Sunday, July 12, 2015

MLS Week 19: The Half-Rack (e.g 12 Thoughts/New Feature)

Still undecided. That's half a half of whatever, goddammit!
Well, I didn't promise promise I'd stay away from Major League Soccer. In fact, I think I've landed on something more satisfying than damn, dirty power rankings (not least because, as argued in the Week 18/Season End Rankings, I don't anticipate much meaningful change in terms of how MLS's clubs stack up against one another till the end of the season).

Time constraints being what they are, I sat through only condensed versions of every game in MLS for Week 19 (well, except Vancouver v. Sporting KC, which isn’t up, condensed-style, at time of writing). It looked like a great week based on those snippets, lots of goals, lots of bad defending, some wacky refereeing – i.e. one's daily diet of madness, basically. And huzzah!

Because branding is everything in these teenage years of the 21st century, I hereby introduce the Conifers & Citrus "Half-Rack": the 12 comments that came to me as I watched, in this case, all those condensed games. They're not talking points, even if as I view each of them as segues to larger conversations, and, ideally, I'll stray away from flagging the obvious. Even as I will sometimes fail, as when I point out that, holy shit, is that Sebastian Giovinco kid really goddamn good.

Last part to the preamble: was "half-rack" an East Coast or West Coast term? Not trying to start another rap war, but I spent enough time on both coasts, and have put enough mileage on my brain, that I can’t remember where I lived when friends (and, yes, family) asked me to "pick up a half-rack" on the way to this or that event, or when they just asked for a half-case.

At any rate, 12 Points, Comments, Ideas...Things unfold below...starting with a quick hit on my beloved, yet misbehaving, Portland Timbers.

1) We Are the Traffic Cones! The Mighty Mighty Traffic Cones!
What the wet, flaming Hell happened on the Philadelphia Union's 2nd and 3rd goals against the Portland Timbers? Jack Jewsbury, in particular, followed both plays at a pace a minimum of three steps slower than a Sunday stroll. Or, as laid out in my notes, "Jewsbury either stoned or absolutely burned out." Liam Ridgewell, this year's St. Peter in defense (e.g. the rock of...jesus, biblical metaphors now?), didn't move with much more urgency on the third; he was, however, caught between a charging Andrew Wenger and a lingering Sebastian LeToux on the second, so no fault to him there. Look, I don't mind the loss – it was inevitable, because MLS – but if players are tired, just fucking rest them, yeah? The Timbers rested Darlington Nagbe, and justifiably, but...put it this way: I don't get why Portland rested and/or subbed both fullbacks for various reasons, while leaving Diego Valeri out there long enough to get pissy, or keeping Old Man Jewsbury out there till he damn near fell asleep on the top of the 18. I mean, look at the man's body language here. He's fucking tanked! Pull him!
1a) I'd like to pause here to commend the Philadelphia Union's beautiful fans. Here, I refer to the guy who screamed satisfaction while flipping off Valeri after he missed a free-kick in the first half. Gorgeous. Also, fans that hungry deserve a nice win. Good for all y'all!

2) The Nat Borchers v. Norberto Paparatto Question is one that Caleb Porter should keep asking till he's satisfied with the answer.
Completely serious and, speaking personally, I'm not there yet.

3) Last One on Portland – And It's a Bitch
If you had to choose between Fabian Castillo and Darlington Nagbe, who would you choose. Be honest. And, yes, I'm totally going to piss off the reddit forums with this one. Maybe tomorrow. I expect to be called an amazing number of variations on the word "ass." Or just to have the thing taken down immediately. Time will tell. One last point for your consideration: check out Castillo's gravity on Dallas' second goal (i.e. the number of players who shift toward him to deal with his wicked skillz on the dribble) and tell me that doesn't make you think a little harder.

4) The Weeks' Most Important Result
For me, it was the Montreal Impact's win over the Columbus Crew. It's not just that, given Crew SC's form going in, few would have expected Montreal to win, it's how thoroughly and broadly Montreal's players contributed to it: if it wasn't Evan Bush turning in the Save of the Week (definite article is entirely intentional) it was Marco Donadel rifling in the Goal of the Week (again, article use completely intentional). And, jesus, did Donadel follow that up with the best goal celebration these proud, paternal eyes have ever seen (watch the full highlight reel; adorbs! Did I cry? ...yes!). The duel between Ethan Finlay and Bush was worth the price of admission twice over, but there was also a star-turn by Dilly Duka (for example). No less important is the way Montreal keeps going through that stack of games in hand with 1 1/2 steps forward and one step back. Tantalizing...
4a) I also like the cut of Montreal's fans. Of all MLS clubs, that has become my #1 dream visit.

5) The Week's Funnest Result
(Yes, "funnest" is a word. Fuck Microsoft's tight-assed spelling software.)
Sure, sure, New York City FC's wild home draw against Sebastian Giovinco & Friends had "Thrilla" written all over it, what with eight goddamn goals, etc. – and more on that later – but my pick for this week's most sweetly satisfying result was the Colorado Rapids gut-check win over visiting, struggling Real Salt Lake. There's a Stat of the Week in there, too – e.g. the fact that RSL had scored only 5 goals on the road this season (now 6!) – but they sure looked likely to win over the swarm-of-snakes-bit Rapids – e.g. the team that could dream up an implausibly complicated way to shit the proverbial bed while living in a totally separate state of the union. And yet they pulled it off. The unluckiest bastards in all of MLS not only pulled it off, they capped it off with one of the sweetest fuck-the-world goals of the past five years. Goddamn magic, people. Say, that's a good segue...

