Thursday, March 12, 2015

MLS Review, Heading Into Week 2 (my only rhyming title of 2015!)

Well, there you go. Portrait of the Artist....
OK, heading into CBA Year 1, Week 2 of Major League Soccer. As noted in previous posts, for the sake of wallet and liver, I'm going to try to forgo the nationally broadcast games, because those require bars. It's all MLS Live 'round here, except when it comes to Portland Timbers' games. Fortunately, MLS Live's slate isn't too shabby this weekend.

This passes on some thoughts on things in Week 1 and after – and it's mostly after. Or looking forward. That might change going forward, but that's for next week or never.

1. Week 2's Marquee Match-up
The schedulers didn't make it easy, but I'm going with Columbus Crew SC v. Toronto FC. By all accounts read or heard, Columbus took it to the Houston Dynamo, in spite of the loss, while Toronto clawed back with smarts, guts and, in fairness, a big payroll, against the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road. Call it a match of depth and breadth versus the big names, a chance for the old guard to take on the newest iteration of the new guard. Honorable mentions, well, shit, they abound: FC Dallas v. Sporting Kansas City; the New England Revolution's opportunity to rebound versus New York City FC's shot at legitimacy. (Insufficient detachment bars me from nominating Portland v. Los Angeles Galaxy; I'll refrain till Portland clears some unspoken threshold. It probably says enough that I can't wait to see how Vancouver rebounds against the lowly, loathed Chicago Fire...that's down to Portland playing Vancouver in a few weeks.)

2. Corrections Department Opening in Orlando my first wrap-up of Week 1, I called Orlando’s draw "lucky." OK, yes, they were lucky to equalize, but the consensus of my shrinking pool of sources generally credited the Floridians with the better game on Sunday. Turns out it catching only the second half warped the perspective a little. That's not to say that Orlando doesn't still have to prove it. They do. It could be that they have less to prove than I figured, at least.

3. Kaka Excels Off the Field as Well
So often, a foreign player comes to MLS and, when asked the inevitable question – you know the one; "what do you think of the level of play in MLS?" – he coughs up the same bland shit as if he's reading straight from a league press release: "it's growing, the level is very good, better than I thought, fast," etc. etc. The same guy said that about his previous club, the league it plays in, and, probably, his mother. After eating a steady diet of that stale shit, Kaka's thoughtful response makes me think of fresh fruit baskets:

"The only thing I can say now is I am very happy about this choice that I made. I don't know, maybe I can tell you after [the season]. I just started to play here, the first game was amazing. I watched a few games during the weekend. It's competitive, organized there are a few things I can say now. At the end of the year, I can tell you much more about the league."
4. The 'Caps and Plan B...And a Bigger Problem?
I'm not sure what Vancouver fans thought or felt as they watched Toronto knock three unanswered goals past their increasingly ineffectual side. Wait...hold on. To borrow a word from the immortal Petula, I know a place...ah, there it is. Well, that's interesting. Eighty-Six Forever put a lot of their focus on the 'Caps defense – and rightly so, because, as a Timbers fan, I will never get tired of linking to the video of Toronto's second goal. (Reader contest (for my non-existent readers): where was Pa Modou Kah going on that play (again, start at about 3:20)? Who was he covering?). The rest of the world focused on something else – e.g. the fact that every club in the league believes they know what Vancouver will do once they get the ball – again, e.g. run 'n' gun, with Pedro Morales firing toward Kekuta Manneh again and again and again, until the poor kid starts tripping over the ball and/or running out of new stuff to try. When a team has a weapon and it's actually working, it's difficult to stop absent adjustments by the other team that open up options for other weapons on your team. Carl Robinson knows this. And, for all the optimism surrounding the kid, Manneh struggled with the job in the game against Toronoto. In Chicago, Vancouver has just about the best guinea pig in MLS on which to test new theories. (Psst...the future is Week 2, Carl.)

5. LA Somehow Gets More Beef in There
LA's confidence – no, let's go with arrogance – is such that they're comfortable coming into 2015 half-prepared. A history of sleep-walking through the season only to wake up after snoozing five times and still winning the trophy will do that. So, LA went to something like 2/3 or 3/4 prepared over the course of this week with the signings of Finnish midfielder Mika Vayrynen and, that old familiar, Edson Buddle. Jesus. It's not like Baggio Husidic was stinking up the joint, or that, oh, what's 'is name, that English guy, plays for Liverpool in England...anyway, it's not like he's not coming later in the year. So, the rich get richer. Anyone looking for a sign that MLS is really growing up only needs to realize that the league has acquired a tendency from, not just older leagues, but from any sport in the world: clubs with a reputation for winning attract the best players. Love 'em, hate 'em, call 'em cheaters, there's no denying that the Los Angeles Galaxy are MLS's super club.

