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.

Atlanta United FC
Dirty South Soccer: First and foremost, they harped on the idea that preseason ain’t the season. For all that, they saw what most people saw: Atlanta has some real weapons (while I’m on this, Matt Doyle had some interesting thoughts on Atlanta, and Miguel Almiron in particular), but the team as a whole needs to get up to speed in terms of fitness and speed of play. I have a quibble, though, and that’s the framing of “Yes, [New York] was playing on short rest,” but that’s only because I believe that should read, “holy shit, New York was playing on short rest and they outlasted us?” To end on a high note, though, I really like that last paragraph – long may it apply.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: It really was damned impressive, those 55,000 people, and how the same number lost control of most bodily functions when they scored Atlanta UFC’s first-ever goal. I still think that the most interesting thing I’ve read or heard about Atlanta came with the comments on Tata Martino, their coach. His resistance to tactical switches could be…interesting (hat-tip: ExtraTime Radio).

Chicago Fire
Hot Time in Old Town: Fire fans respect the blessings of mediocrity, and god bless ‘em for it. Hot Time in Old Town doesn’t do Holy Grail Posts, at least not so far (though they are soliciting), so I’m stuck with a match report. They did OK here, actually, added some character (mostly with the stuff about the team being “morose” about missing Juninho), but – and I think this is worth flagging – the author specifically credited an “incensed” McCarty for urging the rebound, and “King” David Accam for making it happen.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Chicago, who looked painfully slow/reactive on both sides of the ball, hardly looked like a team that “won the off-season.” They’ll take the road point, without question, and there’s always next weekend; the late rally probably felt encouraging, too…but not even David Accam scores that goal most games. You never want to count on a turf-hop.

Colorado Rapids
Burgundy Wave: Burgundy Wave is very tuned into the idea that defense carries this team; as such, any sign of defensive weakness – or as the specific author puts it, “I noticed that the aggressive offense seemed to be at the expense of the defense” properly raises screeching alarms. By the post’s end “abbiemood” was fine with the defensive effort, and Michael Azira in particular. I think the telling comment came with the Mastroeni quote all the way near the end of the post, the one that starts “we’re grinders.” Uh, yep.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Dillon Powers overcooked the hell out of all the set-pieces I saw him take and, with Shkelzen Gashi out, and a broad lack of finesse all over, that goes a long way to explaining why the Rapids look to remain Kings of the 1-0 Win.

Columbus Crew SC
Massive Report: Their “six thoughts” write-up gets to a couple reasons why I want to keep in touch with the locals. For instance, I would have praised Federico Higuain, while they called him uncharacteristically sloppy. I think the best stuff in here talks about the two central pairings – Nicola Naess/Jonathan Mensah, and Wil Trapp/Muhammad Abu – with the specific emphasis on the latter, because (to get back to me) I’ve always wondered if Trapp doesn’t need a partner different from Tony Tchani (i.e., sorta keen to attack), one more apt to do dirty work while Trapp sits deep and pings those long beauties. The other big piece: they’re sniffing after Gregg Berthalter in Central Ohio; they’re concerned about his commitment to system, too.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: OK, yes, I slipped in comments all over in there – sorry, that’s their time – but my point of particular fascination came early, when Crew SC ran Chicago ragged. They did this by first flattening, then stretching the Fire defense, a tactic that opened highways, rather than just gaps.

DC United
Black and Red United: OK, real talk, I hate match reports. If you watch even a 20-minute highlight reel, they’re useless: this guy did this, then this guy did that. Still, here’s that for interested parties (god knows I wasn’t; again, please recommend other DC United sites…I mean, they’re FUCKING DC, one the oldest, best teams in the league), but I digress. Black and Red United put up something far better earlier, a piece that lead, and stuck with, Luciano Acosta’s game-day decision absence. I think that most compelling stuff came at the end, actually, when the author (may as well name him, Steven Streff), raised the point of how DC’s only got the attack rolling late last year at the expense of the defense. All in all, Shreff does appreciate that, without their attacking spark (and Ben Olsen has wise words there), keeping out an organized and slightly more aggressive KC team might have been the best DC could hope for.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Feel like I covered most of it in my write-up on DC v. SKC, but the biggest thought I had was that DC might have an age/speed problem. I mean in general.

