Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 31 2017: A Baby-Step Victory and Betrayed by Achilles!

Harry Shipp’s next step?
Let the record show that I did watch the U.S. post that goal-less draw against the Serbian First Division All-Stars (or, just Serbia). The only thing I have to add beyond what’s already out there (yay, Darlington Nagbe! yah, Sebastian Lletget!) is the thought that the U.S. looked actually comfortable on the field for the first time in a while. If nothing else, sending players onto the field with some form of tactical direction marks the only departure from the Jurgen Klinsmann Era, I’ll call that enough of a win.

Let the record also show that I’m probably gonna miss U.S. v. Jamaica. Then again, who knows? Maybe work’ll be dead on Friday.

How a Situation Becomes a Crisis
With the whole Sebastian Blanco thing waiting for someone to tie on the bow, and with a linkable report to the Portland Timbers’ loss to Istra 1961 not yetup, the biggest news out of Timbers Land probably came with yesterday’s report that Gbenga Arokoyo, the possible/planned preferred partner (sorry, got on a roll) for Liam Ridgewell, has been downgraded to broken. The guy blew out his Achilles tendon, apparently, and, sad to say, his only contribution as a Timber that I will ever recall was providing what might have been an assist on Rennico Clarke’s own-goal in the preseason opener. Tough, tough break for Arokoyo, obviously, and you feel for the guy…all while pretty much thinking that he’s not a player to bank on for the future.

If, like me, you wanted to see the Timbers sign a central defender even before Arokoyo went down, this looks closer to a mountain than a molehill (a foothill?). Portland’s thin for personnel back there, and possibly (debatably) thinner in quality, so, in a word…goddammit. If Portland goes into the regular season with the current corps of defenders, I’ll start 2017 by protecting myself (e.g. tempering expectations).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Portland Timbers 0-2 New York Red Bulls: Picking Through a (Meaningless) Mess

Timbers = All the people. And the pig. No winners.
Because there’s not a lot to say about the Portland Timbers 2-0 preseason loss to the New York Red Bulls, this won’t take long. In fact, I have only one real question to ask:

Yeah, yeah, this is preseason, but why did Portland look that much more like the team in preseason mode?

To speculate, it could have something to do with the strength/organizational integration of the Red Bulls’ academy; it’s also worth wondering whether Red Bulls II's 2016 (rather impressive looking) USL title lent them that telling little extra bit of coherence. The lesson from the former suggests that, maybe the Timbers organization ought to get crackin’ on its own academy. As for the later, yeah, Red Bulls II not only won last year’s USL title, they picked up 29 points more than Timbers 2 during the season.

As pointed out during the stream, New York could have won by 3-0, or even 4-0. Second stanza ‘keeper Kendall McIntosh probably played the biggest role in preventing that outcome. Overall, though, I found the incoherence mildly concerning at most, with a series of bad decisions, particularly at the back, nipping at its heels. More fundamentally, though, this is precisely why teams play preseason games – i.e., to, in in the spirit of Stumptown Footy’s title, to shake off the rust.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 26 2017: Personnel and Strategy (and Goals) and a Red Flag on Any CV

This is once in a lifetime. Do NOT count on it.
Aiming for a quick one today…starting with the Portland Timbers, as I’m supposed to do when flow isn’t an issue…

Depth and Squad Rotation
Stumptown Footy posted something that I’m sure nearly anyone who finds this has already read so far. The article – titled something like “How Much Attacking Depth Is Too Much” (or, exactly that) – sort maps out, combines, and re-combines the personnel that the Timbers can throw at the opposition in the year ahead and that is obviously (probably?) of interest.

But what does it mean in practice?

People who know I exist/read my stuff know that I’ve been a big proponent of squad rotation in the past. Still a fan, if with a little more conscious emphasis on the rationale – e.g., it’s about timing and/or priming the team to win MLS Cup, with the Supporters’ Shield constituting either, 1) a totally (and I mean totally) separate prize; and/or 2) something that won’t always be the primary goal. To clarify #2 a bit, I see the circumstances that allow a team to win the Shield to work in the same rough way as it dawns on someone playing Hearts that things have shifted to where Shooting the Moon (or, here, winning the Shield) has become a live possibility.

