Monday, March 27, 2017

Columbus Crew SC 3-2 Portland Timbers: Slow Reflexes and Broken Ladders; MLS Week 4 (Hangover)

David? Darling?
True story, I failed the oft-tricky Eastern Time v. Pacific Time test this past weekend, so I missed catching the Portland Timbers v. Columbus Crew SC live. Whatever. It was a short, stupid weekend regardless, so the whole thing felt half-assed, and I’m going all over the record on this point:

MLS Week 4 is not over until at least the majority of Major League Soccer’s teams have played their 4th game of season. So, no, this was not MLS Week 4, this was farce dry-humping a charade, and I refuse to have any part of it.

Except now, when I talk about it. At some length.

By the time this post goes up, I’ll probably be, oh, an hour, maybe an hour and a half, after finally sitting through the full 90 minutes (plus stoppage) of the Timbers weird, but not crushing, 3-2 loss to Columbus. I’ll spend the balance of this post going over what I saw in that game, but I’m going to start with this weekend’s – let’s call it what it is – smattering of MLS Results during what this shite…I mean, site (hmm) has decided to officially call MLS Week 3 MLS Hangover .

The whole thing (and the backstory as to how I cocked up catching the Timbers game) kicked off with the U.S. Men’s 6-0 win over Honduras in a World Cup qualifier that brought the U.S. soccer community ten fistfuls of Rolaids worth of relief. I tweeted a couple thoughts that aren’t novel enough to repeat here, but my personal bottom line is that, if Arena…wait, hold on. Shit. OK, I have another embarrassing announcement to make: my head is so far up the ass of someone who is very, very far away from the CONCACAF qualifying schedule that I didn’t really fully realize how loosely people were apply “must-win” to the Honduras match.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United FC: I Can't Scout Under These Conditions

Minnesota is ruining science.
Until further notice, it makes sense to set results against Minnesota United FC outside the normal run of results. Their defense is that bad, worse even than the (holy shit!) 18 goals they’ve allowed this season. That’s over four games, or a faint-inducing 4.5 goals conceded per game.

I just, oh, 2/3 watched the New England Revolution beat Minnesota 5-2 (you can get most the information noted herein by bouncing around in there), and that 1/3-level distraction owes pretty much everything to the point made above. This thing ended as a contest at the half, so, when given the chance to read about the shit-show that is Southern manufacturing (Note: depressing), I didn’t mind the distraction so much. It only occurred to me around the 70th minute that I was watching the Portland Timbers’ next opponent after Columbus Crew SC today, but I don’t think a game this screwy gives much in the way of insight…

…but, I’m here, and now you’re here, so I may as well say something. Here goes.

Scouting New England
- With allowances for what I’m now calling the Vadim Demidov rule, Juan Agudelo had a great game. He scored two goals and drew a penalty (against Demidov), but his first was a headed tap-in, and his second owes at least a little to bad goalkeeping by Bobby Shuttleworth.
- Diego Fagundez impressed me today as much as anyone, and mostly with the range and quality of his passing. While not even sort of perfect, his feed to Lee Nguyen (of whom, meh) for New England’s 2nd broke a bad spell for the Revs that saw them playing too wide. Minnesota also struggled to contain his runs, letting him break the midfield line again and again and again (and again).
- I like where I’m seeing Kelyn Rowe for New England. He’s a pugnacious little shit, so I think playing him more centrally, and a little deeper suits him.
- Given how freakishly lopsided this game was, the breakdowns in New England’s defense should have them worried/Timbers fans salivating. I’m talking less about that first goal – which required a deflection from the gods – than the second set-piece goal, or the couple times ‘keeper Cody Cropper bobbled crosses. Cropper did come up with a big save, but the way that ball bobbled around didn't look so good. With Portland’s attack putting defenses in a blender, that doesn’t augur well for New England’s upcoming visit to the Rose City.

Pitying Minnesota
So far, this team has set out to answer the question, is there an MLS level? And they are answering in a strong positive. I could note that Bashkim Kadrii managed a couple decent crosses in the first half (but not enough of them, clearly, seeing as he got subbed at the half), but nothing really matters for Minnesota till they get their defense in order. And I mean all of their defense, because the problems run far, far, deeper than Demidov, or even just the back four. The midfield separated from the defense repeatedly in the first half, which left Revolution attackers running free in the space in between…and Minnesota just can’t do that, not with defenders that are that bad/slow/shitty.

