Monday, April 20, 2015

The MLS Divine Comedy, Week 7

Philadelphia? Hello, and sorry. To the left, please.
For Week 7, I decided to return to, but re-name, the whole "Sinking, Swimming, Treading Water" concept. Thought I'd reference the classics instead, with an homage to Dante's Divine Comedy: going forward, these posts will divide MLS's clubs between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. That distinction is self-explanatory, yeah? And the arrangement should last even through the playoffs – that is, a club can remain in Purgatory in the post-season, for no man* resides in Heaven till he hoists MLS Cup! I’m keeping Hell pretty small and that's less about me feeling all New Testament, than about the passage to the playoffs seeming very much wide open. Good works and grace have nothing on stupid parity and the stupid playoff format.

(* Here, "man" shall mean, exclusively, a male professional soccer player, who plies his trade in the officially recognized domestic North American Division 1 soccer league, dba, popularly MLS.)

As happens more often than I should admit, the past weekend didn't come together so smoothly. I made it through only two games in their entirety:
Seattle Sounders v. Colorado Rapids
New York City FC v. Portland Timbers
With that entered into the record, I did watch the first 30 minutes of FC Dallas v. Toronto FC, it struck me as indecent to watch Nick Hagglund suffer more, not unlike Noah's daughters who wisely took a pass on seeing him rolling around all drunk and naked. The rest of the games I took through MLS Live's condensed matches – which, again, I can't recommend enough. Once again, the number in parentheses after each team's name records how many times I've spent/suffered the full 90 with it. I'll do better in catching full games going forward. Probably. The heart's in it.

The summaries for each team will be shorter than previously. All the detail stuff I once tried to work in – e.g. flagging some player, a trend, or a concept that's in the air or on my mind – will go over to a mid-week post going forward. That'll be me making sense of the week.

Red Bull New York (2)
Last Friday, the Red Bulls did to the San Jose Earthquakes what they did to the Columbus Crew a couple weekends prior. Simply put, this is the only club in MLS to which I feel comfortable applying adjectives like "good" and "ready." Any time they get their high-press going and can start attacking with elan and joie de vivre, I'm guessing this club can beat any other. Speaking of, I think they've found something with Damien Perrinelle...but more on that at mid-week.

Seattle Sounders (3)
Some Sounders-based blog randomly retweeted a Sounders season preview I wrote a little while back. Last Saturday's win didn’t prove my point in that post, but it did offer evidence in support: slick as the Deuce and Oba show can be, Seattle thrives when their second bananas show up. Lamar Neagle showed all the way up Saturday, even if both goals weren't pretty. Seattle played a weird one – a game without a midfield basically. Seattle, though, will almost always win a Battle of the Stars.

Vancouver Whitecaps (4)
I can’t bring myself to credit this club – seriously, just can't – but a good record doesn't lie, stealing points counts, etc. etc. "Stealing" probably reads like vintage Cascadia sour grapes to 'Caps fans. Octavio Rivero and a decent defense (more on this at mid-week, too) gives them a better than good base, but it's little things like Darren Mattocks hitting his second goal of the season will keep the 'Caps on the right side of the results.

Los Angeles Galaxy (2 1/2)
LA played a frickin’ B-team (which Bruce Arena explained away by talking about giving "everyone a chance") and Sporting KC gave the bench as much as it could handle. The Galaxy pulled that win 2-1 out of Death's fucking mouth, but they got that, plus some time to heal the wounded and weary. New kid Bradford Jamieson IV (nice, royalty!) looked both OK and green; he and Gyasi Zardes had a moment and a shared haircut (again, nice). The wins haven't been exactly assured, but they're wins all the same. Not unlike Vancouver, this bunch...

New England Revolution (2)
One win against a decent team, or two against some earnest striver, and I can see St. Peter letting them through the Pearly Gates. 3-0-1 over the past four is great, but the opposition tells half the tale (Colorado, Philly, and San Jose). Any team improves when its "off-label" players shine (see: Bunbury, Teal; and preppiest name in MLS) but the story of New England's season for me is Andrew Farrell’s swift adjustment to centerback. A "controlled scramble" that shoo away one of Philly’s better late chances also speaks of team of players who know one another.

Columbus Crew SC (3)
There's the team the neutrals lauded! Sure, that Rafael Ramos kid shot Orlando's foot clean off, but the Crew looked poised prior and lethal after. Their posse of key men came to play – e.g. Federico Higuain, Kei Kamara (MotM, from the looks of it), Ethan Finley – but they've got good role-players galore, e.g. Hernan Grana. That's why people rate the Crew. Getting back to Grana, the team-wide freak-out he spear-headed is why they don't. Knock that shit out, Columbus...

DC United (2)
Their little cool patch won't end DC's season; and it bears noting besides that one of those draws came in their consensus best performance of 2015 and against the only damn-fine team in MLS. Fabian Espindola comes back for the next one – yay! – but, in the here and now, DC needs more from once-projected stars like Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon. No, drawing what looks like a middling team in your own house ain't great, but more changes have to be coming...right? (Again, more at midweek.)

Houston Dynamo (1)
Ah, the Expendables. (Again, more at mid-week.) Maybe it's unfair, but I can't help but look at Houston as a bunch crusty old fucks getting together for the proverbial One Last Big Score. And yet the old dogs turned in a cracker, Ricardo Clark, especially read well over that condensed 20 minute sampling, while Brad Davis did what ol' Brad always does, cross the ball, while still leaving four angels enough room for dancing. Suspect as that defense looks at times, they've got one serious talent in goal; personally, I haven't seen the like of Tyler Deric in a couple years.

