Tuesday, April 28, 2015

MLS Divine Comedy, Week 8: A Shooting Gallery and Its Victims

Not pictured: RSL, Philly, and NYCFC.
It is a sincere relief to approach this big Major League Soccer Week 8 wrap without leading it with a big, explanatory preamble on post mechanics. It's all soccer below. Specifically, you'll see me play god with each of MLS's clubs, sorting them, by their actions or lack thereof, among The Saved (those in Heaven), The Damned (those cast down to Hell, yea), and...those just biding their time while they wait for The Big Level Up (Purgatory)...which reminds me: does anyone go from Purgatory to Hell? Any Catholics out there? Little help?

Some quick notes on the weekend: I'm calling this one the Shooting Gallery Weekend. Scores blew up all over with a couple clubs winding up on the wrong side of an offensive beating. The New England Revolution roughed up Real Salt Lake something fierce at home and they posted the score-line to show it; the Chicago Fire did the same to New York City FC, but, there, the numbers lie, because the Fire could have put up 10 in that one (NOTE: small exaggeration); then there was the slow-bleed that Columbus Crew SC inflicted on the Philadelphia Union: put another way, sometimes they couldn't miss the beating, other times, it slipped in like a thin little shiv; either way, a lot of clubs endured flat-out demoralizing losses during the Week 8 weekend.

Then there was Sporting Kansas City v. Houston Dynamo, an affair that featured both clubs punching even and wild with the Houston Dynamo...even if KC got a little help from the referee that let them sneak in a crucial rabbit punch.

One other, general observation: first, go to the Results Map (aka, My Favoritest Thing in the Whole World); next, move your cursor through all the games each and every MLS club has up to the 16th game of their season. My point is that, by the 16th game of the season, just about everyone should have a pretty goddamn good idea where the club stands. Yeah, yeah, that sounds facile, even random. Bear with me: look at each of those games and really consider where each of the clubs are right now that any given will face in the weeks between here and Game 16. Well, Game 17, actually. As I look at it, it's a helluva a sample for all concerned. More on that later…

Moving on to disclosure, I took in three games in full this weekend. And those were:

Columbus Crew SC v. Philadelphia Union
New York Red Bulls v. Los Angeles Galaxy
Seattle Sounders FC v. Portland Timbers FC
So, yeah, I struck out a little, especially, and unexpectedly, on that last one. Still, learned a thing or two about each club, which I'll pass on below. And, as in all past weeks, the number after each club’s name records how many times I’ve gone the full 90 with them during the 2015 season. Here goes…

HEAVEN (Got a little fuller this week and on an incentive plan.)
Red Bull New York (3)
They're starting to find their level – and that's good and bad. The Red Bulls can beat certain teams, but real class-of-the-league types like LA know how to make them suffer long days. Still, New York found a way, goofy and fortunate as it was. As I watched this one, I tweeted a quick lament about how it's a shame that someone like Dax McCarty will rarely win the MVP, never mind man of the match. It’s sorta bullshit, because McCarty's in the middle of so much New York does. The man circulates like a centrifuge (forced analogy hereby acknowledged).

New England Revolution (2)
A first half full of corner kicks gave way to a barrage of attempts on goal in the second: New England's siege on Real Salt Lake's goal in the second half read more like a shooting drill than a regular season game. Yeah, they man-handled a fairly green back-line, but that's what good teams do. By way of detail, Chris Tierney brings so goddamn much to this team: it's not just crosses, either; the man put in some nice play-making shifts before this one ended. Performance of the week, for me.

DC United (2)
Methodical: that's a good one-word descriptor for DC’'s win over Vancouver. You could see it in Bobby Boswell's eye after he nodded United level, that glint of Liquid Terminator. The red card helped DC, absolutely, but the way they took the early goal in stride said something about how DC's hive-mind works. Plus, these cats defend the Hell out of crosses; Vancouver fired in enough of 'em, only to have DC swat them away casually as a cow swipes at flies with its tail.

Vancouver Whitecaps (4)
The 'Caps went up early; check. Pa Modou Kah produced his, apparently contractual, one bone-headed moment of the game; check. The unexpected thing came when Matias Laba – aka, the guy who's won raves for his season so far – picked up two dumb yellow cards, which, as we all know, combines to make red. That said, Octavio Rivero's night told the bigger story: he looks a little wild out there, desperate even. He racks up chances, but if Rivero dries up, that could mean the end of the 'Caps stealing games. Watch this, and all other, spaces.

Los Angeles Galaxy (3 1/2)
LA stays up among the angels in spite of a fairly lengthy, mediocre run. Getting production – and goals (see: Jamieson IV, Bradford; see also, royalty) – from new and unusual places when their stars are out plays a role, but their savvy stands taller: most MLS teams pressure the ball, but no one else has mastered the elegantly efficient mechanism of choking passing lanes like LA.

Columbus Crew SC (4)
Two wins on the trot – big ones, too, that match expectations to the opposition – was enough to bring the Crew past the Pearly Gates. Such was Columbus' slow strangulation of Philadelphia that they all but walked the ball around Philadelphia by the end. Ethan Finley has turned on enough that it didn't matter that Justin Meram had a "meh" night. And, yes, Kei Kamara does look like one of 2014/15’s best signings.

PURGATORY (Souls transitioning in both directions)
Seattle Sounders (4)
No, this isn't just bitterness. Well, it is in a way, just not the obvious one. Here's the thing: I've spent time with the Sounders over the past two weekends and I've seen them come out cautious (against Portland) and flat (against Colorado). Yeah, they've got talent to burn – and, yes, I'm absolutely mindful of what they can do – but they're not using it so much. Something tells me Seattle is going to dance on this bubble all season.

