Monday, September 12, 2011

The MLS Grinder: Don't Call It A Comeback

...Charlie Davies has been here for months. Unfortunately, Chris Pontius likely will not be.

Game of the Week
DC United 3, Chivas USA 0

Please excuse me if my commentary is more biting tonight than usual. Watching the Dallas Cowboys choke away wins has become a rite of fall in the Parchman household, but it never makes them any easier to digest. Every year with this garbage. Hopefully Charlie Davies' elegant night at the park will provide a layer of catharsis for three wasted hours in front of the tube.

Anyway, this is me snorting out hard through my nose, furrowing my brow low over my eyes and getting to the damn point. In the above picture, taken after Davies' first goal of a glorious hat trick against Chivas, he gestures to a smiling Chris Pontius, jogging along assuredly after feeding the first of three immaculate balls to Davies' feet. It was a fitting gesture.

The goal was Davies' first since June 25, and his first of three in a span of 55 minutes. It was an appropriate example of the mixed bag Davies' season has been. The good have been moments, flashes really, of the talent of which his accident had seemingly robbed him. There was a broken femur, broken tibia, torn knee ligament, fractured elbow, broken fibula... you've heard the laundry list, and it is harrowing. The bad have been the niggling injuries. There was a nagging hamstring that slowed him in May after he sprinted off to a red-hot start with eight goals in his first 13 games. Then he dealt with swelling in his knee, which turned the summer into a slog. In addition, Davies is playing his first full club season in more than two years. The mental fatigue involved has, without question, taken a toll. As for the ugly, we've touched on Davies' propensity to embellish light challenges, especially when penalties are on offer. It is rare that a single season from a single player is filled with this much digestible material.

Anybody who watched the hat trick montage (scroll down a bit for that) undoubtedly noticed a common theme amongst Davies' goals: Chris Pontius. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been nothing short of pivotal this season, slinging through balls (five assists) and creating goalmouth incidents (seven goals) as Davies rides the rollercoaster. His remarkable consistently could've led to United into the role of the most dangerous playoff outsider, until this happened. The physical toll on United will be devastating. They just lost their key dangerman. But the mental effect on a player like Davies will be of most interest to me.

For the majority of his career, Davies has thrived as a poacher. With his speed and liquid-like ability to fill empty space in the box, he's made a career of running into gaps between backs and slipping in unexpected goals. Exhibit A from a 2-1 win over the Dynamo, his last goal before this weekend.

This, to me, is a vintage Charlie Davies goal. There is nothing particularly pretty about it. To the untrained eye it almost looks completely chaotic. But I see more. You'll notice Davies sliding inward to check Najar's run and provide a backstop to the ping-pong effect created by the forest of legs around the goal line. He rightly cleans up the mess and neatly tucks the goal inside the near corner before the keeper can react. It's one of those plays you can't recreate in practice, which is essentially Davies' value. He is a reaction player with the ability to think out his moves. There are not many of those in the USMNT pool, and certainly none as good as Davies.

His level of anticipation on plays like these is what makes him so effective around the area. And why he thrives around people like Pontius. He's never been the type to take over himself -- a fine quality to have as long as not everybody shares it, an issue I believe the USMNT is struggling to work through at the moment -- but his pacy runs combined with an ability to anticipate the developmental inner-workings of plays are reasons why I believe Davies' career will not be long for MLS. Back to Sochaux? That's probably his next move. But with a healthy run of form behind him, every goal creates some mental dissonance between him and his life-altering accident. That could make Sochaux what it was originally intended to be -- a stepping stone for a bigger club. Why not Davies?

You all know my love for hyperbolic YouTube videos, so I have to parrot this one again. It's so cheesy, it's good. Love how that works.

Best of the Best

- Davide Chiumiento to front stage. Your curtain call awaits. How Vancouver produces the sickest goals in the league and continues to be bottom-of-the-West terrible is a riddle only to be solved by the mystics. Goal of the week for sure. But does it beat Hassli's hammergoal of the gods? That may be a question best left up to the ballots, because I'm not sure if I can decide. Gun to my head? Hassli.

- The Revolution have been out of the playoff picture for a while now (since opening week, basically), so it was nice for the home crowd to have something to cheer about for once this weekend in a shock 2-0 win over visiting FCD. In fact, it was the Revs' first home win since May 14 and first win overall in nearly a month and a half. The problems have been multifold, but they've been horribly porous at the back in conceding 43 goals, second-worst only to TFC's astonishingly bad 51. Benny Feilhaber has put in consistent minutes, but he hasn't tallied assists or goals with any regularity, and the Revs are trying to break in DP Milton Caraglio up top, the second-lowest paid DP in the league. But this was a nice scalp to stick in the back pocket.

- San Jose, which endured one of the worst starts to an MLS season in league history before recovering, dropped out of the playoff race with a bitterly blase summer. And they had the Fire this weekend. So what does Frank Yallop do? Just play up and down the field, he says. Go vertical. So they do. And they snap a 13-game winless drought. Good on ya.

Worst of the Worst

- It was a weekend of blunders for Western teams looking to catch LA for the Supporter's Shield. Seattle, the hottest team in the league in August, dropped three points to RSL thanks to Alvaro Saborio's second bite of the cherry, which you can see in full here. FC Dallas laid an even bigger egg in New England. Dallas isn't worried about the SS anymore, the Hoops just want to hang onto their spot now. Their loss combined with Seattle's stumble allowed RSL to climb within a point of Dallas and the third and final guaranteed playoff spot in the West.

- How inconsistent is the Eastern Conference? If you believe the Crew are the best team east of the Mississippi, they've still lost three of their last five. The Dynamo, sitting in third currently, have a -2 goal differential and have yet to win a road game. The Union have either tied or lost each of their last five matches. Is this suddenly looking like Kansas City's conference for the taking? Strange thought.

- This has been a notably rugged year for brash, season-ending tackles. Getting stuck in is one thing, but going all Conan The Barbarian on fools is a little much. Add the aforementioned Chris Pontius to the list of the unfortunates, and slide David Junior Lopes' name alongside those of Marcos Mondaini and Brian Mullan. Check it at the 5:20 mark.

This one was less egregious, as it looked like more of a 50/50 ball that Lopes came in on awkwardly. It reminded me of Jonny Evans' rash tackle that Stu Holden is still recovering from. Evans was rightly roasted by the English press for a dumb tackle, and while Lopes may escape the Mullan treatment from United supporters, it shouldn't go unpunished.

- Will Parchman


Jamie said...

Who did more rolling around and complaining, the guy with the broken leg or the guy who broke it?

That's right, the latter. Lopes deserves a three-match suspension for that alone.

jon said...

The mystics are speaking to me..."defense...defense...-15 goal differential," they say. Case solved.

jon said...

Jamie, did you see the incident? Lopes got hammered in the leg/knee? after he cleared the ball away. How he got a red there is actually mystifying. To me that was either a yellow for studs showing or a no-call.

Will Parchman said...

The mystics told me something about a deal with the devil, Jon, but I suppose a leaky back line would make more sense.

usry723 said...

I don't see how making a video for a guys who hadn't played in 16 months is cheesy. But I guess I'm biased since I made it.

Will Parchman said...

Cheesy was probably the wrong adjective (florid, perhaps), but either way, I like it so much I've posted it up twice now. I still get goosebumps when Davies gives that tearful post-game interview. In any case, good work, sir.

Unknown said...

While that was clearly a dumb tackle. It was a dumb tackle by Pontius. Lopez gets the ball, he goes in with just one foot and his feet are on the ground. Pontius came in high and late with his studs up, if there was any card it should have gone against him.