Wednesday, August 5, 2015

MLS Week 22 Review: The Bonus Multiplier Player, Result of the Week and MORE!!

Yes, going crazy from the heat...
In order to make this latest weekly update of Major League Soccer (Week 22) at least somewhat about the week just passed, I have to tinker with the organization. Otherwise, it's mostly about random observations that, 1) came to me as I watched the games and mini-games, and 2) involve trends and comments on this player or that, i.e. basic concepts with no immediate bearing on time or place. With that in mind, the one beer* specifically relevant to Week 22 will come before the shot (again, see asterisk), and the five other, perhaps seasonal beers, perhaps not, will follow.

(* These posts are built around the concept of a shot – e.g. a long-ish, lightly-researched anchoring feature – and a six-pack of beers – e.g. shorter, brief, likely not researched, yet hopefully well-argued thoughts).

One other piece of housekeeping: the Conifers & Citrus Interest Rankings (see right sidebar) are current. (And, for the curious, I explained what those rankings are and why I see them as useful last week.)

All right, enough with the preamble. How about that Week 22? That record-breaking Week 22, which featured goals, goals, goals (X 36, or thereabouts). For something wild (in the David Lee Roth sense of the word), a couple of the games reinforced (see: Columbus Crew SC), or reinforced (see: Seattle Sounders FC) actual trends. All things I may or may not talk about. Haven't decided yet, honestly. All I know is that I've got my notes and intend to go where the spirit directs me.

1) The...Things of the Week!
Goal of the Week: Taylor Kemp's slicing, one-time bomb against Real Salt Lake. I just like Kemp.
Save of the Week: I never saw anything better than Luis Robles' save against Conor Casey.
Result of the Week: Though tempted to go with Columbus' just straight-up collapse against Orlando City SC (more later) or the way the Seattle Sounders' loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps took an existing trend in a bad direction, but, for me, DC United's flat-out nuts, meme-breaking win over Real Salt Lake yelled louder for attention than the rest. And that yelling came in a couple languages, too. Now, obviously, it put DC back on top in both the Eastern Conference and in the Supporters' Shield race, but that's just the beginning. East beat West, and that's something even if RSL hardly stands as the West's best. The fact they came back into the game highlights a telling trend for DC this season, one brought up during the game: DC United boasts a 4-3-1 record in games where they're trailing at the half; this comeback made that 5-3-1; even with 24 games played, that's pretty badass. The deeper (deepest?) point has been framed a little strangely in the few places I've come across it. DC has earned a well-won reputation as the dourest of grinders: literally, one exception aside, DC's 22 prior games were low-scoring, one-goal-margin affairs. A couple comments – possibly throw-aways, given that they came during podcast – hinted that the last two, high-scoring comeback wins represent some kind of break with that reality/approach. Is it true? Dunno. Moreover, a genuine shift could mean all kinds of things, just as much as it would if the past two games prove to be anomalies. All I know is, that’s why we watch.

Now, get the salt and chop up a lime. SHOT!

On the Bonus Multiplier, AKA, the Accidentally Important
With allowances for an argument or two, it's usually not hard to name the most important player on any given team. Or even players. Watching the Houston Dynamo go toe-to-toe against Sporting Kansas City this past weekend, another sort of player came to mind. I didn't have a name for what said player is – he was more concept than man at that point - I only know the idea came to me as I watched Houston's new Spaniard, Raul Rodriguez, battle to contain a KC attack that started strong, only to sputter down the stretch. Guess that means whatever Houston did worked. And Rodriguez is part of that effort, as he has been all year. He's been good, he's been bad – and that's where this whole idea/argument takes off. (And, yes, if I was getting paid to post this stuff, I'd provide links; but it's just one play and what's that going to prove, really?)

Conscious as I am that every player in MLS is either drafted, bought, a traded for with some forethought in mind, every player in the world comes with some element of risk. Even with a pretty nice resume in his pocket, that idea applied to Rodriguez just as much as it did anybody. He's been a mix so far – with part of the blame for that going to Owen Coyle's unwise/desperate decision to play him at (I think) right back for a while – and that's where this whole idea/argument ends. By my somewhat distant read, Houston's best shot at greatness this season rides on Rodriguez finding his place in the Houston line-up and, to the best of his abilities, killing it wherever he stands.

The point is, Rodriguez is big for Houston, but in a different, more defining way than even club's stars like Giles Barnes and Brad Davis. Notice I left Will Bruin off that list, because he's more like Rodriguez than Barnes or Davis. Here's the line: star players are star players by definition, they become stars by doing something good and important over and over again. The consistency is no less important than the quality, because the magic happens when you pull the two words into a phrase. That said, crucial as consistent quality is for any club, players like Rodriguez and, now that he's been invited, Bruin, become no less crucial than the star players the second any talk of real success starts up.

