Sunday, September 13, 2015

MLS Week 28 Review: Blow-by-Blow, Team-by-Team

Our interns, hard at work.
As regular readers know, we at C & C Labs (Conifers & Citrus Laboratories, LLP) experiment continuously with framing, formatting and concepts, all with the long-term goal of presenting the perfect readable post. Yes, we've laid some mutant eggs – let us not forget...well, shit, already forgot it, apparently, but, suffice to say, we've laid some eggs that the mother not only walked away from, but quietly pushed off a cliff. And she's right. Fuck those things.

At any rate, somewhere in the middle of spacing off during...again, I dunno, some game, we came up with another approach, this one involving a full-spectrum review of Major League Soccer review that taxes neither writer nor reader. And doesn't that sound...just nice? This is really straight-forward (for once): I frame every game that happened in the week just past and wrap it up in one of two ways:

1) I provide three talking points for each club for the games where I went the full 90; and
2) Just one talking point per team for each game where I only took in the 20-minute mini-game.

Nifty, I think, and clear, I hope. The "interest rankings" have been updated at right. So, let's get rolling.

MLS Week 28
It's pretty easy to frame the week as a whole: the clubs that look ready showed it by winning where and when they should. The clubs that didn't? Well, they choked, didn't they? Some more than others, too, but most begged questions along the way. In the former column (winners!), you've got Columbus Crew SC, New York Red Bulls, the New England Revolution, and, if you're stretching, FC Dallas. So, who blew it this weekend? How about the Houston Dynamo, the Seattle Sounders and...goddammit, the Portland Timbers. Yeah, we're in there...especially given what Orlando did to Sporting Kansas City just today. Jeez-and-Us. Then again, guess who else slipped? The mighty, mighty, almighty Los Angeles Galaxy. So the league condenses again!

On to the games, full 90 first!

Portland Timbers v. Sporting KC; already written up, and in some distress.

Los Angeles Galaxy v. Montreal Impact
Frame: Rout Expected
It was LA's (somewhat) recently dynamic, explosive attack waiting to get back on track versus the (sputtering) bend-don't-break nous of the Montreal Impact. The bend didn't break in the end, and that may or may not spell something in English. The game ended in a goal-less draw, shockingly, with Montreal no doubt ecstatic to win a point where few teams do.
3 on LA
1) A couple LA players looked really sharp to me – e.g. Giovanni Dos Santos provided a few slick, loopy assists and Robbie Keane still has that crazy hip-swivel that works brilliantly for now, but that could very well leave him with broken hips in his sixth decade. That said, I'm dedicating this section to LA's weak spots (exploit! exploit!). First, Robbie Rodgers has stumbled of late, hasn't he? He tripped over himself going forward yesterday and got beat all over going back.
2) I used to like this guy, but Baggio Husidic is Los Dos material at best . I bring him up because, once dos Santos went off, the fluidity poured forward less fluidly for LA.
3) I saved the kicker for last: is Steven Gerrard (big fan, and for years, but still) better than good so far? As much as I think pairing him with Juninho works, Stevie G has to look the star on that salary. But he doesn't. LA's torrid August is over till further notice.
3 on Montreal
1) The broadcast team of Cobi Jones, who cares, talked a lot about how Montreal plays Nigel Reo-Coker out of position. It was telling when they turned to a veiled conversation about how well Reo-Coker keeps himself in the game by conserving energy. Ol' Nigel ruled that side of the field all night (till it was fair to ask, Sebastian Lletget who?)
2) Didier Drogba bitches a lot. I'm talking one arm-waving fit over this blown decision follows from this arm-waving fit about this shitty pass. Yeah, he's earned it, but here's the thing: I never saw him bitch about a play by Dilly Duka, even when he over-hit a cross over Drogba’s head. That says something...
3) No one talks about Callum Mallace. People should talk about Callum Mallace. Even if it's just because his name is cool. (That said, yes, they should focus on his impressive mobility and passing acumen.)

