Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Late Tackle, 11 30 2016, Bargains, Roster Construction Theory and Unicorns

Shit. Where’s the other goddamn shoe??
Trying to time the Late Tackle a little better (earlier), maybe not take the player (me) out of the game when I go in...

Of Bargains and Busts
On Monday (yeah, laggin’), Four Four Two put up a list of Major League Soccer’s Top 15 (mostly young) bargain players. It’s a respectable list, but the players come in a couple ways, as I see it. Some fit the bill on just about every level (e.g., DC’s Steve Birnbaum, Dallas’ Matt “Not Chris” Hedges, NYCFC’s Tommy MacNamara, and Orlando’s Cyle Larin), while others come in because, at their price point (e.g., low), they don’t need to produce raw stats, so long as they can tilt a game a little (e.g., Colorado’s Dominique Badji, for under $60K). Another group features regular starters and decent players who play positions, like fullback or defensive midfielder, that pose mildly depressing questions of how much they’ll ever be able to pull down; their teams get a good player at a good price (see, New England’s Scott Caldwell or San Jose’s Fatai Alashe), but one has to wonder how much higher each player’s salary can go at any point in their careers.

One little thought to float: a good attacking fullback should be worth more than what most teams are paying (think low $100,000s are the ceiling). At any rate…

The one player on the list who really caught my eye was Columbus’ Wil Trapp. And a whole lot of questions roll into that, starting with one I haven’t been able to shake for a couple days. What are the odds that Trapp falls into the same sort of professional slough as Colorado’s Dillon Powers; in other words, will fans see Trapp fielded as something close to a stop-gap in the not-to-distant future, as Powers was in last Sunday’s Western Conference final? As much as I like some things about Trapp’s game – e.g. quality long-range passing – he strikes me as one of those players who drive me crazy – i.e., one who needs a support system in order to function. Trapp’s qualities are real, but he’s not a great tackler (and I think that mattered for Columbus this year), and that obliges Crew SC to stick another player alongside him or risk getting overrun. With that in the equation, how can that $178,250 price tag not look a little more dear?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Late Tackle, 11 29 2016: Riding the Coaching Carousel

All carousel horses should like exactly like this...
Outside a couple fairly specific places, this wasn’t a big day in the domestic soccer world. From my tiny corner of it, it feels like most people are waiting for Toronto and Montreal to kick off – and, there, the most interesting thing I read today posed the pertinent question of which of those two teams would give fans and neutrals the best game (no spoilers…).

Coaching Carousel (Note the One With a Shot at Grabbing the Brass Ring)
Peter Vermes signed a contract extension with Sporting Kansas City, something that would have pissed me off were I an SKC fan (related: I’d really like to poll that fan-base, ‘cause I don’t like Vermes at all; maybe they do, though). Elsewhere, Minnesota…hold on, I wanna get this right…there it is, Minnesota United FC hired former Orlando City SC head coach Adrian Heath to guide them into their first season. The most this one gets out of me is a shrug; I had a hell of a time caring about Orlando over the last couple seasons, but, when I did check in on them, Orlando looked like a team with a rock-star set-up (e.g. Kaka & The Other Soccer Players) and issues with in-game discipline. Heath seems middling, basically, pending further evidence…

…though let the record show that I’d like to see Minnesota do all right in MLS.

The situation in Los Angeles, on the other hand (see note), positively teems with possibilities good, bad and franchise-busting. Only now do I realize that I tracked Bruce Arena’s re-ascension to the U.S, Men’s National Team without ever really finishing the thought. Arena leaving must feel at least a little like a “dad has a second family, and they are better” moment for Galaxy fans – and with good reason. It’s not so much that there aren’t a lot of coaches like Arena in U.S. circles: it’s fair to ask if there are any. With Robbie Keane departing, the next year in LA has a very real “without-a-net” quality to it. Soccer By Ives’ write-up flagged a couple worthwhile talking points as well – e.g., the preference/philosophical discussion for a domestic coach, rather than a foreign one; an intriguing list of names for building blocks (e.g. Giovani dos Santos, Jelle Van Damme, Gyasi Zardes and…wait for it, Sebastian Lletget). At any rate, that whole transition ought to be fun…and with reasons for falling in some truly fascinating places.

