Tuesday, April 25, 2017

MLS Week 7.5 (Explained Inside) Review: A Reset Weekend

Goals. Well, part of them.
All right, let’s do this. Nice and compact. May bunny pellets replace my usual explosion of verbal diarrhea. And sorry about all that if you’re eating, but that’s just what came to me.

Let’s start with what happened over Major League Soccer’s Week 7.5 – again, I refuse to use the phrase “Week 8”until over half of MLS teams have played as many games, and only seven teams have played eight games so far. And, so, in no particular order, but the one the Good Lord gave us, here’s the rundown:

In the week’s early offering, the New England Revolution and the San Jose Earthquakes wrapped up like tired heavyweights, only neither club passes for heavyweights; the sleeping red (potential) giant that is Toronto FC woke up long enough to throttle the visiting Chicago Fire, with Sebastian Giovinco merrily shivving them all the while; in what was surely the most depressing two hours of the weekend, the Philadelphia Union carried their fans to heaven on the back of a three-goal lead against the visiting Montreal Impact only to pull them back into Hell’s Gutter by night’s end by allowing three goals the other way (though, again, damn Ignacio!); the Houston Dynamo’s roster rebuild sure looked better than San Jose’s (here, I think we have enough data to resist any claims of fatigue out of the Earthquakes' camp); the Portland Timbers reserves answered the call and faced down the Vancouver Whitecaps at home; and the New England Revolution might still be unbeaten at home, but that easy stat surely tastes bitter after DC United turned a likely loss into a bracing road draw (that said, this game was lousy with warning signs for the Revs). Elsewhere, the New York Red Bulls finally played like themselves, and that let them bury (probably) still-warm Columbus Crew SC; after threatening to get permanently tangled in status anxiety, FC Dallas showed what makes one good team better than the other by scoring the lone winner against Sporting Kansas City (and why do all the important games suck?); and, hey, Atlanta United FC introduced the lately-plucky Real Salt Lake to its ceiling – though I find it significant that that game could have ended 1-2. Orlando City SC took a poacher’s victory from New York City FC, courtesy of the silky-smooth (ahem) Cyle Larin, a result that underlined Orlando’s thoroughly sorted-shit (shit-sorted? Uh…got it) shit-sorted defense, the Seattle Sounders labored the widely-understood point that things don’t look so hot for the Los Angeles Galaxy right now, and, yes, any rational person would concede the…what do they call it…shit, shit, shit, “hospital death”(? - no, that's wrong) of the Colorado Rapids attack after it failed to breach an improved (but, c’mon, it can’t be that improved) Minnesota United FC defense (and this isn’t the only signal, either, but GOOD ON YA, LOONS!).

Or, in numerical terms…

New England Revolution 0-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Toronto FC 3-1 Chicago Fire

Philadelphia Union 3-3 Montreal Impact

Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

New England Revolution 2-2 DC United

New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United FC

New York City FC 1-2 Orlando City SC

Los Angeles Galaxy 0-3 Seattle Sounders FC

Minnesota United FC 1-0 Colorado Rapids

I posted extended comments earlier on Toronto v. Chicago and the Portland Timbers’ win over Vancouver. Neither team will come up again (well, much) down below. Moving on…

I wanted to at least touch on everything before focusing on just ten details among the…going with one hundred details one could pull from a weekend of games…but that feels low. To pull some threads out of the tangle, Week 7.5 point felt like one of those “reset” weekends that confirms the broad theory that MLS is a dartboard in league form. In other words, it pushed back against some mini-trends that threatened to become story-lines just before and after MLS Week 6.5 (at least as I saw them), though some – see Philly and Colorado…held…so very much together…sigh…

I’d apply that to Toronto over Chicago (that Toronto couldn’t get started in 2017), DC’s draw against New England (DC’s bench gave life to a lifeless team), the Red Bulls putting some questions to Columbus (and the rest of the East, but more to Columbus), and Atlanta popping RSL on the snout (challenging the question of whether they had found their feet under Petke). The Columbus game gives the clearest signal, due to how thoroughly New York broke them down, but those games all thwarted the idea that early season narratives could be thwarted (see parentheses above; no, immediately above; same paragraph). The rest of the games feel like they confirmed things that have added up so far – e.g. (but not all-embracing), that Dallas is the team to beat, that Minnesota might have more of its shit together than Colorado, that Portland is still fine, just fine, thanks. And, holy shit, is it just me or isn’t everything up there, outside the scores for all the games, just a big pile of gibberish? Jesus Christ (wait…Word just auto-capped “Christ”?), how can talking about this league produce anything but gibberish? Shit…

Look, Dallas is good, Philadelphia is depressing. The rest is just details. 10 of ‘em.

1) All the New Guys Are Gravy
This one came to me early as watching Toronto’s win over Chicago – and from the opposite side. Chicago brought in guys like Dax McCarty and Juninho as players they could rely on; I’d argue that the Fire relies on Luis Solignac at this point. They’ve called in bigger names – Michael de Leuww last year (probably) and Nemanja Nikolic this year (right?) – but it somehow still feels like gravy every time one of those guys comes good, because de Leeuw. Just as an example (and sorry). Also, no one came so good for Chicago last weekend, so… For what it’s worth, I think the same thing about Portland’s Sebastian Blanco: he’ll fail or he won’t, which means that, some day, he’ll be a player like Diego Valeri, Darlington Nagbe, or Fanendo Adi (and, here, I understand that we’ve had defensive problems for a while), or he’ll be Lucas Melano. What I think I’m getting at here is relative value. A player from within MLS who is a known quantity – what the hell, may as well throw Will Bruin into this – might have more value today than he used to.

