Tuesday, September 6, 2016

MLS Snapshot, 09 06 2016: Small Week, Larger Conclusions

It was a shrunken weekend in Major League Soccer (THANK GOD!), which leaves me with fewer variables to wrestle into some kind of coherent shape. One thing, though, before getting into everything.

First, I'm only realizing now just how idiosyncratically soccer allows people to view it. While this applies to every sport (eh, who'm I kidding? We're special!!), soccer's wide open enough that it can be played just about any way one can imagine. I'm not envisioning a team winning the league playing a 9-1-1 or anything, so much as I'm pointing to almost infinite variables even within practical constraints of the modern game...and, ugh, nothing’s more tedious than someone saying, "you need X in the modern game." That’s nonsense, and ridiculous. We know this because someone always comes up with the next thing. Or they play something throw-back, like New York City FC did early in the season when they (allegedly) brought back the "W-M." (Did they really? Maybe. It was just something I read somewhere, but not there, but same point.)

Anyway, just tinkering with the layout this week. Starting with...

Week 26: Results That Mattered (In Brief)
No, it wasn't close - it was almost embarrassing by the end (poor, poor Ken Tribbett; see below) – but the bigger take-away from the Chicago Fire's 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Union is that Chicago's rounding into one of those end-of-season nightmares for any team pushing for the playoffs; New York City FC continued its swashbuckling rip through the Eastern Conference with DC United slashing scimitars at their butts in a last-gasp(-ish) 3-2 win; it was the details (see #8 below) of the Los Angeles Galaxy's 2-1 "goal-too-far" win that made the day so utterly depressing for Columbus Crew SC's fans; finally, the Colorado Rapids' flailingly impotent attack tells the tale of their 2-0 loss at the New England Revolution, but could it also tell the tale of a late-season collapse/early duck out of the playoffs?

The Results That, Honestly, No One But Their Fans Give One Wet Shit About
Vancouver Whitecaps 0-1 Red Bull New York (because Vancouver is cursed/hapless/awful)

There might have been another result in there...oh, never mind. It must not have been important (!!!). Anyway, moving on...

What I do for rankings is below, and I think the scheme is reasonably self-evident, even as I decided to leave all but the first open to interpretation. Anyway, this is how I see all the teams in MLS stacking up at time of writing.

In (Legit Contender)
FC Dallas
New York City FC
New York Red Bulls
Toronto FC

In With a Shout
Philadelphia Union
Colorado Rapids
Real Salt Lake
DC United
Sporting Kansas City

Making a Whimper
Los Angeles Galaxy
Montreal Impact
Orlando City SC
Portland Timbers (no longer sorry!)
San Jose Earthquakes
Seattle Sounders FC

Silent as the Tomb
Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC
Houston Dynamo
New England Revolution (there’s always the U.S. Open Cup, Toto!)
Vancouver Whitecaps

10 Topics
1) Frank Lampard's Victory Lap
After a year and a half as the Elijah of designated players (e.g., you set up the chair and he never comes, never), Lampard has become NYCFC's wrecking crew, the guy who seems to clean up every single spill that his teammates force. As my notes had it, he faked out the camera man for NYC’s 3rd goal (and...no, I don't know what the hell that means, either). I guess the good news is that older DPs can matter (goddamn the internet! DP doesn't always have to mean that! Sorry! I can't fucking unsee those words!!), so long as they're still hungry. And, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, Lampard's just about starvin' every time he takes the field. That's the kind of...older DP you want on your roster.

2) Portland Timbers, Idiot(s) Abroad
I don't always put Timbers stuff in these posts (thought I'm not saying to not expect me to) , but the Timbers' 2016 stumble on the road tells not just their story, but the story of a lot of MLS teams. Half of the East and at least two more teams from the West have straight-up sucked eggs on the road this season. Still, Portland has the worst, shitty story, as pointed out in Stumptown Footy's wrap of their loss to FC Dallas. If you wanna know what happened to the champs, there's your short answer. They got fat, see? Fat, lazy and too accustomed to their coterie of courtiers feeding them cream all day. Maybe they need a dose of the Spartan mother treatment.

3) My Second Forward Obsession
It took this weekend for me to finally cry uncle and admit that, for all their sometimes very real talents, some forwards – here, I'm thinking Colorado's Kevin Doyle or Chicago's Luis Solignac (formerly of Colorado; maybe there's story there, one about blind scouts?), or, not that I want to relive someone else's horrors, the Vancouver Whitecaps' Erik Hurtado – simply cannot lead the line for a team. It's possible, by that I mean I might...what I mean here is that I could perhaps, maybe consider even putting DC's Patrick Mullins into this conversation (there, I said it!). Any of these players want to feel better about the state of their careers should look to the San Jose Earthquakes' Quincy Amarikwa, who shows that there's a future for certain kinds of forwards. No, San Jose's attack isn't working as advertised, but the scheme is sound (it's just missing a Wondo). My point is this: each of those players has real upside, attacking upside, too. They can be fit effectively into a team; it just takes a little imagination. And, no, I'm not 100% sure why Portland's Jack McInerney did not make this cut...