The Transfer Tracker (and Its Discontents)
Today, teased fans with a headline/photo combo that reads, “The Tracker: Four Clubs Announce Roster Moves.” This isn’t an issue of passing on bad information – it’s actually great to have all those details in one place – so much that it’s almost impossible to find those four particular moves amongst, well, all those details. Maybe just put the word “UPDATE,” or even just an asterisk in front of the new ones, yeah?

Again, Why I Started Doing This
A young American (of whom I knew nothing, and know only a little now) played for Italy’s Fiorentina this past weekend – and against AC (Freakin’) Milan. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Josh Perez.

And, finally, yo, where was The Kickoff this morning, MLS? I mean, I’m just a one-man shop and I’m posting crap…wait. Goddammit. I forgot something. Screw it. Tomorrow. I'll get it tomorrow...

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Late Tackle, 11 28 2016

Decent likeness of Seattle, there...
[Welcome to what I want to make into a regular feature. It looks like me posting stuff – because it is - but it also more or less me taking notes as I go, so’s I can stay current on all this shit. It’s just a round-up of the day’s MLS/U.S. Men’s news, curated for “worth” by me, and it’ll go up any day I get to it. And, yes, the title is a play on’s, The Kick Off. I’ll go for most of the content and, feels fair to point out, you can get to it there first…but without my notes. Your choice, no judgment.]

Satan Nears His Throne
I already lamented the Seattle Sounders punching their ticket to MLS Cup 2016, but thought I’d also pass on The Armchair Analyst’s more…careful review (and his doesn’t end with an argument for/celebration of the Supporters’ Shield, as mine does). Two items of interest in there: First, heading into the game I kept wondering when Colorado would press for the one goal they needed and, as Matt Doyle (said Armchair Analyst) noted, Colorado opted to press from the get-go; decide the wisdom of that however you wanna. Second, he breaks down Seattle’s lone goal in a way that I’d call both thorough and overly deterministic – i.e., the Rapids faced the pressure, but the sequence of bad breaks/decisions could have been broken at any time even as it unfolded. Even at the death, the whole thing could have been averted had Jared Watts played a smarter clearance (and what the inevitable have become evitable?).

He also flags Sam Cronin’s absence through red card accumulation and, like me, asks what might have been?

A Wily Veteran Moves On (But What Open Pastures Remain?)
My guess is that players of a certain stature can find a place to play up based on name recognition/the “gander-factor” (e.g. “Come see the freak, two bits a gander!”), at least up the point where a medical professional got involved. I don’t think Jermaine Jones has that, even within the States, but, with him talking about moving on from the Rapids, it’s worth wondering who takes him. Jones showed that he has at least 45 rock-star minutes left in his legs – he was a dominant force in the first half yesterday – and that was after recovering from injury and a U.S. call-up under a fitness psychopath like Jurgen Klinsmann. Still, to clarify the question a little: how would all y’all feel if the Portland Timbers picked him up?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

MLS: Seattle Clips Colorado (and Re-Ranking MLS Shields/Trophies)

Presently going for foreign language Emmy for this site.

I’m about to stomp on an enormous vat of sour grapes, but you, you are my guest. It would be rude to talk about anything other than what we came to talk about. Come. Come inside. Sit.

So, the Seattle Sounders did it, they beat the Colorado Rapids over two games and in two venues, 1-0 in Colorado today and 2-1 in Seattle last…whenever that happened. The score-line speaks the truth: the Sounders were the better team, even if just at this point in the season (wait for it). A list of reasons unfolds below, and it’s the same list that gets at why Seattle feels like a decent horse to back for lift MLS Cup on…December 10? (Jesus fucking christ, Major League Soccer, is this the playoffs or tantric sex? Can we…you know? I mean, is there some kind of award for dragging this shit out, an Emmy for delayed gratification?)