Because Minnesota can’t just bring in defenders willy-nilly, this team needs to change how they defend. And urgently. Even if it’s just stacking the two banks of four inside the 18, they simply have to stop bleeding goals or they are going to have a shitty, shitty, shitty – and, one more – SHITTY season. Unless I miss my count, they’re sitting on a -12 goal differential. Four games in. That is disastrous.

Monday, March 20, 2017

MLS Week 3 Review: I Don't Know, Man...It's Just a Buncha Shit!

Moments do matter...

Because life got the better of me over the course of Major League Soccer’s Week 3, I only managed to catch the Portland Timbers inspiring 4-2 win over the Houston Dynamo…and because I ate yummy (expensive) food, and was given the chance to watch the Timbers win in loud, live sound, I regret nothing.

I blabbed about both teams plenty here (though mostly about the Timbers), but all the other games will get all the treatment I can give them – e.g. whatever I can make out from my notes of watching them play for 20 minutes, plus whatever other stuff I can find before posting this thing (which, when you read it, will all have happened…in the past! (We play with time here, at Conifers & Citrus; it’s like Looper, but we’re all much, much uglier)).

Also, in keeping with another tradition, every week means a tweak to the format. I’m going to give a couple thoughts on each of the games (I can do this…short synopses, Bull, SHORT!), and then close out again with five topics that slip in and out of some grand theme.

OK, looking at my notes….WHAT?! Jesus, who wrote these things?! (I know not the hand, for it is not my own.)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Portland Timbers 4-2 Houston Dynamo: Referees and Comeback's a Bitch

Referees pictured at right, toward the top...

I can’t speak for the rest of Providence Park, but, the second the halftime whistle blew, my little corner of it positively raged at the referee (Alex Chapman, right?). So many middle fingers; didn’t think there were enough hands to hold all of ‘em. And  yet, a couple notes on this.

First, referees are as the gods; we are but their playthings. To put that another way, try to think of them the same way the ancient Greek thought of their gods – i.e., as capricious beings meddling in the affairs of mortals – and you’ll keep your blood pressure in check, your face won’t develop lines later in life because you’ll twist it into contortions less often, etc. I guess this makes the crowd a Greek chorus of the crowd, and the players the armies at the foot of Troy’s walls…c’mon, we’ve all read The Iliad, yes?

As for the job of refereeing itself, I view keeping a lid on potential violence during a game as their primary mission. After that, I assume they all try get things right, but I also understand that they’ll bone a few calls most games, and it is what it is. All in all, it’s a shitty, thankless job that both fans and players make worse. A world without referees is a world without soccer, so can we all move on from this particular whining point?

OK, next point…hold on…gotta climb down from my high horse…

Second, in most cases a referee can only hurt a team when they’ve left themselves in a position to be hurt. And that’s at least a bit of what happened last night in the Portland Timbers' (eventual) 4-2 win over the Houston Dynamo: the Timbers coughed up free kicks all around their 18, and most of the fouls were legit – including the one that lead to Houston’s penalty kick. Roy Miller got his leg around Erick “Cubo” Torres, a call was reasonably made, etc.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MLS Week 2 Review: Of Rebuilds and Blowouts

Step 1. Have the baby...or you can't ruin her 14th.
As anyone who hit my Major League Soccer Week 1 Review, I went global on that thing. That was a big part of why that post went up Wednesday. Not the only part, but a big one.

The impulse to cover it all, while understandable, doesn’t really make sense. Sure, half of this comes from a place of tearful exhaustion (I…tried. Don’t you EVER tell me that I didn’t TRY, damn you!), but, on a practical level, how many interesting things can you really say about, oh, the New York Red Bulls’ 1-0 home win over the Colorado Rapids? I mean, I struggled to squeeze 10 lines total out of that turd (don’t worry; won’t pin the image to that line) between both teams, because, based on the condensed game, New York smothered Colorado’s broadly mediocre attack, Rapids’ ‘keeper Tim Howard made 3-4 good saves (and one great one against New York’s Bradley Wright-Phillips), and New York attained “glory” on an own-goal by Eric Miller. Rah-rah.

As such, I’m cutting that shit out and going with a Top 5 this year, a hard Top 5…wait…shit. I was going to stick all the results somewhere in here, but now I realize that it’s late (midnight is 4 a.m. to the over 40 set), and I don’t wanna do it. Next week, people, next week (Make a note, Judy; we need to tighten our deadlines...). There’s a couple steps to that, however, and frequent visitors surely know my love for long preambles, so here’s that. I’ll run each of the five topics I choose against some form of local media – maybe the official site, maybe just the relevant SB Nation blog, maybe something I find on my own, or that someone suggests on her own – to confirm that I’m not missing something, or that I’m not reading too much signal from a noise I picked up in a condensed replay.