If that seems like splitting hairs, well, that’s what we do here. For what it’s worth, I think the league blessed the Timbers with a favorable start to the year, one soft enough that it should reverse the team’s traditional, um, slow (crap) start. If Portland can pocket that, and land that mystery winger we keep hearing about (and also the depth pieces), playing with one eye on the Shield becomes a consideration. If/when things line up differently, hell yes, I want the Timbers rotating and frequently. That’ll keep the regulars fresh and the new guys connected.

And, to be clear, no, I’m not claiming that some ready plug-‘n’-play system exists. No matter what any team does, it’s trial, error, and a lotta crossed fingers. What I’m talking about above is the spirit and mentality behind the approach. OK, next…

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 25 2017: Perennials, Paths to Roster Construction and (Personal) Timbers' Mysteries.

A strained metaphor. Also, a plant.
I don’t know how Los Angeles Galaxy newcomer/midfielder, Joao Pedro, will play in Galaxy whites, but, in a write-up on his arrival, he has already said the funniest thing that will ever be said about or during Big Bang Theory. Goddammit, I hate that fucking show so much!

I have a pretty tidy topic for today. I’ll wrap with a note or two on the Portland Timbers. Why? Because the post flows better that way.

I should, however, share my personal theory that most of Portland squirted a little with the news that Timbers’ much-beloved, thoroughly-missed left back, Jorge Villafana, finally got the call to join the U.S. Men’s National Team. Whatever the extent to which Portland fans are over the moon, the rest of Soccer Nation should take some measure of solace in seeing another option at a notoriously troublesome position for the Yanquis (haven’t used that word in a while).

OK, on to the body of this thing.

Planting and Fertilizing Your Perennials for Maximum Health and Growth
If you think about (but not too hard) a soccer team isn’t a lot different from a perennial flower – i.e., it’s something that sticks around year after year (unless some collection of bastards moves the local team to another city, thereby ripping fans’ fucking hearts out), only to grow and (maybe) bloom every year. As with any plant, perennials require some amount of care and tending*. With soccer teams, that care and tending comes by way of tinkering with rosters, with an eye to getting the most out of that team during the growing (and/or regular) season.

(* I don’t really know how perennials work; I can kill a plant with a glance #blackthumb.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 24 2017: (Slim) Info on Portland Timbers' Preseason Opener, Plus Players Keep on Shufflin' and Scrutinizing the Academies

MLS, aka American Soccer Hogwarts. Only without the magic.
With the Portland Timbers’ first preseason game of 2017 just days away, and seeing as all I know about it is the opposition (New York Red Bulls), feels like it’s time to flesh out the details.

OK, game is in Arizona (not making it), it starts at 5:30 p.m. (at least I’ll be off work), and, judging by the programming note, it’ll stream on Timbers.com (internet collection, don’t let me down…).

Well, that’s that. Not sure what’s left to talk about till after the ball starts rolling, at least barring injuries, scandals, and some new blood getting pumped into the team.

The next domestic action comes Sunday, with the U.S. Men’s friendly against Serbia. Ball’s starting to roll, people. Get frosty.

But, I started with MLS so may was well stay there.

Comings, Goings, What Issues from Academe?
It’s more or less the same ol’ new stuff: teams around MLS continue to round out their rosters, whether it’s small-ish stuff (contained in this roundup) like the Red Bulls continuing to get younger, Minnesota United FC staying loyal to the old peer group after transferring to that shiny rich-kid school (MLS), or the (momentary?) desolation of Mix Diskerud’s career (pullin’for ya, Mix, just not hard enough to want you to wear Timbers green…and, dammit! That woulda been a better poll for today! (but do see the other one)).

They’re not all tiny moves. For instance, the Vancouver Whitecaps picked up an “attacking player” thereby filling a gaping conceptual (really?) hole for that team. Yardy Reyna, aka, the “attacking player,” hails from Peru and has some time in on Peruvian national team (as a regular? dunno, and how much does it matter). There’s good news regarding a still more desperate locale – e.g. the New England Revolution’s defense; word is, they’ve got two TAM-level defenders coming, and that should be smelling salts to Revolution fans. Uh, what else? There’s talk of Real Salt Lake rearranging the chairs (ideally not on the Titanic) to give new signing, Albert Rusnak, pride of place, oh, and Orlando City SC signed a kid from their academy…and that’s what some of today’s best content covers.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 23 2017: Portland Rounds Out Its Roster, Camp Cupcake Sprinkles and Snark for CCL Thing

The best Christmas ever.
Along with a lotta teams (e.g. Real Salt Lake, who grabbed a couple players*, and the Colorado Rapids), the Portland Timbers appear to be at what I’ll call “the plating stage” of their offseason – i.e., the team is nailing down what they can get, leaving nothing but sending it outta the kitchen.