Houston Dynamo (1)
If they didn't seem so damned committed to throttling their own good moments, I'd dub Houston the club most likely to push their ceiling upward. They got screwed all the wrong ways on that Jermaine Taylor penalty kick (e.g., hard and without foreplay) definitely hurt; I can only imagine the catharsis of Raul Rodriguez's late, temporary shoulda-been-a-winner. All the same, Giles Barnes...what's there to call him but a one-man wrecking crew?

Sporting Kansas City (2)
If there’s a club playing more under its potential than Sporting KC this season, I'd be hard-pressed to name them. With Dom Dwyer in a stone-cold funk – I mean, last year he would have buried that chance that Benny Feilhaber served up in the first half – and Ike Opara out, they're going to struggle. Or they should. And yet they scored three goals against Houston (PK, not included). There's a mystery to this roster/set-up. And Peter Vermes hasn't solved it.

Real Salt Lake (2)
RSL's 2015: a squad of solid, even great, veterans attempting to mentor a bunch of young players back into the club's best years and/or form. It's not working, especially on the offensive end. Worse, this game provided an emblematic moment. In the second half, Olmes Garcia opted to juggle half-dozen times or more to set up, of all things, a bicycle kick back into the area. The play died there, needless to say. That kind of show-boating, low-percentage shit all but defines inexperience.

FC Dallas (3)
Remember when Dallas had that terrible habit of imploding by way of reaching for red cards? Oh, that was just last year? Well, it's happening again. Dallas had ample incentive to get one over and back on the Colorado Rapids and they looked reasonably poised to do it when Mauro Diaz tapped in Fabian Castillo's f-uh-ck-ing brilliant set-up. And, then, Blas Perez did something dumb, dumb, dumb, and picked up a red. I don't give a shit about how hard or well Drew Moor sold it. Either way, it's just the next twist in the annual April tail-spin.

Chicago Fire (1 1/2)
Chicago didn't get half the goals they deserved in this one. Hell, David Accam could have had three on his own (damn highlights barely dented the surface). Sure, they put up a star performance against a decidedly average New York City FC, but the Fire played to the required level. It's actually hard to underestimate the impact Accam has had on the Fire; game-changing is a good adjective for it, though. His speed alone sets him a couple miles apart.

Montreal Impact (2 – one of them last Wednesday's CCL final first leg!)
Still housed in the CONCACAF Champions' League Deprivation Chamber. Do not disturb. Yeah, yeah, this is supposed to be about league form, but combine Montreal's games in hand, the savvy they're demonstrating in the CCL, and the narrow gap they have to cross to suddenly be competitive and...look, I'm just saying it's not out of the question. And, yes, I'm as impressed with Calum Mallace as everyone else right now. Kid killed it in the CCL final.

San Jose Earthquakes (0)
They had a bye, so it's not my fault I didn't see them this week. Who do they have next week? Jaysus! Real Salt Lake?! Fine. I'll grit my teeth and get through it. Overall, though, any club can do worse than punch a clean .500 – especially given the 2015 Playoff Give-Away.

Colorado Rapids (3)
A bit plodding, but increasingly effective: it's fair to wonder if that trio of draws with which the Rapids started their season doesn't speak to their level. While no one should dare (or even want to) attain the same-level of none-up-manship that Chicago accomplished last season, the Rapids seem as likely to do it as anyone (especially Chicago). A tough read for me, because I think they may yet project higher, but I'm confident that a lot of teams will cough up two points against Colorado in 2015.

HELL (Some potential escapees below)
Toronto FC (3)
If keeping TFC down here feels cruel, there is a reason for it – e.g. how I feel about the team that is, at least within this post, two teams down from them (psst...Orlando). As a U.S. Men's fan, I'm happy as anyone to see Jozy Altidore pick up a brace. And, yes, I'm sold on the Atomic Ant (Sebastian Giovinco). Nick Hagglund, on the other hand, is a walking liability. Young, sure, but the future is now for TFC in a way that it isn't for a lot of clubs.

Portland Timbers (8. God, we’re 8 goddamn games in?)
With my spleen already emptied on the Internets, I'll be brief: that was a better defensive performance from Portland, maybe even a way forward for a club that has been defined by defensive woes. Still, my own, dear club looks just as surprised when they score as I do (which makes you wonder if they're really planning it).

Orlando City FC (2 1/2)
After much deliberation, I dropped Orlando into the lakes of fire and ice. Their struggles with scoring matches those of my Portland Timbers...even as they managed to score twice against my Timbers. Yeah, I only caught 20 minutes of their labors, but nothing – I mean, nothing – stood out on the attacking end this week. And that was against Toronto, which has among the worst defensive records in the league. This past weekend was sort of a test for Orlando. Kaka can be great, but he can’t be everything.

New York City FC (2 1/2)
Without David Villa, perhaps even with him, this NYCFC is, at best, on the high side of average. The highlights probably show some moments where some familiar names – e.g., Mehdi Ballouchy and Ned Grabavoy – combined to almost unlock Chicago's defense. But they didn't (the highlights didn't show 'em either; wow, those things suck). And that's what average is: fine, but not good. And that's NYCFC. The season is absolutely getting away from them. So thank god for the goddamn cushion, yeah?

Philadelphia Union (2)
More than a couple clubs out there have something to look forward to this year, some moment of potential rescue, or maybe an ownership group that fans know will set out to fix problems. Philly's best moment is waiting to see if Conor Casey can somehow score a goal after he comes on as a sub. Absences absolutely killed the Union this weekend. Worse, Cristian Maidana, the guy they counted on to lift them this weekend, turned in a terrible goddamn shift. Andrew Wenger looked clueless...just ugly for Philly right now. Ugly. Jim Curtin ain't gonna last. The hardest thing is knowing the club probably won't improve it.

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