And that’s part two: I’ll write a reviews/analysis/bad-joke collection for any game the Portland Timbers play (See: this week’s 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy), plus two other games that I choose – and probably because, sure, it’s a game that interests no one but the local fans, and only half of them, but I take fewer risks with spoilers if I watch that one, so…that’s how you wind up writing up the Chicago Fire’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake (not even MLS can spoil the weekend's first game) and Sporting Kansas City’s intrigue-laden goal-less home draw versus FC Dallas (watch the babies, people; the babies).

And, finally, that takes us to Part 2 1/2: because those three games (or two games, on a slow week) get that much attention, I figure I should pull the Top 5 from the games I don’t watch all the way through. Sure, I risk passing on more lightly observed thoughts, but that’s where the local confirmation thing (e.g. running each point past local media) comes in...

…what? Why are you looking at my like the biological father who just brought a Barbie doll to his daughter’s 14th birthday? Christ, man, I’m doing the best I can out here…look, it’s my new girlfriend. She’s just really demanding…

We’ll talk about that later. Here’s this week’s Top 5.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Portland Timbers 1-0 Los Angeles Galaxy: A Parade of False Flags

Early season stupor. Also, unfamiliar.
Tonight, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by people of good, clear insight. The Portland Timbers picked up their first road win since 2015 when they beat the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0, and that’s a big deal. Something else slipped past me, given my anxious state, but the Timbers also kept a clean sheet today. So, thanks to @cobolsky and @brioe162, for being wiser men than me.

Still, that “anxious state” followed me home, and it revealed itself in the way some sort of invisible safety net left the game when David Guzman walked off, holding his left arm all funny. Guzman jacked his shoulder, as we all know now, even as we don’t know how badly, on what wound up being a second-yellow challenge from the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Jelle Van Damme. I watched that specific replay often as they showed it, and I’m still not 100%-clear as to whether Van Damme hit Guzman at knee level, or whether Guzman hurt himself on a leap/dive to get around Van Damme’s lunge. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, I mean, Guzman will take the same amount of time to heal, whether fair or foul, and that’s my biggest take-away from this game.

Things went some form of haywire after Guzman stepped off. Portland’s central defensive arrangement has functioned like a triangle through preseason and Game 1 2017 – e.g. Liam Ridgewell and Lawrence Olum, and with Guzman running in front of them in defense, and dropping between them when Portland had possession. Basically, Guzman really has (near as I can tell, and I can’t promise proximity) played as pure a No. 6 role as Portland will allow, and, once he went off, Portland reverted to Olum and Roy Miller (Ridgewell’s sufficiently creditable replacement) behind Ben Zemanski and Diego Chara, who receded to the back line in order to protect the lead, and the win. The sweet, sweet road win. Smells like honeysuckle on a June night, I tell you…

That was nice, right, sweet reverlry? Now, back to the panic…

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sporting Kansas City 0-0 FC Dallas, aka a Tense Inter-Generational Indie Comedy

I shit you not, Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming is EXCELLENT.
What Sporting Kansas City v. FC Dallas lacked in heightened moments - ended knotted in zeroes again; like SKC wanna be this year's Colorado - it more than made up for in framing. Call it the bone-dry coming of age comedy to the action movie experience we all expect from spectator sports, but that we get less often than we’d like to admit.

All in all, Dallas had the better game – and not in the way that Sporting’s color commentary kept bitching that they did. Yeah, Dallas played conservative, maybe even safe, but they played the better game: they consistently had defenders where they needed them and they created the best, cleanest chances.

The other subplot in here is the one alluded to in the first paragraph. Dallas…hold on, but, true story, I’m looking at the graphic line-up for the first time (sorry, people on twitter; I just checked the names, not where they lined up), and now where I saw specific players totally makes sense, for all that, continuing, Dallas didn’t just play back-ups; they played first-year players and a freakin’ 17-year-old kid, Paxton Pomykal. And that’s the thing: KC played veterans, plus a couple guys who, by broad consensus, rate in MLS – e.g. Benny Feilhaber, Dom Dwyer, Roger Espinoza, Matt Besler, etc. Now re-read paragraph 2. And Pomykal? He looked just fine. Even cleaned Benny's clock around the 43rd. So, yeah. Fuck off, old people. Look, even if you think I’m crediting Dallas too much, it’s remarkable that the equivalent of a Dallas B-side played KC to a draw at home.

