MLS: ___(#) of _____(s) for Week ___

So…in some background chatter, I decided to work a concept similar to Breton’s “10 Bright Spots” posts – check out his latest entry from today. Originally, it was going to be “5 Black Eyes from Week ____,” – e.g. five bad performances, bad decisions, or instances of bad behavior – and it was intended to give the flipside to Breton’s posts. But when the time came to name names, I couldn’t quite nail down 5 black-eye-worthy items; three didn’t feel too bad, mind, but it ain’t five. Given that I decided to add a couple secondary concepts to the mix: talking points and minor mysteries. This may change next week – hence the blank-laden title – but I will get this concept nailed down by Week 5…promise.

Without further ado, here are four black eyes plus one point of interest for Major League Soccer’s Week 2:

1) Parkhurst’s Howling Thursday: I didn’t see the Chicago Fire run straight over the New England Revolution, but I saw enough in the highlights and read enough stray comments – though Lord only knows where – to believe the typically steady Michael Parkhurst suffered a fit of the horrors late last week. Can’t see a repeat happening…but what if it does? Continue reading

MLS Week 1 Collective Power Rankings: One for the Circular File

Here’s the word from the Semi-Detached Pundit Collective (SDPC): we have no frankin’ clue what’s going on. Well, that’s not entirely accurate: New England impressed all observers in the survey but one (3rd Degree) and there’s general agreement as to who are the three worst teams in Major League Soccer (MLS) – Toronto FC, the Los Angeles Galaxy, and the San Jose Earthquakes, and in that order.

After that, however, it’s a fuck…ing….train…wreck. Calling views on the MLS’s, um, “middle 10 teams” a mash of opinions constitutes an insult to a mash of opinions. We’re way past that. Between the diversity of methods, the several pundit outfits involved still trying to figure this stuff out, this project comes closer at present to having 11 people with no shared languages among them attempting a re-write of The Bible – and with a flock of angry, holy-roller partisans barking in all 11 scribes’ ears throughout.

Tempting as it is to throw the results into the circular file, let’s just dub the mess itself an accurate reflection of where things are after Week 1 of MLS’s 2008 season. In other words, no one knows what’s going on and there’s nothing wrong with that. It just means I have eleven sets of data for this week’s survey and they all tell me different things. Let me list those before moving on (and, again, if you see rankings out there that don’t appear down here, due point them out to me):

Center Holds It
(me)
Goal.com (Kyle McCarthy)
Orlando Sentinel (Brant Parsons)
Fullback Files (um…Fullback?)
Sideline Views (Luis Bueno)
Soccer By Ives (Ives Galarcep)
WVHooligan (Drew Epperley)
Blue Blooded Journo (a collective)
3rd Degree (Parrish Glover)
“Jason” (left his rankings in CHI comments; always welcome)
Fox Soccer Channel (Keith Costigan)

(UPDATE: Oh, the hat!  ESPN.com finally posted their Week 1 power rankings, so I thought I’d post ’em here, even if I’m not about to re-calculate (Bastards!  Do your homework on time!).  In case you’re not aware, ESPN.com also takes the collective approach to their rankings, so maybe that was the hold-up.  Anyway, a quick look at the numbers suggest that little, if anything, would have changed: maybe KC ties Chivas (you’ll see below), maybe DC and the Rapids flip-flop (again, very much doubt it), and maybe TFC would have wound up worse than LA…but with all of them pretty close, I don’t think the collective rankings would have moved.)

Now, onto the results: each team will be listed by rank and with their average score following the club’s name. To provide some perspective, the most common score(s) assigned to each team by the individual members of the collective will appear in parentheses after that, followed by the previous week’s ranking and average. The ranges we’re looking at for some teams are nothing short of absurd. I’ll close it all out by trying to squeeze some kind of sagacious observations out of the data-cluster-fuck.

Now, to the numbers: Continue reading

MLS Week 1 Power Rankings – HA! (+ do post your own rankings)

I’m torn between two images for this first edition of the Major League Soccer power rankings. This one captures what rankings, oh, #2-14 look like to me:

This one, on the other hand, gets to how making each of those selections felt:

So, yeah, confidence is low, people, so low in fact that I put fairly little stock in what appears below; I blame the whole Week 1/too little information thing.

Rankings and jabbering aimed at justifying them appear after the jump. And, as always, the previous week’s ranking appears in parentheses after the current week’s rankings. This will go into the collective rankings – look for those Thursday – along with several others I have already found. Anyone is welcome to submit power rankings of their own into the comments (or to email them to me; jeffbull71[at]yahoo.com) and those will go into the collective mix as well.

Now….the rankings….accuracy, validity, hell, even intelligence, not guaranteed: Continue reading

Crew v. Rapids*: Comparison After Week 1 (Plus, thoughts on the Crew’s win and word of a signing)

(* This project really needs a name – suggestions are 105% welcome.  A five-minute brainstorm yielded “Project Crewpid,” but I think something better is possible.)