FC Dallas
Big D Soccer: For what it’s worth, Big D Soccer is pretty goddamn thorough, great for keeping up with FC Dallas, etc. Moving on, one write-up was almost cocky, but in a good way – i.e., confidence ain’t so bad, when it’s not misplaced. The section on the 4-4-2, and the Javi Morales substitution pattern (should it prove true), feels like the best frame for Dallas’ level of talent/method. I’d also flag the bit about Cristian Colman and Maxi Urruti’s partnership (and it’s potential to wreck (wreak?) havoc); a good enough spine (e.g., Kellyn Acosta/Carlos Gruezo) can make sense of playing a two-forward set – especially when you’ve got Roland Lamah (who Big D thinks will improve) and Michael Barrios helping with creativity – or, per the second piece, giving impetus to the attack until further notice - and Acosta scoring…that little waltz across the inner-upper part of Dallas’ 18? Very nice…
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Chris Seitz didn’t get nearly enough praise in there for coming up big when he had to, and I (almost) always like seeing Maxi Urruti score, but that Cristian Colman kid (their new forward) has some wheels. He put in a short shift (just over 60, I think), but it’ll be fun to see how/if he develops.

Houston Dynamo
Orange Theory: This is a pretty happy writer, one who’s keyed up on (probably) his team’s new additions (mostly Alberth Elis (workhorse/fanatic) and Romell Quioto (teleporter)), but also by things (“Cubo” Torres scoring (even if Stefan Frei slept-walked on the shot)) and trends (beating the defending champs beats the crap out of losing to them). He wasn’t happy Seattle came back into it, but, 1) that happens, right? and 2) defending champs, and talent, yeah?
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Houston looked the better team for most of this one, without question, and their new Hondurans, Quioto and Elis, did show all the way up – and that’s even with (per Houston’s broadcast team) Elis leaving an opening for the cross on Seattle’s goal. #WorthIt. Elis, in particular, gave Seattle enough fits going the other way.

Los Angeles Galaxy
LAG Confidential: First, this guy is a hardass, and I don’t mind that. He saw all the same things I saw, actually, but through a darker lens – e.g., where I would have credited Romain Alessandrini for “trying shit,” LAG Conf’s guy nails him for “trying bullshit.” Fair charge: he watched 70 minutes more of the game than me. That sets the tone, though, and I think the author does nail the right stand-outs (except Alessandrini, who I thought mattered more), and called mediocrity by its proper name.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: The Galaxy looked better than I expected at least (bar might be a little too low), but, after reading about a potential Year of Jack McBean on LAG Confidential, it was good to meet a little of the hype. He makes surprising astute and well-weighted layoffs – I mean consistently impressed – but, as the ExtraTime Radio guys noted, he doesn’t move after. He’s got time…sorta.

Minnesota United FC
E Pluribus Loonum: This post is great in the driest way that’s humanly possible; also, the stuff about the offense at the end – particularly, the finality of it (the thing about “ditching all four defenders”; goddamn site blocks copy/paste). Overall, though, they saw the same game I did – e.g., Portland was visibly the better team. Elsewhere, they backed up Calvo vigorously – which, glad to hear, because that was one of my questions! – while admitting that, yeah, not a great night for, like, a couple defenders. Once you take away the defense, E Pluribus seems broadly/loosely OK with the state of the attack – by which I mean they had something nice to say about everyone who wasn’t a defender.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: It felt good that ExtraTime Radio saw the same mess in the Loons defense, and their quibble between who had the worst outing between Justin Davis (who I feel like Portland’s Sebastian Blanco abused a little) and Vadim Demidov was instructive, but I feel like the bigger issue was a final, fatal lack of concentration. You never wanna see your team check out early, and I think Minnesota did.