(* I just want to note that Chad Barrett, the most MLS player in MLS, is one of these players. More on this later, if from another angle.)

Signing Chance Myers (plz. see poll a couple tweets down on my twitter feed), and re-signing Amobi Okugo and recalling back Dairon Asprilla feel less like sexy acquisitions (Sebastian Blanco/Dude-With-Similar-Talents/Profile, where are you?) than, say, getting a vacuum for Christmas: it’s important to have and all, you know you need it, but…well, it’s fucking vacuum.

With Myers being the only completely new (if familiar) player, that seems the most exciting. I figure the worst Portland gets out of that is Myers at starter, or an improved Alvas Powell. Okugo should provide respectable cover in some key positions, at least, but I’m still hope that he shows well enough to scare the people ahead of him in the rotation (even as I don’t see that happening, goes against history, etc.). With Asprilla, I guess it’s just hoping that he cleans up his game a little, figures out how to play better with others (is that a decent recap on Dairon? hmm…).

The thing I’m most geeked-up about when it comes to the Timbers was last night’s still-dawning realization that Portland’s left could be something next season – e.g., by way of the whole Vytas Andriuskevicius/Darlington Nagbe pairing. If that pairing comes good, Timbers fans simply must come up with a “Brangelina”-style nickname for the pairing. “Darling Vytas” is all I got right now…taking fresh suggestions…

The Armchair Analyst sorta sketched out how this functions by way of talking about how the Los Angeles Galaxy paired Robbie Rogers with Landon Donovan in his 3 questions write-up about the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp. It’s a buncha shit about formations – talking about the Y midfield stuff - but it works all right if you translate formation on mechanics.

Looking elsewhere….

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fewer Questions: The Portland Timbers, The State of Things

Stepdad 1. World 0. (C'mon, you'd be impressed. Or sufficiently confused.)

In a post last week, I hit a piece in The Oregonian from an angle. That article-show (you see, when an article loves a slideshow very, very much) put 11 Questions to the Portland Timbers for 2017. If Portland answers them right, they win! More often than not! (In case you're wondering, yes, accurate.)

As noted then, 11 questions feel like checking every side street instead of just driving straight to the destination. To pick an example (#2), if Portland lands on an effective center back pairing, a few other items (let’s go with, #4, #7, #11, #13, and #14), get answered either loosely (e.g. the presence or absence of “an effective center back pairing” behind David Guzman will go a long way to determining how he plays); by answering itself (e.g., if, say, Rennico Clarke seizes the starting job, the young players made an impact by definition); by the same logic (e.g., the team, and the back-line, will either have good chemistry or it won’t); directly (e.g., if the Timbers have “an effective center back pairing,” they will win more games on the road); finally, and again, directly (e.g., if they win more games, steal some others, they will make the playoffs).

Look, I’m not just shitting on The Oregonian’s copy. This is more about highlighting/addressing the big issues (personnel) and then tuning the machinery to get it firing optimal. Call it Formula 2015, or come up with something better, it’s about the same thing: getting the most out of the players the team has at any given moment. And, now that I’ve completely incorporated the Supporters’ Shield into my universe of goals, what’s possible in any given moment should influence how the team approaches each game.

To frame that from the longest distance, playing for the Shield should mean putting out your best team every time you can, because maximizing points every game means operating on a very much live for today mind-set. If, however, you’re most focused on the MLS Cup – and I think this is viable, even wise, for some teams from the start of the season, but, even more, as your options run out during the season - you can, say, risk dropping points in order to rest players (especially on the road, and in tough venues), and give your back-ups more first-team experiences, because that builds repetitions, therefore on-field partnerships. This isn’t a clean contrast, either, because FC Dallas threw their youth to the lions a couple times last season (I think; eh, maybe), but still won the Shield. At the same time, how much did wear on their team, and Mauro Diaz in particular, doom their Cup hopes? Just sayin’, people make choices alla time…

