Monday, March 16, 2015

MLS Week 2: Sinking, Swimming, and Treading Water

That you, Chicago?
Trying something new for Week 2. Rather than pull 10 talking points out of my ass (takes a lot of digging, not all of it pleasant), I thought I'd cut those talking points in half, post those one by one, and start the week instead with something at once simpler and more global – e.g. thumbnail impressions of each of Major League Soccer's (MLS) 20 teams (big thumbs). More or less information will form each impression based on the obvious – e.g. how often I watch any given team. Each week will start, then, with a really basic overview – e.g. "Well, that was a week of red cards dipped in bullshit!" – after which will come a list of the games I watched over said weekend. Thumbnail impressions of each MLS club will follow from there, each organized according to how each club currently projects.

As for the impressions, first, these will be honest. If I don't really know, or have much to go on, I'll admit it. You'll see. Second, I'll frame those around an obvious water metaphor: sinking, swimming, and treading water – failing, succeeding, and holding steady, respectively. Even if they'd match the site better, tree- or citrus-fruit-based metaphors just don't communicate as easily. I mean, I like oaks better than pines or, say, grapefruit better than limes, but is that universal? More to the point, who doesn't understand that sinking in water is bad, because drowning?

Moving on to regular programming, I took in the following games over MLS's Week 2:

Portland Timbers v. Los Angeles Galaxy
Real Salt Lake v. Philadelphia Union (well, 60+ minutes of it)
FC Dallas v. Sporting Kansas City
Columbus Crew SC v. Toronto FC

And it was good. It was a pretty solid weekend, overall, some good games, exciting goals and some top-notch weirdness (see: RSL v. Philly). Still, that was a week of red cards dipped in bullshit, y'all!

Now, let's lump all those MLS clubs into their little pools and see...wait for it...who's sinking, swimming, or treading water! Only one heads-up for now; more will come at the end: the categories I'm using will be somewhat fluid (ha!), at least until we get more season behind us.

One final thought: why is "sink" the first word in "sink or swim"? Do they want you to fail?

FC Dallas
Two games, two wins makes for easy pigeon-holing. As much as Dallas owed one of the goals against SKC to a (badly) blown offside call, their back four forms a decent enough wall (though let the record show that Matt Hedges actually carried Bernardo Anor to the penalty spot; nice of him!), which lets their fast-paced attack fly without distraction; add their quality on set-pieces and there's your winning formula. At this point, injuries seem likeliest to slow the Texas club (that, or their annual early-summer swoon).

Columbus Crew
To trot out the now-familiar, yes, it took Tyler Deric "standing on his head" to keep Columbus from a 2-0-0 record. The win over TFC only deepened the impression they'd be good for it. The depth on their roster bulges in the middle a bit (as in they're a bit thin at forward and, in my opinion, an injury away from anxiety on the back-line), but, generally, they have padding other teams should emulate/envy. Beating a team this comfortable on the ball will never come easy. Like a big pressure sponge, I tell you! I will never get tired of watching Michael Parkhurst defend.

New York City FC
Your designated player (DP) looking a little like a legend is a great start; that'd be David Villa (who looks like a joyous hairy child!), but, per the highlights, Mix played with him like they've known one another a while. I've only 45 minutes with NYCFC (against Orlando), but those were respectable minutes; the game against the New England Revolution read better still. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the rest of the Orlando game: the reality is that this team is a deflection away from 2-0-0. Can they sustain it? Dunno, but I won't assume they can't till they don't.

San Jose Earthquakes
Yep, San Jose. File this lofty ranking under 1) over-achieving and overcoming obstacles (red card; one of the OK ones) against Seattle last weekend, and 2) playing the league's early (perennial?) hot team tough in Week 1 (FC Dallas). Don't write off Chris Wondolowski until after watching his first goal against Seattle: that's brain and body working wonders together. Add a slick goal by the man with the league's coolest name (Innocent Emeghara) and San Jose could keep over-achieving for a while. Spare a thought for their defense as well, because they’ve done well against two of MLS's top attacks.