Sporting Kansas City (2)
Tough, tough loss for a club that really needs to turn around before the Big West Rodeo moves on the next town. Stealing a point in LA would have counted. Great to see Graham Zusi back and looking lively and, again, I like the Krizstian Nemeth guy more than just about anyone. Kevin Ellis appeared to have filled in well enough for the tragically absent Ike Opara. They're punching down well enough, at least. Not that that makes the thing about the rodeo go away...

Real Salt Lake (2)
And...defeated. The gap between the highlights showed me and the condensed game gets at why I almost threw in the towel on these weekly wraps. RSL went from hapless to competent over those 16 additional minutes. That said, the problem is real: Alvaro Saborio can't survive without service and Olmes Garcia, Jordan Allen, Luis Gil and Sebastian Jaime aren't giving it. I saw Gil once all night - e.g. when he watched a ball bounce over another RSL's player's head, and from about five yards away. The defense and midfield core is solid, but they need starters back to compete. Or new players.

FC Dallas (3)
As noted above, I had to look away 30 minutes into this one: laws against what Fabian Castillo did to Nick Hagglund exist in civilized states. In Texas...anyone's guess, really. With Toronto so obliging, Dallas didn't have to do a lot more than feed Castillo; still, their second goal shows how slick and lethal they can be. This was a weird game in all honesty, damn close to Castillo v. Sebastian Giovinco. The weather didn't help. And the question, "whither Dallas?" remains unanswered.

Chicago Fire (1 1/2)
The only question here is how long Chicago can go without playing a freakin' game? (Answer: 20 days; ht: Twitter)? With their last game all the way back in April, the current data set is too damn small. Anyway, they showed signs of coming together way back in early April. Can't imagine a month's worth of practice hurts 'em. Still, we won't know till they play 'em.

Montreal Impact (1)
All thoughts are still on them in the CCL. I, along with them, and everyone else, want to forget about their woeful MLS regular season so far. Have big plans to watch on Wednesday. We'll see if the monkeys get out...

Orlando City SC (2 1/2)
If I can interject my own club into the conversation, the Timbers changed the narrative on Orlando, if only briefly. Take out that game, and Portland's mind-melting incompetence, and the trends for Orlando don't look good. In fact, they reverted to form against Columbus – e.g. looking pretty graceful all the way up to the attacking third, where things generally sputter. I still think Columbus would have got them, even without the red card.

San Jose Earthquakes (0)
Yeah, yeah, I'll get to San Jose. Who do they have next week? Crap! RSL? This RSL? Uggh. For all their faults (and my ignorance of them), the 'Quakes have punched up as well as any team in MLS. It's stringing together results where they're stumbling. Based on a 20-minute sample, though, the Red Bulls flat-out ran them over. Their smart wins make me think they'll be in the thick of it all year, though, especially if that center back pairing stays healthy (again, more at mid-week).

Colorado Rapids (3)
Though the pits of Hell yawn wide underfoot, I believe in Colorado. Probably more than I should - kindly ignore talk below about how "results matter" - but they've been competitive every time I've seen them. Dillon Powers looks like he's getting going – that pass to Gabriel Torres couldn't have been weighted better – and things are looking up at the back with Drew Moor's return. Sadly, you could hear their collective spines break when Neagle bundled in his shitty second. Faith's lacking with this bunch...and there is no surer path to perdition.

Welcome to (Color-Free!) HELL
New York City FC (2 1/2)
I'll be honest: it's hard to judge another team when you're utterly absorbed in judging your own. That said, I do recognize that NYCFC out-played my Portland Timbers (or did Portland let them? See?!). I can name a couple bright spots, even among their second bananas – e.g. Khiry Shelton looks good, Patrick Mullins snuck free a couple times, etc. and that's good to have when David Villa's out – but no positive detail outweighs the fact that NYCFC keeps going deeper into a bad-run. Or one point from six at home.

Toronto FC (3)
I'll refrain from naming names – because I already have – but it's rare to see a coaching adjustment blow up that badly. It's rarer still to see it blow up twice. TFC was realistically out of this game by the 30th minute. And that's bad. Just bad. Giovinco's one-man rally, inspiring as it was (and...that goal...gasp!), only reinforces a two-year-old theme with this club: yep, we're back to the ol' balance equation. Maybe one can argue the point, maybe one can't, but I'm sayin' it: no one needs to turn it around as badly as TFC because all that goddamn money they pushed to the middle of the table.

Philadelphia Union (1)
My heart goes out to Philly as much as any MLS club at this point. They haven't been blown out yet in 2015, but, oh my, have they made the late, crippling collapse their official calling card. They're getting goals, god bless 'em – whoa, they are, literally, just off the top teams - and I rate Fernando Aristeguieta (did it spell it right? No looking!) as a just off-brand version of Vancouver's Rivero (all the work, with only a little less skill!). Again, it comes down to results. And Philly simply can't make those goals stand-up. Brutal season. Heartbreaking, really.

Portland Timbers (7. Goddammit.)
My team and I are not currently on speaking terms. I know what a single red rose means, so FUCK OFF! JK! Love you guys! Still, necessary or not, that win was lucky, period. They have too many issues to sort out, in defense and the attack. They're not the worst team in MLS by any means, but they're damn sure not walking among the blessed, or soon-to-be blessed.

OK, that's how they stack up to me. Managed to make it shorter this week. Thanks to anyone who made the journey. Especially Timbers fans, who just endured a little personal fit of pique.

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