Monday, June 22, 2015

MLS 16 Rankings. Just Rankings.

Bliss. Most weekends of the year.
For this first part of Major League Soccer's Week 16, just plain rankings unfold below. Well, that plus the sort of "what-does-it-mean?" sort of thought that comes to me every week sometime during the 5th MLS mini-game.

Two themes to discuss before getting into all that. First, is this league goddamn crazy or who? I mean, what the hell are the Seattle Sounders doing losing to San Jose anywhere? Why can't Toronto FC beat even the lowliest club in MLS in their expanded hizzouse (I'm not spelling that right, am I? But, yes, I'm talking about New York City FC...or are they now the formerly lowliest)? Why are the expansion teams suddenly going all Freaky Friday with each other's reputations?

Second, let's talk transition, or, rather, the dreaded "transition year." Personally, I've used it as a knee-jerk shorthand for "shitty season" long enough that the thought behind it lost its meaning. Webster's Dictionary defines "transition" as...jesus, never mind. The point is, bad teams pick up and drop new players into the puzzle like slow infants smashing the star over the square hole. No one notices because, bad yesterday, bad today. Either an upgrade happens or no one notices. Before you know it. you're the Chicago Fire. When it comes to good teams, the years pass subtly from great to good to "smart" to some version of manifestly bad. The realization hits you like a pressure drop: you're pretty sure you feel the change, but you can't be sure till it starts raining. I want to believe that this explains my ongoing fascination with Real Salt Lake (because it damn sure ain't the product on the field). RSL's intended future finally showed up last Saturday, when Sebastian Jaime scored his first goal for the Utahans since joining late last year (and celebrated by looking like his wife gave birth to Twins Spoken of in Ages Past; Olmes "Almost" Garcia followed up by doing the rare something - accidentally, it bears noting, but everyone takes three points: for now, these are RSL's stewards for the post-Saborio era. Never mind how much shit's gonna hit the fan when Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman retire: that is a transition,with a massive Jamison Olave cherry on top: the new players' (ideally) growing pains combine with the slow, clear, steady decline of players who will become club legends of some scale or another.

RSL makes for a great case-study because the shift is broader and fairly sharply generational, but transitions happen all over the league every season. The New England Revolution faces one either today, or (roughly) 15 months later, when Jermaine Jones hangs up his boots. The Los Angeles Galaxy will deal without before they know it with Steven Gerrard – and that's without even knowing if the forehead-less Scouser will pan out. And, crap, what will the San Jose Earthquakes be without Chris Wondolowski? A few teams notwithstanding – and, barring injury (Diego...), I'd put the Portland Timbers in that group - just about every MLS roster features one key player, or even two or three, whose ultimate departure will force a genuine transition on that club's fortunes.

Maybe it took me getting old to fully appreciate the transition season as some kind of euphemism for doing a lot of things wrong. Damn. Now I think I've got post-Father's-Day-depression. I'm pretty sure I need meds for that. Opiates?

On a practical note, and nice as it was to feel valued, Father's Day tripped up the weekend viewing a little. Sure, I could have decreed, "I will do nothing but watch soccer and eat ice cream in my underwear all weekend long! Walk the dog, and slide bourbon under my door!" Then again, the usual felt like a shitty use of the free pass (wait, no! I just watch soccer; fully clothed, no ice cream. I have witnesses!). So, I only watched two games for Week 16 (caught all the others as 20-minute mini-games). Will officially raise game this upcoming weekend (Week 17)...thought not a mid-week (Week 16 1/2, and if you watch them all, I think you get to go to Hogwarts). And those (e.g. the full games) were:
Toronto FC v. New York City FC
Portland Timbers v. Houston Dynamo
OK, on to the MLS Week 16 rankings. Broadly speaking, the top and bottom sorted out pretty easily. The entire goddamn middle of the table, on the other hand...what can I say? All those assholes lost and/or failed en bloc. How do I track that shit? Do I track that shit? Mmmm...maybe. On the belief that major weekly (mood) swings in rankings betray a mind deeply into shiny objects, I tried to be measured in with the ups and downs. That said, some clubs make silly, thinly-warranted jumps down below (see: Los Angeles Galaxy and Columbus Crew SC). I tell ya, this dingy league!

1) DC United
(Full games: 4 1/2) (Last week: 3)
Is it possible Chris Rolfe is playing the best soccer of his career right now? Having Fabian Espindola to pitch his set-ups (or Nick DeLeon before him) can't hurt. Good all over, professional as all hell, and deep enough, I’d be shocked if DC drops out of most people’s top five this season. (No, don’t tell me…they already have, right?)