On a related note, and to see if I finally can’t get it right, I’ve been trying to understand why the Timbers winning MLS Cup in 2015 never quite satisfied me. Because the Timbers did the consistently inconsistent thing for most of the year, winning the Cup felt like your divorced dad, after an entire year of blown promises and blowing you off, absolutely fucking nailed your birthday party. That probably has something to do with 2016, but let’s stick to the task at hand.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Late Tackle 01 19 2017: Questions for the Timbers, Chicago's Rebuild, and 10 Other Things (or Players) Who Excite Me

Dream big, Fire fans...could be your bandwagon...
In keeping with this site’s practice of starting local…

The Oregonian posted one of their damn slideshows (sorry, hate the things, because they feel more about the ads; yes, I’m aware of the state of the news industry) that framed the issues facing the Portland Timbers in the form of 11 questions, some more pointed than others. To quibble with the premise a little, I’d argue that, if you can come up with 11 questions – if you get that granular – you probably have 20+ questions. To hit that from the other side, with the way personnel overlaps and cross-pollinates, I think the Timbers have between three and five questions to answer in 2017.

I’ll come up with those later (tomorrow, maybe; or Monday), but, for now, the best question of The Oregonian's 11 was the last (paraphrasing): are the Timbers good enough to make the 2017 playoffs?

And they flagged the one major detail that slips my mind every time I think about the Portland Timbers: how large-scale erratic they’ve been. Or that’s just another way of admitting that the flukiness of the 2015 Run to Glory still somehow doesn’t sit right with me. At any rate, that whole “erratic” theme is something head coach Caleb Porter has to answer for.

Moving on to other pastures…

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 18 2017: On Deploying Porter's Boys, Hot Teams and a Hot Prospect

You'll get there, tiger!
In case anyone hasn’t spotted it yet, I want to draw attention to a little something to the left of MLSSoccer.com’s home page. See it? Portland v. NY Red Bulls, January 27, 2017, Preseason. That’s just over a week away. Next Friday, in fact. Bastards better at least stream that one, because jonesin’.

Of which, with an eye to cutting down on bar costs (he told his wife), I picked up the cord-cutters version of cable, Sling TV. I’ll let interested parties know how I feel about it.

Back to that first preseason game, I’m just now thinking about the kind of team I want to see Caleb Porter field for that preseason opener, and I find myself torn. As much as I want new/younger players and the T2 call-ups (e.g., Rennico Clarke…and there’s no “e” at the end, right?) to get real tryouts during the preseason – especially in defense, and especially if Portland hasn’t added new personnel by then – but I think I’d rather see Porter at least start what he envisions as his starting eleven for this first game, to just sort establish an average for the season (as in bowling) and to figure out how to beat it later. I’ll be providing input all season long…even if it goes unheeded…pearls of wisdom, spurn’d and unclaim’d.

That’s the “first time” for the 2017 season, but the U.S. Men’s National Team’s friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica follow shortly thereafter, too, and I’m actually interested in the friendlies this year, feel like they’ll be building toward something less irritating than under Jurgen Klinsmann, etc. Then fer-reals real preseason starts with the month of February. We’re sliding into home, people, the regular season that, at times, seems like it’ll never end, even as it feels like it started years ago.

Eminently-mockable as MLS’s regular season is, it’s precisely the length of the thing that makes it feel like “normal.” By that I mean I feel a little antsy, even weird, during the off-season.

On to other things of note…

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 17 2017: Youth/Player Movements

Caleb! Yo, Caleb! I found one!

Don’t know of any news from PTFC-Land (wait, no; the team picked up another but I did find an interesting little nugget of thought in Four Four Two’s fly-on-the-wall write-up for the Superdraft (now, is it “Superdraft” or “SuperDraft?” Don’t make me like this up). Here’s that:

“The reality is because we’ve had now four years to build and get experience, for me it was the time to start to move some young players in. We have enough experience now. So, it was a decision, myself, (Portland general manager) Gavin (Wilkinson) and (team owner) Merritt (Paulson), to make that youth movement. We felt we couldn’t lose getting any of the players in the top four, so that’s why we wanted to get into the top four. And we did, and we thought we got pretty good value.”

That’s Caleb Porter talking. Encouraging? Not encouraging? Delusional? Looks like the opposite of what they’re doing? You decide. Getting younger does sound good, though.

Looking elsewhere...

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Portland Timbers 2017 Schedule, and Its Many Tales Told.

