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.

The Incredible Importance of Staying Frosty in the Western Conference
I credited SKC for having one of the better, or at least better-targeted, off-seasons among MLS clubs. After spending 180, frankly, futile minutes with them, I’ll only say that they have some proving to do…and I say that thinking that, based on what I’ve seen so far, they’ll get something out of Gerso Fernandes and Latif Blessing, the question is how much. A couple other Western teams rebuilt this off-season, and one made some noise (the Houston Dynamo’s), while another didn’t (San Jose Earthquakes), but both look pretty good so far. With Houston, it’s their pair of Hondurans, Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, delivering the goods and over two games, though they’ve got strong support (and a damned pretty goal; up for GOTW, btw; more below) from Erik “Cubo” Torres. San Jose, meanwhile, added enough parts that they can throw an actual shit-ton of different looks at another team in any one game. Here, I’m talking about low-profile new additions like Marco Urena and Jahmir Hyka, both of whom have made early contributions, and also a new homegrown player (pretty sure) in Alex Lima (nice goal, kid!); they have other players besides (see Danny Hoesen and Tommy Thompson, who’s, like, new-old), but San Jose suddenly has an attack…ask the Vancouver Whitecaps, and before David Ousted’s sending off. Caveats apply for both teams – e.g., for Houston, how long before Ricardo Clark’s engine poops out (because, relevant), and, for San Jose, how long can Anibal Godoy be your leading scorer (answer: for as long as he hits goals like this). Like any MLS team at this point in the season, you can’t call either Houston or San Jose profoundly improved; nor can you call SKC doomed. What you can say is that slips could be fatal for other Western Conference teams in such a heightened climate, especially if they’re allowed to linger too long.
“As it turns out, the front three can do it on their own.”
That’s from Dynamo Theory’s enthusiastic embrace of Houston’s front three, but that one also gets into the upside of Houston’s press, so long as those guys are around – e.g., it works a little like the Red Bulls press, really – but they also had a nice sidebar on issues with the front three separating from the rest of the team. Moving on to another article, they put the spotlight on Torres, too, so yay!

And…based on what I see from Centerline Soccer (San Jose’s blog), they’re still looking forward to the game, so, yeah. Stuck with what I said above. Basically, San Jose improved their attack, and quite possibly off-paper too. Whatever you think of their back-line, that can have an effect too.

A Fatal Start, in that Context
And, yes, that really has to make one wonder about how long Minnesota United FC can survive, now with two straight (and only) losses, and a -9 goal differential just two games into the season. Sure, that’s a terrible goddamn start – maybe even worst-ever in MLS history (UPDATE: confirmed) – but there’s no actual reason to assume that’s go on forever…unless it does go on forever. There’s no question, at this point, that Vadim Demidov and Francisco Calvo don’t look great; professional athletes rarely read a game as reactively as those two - and it was appalling all game long against Atlanta United FC. It goes deeper than that, sadly (sorry, Minnesota fans; you guys? My faves), because, if you watch Atlanta’s second goal, you see them blow slow-motion reads that no defense can miss. Minnesota doesn’t have the attack to make up that -9 goal deficit. As such, it is vital, on the level of simple dignity, that they sort out that defense, like, right now. I’m talking fairly desperate shit, too, like trawling the USL for the best CB’s they’ve got.
“As poor as a 3-1 scoreline shows, I don’t think we played that poor of a brand of football.”
I like that halftime note from E Pluribus Loonum because, in the interest of brevity, I left out something they quite rightly points out: Minnesota was just a second goal away from making this a nervier game. And they didn’t look like an awful bet to do it until Atlanta scored its back-breaking fourth goal…and, here, I’ll only say, jesus Christ, kid (this is to E Pluribus' author), cut your ‘keeper some slack, because Miguel Almiron put one hell of a shot on goal (and it was a minor miracle that the ball found Almiron at all; it's not like that was a clean pass). All in all, though, the E Pluribus Loonum’s argument in favor of Minnesota’s attack stands up for the idea that they do something if they get their backline sorted…and, lord knows the MLS season gives ‘em time to do it.

