Monday, August 10, 2015

MLS Week 23 Review: GOTW, SOTW, ROTW, Plus A Lot of Comparisons

A moment most MLS fans have had to contemplate.
Well, the good news is, I finally wrestled one these weekly reviews to under three pages. Huzzah! And...that's the preamble: let's get to Major League Soccer's Week 23.

Week 23 could be called the Week of the Inflated Result, with several teams (see: Columbus Crew SC v. Colorado Rapids; or, Sporting Kansas City v. Toronto FC; or Los Angeles Galaxy v. Seattle Sounders FC). posting scorelines that looked bigger on paper than they did on the field. It could also be called the Week of the Outside of the Boot Goal (examples  #1 and #2). More than anything else, though, Week 23 brought with it some sign of separation among clubs, with the clearest example coming with what the Vancouver Whitecaps did to a Real Salt Lake side that tried to sneak a B-team onto the pitch (see: methodical pounding), which worked about as well as trying to put out a fire with a paper towel.

My personal highlights of the week included a mom in Colorado doing the “earmuffs” with her kid in the hope of saving him from what I assume was the "you suck, asshole" chant. It's that or Felipe's trouser blowout against New York City FC. Video for both moments was, by definition, hard to find. Actually, the video department is totally slouching this past weekend. Maybe they’re losing interest…so, watch those mini-games, yeah?

All in all, I believe that very little happens week to week in MLS. I wish I could frame all this better than, “so, a bunch of stuff happened, and here’s some of it.” I don’t, though, so what comes below are just a collection of notes that came to me as I watched all the mini-games during MLS Week 23... and the following three games in full (and, yes, the Conifers & Citrus Interest Rankings have been updated!):
Portland Timbers v. Chicago Fire (full, grumpy write-up here)
Colorado Rapids v. Columbus Crew SC (brief, barely worth reading write-up)
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Seattle Sounders FC (write-up)
Uh, last thing: I'm replacing the ol’ beer-'n’-shots motif with a straight-up Top 10 thoughts for the week. Actually, I’m just moving “the shot” (e.g. the big, heavy-hitting idea) to a separate post…look, it’s a work in progress, all of it. At any rate, join me on a tour of MLS Week 23, starting with The Honors!

Goal of the Week
I'm going with DaMarcus Beasley's straight-up terror attack on San Jose’s left. Beasley has been doing this crazy cut-in lately and it's positively depantsing the opposition.
Save of the Week
Sporting KC's Tim Melia for his back-to-back swats against (first) Jackson, then (second) Ahmed Kantari (Well, dagnabbit, the Key Moments videos just aren't up to this week; start watching at 2:40). He had some competition, too, from the post that denied (first) Kei Kamara, then (second) Federico Higuain. But, Melia, being a human being with full agency, gets the honors.
Result of the Week
Tough call this week, but I'm going with...Orlando v. Philadelphia UnionYeah, yeah, I tend to go bleak with at least one of these weekly honors, but sometimes a wasted week tells you more than this win or that. Combine this painfully boring draw with Orlando's midweek loss to Toronto (who, as noted above, later lost to KC) and it’s worth wondering whether Orlando will make the 2015 playoffs after all. Because, Philly? Officially dire...and, crap, that's a beautiful segue to this week's top 10.

1) The Fistfight Over the Outhouse
Yes, the standings make this obvious, but I think that the regular season calendar has reached a point where fans and pundits can officially identify candidates who will fight it out for the worst team of 2015...with as much dignity as each of them can muster. The short-list includes the Chicago Fire, the Philadelphia Union, and the Colorado Rapids. Sure, sure, the San Jose Earthquakes are in with a shout, but I think they lack the stink that sticks to those other three.  Having watched Chicago square off against Portland, and judging by the 20-minutes worth of shit-show I saw Philadelphia turn in against Orlando, I can safely say, with those two, I get it, they're just bad. But, again, Colorado consistently failure to deliver all year looms large, even as it remains a mystery to me. So, barring an incredible shock, I'm putting down a big goddamn wad of invisible money on one of those three teams to sit at the bottom of the table come October 25th.

2) While We're On Dishonors...
I'm confident that this will go down as one of the prettiest misses in the history of MLS.

3) Some Perspective on the U.S. Men's Forward Pool
First, it’s great to see that Herculez Gomez will return to MLS. He's a smart player, and a classy one, too, one good enough to come in and out of the player pool for the U.S. Men's National Team. Know who else has? Robbie Findley. Yeah, the consistently average one who now plays for Toronto. He went to South Africa 2010All this comes up in answer to some podcast or another that I heard that lamented the current state of the U.S. Men's pool at forward after the Gold Cup (think it was SBI; I'll get up a link later). Does it make sense to lump these two guys together? Not really. Even if my memory of Herc’s game is dated, I’m guessing he’s performing better than Findley these days, who, these days, it’s becoming a stretch to call useful. That said, is Herc performing at anything like USMNT level? (And that side-steps the issue of how much that matters; does Jurgen Klinsmann even know Gomez exists?) And yet that’s the point of all this: Findley played a big role in Real Salt Lake's one and only MLS CupAnd RSL was, without question, the best team back then, so, yeah, his call-up made some kind of sense, even if his later work in South Africa posed some rather sharp questions about it. In other words, the U.S. forward pool has never really been all that great. For every reliable guy like Landon Donovan or, even Brian McBride, the team has featured a steady supply of dubious stop-gaps. In other words, it’s always been a little catch-as-catch-can. And Jozy Atltidore’s busted hamstring.