Credit where it's due. Now, fix EVERYTHING!!
The Major League Soccer regular season schedule dropped…recently. Here it is, and for all teams (link to each and all, etc.). I imagine that people are picking through, circling games to get riled over, organizing his/her drinking schedules, acquiring various cable plans, streaming services, etc. I finally looked at the Portland Timbers' 2017 schedule, but my first review focused exclusively on one thing: the day of week and time of day for each Portland Timbers kick off. And, as tweeted a couple days back, I broadly approve of this year’s schedule.


I’ll hoist an appropriately-timed beverage to honor the schedule as they come, but today, and with the aid of the most-updated-to-date Transfer Tracker, I’m going to pick through the Portland Timbers and see if I can’t outline some sense of expectations for the upcoming 2017 regular season. Actually, the full list of sources for this are as follows: the Timbers’ Schedule, the Transaction Tracker, my memory, and, when I feel like I need them, any given team’s roster. The weak link in there should be easy to pick out, but here goes…one game at a time.

Friday, March 3, 2017, 6:30 p.m.
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United FC
Expectation: Win.
With Minnesota a work in progress and a Timbers team close to last year’s shape and make-up, basic continuity and home-field advantage should be enough to carry the Timbers to a Week 1 victory. Assuming Minnesota’s huntings abroad were worth the effort, Minnesota should kick off with a competent defense, but that shouldn’t be enough to keep out an attack that fired well enough through 2016.

Sunday, March 12, 2017, 4 p.m.
Los Angeles Galaxy v. Portland Timbers
Expectation: Unknown, leaning LA win
As shown by the LA Galaxy roster, they return a solid core, and all over the field. It’s safe to assume they’ll add a player or two, maybe even another dos Santos, but LA already has enough good on their current roster (whatever it’s made of) to beat the current/near-future incarnation of the Timbers on any given, if not most, days. Especially until Portland works out winning on the road.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 11 2017: A New Timber? Plus, a Tailored Combine/Superdraft Update

I can see San Jose from here...parts of Houston.
In news of the impossible, Patrice Bernier just picked up one more year with L’Impact Montreal.

Elsewhere, MLSSoccer.com’s The Kick Off topped the report of FC Dallas’ Ryan Hollingshead getting hit by a car with a playful “Ouch!”, and, surprisingly, FIFA took the “money-whore” option to expand the 2026 World Cup to include 48 teams.

Hmm…maybe MLS is changing world soccer…in bigger news…

Timbers Target A Winger
According to “sources,” the Portland Timbers have formally offered to take Sebastian Blanco off Argentinian club San Lorenzo’s hands. See usual disclosures (e.g., I don’t follow the Argentine league, therefore know nothing meaningful about this guy; I did, however, see Back Office Gavin ask another guy if he’s good for MLS, and the other guy said yes), but one phrase and some numbers in the article stand out:

“A creative midfielder capable of playing centrally or out wide, he has three goals and five assists in 11 appearances in the current Argentine Primera campaign and nine goals and eight assists in 78 appearances in all competitions in his two years with the club.”
The numbers lack a certain “pop,” so here’s to hoping that Blanco will get a little bump courtesy of the competitive quality between Argentina and MLS (does such a thing exist? Looked like it last time I watched Argentina regularly). I’m less hung up on that than caught between considering/ruing the possibilities of Blanco sharing the “3-bank” in a 4-2-3-1 with Darlington Nagbe, and Diego Valeri. The only real concern there comes with fitting all these guys’ approaches into something coherent; I mean, I see the interrupted phrase “capable of playing…out wide,” but, with Portland needing width badly as it does, that’s sort of a big deal. To reframe that, does Blanco prefer playing out wide, or is there a winger-to-be-named-later floating around out there?

Reserving judgment. For now, I’m happy to see a little (more) ambition, and will hope the whole thing ends in a "nice problem to have" scenario.

And what about new defenders, guys?

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Late, Late Tackle 01 09 2017: Melano, Maloney, and Rebuilds

Never been asked before, but, is this metaphor to harsh?

After weighing my personal comfort level with the thought of losing my job and my increasingly-impending mortality, I’ve decided that I can’t post at work anymore. Yes, this means I’ll always be behind. That means I better make this interesting, goddamn it.