Important as they are, the star players come out of the practical equation for success in that they function as "givens." And that word means just what it does in geometry – i.e. oh, hell yeah, there’s still something left to prove, so, what else ya got? (I rarely had the answer.) It takes a guy like Rodriguez to solve the equation, to carry it all over the line that your star players carry your team to. Houston brought in Rodriguez to cut back on the blowout losses that killed the Dynamo in 2014. They're better defensively this year, but the closer they get to lock-down, the closer they get to being great. I borrowed the phrase "bonus multiplier" from video games to get at how a player like Rodriguez: he's someone a club comes across at random, signs, and then hopes for the best. In other words, he shows up with all his variables and, if he comes good, BONUS!

This isn't just about new signings - and that's how Bruin comes in. He's had some solid stretches, but anyone who's watched Bruin knows how well he wears adjectives like "limited" and "uneven." It's the promise of a player like Bruin that keeps your club from trading him, or straight-up canning him, but waiting on him to deliver – especially where the club wants, e.g. at star level – can make him feel like a new player showing up every season. Bruin is on course for a good year – and that's big for Houston – but I still get the feeling that what happens with Rodriguez matters more for the Dynamo.

Well, there's your frame. Per my time-consuming habit, I take my stab at naming the Bonus Multiplier for every club in MLS below. Reference the interest rankings for how closely observed my choices are. And, if there's anyone on the least who reads to anyone like a bonafide star, he/she will know that I screwed up.

Chicago FireMatt Polster: Yeah, yeah, trendy, but, from what I've read (for I have rarely watched) Matt Polster is the key letting allowing Chicago go where their personnel leads them (i.e. to playing more like Vancouver).

Colorado Rapids – Because they're acknowledged steady vets in their given roles, Sam Cronin and Marcelo Sarvas don't fit the mold. I'm going to with Juan Ramirez; I think Vicente Sanchez has sparked the Rapids staggering offense as much as he could, so, next!

Columbus Crew SC – The horror with Columbus is that they seem to have tried everything already. It can't be Wil Trapp, not with that rep...shit. What they really need is a transformation in Klute or Kalen Ryden? Wow. Going with Klute, I guess.

DC United – Sorrt of a freak case, in that the guys who need to perform are, and the guys in waiting are, and the missing (Chris Pontius) are missing. Here's my choice: Jairo Arrieta. He gave them good minutes when he had to and he's big if he's stays available at that level.

FC Dallas – Here, I'm going to pull from Dallas' defensive-midfield and go with Victor Ulloa. I could be very much mistaken here, but he seems to get forward more and better than Acosta and that's what Dallas needs: a player who's enough of a threat up the middle to free up the wings.

Houston Dynamo – Covered already. Rodriguez.

LA Galaxy – Bastards have already come stinking good so far: Sebastian Lletget. No one saw him coming and, from what I've seen at a remove, he's been a big part of everything for LA.

Montreal Impact – I'd argue that Laurent Ciman came over as what Houston hoped Rodriguez would be: big on arrival. Given that, I'm going to go with Dilly Duka. Like Bruin he's shown promise for years and he's delivering enough in 2015 to keep Montreal in the conversations they want to be in.

New England Revolution – He's taking the same journey as Rodriguez, only by rougher roads: what kind of player Andrew Farrell becomes will mean a lot to New England by year's end. Could mean everything.

New York City FC – Because having answers in the wrong places defined NYCFC's birth, it's appropriate that they don't have some promising something where he's most needed – defense. Going with Thomas McNamara, because, so far, he's the necessary distraction for David Villa. And there aren't any clear replacements out there.

New York Red Bulls – This club is lousy with candidates, frankly. In the interest of space, I won't name all the guys I'm discarding on the way to my choice. I'm going with Chris Duvall. New York's defense was the big question going into 2015. Duvall has answered decently so far.

Orlando CityCyle Larin. Easier than I thought. Face it, the Floridians were swimming through a stagnant swamp until he started scoring. Anyone still think about Kevin Molino these days?

Philadelphia Union – In the biggest stretch so far, I'm going, I can't. I was going to say C. J. Sapong, but, for all his troubles, he arrived in Philly with clear expectations. Zach Pfeffer, on the other hand...well, we’re waiting!

Portland Timbers – Hardest call yet, obviously. No. can't be. And yet it must. Everyone else is some kind of known. Liam Ridgewell. Yeah, yeah, DP money, but Ridgewell remains Portland's biggest gamble in a lot of ways. I mean, he has to produce, and big. Has he? Is he?

Real Salt LakeLuis Gil. With some (close) exceptions, every player on RSL built some sort of narrative. Gil's is longer than most and it's one of those tales of what could have been. Or what might yet be. Anyway, he's where I hear the ceiling goes higher.

San Jose Earthquakes – Cheating a little, but Quincy Amarikwa, at least with that weird experiment with Chris Wondolowski in midfield going on.