6) Teams for Which I Have an Inexplicable Soft Spot
Yes, the Portland Timbers are my one true love, but, like many a married man, the eye does wander, the penis does poke uninvited against the pants upon seeing some comely something walk by. In short, I am human and, yes, I have teams I watch and quietly root for besides Portland. These move around, year to year, but, for 2015, those teams include the following (and in no particular order): Colorado, New York Red Bulls, Montreal, and, to a lesser extent, one based solely on belief in their quality, Sporting Kansas City. I will never pull for any of these clubs against Portland, but, against all other comers, hell yes. It's vanity, really. I think they're better than everyone else and, yes, I do like being proved right.

7) Because Taylor Twellman Said It After I Did
If you go to my Week 18 rankings and scroll down to the entry on New York City FC, you'll see a comment that is very, very similar to something Taylor Twellman said during the national broadcast of the NYCFC/TFC thrilla! – e.g. while Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo will do great things to NYCFC's midfield, it's not gonna matter much unless, or until, they get that defense sorted. Because it sucks. They could have coughed up a literal handful of goals to Giovinco today. Seriously. That said...

8) Saluting Tommy MacNamara, and The Rest
I've danced around this argument before, but I think the time has come to start pushing it: every team in MLS is only as good as it supporting cast. With the salary cap as a given, a lot of teams' seasons turn on what somewhat, or even completely, unexpected players bring to the table. NYCFC provides a hell of an example, in fact: see, Patrick Mullins, Mehdi Ballouchy, and, yes, Tommy Goddamn MacNamara. With RSL, it's someone like Luke Mulholland, with Montreal it’s Dilly Duka, and, at the highest of high ends this season, it's Ethan Finlay for Columbus. The stick with the latter, it's great to bring in Kei Kamara, and everyone notices his arrival, but the presence of a guy like Finlay, or even Justin Meram, matters every single bit as much.
8a) (And, yes, I am shameless about padding numbers): Is Finlay, Kamara, Meram, and Federico Higuain as good as it gets for a front four in MLS? Do their numbers prove it? Wow! Yes, if barely. Columbus is tied for first in goals-for in 2015, if only just. Fix that defense (3rd worst; who knew) and they could be on to something. Pick it up Poker-tits.

9) Referees, Best and Blorst
A couple weeks back, I started to entertain the idea of producing "Referee Rankings," e.g., a continuously updated review of which among the steady pool of MLS referees perform visibly well or poorly week to week. I still hope to pull that off, even as I know it will require some significant re-wiring of my brain (which, for now, is permanently set to, "Jesus, that guy is a fucking moron"), but I dream of flying past ceilings if you know what I mean. That said, MLS Week 19 offered two positively gilt-edged examples of good and bad refereeing: on the one hand, Montreal v. Columbus featured Silvio Petrescu giving one of the wisest "play-on" calls ever witnessed by soccer-viewing eyes, when he allowed Ignacio Piatti to ride some challenges for what became  Montreal second goal. On the other hand, you had Ted Unkel awarding penalties like goddamn participation awards during NYCFC v. TFC. I'm not saying all the calls were wrong for the latter – just, say, the cheapy Villa picked up off TFC's Chris Konopka - but it's fairly easy to argue that Unkel got himself on the scoresheet for that one.

10) How Do Orlando City SC Fans Feel About Kaka?
I mean, really. Sure, they lost to Dallas over the weekend, and gods know I barely watch Orlando, but, based on the collection of 20-minute moments I've spent with Orlando, I really do wonder. I praised the consistency of Kaka's decision-making earlier this season – as in, the man rarely puts a foot wrong, and usually finds a better place to put his foot besides – but the question of how much he's defining his club bears noting and arguing. To frame this another way, there's no discounting, say, David Villa's contribution to NYCFC or Giovinco's contribution to TFC. But what about Kaka?

11) The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away
Holy crap, is the New England Revolution suffering through a free-fall. On the one hand, yes, no club should ever be that beholden to the participation of one player (see, Jones, Jermaine...on, say, Instagram). Nothing highlighted the rot quite like the way the Red Bulls danced around every part of New England's set up this past Saturday. No goal was nearly as horrifying as the Red Bulls second, but there was a common thread through a few of them: Andrew Farrell getting caught with his pants hanging all droopy 'round his ankles. Farrell looked great earlier this season – Lord knows, I joined the chorus during New England’s good times – but Farrell was painfully close to a painful number of OG New York's goals this past weekend. I don't know why the worm has turned, but the fucker is facing a completely different direction in recent weeks. Keep trying, Mr. Farrell, I think you have it in ya!

12) To Close with a Strange One...
Given the crazy number of MLS clubs he's played for down the years (seven), does Dominic Oduro feel weird kissing any particular club's crest? Love the loyalty, but....

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