Friday, November 11, 2011

The Friday Five

This week, with the MLS Cup still lingering off in the distance like a bored monolith, we take a look at Don Garber's love for unloved announcements, why Jurgen Klinsmann is America's favorite step dad and more.

Assist maestro Brad Davis went down with a quad injury in the first half of Houston's eventual 2-0 victory over SKC in the Eastern Conference Final last weekend. Does Davis sit out the final, and if he does, how big of a miss is that for Houston?

Will: With the necessary due respect to Dwayne De Rosario, whose one-man wrecking crew act in DC was superbly impressive, no one player impacts his team as much as Davis. He has 18 assists through the playoffs and nobody can come close to replicating his curling left-footed set pieces. His fingerprints are all over everything the Dynamo do offensively. Houston gets an inordinate amount of its goals off Davis' free kicks. Take that away and what do you have? Adam Moffat provided the front end of a set piece goal against KC, but how often can you rely on those without the imposing figure of Davis over the ball? And don't get me started on the mental impact. Dom Kinnear can pull all the strings he likes, but the team psyche takes a huge blindside hit without Davis available.

I don't think Davis plays. Quad injuries are notoriously pesky, and two weeks to heal isn't enough time. Even if he does play, he won't be 100 percent and might only sub on for PKs in the event of an injury time thriller. Such is Davis' role in Houston that without him, the Galaxy's already existing edge in this battle gets even bigger. It's a disaster scenario.

Jacob: It's a disaster in the same way a Nor'easter is a disaster. Sure it's a pain in the ass shoveling all that snow. And the cabin fever from being cooped up inside the rest of the time is mind-numbing. But at least you have time to buy some emergency groceries, batteries, marshmallows, and hot coco. By the time the final kicks off next Sunday night, Houston will have been without Davis for two whole weeks. Obviously there's some natural talent in the MVP candidate that you can't hope to train into anyone, but you can bet your bottom dollar Adam Moffat's been putting in some extra hours on his dead ball deliveries.

The Dynamo will most sharply miss his presence in the run of play where his runs and off the ball are often overshadowed by his set piece mastery, but the team will have had a full fortnight to deal with the psychological impact. In fact, it feeds into the underdog mojo that Houston was already hanging their hats on even more. Even still, Davis is a man's man - just look at that beard - and the Houston medical staff will be doing everything they can to have him available. I expect him to be on the bench, cortisoned at halftime and readily available for a late shift in the game. Quad injuries can be searing, but so are missed opportunities. The Galaxy should pray they're not being Belichicked here.

Despite Klinsmann publicly stating that any MLS Cup finalists - at the time it was either Beckerman or Donovan - would be released after the France game, Donovan pulled out of the camp entirely. Klinsmann later expressed a fair bit of regret over Donovan's decision. Is this a case of Donovan feeling his spot in the team is secure or just trying to minimize the wear and tear of Donovan's usually offseason-less career?

Jacob: In short, it's both. Klinsmann has every right to be a little annoyed. Nobody likes to look duped like that publicly, but he also knows that Donovan is one of the best players on the team, if not the best ever. That said, he's not in a state right now physically where he can regularly blow past international defenders. He's had a mild dip in form with the national team this year and a lot of that can be attributed to an ankle injury he's been quietly nursing. Obviously it's not been anything serious enough to keep him from playing regularly, but a man with his skill-set (read: speed) will always be affected by any sort of lower body injury.

Consequently he's been slowed down a bit, but he was always going to slow as he aged. Donovan's talents stretch well beyond his pace and he still has a world-class engine. The Galaxy captain has been dropping deeper lately for his club and he will undoubtedly move around for the US as well. Klinsmann has hinted at the prospect of playing him in the hole behind two strikers or as a second striker behind a center forward. Of course he can still man the flanks. Quite frankly, he can pop up anywhere in our attack. Klinsmann knows this, Donovan knows this, and neither of them will make this into any bigger of a "controversy" than it already is(n't).

Will: My main question, Jacob, is who's wearing the pants here? I think that gets at the heart of Klinsmann's dismay. Donovan was an established star before Klinsi came to town, and like any step father in a new relationship, he wants to establish that baseline respect level. Does he have it yet? Hard to tell, but this development won't shed any new light on it. I actually put Donovan in the hole in my MLS Best XI, but I don't see Klinsmann using him anywhere but on the wing. Which is fine. I think that gets back to Klinsmann doing what's most comfortable and ruffles the fewest feathers. I'm sure Donovan appreciates.

It's not a controversy, of course, but since I like to peer deeper into things sometimes, I see something that may or may not be there at present. By telling Donovan he'd be out and ready for the final after the France friendly, Klinsmann inadvertently showed his hand. He cares about this game. If he can have his best XI, he wants it. Donovan, on the other hand, has other priorities. Neither man is necessarily wrong, but perception is reality. Donovan can't afford to give the public any reason to doubt his commitment. If it was any weekend other than that of the MLS Cup Final, I'm sure he'd have reconsidered.