Seattle Sounders FC – The way Seattle's depth has shown in such an unfavorable light lately makes this tricky. This sort of defines their mess, actually. Well, the whole thing is about potential so I'm going with Andreas Ivanschitz. OK, fine. Too obscure. Lamar Neagle. Until he, or someone else comes on, Seattle is in trouble.

Sporting Kansas City – I think he's already there and killin' it. Kevin Ellis. There's nothing left to watch for but a slump. And it could come. And, to clarify on the theme, Soni Mustivar doesn't count because he has done nothing but look the star.

Toronto FCSuper cheating on this one, but I'm going with Ahmed Kantari or Josh Williams. I think the Reds have stuck with who they're going to and given up on the rest. Which means it's down to those guys to make that defense make TFC contend. For the first time. No pressure.

Vancouver WhitecapsNicolas Mezquida. Him playing better is the surest way to making a pretty rock-star offense rock harder. Not the likeliest, but he's the only one who doesn’t seem to fall neatly under "good" or "evil" so far.

And...that's that. Wow. Took longer than I wanted it to. With that in mind, I’ll make short work of the five beers left on the table.

2) Columbus' Defense And the Meaning of Its Collapse
Everyone agrees that Columbus' defense is killing 'em – and the numbers don’t lie a ton. They're comfortably in the elite when it comes to scoring (36 goals, 2nd overall, and with the pack that's pulling away), but, with their defense in the same pack going the other way on defense (at 38, literally, second worst and, again, going with the pack that's pulling away) it counts for shit. Gregg Berhalter has promised changes – and, based on this year's earlier twitter issue, I'm sure there's Pokertitz related drama going on in the background. That said, what if the system needs changing? Berhalter has stuck to his guns, and to general praise...but people stick to bad ideas for a while. Too long, sometimes. Is this what's going on Columbus?

3) Dreamin' of a Beautiful End (Wonderin' If I'll Wake Too Soon)
Hail, hail, the highest-of-high profile DPs are finally States-side and suiting up for the MLS club of their, ahem, choosing. MLS fans even got a nice surprise with the arrival of Italian legend Andrea Pirlo (even if everything about his arrival hasn't so far broken in NYCFC's favor; see #2). The players astride Olympus' Mount aside (here, your Frank Lampards, your Steven Gerrards), late flashy arrivals keep coming to MLS, whether it's Didier Drogba causing freak-ous in Montreal or Giovanni Dos Santos giving him a run for his money in LA, or that...Velano...guy going to the Red Bulls (not official yet?) or, hey, Lucas Melano coming to Portland, Oregon (wait, conflation?), this sort of influx...well, this kind of thing gives us old-timers the vapors before too long. Over the weekend, I got to thinking how amazing the league will look once all these guys find their feet and start playing regularly. About a day later I got thinking about whether they.ll have enough time in 2015 to find their feet. Fingers crossed. And everything crossed down to my butt-hairs hoping Melano pans out...

4) The USMNT Forwards Project
Last week, I argued that Jurgen Klinsmann should perhaps put more thought into forging the players he has into a mighty weapon. Uh, that's as opposed to finding and grooming new prospects by way of the same philosophy the military operates when recruiting (beautiful, unsullied minds, ripe for molding!). One theme I argued came from the position that American forwards in MLS, though often not world-class, can be made effective by way of familiarity, by way of the other players understanding how to make them better. This is a theme I hope to stick to, with some measure of delusion and desperation clearly baked into the cake. That said, Charlie Davies, forward for the New England Revolution, inspired this bullet point. Positively at first. Later, not so much. Deep breath, Bull. This is gonna take some doin'.

5) Graham Zusi
I don’t entirely get what Zusi does, as a player, that makes him good. That's it, really. I mean, I see him score the odd goal from long range. I think Matt Doyle slobbered over a pass he made (and pretty justifiably; see the down-low #2), he's a reliable dead-ball guy, and he crosses the ball OK. That's all good, but it reads like it is: OK. Just OK. I guess the point is, Zusi reads to me like a really stats-based player. He doesn't do all the little things a fan likes to see so well, but, when he shows up on the stats sheets, you can't miss it. When he doesn't, though, yeah, you can miss it. Or at least I can. He seems...gods, why can't I put my finger on it? Little help?

6) and...dang dried up.
I was going to post something about how Houston's Owen Coyle once said that he thought he could field Barnes, Bruin and Erick "Cubo" Torres all at once. I can't find that article/argument after five minutes of searching....or, wait, there it is. A quote inside an article that was, most likely, tweeted at some point and I confused the thrust of an article for the plug....silly me. At any, I don't think Coyle can do it. Not unless he does it the same way Houston did it this week - e.g. Torres comes on for Barnes. Give up that much defensively and next thing you know, you're friggin' Columbus!

All for this week's edition. Good night, may the god of your choice bless.

No comments:

Post a Comment