Speaking of, or the opposite, these brief highlight reels from the MLS Combine (ongoing, check your local listings: Chaos v. Control and Copa v. Tango) don’t really give you much sense of how any given player is doing (fine, admittedly, they’re not awful). Personally, my default in this, not to mention when watching the college game is, “he’ll never get away with that in MLS.” And, by and large, that holds.

This will fill in some blanks, but, even then, nothing matters till you suit up and perform, week after grueling (often pointless) week in Major League Soccer (unless you’re chasing the Supporters’ Shield; otherwise, why care till the end o’ June? (Yes, I’ll bury this thought in the background soon…rule of 3, rule of 3, rule of 3)). And, I guess that’s the point of all the roster rebuilds going on right now, so let’s get back the recap of things I can barely understand, but that I understand a little better than The Combine. Starting local, as I always will, when I can.

One time future bright spot Lucas Melano got shipped (OK, loaned) out of Portland and back to his original (right?) Argentine club today. To the credit of the Timbers front office – and I mean this – they made an arrangement I hadn’t thought of: they loaned him back to Atletico Belgrano, so that they still might have an asset to move if Melano improves down there. Because he sure wasn’t doing it up here…

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 06 2017: Mock Drafts and The Bruce Subtweets

Does not answer the question...
Tuned into the first episode ExtraTime Radio of 2017 today. If you want an hour two guys positively shitting player names on you, that’s your spot.

Then again, what else is going on in Major League Soccer right now, but players scurrying to and fro. There’s a bunch of new kids coming in as well, early as next Wednesday. Seems like a good place to start…and so goddamn ready for this stuff to end, and for people to start kicking balls in anger…

…the ball in anger. The right ball. The one on the field. Felt like I should clarify that.

Mock Drafts, with a Little Scouting (Turtles? Srsly, what is a mock turtle?)
In all honesty, the most I get out of mock drafts are passing introductions to a bunch of players I’ve never heard of. As such, I’m sharing The Armchair Analyst’s mock draft because you can’t get to know someone (or a player) till you meet him. And he lists a bunch of names, gives brief bios, and talks upside/downside; it’s not first-hand observation – always my preference (and even there, I’ll stick on “this player seems” as opposed to “this player is” till I see a fair amount of any given player – but it beats nothing. This year will be empirically-heavy.

Of note: See the guy at #5, Jacori Hayes, who Matt “The Armchair Analyst” Doyle compares to one Darlington Nagbe in a way that should gently trigger a specific sub-set of Portland Timbers fans (or just me). Also, Doyle went a different player to Portland, a defender named Lalas Abubakar. Also of note: he doesn’t give the kid a ringing endorsement, which reads kind of funny so long as I keep hearing about how deep this year’s SuperDraft is with defenders.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 05 2017: On Roster Rebuilds, Youth, and The Bruce's Penultimate January Camp

Another day, another post, some trades, some U.S. Men’s National Team crap…

Leoardo, Roy. Roy, Leanardo
Whenever I felt bad about the Portland Timbers’ chances last year, I could look south, then a little east…no, more, where I’d see the Houston Dynamo. In those dark minutes (don’t like to dwell), I could tell myself, “hey, it could be worse, I could be a Dynamo fan.” These flashes of superiority lasted right up to the moment when Portland tripped over the same red, velvet rope as Houston, the one that keeps teams out of the playoffs.

Having heard whispers of a “total rebuild” down in Dynamo-land, seeing them add Leonardo from the Los Angeles Galaxy reads like going cheap on parts. So, in the context of “total rebuild,” I dug a little deeper, spotting two more names in the report on Leonardo, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. They’re both young, Honduran attackers, not exactly the hottest names in the transfer market, plus, how many young players come to MLS only to flame out? In search of where the there is here, I finally dragged my lazy ass over to the Dynamo’s current roster, where I found still more names: Adolfo Machado, Juan David Cabezas, even Eric Alexander, who might not be the best player MLS has ever seen, but he’s smart, reliable depth, and a gamer with the right people around him.

Even if you think Portland’s in a slightly shinier boat than Houston heading into 2017, the Dynamo appears well ahead and seeing, and addressing, the need for repairs. If this were just a case of weighing Leonardo as a pickup versus Portland’s latest, Roy Miller, it’d be one thing. Sure, every one of the Dynamo’s reinforcements might go bust, but I wouldn’t count on it. So, yeah, pick it up, Portland.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Late Tackle 01 04 2017: On Rumors, Roy Miller, and Robot Referees

VAR, working prototype...

