Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Way Out West

Surprise, surprise, I'm late upon late with this. Don't take it as a lack of interest. I am very much looking forward to two races in the Western Conference - the one for the top three spots and the one for the last three playoff berths. Both should be highly entertaining

Seattle

Just so you know, this pick is not a reaction to their start - I had this order of finish worked out back on opening day and have stuck to it. Getting Morris back and having Rodriguez fit from the start puts the Sounders attack on another level. They're deep everywhere and a legit Shield contender.

Sporting KC

Speaking of teams being deep everywhere... Sporting comes close (I'm slightly concerned about their center forward stable). Their midfield crew, which is the heart of the team, looks about as crisis-proof as any league team ever has. They will control games more than any other club, even if that doesn't always lead to a victory.

LAFC

This team will score, that's for sure. I am a little concerned about the depth on the back half of the field, though. Bob Bradley will usually figure something out, however, so they should be close to the top all season long.

LA Galaxy

The defense is much improved, and I have the feeling they aren't done adding players at the back. The midfield also looks better, if only from a cohesion standpoint. And then, of course, there's Zlatan. He alone is worth a handful of wins, provided they can keep him on the field.

FC Dallas

This team is a work in progress under a new boss, but it says here they will be fine once the creases are ironed out. At the same time, they are going to need a few young players to break out and naturally that's always an iffy proposition. Still, I'm betting they get enough from the kids to reach the postseason.

Houston

We all know the attack, and specifically the counter, will produce. However, if they keep having to do without Cabezas, this playoff place could slip away because without him the back remains a question mark. The good news is Rodriguez looks like a breakout ace, and that extra support scoring can paper over some cracks in the defense.

Real Salt Lake

To be truthful, I'm not quite sure what to do with these guys. They seem like a playoff team on paper, but coach Petke is doing some odd things (like moving Rusnak wide) and they just can't seem to settle on a center back tandem. Plus, the new DP center forward isn't seeing so much field time. It's all a bit kooky... and yet, I feel like they'll pull it together before too long. If not, there are a couple clubs primed to bump them out of the postseason.

Minnesota United

It took all my strength to hold them out of the top seven, and I'm well aware that could be an error. The arrivals of Alonso and Gregus gives them an actual, bona fide midfield foundation for the first time, which only makes Quintero more dangerous. The defense is defintely improved, but will need time to gel into a unit. If Finlay and Molino can get back to their old selves, the Loons become a bit scary (even if I'm not entirely sold on their strikers). That's a big if for two guys coming back from knee injuries, though.

Colorado

They are far, far better than they were last year, no question. The attack is worlds better and the midfield is more complete. The defense, however, is still going to lose them a handful of points. And in this league, a handful of lost points is enough to keep you watching the playoffs from the couch at home.

Vancouver

I warned everyone that Hwang is a stud, and that's already been proven after just a few rounds. On the other hand, aside from Montero, I'm not impressed with their attack replacements and the back line is even more of a mess than it was last season. Even with a clever new coach that will keep them in a lot of games, this should be a long year.

San Jose

Good luck, coach Almeyda. I don't think the Quakes have enough speed or inherent individual intention to play his religious man-marking system, so he'll need to adjust on the fly. The main problem is that the roster needs another transfer window or two; the back half needs a lot of work and the front half has some decent pieces that don't quite fit together.









- Greg Seltzer

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Another work in progress... still.

It's been a busy week around here, but now the soccer weekend has arrived. That means I'm going to finally complete the current Clipboard (now) and my MLS season predictions (West tomorrow and awards on Monday).

So... the fullback slots. The place where my hope constantly lives, because, let's get real, it's most needed there. The guys at these positions really need to come up and come through. I think we're all tired of the disappointments.

Let's begin with right back:

DeAndre Yedlin
Nick Lima
Reggie Cannon


Still want to see him: Keegan Rosenberry


Yedlin is starting to play better for Newcastle, so perhaps he can pick his game back up in red, white and blue. Even though it was against lesser competition, Lima's January showing speaks for itself. I've wanted to him to get a chance for a while now, so it wasn't a great surprise to me. Cannon (who is out with a minor injury at the moment) still has a lot to learn. The Rosenberry comment above speaks for itself. He might actually be the most sound 1-v-1 defender of the bunch if given a chance.

Now to the eternally frustrating left side:

Antonee Robinson
Gregory Garza
Jorge Villafaña


Yes, Robinson is rough around the edges, but I'm still all for sticking with him at the top of this chart for now. His crossing and body positioning on defense are too good to ignore. Garza might also be if he can finally stay fit. On a related note, I'm pretty annoyed that Gregg Berhalter has only called up one true left back to the current camp - one of these first two guys should also be there. It would be great if someone could supplant Villafaña (who's had a tough start to the MLS season), but at the same time we also shouldn't pretend that for the time being he understands what is needed to get a job done at this level more than anyone else. I'm not yet sold on Lovitz as an international, but maybe he can change my mind this month. 