OK, moving on to talking points now…

Chicago Fire 2-0 Real Salt Lake: It's Just the Mistakes Sometimes

Smooth 'n' creamy.
Well, that was pretty straightforward: Real Salt Lake gifted the Chicago Fire a couple cock-ups, and did a more or less creditable job of keeping out RSL, if abetted by at least one shocking miss by Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan, who looks more like an MLS 2.0 guy with each outing. I’d call RSL’s attack more coherent – especially over about 30 minutes in the second half (and is that “tale of two halves thing just something observers don’t even have to note anymore? Doesn’t that seem closer to the norm than wire-to-wire dominance?) – but superior approach play doesn’t win a team games, no matter how superior.

So, that’s that: Chicago scored one weird goal (Nemanja Nikolic’s; Sunday “Sunny” Stephen ruined a pretty damn clear offside call by poking into his path) and a great, if preventable second on an Arturo Alvarez solo mission, and they walked off 2-0 winners. I tell you, man, Alvarez has been Chicago’s most consistent attacker since the middle of 2016. That said, big credit to Dax McCarty for the ball that forced Sunny’s error; cut through two lines like room temperature butter…

Some notes on both teams…like I said, I want to keed these things simple.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MLS Week 1: A Global Tour (Into Madness)

Like this, only more blood...
I really wanted to post this on Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. I won’t bore with my, uh, let’s go with domestic situation, but the Congress of Vienna has nothing on my household negotiations. Anyway, that’s what happened to Tuesday. It’s the particular methodology of these posts that knocks Monday out of the frame. So, here’s what’s going on.

As in the past, I try to watch three games every week, or at least two; and this year, as with previous years, I’ll watch the condensed games on MLS Live to get to the rest. What’s new and/or the hold-up grows from my decision to keep current on the league by reading content from one blog in each MLS market. Moreover, I want/hope to rely on a certain kind of post – e.g. analysis posts that talk about “lessons learned” or the “[X] Things We Learned about [Local Team] versus [Non-Local Team].” The trouble is, some of those don’t go up until Monday, at least on several of the SB Nation blogs (which are the ones I’m relying on for now; though, again, if you know a better local-market blog, or one that posts analysis same day, please pass it on).

Match reports go up way earlier, but those are a different animal. When all you’ve got is a frame of “this happened, then this happened, then this, and the fans went home happy/sad/confused,” you wind up spending too much time trying to cobble together a full-90 assessment of any given player. You’re also bored, more often than not.  And, finally, when I go the full 90 on any game, I’ll post a short something, about what I did for DC United v. Sporting Kansas City. (And, for the record, as I should have done for Atlanta United FC v. New York Red Bulls, but, won’t lie, got like a lot too relaxed for that one, so next week on that stuff.)

So, yeah, that’s the plan. This being Major League Soccer Week 1, the only thing we know is that every game won or lost this past weekend won’t mean shit in 10 weeks’ time. Not unless it means something, that is. Stay flexible, keep your own counsel…these are good words in these times….

Team-by-team summary below, organized alphabetically. I might switch up the order when someone tickles the other side of my fancy, but…I’m good for now.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

DC United 0-0 Sporting Kansas City: Professionals, Grimly at Work

5 o'clock, 5 o'clock, 5 o'clock, 5 o'clock, 5 o'clock, 5 o'clock...
[This ties in with something I plan to post either tomorrow or Wednesday, depending on how god’s willing, and in which way. He’s cagey…]

DC United versus Sporting Kansas City, a game that knotted in fairly dreary zeroes, was on the TV the entire time I was in the same room, or a room adjacent thereto. I’m solid from about the 30th minute on, but I was preparing what turned out to be a pretty disappointing pot roast up to that point. So, that’s the disclosure portion out of the way…

Both DC and KC field solid professionals – aka, players who don’t fuck up a lot – so disciplined performances all ‘round, both Saturday and generally. Not a lot of daylight to be had between them, then, and this game felt pretty goddamn technical as a result, but for all the wrong reasons.

