Friday, December 16, 2016

The Late (Late) Tackle 12 16 2016: Portland Timbers Trade Crap, FC Dallas Keeping Busy, and January Camp

I’ll be waiting, my lov…OH MY GOD, WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY FOOT!?
I’m half following a couple Portland Timbers-related things on twitter, something about Jeff Attinella (which sounds like it’s got a little traction), plus something about centerbacks at or around 30 years of age.

I like Attinella. Have seen him stand on his head in a couple games. Competition is good, so it’s good to see someone come in to push Jake Gleeson, especially when you feel good about both competitors. And they are vying for your love…

…I’m in the lounge, gentlemen, on the fainting couch. Don’t make me wait too long…

Starting elsewhere in Timbers world, however (wait, no, you just started with…never mind).

A Future Without Taylors
Because I don’t think there’s a dissenting opinion on this, I’ll just note Steven Taylor’s departure from the Portland Timbers. Here’s to wishing him the best, and a future in a league where attacking players are slower in body and thought…

…to hit this from another angle, though (and, please, tell me I haven’t already), as much as this Taylor particularly worried me, I am a little anxious about the magnitude of the turnover in the Timbers’ defense, and the roster as a whole, at time of writing. I know there’s always an argument for just ripping off the damn band aid, and lord knows the Timbers need to get younger (and faster) back there. Still…The Kick Off ran a piece from a site that covers the Philadelphia Union. The article talks about how the Union needs to manage a transition in their defensive set-up (for they did struggle), and while the particular dynamics aren’t anything like identical to Portland’s, I like the guy’s thought process.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 15 2016: The Saddest Draft of All, Player Moves, and Onalfo's Chances

Today, we all wear white dresses and sad faces.

Yeah, yeah, we’ve all been bludgeoned with videos of “the save” (i.e., the only interesting moment in MLS Cup 2016), but the little wrinkle of playing broadcaster reactions over it charmed me just enough. For me, Panama (that rolling “r’) and Poland (“superman”) win it.

Moving on…

MLS Waiver Draft, aka, Sad Junior High Dance
I held off on posting this till after MLS held the Waiver Draft today, the mildly depressing annual tradition of professional athletes waiting for a team, any team, to pick them for a potentially (but probably not) life-changing slow-jam dance. SBI Soccer posted some players who might help out a team – and, going over the full list, I picked out a couple names of my own (and with the Portland Timbers at least in the back of my mind – e.g., Stiven Mendoza (NYCFC), Luke Boden (Orlando), and Phanuel Kavita (RSL) – but (what the hell? another metaphor), the Waiver Draft is the draft equivalent of closing time at a bar full of lonely, lonely people. Still, Portland needs cover at left back (Boden), wingers, even if just for depth (Mendoza), and we’re thin enough at centerback (Kavita); maybe tonight we don’t need to go home alone…just sayin’.

Still, the results are in and, ouch. Not one player picked. Nothing but a bunch of kids eyeing the dance floor and biting back tears…

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 14 2016: (Letting Someone Else) Wrap Up the MLS Expansion Draft, Player Moves, and an Apology

It's that time of year....
Working on tightening up these posts…because I wanna. So, quickly as I like…

Puzzling Out the Expansion Draft…
…is something I’ll leave for someone else, specifically Matt “Armpit Analyst” Doyle. The confusing stuff mostly surrounds the Clint Irwin/Mark Bloom situation, but, when it comes to MLS’s roster rules and accounting mechanisms, my shorthand for the whole is, “shit’s fucked up.” Doubt I’ll never do more than dip my toe into that tiny pond of minutiae; eyes glazed over while reading Doyle’s analysis. I did read long enough to see that Doyle shared my confusion that neither team picked up Jared Watts.

Happy for that Bloom kid, though. Players packed up for locales other than Atlanta and Minnesota United FC’s, of course. Some interesting stuff out there.

From the Swampy South to the Great White North
The Houston Dynamo sent right back Sheanon Williams to the Vancouver Whitecaps, and that feels like a smart move for the ‘Caps. If memory serves, savvy ‘Caps fans griped that their team let go of too many crucial players going into 2016, Steven Beitashour among them (no fullback, big cry?). Williams reads to me like one of those players who bounces around a bit, but who also always seems able to find work, if not the field. Probably leaves Fraser Aird wondering what’s around the corner for his career (exciting new opportunities? a demotion, but also a really great seat for watching ‘Caps games? so many potentialities!).