So, now that we're done, what do we have? A line-up with much more potential than seasoning. I've included asterisks next to Wood (because he's a place holder for Altidore) and Nagbe (because He's essentially the 1A with McKennie as 1B - either is fine with me, but really, the brand of opponent on a given day should make the call).







- Greg Seltzer

Friday, March 15, 2019

Man van de Match-ovich

It took a while for a decent quality clip to surface, but yep, Fortuna Sittard striker Andrija Novakovich enjoyed a big outing in their 3-1 victory over FC Emmen on Friday night. He set up the winner, scored the third and basically was all over the place as the hosts won a big relegation derby contest to climb clear of the danger line.









- Greg Seltzer

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Look who's back.

Borussia Dortmund attack ace Christian Pulisic returned from injury to notch a goal and an assist off the bench to lead the hosts to a 3-1 win over Stuttgart. His helper teed up the winner and his late insurance tally wrapped up the points.












- Greg Seltzer

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Still beast of the East?

We'll take a quick Clipboard pause to kick off my annual (and occasionally ill-fated) MLS predictions for the new season. Instead of plopping everything on one plate like usual, I'm gonna split the table finish calls into separate East and West posts with additional team-by-team commentary, and then deal with my award and Best XI picks in another.

So let's get it started...

Atlanta

Yes, I know that Meneer Frank has not quite figured out his snazzy new vehicle just yet, but I think he'll rein in the kooky formations (two midfielders in central park? really, Ajax dude? really?) when Franco Escobar is fit again. And the playmaking firm of Barco and Pity, Esq. will come correct to the horror of the rest of the league soon enough. They also have a few youngsters primed to bust out, so all things considered, they should be tops by the time this thing is all said and done.

DC United

I was so incredibly close to picking them to end up on the summit. Like, super close (imagine my finger pads nearly touching). While it's true that their 2018 glory run was largely accomplished at home, the Black-and-Red are a lot deeper and good bit speedier than they were last year. And with a certain winger's improvement, we may need to can the LuchaRoo nickname and start talking about LuchaRooIola. This once mighty club is back, baby.

NY Red Bulls

This is still an excellent side, and (as usual) they've got a few very promising youngsters to unleash on the league - I especially love the Mathias Jörgensen pick-up. And yet, I'm concerned about a few things in Harrison. I'm worried about what happens if Kaku, Kemar Lawrence or one of the center backs goes down or is away on international duty (which is gonna happen for stretches of the summer, folks). I'm also sorta "meh" on the wing stable, which at this time looks like it has a lot of decent but not great goal threats and not so much pure set-up skill. Most of all, I feel like there will be some growing pains moving on from having Tyler Adams patrol the middle. They will still be an MLS Cup contender come playoff time, but the regular season will be harder for them this time.

Chicago

For my money, this is easily the most improved team in the East. Marcelo will clean up a ton of messes at the back  Basti Fantasti is back in midfield (thank goodness!) and Djordje Mihailovic's fuse is lit, developments that should lift Nemanja Nikoic back toward his 2017 production. The additions of slippery winger Przemyslaw Frankowski, strong man C.J. Sapong and forthcoming playmaker Nico Gaitan all bring new dimensions to the offense. They have a more reliable backstop and young talent to groom all over the field. Now if they can just get a real wingback or two to replace Polster and Vincent...

Toronto FC

I won't lie. The impending arrival of Alejandro Pozuelo and recent news that they're still after a TAM-level winger bumped them up a couple spots here. The bones of a fine team were already there, but these fancy augmentations are sorely needed. Once the new guys are on board, Gregg Vanney can focus on 1) settling on a formation & 2) the voodoo required to keep Jozy Altidore healthy.

NYCFC

Let's be perfectly clear: this playoff spot is entirely dependent on two things happening. Most obviously, they still need to go get at least one proper center forward type. For reals. The second thing that needs to go down is the neutralization of Dome Torrent's tactical flights of fancy. Not only can he not stop messing with the system, but most of his space-age alterations are goofy failures. Either he can get it under control or they can move on from him, I'm not picky. But this team must to get back to soccer tactics born of the earthly realm, or they'll somehow miss the postseason with a pretty kick-ass roster. Pull yourself together, coach.

Columbus

They've got the keeper... until summer, anyway. They've got the back line... well, three-quarters of one. They've got the midfield... with an aging playmaker on the decline. They've got the striker... and even a back-up! But until they solve what is becoming a debilitating lack of end product from the wingers, the Crew will be too easy to solve. They couldn't even defeat a Red Bulls B-side at home last week. I have them in the last playoff slot, but it's a tenuous hold with 2-3 clubs nipping at their heels.