4) And, While We’re on That Subject...
During and, generally, throughout the broadcast for the Portland Timbers' (disturbingly) narrow win over the Fire, Keith Costigan (pretty sure it was him) kept going on about Portland's Fanendo Adi's limits as a player. He drew big dark lines around it at some point with the argument that went, in a close paraphrase, "with Didier Drogba coming, you just have to do better" than Adi. One question follows from this, and I'm happy to leave it there (though I will argue in comments, or via tweets): true or false?

5) And, Counterpoint
Frank Lampard's most visible contributions in today's 2-0 New York City FC's loss to the New York Red Bulls was pulling a couple shots wide and, later, dishing out a cheap foul to Mike Grella after Grella nutmegged the friggin' pants off of him. That's right. Mike Fucking Grella, Frankie. How's them New York apples? Speaking for myself, I like to see the designated players earn it. Again and again. This is nerds versus jocks stuff, here, and I am pretty damn invested.
5a) It's often asked whether the big name players have something to lose by signing for MLS. Well, of course they do. Reputation. If they show up in an alleged "retirement league" and fail, that's a potential hit to the brand. To float something that I have absolutely not explored, while I'm confident that Lothar Matthaeus can sell just about anything in Germany, I do wonder about his global appeal after his time in MLS.
6) And Counterpoint to the Counterpoint. With a Necessary Addition
I've been thinking about the surprise players of the year, and Grella always comes to mind. By my memory, he came to MLS as a stop-gap, one that would be replaced later. Turns out he's such a fixture in New York's lineup that Shaun Wright-Phillips has yet to replace him outright – and credit to Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch for sticking with Grella till it makes sense to stop. LA's Sebastian Lletget paid off even bigger. If you haven't seen him play a big role in an LA game, that's just another way of saying you haven't watched an LA game all that closely. Both guys go to show that there’s more to a player than his resume. And, yet, there is an exception to the rule, a player whose game looks so unrefined as to be of questionable value. Here, I'm talking about Colorado's Charles Elondou. For he is the constant answer to the question, of what it actually looks like when a great play breaks downElondou’s speed and youth spell some sort of upside, but the kid is freakin’ raw. And…in all honesty, as I sit here editing this, I can’t say I’m entirely sure about the point beyond acknowledging that signing players, even getting the best out of them, boils down to some kind of crapshoot. And, sometimes, you unwrap what looks like a gift only to find out that it’s crap inside the box.

7) On Kids Panning Out
Cyle Larin, who is both a shoe-in for Rookie of the Year and topping the record for goals scored in a rookie season, gave MLS fans a glimpse of what it means to be a rookie. With Houston's Joe Willis more or less fucked-and-scrambling backwards toward his goal, deep inside Nowhere Land, Larin picked up the ball reasonably close to goal. I can’t find a clip for this one, sadly, but, suffice to say that Larin passed on a couple options ON TOP of not seeing the potential to lob the ball over Willis; even if he couldn’t get it over him (tough, because Willis is huge), Willis was so off-balance that just about any shot would have been better than Larin’s hesitation. Judging by his Year One, Larin should be be just fine over time. Or, to put it another way, if he does adjust to that, Canada will have a really goddamn good striker on their hands.

8) More Comparisons
In my short (baffling) wrap-up to the Colorado v. Columbus game, I hinted that I don't think much of Colorado's Clint Irwin. By which I mean as I goalkeeper, and not a human being. From what I hear, he's a solid Twitter follow. At any rate, watching DC United's Bill Hamid keep the hordes at bay against the Montreal Impact got me thinking on compare/contrast lines. The short argument goes like this: Hamid keeps DC in games when his defense lets him down; Irwin's defense keeps him from having to let them down. OK, yes, horribly shitty phrasing, but I do believe the point and I only suggest to honor Hamid's accomplishment: sometimes the last line of defense is an expanding brick wall (Hamid), and sometimes it's not (Irwin). I think what I object to is Irwin getting too much credit for Colorado's solid goals-against numbers...

9) Did RSL Just Do What I Think They Did?
The Vancouver Whitecaps methodical pounding of Real Salt Lake could very well have owed something to a calculation on RSL's part – i.e. that they would focus on the CCL going forward, and therefore, start their key players in the CCL (EDIT: Turns out Jeff Cassar saved his stars for a U.S. Open Cup semifinal). Let the record show that I’m all for squad rotation, but this game highlighted two key facts: 1) there are clear limits, and those lines tend to get drawn bolder when one club, say, RSL, isn’t as good as the other, say, Vancouver, with their full complement of strikers; 2) given RSL’s fascination with the CCL, I’m pretty sure they’re geeked up about the Open Cup as the entrĂ©e to the CCL and that’s all very misplaced because this current RSL squad is going to do something close to in the CCL. And, Hell yes, the loss to Vancouver proves it. The point is, legitimately competitive squads have a right to squad rotation. The teams that aren't doing so hot? Well, they might want to focus on establishing their best team for the weekly grind.

10) How Quality Creates Quality
Yes, Sebastian Giovinco is a crazy-good finisher, but what I love most about watching him is how smartly he moves off the ball. I’ll be able to get video to this one later (promise!), but I can describe how Giovinco thrilled me this week: his sharp horizontal run across Orlando’s met Benoit Cheyrou's pass beautifully and flummoxed everyone else. Talking as a Timbers fan, I’m forced to ask myself, who on the Timbers does that? (Answer: Nobody). Movement counts for a poop-ton, people.

And...that's it. And, goddammit, I just went into four pages. Well, hell with it. I'll get better next week. Hope that all made sense up there. At you on...Jesus, Tuesday.

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