Montreal’s Magnificent, Meaningless Transition Game
This one’s a little amorphous, but it grows from a simple truth about the Montreal Impact: for all that people talk up the Timbers front six, Montreal might boast the best front three in MLS. Ignacio Piatti does unstoppable in a way that most MLS players can only dream about and Matteo Mancosu makes for an excellent foil; and the Impact hits transition with a speed of play that few teams in MLS can touch – and I’m not sure any of them can. Add Dominic Oduro’s speed (shut up, haters!) and improved technique opposite Piatti, and Montreal can score on another team before they know the ball is going the other way. Shit’s unconscious. For all that, their cursed fragility again became the story in their 2-2 draw against the Seattle Sounders. The fatal mistakes happened on the backline (Laurent Ciman's late, weirdly soft foul caused one goal, and Will Bruin cleaning up some shit on  the other), but I’ll never stop wondering how much of that comes from their middle three in their 4-3-3 (Hernan Bernardello, Marco Donadel and Patrice Bernier) drifting too far past their use by date. All I know is that the fragility defines Montreal till further notice. It killed them in the 2016 playoffs, and it’s not like they’ve got solutions pushing through any pipeline that’s tested (e.g., no academy kids, etc.). And what the heck is Bernardello’s role, strictly speaking (and is it strict?).

From Mount Royal: I won’t lie; their match report…diverges from mine, if only on the key point. The author, Alexi Dubois, treated “timing” as an issue, even with a caveat that this mostly applied to newcomers like Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla and Adrian Arregui…he also dubbed New York City FC “red hot” after a one-game “winning streak” (though, in his defense, I feel like NYCFC’s speed is exactly the kind of thing that’s likely to trouble Montreal’s aged midfield). I think the better thing to flag centers around Montreal’s “defensive left”: Dubois liked what he saw from Laurent Ciman and Ambroise Oyongo, so that’s something to watch for.

Result of the Week
I won’t do a "result of the week" every week, but there was something about New York City FC’s 4-0 blowout against DC United that cried out for attention. First, the 4-0 looked like it grew more from NYC’s efficient opportunism that a clear state of control. To put that another way, DC broke down in some thorough, yet reparable way on every NYC goal – whether it’s DC’s Nick DeLeon ball-watching on New York’s first or DC’s, frankly weird midfield going essentially missing on New York’s third. Moreover, that score-line speaks to a DC team that never showed up, but both the box score and what I saw in the condensed game suggested that the magnitude of the result owed more to failures to “seize the day” than to structural issues. For all that, if you showed me each team’s line-up and asked me who would win on the day, I would have said DC, even at the third time of asking. I think that’s a statement on how we view reputations…at any rate, I wonder about what’s happened with DC this early season, and on two levels. First, how much time do they have, and how much quality? I mean this on the defensive side, especially: if they can’t get another, starter-level year out of Bobby Boswell, will Sean Franklin be enough? Also, after watching Nick DeLeon switch off, and seeing Taylor Kemp get, oh, let's go with punked by Jack Harrison, what is DC’s state at fullback – e.g., an area where they honestly looked OK to me till MLS Week 2, 2017?

From Black & Red United: There’s a paragraph in the middle of their match report (the one that starts with “Shortly after Wallace’s opener”) that touches on some of the positives I noted in my comments. Outside that, though, that report flags the same defensive issues, if not as specifically. If you’re looking for another chronology of the game, Black and Red United obliges. I guess the only thing I want to flag is that, DC started with a central midfield of Ian Harkes, Jared Jeffrey in front of Marcelo Sarvas. That seems…insufficient, maybe? On a creative level? Harkes had a lot two noteworthy moments of composure, though, and both of them lead to good shots.

The Relative Worth of Allocation Money
This is sort of a weird one, something I can’t quite run past any particular local blog. For all that, who cares? I think it’s a fascinating question. During the condensed game between Minnesota and Atlanta, one of the commentators brought up the buying price for Minnesota’s Kevin Molino. Specifically, they mentioned that he cost (something like) $650,000 in “targeted allocation money” or “TAM.” And, fuck me, I don’t care what “GAM” is at this point…isn’t it a general rule that, the more you have to explain something, the less it makes sense? At any rate…

That’s of interest and all, and I have some sense of what they’re talking about. But what I don’t really have is a functioning sense of the comparative value of TAM, GAM, or even real-world dollars within MLS, never mind on the international market. To put that another way, I understand basic concepts like television contracts, gate receipts, advertising deals, players salaries, etc. But I also accept that the transfer market follows something like a futures model – e.g., it trades on the potential for any given player to produce previously-than-larger streams of revenue. Still, I have no real sense of how to evaluate anything under MLS’s roster rules. When it comes to Molino, though, sure, he’s a useful piece, and for just about any teams. But, what’s $650,000 (or any specific dollar value) in TAM/GAM/actual, dismembered gams even within the context of MLS?

Molino did all right against Atlanta, certainly as well as any other Minnesota attacker, so he’s clearly worth something….but how much?

Right. I’m done. I didn’t get as much as I thought I would from the SB Nation blogs, but I also started this week’s post on the false premise of the old “total coverage” model. By that I mean, maybe next week, I’ll have some more time to poke around and look for articles and posts from local people that either support my theories, or tell them to fuck off.

At any rate, until the next three games, and the next weekly review!

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