Monday, April 3, 2017

MLS Week 4.5 (aka, 3/31 to 4/2) Review: Still Just a Big Pile of Crap

They'll build something out of it some day, instead of just laying in it. Like MLS.
And…we’re back to comprehensive coverage for Major League Soccer Week 4.5* – something that will happen on any weekend I can get enough of my shit together to manage it (and, honestly, my shit is like cats, every trip to the bathroom, an adventure). (* As noted here and there, I refuse to call this Week 5, because most MLS teams only played their fourth game this weekend, and, no, I'm not letting anyone forget it; I built my own calendar, and will be following that throughout the season).

So, time for the usual caveats – e.g., it’s early in the 2017 season, and therefore impossible to tell which teams built for the long-haul (Supporters’ Shield) and which will pull it all together for the late-season smash-and-grab and/or crown a winning season with the trophy everyone values most (if only by way of ready translation, aka, MLS Cup). I’ll be getting more into that aspect as the season gets to where it has lasted long enough to tell us something beyond the circumstantial.

One practice that will come back, at least to the extent possible, is checking in with each team’s local SB Nation blog. The first attempt already failed (e.g. The Blue Testament, which again, with a one-word change is what I call my poops) because they only run match reports and, again, I hate those things on the grounds that it takes a very, very special writer to make a chronology of events read as anything but.

Think that’s all for this week. Come may, I might start trying to top these things with some form of power rankings/progress report at least once a month. For now, though, and as noted above, I feel like we don’t know much about any team in MLS except that the smart money should still chase FC Dallas, Columbus Crew SC has gone some distance to proving my preseason assumptions wrong (thought they'd suck; they don't), and it’s possible that Sporting Kansas City will be even more torturously dull this season than last. Oh, and Atlanta is fast.  OK, let’s talk games, all of ‘em.

Whoops! Wait. I wrote up extended reports for each of the three games I watched this weekend: the New England Revolution’s sucker-punch 1-1 draw against my beloved Portland Timbers; New York City FC’s scrappy 2-1 win over San Jose Earthquakes; and the Vancouver Whitecaps how-do-you-spell relief (Christian Techera, apparently, if only last Saturday) romping 4-2 comeback at home against the Los Angeles Galaxy…

…of which, both LA and Real Salt Lake belong on the “Danger List,” especially RSL, because, dammmnnnn! OK, game(s) time.

Toronto FC 0-0 Sporting Kansas City
Sporting has built a sort of invincibility out their INTENSITY (PUMPED!), and they have enough going forward to cause problems, and a share of the good moves/ideas come from new kid Gerso Fernandes. SKC needs it something because tasking Dom Dwyer with being Sebastian Giovinco doesn’t, um, work (Gerso setting up Dwyer for some simpler finishes feels like the better path). Still, SKC put the cleaner shots on goal (some via Michael Bradley give-aways) while Toronto pulled SKC’s defense around to create the better chances – chances they squandered, sadly, by finding one wide open player after another in and around SKC’s 18 (example), until the whole thing inevitably broke down. They’re both good teams, but Toronto’s ceiling still looks higher, and their depth better – e.g. Raheem Edwards, a 21-year-old call-up from Toronto II who played the left wing-back (for Justin Morrow) and Spaniard/Barca product, Victor Vazquez, some nice brain and skill to the Toronto’s attack.
For Further Reading: The Blue Testament left me hanging, but enjoy Waking the Red’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly wrap up (of note: frustration with Giovinco, praise for Edwards, loathing for SKC’s unis/team haircuts).

Seattle Sounders 0-0 Atlanta United FC
Thus ends out your Friday: goal-less, loveless, and with soggy pajama bottoms. Neither game looked bad – all four teams had their chances (Atlanta late, in particular; and both Nicolas Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey hit wood) – but they all cocked it up in their own little ways. That said, Seattle got noticeably better after Dempsey came on and I do like that they’re playing Harry Shipp, and he looks good combining, etc., but it feels like there’s an expiration date written on the inside of that experiment. Cristian Roldan bears noting, here, for his presence; he’s not the greatest, by any means, but, golly, is he everywhere. As for Atlanta, the brief impression I got here left me impressed with their defense (they didn’t give much away) and with how briskly they move the ball. No one on either side stood out quite like Julian Gressel, though: that fucker is hard as nails and a great, menacing, ground-chewing figure out there. Not bad for a rookie…
For Further Reading: Sounders at Heart “Pontification” Post (they spotted the same guys I did (and fleshed it out nicely), but the stuff on S2 is worth a look. Meanwhile, Dirty South Soccer went with SB Nation’s hale, yet hoary “__ Thing We Learned” (and they did good work with them, particularly in analyzing how Atlanta (and other teams) should work a press; also, Gressel).

