Friday, March 9, 2012

The Friday Five

It's baaaack.

Since I know you missed us, Jacob and I are bringing back the Friday Five with the wind force of a busted tuba. On tap for today is CCL action, MLS First Kick madness and the wonders of Jozy's AZ frolic vs. the cold-shoulder treatment from a vocal group of MNT fans. Get on your speedos, folks. We're diving in.

Preseason predictions are always asking for trouble, but with MLS it's an extra special breed of crazy. Take your pick on top surprise of the season.

Jacob: After KC's run last season and the gelling of Sapong-Bunbury, you'd think they'd have their way with the East this season. Heck, even Graham Zusi looked ok-ish with the Nats in January. Yet with the I-95 axis slowly looking really solid with Peter Nowak's machine still whirring away in Philly, DC putting the pieces together and NY staying drama-free - for now - Convey and company are facing a bumpier road then first glance would indicate. TFC looks competent, too. The Sporks will miss Bravo in midfield and will struggle to fill that void. That strike force is sexy, but gets a lot less seductive if Bunbury ducks off to London. KC should still make the playoffs, but it'll be a lot tighter than it should be.

Will: I'm not crazy enough to say something like "The New York Red Bulls will win the MLS Cup." Am I? What the hell. Yes I am. The talent is there, so is the mindset? So many people hopped all over Hans Backe last year, including yours truly, for what so many viewed as one of the worst coaching blunders in league history, but in many ways his hands have been tied by questionable decisions from the bean counters above him. As long as Rafa Marquez doesn't muck things up too badly, New York will line up more talent than almost anybody, and Thierry Henry remains capable of producing unprecedented moments of magic. New York is poised to rip the heart out of this league. Whether or not they can grasp the chance or not is more or less up to their locker room chemistry.

What was your biggest takeaway from the first leg of CCL knockout action this week?

Will: With respect to the upset in Toronto that ultimately wasn't (sorry, letting in two away goals isn't getting it done against LA), Seattle getting a full 2-1 aggregate edge against Santos Laguna and Herc Gomez was the toast of the town. I understand that Herc's brilliantly simple finish could spell doom for the Sounders, especially considering no Mexican team has yet taken a full three points from the Estadio Corona this year. But there's little more Sigi Schmid could've asked for then to head down to Mexico with the aggregate edge. The most impressive thing for me from Wednesday, other than Osvaldo Alonso's continuing ability to grip a game by the haunches and rip it out of the ground, was Seattle's quick-witted response after conceding the tying goal. That shows mettle and poise. Whether or not the Sounders can avoid that away goal creeping back on them is one thing, but they're poised to fell one of the big dogs left in this tournament either way.

Jacob: Toronto definitely blew it on snagging the first week headlines, but they looked good doing it. Aron Winter's mojo seems to be sinking in up north, and while his removal of Joao Plata seemed to give LA more of the ball than they really needed, the team looked good. I couldn't help but notice the composure the team had early for the better part of an hour, moving the ball around, keeping it clean in the back - Frings is a rock - and otherwise handcuffing Team Hollywood. They're hardly ready to consistently compete with the league's best as they just lack the experience of closing games out like that, but with Winter really seeming to have his team's ear, TFC will only get better. Wild card contenders for sure and if they stay healthy, favorites beware come playoff time.

MLS First Kick game of the week - who you got?

Will: Has to be Real Salt Lake visiting HDC to open with the Galaxy. It seems to have taken an even more interesting twist with formerly awful TFC pushing LA to the brink at midweek, leaving some of the thinkers among us to ponder whether or not LA is up to the level it was last year. With every piece back, except perhaps a dinged up Nat Borchers, RSL has to be considered a legit title contender, and taking points on the road separates the big dogs from the pretenders. The Prem has its Big 4 matchups. Spain has its El Clasicos. Seems silly to say without the ball being kicked yet, but games like these are up there in importance in the league's grander picture.

Jacob: Yeah, that's the game with the two best teams playing in it, but New York coming down to Dallas is the battle of the league X-factors. It seems almost silly to brand the Red Bulls like that, but the team has been so fickle and last I checked Marquez is still there. Tick tick tick ... Still, they're as loaded as anyone up top and Luke Rodgers still hasn't come back yet. They're young between the sticks and will certainly miss Ream, but if they don't achieve something resembling consistent class this year Backe can reserve a spot in the unemployment line. Of course, if Dallas, namely David Ferreira, can get their respective acts together, the back line is solid and the attack is flat out scary. You can't tell me as a neutral fan that watching Ferreira feed Shea and Perez wouldn't be the bomb diggity. Dallas is flat out raw AND we get to see what this looks like live.

