Thursday, May 14, 2015

MLS 2X6: Sending Off DeRo; The (Imaginary?) Jewsbury/Johnson Situation + 6 More!

First of all, and son of a bitch, somebody pinched my feature title (yes, yes, almost certainly before I first used it, but still)! It turns out that the Portland Timbers' official site carries a feature titled 2 X 4. It's pure puff-piece to me, but I’m not about to go toe-to-toe with a media behemoth like I went with the obvious solution – e.g. add a couple inches to one side.

That said, since I'm rarely going to be timely posting this thing once-per-week, I really need to kill on content. Or at least produce an amusing read. Gulp.

1) A Legend Quietly Departs Stage Left (Tres Canadien)
And that quiet piece is curious because, as pointed out in a "what all did he mean for Canadian soccer?" think piece, Dwayne DeRosario didn't play quiet. A showy goal celebration defined his career (on top of pulling off one of the most memorable political moments in MLS history*) and, prior to the last couple seasons, De Rosario could flat-out fucking ball (more on that later). As has been pointed out all over, DeRosario could have got a long (tortured) Landon-Donovan-esque arrivederci had he retired right – that's as opposed to doing well short of a whole lot for Toronto FC last season and posting a whisper via Twitter. Happily, the tributes came in regardless (even archived ones) and DeRosario absolutely earned it. He was every bit Donovan's peer, a ready answer in any argument about who was the best player in MLS for everyone who didn't like Donovan. Now, personally, I always preferred DeRo, who was gritty and inventive were Donovan was practiced and polished (to diamond clarity, it bears pointing out). Hit that first link above and you'll see why DeRosario had his haters, too, if for vastly different reasons than Donovan. With the latter, it was an argument about phoning it in, while it was a whiff of arrogance that dogged the former throughout his career. Well, screw that: I like my players messy; that's why I didn't really take to Donovan until, 1) his freakout departure to Cambodia, and 2) I could no longer ignore all the, uh, records.

I know this isn't the first DeRosario tribute anyone has read (but it is the most heartful, dammit!). On the way to trying to capture what he meant to me – this is as a fan of the league for as long as it has existed – I sat through the video posted on Sure, they loaded up some great goals (srsly, great goals; the 7th is my personal favorite; such freakish awareness), but it didn't quite get it. I tried a Google search, as well, which unearthed another, longer video (you can catch him beating a younger Jesse Marsch rocking a Chivas USA kit in there**; and, holy shit, I think they got all his friggin' goals in there), but that still didn't quite get to why I hold DeRosario in such high esteem. Video evidence be damned: my anchor memory of DeRosario came in his Houston days. It was fairly late in the season and the game mattered. A teammate played a long diagonal that found him on the near-side deep in the opposition half (which opposition? beats me) and, when he brought the ball under control and squared up, the crowd stood and, I swear, held its collective breath. Everyone in that stadium, not to mention everyone watching, believed he could do something. Hell, they probably knew it. That's Dwayne DeRosario: one of the first players in league history that brought that mix of faith and excitement that you pay to see. I say someone should give the man his own six-video series. Dammit.

(* I am virtually certain that, after scoring the winner in extra-time in the 2001 MLS Cup, DeRosario lifted his jersey to reveal a shirt that read "No War." This was not long, at all, after 9/11. And, hey, forgot that Donovan and DeRo played for the same team way back. Nifty.)

(** If you've watched the league long enough, all the familiar names and faces feel like going to a high school reunion. Only you enjoy this one.)

2) Jewsbury Johnson
Just about any commentary about the start-stop progress of the Portland Timbers' 2015 contains some hopeful note that key players will come back – the big two being Diego Valeri and Will Johnson. Valeri's back, thank all the gods you got, and Johnson is, again, happily, near the end of his own personal mend. The underlying assumption in all this is that both players' return will make Portland whole, or at least as whole as they can be, for a strong finish to the season. I don't think anyone could find a Timbers fan anywhere who was not in various states of dying to see Valeri on the field again. I think the same rough consensus holds for Johnson – that is, I think the assumption is that, on his return, Johnson will start automatically and results will return in much the same spirit. While I'm somewhere on the fringes of that crowd, I have to say that I'm the guy standing in there with my hand held up. Because I have a question:

Are we sure, as in 100%-certain, that Johnson is going to help that much?