Chicago Fire 2-2 Montreal Impact
Well, at least teams started scoring goals...
The second yellows/reds didn’t matter (one to Juninho for Chicago and one to Victor Cabrera for Montreal), because everything turned on smart set-pieces (Chicago’s first) and bad decisions (Montreal’s equalizer). This one’s tricky to read – especially in light of Montreal late-2016 run. From Chicago’s side, Bastian Schweinsteiger really did look good – a couple next-level passes, yes, a goal, but he also took a couple “welcome to MLS” knocks with aplomb; after that, I think the Juninho/Dax McCarty double-pivot shows real promise. But Luis Solignac’s goal…that thing had “Goal of the Week” stamped on it, at least till Diego Valeri (totally) topped it. As for Montreal, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla isn’t Ignacio Piatti; he feels closer to Kekuta Manneh, but that was a nicely taken goal, regardless. And Montreal needs to find a younger/better partner for Hernan Bernardello in midfield (still fixated on Marco Donadel as the root of all their ills). They’re missing a couple pieces, whether by roster construction or injury, but that’s not so bad.
For Further Reading: Hot Time in Old Town framed the game with the perfect title (and some nice impressions). Meanwhile, Mount Royal Soccer looks…understaffed? Man, I need to start looking for some indie blogs…but I’ll need English-speaking for Montreal…

DC United 2-1 Philadelphia Union
DC picked up an enormously needed win versus eternally struggling Philadelphia, and they did it on the back of a couple breaks – e.g., sure, Lloyd Sam’s drop/side pass to Jose Ortiz was good, but it only happened because Andre Blake played a shit pass to Fabinho; and, yes, a hand-ball in the area is almost always a PK (deserved, though; I think he did reach out), but… Philly pulled one back, but that felt no less random than most of DC’s stuff. The bigger deal comes with forcing a couple tall saves out of Bill Hamid (MLS’s premier savior/goalkeeper), but this one feels like a mess for both teams as the season stretches from week to mythical week. Contrary to previous comments this season, DC has the players to post a good season, but DC still looks like they’re not going to post a good season. Philly, meanwhile, looks like a team that’s a couple starters short of a six pack – e.g., for every Chris Ponitus or Haris Medunjanin (who looked solid), there’s still an Alejandro Bedoya (who doesn’t quite make sense where he is) or a competition between Jay Simpson and C. J. Sapong that doesn’t entirely make sense, but that Sapong is winning…basically, Philly still feels like a team that’s figuring itself out and they’re how far behind Atlanta right now?
For Further Reading: Screw it. Black and Red United posted a match report; pick through that and see draw out your own analysis if you care to (I think that’s why I hate actually hate these things; the reader has to do the goddamn work). Elsewhere, The Brotherly Game improved on the typical match report by inserting a point of view into the thing…with that, this has become an examination: “The Match Report: The Written Form and Commentary.”