Los Angeles Galaxy
LA clings to the Swim Team courtesy of reputation, but there's still their freaky knack for scoring, basically whenever the thought occurs. They came out dazed against the Timbers, frankly, but gradually adjusted, slowed down Portland and punched even for the rest. Still, that's four points – and their new guy, Mike Varynen looked immediately comfortable the second he took the field. And then comes Stevie G.

Seattle Sounders
Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins will score; the question is whether they can keep ahead of the goal differential race all year. Brad Evans had a terrible goddamn night; and, yes, two of those goals (first and third) related to the position he's tasked with learning. So, yes, this matters if it recurs; then again, Seattle will just buy more talent. Accusing one of the consensus elite teams in the league of treading water...yeah, could be sour grapes. Or it could be that New England in their current state gave them a soft win for their opener. Maybe they aren't that good (please, don't let them be that good!).

Philadelphia Union
Hell yes, that was a lucky draw. Fernando Aristeguieta broke both butt cheeks making that luck. Having now spent just over 100 minutes with Philly, my book on them reads like so: they're not quite together yet, but they'll die trying to get there. Watch Sebastian LeToux after Aristeguieta's second (sorry; gotta go full-game for that), see the way he walks the players around to share the moment. That's part of what I'm talking about. Intangibles. Or maybe invisibles. At any rate, I'm pretty sure Philly has a ceiling, unfortunately, so it's going to take one of those "team seasons," or a couple new signings, for all boats to rise high enough.

Sporting Kansas City
First, they played Dallas better than that score-line: my notes (needed; Roger Espinoza scored? No shit?) contain thoughts like, "Blas v. run of play,"  (after FCD's first) and "falling apart a bit" (after Dallas' second; huh?); so, in real-time, I thought KC did all right. Still, 3-1. Some personal notes: as much as I understand why Peter Vermes plays Benny Feilhaber deep as he does, I don't get it; also, Krisztian Nemeth was all over the preseason, so can't KC find him now. Couldn't hurt, right? 

Portland Timbers
OK, I’ll admit I was blinded by frustration when writing this and, yes, Caleb Porter does have a point when he notes that LA are/were the defending champs, after all. And yet...again? Can't we let the fucking wound close, guys? On the bright side, Nagbe generally made things go (again, more than I credited him for; sorry!), and Fanendo Adi got his brace. The attack worked, and against a good team. The best, really. Still, two games, two draws: if that doesn't define treading water, what does?

Real Salt Lake
See above: two games, two draws = treading water. Then again, RSL's situation reads a little differently. They were absolutely toothless against Portland, but they held firmer than LA against the Timbers attack. They clearly played the better game against Philly – e.g. great spacing, the movement was crisp and smart, and yet they fucked up...exotically? Creatively? With abandon? What adverb does justice to that defensive shit-storm? Chalk it up to vengeance of angry gods, I guess (who aren't without charity: see, the PK Luke Mulholland picked up). My opinion of Salt Lake definitely improved Week 1 to Week 2, but they're not there.

DC United
One of several teams with an idle week, so there's only last week's result for this – which, according to what I've read and heard was a dour and sleepy win over L'Impact de Montreal. I won't lie: I don't know more than that. I expect bland things from DC in 2015. No matter how they perform.

Montreal Impact
Well, at least they earned their week off. Carry the torch in the CCL, you crazy Quebecoiseses! Losing Justin Mapp has "ain’t that bitch" written all over it, because it is. I don't think many people rate Montreal in 2015, and I suppose that's justified by their history, but let the record show I expect all kinds of cagey from this club in 2015. Allez, Montreal! Stick that fleur de lis up some pundit ass!

Red Bull New York
Uh...nothing this week, obviously. What'd they do in Week 1 again? No, don't tell me. Right. Right, they drew KC at Sporting Park...oh yeah, that one. Dom Dwyer missing all those shots (that kid's gotta get going), Lloyd Sam striking that beauty into the side netting. OK, New York, New York: 2015 should be fascinating for these guys, the post-Petke, post-Henry era. But all fans and pundits have so far is a fluky draw and the loss of one midfielder. Against that, they picked up a defender. Anyway, small sample

Orlando City FC
Here's what I have to work with on Orlando: 45 minutes of muddled soccer, plus one 4-minute highlight reel that shows them winning courtesy of one mind-seizing mistake by Tyler Deric. Jesus, I hope the league gives me some new teams to see on MLS Live...yep. Anyway, of the two expansion teams, Orlando still feels like the best fit for that role. I hear Kaka looks great and I liked the 45 minutes I watched of Brek Shea at left back. That said, the reviews of their game against Houston took a unanimous shit on it. And they got lucky to boot. I count these guys as likely to go up as they are to go down.

