Wednesday, March 25, 2015

MLS Week 3: A Handful of Little Things

Dude. Wrong sign.
Sometimes little things come to me as I’m watching a game – e.g. a quick revelation on this player or that, notes on he plays the game, etc. I can only stretch things like that into stand-alone posts by stuffing them with sawdust, 50-cent words and bullshit. So, instead, I’ll bundle them into a little mini-collection as I have below.

Anyway, there are...let’s see, 1, 2, 3...5 little thoughts below that came to me while watching four games worth of Major League Soccer (MLS) Week 3. After 360 minutes of staring at something, I may as well talk about the fauna, right?

Axel Sjoberg, Rookie of the Year (I kid, I kid)
There is no date certain in 2014 when a bad run for the Colorado Rapids turned into pureed shit. Things weren't great for a while, but the stench over Commerce City turned unbearable when defender/team captain Drew Moor went down in August. After that, anyone not blinded by hope wrote off the rest of the season and the smell didn’t offend. Moor remained on the shelf when Colorado kicked off 2015 and, more to the point, Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni selected a bunch of new and unfamiliar faces in the starting line-up for Week 1. Axel Sjoberg's name was among them and I have no doubt that fans and other interested parties saw it and thought, "what the fuck?" and for number of reasons (e.g. rookie, the mini-mystery of how to pronounce his name). Sjoberg stuck in the starting eleven when Week 3 rolled around. He also happens to be the player who got the close-up for the still that advertises the highlights (at least I think it's him; big enough guy, and there's a "4" on his shorts, which could be the second half of 44). Sure, he shares the image with David Villa, an obvious focus for cameras, but that's down to Sjoberg jumping in Villa's pocket every time he tried to play centrally, for one. Sjoberg also looked pretty goddamn good – and, again, this was a rookie against a Spanish national team player. Sjoberg's size jumps out – I'm sure people wondered what the hell that basketball player was doing on the soccer field – but he looked smart, strong and poised enough that I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the mix for rookie of the year. Unless, that is, Moor comes back and relegates Sjoberg to the bench...

Kaka's Mighty Brain
Take away the Vancouver Whitecaps' late, late game-winner and you'll see one player featured in most magic moments from Orlando City FC v. Vancouver: Kaka. I don’t get around the global game all that much (no time; I am league-monogamous; I enjoy my winters off, etc.), so I haven't much of Kaka. The full 90 last Sunday morning gave me a show, but the body part that left the biggest impression was his brain. Yes, the gods gave this man the balance and physique he needs, and I'm sure he cultivated his feet till they caress the ball like a lover, but it is absolutely incredible watching someone who, to my memory, never made a bad decision; even when he did something that didn't register as an option for me, or that I didn't expect, the decision was sound at worst, inspired at best. I'll keep on applauding his instincts – e.g. the way he beat two 'Caps players at midfield by just...leaning to one side and pushing the ball in the right direction (so, so smooth), coaches with precocious young players on their hands should instruct them to watch Kaka to see if they can't pick up some tips from a goddamn Zen master.

The Tragedy of New England
I flat-out love the dude who shows up to New England Revolution games sporting that horse head and a sign that reads "Neigh." That, my friends, is inspired half-assing, the kind of out-of-the-box oddity on which Jack in the Box built their advertising campaign. This man deserves a stadium worthy of such next-level thinking. So do all Revolution fans. Gillette Stadium is not worthy. It's shaped wrong and it's too goddamn big and that overwhelms the good and dedicated efforts of the fans who make the long trek to Foxboro to create the right atmosphere. Distance is a huge part of the problem. I lived in Boston through three MLS seasons and, in spite of intense interest in the club, I made it to Foxboro all of twice. That long drive to nowhere throttled half my motivation, while the overall emptiness of the stadium/experience sapped the rest. Revs owner, Bob Kraft, is notoriously cheap. His continued insistence on sticking with Gillette makes the case that he’s also short-sighted. The Revolution has fielded some great teams down the years – last year's edition being among the best – and soccer fans come second to none when it comes to generating atmosphere, especially given the right setting. I don't know where New England is on getting a stadium in Boston, but I firmly believe a huge opportunity has gone begging for at least one decade. This club won't be all it can be – and I absolutely mean that in terms of generating revenue – so long as Kraft is too fucking dumb to build them a home and site it somewhere that doesn't force fans to spend half of game-day inside their cars.

Cameron Porter: The Greek Chorus Keeps Singing
Another notable tragedy occurred during the Revolution's ugly-duckling draw to the visiting Montreal Impact. Cameron Porter, the young man/deep-bench draft-pick who became an instant legend for keeping Montreal's CONCACAF Champions' League dream alive with a late, late goal against Pachuca, collapsed in a woeful heap midway through. I didn't watch the series of replays because that shit makes me sick, but no one could mistake the glum tenor of commentary. Reports today confirmed the severity of the injury, which leaves nothing to do but hope the kid gets another turn in the spotlight every bit as awesome as the first one. In the meantime, re-live his, try to picture Porter watching that again in, say, his 40s after a career that never quite recovered. Are you crying yet? Are you human? Best of luck, son.

NYCFC's Crossover Hit
I don't know if the Third Rail or any other New York City FC supporters' group has formally adopted "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" as an official song. I didn't know this was even a thing till over a week ago when I caught the mini-feature of Rachel Bonnetta in which she sang along to it at NYCFC's opener. That said, it should absolutely be adopted, clung to, and used in every game. Years from now, when NYCFC plays in their own stadium (for it will take that long), this song would remind fans and players alike of their club's accidentally humble beginnings – e.g. the dark days of soccer played in a baseball stadium, even if it's the chi-chi-est one in the country. It'll be more than a piece of the club's history; it'll remind them all of how far they've come.

Right. Those are the short takes. Other, longer-form ideas on Week 3, and MLS in general, will appear in subsequent posts.

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