I’m gonna kick off this post with a standing rule for these posts: when it comes to rumored movement of players, I only care about those involving the Portland Timbers. With the rest, I’ll note only actual arrivals and departures and, unless I’ve actually watched the player in question, I’ll withhold judgment till I’ve got something to work with – e.g. Columbus Crew SC signed defender Jonathan Mensah (at the DP rate), Sporting Kansas City picked up a winger named Gerson Fernandes, and Real Salt Lake picked up Slovakian midfielder Albert Rusnack.

That is all. Elsewhere…

Some Speculation = OK
In the world of harmless (non-specific) speculation – which, here, I’ll just file under “the more you know” - MLSSoccer.com’s Greg Seltzer compiled a list of 11 potential targets for ambitious MLS clubs. For Timbers fans, some guy has a similar running series over on Stumptown Footy (The Mystic Forest Scouting Report, Part 1 and Part 2). Between the three posts, the only names I can pick out are those connected to either MLS or the U.S. Men’s National Team. Still, thought I’d provide the service, because some names might mean something to all y’all.

Portland’s New, Old Defender
While Portland’s signing of former New York Red Bull, former Deportivo Saprissa, former…other Costa Rican defender Roy Miller has hardly set #RCTID twitter on fire, the Timbers DO need depth in defense, and Miller should provide coverage – perhaps even at central defense (news to me, but keeping an open mind). As noted in an earlier tweet, I have some vague recollection of Miller as something other than a lock-down defender, so I did a little follow up (very little). Once a Metro offered a grade that reads (roughly) in the B/B- range, but it also closed on this comment:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Major League Soccer 2016/17 Reset. Yeah, All of 'Em, I'm Doing All of 'Em!

Mentor. Enemy.
When it comes to Major League Soccer, I pretty much lose every year. So does everyone else, really – handicapping the league is horse racing and cat herding rolled into one and that’s often chalked up to “MLS being MLS.” That’s quitter talk, though, because by reducing the probabilities against their inverse occurrences, and cross-referencing those against statistical anomalies, then overlaying all that with a graphic representation of OPTA graphics, we can predict which team will win both MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield within a margin of error that most 2000s-edition computers would envy if they weren’t stupid boxes of stupid wires…

…or I watched Sherlock a couple nights back and cribbed that idea, plus four or five words (or three; or two) from one of the several monologues Cumberbitch gave in the episode. Which wasn’t bad.

I’m actually getting at a knot I’ll be pulling at all season – e.g., how to best look past all the predictions about what should happen to think more clearly about what is likely to happen, a subtle, probably false distinction, but I’m holding onto it with both hands for now. I’m not saying I’ll pull it off, but I feel like I took a baby step toward a better, clearer noise-versus-signal approach toward the end of 2016, and hope to take another step this year. And, like most babies, I will have my face-plants (hopefully, without any trips to the E.R.).

One thought I’ll be emphasizing, at least till the 2017 season kicks off, is that I will treat both Cup and Shield as separate but equal trophies – and, yes, your own opinions on that (and the dubiousness of that phrasing) be damned. Much, much more on this later (elsewhere, actually), but, broadly, of course every team in MLS will say they’re out to win all three (real) trophies (as in, if you care about the rivalry cups, you, sir or madam, are one cheap date), but a time will come when the Shield is out of reach and, as I see it, a team in that situation should shape their approach to the regular season with clear, cold eyes to winning the Cup.

What I want to do, here, today, with this post, is reset the conversation on all 20 MLS teams to what we know – e.g. to re-center to what happened last year. I’ll do that by posting links to whatever looking back/forward pieces (e.g. 2016 season reviews, plus any “Our List of Needs” posts) I found on some relatively easy-to-find soccer sites (SB Nation blogs and Last Word on Soccer, who turned out to be crazy easy to find). As for trades, transfers and acquisitions, I’ll be treating them as unknowns, even as I’ll be referencing The Armchair Analyst’s permanent floating roster construction article throughout. I’m relying more on links than my own commentary for the simple reason that all those fan sites watch their own team way closer than I do. I’ll add notes and arguments where appropriate.

As to the order of teams, there’s no significance to it. It happens to follow how I bookmarked each of SB Nation’s teams sites, when I did that last year. True story.