Two things prompt the question: 1) even before the (gruesome; totes sorry he got it) injury, Johnson turned in a somewhat uneven 2014; and 2) how to address the argument (perhaps made here, now, but not so much anywhere else) that having two box-to-box midfielders out there creates some confusion over players' roles? Simple statistics back up #1 – as in Johnson's numbers were clearly lower from 2013 to 2014 – but it went deeper. While there is no questioning Johnson's commitment, or his ready assumption of responsibility, he arguably took on more than, perhaps (i.e. don't hit!), his skill-set allows. In other words, love the enthusiasm, but what's say Valeri takes those free kicks? (Just don't let Darlington Nagbe near the penalty spot!) #2, though, that's the big one for me – and that's where Jack Jewsbury comes in. The whole age difference – Jack's 34 to Will's 28 - makes it hard to argue for Jewsbury as a long-term solution, but there's a pretty clear upside, in my mind, to playing a wily old dude like Jewsbury, one who's willing to hold back, help the defense, and organize deep distribution while the young bucks spazz further upfield. As much as I think Johnson and usual midfield partner, Diego Chara, generally agree that Johnson is the one to go forward, I think they switch it up often enough to, as implied above, create some confusion about how hangs back to cover the Timbers' defense.

Like most things Timbers this season, what we have here is a problem without an obvious solution. It is damned hard to argue for Jewsbury over either Chara or Johnson – and that's about more than age. I think the only advantage Jewsbury has over either them is a better, smarter range of passing. And he gives up too much in terms of bite and energy to both of them. And, yet, I find myself wondering whether #1 and #2 combined don't argue for some kind of switch – whether that's a clearer arrangement when it comes to roles between Johnson and Chara or, yes, using Jewsbury more often, say, on the road, or to bring him earlier in games where the Timbers want to hold a lead. My point is, the Timbers have resource, if only for the rest of 2015. Why not think about how to use it as opposed to reflexively dropping Johnson into the starting eleven?

1) Colorado Pulls a Germany (e.g. Aspires to Global Domination Late)
Yes, there are days when it's fair to wonder whether this isn't some sort of fifth-column Colorado Rapids blog. What can I say? They fascinate me. How can one not marvel at their ability to play well on the way to earning such consistently horrible results? Yeah, they might have left it ten games into the season, but recent Rapids signings make it clear that they haven't given up on this season. First, they put a rush on the arrival of Ireland/EPL striker Kevin Doyle. Then, just this week, the Rapids acquired an Argentine striker, Luis Solignac. Click those links and you'll see good numbers, as in good not great (e.g. Solignac killed it Finland, but, Finland; and Doyle numbers only look decent because he's playing in the EPL/English Championship and for Ireland in Europe). So, will they be transformational? Maybe. It's wiser to say they can't hurt a club that features Gabriel Torres showing some signs of living up to his paycheck, Dillon Powers starting strong, plus what looks like one of my favorite off-season signings in Juan Ramirez. I've been wrong about this club more than most, but...look, just don't write them off. The Rapids went to MLS Cup twice and definitely out of nowhere. Hell, they won the thing once.