Montreal Impact
Mount Royal Soccer: They were very much underwhelmed in their match report. Their actual analysis piece (and, holy shit, could I learn from this guy’s brevity) made some great points about the contrast between system (talking about playing a high press) and personnel (as in having the people to do it). They provide good numbers to back this up (the passing accuracy stat, in particular), and they make the correct point about age (see below), but the particular point of fascination came later, with the faith in Mauro Biello. As someone who shit all over Montreal’s chances heading into the post-season, this is a place where I need to sit back and shut up, at least until further notice.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: To pick up on one point above – the thing about personnel – it felt…just right to pin all of that on Marco Donadel (who, in fairness, is one of my favorite punching bags). He needs a far better attacking upside (to his credit, Donadel hits a wicked long pass, but…) to make good on his defensive liability. That central defense needs more cover than Donadel can give it.

New England Revolution
The Bent Musket: And, again, this was one hell of a tidy piece, full of stuff and insider insights that are hard to pick up in even a 20-minute recap. And that holds till the “insider insights” don’t. Of the five takeaways on offer, I’d focus on four (and in the wrong order): they liked the new defensive partnership (which can only improve, right?), they want better wide service for Kamara, they’re OK with the Juan Agudelo as playmaker call, and they like Daigo Kobayashi more than I thought would have thought possible.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: The defense held up OK given that it started two brand-spankin’ new central defenders, in Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Delamea (right?), but my lack of notes on New England, specifically, tells a story: they didn’t do a lot out there.

New York City FC
Hudson Blue: The author (sorry, Sam Dunn) reads as pretty crestfallen when he talks about NYCFC’s sorry short history in Orlando, but his content speaks otherwise: New York had the better chances, it’s defense held up pretty well, etc. He flagged a couple concerns about ‘keeper Sean Johnson building out of the back, but with the way people bitched and bitched about Josh Saunders, you’d think they could look around a wart or two. Maybe that’s just me…
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: I really enjoyed watching R. J. Allen getting kicked a lot, but my larger point is about recently-arrived DPs (used that phrase only because I don’t think MLS ever will): Maxi Moralez looked fine; if he truly is a good player, he’ll fine-tune that shit; if he’s not, he’ll be Lucas Melano. Honestly, don’t judge on one game. These things take care of themselves.

New York Red Bulls
Once a Metro: “Without showing any great sign of being able to turn the tide,” I mean, what is that, if not the money quote? Bigger picture, Austin Fido (the author), walks through the starting formation and changes thereto, and that’s for the specifically interested: the clearest note comes when he talks about Sacha Kljestan “dropping into the engine room” and what that did – e.g., it made Garrin Royer the aggressor (and aggress he did). (And, bears noting, Matt Doyle flagged/credited the same tactical switches). The coolest local knowledge thing they focus on was the stuff about Aaron Long, but the thing I appreciated most is the sub-text on pulling Sean Davis. Unless Davis steps into the role comfortably enough, that’s going to rattle around all year.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: As much as you have to credit New York for rallying to steal all three points, my strongest memory of this game was persistent incredulity: the Red Bulls kept trying to feed the ball up the gut, and Atlanta kept picking off the passes by running ahead of New York’s attack, or cutting off the passes. It made a lot of sense of their CCL flame-out…

Orlando City SC
The Mane Land: Well, first of all, Kaka’s injured, but I feel like that’s just adjusting for the near future. Oh, and that happened 10 minutes in….damn, the future arrives fast (trust me on that). As for the substantive stuff, first, Orlando likes its new digs. On a more substantive level, though, their analysis post serves as a rebuttal to Hudson Blue’s wrap-up. Joe Bendik was the bugbear of Hudson Blue’s post, while Bendik only had to “make a number of big saves” (I mean, were these Robles “Save the Entire Fucking Day” saves, or?) in The Mane Land’s piece. I like how they talked about Jonathan Spector, and defense as a whole (wait…Will Johnson at right back??), but I think the happy place for Orlando fans should come with talk of Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco having good games, and without Cristian Higuita.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: First of all, like the stadium guys…after that, 1) I really need to work on making these addenda a single point. Anyway, Kaka limped off (get used to it), but that only feels like the start of Orlando’s attacking woes. It’ll be interesting to watch to see becomes of Giles Barnes and Carlos Rivas (holy shit, fast and big; I think coaches test him on theoretical grounds first and foremost), and not just because Kaka.