4) Deep Magic(al Powers)
I hinted at the Rapids' sputtering offense up above and, yes, I think it's a problem. I would have added Shkelzen Gashi to the list above, but, to be blunt, I think he's too...weird a player to fit that mold. He fires on goal like someone trying to kill a fly with his hand, but he's just one part of a Rapids attack that has relied on random bail-outs for most of the season – e.g. Marlon Hairston lately, Axel Sjoberg headers before that, etc. Powers put up a bunch of shots against New England – one of them even went (well) on frame (whoops, two of them, actually)– and there's good and bad in that. Good in that Colorado's trying something new, bad in that he missed most of his shots. Still, maybe Powers can turn those late runs into something if he's given time. Beats the status quo...

5) Hedges Their...(stop. Just stop. Something about Chris Hedges) Bets (dammit!)
I don't read about soccer nearly as much as I should, but this was a nice piece of information I picked up after posting my (apparently, optimistic take on the rest of Portland's season):
"[Hedges] is fantastic at cutting down passing lanes individually, and has a reputation as one of the best organizers in the league, so Dallas are among the best at denying options A, B & C:"
(Better still, tweets embedded right after that quote confirmed something that I thought I saw in Portland's loss to Dallas – e.g. that they shackled Valeri.)

I don't see that stuff when I watch a game, not unless I happen to catch one player shouting and everyone else responding. I don't see that a lot, so that's a nice piece of information to have. Wish I knew it before I tweeted that Portland had a chance this past Saturday, and subsequently confessed to it. Goddammit.

6) Walkin' in the Park and Reminiscin' (with Arty Alvarez!)
It's not just the fake that put Tribbett on something somehow worse than his ass: Arturo Alvarez has ended 2016 strong. That move, though, the way he ran at the defender and slashed past him? That's what I remember from Alvarez. It's the same when I see Yura Movsisyan has a great game for RSL; those guys were earners back in the day and they’re showing flashes again. Getting back to Chicago, their offensive resurgence (might have) started when they brought back Solignac, a move that made it possible to drop Michael de Leeuw (who can move around quite a bit) behind him. Alvarez has heated up lately – I'm confident (though I'm not researching the theory) that he scored most of his five goals and picked up most of his five assists in recent weeks. Chicago could always def...well, they used to be able to defend. Maybe it's just that they're attacking now, and fun! And dangerous for the opposition. When you've got nothing, you've got nothing to lose, right, Janice? (Or Bob. Well, Bob-esque.)

7) Lletget's Turn in the Brightest Spotlight of All
LA's ugly scrappy win over Columbus was the only other full game I watched this weekend, and that gave me the opportunity to watch Sebastian Lletget...run LA's offense? I guess? The point is, Lletget played centrally for most of the night and he did all right. Color commentator Cobi Jones pointed out an interesting detail – e.g. how his ability to keep the ball gives him the mixed blessing of time on the ball, an ability that allows him to squander chances looking for the best pass rather than finding a good one that could keep the defense on their heels. He wasn't bad, though, just not great. And there's a through-line here...

8) How to Know When a Team Is Really Good
As we all know, Nigel de Jong took his leave of the Galaxy this past week and, along with all good people, I say good riddance to leg-hacking rubbish. Brutal as he was, though, de Jong played a major role in LA's shape...its brutally, season-endingly aggressive shape. Still, when I saw the line-up LA trotted out against Crew SC, it wound playing as cobbled together as it looked; Raul Mendiola, especially, looked strictly USL out there (see here for reference, #7), but the ceiling actually sinks lower for LA: Mike Magee wasn't great playing behind Giovani dos Santos (and I wouldn't expect him to be) and, as it turns out, Emanuel Boateng is as inelegant as he is fast (though, by way of direct contrast, he's no worse than Cedric Mabwati). Sometimes, nothing tells you more about a team than how quickly they drop off when their first line personnel doesn't report for kickoff. LA is very much in this boat.

9) Signs the Red Bulls' System Is Paying Off
I think...I'm pretty sure, that Matt Miazga was a Red Bulls academy kid (yep!). And he is/was damned good, wherever he is (ah, how 'bout that? Vitesse). New York kept leaning on their rookies and the early returns look positive. Sean Davis, for instance, only spells either Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan, of which, 1) big boots to fill and 2) he looks all right doing it. It bears noting that Davis took corners and free kicks in the (narrow) win over Vancouver (though, honestly, Bradley Wright-Philips almost beat them on his own...well, see below), even with McCarty present. Kid's good, or at least has the faith of the organization. So does Alex Muyl, a rookie, if I'm not mistaken, and one with a decent brain, a lot of speed and enough self-belief to make you wonder about how high his ceiling can rise. New York looks good for the future and their academy looks promising so far.

10) Needs Underlining: Hurtado is terrible
Look, the kid hardly needs reminding, but, holy shit, was he terrible against New York (look, every word in there has a link, not necessarily in order). I'm talking definingly bad, as in making one wonder if Vancouver didn't screw up by letting Octavio Rivero go, and no team should ever wonder if they screwed up by letting Rivero go. Here, I can only lean on a point made above in the "Second Forward" section – e.g. that Hurtado's, frankly, noteworthy capacity for finding space in front of goal again and again and (srsly) again, surely counts for something, and that's not something any team should dismiss lightly. The question is finding a use for it...assuming that’s possible. Then again, see the stray comment about McInerney above...just, planting seeds.

OK, that's it. Hey, better than usual. Good length on this puppy, etc. I'll be back next week...

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