I scanned this great sketch of Alejandro Moreno (well…I liked it) and was prepared to post that over a report on the Columbus Crew’s opening day win over Toronto FC.  Turns out I saved the scan as the wrong kind of file, I had too much shit to do yesterday, and there was that weird hangover that hurt my body less than my…my soul, I guess.  So, yeah, the Crew won their opener on the back of goals by Adam Moffat and Alejandro Moreno.  Moffat was most people’s man of the match, which is the point of the leading anecdote: I could draw a decent caricature of Moreno, but couldn’t swing Moffat – so, there you go, Moreno becomes my man of the match.

As for the game itself, it was a good enough win and I liked what I saw generally (though, admittedly, squinting through one eye by the end; where there’s a hangover in the morning, there was a drunk the night before – all y’all know how this works).  And that’s the weird thing – and “the weird” extends to the commentary several of this week’s games: yeah, the Crew won their opener – which seems a rare event, even if may not be (I don’t know) – but keeping the clean sheet required no mean exertion from Will Hesmer.  What I’m getting at, here, is that this was a nice win, but nothing more – so when I see something like where Goal.com placed the Crew in their power rankings, I wonder how I saw so much less than they did. Continue reading

10 Bright Spots of MLS Week 1: The Gambians, Cooke, and a Salute to Youth

1. New England Revolution

Introduce two U-20 Gambian players and succeed? Sure. Steve Nicol certainly knows what he’s doing and his opener – without the services of Twellman – truly pays homage to his ability to man manage and bring along young talent. Let’s not forget Adam Cristman who worked well with Nyassi and Mansally. All three – along with the veteran presence of Steve Ralston (let’s hope that shoulder’s okay) and the patrolling of Joseph/Larentowicz in the middle – helped put together an attack that even Houston’s defense couldn’t withstand. On the other end, however, Parkhurst dealt with Ching effectively, while it’s pretty certain that Wondolowski should not be in there.

2. Terry Cooke

When did Terry Cooke get fast? We knew he had a boot, but his speed and tenacity was the difference versus the Galaxy. Could it have been the Englishman just wanted to show up his former teammate Beckham? If that’s the case – the opening goal in a 4-0 drubbing of the Galaxy and two subsequent assists will do just that. We can expect another big service year from Cooke. Someone explain to me how Cooke got awarded that second assist on Colin Clark’s goal??? Clark dribbled for what seemed like an eternity before beating Cronin near post…at what point does Cooke’s initial pass become “unassisted”? 

3. Kenny Mansally/Sainey Nyassi

These kids can play. Nyassi burnt Houston on the wings and was able to finish his first goal ever in his debut. Mansally had his hand in the first goal and looked strong on the ball with an uncharacteristic poise for a first year striker. If Mansally and Cristman do well enough up top, does Taylor Twellman technically become expendable?? (Answer is probably no…). Sainey Nyassi was hyped up a little less than Mansally throughout the preseason, but he arguably was the more effective player. Not even Corey Ashe had an answer for his speed on the wings. Both players if consistent provide the Revs with a depth that could account for the loss of Dorman and Noonan. Let’s wait for week two though…

4. Maykel Galindo

He did it at the expense if FC Dallas’ new acquisition and Mexican international Diulio Davino, but no matter how it happens, the Goats came away with a point. Davino mishandled a trap and Galindo capitalized by pouncing on it and sending it straight through Dario Sala’s legs to equalize with 5 minutes to go. What it made it more impressive was that Galindo is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and isn’t at 100%. The Cuban international then kissed the Chivas USA shield during his end-of-the-game interview. The guy is class.

5. Claudio Lopez

Eddie Johnson who? Lopez and Ivan Trujillo ripped apart a decent D.C. United defense with the help of Carlos Marinelli. Already, this is shaping up to be one interesting year. If I’m not mistaken though, there were some crazy results at the beginning of last year too. Anyways, Lopez is class and looks like he’ll end up being another DP success. In fact, you could almost say that about all the DP debuts.  

6. Dema Kovalenko

The guy got stiffed by RBNY and sent on over to Salt Lake (stiffed in the sense he’s more of a big city guy, Chicago his “adopted home”, etc.), but he made the best of his first appearance. Dema, within two minutes of coming, served a cross that was redirected into the Chicago goal by young Bakary Soumare. In a questionably sloppy game, Kovalenko got the job done. On top of that, Kova was just recently sworn in as an official citizen of the United States of America.

7. Adam Moffat

One hell of a game winning goal for Columbus from the star of the Crew’s preseason. A developmental contract that looks to make a significant contribution to the Crew’s run this season. Reminds me of a younger Kerry Zavagnin. 