Philadelphia Union
The Brotherly Game: I’m gonna start by stating that I hate these “Player Ratings” posts that SB Nation seems to be pushing. It’s not quite that it’s wrong to push the “fan element” (e.g., having them vote), as, I thought this post was about what you think? At any rate, the first post I read mostly talked up the new corps of players and how they basically worked out; after that, it’s more Andre Blake being the best damn ‘keeper in the league, etc. The second post is mostly preamble, but there’s enthusiasm lurking for Derrick Jones (one to watch for) and Alejandro Bedoya…who, I confess, I’ve never got entirely, even as I understand he has a good place on most fields…just not clear that Philly has found any relevant one.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: To go against the locals, Bedoya feels like a stop-gap in the definitive creative role (e.g., the middle of the 3 in a 4-2-3-1) at best. He just doesn’t feel like a master of the short pass, so…they’re looking at solutions, right? Another Tranquillo Barnetta? Also, I think Chris Pontius is gonna get better…

Portland Timbers
Stumptown Footy: I love his focus on Alvas Powell – and Chris Rifer (the author…duh), hits the same beats I’ve tip-toed toward: Powell needs to have a career year, and it’s damned pleasant to have Caleb Porter second/support the same. I’ll leave it to all of y’all to read Rifer’s “Plan A” and “Plan B” in the attack stuff, because that’s both a good frame and…reification of how Portland attacks (yes, that’s the verb, and I’m sticking to it). The stuff about possession, and how much Portland will have of it, stands as a point of interest and nothing more. I mean, so long as they win, why’s it matter? And, yes, Guzman…why does he feel like the key to…everything?
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Went on at length about this game on Saturday, so I’ll only add one point here. I went with Blanco for my man of the match, and here’s why: he caused the free kick that led to Portland’s first by chasing down a lost cause; that was the norm. I’m not saying Lucas Melano didn’t try hard; I’m suggesting that maybe he didn’t try right. This was the response I needed.

Real Salt Lake
RSL Soapbox: On my way to the other stuff, I found a post about Justen Glad and why he didn’t start. Bottom line, they’re OK with David Horst over there at RSL Soapbox, and OK. After that, I just want to recognize this “calm the fuck down” post as being entirely glorious – and also mostly justified. As to the game itself, they put the emphasis where it ought to be: why the hell, so toothless, amirite? Moreover, Andy Graff (again, the author) slipped a really nice, and key, line into his analysis post: “How is our midfield going to transition the ball to our forwards?” What I like most about that line is the spirit in which it’s offered: Graff’s not telling you the answer, he’s asking for an answer. RSL has pieces, but they haven’t figured out how to fit them together yet.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Tony Beltran and David Fucking Horst probably had the best game for the Utahans, and that directs attention where it belongs. When Chad Barrett came on for Yura Movsisyan, RSL improved. Had a lot to do with Yura. Put it this way: Barrett and Yura don’t have dissimilar approaches to the forward position. And, so, as follows therefrom…

San Jose Earthquakes
Centerline Soccer: Apparently, the San Jose soccer community cares more about slights from the soccer world at large than they care about their particular result from the weekend – hence this post. For their real analysis post, Centerline Soccer’s Robert Jonas (the author) talks up the collective effort and, personally, I like that he flagged Maroc Urena, because that guy busted ass out there. Centerline does one better by flagging Florian Jungwirth, (whose name was all over the goddamn broadcast).
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Urena looked better than good; he looked fucking driven out there. The only word for Anibal Godoy’s day was dominant – and helluva a goal, kid – but the story for me (and others) was Tommy Thompson. I have shit on that kid for years, and reluctantly as hell, but he looked every inch like a player who wants to turn a corner.