Montreal

Ya know, if the Impact had a third heat in attack, I could justify picking them to sneak into the playoffs. Maybe Maxi Urruti is that guy, but I'm quite skeptical. It says here there were better fits out there (like Sapong, for instance) for a team that wants to bait you forward before galloping out on the counter. The roster is shallow everywhere and a bottom-five attack just won't get it done, son. But, sure, they will battle you to the death behind the dynamic duo of Piatti & Taider.

Philadelphia

This is another incomplete team. I'm not sold on either of their new forwards, or the wingback stable and find Marco Fabian to be overrated by most. I'm even less impressed by the new 4-4-2 diamond, which is far too narrow to survive the league's better opponents and so very improperly staffed as long as Haris Medunjanin is expected to portray a #6. I'm usually a Jim Curtin fan, but c'mon coach, get real on that one. The good news is they have a load of talented youngsters eager to lift the club. The bad news, I fear, is they won't see the field enough to have that chance. It looks like the Philly see-saw is trending down this year.

Orlando City

When it comes to playing in the opponent's end, the Lions are legitimately scary. When it comes to playing in their own end, they're legitimately scarier. I feel for Orlando fans and really wish they could finally reach the postseason, but alas, can't imagine this is the year for it to happen. They should be good for some exciting games and plenty of over bets, though.

New England

This is a weird team. They have nice midfield pieces and some fine wide players, all of which typically will take you far in MLS. The problem is there will be so many mistakes at the back and so much mediocrity up top for them to be successful. Word has it they're still chasing a DP or two. Unfortunately, this club's tendency is to foul that up.

FC Cincinnati

The acquisition of Kenny Saief should work (relative) wonders, but this team probably needs a couple more worked in attack. When fit, the defense should be solid. There's plenty of able gate-keepers around and I think Allan Cruz will be a star in Cincy before long. However, there will be no Atlanta/LAFC freshman sensation repeat this year.





- Greg Seltzer

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Work In Progress

Remember when I said it was time to put away all the experiments and shrink down the position pools because the Gold Cup is fast approaching? Yeah, well, that does not apply to the USMNT's current wing stable.

Basically what we have there is about three guys capable of starting, one who has demonstrated he can be a real weapon off the bench and a gaggle of players that we can't really trust yet but could suit our needs at a given moment or against a certain opponent. And beyond them lies a group of  unproven youngsters (your Carletons, your Taitagues, your Pomykals, etc.) who could become a lot more proven on quick notice. Because of this, I'm much more willing to go with the "hot hand" system.

For reasons that will become clear, let's break from the usual methods of unveiling and split these charts into that first group of four and then everyone else.

Paul Arriola
Jordan Morris
Timothy Weah

Jonathan Lewis


I didn't split these guys into right and left because, well, all of them can do both. Arriola really showed something new when played on the left during the January friendlies, and if MLS opening day is any indication, is just finding a new gear in general. He's numero uno, at least for now.

As for Morris, yes, I know he's just back on the field - in competitive games. Really, he's been fit and running since last fall. So he's back and better than ever, with no loss of function. He's got the most experience in the pool combined with highly annoying defense stretching speed. He's numero dos with a bullet. Frankly, I'm kinda okay with delaying this spot on the Clipboard so ridiculously long, if only because I can get Morris back in the ranks.

Weah is the most electric guy here, but also has a lot more room to grow when it comes to fitting into a system with a complete effort than the two fellas listed above. Lewis is the bench weapon I referred to, and he showed exactly why in the first two US matches of the year.

Earn it, fellas (grouped by right side, left side, either side):


Brooks Lennon
Jonathan Amon
Corey Baird

Lynden Gooch
Fafa Picault
Kenny Saief

Miguel Ibarra
Julian Green


We'll start with the right-siders. Yep, I still have Lennon listed in the right wing pool. He has all the big play tools (cross, shot, restarts) and the savvy to put himself in a place to use them. That didn't just vanish because RSL bought Savarino. Amon is essentially "baby Weah" out there. As a winger, at this level, Baird has gotten by on fight so far. He needs to be more clinical to stick in a group that will keep getting better around him.

I'm fully aware that Gooch is currently in League One. He's also top-five in the league in assists on a team angling for automatic promotion and can also bang 'em home from distance. Picault is a bit one-dimensional, but hey, that dimension is scoring goals with a blend of pace and aerial prowess. There's definitely a use for him against certain (slow and/or small) foes. Saief might just be the most well-rounded talent in the entire flank pool, regardless of side... but he hasn't had a shift longer than eight minutes in over five months. Go to Cincinnati and cure what obviously ails them (a stunning dearth of attackers) and we'll talk.

Ibarra is a guy who will run his socks off, defends pretty well and crosses pretty well. In other words, all the things we wish Green would add to his game. That guy is quite the enigma, but one thing is certain: he does not belong in central midfield. It would be super duper if his club would put him back out wide antagonizing fullbacks where he belongs.

--

Next up: The highly frustrating wide back ranks.





- Greg Seltzer