The name didn’t so much lack for highlights – KC’s ‘keeper, Tim Melia, saved both the shot and a rebound on a penalty kick, fer crissakes – as the ones it provided delivered on the defensive side. To hit this game solely from DC’s perspective, they handled just about everything KC could throw at them, up to and including an imbalance in possession, but a larger distinction showed up on the attacking side, where DC looked just…slower than Kansas City. I mean this last point in a “running in mud” kind of way: every KC player appeared able to run down any DC attacker in three or five strides.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Portland 5-1 Minnesota: Guts, Glory, and Blown Timelines Edition

Two men enter, one man leaves. And keeps the bird.
Had you asked me when I went to bed last night about the side of the field Diego Valeri was on when he scored his penalty kick, I would have said the far side. Had someone disagreed with that, I would have said, “Well, guess there’s only one way to settle this,” and rolled up my sleeves for some deadly-serious arm wrestling.

And yet, I would have been completely wrong. Valeri scored his penalty kick right in front of me. Portland would score four more running toward my seats – Fanendo Adi surged straight toward my seats (if a little under them) when he made his second-half stoppage-time solo raid – but, overall, I lost the hell out of the sense of when just about everything happened in last night's 5-1 win for Portland (just linking to full highlights for now; I'll get links to individual goals up later/probably). In case it’s not clear in the above, my sense of timing would have meant that Valeri scored his penalty kick in the first half.

But Portland scored just one goal in the first half, that ugly, blessed thing by Lawrence Olum poked over Minnesota’s ‘keeper John Alvbage. It might not have been the prettiest goal (OK, no, it was ugly), but it came as a hell of a relief, right? What’s better than an early goal to soothe doubts and calm the jitters?

The way the time-line slipped up has the subtle, secondary meaning: that Portland always looked more or less in control of the game. Between the way my memory works and all the dumb ways I handicap it, most games live in my head as a series of events; sometimes they’re linear, but most often they’re not. For instance, for last night’s game, I never lost track of the fact that Portland scored five goals and that, at some point, Minnesota United FC (wow, that’s the first time I mentioned them?) pulled back a goal. That’s the salient detail – that Portland always had the lead – so the sequence doesn’t matter…or at least that’s what I tell myself so I don’t start asking too many questions about how things are working upstairs. (Where did you put my memory pills, Judy? Randall can’t find them.)

The other thing that didn’t work last night – and this was a bit of a surprise – was Minnesota’s defense. There will always be the question of what leads to any given goal, whether it’s attacking brilliance of defensive idiocy, and I think Portland’s second goal (and the winner) offers up a good case for dissection. While it’s true on the one hand that Portland maneuvered the ball smartly into Minnesota’s final third – the way Alvas Powell played the ball into Adi with his back to goal, and Sebastian Blanco shifted into acres of space outside, where Adi found him for the (inch-perfect) cross to Valeri (who really seems to like scoring with his head this year) – it’s no less true that, on the other hand, Minnesota’s defense didn’t rotate anyone out to Blanco until it was far, far too late.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

MLS Barometer 2017: Western Conference (Yes, Even Portland Timbers)

Checking on reloads. Important ones, too.
Welcome to the Tour de Blogues Locale (or, in American, Tour of Local Blogs): Western Conference Edition, in which I duck into the SB Nation blogs for each of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference teams to report on what one iteration of the locals are saying about their MLS team and their prospects for the 2017 season. Sure, I’ll probably clutter up those observations with my own commentary, even as I specifically set aside a space for me to blab…what can I say? We’re all fallible, we’re all mortal and, sometimes, we don’t smell our best. Moving on…

This is a Western Conference season preview, but it also prefigures the same frame for how I plan on managing Total League Coverage this season. Barring a (likely) change of heart, those local sites, plus Matt “The Armchair Analyst/Fellow Bald Warrior” Doyle’s weekly round-ups, will be my only reading sources this season (for the league-wide stuff, at least; all bets are off on Portland Timbers content, because, hometown!). I’ll continue to stress-test my marriage (love you, honey! Kisses!) by watching a few (or a couple) games every week, plus all the condensed games, when and as MLS Live trickles out the content.

We’ll see how long this format holds up. I’m betting it’ll be dead and replaced by Week 5, but let’s try optimism this year, right? I welcome the posting of over/under bets on this, either on my twitter feed or in the comments (seriously, go with the twitter feed; you shouldn’t have to create a google account just to tell me you think I’m neurotic, stupid, or both).

With that out of the way, let’s lather up and check in all those SB Nation blogs. (NOTE: If you can pass on a better local source – even if it’s your own site – I’m willing to replace the SB Nation blogs as sources…so long as whatever it is you pass on is better.)