Toronto FC v. New England Revolution
Frame: Try-outs
Imagine you have a kid, one who tried ever so hard between seasons to improve in just about every way possible. Then the time came for him to take the field and try himself against, well, a reasonably suitable opponent, better, but not much. Imagine the pep-talk you'll need after this.
3 on TFC
1) Being able to break down the other team means nothing when your team knocks in own-goals (and, yet, what else could he have done?) and one of your key DPs does something stupid in the area. Broke-back TFC.
2) No, not even Sebastian Giovinco can fix this, not even with these numbers.
3) Robbie Findley ran his ass off all night. Jozy Altidore ran through mud once or twice, but I didn't see him much besides that. Having Findley outplay Altidore means all kinds of things for Toronto.
3 on New England
1) Whether it's Kelyn Rowe ("something stupid" link above), or Diego Fagundez, New England's late-season resurgence has a lot to do with their sub-star players coming, or being, back on-line. Second bananas are huge in MLS. They define seasons, in fact (See: Lletget, Sebastian, absence thereof, above).
2) Both Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves played incredible emergency defense and that, more than anything else, separated them from TFC earlier today. A. J. Soares built himself a bridge to Scandinavia with that kind of play.
3) Jermaine Jones is a mildly addicted to cute passes. That is the only fault in his game. His pass to Teal Bunbury that set up New England's first demonstrates the Revs' weapons overload. Scott Caldwell has to level-up something serious and soon.

And, now, the short takes (e.g. the 20-minute mini-games):

Vancouver Whitecaps v. Colorado Rapids
Frame: Uneven Forces
(Disclosure: some of these came to me during the games...this one, in particular.) Contrasting Colorado's Juan Ramirez against Vancouver's Kekuta Manneh draws a pretty sharp outline around this game: Manneh gets the ball and makes the moment (OK, not the greatest example, but it's all I got); Ramirez, talented as he is, seems to look for the moment.
1 on Vancouver
Christian Techera absolutely haunted Colorado's Marc Burch with his small man v. big man antics and went on to score the 'Caps insurance goal to boot. (And, yes, he got some attention this week.)
1 on Colorado
Colorado came painfully close to tying this game...and that kind of exemplifies their season.

New York Red Bulls v. Chicago Fire
Frame: Breaking the Curse
New York has exceeded just about every expectation for 2015, and yet the Fire is the bogey they always slip upon....till Friday night. One dubious penalty call answered the other, and the rest of the goals sorted out in favor of the better club.
1 on Chicago
The agony/ecstacy of David Accam; is there a better encapsulation of the Chicago's 2015 (e.g. planning v. execution)?
1 on New York
Dax McCarty all but shot himself (or Lloyd Sam) when a pass between them went begging (for whatever reason) in the 10th minute. It says everything about why this club has enjoyed the success it has that they tried roughly the same play later in the game and it came off to create New York's second goal; New York has not just the intensity, but the faith, and all over the field to go as far as any club this season.

Philadelphia Union v. Columbus Crew SC
Frame: Goalkeeper Duel
Holy shit, did Steve Clark and John McCarty battle Saturday night. McCarty edged the goalkeeper duel (fucking seriously), but barely. And Columbus took the three points, thanksverymuch!
1 on Philadelphia
Tranquillo Barnetta played centrally Saturday and, for all the random wailing, he looked more dangerous and effective than he has over all my glances Philly's way all season. Maybe he should play central and Cristian Maidana out wide?
1 on Columbus
The Union lost Harrison Afful a lot on Saturday, deep on the left side of their defense. It bit them very, very hard. Zombie-hard. He freakin' killed them, with this pass dealing the lethal blow.

Houston Dynamo v. Real Salt Lake
Frame: Old Things (Houston) Versus New Things (talking formations)
While Dominic...wait, Owen Coyle's side lined up in a tried-and-steady 4-4-2 Saturday night, RSL set up in an unorthodox (for MLS) 4-2-1-3. So, how'd it go? RSL consistently had players near Houston's defense ready to exploit any turnover and the result was (one of) the upsets of the Week 28. Will this work every week? Oh, good lord, no.
1 on Houston
Houston's four-man midfield of Barnes, Clark, Sturgis and Davis, read like this to me (respectively): playmaker, aggression, possession, playmaker; with Barnes and Davis as vastly different kinds of playmakers. It's not a bad set up, really, even if it looks up-field a little too much. Specifically, I love Clark and think he's been huge for Houston this season, but I wonder if the arrangement isn't what led to RSL having advantages in numbers at the crucial moments when they had them.
1 on RSL
This game provided a tutorial in gravity, see how Houston's defense ignored Devon Sandoval's run to collapse on Javier Morales...and what followed from (e.g. a lethal goal).