2) Sporting Kansas City

(Full games: 6) (Last week: 2)
RSL put knocks on SKC's playmakers that SKC usually puts on the opposition (seriously, what did Benny Feilhaber ever do to Kyle Beckerman?). SKC didn't survive the cheap shots – and they lost on an unlucky deflection - but they pulled level with something pretty, too. Finally, quick question: is Graham Zusi as slow as he looks? (Or just tell me RSL's guys that fast?)

3) Seattle Sounders
(Full games viewed: 8) (Last week: 1)
I remember people talking up Seattle’s depth in April/May (or some made-up month, say, Novembruary), but, congrats all, we have found the bottom of the puddle, repeat, the bottom of the puddle. One moment suggested the problem well enough to run a little long: during the second half, Marco Pappa picked up the ball inside San Jose's half with space in front of him; Lamar Neagle might have sprinted toward goal, but every other Seattle player I saw (three minimum) checked back to the ball. The point is, no one was running toward goal. Without Clint and Oba, Seattle needs to actually re-think the attack – as in, come up with assigned roles. Because they didn't appear present on Saturday. That's ample reason to drop 'em.

4) Vancouver Whitecaps
(Full games: 6) (Last week: 4)
I see all the wins, the tidy pile of points, but every time Vancouver comes up, the word “luck!” pops up right after. This might have held in the past, but the ‘Caps win over the Red Bulls was clean as you like. (About) 85% of everything they did looked composed and intended, planned, and completed in roughly that order. In that context, consider the famous question about Vancouver this year: what will they look like if Kekuta Manneh's on all the time? About like that. And, damn.
5) Portland Timbers
(Full games: 14) (Last week: 6)
Much like our neighbors to the North, the Timbers played as soundly on Saturday as they had all year. There's more – much, so much more, in this link – but the Timbers have been clicking with a certain kind of savvy during their late running streak. Like DC, and Vancouver, actually.

6) Toronto FC
(Full games: 6) (Last week: 5)
Toronto managed a very good early stretch in the game – one thwarted, in the end, by that meddling Josh Saunders! – but they slowly succumbed to NYCFC's slow constriction, their own stupid errors (paging Benoit Cheyrou), and the suffocating sense of judgement that haunts BMO like the mournful damned soul. If home is where the heart is, TFC is going through some shit at BMO. And, yes, Sebastian Giovinco finally lost his shit over MLS officiating. Wasn’t pretty...but it was awesome.

7) Houston Dynamo
(Full games: 3) (Last week: 7)
Where do I drop them? Every single team sucked last week, or started this weekend too damn far out. The Dynamo weren’t bad against Portland, besides. Ricardo Clark (as explained here; used the wrong image; also note the stuff on Kofi Sarkodie) was goddamn heroic, in fact, but with the Timbers so poised, Houston could only manage a couple chances, good ones, too. Tough games happen; Houston looked at least decent – and without Brad Davis (speaking of transitions) and Giles Barnes.

8) Los Angeles Galaxy
(Full games: 3 1/2) (Last week: 13)
No, I’m not on the “see? They’re back!” hype train. In fact, lifting LA so far so fast pains me like a shot to the pills. But combine all the tripping and stumbling in the East with Gyasi Zardes crushing a minimum of two facets of the game and LA's stock has to rise, even if only relatively. In other news, Stefan Ishizaki deserves some kind of an award for carrying the offense through various absences. Letting him score the odd goal seems like a good start.

9) New England Revolution
(Full games: 4) (Last week: 9)
Another beneficiary of other club's bad form, dropping New England didn't make a ton of sense because, losing to one of the league's solid teams on the road happens, plus, have I mentioned how lucky Portland got when they dodged Juan Agudelo? DC didn't and he made 'em work. The Revs can still attack, too – they walk up at one point in the second half to positively slice DC open – but there's some disconnect in it all. Yeah, it's probably down to Jermaine Jones. But the Revs don't look that far off an answer.

10) Columbus Crew SC
(Full games: 5) (Last week: 12)
Idlers’ Recompense: another name for this little unearned rise, which came courtesy of other clubs cocking it up royally. Columbus has done very little to make the rest of the league take them seriously lately. Winless in six and with New England ahead and in New England...damn.

11) Orlando City FC
(Full games: 2 1/2) (Last week: 8)
Orlando just could not stop shooting the ball directly at Evan Bush, for one. Cyle Larin had a decent outing, and Pedro Ribeiro looked the picture of balance on his one chance, but Montreal sorted out Orlando's weaknesses...of which I count between 3 and 4 (in no particular order, Luke Boden, Rafael Ramos, Lewis Neal, and Darwin Ceren). There's also Brek Shea's marking on corners...expansion blues.