Toronto FC
Oh, thank god, back to a team I know. Look, I walked away impressed from TFC's win over the Vancouver Whitecaps; I think everyone did. Given that, the loss to Columbus deflated these Reds more than a little. I've heard mixed things on the red card (Alexi Lalas OK'ed it on national TV; Ives Galarcep dubbed it some version of awful on a podcast; for the record, I'm with Ives), but Toronto struggled to figure out Columbus, even with a full complement of players. Sebastian Giovinco, he of the big check, looked pretty average against Parkhurst (and twice), Jonathan Osorio continues to beg questions, at least for me (legacy player? Canadian? What?), so, yeah, I think Week 2 said something about Toronto's actual level. Which is good, but not among the better teams. That said, they get the "yet" because building a team takes time.

Vancouver Whitecaps
The Toronto loss was sobering. From what I hear, the win over Chicago has a lot to do with Chicago being Chicago. Vancouver's issues are big and maybe systemic – i.e., if a team stops them from the ol' run 'n' gun, what have they got? – so that question will linger until it's resolved. I almost listed these guys among the sinking, but everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves. Vancouver has good pieces, even some great ones. It's down to Carl Robinson to deploy them effectively.

Houston Dynamo
I was about to let Houston off the hook, but then I remembered that anyone who cared agreed that Columbus outplayed them. And they did. When they played Orlando, the next round of reports gave the better of the game to the Floridians and agreed that it took Deric, again, to keep Houston in a game. Then he gave it away. Thus falls the Maginot Line. I liked Houston in that first game, maybe too much, but I also rated them because I rate Columbus. And then they stink it up, at home, against an expansion team, and that turns this into an equation that turns on luck. Luck's fickle, people. Just play craps.

New England Revolution
I haven't seen New England yet, which sucks (fuck you, cable! And dishes!). But 0-2-0, with five goals against, spells S-U-C-K in tongues the world over. Reports tell me they crossed a lot against NYCFC and crossing hasn't this iteration of the Revs' long suit; so that suggests lack of ideas. Lee Nguyen came back, maybe partially – to pause, that's something I'll never understand, rushing back players given MLS's generous calendar/playoff system; but I digress – but two real issues come into play: 1) if Jermaine Jones matters that much, who are you really? And, 2) in terms of off-season losses, A. J. Soares stature will grow each game till they stop bleeding goals.

Colorado Rapids
Another team with a bye week, but, of all the comments that followed Week 1, my favorite concerned the Colorado Rapids. In his Week 1 podcast, Ives Galarcep announced his confusion about the Rapids starting eleven on game day: too many young guys, he thought, and what the hell was Sam Cronin doing on the bench? Pablo Mastroeni has shown a demonstrated willingness for thinking outside the box. Too far? Maybe. And recent word suggests they might lose Dershorn Brown? To Norway? If someone isn't loosening the screws on the wheels, I can't tell what the hell is going on in Colorado. That said, I applauded their intensity against Philly in Week 1. Maybe they'll bring the same against NYCFC this weekend and get their heads above water.

Chicago Fire
From what I gather, the 20 minutes or so when Chicago looked competent against LA in Week 1 is Chicago's high-water mark for 2015. They are, by unanimous consent, I believe, the worst club in MLS right now. It might come together. Again, I like their parts, perhaps more than I should, but, in Larentowicz, they've got the same short-coming as Seattle at central defense, and, with all the new parts, they're a little like an expansion club (probably need to credit someone for that observation...uh, who?). Barring a meeting of the minds that only happens in that fleeting way at 3 a.m. in a college dorm (and those only last till about 3:30), it's gonna be one damn long year in the Windy City.

OK, enough's enough. I can't promise I didn't miss a link or two, but, late. I also can't promise global knowledge, but I will work on making the comments I post count - even for the bye weeks. Forgot how big these things feel till I sat down to type it...

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