FC Dallas v. New York City FC
Frame: The Working Girl versus the Hot Mess Trying to Sober Up
To put it bluntly, Dallas knows what they're doing with the mix of young guns and reliable regulars they've got, while NYCFC is still trying to stuff all their high-priced clowns into a car small enough to fit into MLS. And that's the story, really.
1 on Dallas
He might not be as flashy and forward-moving as Mauro Diaz, but Michel's upside is so simple and so obvious. Whether it's set-pieces or lethal pieces played from a deep position, he's not a bad, lower-price analogy for, oh, Andrea Pirlo. Sniff at that all you like...
1 on NYCFC
I stand for Patrick Mullins. He tracks my Robbie Fowler obsession, for one, but he also tracks a larger, if unsuccessful, trend for NYCFC this past – i.e. a shift back to MLS guys, most of whom were at least as effective as the imports who replace them. Mullins came on for David Villa and proceeded to look more aggressive and/or effective, down even to providing NYCFC's one highlight of the game. Till further notice, identity, or saner management, this team will remain a fucking train-wreck.

Colorado Rapids v. DC United
Frame: Huge, and For All The Wrong Reasons
Colorado needed the points like a junkie needs a couple bucks, while DC needed to stop the slide, I don't know, a mountain climber sliding down a cliff? (Fucking metaphors!). Neither got what they wanted, but DC got more of what they needed. Serious tragedy in Colorado.
1 on Colorado
Beyond making me wonder if I shouldn't do two points for each team per week (NO, don't do it, man!)...AAUGH, Marcelo Sarvas is a huge bust, ahem, my big theme for Colorado is, again, to mourn what could have been with Vicente Sanchez. Watch him play where Juan Ramirez played the week before, and so much more effectively, and one has to wonder what could have been if a player of his caliber joined MLS, say, five years ago. Ah, he would have been something. This is the tragedy of MLS, people. Mourn, goddammit.
1 on DC
DC put together a sequence in the 79th minute that belied everything about their reputation this season. Can I find it? Yes/No. Now, remember this was at altitude and late in the game. This team can fucking ball when it wants to. It just...rarely seems in the mood.

San Jose Earthquakes v. Seattle Sounders FC
Frame: Respective Momentum
San Jose is the mysterious something that gives you lurky bowels in the middle of the night, while Seattle's planned-to-order-glorious season gives every impression of sputtering into a limp toward, let's face it, fairly meaningless safety. This produced a sort of nothing result in the end, but one with (again) Seattle's opposition looking the better team (is the seat tingling Sigi?).
1 on San Jose
Is Shea Salinas officially the second-most important player on the 'Quakes? The way he drifted centrally a couple times (even over the mini-game) makes me wonder if the club isn't expanding his brief, and for good reason. The deeper story, though, is how much competition he's picking up. If the 'Quakes fail to make the post-season in 2015, look for them in 2016. Seriously.
1 on Seattle
Even as if apparent/potential injuries to Roman Torres and Nelson Valdez provide remarkable thematic consistency to Seattle's injury-riddled 2015, let's all pause to note that while Zach Scott is old as the Appalachians, I'll be damned if he didn't more or less save the game for Seattle Saturday night (yeah, Obafemi Martins scored, but check the number of the guy who provided the initial header). Discard at your own risk, Sounders fans.

Orlando City SC v. Sporting Kansas City
Frame: Just What the Doctor Ordered
KC hasn't been able to win much, or anything, recently, so what's better to cure what ails them than the leakiest defense in MLS? Uh, something else, apparently, because Orlando took the hurt to SKC in today's late game. Doctor can prescribe, but the patient's gotta take!
1 on Orlando
For whatever reason, I just don't process things that happen for, or to, Orlando. I just can't believe they won. Literally. The goals looked fine, their defense infinitely better than what I saw last week. And the idea of Lucas Neal slotting up centrally, and well...oh, I guess that's my story. I think he slipped in the ball for one of Adrian Winter's goal. Good on ya, son!
1 on SKC
This is a full-blown crisis for Kansas City. It's that simple. They look, and are, utterly tanked. And I mean every player on the pitch (except Krisztian Nemeth). I'd eat one more loss and give everyone the week off. That's my only idea.

And...that's all for Week 28. Yeah, a bit epic, but this somehow felt WAY easier. Thanks to anyone who read this far, even if he/she only did it in patches. Till Week 29! Shit's shaping up, people!

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