12) Real Salt Lake
(Full games: 2) (Last week: 14)
Without discounting the impressive win –and it was that – RSL did they passed through a night defined by luck. And this broke both ways: on the one hand, Lady Luck gave their winner a big, wet lick; on the other, Tim Melia straight-up stole two from Devon Sandoval. It's worth noting, too, that Sandoval looked as good as anyone out there, this side of Morales...who has to slow down soon...right? But, my thesis!

13) Red Bull New York
(Full games: 5) (Last week 11)
After a while, good moments are only worth it when they payoff. The Red Bulls have played as incisively as any club in MLS this season; they've also relied on Mike Grella, a player with potential to become the symbol of the Jesse Marsch/Ali Curtis "no-star/less-capital" philosophy. And not in a good way. They're also playing something like cursed – for reference, see Bradley Wright-Phillips missing two penalties.

14) San Jose Earthquakes
(Full games: 1) (Last week: 15)
Let the record show that I really love and respect Shea Salinas' game. Yeah, I'd marry it. He's the consistently slickest thing on San Jose's roster, for good or ill, and nothing exemplified what has, also for good or ill, become San Jose's calling card: raw effort, even if often educated. See (the early stages and final ball of) their first goal for that. For a counter-point, see Matias Perez-Garcia's stumble-step waltz through Seattle's defense. Keep it up, kid. I need another club to feel threatened by in the West. (And, if you're a Timbers fan, watch that goal and...just...savor it).

15) FC Dallas
(Full games: 4) (Last week: 10)
Why does a draw on the road finally turn me completely against FC Dallas? And with me being one of Colorado's staunchest defenders as a beautiful (if-only-in-the-eye-of-a-blind-beholder) project? It’s the sheer cluelessness that has seized their attack, the way they failed to find Blas Perez at all on Friday. Has it really become just passing to Fabian Castillo to see what happens?

16) New York City FC
(Full games: 4 1/2) (Last week: 19)
I want to raise them higher, honest. But, more honestly still, no, I don't think they’re better than Dallas. Even if they will be one day, and soon. So, how'd NYCFC beat Toronto, then, a team way the hell higher up the rankings? Mainly by being better than advertised in the attack, lately. The only weekly wrap-up I've so far read noted Tommy McNamara's solid (late) start to the season with some incredulity. While that’s not entirely unjustified, McNamara really has earned it, just like he did last year at Chivas USA. He looks like a great fit up there. Or out there.

17) Montreal Impact
(Full games: 4) (Last week: 18)
If this is too meager a climb for Montreal's most recent run...and, yep, 5-2-0 in the past seven? Shit, that is legit. The formula is so simple and, as proved in the CCL, and strongly argued for now, how many pundits kept Montreal anchored to the bottom of the rankings through the spring (present blogger included). The key, though, or the second tumbler on the lock, is Andres Romero. Here's a question: what happens when Justin Mapp returns? 4-3-3? 4-2-3-1? (Yes, on the latter. Right?)

18) Philadelphia Union
(Full games: 2 1/2) (Last week: 17)
Just two weeks ago, anyone could argue that Philly was turning things around. Shift the lens two weeks closer to the present and Game 12-15's 3-1-0 record becomes Game 14-17's 1-3-0. The Galaxy pounded Philly, for sure, but it was a genuine mess for Philly: players flailing after the same ball, or making the same run, a three-headed clearance that traveled all of five yards, a general, flailing amoeba defense. Messy days in Philly. Or return to Philly. Time to break out the coffin, kiddies.

19) Colorado Rapids
(Full games: 4) (Last week: 19)
They can't win. That's it. It doesn't matter whether or not Pablo Mastroeni is on the bench, apparently. Mastroeni's place in the coach's seat could be the problem, but Colorado has two wins all season. That sucks. Especially with the very real talent on this roster. Everyone else has more wins and closer together. Yep, time to fire Mastroeni.

20 Chicago Fire
(Full games: 2 1/2) (Last week: 20)
I took a quick count of which club had the most losses in MLS for the first time tonight, maybe even ever (no, I didn't think to check the standings....why?). Turns out it's Philly, who have already lost 10 this season. Chicago has three games to beat them. This 20-spot says they're good for it. Nothin' or double, Jack. Nothin' or double.

That's all for this week and, as usual, that's ample. Thanks for sticking around to anyone who's made it.

Also, due to the quick turn-around in games this week, I'm only going to get up a post-game for Portland's game against LA on Wednesday. After that it'll be Portland's game against (pig-fucking) Seattle. And, then, finally, regularly scheduled programming. Well, until the Gold Cup. Which will fuck everything up all over again. Damn.

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