An Aging Star Arrives
Raise your hand if you figured Jermaine Jones to the Los Angeles was more or less a done deal the second they let word of the conversation slip. Whatever you thought, it happened. Because I doubted Jones when he moved to the Colorado Rapids, I’ll hold my tongue on this one…except to acknowledge that, in real terms, the Rapids did what they did this season without Jones. Going the other way, he was also the best player on the field in the second leg of the Western Conference Final. Put those thoughts together and it feels like the smart money goes on Jones doing Jermaine Jones things in LA, but how often?

On Sprucing Up the Place
Stray reports note interest in returning/coming to MLS from a couple of U.S. Men’s National Team “bubble boys” – e.g. Tim Ream and Greg Garza (respectively; did Garza ever play in MLS? Eh, better question is whether it was long enough to matter). Their personal motives notwithstanding, and even as moves like this can be interpreted a couple ways, player returns like this feel less like coming home with tail tucked between legs these days than a credible career step.

If you disagree, well, I guess I’ll have to fight you.

He Who Does Not Have Permission to Move
In Portland Timbers news, one site (just bookmarked!) reported that the Timbers message to Glasgow Rangers, and any other team that comes inquiring, to keep their filthy grasping hands off star striker Fanendo Adi. I view this as a good thing. Unless Adi’s quietly pissy about the whole thing. Anyone out there know him well enough to receive his confidences? No? Any psychics? Masters of Tarot? Messy tea drinkers?

Finally, to the Hundreds ofThousands of New Fans, Who Turned into MLS Cup 2016:

Sorry about that. MLS Soccer totally isn’t always like that. Can I forward you video from the Toronto / Montreal series?

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Late (Late) Tackle, 12 12 2016: The Expansion Draft, Data on Cup v. Shield, and an Accidental MLS 2016 Review

At least one metaphor for what MLS needs right now.
A couple items tonight, one actual contemporary commentary, the other clean up from yesterday. In order of urgency…which depends on how one defines urgency, I guess.

The Expansion Draft, and the Portland Timbers, and the Expansion Draft
As has already been discussed on twitter today, and at some length and in some depth, all of Major League Soccer clubs made their (not really) Sophie’s Choice as to which players on their rosters to protect, and which to offer up to…the Germans? (Pretty sure it’s the Germans in Sophie's Choice, but not sure on the iteration of Germans – e.g. the thwarted imperialists, or the actual dickheads (e.g. Nazis)).

At any rate, Portland cast the following to the Huns (jingo!): Dairon “On Loan” Asprilla, Jack “Not Nick” Barmby, Nat “Retired?” Borchers, Kennedy “JK!” Igboananike, Chris “Who?” Klute, Jack “What The Hell?” McInerney, Jermaine “Conifers & Citrus Player of the Year” Taylor, Steven “Please Go” Taylor, Zarek…wow, there are, like, a lot of dudes listed here. OK, the rest are Zarek “Don’t Care” Valentin, Ben “Still here?” Zemanski, Nick “Forgotte…look, never mind. I’m getting closer to “full asshole” with each nickname, so I’ll shut that off before feelings get hurt (and folks start making assumptions). The point is, the Timbers didn’t expose a lot in the way of “key” personnel. Also, that’s not necessarily a comment on the quality of the players exposed. Some of those shitty nicknames notwithstanding, on the other hand...

In all honesty, last season was bad enough that I’d like to think even the “safe players” (bar, seriously, three) experienced a little heart flutter when the list went out. Gentlemen…

As for the Expansion Draft as a whole, I guess the only thing left to ask is which players I would take if I were either Atlanta or Minneapolis FC United (gotta say, the unoriginality/overlap in those team names has its upside). And, here’s that, followed by a brief explanation for each choice.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

MLS Cup Review: Darkness and Light

Just google "shitty trophy." This masterpiece shows up surprisingly early.

[Yes, Jesus, the title is tongue and cheek.]

Today, I sat through the MLS Live’s condensed replay of MLS Cup 2016…and, for the record, my minimum charge for re-watching that one-night revival of soccer-as-rugby in full starts at $50. The face-off between MLS Cup debutantes, Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders, featured two teams desperate not to fuck up and, as such, it heavily favored labor over artistry. (NOTE to author: Overwritten narrative? One that you will never pick up again?) If teams won games by getting in each other’s way, this would have been a final for the ages. In soccer, though, teams win games by scoring goals - whenever and however they score them – and Seattle dragged the game to penalty kicks, where they scored five goals to Toronto’s four. That’s more goals.

