Tuesday, April 14, 2015

MLS Week 6 Review: The Hot (and Cold) 10

Little shits won't even start running...
(Shit! Hate when I come up with a name for a feature after I post it. Oh well, enjoy the fucking toddlers!)

About 10 teams into this post-Week 6 status check on every club Major League in Major League Soccer (MLS), I noticed I was very tired. Just head dropping on the desk. That it was 11:30 p.m. didn't help. When I turned to the 11th team, however – think it was Sporting Kansas City – I perked up a little. Not enough to plow through the eight teams left, but that re-engagement signaled something.

The reality is, I won't have much to say every week about every club in MLS. Some number of them – let's go with half – don't really warrant more than a sentence. With that in mind, I'm limiting these grand weekly reviews, at least substantively, to the 10 MLS clubs who most interested me after the week just past. The other 10 clubs, I'll touch on, but they won't get more than a sentence. It's on them to become interesting, whether by being great (uh, no one), wounded (hello, Sporting Kansas City!), or deeply, deeply crappy (hola, FC Dallas!).

At any rate, the comprehensive thing kind of served its purpose. It captured that moment in the new season when every club had a chance to be great. With Week 6 in the books, little narratives are shaping up for most clubs. Are all of them coherent? Oh, HELL, no. Are any of them coherent? Uh, some more than others.

Put it this way: my analogy for MLS after Week 6 is a 30-yard race between toddlers – that is, it's very disorganized, sometimes endearing (aawww, they won!), and no club looks all that interested in the finish line. That's another way of saying the "Sinking, Swimming, Treading Water" thing (see past editions) never quite added up. At this point, the whole damn league is treading water.

Life being the motherfucking time-sucking treadmill that it most surely can be, I caught only two full games during Week 6. And one of the damn things broke my heart...should be obvious which one. Before moving on, let me pause briefly to again praise MLS Live's condensed game offerings. I feel a lot more secure in my judgments this week. Any, the two games I caught:
DC United v. New York Red Bulls
Portland Timbers v. Orlando City SC
Right. That's that. The 10 teams who enjoyed the most interesting Week 6 are listed below. I'll wrap up the whole thing by passing on quick takes on the other 10 clubs. As always, the number after each club's name stands for how often I've spent the full 90 with them in 2015. Hope the overall approach works better for all y'all.

Red Bull New York (2)
That loose, crazy elan that powered the Red Bulls to that whuppin' on the Columbus Crew dried up about 20 minutes into this game; after that, they had to battle DC United one bloody step after another. The game swallowed most Red Bull players: I noticed Lloyd Sam's quiet afternoon, but the telling battle was Sacha Kljestan and Dax McCarty generally losing out to Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud. New York stays up because, even allowing for the terrible marking and Bill Hamid's fumble, they kept themselves in it long enough to rip that tie from DC's clutches in DC. There's also the sense that they took a couple tough calls (e.g. Mike Grella was pretty close on an offside call and they could have picked up a penalty to boot). Warriors and aesthetes, I tell ya. It’s like ancient Greece transported to Jersey.
Prognosis: Positive as any club in MLS.

Seattle Sounders (2)
Yes, they lost. And I absolutely hate keeping them up here as much as any Portlander. But cut off one of Jaime Penedo's hands (no, don't; that’'s barbaric) and this game could have ended with the Sounders running all over LA at the Stub Hub. The larger story turns on Lamar Neagle's drop off from 2014. He played well – the kid turned a couple of LA's fine defenders in circles, really, doing everything but score. The problem was he "shot safe." "Get the ball on frame" stands as one of those big half-true clich├ęs in soccer; Lamar proved the negative half on Sunday. Sometimes, you gotta shoot 'em where they ain't. Neagle didn't and Seattle didn't, and Penedo swallowed up everything else. There's some stat out there about how long it's been since any Sounder but Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins has scored and that's important, especially with Dempsey absent. Neagle was good for 9 and 9 last season and that's missing so far this. I count on them to come back roaring next weekend, regardless of opponent (though, the Timbers are coming soon...shit).
Prognosis: Good players don't stay down. Well, until they stop being good players.