8. John DiRaimondo/Nick LaBrocca/Kosuke Kimura

LaBrocca, the NJ native, and DiRaimondo really frustrated the hell out of an almost non-existant Los Angeles midfield. Fernando Clavijo’s injury predicament forced him to go with a lot of new blood. Kimura held his own at right back, keeping Donovan pretty quiet throughout the whole game. From the get go, it was clear who wanted to win the game and all three were a huge part of that.

9. Traveling Toronto FC Fans

TFC had something like 2,000 supporters travel down to Columbus to take over Columbus Crew stadium. The Crew still outplayed them in the end, but Crew Stadium was still Toronto’s for the afternoon. Take those supporters away and you have one pitiful Columbus crowd. Mr. Gillett, you want a team? I got one for you…

10. Jon Busch

The seemingly eternal back-up began his Chicago starting career with a big game. A potent Real Salt Lake offense tested him again and again, forcing him into 8 saves. Busch, who last started regularly in 2004 with the Columbus Crew, looked shaky in the beginning but ultimately showed well and solidified his number one spot. In 2004, Busch was the brightest spot on a decent Columbus team – he posted a 1.07 GAA and a 12-5-12 winning record. Then he was replaced….Here’s to hoping he finds that success again.

Crew & Rapids: Anti-Parity – Thoughts on the Eve Of

Beyond mentioning I’m thrilled the parties involved went with the “outer-space-esque” Trillium Cup for the rivalry/cup between the Columbus Crew and Toronto FC, I have nothing immediately relevant to add. That said, I’d recommend checking out the previews for both Columbus’ (LINK – Julius James is out for TFC, eh?) and the Colorado Rapids’ (LINK – holy crap! that’s half of Colorado!) openers, both of which are home games, to check for any players missing through injury.

What I wanting to do here is quickly set the stage for what I’m watching for as I follow both the Crew and the Rapids through the 2008 season. To start with what I will literally watch – e.g. the games for both teams – I suspect I’m in for a healthy share of 0-0, 0-1, and 1-0 games. The two teams I’m watching are, by general consensus, two of the worst teams in Major League Soccer (MLS); according to a sample posted earlier, 9/10th and 11th. No, this does not particularly excite me.

The thing is, that’s kind of the point. The more I mull over what drew me to those two teams, the better I’m understanding why they sprang to mind. As most readers of this site know, MLS is built on parity (OK, the vast majority of you know this, but…) a system of rules backed by systemic compensations designed to help struggling teams and rein in the stronger ones. In spite of this arrangement, both Colorado and Columbus have rarely impacted the league in a meaningful way, never mind threatening to join the league’s elite. Instead, one mediocre season follows the one that came before. I’d argue this applies more to Columbus, especially where continuity is concerned, but Colorado, for all their playoff appearances, made MLS Cup exactly once – and no one thought they’d win it. In a sense, these guys’ combined records point to the limits of what parity can accomplish; they’re like anti-parity, evidence of bad judgment’s capacity to undo the intentions of central planning.

Guesses at why neither team has risen above their mid- or low-table status certainly exist: cheap front offices, less-than-glamorous markets, low local interest, a kind of paralyzed attachment to the Status Clavjio…er, status quo. But the point of this project is to see what happens this year, specifically, to either keep them down or allow the teams to thrive. For example, will a mid-season coaching change for either team demonstrate that coaching has been the problem all along?  Hopefully, I’ll get some answers to compensate for the pain I’ll endure if neither team sorts it out.

That said, I settled on these two teams in the hopes that they would figure it out – though I have to admit that applies more to the Crew than the Rapids. Will this be the year Columbus beardless youths become woolly mountain men? Will Colorado’s decision to throw so many of their hopes in Christian Gomez’ basket pay off?

Stay tuned…

MLS 2008 Western Conference Preview: Contenders, Dark Horses, Filler, and C.H.U.D.s

Having already unloaded all my caveats in yesterday’s Eastern Conference Preview, there’s nothing to do here, but get to it. For your convenience, here are the resources borrowed and applied in creating what comes below: WVHooligan’s most current list of off-season player movement and Climbing the Ladder’s best guess at starting elevens for Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Western Conference sides. The same labels will apply as well: Contender, Dark Horse, Filler, and C.H.U.D. For your convenience, here’s a copy/paste on the meaning of the terms from yesterday:

“The first two are pretty obvious – e.g. ‘Contender’ attaches to a team with a clear shot at the title, while ‘Dark Horse’ flags a team with the talent and depth to steal the title, but only provided good form and luck through ‘08. For ‘Filler’ teams, the playoffs are within reach, but the title…well, it ain’t gonna happen. Finally, ‘C.H.U.D.s’ – aka, ‘Cannabalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers’: these are the teams that will suffer through a season in the confines of MLS’s cellars, only coming out from time to time to feast on the flesh of the living.”

So, let’s get to it…teams are listed in descending order from Contender to C.H.U.D. Continue reading