And that’s also how Stefan Frei’s bear-paw save became the game’s biggest talking point…

I took the time to read other people’s articles this morning (busy as hell this afternoon; goddamn Christmas), and most sing the same notes – e.g. Seattle never managed a shot on goal, Frei’s save, and the broad argument that there’s not a lot to say beyond that. The “advanced course” of articles offer details that make sense only to those more finely-tuned to some sub-plots – e.g., that this was a particularly shitty final to present to a broadcast TV audience after years out of the spotlight; that Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso would juice the holy shit out of his knee before missing this one; and that, of course, Toronto’s Jonathan Osorio would get emotional after the loss.

After reliving the final (in condensed fashion), I’ll only say I found a couple strings to pull out a little further. One thing that didn’t show in the mini-game is something only one article (by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl) flagged. For me, this was one thought I kept coming back to, especially on Toronto’s side of the ball

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 09 2016: All MLS Cup Preview, and Nothing But

Sweet Jesus. That is Chatty Cathy and she is terrifying!
So, the 2016 Major League Soccer season reaches its long-delayed climax (srsly, entire month of November was pure whiskey-dick) tomorrow afternoon when the Seattle Sounders visit Toronto FC to vie for MLS Cup. My plans for the day include pulling on some loose fitting clothing and burying myself in blankets on a couch and challenging my body to stay awake despite all the depressants I no doubt will dump into my system in order to cope with what has potential to be, the final insult of 2016. By that I mean Seattle might win the damn game, which would be awful, while also putting an end to my dream of buying a Sounders jersey (nah, I’ll steal one; no money for them) just so I can put [___] over the crest – e.g. where the star goes after your team wins.

It’s not like it’s hard to find write-ups and predictions for tomorrow’s game – the official preview post on has about 20 of the things – because it’s the event of the annual soccer calendar. I’d still like to offer up some final thoughts, for am I a Chatty Cathy Doll, one that talks even without someone pulling the string. Hope I can touch on something novel.

I touched on this thought a couple times over the past week, but when it comes to framing the Cup, I think it’s important to understand it as something other than just the next game for either Seattle or Toronto. “Form” matters, of course, but, in a rough and real way, Seattle is a different team from the Montreal Impact (for Toronto) and Toronto is a different team than the Colorado Rapids (for Seattle). And it goes even deeper than that. Basically, Toronto confronts Seattle with entirely new problems to solve and situations to exploit and vice versa. Here, an honest man acknowledges that there’s not much hard data to work with here, because the teams met only once in 2016 (and under pretty different circumstances). With that, let’s start with what we do know…says, the guy who just gave “form” the side-eye not 100 words before. And, in another nice touch irony/self-flagellation, wherever did I leave that “how they got here” post that I gently mocked yesterday? Ah, there it is. So, fuck me from two days ago, that’s worth reading. Now, let’s take a step further back…

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 08 2016: Still More MLS Cup Crap, Players Moving, Players Departing, and an Understudy Rising?

Looks like he's been crying. Or he's just drunk.
You know the drill: MLS Cup dominates, while the 18 (or 20) other Major League Soccer teams quietly start figuring out how they’ll knock the eventual champion off its pedestal. Circle of life, etc.

More MLS Cup Crap
For all that it might not come through, I’m actually pretty excited about this year’s MLS Cup. I’ve got a clear, strong voter interest (which, my luck, spells a Seattle Sounders win, goddammit). Whatever happened with them all season long (e.g. Seattle sucking for 2/3 of it), both teams hit the final playing well and, on top of that, each team’s stars are shining. That goes for the attacking players as much as anybody, which could explain why’s predictions post sees goals, goals, goals in MLS fans’ future (to be fair, one prediction only gets to “goal, goal” and, also of interest, gives both to Seattle). A related article, this one a compare/contrast between Jozy Altidore and Jordan Morris, sticks with a similar focus.

I’ll put up more thorough personal theories tomorrow (good lord willing), but part of me wonders how much faith in high scoring grows from a form of recency bias. Some articles talk about loosely about how either team attacks (great!) and defends, but without much discussion/acknowledgement of particular circumstances. For instance, how much of the “vulnerability” in Toronto FC’s defense grew from the Montreal Impact series alone? Isn’t it just as important, if not more important, to note that they shut out New York City FC in their first round series, while also allowing 19 fewer goals through the length of the regular season, as was noted in a write-up on Drew Moor’s move to/upgrading of Toronto’s “rugged” defense. (Alternately, is it rugged and vulnerable, y’know, like how Daniel Craig played James Bond in the last Bond flick?) The point could be right or wrong, but the basic assumption tracks a logic similar to writing up a “what happened to Lodeiro” piece based on Seattle’s series against the Colorado Rapids (related: Have you watched that tape, Toronto? Can you watch that? Please?).