I’m going to start with Seattle, because flow (oh, I have plans, plans for all of you!). However you feel about it, Seattle is a well-constructed team. Finally. In defense, Roman Torres and Chad Marshall make for a solid, sufficiently dynamic, yet big central defensive pairing, and they have rock-solid starting fullbacks on both sides in Tyrone Mears (who is, quietly, one of MLS’s better right backs) and Joevin Jones (a fucking fast defender, and a smart one). Cristian Roldan and Osvaldo Alonso have set up a pretty sound shop in front of that back four, a shop that, as I saw it, first contained, then pushed back against Colorado’s central pairing, one hobbled today by the absence of its brain and body – e.g., Sam Cronin (could he have mattered today? Mm….look where Nelson Valdez was when he released the ball to Morris…link below).

The above list of players provides as a good foundation as any team could want in that it absorbs all the failures that the people in front of it make on their grasping way to goal; better still, it can also absorb and channel 50 minutes of pressure from another team into other, more useless gulleys, as it did in the first half today when Colorado posted 11 shots to Seattle’s one. Did any of those shots sincerely threaten the Sounders’ goal? Nope. One or two came close, but there’s a lot of good and bad rolled up into shooting through (or over) traffic, but most of it bad. Bodies in the way are, after all, bodies in the way.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Portland Timbers 2016: Patterns and Pratfalls (and Possibilties?)

No, think harder. What do you NEED?

I had plans to duck Darlington Nagbe entirely in this review (what do you mean, “you don’t believe me”?), but Stumptown Footy posted something last week about Scottish giants Celtic FC comin’ a’-courtin,’ and it sums up Nagbe’s game really well, so, y’know, what the hell?

“As fans in the Rose City know well, however, Nagbe provides much more than goals, assists, and tackles won. Although it’s a role that is typically far from glamorous, Nagbe is an elite shuttler who facilitates the Timbers’ transition and possession play in often spectacular fashion.”
To draw out a point: does what Nagbe bring to the team provide “much more than goals, assists, and tackles won?” And what the hell does “elite shuttler” even mean? The phrase implies that the Timbers transition better than all other teams in MLS, or even most of them, but do they? (By way of a quick comparison/name-drop, Ignacio Piatti starts and finishes his transitions.) Basically, I credit Stumptown for as tidy a summation of how Nagbe uses his considerable talents, but the actual productive value of that contribution remains an open question in my mind. And I hereby leave it open for anyone who reads this to answer…according to his or her judgment/conscience.

One final, preliminary comment: Timbers fans strike me as a fairly sentimental bunch. They connect to (most of) the players with genuine interest and a kind of familial fondness. I didn’t have a deep connection to any team for much of my soccer-viewing life, not a real one, and I have only one year in as an actual member of any supporters’ group and didn’t do anything meaningful with it when I did have it (nothing personal; I’m just not much of a joiner*), I’m not clear as to how normal this is among fans. (*That said, on this Saturday after Thanksgiving, I am genuinely thankful for having found a motley collection of people to watch games with. Yay!)

I don’t care if Timbers fans are unusually…clingy, honestly, but, when it comes to really cleaning a house, sentimentality often just sort of gets in the way. Sometimes one has to view grandma’s wish to be buried with her collection of cat statuettes for what it is: a little bit of madness. Those statuettes are worthless junk, so let’s bite the bullet and get rid of them…

…speaking of Lucas Melano. Guys, I’m kidding! Not that mean (am I?). Still, whether by fate or sub-par performance, he offers a good starting point for the story of Portland’s 2016 season.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The MLS Conference Finals, Phase One Review

The only apt metaphor for the MLS Playoffs.
Between both Major League Soccer Conference finals, I missed at least 1/3 of the total action and exactly 3/7 of the goals. For details, see my twitter feed (@JeffBull5) where I bitched and bitched and bitched.

All the same, both final results – each of which featured away goals – set up intriguing second legs for both series. Sure, the Seattle Sounders could fuck it all up right away with an early goal, and Toronto could very well ruin every last thing by doing the same, but they might not. I won’t dwell too much on what I think will happen, not least because that’s bit me on the ass again and again throughout 2016. Think that clich├ęd saying about the weather and sticking around…

Montreal 3-2 Toronto FC
How Much I Missed: Came in around the 29th minute for this one.
The note above means that I only saw Montreal’s first two goals in replays, not real time. As such, I have no clear sense of context – and ESPN’s halftime notes didn’t give me context; they gave me detailed breakdowns of what went wrong, but not a sense of Montreal blitzing at Toronto again and again and again. Montreal did do that later, certainly during the time I watched, even that dried up eventually, if not totally. On Montreal’s first goal, I’d say nothing went wrong in any pure sense beyond Patrice Bernier making the absolute most of a split-second to pivot and provide an inch-perfect pass to Dominic Oduro (seriously, that was a helluva pass). The second goal, though, coming as it did only minutes later and featuring bad positioning from a fullback and a TFC defense that had clearly fallen asleep (otherwise, how does Matteo Mancosu beat two defenders to the ball?), put Toronto in a hole that they barely crawled out of.

