Thursday, April 2, 2015

MLS: Mopping Up Week 4, Prepping for Week 5

Ruffles on the wrong side, maybe?
Here, at Conifers & Citrus, we're always trying to come up with fresh ways to class up the content, to make it easy on the eyes, a cool drink for the mind, if you will. (OK, again, it's just me...doing my best.) In so many words, I'm pickier than a prom queen picking her dress just knowing that everyone's going to hate me if my dress is not perfect!

So, I keep futzing with it. And that dress looks like shit, dammit.

Anyway, some stray ideas came to me as I watched the pair of games I caught during Major League Soccer's (MLS) Week 4. Then some more ideas came to me during the week as I read, listened, and generally digested the domestic soccer scene. One idea paid a visit that had particular appeal: why not watch the match of the week from the previous week that seemed to have everyone talking. So, that’s where I'll start. (And, kindly, stick with this till the end because I get to Week 5 eventually.)

What Happened When the New York Red Bulls visited Columbus, OH
The effectiveness of the Red Bulls high press captured a lot press after Week 4. It forced lots of turnovers in dangerous places, certainly, and played a big role in New York taking three points with when they left the Buckeye state. I caught all that when reviewing (most of) the tape (I got through 60+, or thereabouts), but what struck me even more was what (the O.G.) New York club did on turning it over. Forget about Mike Grella's goal; thing of beauty though it was, it was also atypical. The speed and precision of the Red Bulls' short passing game impressed the most: good movement and quick, crisp passing twisted the Columbus Crew SC defense in all different directions, even when it didn't produce clear-cut chances every time. Ignoring that part of New York's game amounts to reading only every other page of the early-season book on them. As much as I doubt they can keep it up all year – hell, it might not even last to the next game, when they don't play a team as methodical in possession as Columbus – it's damned fun to watch when it's clicking.

That the Crew came damn close to giving as good as they got went a little under-reported as well. Columbus forced turnovers of their own pretty high up the field and had plenty of chances, too. All in all, this game topped its billing, even when watched knowing the final score.

Memorandum from the Department of Corrections
[NOTE: This section will expand, once I get the "Impressions" post timed and posted as I envision it. Basically, I'll come back here every week to provide correctives for where my impressions might have gone any rate, short and sweet this week.]
In my impressions post for this past week (the one titled, "Sinking, Swimming and Treading Water" for two whole weeks now), I left Columbus among the teams who are swimming – e.g. the solid clubs. As much as I think the Crew's depth and approach to the game will hold up pretty well over the long season, the reality is that they're currently "rocking" a 1-2-0 record. No matter how one slices it, three points from nine hardly counts as a strong start to the season. Speaking of records...

What to make of the Vancouver Whitecaps? While I don't read so widely anymore (though I promise to improve in narrow cases like this one), the several takes on the 'Caps ran from positive (see #1) to negative (see #3) to lazy (OK, cheap shot; more on this later*). The positive review outlines Vancouver's strengths – and they're real, if under-performing – but the author's argument that "it's not likely Vancouver's attack will fizzle" quietly whistles past the reality/impression that they've been pretty damn lucky so far. They were stinking lucky, in fact, against the Portland Timbers only a week ago. And yet they've ridden those crazy-late winning goals to a 3-1-0 record. Personally, I see Vancouver crashing to Earth, and soon, but time and games will tell.

(* Power rankings aren't renowned for in-depth commentary, but that "they're scoring goals" seemed glib to the point of being uninformative. Then again, maybe that's as complex as it is.)

Week 5's Hot Tickets
As I look ahead to Week 5, I'm mostly struck by how the critical mass of unknowns that surround just about every team in MLS conspires to make all them look at least somewhat interesting. On any given day, you might sit through a thriller like Red Bull v. Columbus, a horrific piece of shit, like FC Dallas v. Seattle. These are the risks we take as fans. That said, if I had to pick one game from Week 5 that strikes me as full of possibility, even turgid with the potential to answer very real questions about the teams involved, I'm going to go with...OK, hate to be a homer, but I'm going with FC Dallas v. Portland Timbers. Intrigued as I am by several others, that game gives Dallas a chance to keep proving their 2015 bona fides, while giving Portland the chance to hop of their stinking March schneid.

Honorable mention (for me) goes to Vancouver v. Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes v. Real Salt Lake.