Minnesota United FC 4-2 Real Salt Lake
If any team seemed like to fail to score against the heretofore, frankly depressing Minnesota defense, it was RSL’s equally depressing, one-goal-in-2017 attack. RSL scored in the end – and Yura Movsisyan scored a second goal on a breakaway, which should help his confidence – but RSL apparently made the curious decision to try to wrest the “Catastrophic Defending Crown” from Minnesota’s heads. I have no other explanation (and also no words) for Nick Rimando’s extraordinarily bad and uncharacteristic blunder – which gifted them their third. For all that, credit Bobby Shuttleworth with a couple good saves to keep Minnesota afloat as they recovered from coughing up a characteristically bad goal to Luke Mulholland. If you want positives for Minnesota, focus on, 1) giving up just two goals (then again, RSL can’t score fer shit), and 2) their second goal, which featured the kind of combination fans want to see from Kevin Molino and Christian Ramirez, which would be the kind of combo that makes an offense (if not a Diego Valeri/Fanendo Adi-esque). Also, CONGRATS, Minnesota! You were better, you were lucky, you were better. Don’t read between the lines…
For Further Reading: E Pluribus Loonum put in some damned fine work to celebrate the Loons’ win, from the loving deconstruction of Christian Ramirez’ go-ahead goal to the wisdom of passing on a great quote on the arrival of Marc Burch and Sam Cronin from Colorado. First, I have to flag the saucy headline RSL Soapbox put on their preview for the game against Vancouver (“Three Things RSL Should Do Better Against Vancouver”). This site is nothing if not thorough (and bravo), but I’ll stick with lessons learned…and, holy shit, does that say “rock bottom”? (Not that they’re wrong, either, and condolences, y’all.) Eh, never mind; you’ll actually learn more from this one.

Houston Dynamo 4-1 New York Red Bulls
Even if a couple might-have-beens came off – e.g. Derrick Etienne, Jr. burying Conor Lade’s perfect cross, or if the referee listened to Damien Pernielle’s (reasonable) pleadings of innocence on the penalty – I still don’t see New York rescuing even a point from this one. Credit to Houston - Mauro Manotas, especially – for exploiting the bejesus out of it, but the Red Bulls defense ranged from gappy to passive to distracted for most of the afternoon (see example: Goal 1). The Red Bulls scored one early (and with Houston’s defense looking like New York’s would later), but a comment from the booth late in the second half – “Tyler Deric has had nothing to do in this second half” - confirmed the broad impression of their outing. My question going in was how Houston would cope without Romell Quioto, and the Dynamo answered, “Just fine. Why do you ask?” And they should be feeling pretty high on how well Erik “Cubo” Torres plays with others; sometimes a bad (or a tough) call can promote justice indirectly. Houston deserved this one.
For Further Reading: To call Dynamo Theory’s commentary “hungry” understates it a bit; this post (see #4) sets a high bar. Elsewhere, the talk about a “complete game” is smart, but the rest of the post goes pretty deep (and well) on Houston. As for Once a Metro, their author was righteously brutal in its player ratings. There is a thread of grievance at the referee that runs this stuff – they have firm opinions and that matters when it comes to perception – but no one disagrees that New York just had a bad day.

Columbus Crew SC 2-0 Orlando City SC
“I don’t think we’ve seen Nocerino do anything.”
- Dude on the broadcast team, voicing something that every Orlando fan has said at some point in their MLS history.
Well, make it three in a row for Columbus; they’ve got to be top in the East now, right? (Right.) For all that, the condensed game says this read less like a slaughter than one team that knows what it is/was doing (Columbus) taking all three points at home against a team that doesn’t – or at least didn’t yesterday. I guess the big question for me is how much Cyle Larin’s consistent goal-scoring papers over that idea – e.g. that Orlando doesn’t really have an attack beyond, “where’s Cyle?” Assuming it happened (couldn’t tell), it looked like Jason Kreis moved (Captain) Will Johnson from the right back spot where he started the game to central midfield by the end, to bring some coherence (and nearly a late consolation goal) to Orlando’s attack. It was Justin Meram’s day in the end, and with both feet (and how fucking classic Meram is that goal?) – of which, guys, Meram’s good – and Columbus does suddenly look likeliest in the East. For now. I mean, it’s MLS guys…
For Further Reading: Apart from noting some useful numbers, Massive Report picks up something I dropped: how trimly (also Captain) Wil Trapp leads by example as captain (as in, he might be re-writing the script on his defensive game), but they posted a sharp, thorough review for anyone interested in the education. As for The Mane Land, they picked up on the same thing about the offense (and went way more specific on the defensive side than I did), but I…really struggle to care about Kaka. I mean, he’s down to half a season at this point, so, I dunno, the future?

And….checking my pockets…yeah, I think that’s everything. Wow. I mean, shit. That felt essentially manageable. Hope you enjoyed it. It’s what I want to do every week, even when I fuck it up. Till MLS Week 5.5!

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