Then Montreal scored a third, just a weird thing that saw Ambroise Oyongo dribble from the depths, then into scoring position, then to scoring. A big hole, in other words, and one that involved a lot of digging.

C&C Daily: On the MLS Conference Finals, Jurgen and Bruce

To think, it was there all along and we never saw it.
Interested parties can find a programming note down below, but I’ll just jump in…with regrets for

The Conference Finals
First, the Major League Soccer Conference Finals kick off in just over an hour (good time to post, dumbass), and it’s about damn time. I have only the briefest of notes on either match up.

Regarding Montreal Impact v. Toronto FC: I don’t think Montreal will be able to do to Toronto what they did to the Philadelphia Union and, in particular, the New York Red Bulls. The climax of the regular season laid bare both teams’ capacity for defensive lapses, which only left it to Montreal to expose them, with Ignacio Piatti tugging at the drawstrings. Toronto will/should be better balanced, and they’ve got Jozy Altidore (who has been good and is always large and strong) and Sebastian Giovinco pressing matters on the other end, but that’s why they play the games, right? To see how things pan out?

As for Seattle Sounders v. Colorado Rapids, I’m expecting the Rapids to bunker, especially over Leg 1. If Seattle can’t break ‘em down – and this could be without Jordan Morris available – the Sounders will just become another patsy for the trick that the Rapids have pulled all season long…

…and, like all good Portland Timbers fans, I’m hoping they do it, even as it will mean me struggling to stay interested in/awake over the fourth straight hour of soccer I watch tonight. It would have been that little bit cooler if Shkelzen Gashi wasn’t Shkelzen Gimpy, but the thing that happened to his ankle happened to his ankle, so…it’s all down to Sebastian Le Toux?

Sunday, November 6, 2016

MLS Conference Semifinals Wrap: On Joining the Chess Club

This would be better, more epic, but we live in the world in which we live.

Well, that happened. The games started, the games ended, stuff happened. The end. For four teams, anyway.

The better question is, was I entertained? Going in, Colorado Rapids v. Los Angeles Galaxy looked like the tallest order entertainment-wise – i.e., could LA muster enough attack on the road to make Colorado sweat, and can the Rapids even freakin’ score? – but, for people with an appreciation for watching chess played very, very slowly, and, at times, badly (see; the Marlon Hairston wing experiment*), it wasn’t torture or anything. Colorado answered their question and LA didn’t, so the Rapids roll on with a 1-1 home draw, finished off with penalty kicks.

As for the games involving both of Major League Soccer’s New York franchises, my kids still have questions about those that and, as a loving parent, I’m not sure I know how to answer…

…I kid. Both New York teams got rolled like white-collar drunks (would that the world worked the same way). Because I had daydreams of MLS’s first subway series, yeah, I’m a little pissed that neither New York team managed to get a toe-hold in either game. No, not even a pinky nail (and disgusting) The New York Red Bulls had the better chance, see, the kick; penalty, for Sacha Kljestan. But he shanked it, got tagged in his considerable proboscis for his efforts, and, after two Ignacio Piatti goals landed on either side of a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips that was almost two games too long coming, the Montreal Impact handed the Red Bulls their second loss in a row, 2-1 this time and in New York. Montreal deserved the series, no question, especially after New York had some serious good times late in the season (e.g. the streak without a loss), the kind that, for all the cracks, fill people with belief that good will triumph over evil…

…yeah, not so much out there in Harrison.

The other New York game…hold on, are the kids gone? OK, it was bad. Early, often, late…it was watching your best friend vomit and pee on himself while he’s crying about his break up…