Finally, to announce a new site policy that might go a bit unnoticed, I now plan on watching only three games each weekend. In order to meet my four-games-per-week goal, my fourth game will be the one that generated the most heat from the week before. Looking forward to this switch and all the useful, band-wagoning information it will give me! Huzzah!

OK, I'm going to close out this post with a couple short-ish thoughts on some stories that made some noise in the brief gap between Week 4 and Week 5. Enjoy!

Friendlies, Where the (Late) Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong
As everyone knows who cares to know, the U.S. Men's National Team played a pair of friendlies over the past week or so. One of these went decidedly better than the other, but I didn't watch either of them. Eagerly sucked up the news in the aftermath, absolutely, but watched? No. While part of this boiled down to profoundly inconvenient timing (c'mon U.S. Soccer; weekdays? mid-day? Srsly?), I have so thoroughly internalized the idea that friendlies don't matter that I hardly see the point of watching them. U.S. Men's coach Jurgen Klinsmann (full disclosure: not a fan) has cheapened them further still through constant experimentation and by doubling down on the argument that the results, in spite of at least one distinct pattern (again), don't matter.

OK, yeah, yeah, say the results don't matter. And, yes, friendlies are definitely a time to try out new players, to see how they fit in with the team, how they handle the pressure, to give new guys their time, etc. All true, but friendlies aren't just for trying out new players: they're also about building chemistry among the team that the U.S. will ultimately take into the matches that do matter. As in this summer's Gold Cup. There are only three games on the schedule prior to the Gold Cup. Each of those three games will provide a stern test, and there will be camps prior besides, but, 1) did Klinsmann provide enough "together time" to get his team on the same page for when it matters, and 2) does even he have a clear tournament team in his head at this point? There's a great pitfall in any kind of research, where one spends all his time monkeying around with the data and too little time turning it into a functioning statement. Just sayin'...on a directly related note...

International Dates and Depth
Over the past couple weeks, a furor has erupted just at the edges of my consciousness – by which I mean, I felt the shockwaves, but the effect wasn't such that I gave it much thought in the end. For what it's worth, I think du Nord's (Northern Pitch?) podcast framed it best (it's early in, if you give a listen). And, yes, I do get the point: having watched Dallas v. Seattle, I suffered through 90 miserable minutes of the goddamn point. While I agree there are probably solutions to the problem of working around international dates – again, du Nord's seemed totally straightforward – I'd also argue that those international absences aren't all bad. Everyone – and, for once, I think that generic pronoun is justified – gripes about players not getting minutes in "real competition." Well, all those international absences provide said minutes. (I've heard as many as 50, but the notes on these rankings gives an indirect impression of the absences.) As someone acknowledged on a somewhat unrelated note (but he did it well), MLS doesn’t have the cash on hand – or at least they won't pay it – to stock a roster with solid options at roster spots 12-18. He didn't use those numbers, but I've seen them before, and I'd argue that it's more like spots 15-23 where MLS needs to improve. A gradually-rising salary cap will help, but so will playing time. It's a long road. Lord knows, I know that after this weekend...but, MLS isn.t even at drinking age yet, people. Idiocy and bad choices abound...which gives me another transition...

Good Listen on Economic "Realities"
Linking to a podcast seems a little like bad form – as in, "say, do you have an hour to spare?" - but screw it. I happened to tune into Reddit's /r/mls podcast today (my apologies if I fucked up the title of the space). The podcast featured an interview with an English professor who studies the economics of football/soccer. It's a decent listen, but the stuff I found most enlightening tackled the project of dismissing the collapse of the North American Soccer League (NASL) as MLS's go-to bugbear for justifying its tight-fisted ways. The basic argument is that the 1980s recession, plus the lack of available TV/broadcast outlets destroyed the league more than wild spending. It's not a terrible argument. Probably more true than not, really. Anyway, if you have time, spend it.

In a final plug, I've been reading Abe Archer’s "10 Things" weekly wraps all season and I recommend them for reading as much as anything I come across. Anyway, his #8 in this weeks' post begs big questions about the rush to expansion against a comparatively soft market for soccer-specific stadiums. The speed on these things is starting to resemble a Ponzi scheme – e.g. paying off MLS's original investors with new money from the next batch. Just...something to think about.

All done. Hope to keep this going. Had fun posting this...

No comments:

Post a Comment