2) Dribble as Metaphor
Very early in this game, I’m talking inside the 3rd minute, Philadelphia’s Ilsinho wound up pinned against both touchline and sideline. He spun out, beat that first defender, then a second, maybe even a third – I don’t know – but he swiping his exit pass directly to a Montreal player. Who knew that presaged the sad, sorry shitstorm that would come? When the game ended Tommy Smith and J.P. Dellacamera grasped for positives, anything they could say that didn’t somehow allude to the “troubles” Philly was having. I caught the final score before watching, but still didn’t know how it panned out till watching. Holy shit, Philly….this looks like DC 2013.

3) Ciman and MLS Live’s All-Seeing Eye
Sort of a weird one, but does anyone know how MLS Live assigns its video splicing/dicing duties? I ask because, after watching the condensed version of Philly’s draw with Montreal, I’m fairly conscious that they wanted me to notice that, yes, Ciman should have been sent off. Funny thing: the highlight attached to the recap don't flag any of Ciman's fouls, so there's that....OMG, what version of reality do you want me to believe?! I don’t object to that – seems important, especially to a moribund Union side – but it did get me thinking about authorship on these videos. Maybe we can learn some names, get to know certain people’s proclivities. Yeah, I know this is weird/nuts.

4) A Dodgy Rebuild
I’ve put enough time into San Jose this season to sense that they don’t have enough in the arsenal to battle MLS’s better teams – or, say, a middling team like Houston on the road. I probably got more excited than anyone outside the Bay Area about the ‘Quakes rebuild, but it’s not standing on its own yet and it feels like it never will. Marcos Urena puts in good work all over, but who gives a shit when he finds good spaces to score from when he doesn’t score from them. And Florian Jungwirth looks all right, but is he too small for his role in MLS? Then there’s Danny Hoesens, who pushes harder against the idea of ever coming good; he killed two promising plays just this past weekend, both down to simple bad play. At this point, take every good piece the ‘Quakes have – say Anibal Godoy, who’s proved to be a damned smart string-puller (and one who needs the right partner) – and subtract one. Won’t buy this team till they make me…

5) Why Not Neagle?
DC was forced to cover a minimum of five absences Saturday, and on the road, and with a dismal attacking record on their shoulders. And then New England scored once. DC turned things around and, but for one of its own players tripping over his dick, they might have stolen this game, against New England…a team that I’d told myself was improving defensively. Shit. They’re high-middling, actually, but the point is that DC’s attack still sucks. And, given that, why hadn't they tried a player like Lamar Neagle? (Unless he was hurt. Then I’d get it). The broader point is, when your attack stinks, how long do you stick with it?

6) An Unspeakable Set Piece Problem
As noted a ways up above, warning signs signaled the Revolution’s defensive collapse. DC had wrecked havoc in New England’s area at the 13th minute (see above...shit, why do I do this?), most of it stemming from Ian Harkes pinging one off the bar. DC would clean up something similar (and sinisterly 13 minutes later) to score their first, but the chaos that kept showing up in and around the New England area suggests one of two things: DC is great at set pieces, or New England is fucking terrible at defending them.

7) The Glorious System
“They revel in tight spaces”
I jotted that down at some point in the middle of the Red Bulls running over Columbus (and then backing up the car), but it speaks to something specific – the vague, hopeful notion that New York had built a teachable system that, due to how well it worked, gave a team a little more flexibility when it comes to finding the best personnel. That theory took a knock early this season, when it seemed like McCarty’s departure had left a hole too big to fill. The win over Columbus – and even DC the week before – pushed back against this a bit. Then again, the Columbus win might have given it a shove…

8) Bright Spots Over Central Ohio
Not that I count Columbus out. They’ve got a ton of positives. I talked about Justin Meram last week, but I don’t know I’ve typed enough about how fit, trim, and spot-on Wil Trapp looks as captain. And he could anchor this team for years. Moreover, Columbus has The Best Forward in MLS That No One Talks About in Ola Kamara – I mean, damn (uh, ideal video unavailable, but trust me?). New York caught them napping, sort of like Chicago, but Columbus has still has the bones of a good team. I think.

9) On Rolling the Dice
RSL didn’t do well against Atlanta, but no small part of that turned on the kind of mistakes that Nick Rimando simply didn’t used to make (but is making more); that put them two down inside the half. I’ve seen RSL play very, very badly, even within this short season, and, in spite of the score-line, I’d argue they played some of their best, most comfortable soccer against at Atlanta. For all the vulnerabilities – as in, holy shit, if they lose Rimando’s cover – they have a lot of blossoming positives – e.g. Albert Rusnak, but, given everything, the most important question for them is this; can pairing Luke Mulholland and Kyle Beckerman at the two in a 4-2-3-1 hold the defense together well enough to keep this team afloat? For what it’s worth, I have Houston at 60/40 to make the playoffs. I’m not sure where these guys are…

10) The Best MLS Playmakers
MLS had two great playmakers at the founding, DC’s Marco Etcheverry (shit, miss that guy; made me believe that soccer could make it here) and Carlos Valderrama (who always played for the wrong team). The modern analog to Valderrama would be Andrea Pirlo – e.g., a basically immobile, but top-class distributor. Etcheverry, meanwhile, feels more like what wound up being MLS’s modern best model for playmaking – e.g., Nicolas Lodeiro (who inspired the thought), Diego Valeri, Federico Higuain, and even Christian Bolanos. For what it’s worth, Dallas’ Mauro Diaz feels like a hybrid, but he’s awesome. And also particularly special somehow, like catching a really great band before their talisman/singer destroys himself through no particular fault of his own.

Crap, lost the thread. I think my point is that MLS evolved toward the Etcheverry model and it came by it naturally. Diaz wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective if he wasn’t mobile.

Shit. Longer than I wanted. Still, all done.

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