Or, to crawl out of the other side of the rabbit hole, maybe Nick Hagglund will give away a cheap goal, as noted in a “young players to watch” post I read (Hagglund made the cut and, in fairness, he is genuinely of interest). By the same token, maybe he scores a goal and gets an assist, too. (Or maybe Montreal didn’t game-plan Hagglund fer shit?)

At any rate, yeah, looking forward to MLS Cup Saturday. Now, looking elsewhere…

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 07 2016: More MLS Cup Crap, Portland and Expansion, Plus Expansion (and Sad Mix)

No, please. Throw away my shit for me.
For anyone who cares about such things, I’m trying to choose how many items to cover in these daily things. I’m hung up between three topics and five. Split the difference today. But one of ‘em feels weak. Shit. Anyway…

More MLS Cup Crap
The work of hyping a cup final takes many shapes and runs from good to bad (not to pick on that last one but it's only of interest to someone who hasn’t paid attention at all for the last month). As for the good stuff, I bumped into a couple today: one a tactical preview (but with a shitty title, at least on mobile: “Jordan Morris Poses Problems for TFC,” which really sells it short), which dives decently deep into things (personally, I found the Armando Cooper stuff enlightening); the other, which also didn’t promise much by title, looks at how the MLS contestants, (again) Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, built their rosters. It’s more of a how-to than it looks, especially the stuff about both club’s academies. If I had to give a long-term edge of any kind between the two teams, it’d go to Toronto. Take away Jordan Morris (please!), and I’d rate Toronto’s pool higher.

On a note that relates only because these two teams are in the Cup, I read somewhere that Nick Hagglund has “become a force” on set-pieces. I’m hung up on “maybe” for now, because I don’t think TFC can count on the absolute shit marking that Montreal put on Hagglund in the first leg.

One more on MLS Cup, and those participating in it. It’s cool to see TFC’s Jozy Altidore pick up a littlehype, because he’s playing out of his goddamn mind right now. I’m thinking back, specifically, to a back-heel that he used to set up one of Toronto’s goals against Montreal. Next-level shit, kid. and from a guy I still call the smartest man in MLS.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 06 2016: Picking at MLS Cup News, (A) Goalkeeper Theory, and Johnny Foreigner

I object! Not Seattle!
MLS Cup will dominate the headlines through Sunday I figure (for they will still speak of it the day after, even if it sucks), but it’s also that time of year when the post-mortems start to roll in. posted a sort of weird early edition, something they called a “tactical review” of each MLS club. I’ve read better, but I’ve also read worse; call it “of interest.” Almost started my own reviews last night (true story), but. 1) I’m still processing, and 2) not everyone’s done and that felt like driving away from a wedding just because all involved didn’t respect your objection to the proceedings. (Also, I’ll need something to do over the off-season.)

Getting back to MLS Cup, I’m short on things to say about Saturday’s match-up for some reason. That Toronto FC v. Seattle Sounders sure looks like a solid match-up only makes that a little weirder. Maybe it’s simple as the notion that, regardless what’s said going in, those two teams will meet on Saturday and something will happen. No one knows what, either, which I suppose is the hallmark of a good final. Dunno, still working on it, I guess. Maybe inspiration hits tomorrow.

Others are trying, of course, but most of what I’ve read so far interests me only tangentially. For instance, a write-up on Seattle’s Stefan Frei got me thinking about how to best evaluate a ‘keeper. When Frei went to Seattle, I remember telling a couple Sounders-loving friends that they landed a good ‘keeper. Frei got shelled when he played for TFC, but that only made the argument for looking past something basic the number of goals Frei “allowed,” because, when it comes to letting in goals, ‘keepers typically have “helpers.” Frei typically came off looking like the best part of a bad system, and that was enough to recommend him. Timbers fans should have a comfortable grasp on after 2016…not that Gleeson didn’t let a couple slip (see, Vancouver).

