Tuesday, December 12, 2017

(Expansion) Picks of the Litter

While some in our soccer bubble have been debating over whether a place still remains for the MLS Expansion Draft, I've long been of the mind that it is a woefully under-utilized avenue for team building.

Yeah, I'm aware you can grab trade chips (like Minnesota United did last year) or basically blow off the picks (how's that working out so far, Orlando City?). The last club to treat the Expansion Draft as a means to directly expand their roster foundation was Seattle, and they made it look like a really good idea (17 US Open Cup and one MLS Cup ring in Sounders colors, including some by a club captain now up to 200 appearances, from that group of 10).

Taking a cue from Seattle circa 2008, I'll offer up five deluxe picks for LAFC to bag up and take home today. And because I have no idea what signings LAFC are already closing on, I'll stick mainly to guys that won't take up an international slot.

ROUND 1

What better place to start than with the new MLS champs? They have a few plum picks, but for me, it comes down to either Drew Moor or Raheem Edwards... and Moor is actually free agent, so there's no need to blow a selection on him here. Well, that was easy enough. One cheap, left-side attacker with tons of upside. You're welcome. Next!

ROUND 2

Let's slide over the the Sporting KC stall, where one could pilfer a very solid two-way fullback for either side. I'd certainly lean toward Saad Abdul-Salaam - but Bob Bradley has already signed a right back. That means I'd quite happily grab Seth Sinovic to team up with Edwards on the left.

ROUND 3

Bradley has already said he doesn't want to marry to one tactical look, so he'll need some versatile cogs here. The first one I'll suggest seems like a kind gift. Seattle's Harry Shipp is young enough to have legs, old enough to know a few things, affordable, can play anywhere along playmaking midfield and just showed that he can produce in a playoff pinch. Besides, it seems like this guy deserves a proper chance to start again somewhere, at least on a platoon basis. Grab some sunscreen, Harrison.

ROUND 4

Goalies don't seem to get chosen in the Expansion Draft so often, and I'm really not sure why that is. D.C. United might strangle me for it, but I'd be inclined to snag Steve Clark, who is dependable enough to start and oddly cheap for his caliber ($72K guaranteed in 2017).

ROUND 5

It's the last round, so let's get crazy and choose a winger with the ability to scare defenders. If they think they can work out a transfer deal, go ahead and take Yamil Asad to extraordinarily piss off those manic fans down in the ATL. Short of confidence to close that deal, I'd probably turn to Crew youngster Niko Hansen (or Colorado's Josh Gatt if the mood hit to gamble on speed).








- Greg Seltzer

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Your MLS Cup Line-Ups

No surprises of any kind in the Seattle eleven, but it is interesting to see Toronto FC come out in a 4-4-2. I'm predicting a lot more action than we saw in last year's taut MLS Cup clash.








- Greg Seltzer

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Silver Mines

In my humble opinion, Saturday's championship match-up between holders Seattle and home-side favorites Toronto FC has every ingredient needed to make it one of the greatest MLS Cup duels in league history. I could see anything happening at BMO Field, all the way from another tightly-played chess match to a seven-goal slugfest.

However the story is written, the winner is going to need to rule specific areas of the field. Lots of folks will expound on player match-ups, and I love that stuff as much as anyone. But, after sizing up this match for a week, I'm thinking the key to victory rides on how Seattle and Toronto FC fare on three pathways to the silver.

Morrow/Vazquez v. Leerdam/Roldan

Yeah, this sounds like player match-ups, but it's more about a corridor between final thirds that will see plenty of four particular guys with the ability to turn a game from there. I know Seattle attacks down the left more than any other MLS team, but they prefer to jet down that flank as opposed to using it for patient build.

Thanks to Morrow, TFC can do that, but the left is also where they like to base their attacks. Their staging zone, if you will. Vazquez will turn up all over the final third, but he loves to fan out there to take a look at the field. The fact that he can release Morrow wide and look to box targets with equal cruelty gives defenders pause, which gives the Reds a little more space to work a dazzler.

This is also a zone where Roldan likes to force turnovers or act as pressure valve, and hop on his horse either way. The more Leerdam can contain Morrow, the easier it will be for Roldan find giddyup situations. A likely outcome is they trade blows on this path, but it would be huge if either team could own it.

The game in front of Roman Torres

This time we're basically talking about the right side of the Seattle box plus, if enough goes well for the Sounders center back, an area that extends some length beyond the 18 in that same channel.

In the leg one win at Houston, Torres was jumping lanes out front of the area, blocked a shot at "the top of the key" (as it were) and threw in some foreboding aerial wins for good measure. The Panama hero did give away a pair of fouls, but both were out toward the flank and halfway to the midfield stripe. He rather effectively extended this field bubble to darn near midfield for most of the game.