Vancouver Whitecaps (4)
When the 'Caps thoroughly outplayed LA, they picked up a lot of believers (including me), due in no small part to the results that came before it. Because those things were so ugly, the win over LA looked like the 'Caps pulling it all together. The draw against Columbus, exciting as it was, read a bit lucky in that Columbus looked the more aggressive team over the 20-minute presentation. Vancouver has plenty going for it: they're generally strong at home, they've got real ballers in midfield, and Octavio Rivero sure as hell looks like the goal-scorer they've been missing. Trouble is, they have a habit of not showing up – turns out they can do this at home, too (see: Crew, Columbus; uh, last weekend). They sunk a little deeper with that loss to San Jose: zero shots on goal topped off with a pointless sending off for Pedro Morales. Ugly green shoots like that yield a crop of doubt. They're always entertaining, even if not for the right reasons.
Prognosis: Cloudy, check back another time. (Ooh...switching the Magic 8-Ball commentary.)

Los Angeles Galaxy (2 1/2)
Yeah, yeah, they relied heavily on Penedo, but the Galaxy's season turns more on how they replace missing parts – e.g. Marcelo Sarvas and Landon Donovan. They also had to patch the hole left by Robbie Keane this week and that turned out to be a grunt project - as in, Alan Gordon using his big battering-ram presence to fill the Irish ace's shoes (honorable mention goes to the weird decision to have Brad Evans mark Gordon). As is often pointed out, he's a better soccer player than generally acknowledged and he showed that all over the field. Not Robbie Keane good, but solid and reliable. Stefan Ishizaki gets the rest of the nod for generating LA's offense, while the lately-maligned Juninho should get credit for stepping up for the first time this season. Games like this can turn a season...just sayin'.
Prognosis: Per that last sentence, I'm praying the dirty bastards aren't just sleep-walking through the first part of the season like they always do.

DC United (2)
After a performance like that, and even after they coughed up the late, damning goal, DC came within a hair's breadth utterly impressing me.  United played genuinely well, for most of the game. Not just solid responsible soccer, but well. I tuned in expecting ugly, safe, and effective, so imagine my surprise. Yeah, yeah, two goals, but Kitchen commanded the middle, and with Arnaud beside him looking five years younger; Jairo Arrieta shoots like a blind man, but, holy hell, is that guy a pain in the ass. The defense knows what it's doing and Taylor Kemp...I like that kid. It's great to see any American player in MLS serve a ball like that; it's also weird to see so many defenders to it. I'll be watching DC again in future weeks. Fabian Espindola coming back next week hardly hurts the cause.
Prognosis: Coughing up the draw undoubtedly hurt, but good teams fix those sorts of lapses. DC's good.

Sporting Kansas City (2)
No club in MLS suffered a scarier moment than Sporting KC did when Ike Opara went down injured late in the game against RSL (and, crap, it ain't good; ETR Curse strikes again (two weeks is close enough, Mr. Borg)). The future looks damned grim with Opara, especially with Matt Besler going through something of a second sophomore slump. A couple guys had decent games for KC – I flagged Marcel de Jong and Krizstian Nemeth (who's technical abilities look formidable) – but KC, as a whole, has yet to put enough, uh ___________ together to justify the general belief that surrounded them in preseason. The most telling stat on KC in 2015 so far: Opara is still their leading scorer. And that doesn't look like changing.
Prognosis: Shit just got grim...

Real Salt Lake (2)
I want to call it a great banality, but it's too true for that: yes, RSL's change of formation matters, but all that ails this club goes beyond that. The problem is that they can't freakin' attack. The deeper problem is that a lot of that's structural. Assuming any truth to the starting line-up as presented (that is, I'm not sure I buy it), Jeff Cassar has his team setting up with Kyle Beckerman right on the top of the defense and Javier Morales and Luke Mulholland lining up just in front of them, but narrowly. Olmes Garcia and Luis Gil line up above them and further out wide. That’s where the offense should be coming from and...it ain't. That strands Alvaro Saborio up top and...that'’s it. What Morales doesn't knock in, doesn't go in (OK, yes, except Mulholland's goal last weekend). Then again, RSL defends wonderfully. That carries a team some distance (e.g. a three-way tie for third in the Western Conference), but Morales can't carry them to the silverware cabinet on those old legs.
Prognosis: Paralyzing boredom is not out of the question.