2) Toronto FC, aka MLS’s Spoiled Rich Kids
I know this won't win me any fans in the Toronto area (then again, do I want these assholes?), but I laughed out loud (and for a while) upon reading about the Montreal Impact rolling Toronto FC out of the Amway Canadian Championship – on away goals, natch. A little dick-ish, elements of sadistically pouring salt on a slug? Oh yeah. But there's something to justify it – specifically, the crazy money TFC have spent trying to buy their way, not just to MLS Cup, but to the freakin' playoffs. The mind-set of throwing money at the problem looks both cheap and wrong-headed, especially given the clearer patient path laid down by other MLS clubs, like Real Salt Lake and, this season, FC Dallas. The "you gotta earn it school" runs very, very deep with me – I'm talking to the point of irrationality – so TFC's approach is always going to rub me the wrong way, no matter how exciting it is. But there's something deeper still in all this, something that the Toronto Sun's Kurt Larson pointed out on Tuesdays' ExtraTime Radio, courtesy of a guy who writes about the NFL's Buffalo Bills (probably paraphrasing):

"Toronto is going to be bad until their good."

3) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah the Open Cup
The U.S. Open Cup got fer reals under way Wednesday night with a whole bunch of teams from...well, leagues with which I'm not all that familiar (primer: NPSL = National Premier Soccer League, which is 4th division; (USL) PDL = Professional Developmental League, which is, uh, also 4th division; and, finally, USASA = United States Adult Soccer Association, which encompasses a frankly unreasonable number of tiers on the ol' soccer pyramid (but good for them for being so open-minded). Again, as an MLS lifer, I've heard and read a lifetime worth of pleas about taking this tournament seriously, from U.S. Soccer down to each and every American soccer fan, and that it’s long past time to give this very long-running tournament the due and attention. I'm past this, finally. The format is unquestionably cool – e.g. David v. Goliath – and it has an undeniably venerable, if quiet, history. But, here's the rub: the media doesn't care; worse, the clubs care a little less than the media. The whole thing has taken on the air of medieval-style penance. Sure, it's probably good for the soul to dig up all the out of the way video and news about the U.S. Open Cup, but...well, does it really get you into Heaven?

4) A Fully-Modern MLS Forward
While I've probably dropped hints within various previews and all my various iterations of power rankings, I wanted to give Vancouver Whitecaps forward Octavio Rivero his full and just due. This tribute is not so much about his skill – which, for the record, is entirely present – but for how well his style fits into MLS. As much as fitness plays a big role in the modern game, just plain raw effort excites almost religious devotion in some leagues – e.g. those of, uh, Anglo-Saxon-esque origins. Americans (along with the English) love players who visibly die trying for their club. And Rivero does that. every. single. game. Better still, he has the skill-set to do it: he not only drops deep to get the ball, he does it well; whether outside or 30 yards from goal, Rivero usually finds a good pass. And then he runs the channels pretty damn well, too. Good grab, Vancouver...

5) A Fine Tradition of Patricks
Patrick Mullins has probably done a little more than was expected of him this season. By that I mean, one has to figure that New York City FC figured that David Villa and Adam Nemec would start – and score. As it happens, Mullins is currently matching Villa's numbers and, less surprisingly, if you've watched him play much, doing well better than Nemec's pair of doughnuts. The deeper point is that this isn't all that surprising. Mullins put in a respectable rookie year with the New England Revolution and, moreover, he looked pretty good doing it, not least as he fought his way onto the field against some serious attacking talent. Going deeper still, when I watch Mullins play, I'm reminded of another Patrick – Patrick Noonan. Noonan was a big part of New England's mid-aughts glory days, pairing with Taylor Twellman in an attack that was exciting as anyone's in those years. Like a lot of players, Noonan retired pretty quietly, but, damn, he was fun to watch. And he was a lot like Mullins – not a speedster, not a big presence, just a forward who was technical, smart and slippery. A fella can score a lot of goals that way...

6) The New York Derby
While this one has been beaten absolutely to death (to death), and I am super late to the party, I still wanted to join in the celebration of the inaugural, and as yet unnamed, New York...Thing – e.g. last weekend's game between NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls. Loud as it was lopsided, that game was fucking electric, one of the best-ever MLS matches to broadcast into America's living rooms. Everyone has given a quiet nod to the good lord to thank him for Matt Miazga losing his mind, because that helped keep it close. But, damn, was that exactly how the game looks its best.

All right. Done till Saturday night. See you then.

No comments:

Post a Comment