Seattle Sounders FC
Sounder at Heart: This guy (Jeremiah Oshan), was hugely disappointed with what happened in Seattle’s opener, so much, in fact, that he pegged it worse than Portland beating them 4-0 (SHIT!). He found some happiness, though, by way of Joevin Jones being fucking huge (called him man of the match, too) and I…appreciated the contrast between his right side and Gustav Svensson’s left He also talked about Clint Dempsey being back (and, no, you didn’t bury the lead), and they’re high on the “second half mojo.”
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: The weirdest thing about Seattle was how disjointed their defense looked; it was a bad look, really, as if the team hadn’t spoken for a week, but still showed up expecting to win because they’re the champs and all. They pulled it together by the end (dammit!), so I think it’s a hiccup. They didn’t look great overall, really, Jordan Morris missed, Nicolas Lodeiro missed…just a little sleepy out there.

Sporting Kansas City
A Blue Testament: Look, I’m gonna flag a post just because I find it a little fascinating. Their match analysis, though, talked about the new kids, and positively – e.g., “Gerso [Fernandes] started on the left wing and Ilie [Sanchez] at defensive mid and both showed why they were signed” – and the specific numbers on Ilie make for more interesting reading that what they give on Gerso. After that, Thad Bell’s (the author) comments on Jimmy Medranda are genuinely funny, but nothing’s quite so noteworthy as Peter Vermes’ comments as to why he didn’t make any substitions…more later…
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Again, see my prior longer post, but my favorite detail was how well (if only by comparison) the Jimmy Medranda / Graham Zusi combo worked than what DC sent the other way.

Toronto FC
Waking the Red: Well, there’s a lot of “defense blaming” on this one, the (reasonable) suggestion that, so long as the defense can buy Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco enough time, they’ll win games…but, is that permanent? Moving on to the deeper analysis (or not so deep), yes, Sebastian Giovinco could have won this game with that PK, but is that your formula going forward? And what the fuck is celebrating 50.5% of possession? That’s like…fuck it, not even worth the analogy. Toronto’s defense held – true story – but their attack sorta sucked. As Mitchell Tierney points out, Giovinco’s touch was large, hairy and therefore undesirable, and that negated much of what anyone else wanted to do.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: I didn’t take many notes on TFC, honestly – I’m not saying that’s good, I’m just saying that’s what happened – but, apart from noting that Jozy Altidore looks up for a strong start, and that they started the same eleven/formation they did in MLS…uh, that’s it.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Eighty Six Forever:  First, what was Christian Dean’s personal tragedy? (No, wait, I don’t wanna know.) As to the game, 86 Forever praised the defense (rightly; Sheanon Williams and Jordan Harvey aren’t flashy, but they’re damned solid; same with Dean and Tim Parker (last two, also younger), and had decent things to say about the rest. For the record, I think 86 Forever was too hard on Alphonso Davies for not shooting as well as doing all the work offensively (see below); I think they also undersold Kekuta Manneh’s two quality feeds, which only feels like more of a mystery because at least one of those was one of Christian Techera’s gilded misses.
Conifers & Citrus Addendum: Davies really did more things, and more things well, than any other Whitecaps player. Damn. But how much does that matter when the only players you have to finish off his work are Christian Techera and Erik Hurtado?

OK, that’s it. Thank fucking god I didn’t break the 10 pages barrier. Lord knows I can. If you’re still with me, just ask yourself, what did you ever do to you to make you sit through that painful pile of bullet points. Jesus Christ, I hate myself for writing this.

I’m kidding. Well, some small part of me isn’t. At any rate, I have a cunning plan to get these posted on Monday. It requires another trip back to Vienna, but I make those all the damn time. Martin Luther has nothing on me (I know, I know; different time, place and circumstances; still, both events involved people who speak German*, so, ballpark.)

(* Hold on, did Henry Kissinger just write about the Congress of Vienna, or did he participate in them? What? The fucker’s old, plus I wouldn’t put Satanic anti-aging rituals past the guy.)


  1. Bravo. Enjoy your full league write-ups. Thanks!

  2. Just posted a Week 2! Oh...never mind. You saw that one...

    1. You watching my computer screen through my microwave???

  3. No. But Obama told me what you were up to...