Monday, August 1, 2016

NYCFC Pummels Colorado: A Time to Adjust Expectations?

Counts just the same...just not a good look...
[Each week I (try to) watch three full, 90-minute games. And I write ‘em up. Part 1 of 3, for Major League Soccer’s Week 21.]

Why This Game? I wanted New York City FC’s attack measured against the Colorado Rapids’ league-best defense because, per reports and rumors, NYCFC has a bad enough defense that they need the offense to matter. And, going the other way, could the Rapids rack up the goals against NYCFC’s allegedly “shaky D”?

On the Result
Did not see that coming. I knew NYCFC’s offense had the mirror-image rep to contrast with their defense, but to drag the Rapids’ defensive record back into the pack with a 5-1 win? The first two goals deserve more focus, and not just because they came before Michael Azira got absolutely, totally justifiably sent off (we’re talking a text-book-stupid second yellow), but because their manner. NYCFC pushed players into the attack in a way that meant getting the ball past the first guy only meant you had to deal with the second guy, like, right away. Think World War I, only with success. They kept piling on after Azira came off and, before long, the bottom of the field dropped off on the Rapids’ side...sorta like watching Inversion. (Is that the title of that Leonardo DiCaprio joint, the one that choked on its own exposition? Crap, no, it's title Inception. Still didn't like it; goddamn gimmicks).  The thing that really struck me is that I’ve seen Colorado work an outlet ball pretty reliably in the past – when they don’t play out of the back (where they usually do all right), they’ll bomb long balls to Kevin Doyle, or maybe Marlon Hairston. They couldn’t find either player Saturday, and they struggled mightily as a result. Also, I think I saw a lot of New York’s attack go through gap between Mikeil Williams and Jared Jeffrey…often enough to wonder what the hell happened to Bobby Burling (he was on the bench, so OK, answered that one….partially). I think the real point of curiosity came with what happens if Colorado falls behind – by more than two goals, especially.

On New York City FC
I’ll start by saying, 1) I think the pitch-‘n’-putt-scale field helped them, and 2) why doesn’t it help them more often? Whatever the cause, New York had very, very little trouble keeping Colorado in front of them, which confirms a personal cliche about most high-press team, including NYCFC: their defense holds up best when they can defend in midfield – more on this later, if from the other side. The biggest thing about NYCFC is probably the obvious one: they know how to attack. This team can be sloppy with the ball when their younger, role players pass it (I say that based on, oh, the third time I’ve watched them the full 90 this season?), but, if one of those guys find Andrea Pirlo, especially when he’s behind them with field in front of him, because, golly, can the suave Italian still slice a brand new asshole onto the side of a defense’s butt, and one that totally still functions, something that’s gross and miraculous all at once (and if you think my choice of images is weird, or inappropriate, consider the possibilities). And, in Tommy MacNamara and (lately) Jack Harrison, Pirlo has some great goddamn runners. Oh, and David Villa’s no slouch either.

While I’m here, can I get a Tommy Mac for the USMNT going? A player that smart...don’t give a fuck about his speed, because his brain’s a bonus multiplier. Just sayin’, call up time...

The most noteworthy happy story line for NYCFC is Frank Lampard. And good for Frank Fucking Lampard, honestly. Sure, Lampard’s hat-trick (1, 2, 3)looked like a bride who got in a fist-fight next to the hat-tricks by Sebastian Giovinco and Didier Drogba last weekend, but, for a guy who only just finally started playing, he’s showing he’s real value, if maybe not for all he’s getting paid.

On Colorado Rapids
I view Saturday’s loss as a very plausible argument as to why the Rapids will struggle to go deep in the playoffs, or even win the MLS Cup. And I don’t like them for the Supporters’ Shield either, and here’s why: I don’t think that Pablo Mastroeni, or the team, has quite figured out the attack. Based on everything I’ve seen, I don’t think the players – the top 4 especially (which, yesterday, included Doyle at forward, Shkelzen Gashi, Dillon Powers and Marlon Hairston) – are where they fit best, which makes the whole thing sort of a mess, more reliant on moments like this than a Cup-winning offense can be. Jermaine Jones will be back at some point, and he'll help, certainly, but, to solve the problem? There I'm less sure. I was about to make some grand point about their paucity of multi-goal games, but...well, here’s the data, you be the judge:

The Rapids have scored more than one goal in six of the 21 games they’ve played so far this season. More significantly, three of those games came in a patch back in April, a time-frame that contains the one time this season when the Rapids scored more than two goals. Their other multi-goal games since April came against either a bad (Chicago Fire) or defensively-suspect team (Vancouver Whitecaps). The deeper issue for the Rapids – and this was pointed out last week (claiming punditing victories where I can get them) – comes with the possibility that the Rapids form is drying up. Even though it was as recently as June that I saw the Rapids thoroughly out-…offense the Los Angeles Galaxy, they’re taking on that “soloists soloing” vibe that most defenses can contain. As alluded to way up there, before all that dicking around with stats, it could be that the Rapids aren’t lining up to their optimal potential. I can throw out some ideas – e.g. I think Doyle is a damned good forward, who’s being asked to do too much of his own set-up play; I think they’ve got Gashi in the wrong place (maybe try him behind Doyle?) and both he and team suffer for it; and, for the thousandth time, please drop Powers deeper – but the bottom line’s the main thing: the Rapids attack isn’t good right now.

On the plus side, their defense does plenty...on literally most days of the season, this past Saturday very obviously excepted, when it collapsed very, very badly. That said, I want to state right here, and publicly, that the defensive block of Axel Sjoberg, Bobby Burling/Jared Watts*, Sam Cronin, Michael Azira, offers a modest, yet potent rebuke to the entire concept of DPs. Not one of these players will show up on anyone’s Top 10 at their respective positions (well, Sjoberg might), but they have gone some distance to demonstrating that it’s not always about having the best players, but using the decent ones you do have well.

* Just for the record, I wanna see more of Watts. Even after the shaky outing...because I like what I like.

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