6. Montreal Loses Its Mapp
I've heard enough about the injury sustained by Justin Mapp to know that I will never, never, no not ever, watch the video, never mind link to it. I cry enough, thanksverymuch. The bigger question, and one that gets posed with regard to each competition in which L'Impact Montreal is involved, is how the Quebecois stallions manage an injury to a player who has been one of their steadiest performers/sometimes sole bright spots since joining MLS. I'm no expert on Montreal – I'm talking not even sort of close by a long shot (and, yes, it hurts their site is in French...for all the absolute sense that makes) – but I certainly don't see an apple-to-apple match for Mapp on that roster. That's less about me failing to come across talk of replacements than it is to credit Mapp for a pretty impressive and unique skill-set. Get well soon, Justin. Signed, Long-time fan (and secret admirer...shhh...we share the same haircut.)

7. In Memoriam (Careers, People. I Mean Careers!)

As an accidental, if only oral(?), historian of the league, it's tempting to make commemorate retirements a regular feature. Look, I'm old. In the context of MLS, I'm old as fossilized shit. As such, retirements mean a lot to me. By that I mean, it's the rare retirement that I don't mourn a little. Take Cam Weaver, who retired from the game this week with little fanfare. (Too little? Eh, age gives perspective.) Weaver wasn’t the greatest forward, not by any stretch of the imagination. And yet I remember him scoring at least one beautiful goddamn goal, probably a couple years back. I'll try to find it...and...well, there's this – and it's pretty goddamn good – but I swear he's done even better. The point is, the guy had a career and moments within it. He played professionally and those beans are cool. Another retirement hit this week, if only a potential one, with New York Red Bull’s Peguy Luyindula mulling stepping away from the game. No offense to Weaver, but Peguy (easier to spell) played at a different level, one high enough to get me thinking about the Red Bull's depth and/or long-term thinking. After Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York's strength is probably in its midfield, especially after the waiver of Ruben Bover (wait, what?!). But a loss there feels kinda big just now, no matter how justified from Luyindula's perspective. Hmm...

8. The Gold Cup, Announc'd
This'll be brief, not least because the real talk comes closer to the tourney. As everyone no doubt knows, the CONCACAF Gold Cup schedule came out today. Yeah, the United States Men’s National Team drew a tough group – and does anyone doubt that Honduras, that is, World Cup 2014 participants Honduras will fail to get past French Guiana? - but the reality is that, tough group or not, getting through has to be a given at this point. Right? The day a "CONCACAF Tough" group becomes too high a hurdle is the day I...well, more or less give up. More on this later...for now, I only want to reiterate my call, NO!, my demand that the Gold Cup goes well and truly regional. Enough with this only in the U.S. bullshit! Play in Mexico or Costa Rica. Let's mix this shit up, people. Does money rule the world or...or...wait. Yes, money rules the world. And it's something like god in international soccer...

9. USMNT, Talkin' Roster...and Despairing a Little.
This one only comes in because people have taken an abrupt interest in the upcoming U.S. friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland (March 25 and March 31, respectively). While I think I can muster interest in this latest round of friendlies (decision pending on when they air and how conveniently I can watch them) I came across one of those in-or-out posts this morning. To unpack that a little: I'm OK with the 'keeper pool/situation; on defenders, I want more Tim Ream, maybe a little less Matt Besler, and I'm excited about that Ventura Alvarado kid, because, novelty; the midfield makes sense in a way that depresses me a little (cue, The Strokes, Is This It?); and, at forward, I'm OK ditching Clint Dempsey (for now; only for now) if it means a little more time for Rubio Rubin...who, let the record show, I've still never seen. And, no, Youtube clips don't cut it. Gimme a reason to watch, Jurgen. Donkey smell!

10. The Julian Green Situation
I’ll conclude with this piece of...I'm not sure. Is it bitterness about the snubbing of Landy D. or is it strife against Jurgen Klinsmann? Yeah, I'm one of the haters. Julian Green has been throwing a fit in Germany since the European season started. The particular article I'm pulling from cautions against "anointing" players when they're too young. In this case, I don't think it was the fans who piled on the pressure. I fault Klinsmann for this one via his weird Faustian-esque-ish bargain to snatch Green from German clutches. Did Green’s apparently out-sized ego grow from the call up, his belief that, as an international, who played in a World-frickin'-Cup? Mmm...maybe. The article (by CBA negotiations hero, Brooke Tunstall; respect) talks about Klinsmann giving Green some tough love. Instead, I'd put Green on the phone with Freddy Adu, who can tell him all about the fun he's had passing through lower, lesser and weirder leagues since MLS hatched his egg too early. That's sober his shit up.

OK, all for this week. Bon chance to MLS clubs this weekend. Except LA. Because fuck those guys.

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