One other take, one that has less to do about either team in MLS Cup, but about the league as a whole, came from Matt Doyle, The Armchair Analyst. He (or someone else) crunched the numbers on the balance between foreign and domestic players in MLS. The headline contends that Toronto leaned more heavily than most into their domestic pool, a perfectly respectable choice, but the more interesting details point to league-wide trends. One point of interest is that the decline in domestic v. foreign players isn’t linear (e.g. it ticks down one year, then bounces back up), but it’s also worth noting the rate of decline. On the one hand, it’s slower than I expected (e.g. from just over 60% domestic in 2010 to about (never mind, precisely) 53.66% last year), but the more interesting wrinkle comes from elsewhere – specifically, the 2016 MLS Best XI, as chosen by the lackeys in the Bureau of Information (aka, (And maybe others. Didn’t check.) Regardless, the extent to which that Starting XI is ‘Murican should catch the eye, because that says something else about the international/domestic balance, and where teams seem to look when they need next-level guys. Back to the original piece, it’s worth checking your own team to see where they fit into that whole scheme.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Timbers Update: Begging for Scraps (and Dreaming of LA)

Argentina...Argentina...shit, did I leave the map behind?
Starved for Portland Timbers news? Well, don’t count on the hunger pangs going away any time soon (also, how long did you think “hunger pangs” was actually “hunger pains”?). The best post I’ve read since the Timbers’ season died an untimely death came with just awesome speculation that Instagram photos of Alvas Powell’s apartment, shots that showed boxes and bare walls, indicated that the Timbers’ right back du jour could be moving on

I’m not even sort of being sarcastic, either. That’s semi-investigative journalism at least. And Instagram-stalking at worst. And who doesn’t do that? (Me. Can’t really sort out Instagram.)

Going the other way, barring something absolutely monstrous – and, here, imagination fails me (but, all the same, inviting a challenge from @GusRachels) – I couldn’t care less about what the Timbers wear when they take the field (still, guys? Too green. Can we slip some rainbows into that shit, or something?). The new stuff looks fine, based on the “glimpse” we’ve all been given (marketing, guys, that’s just knowing who you’re talkin’ to), but the Timbers could be clowns dressed in business casual and I’d still be fine with everything so long as they win enough games and in more style than the way they’re dressed…

…that’s a good rule for going forward, actually: the Timbers should always play above the quality/aesthetics of their kits, because, yes, broadly speaking, the team does good kits (shut up). If anyone has access to the team bylaws, kindly slip that in. Might have a salutary effect.

The point is, all the news is speculative just now and that’s…just how it is. There’s still MLS Cup to play (next Saturday) and that’s a helluva shadow. The Timbers announced their preseason training camp and schedule, plus where they’ll play their earliest preseason games, and that’s a kind of real news.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Late Tackle, 12 01 2016 - MLS Cup Finalists Finalized (Plus Everyone Else's Crappy Consolation Prize)

Like that, only with a couple consolation goals...
MLS Cup: Conference Champions...Revealed!
I never heard what Greg Vanney had to say just after halftime.

The 20-minute mini-game cut off the highlights right as Vanney, Toronto FC’s coach, was about to reveal his secrets – e.g. maybe that they’d channeled demons into Jozy Altidore (for he did play possessed), or that someone finally explained to Nick Hagglund, at long last, that he enjoys the freedom to score goals, as well as keep them out (or maybe that he was much bigger and faster than the Montreal Impact’s Marco Donadel). Vanney’s words could have explained everything, or nothing. What was clear from the start, though, was that Toronto hit the field turned up to 11 (shit, used a cliché). Nothing made that apparent quite like Michael Bradley’s slashing/manically-determined run into Montreal’s penalty area inside the first minute. (NOTE: Due to where and when I post, I only have the capacity to link to the match highlights; sorry for the inconvenience!)

Toronto simply never let up; if they ran over the Impact, they did it slowly. Or, rather than ran them over during the game, then backed over them in extra time. Count me among those shocked by Montreal’s set-piece defending (assuming such population exists). Hagglund got crazy-free twice (at least) and those lapses led to a panic/assist on (was it?) Toronto’s first, cleaned up by Armando Cooper (if memory serves), and the goal that forced extra time. At least Montreal had an excuse when it came to Hagglund – no one saw him coming – but, because they were warned about Altidore (see?), one has to ask just what the goofy fuck Montreal was thinking by letting Altidore run completely unmarked right before half; that was one hell of a tricky goal, but Jozy was good for it (again, possibly due to possession; there was no other word for how he approached the game all day, other than “surging”).

Montreal didn’t so much lie down, as protect its vitals for as long as it could while slipping in a couple pokes with a shiv. Dominic Oduro – who quietly put in a very credible year, as well as a rock-solid playoff run, which breaks his famous every-other-year pattern (congrats, kid!) – set himself up for the goal that could have won the series (against anything but a freight train) with the kind of touch he pulls off once every cycle of the moon. Piatti stuck in another one when he wrestled Montreal’s second goal over the goal-line. It was a brave performance, but Toronto was in what some folks call “a mood.”