distractions, condensed perspectives, etc. Still, Alvas Powell’s no-hope, screamer at 24th minute had a portentous vibe to it, a sense of, if we’re gonna pad this score, it has to be now. It was a one hell of a death rattle.

FC Cincinnati’s first-ever game in Major League Soccer ended…not ideally, with a 1-4 loss to the Seattle Sounders in Seattle (just the second time I’ve seen FC Cincy loose, btw). I had the good fortune to watch the game live, to see people walking around Seattle’s CenturyLink field in shiny, new FC Cincinnati gear, blue, orange, and giddy smiles all around. It was a fine night for the game too, brisk and clear, so I can recommend everything about the experience that wasn’t the curry lamb meat pie. To get caveats out of the way, I watched from the end-line, one of the more complicated viewing perspectives. I supplemented the live experience last night via the condensed game on a tiny screen (after the plan for a slightly less tiny screen fell through), these are my notes, submitted this 3rd day, March, 2019, showered less than I should be, but also extraordinarily comfortable…

First, let us pause to appreciate…no, contemplate the beauty of Leanardo Bertone’s goal, the first scored by FC Cincinnati in their Major League Soccer history. It teed up like an over-ripe melon that your kinder pitching machines give you on the “Slow/Improve My Mood” setting. Bertone launched one of those barely-rotating cannonballs into the lower (Stefan Frei’s) right of the goal and, obviously, holy shit, yes, good start. That’s a goal any player fantasizes about hitting and, guys(!!), that’s FC Cincinnati’s first-ever goal. (I once caught a 12-inch bass, which means I have some sense of what Bertone feels right now…if not, he should call me to download.) Notably, however, that bright, shining moment came after a spell of Seattle pressure. More Seattle pressure followed on the other side of Cincinnati’s one (real) moment of glory (no offense) too…surely, you can see where this is going. Still, it was possible to dream for 14 glorious minutes....

Sure, FC Cincy scored first, but it took two goals over a rough space of five minutes to end this game as a contest. I’ll go deeper on the first goal later, but when Morris rushed into the vertical gap on the (Cincy’s) left of the defense and behind the midfield, and pinged the game-winner off the foot (I think) of a Cincinnati defender, the game looked…well, over. 60+ minutes of one-way traffic more confirmed that, yes, FC Cincinnati’s first game in MLS would go into the history books, but there would be no happy ending. (Bob Kraft. Sorry! That’s all I’m gonna say!).