On the other hand, there were also a incident that saw Mauro Manotas ghost right through Torres to breach the Seattle box. This sort of thing can't occur against Toronto FC. This is an area where Giovinco wins (and pots) free kicks, where Altidore busts into the area, where the Reds run combos.

When the game is heading at Torres, he needs to be the boss on Saturday. He also needs help from Svensson and Roldan to keep the game from heading at him at pace. The more they step to passers and shooters outside the box, the easier it gets for last year's penalty spot hero to win this difficult battle.

The space between Dempsey & Lodeiro

It may have seemed like all my keys would fall under the "how Seattle can monkey wrench TFC" brand. No way, folks. This is not the 2016 Sounders, and the hosts definitely have a zone to worry about. The thing is, this one is has no fixed location on the pitch. It moves.

One minute, Lodeiro and Deuce will drop deep to help the team cross midfield. A moment later, they're running one-touch game toward the box. Sometimes they are right next to each other, sometimes they're nearly half a field's width apart. But they are always capable of linking up to fatal effect.

Even when they don't have the ball, defenders must take care to account for them. This can grant an extra yard of space to the Sounders buzzing around the Dempsey-Lodeiro orbit, and that's all it takes for a Jones or Rodriguez to make a big play. The two Seattle stars can have an impact with touches or simply through gravitational pull, and it's something Toronto FC has to deal with positively.

--

Both clubs have greatly improved since the Sounders' slim win late last year, so I'm counting on more chances being created and a few goals. In my experience, cold players like to stay in motion. These two clubs are talented enough to take advantage of even a few added off-the-ball bursts, so I'd bet against another scoreless 120 minutes.

I can find every reason to pick the Sounders again this year, but it just seems unreasonable to think TFC will blow another home shot at the title. And this time, it's for the treble. I'm calling it: Toronto FC takes it 2-1 on a late Giovinco free kick. That sounds like a fitting way to close the 2017 campaign to me.






- Greg Seltzer

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Klinsmann debuts with PK save

Hertha Berlin netminder Jonathan Klinsmann celebrated his first team breakthrough with a late draw-saving penalty stop in Europa league play on Thursday night. While the Germans were already eliminated from advancing prior to kickoff, visiting Östersunds FK needed a win to take the top spot in their group. And with the score knotted at ones just three minutes from time, the Swedish side got their big chance...







- Greg Seltzer

Saturday, December 2, 2017

My MLS Best XI

I truly am a creature of preference: things simply need to be done my way. I can't have the bottom of the blanket tucked in, it's just too hot and restricting. Broccoli and carrots should always be roasted, never ever steamed. And heaven help me, I like my MLS Best XI to be in the form of a line-up that could actually function on the field.

As such, I will politely debate the 3-3-4 monstrosity offered by the league's voters with a 3-5-2 that offers much better pitch coverage and kudos spread around to all the positions used in league play. A simple list of the top 11 players is not my cup of cocoa (I really only drink tea when I'm sick), an all-star team requires some debate, tough decisions, and yes, even some "OMG, HOW COULD YOU LEAVE OFF ______?" blow-back.

So here ya go:




First, I'll share some explanations and then we'll get to my second and third teams.

In my view, Melia, Opara, Valeri, Villa and Polster (at the relatively weaker right back slot) basically pick themselves. Almiron narrowly edges out Vazquez because of all that he offers defensively, while Bradley, Martinez and the other two center backs also squeak in past equally worthy candidates because of the x-factor they provide their respective clubs. Finally, despite Morrow's fine season, I simply could not leave out Jones. Seattle would not be where they are without him and it's a shame they'll soon be losing him for free (though I will look forward to seeing Terrence Boyd feast on all his wonderful service).

And now, we turn to a lot of near-misses that might well have made my Best XI in another year...











Finally, some very honorable mentions: Johnson, Bono, Adams, Long, Jungwirth, Lawrence, Alonso, McCarty, Svensson, Klestan, Scweinsteiger, Delgado,  Higuain, Dzemaili, Alex, Meram, Asad, Elis, Villalba, Barrios, Sapong, O. Kamara








- Greg Seltzer

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Miazga, Green ring Sunday bells

A pair of US internationals working overseas lit the lamp in victories on Sunday, with Matt Miazga heroically crashing home Vitesse's 87th minute winner against ADO Den Haag.





Across the border in Germany's second flight, we had a happy Julian Green sighting. Back in the line-up after recovering from a muscle injury that kept him out for over a month, the youngster did some nifty work to add the capper on a 4-0 rout of St. Pauli for his first goal since February. His scoring play starts at the 3:37 mark.








- Greg Seltzer