MLS: The Week (18) That Was

Ah, my first post in the new digs…

I’ll explain myself in a post later today, but want to start with the goods – specifically, a grand, vague post on the just-completed Week 18 in Major League Soccer (MLS), one that encompasses and attempts to make sense of all the action. Those familiar with my previous work know by now that I’m a stickler for disclosure, which, in this case, requires a frank admission that I can’t say I watched a single game from first kick-to-whistle. Instead, I watched big chunks of two games and all of one; and each of those suffered frequent interruptions. I’ll acknowledge this in the text by noting “hiccups” brought on by family/chores with a “_____”, while the several mental omissions associated with watching a game after coming home from a party will be denoted with “$#*)@.”

One more thing: there’s some kind of science of first impressions, something about the fixity of initial impressions and their resistance to contrary information; I tend to bang out these week overviews in that spirit, writing about the games based on either first-hand observation and opinion or simple gut reactions to the scores and highlights. OK, that’s it, I think. Just thought I’d be open with everyone…

It makes sense to start with the upset of the week, which, contrary to what one might think, wasn’t Real Salt Lake’s (RSL) win over the Houston Dynamo. I count the apparent clinic DC United provided the New England Revolution as the weekend’s greater shock – and for a few reasons (and I say apparent ’cause I only caught the first 30 minutes). First, it reveals possibilities for both teams, specifically, that the Revs aren’t as good as they seem, while DC may, on the other hand, be better. Second, this game disabused me of my long-cherished notion that I can figure a game based on highlights, even the more extended Quick Kicks one. Put another way, I feel like I learned far more from watching the 30 opening minutes (before _____ intervened) than I did from seeing all the goals, some clever passes, and hard fouls.

What those thirty minutes showed was DC’s quick, decisive play victimizing New England’s penchant for slow starts. The embarrassment of the opening goal aside (good morning, Mr. Reis; did you know you were playing today?), DC moved off the ball smartly and found the resulting passes, whether coming out of the back or pressing into the Revs’ defensive third. New England, on the other hand, applied the familiar punt-‘n’-rush with more urgency and accuracy. So, even with _____ cutting my study session short, I feel comfortable saying DC looked the better team on the day. More significantly, I also worry (as a New England fan; more on this later) that DC’s formula has the higher upside – e.g. if they match their ability to their intentions, they’ll be a better team. And I say that without altering the opinion about New England I posted on the old site (and I’ll dub that my commentary on Week 18’s opening game).

And, by the way, if you feel like I misjudged or overlooked something, correct the record in the comments field, by all means. I value the correctives and typically don’t argue with them (unless they’re totally nuts, that is).

As for the other upset, file this one under the “stopped watch rule” – i.e. even a broken watch gives the right time twice a day. For the record, I didn’t see any of this one apart from the screw-up from Houston’s Wade Barrett that made RSL’s goal possible and Robbie Findley’s resultant finish. Even so, I suspect the game pitted RSL’s desperate energy against the physical athleticism that is the remainder of Houston’s game when their offense misfires. The point is, Houston seems likely to recover. As for RSL, a late season run of spoiling constitutes the best they can hope for – that and raising the expectations of their long-suffering fans that, yes, the franchise’s Year 4 will be better (it won’t).

Of the other results, FC Dallas’ (FCD) narrow win over the Colorado Rapids most caught my eye – even if $#*)@ really shit all over my recollection of the thing. My chief hazy-eyed impression of this game was that Dallas simply looked the better team – and that’s through the game’s 60th minute when ____ interrupted my viewing and told me it was time to go to bed. Stepping from specific memory to the Big Picture, Dallas gained two potentially bracing benefits from this game: first, their defense held and, even against the Rapids, that’s something positive; second, given their playoff record against the same, every win versus Colorado pries the monkey’s fingers off FCD’s back. As for Colorado, my main questions were, hey, where’s Herculez Gomez? And why the ongoing, unstinting faith in Jovan Kirovski?

If I have any regrets for this weekend, those come with missing the Columbus Crew’s road draw at the Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park. I expect both Columbus and Chicago will play have key roles in filling in the “bottom four” of the playoff picture. Given my opinion that Columbus has the inside track (yeah, that’s obvious, but), a win/shutout at “new-look” Chicago strikes me as a significant result, even if it wasn’t ideal – and that goes for either team. Yes, the middle of the Eastern Conference bears watching…

…unlike the bottom of the West. Or at least that’s what I’m thinking after taking in nearly all (again with the _____) of the Los Angeles Galaxy’s lazy futility against an inspired, yet unoriginal, Toronto FC. I’ve got quite a bit more to say about this one – that’s coming in a separate post – but the take-away from this one from LA’s side was this: the contrast between the Galaxy’s static confusion and DC’s immediate, productive and coordinated movement speaks to either a) the pitfalls of fielding a constantly evolving team, or b) a simple gap in quality between a good MLS team and a bad one. In all seriousness, ESPN announcer Tommy Smyth’s bemusement at LA’s inability to get past midfield left me yelling at the TV, “There’s no mystery, schmuck! They’re not friggin’ moving!” And by that I meant, LA’s attack featured one player holding the ball just inside Toronto’s half and the rest of the team standing silently and staring back at him. Grim stuff.

On the Toronto side of the ball, well, it’s a case of almost, a nice microcosmic expression of what I expect from the Canadian team for the year as a whole. With so many hobbled players, that subtle lack of quality shows through; moreover, to credit Tommy Smyth with one good insight, they did try the same failed tactic again and again – crosses early or late into the area that LA snuffed out repeatedly and comfortably. Thus their edge in possession and aggression amounted to nothing.

To wrap that up in a bow, count DC United this week’s big winner, with the Crew’s and FC Dallas’ more predictable successes following behind. A couple teams took “paper-tiger” style hits – New England and Houston – with the more potentially revealing blow landing on New England; I think the New England machine is rusting a bit. Ugly question marks remain over both Colorado and Chicago, though the latter at least cherishes so cause for hope – more than can be said, certainly, for LA, who continue to confound expectations for a turn-around (well, mine anyway).

OK, let’s plug in the (ample) gaps I left in the comments field…

One Response

  1. […] expect the specific game reports to come Sunday or (more likely) Monday; the weekly wraps – like the one I wrote today – should appear on Tuesdays. I’ll continue to do power rankings, both my own and the collective […]

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