MLS commish Don Garber ended speculation this week by announcing MLS will go to an unbalanced schedule in 2012 with 19 teams playing a 34-game schedule. MLS is also mulling over changing the MLS Cup format so that the team with the better record hosts instead of holding it at a neutral site. Thoughts?

Will: I know the league has a history of unbalanced schedules, but it cheapens the Supporters Shield winner to no end and it always has. It's a somewhat meaningless trophy anyway (just ask LA how they felt about theirs at season's end in 2010), but when you can't guarantee that every team plays essentially the same schedule, what are you left with? An unbalanced trophy chase. And whether or not you agree with me, there are tons of fans - and probably even coaches and players - who will view it the same way. When you add dissent into the ranks in such high numbers, these arguments can only cheapen the chase. Not only that, but I'm of the belief that there are algorhythms out there that can make the travel schedule work better. The league just didn't work hard enough.

As far as the MLS Cup goes, the neutral site works fine. So the Galaxy end up qualifying the year it's at the HDC. Wasn't that always a weighted possibility anyway? It's tinkering for the sake of it. It's a final. Give both teams' supporters an equal chance to support it. Works great for the Premier League in cup finals, doesn't it?

Jacob: The schedule thing is lame, there's no two ways about it. The players know it, the coaches know it, the hardcore fan knows, and you and I know it. That's all well and bad - well bad? - but the players, coaches, fans, and keyboard jockeys will be playing, coaching, cheering for, and covering that which ends up unfolding throughout the progression of next year's imperfect season. The league is starting to realize that the well-educated fan knows a weak schedule setup when he/she sees one and will likely be striving for a proper "European-style" balanced schedule. It's got nothing to do with Europe, but for now the message is clear: Unfair and Unbalanced, We (MLS HQ) Decide!

In an ideal world the MLS Cup site could be held in the same venue every year. As they do, for example, in England. Unfortunately, there is no Wembley Stadium lying around, waiting to be utilized. Perhaps someday, MLS and US Soccer pool some money together and construct a national stadium. Whether or not they ought to is neither here nor there. Until that day comes, we'll be making do with what we've got.

Once the national team breaks camp after the Slovenia game, Brek Shea will head to London to meet up with Arsenal for a month-long training stint. Is this really just Shea getting in some offseason training or can we expect to see him smiling and signing come January?

Jacob: If the guy tears it up while he's there then he'll raise some eyebrows. Hopefully he dribbles circles around the first team in practice and gets to sign a dream deal. I'd love to see it, but I think this is by and large a case of good PR for the powers that be: MLS, Nike, and Shea's agent, Spencer Wadsworth. So for the next few weeks the interwebs can and undoubtedly will run rampant with speculation about how he's doing, where he'd fit in, and what Arsenal would pay for him. I would be joyously shocked out of my pants however, if he ends up signing in January. Maybe something pans out where Wenger keeps an eye on him for the future. The best bet here is Wenger passing him on to one of his coaching buddies elsewhere or at least ensuring that FC Dallas get a fat transfer fee on the back of what promises to be an overstated Arsenal connection.

Will: The bottom line here, Jacob, is you're just not optimistic enough. See how that works?

It's obvious what this month-long excursion is expected to turn into, and that's a public relations coup for MLS when some Prem scouts get an eyeful of Shea's prodigious raw ability, which then hopefully leads to a few more British butts in the league's scouting boxes on game days next year. It certainly isn't expected to lead to any immediate deals. But what happens when Shea scoops out a pin-perfect 30-yard cross in a training session at a dead sprint? It's not as though Shea should expect this "trial" to be an  automatic in at the club famous for running the 4-3-3 he now works under at the national level, but it's a start. One that, I believe, will lead indirectly to a Prem contract. How's that for optimism?

How do you feel about the two week layoff between the conference finals and the MLS Cup?

Will: Hate it.

Do I need more than two words? The league inexplicably expanded its wait by a week for... what exactly? So we can draw out the release of league's award winners to a crawling day-by-day affair? I know Brad Davis isn't complaining, but what about the league's fans? It's nonsensical to cram that many games into the wild card, semifinal and final rounds only to suddenly cut off the flow for two weeks. Hate it.

Jacob: Will, everyone knows that soccer can only be the bestest once we do everything like a real American sports league. And because this is, last I checked, America, we need to combine every conceivable element of American sports into the league's playoff system. It's the American way. You gotta have series, you gotta have one-offs, and most importantly, you need a two-week wait to build up hype. Basically, we need to be more like the Super Bowl. In fact, let's change the 'S' in MLS from soccer to super and then we can have a Major League Super Bowl or a Soccer Bowl. Yeah, that's it, a Soccer Bowl! Then and only then will soccer in America achieve its true potential. With a name like that the league will have years of infinitely increasing prosperity.

Readyyyy.... Break!


Andy said...

2 week break also makes it easier for the fans of the two teams involved to make travel arrangements to get there.

You know, flights and hotels for the Dynamo fans and babysitting for the LA fans.

Will Parchman said...

There are a few pros, no question. But I think they are drowned helplessly by the cons. The extra week for travel plans helps, but would attendance really suffer if you cut down the prep time by 7 days? At that juncture flight prices aren't much less expensive anyway.