Montreal Impact (1)
Unless that 20-minute condensed game lied very, very badly, Montreal thoroughly out-played the Houston Dynamo over fully 70 minutes at BBVA Compass Stadium (which, for the uninitiated, is in Houston). That lying 3-0 score-line alone was enough for me to consign the Dynamo to the pay-no-mind portion of this post. OK, where to begin? For one, Montreal bravely opted against resting any key players. Given what the CONCACAF Champions League schedule is doing to their MLS schedule, I don't see why they don't just write off this regular season nonsense in the near-term. Regardless, I think Frank Klopas has organized his players in a way that will get the most out of them; the Eric Alexander/Patrice deep-midfield, especially, looks great on paper. Sure, he's a wretched flatterer, but with Jack McInerney starting to play like he feels wanted again, the Impact may yet fan some hopes (among their fans) and consternation (among the others). At any rate, I'm very interested to see what Montreal does when their focus returns to league play. Or another run in the Canadian Cup (seriously, with that as an option, why fucking care about the regular season?
Prognosis: Together with a club to named later, I think Montreal might surprise people this year.

Colorado Rapids (2)
C'mon, admit it. You pulled for Colorado in this one. Everyone did. Ignore the denials, even from the Dallas fans. Hell, their own team seemed to be pulling for them, what with the polite invitations to score all those goals. At the risk of having this "I told you so" wrapped in a big bow and returned to me in a flaming bag, oh, 10 weeks' time, I'm going to risk it: Colorado has been solid since the season started and their attack, well, it had to get going eventually. Dillon Powers came in for the most of the praise I've read since Week 6 wrapped, but that only re-emphasizes what got lost in that long, ugly, empty, futile stretch: the Rapids have some great young talent that only needs to figure out how to combine to multiply their relative strengths. I'll pause here to thank Dillon Serna for underlining that point; kudos to Dominique Badji, as well, even if he's new to the team. Anyway, Pablo Mastroeni might not be the guy to get them there - then again, that's why they brought in Sarvas, yeah? More savvy brains? – but the upside is all the way there for anyone who can shape it.
Prognosis: Yes, this is the other team I (still) expect to surprise people in 2015.

FC Dallas (3)
Being abruptly terrible is always interesting. As everyone has pointed out (that's everyone I read and listen to, as opposed to some actual "everyone") Dallas flips the switch to "SUCK" every April. I'll be damned if I can figure out why, I only know I've seen the evidence in recent seasons. Chris Hedges missing the game had to matter a little, but, even high as I am on Colorado (and, yes, we're talkin' "Rocky Mountain" in the full John-Denver sense of it), his shouldn't have produced the craven, teets-to-Heaven roll-over that Dallas fans witnessed with pearls clutched to chest Saturday morning. Later reports pointed to another culprit: a slow start to Fabian Castillo...but that's, like, his third sophomore slump, right? When Dallas lost to Portland, I credited the Timbers for preventing Dallas from getting started. With the Colorado game, I think the best theory I've so far heard is that this was the first time they had to play a goal behind (can't place it, but think it was Borg on ETR). Maybe that's it – e.g. Dallas needs to score first in order to optimize that counter.
Prognosis: May will come eventually. If not then, there's always June. Then July, then August...

All right. Time to wrap this up with some short shots on the rest of MLS's clubs.

Toronto FC (3)
No, they didn't play this week, but their Records of Shame remain intact. Turn that frown upside-down, Toronto: even when you're the shittiest ever "something," you're still famous!

Chicago Fire (1 1/2)
The other club on a bye week – which feels tragic here because they were just finding their feet.

New York City FC (1 1/2)
My, uh, weary brain caught some insane possession stat during the broadcast that gave NYCFC a 72%-28% edge over Philly in possession. And they looked better. For all the good it did them...

Philadelphia Union (1)
A win! My main point of interest was whether the Union really looked that much better once Conor Casey came on (not that it would surprise me).

Portland Timbers (6)
Yeah, yeah, I'm plenty interested in my beloved club. I just don't see why anyone else would be.

New England Revolution (2)
So much promise, so little production: they should have rolled a road-weary Columbus like an old drunk instead of serving up that insult to their fans.

Houston Dynamo (1)
Your three goals mean nothing; you're still the Tyler Deric show. I don't have nearly enough time to pick through the "key moments" on the video.

Columbus Crew SC (3)
Kei Kamara impressed me, and I like seeing Justin Meram take on a bigger role, but, besides congratulating them on the hard-earned two points, I couldn't really think of anything else to say (even as I filed away telling signs of early-season jitters for Michael Parkhurst). Dammit! I should have Columbus up top instead of Dallas. Mea culpa!

Orlando City FC (2 1/2)
This is not the bitterness talking: I just think there's nothing more to say about Orlando than they solved the riddle that has plagued them all season – e.g. finishing those promising moves. Sure, that could take them places...

San Jose Earthquakes (0)
Yeah, yeah, I'll watch San Jose next weekend. It's just hard when you hear the phrase "grinding out results." But they’re doing it.

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