The MNT U-23 team nipped Mexico 2-0 last week at FC Dallas Stadium to create a great double to pair with the senior team's historic win over Italy. What's the significance?

Will: For the last few years, how much have we heard about Mexico's impending CONCACAF dominance with the talent El Tri have coming down the pipe? Only every other word out of the Mexican press. And plenty here, too. What the U-23's proved, in their first international game since the 2008 Olympics no less, was that those talks are well premature. Caleb Porter's side went with a 4-3-3, the supposed future of American soccer, and resolutely held off the Mexicans with goals from Juan "Look at me now Hans" Agudelo and the Mixmaster Diskerud. I'm still not buying that this US pool is more talented than Mexico, but as dos-a-cero results that echo down the chambers of time can attest, that matters little when up against a resolute American side with more want-to. I'd expect little to change in the coming years.

Jacob: Yes, but also no. It's a really neat time to be an American soccer fan. The program is showing no signs of losing its trademark grit, but we're really starting to turn out some top-notch young talent, many of whom look increasingly less confused with the ball at their feet. EL mini-Tri can attest to that and with burners like Shea and Gatt coming up the pipeline to partner with technically slick ballers like Mix and that Freddy kid everyone keeps talking about, the future looks really bright. Basically, we're becoming Mexico with our combination of young speed and skill, but with more of the stuff that makes the US "us." If the same core of guys that packed a paint brush with their lunch pail against Mexico keep doing their thing it'll only add some silk to our grind M.O. That and it gives us a chance to hold the ball long enough to finally put one over on Mexico at Mordor.

One Mr. Josmer Altidore has been dividing opinions in the American soccer community since he burst onto the scene when he was just 17. Lately he's been doing his thing in the land of cheese and dykes, but is he doing enough for the Nats?

Jacob: He's lazy, he's brilliant, he's fast, he's slow, he's fat... well, you get the point. Truth be told he's none of the above. What he is is a damn solid prospect who's really starting to make strides as a player and a professional. The facts remains though that the US and AZ play two very different systems, at least when Klinsmann wants to win. Sure, Jozy's not banging 'em home with as much frequency for the US as he has been with AZ, but it's a higher level of play. Still, the progress is obvious if you just open your eyes. Just look at the layoff to Dempsey in Genoa. Jozy pre-Alkmaar doesn't even try that pass. Furthermore, he's easily our most talented physical specimen up top. The guy bruises defenders, almost always drawing a double-team. Now factor in the space he's freeing up for guys like Shea and Dempsey, not even Donovan yet, and he becomes invaluable. Nobody that young and that good is really ready to do the job, and Jozy's only getting better on the daily. So everybody chill, Jozy's got this.

Will: I'm not stupid enough to suggest that Jozy "doesn't have it" at the national level or some such nonsense, but he's clearly got some things to figure out. Namely how to be more consistent with his touches. I'm not suggesting he'll ever be silky smooth on possession, but he needs to be a better hold-up player if he's not going to do much on the ball. The thing Jozy's AZ stint has proven is that with consistent service, Jozy can bang 'em home and set up goals as well, which is probably the biggest service the Dutch game has provided him. He's not gotten that at the national level, but it seems that even when he does, he's been wasteful at times. That said - and this is something I've touched on before - Jozy will absolutely crush ridiculous goals in a USA shirt and then totally flub easy chances. That's why he's developed such a maddeningly devisive reputation, one I can't particularly begrudge fans for holding. I'm not suggesting that he needs to follow Clint's lead by scoring 16 goals a minute to gain more respect, but he needs to score more regularly. He's not going to get many more free passes for being a young player.

- Will Parchman & Jacob Klinger


Luetchy said...

Ferreira has been ruled out vs. NYRB due to that achilles knock he took in Orlando :(

Jacob Klinger said...

This is not an achilles, this is one man dangling a piece of meat around a pack of ravaging wolves.

Damnit Orlando!

Still, it'll be ice to see whether or not Shea can carry the load or if Blas Perez is as brilliant of a signing as I think he is.

UnitedDemon said...

Could someone explain why New York is rated as highly as they are?

They still have Henry, Rodgers, Cooper, Aguelo, Richards, Lindpere. But the organization has stagnated, the backline is as unstable as there can be in MLS, and there isn't even an average goalkeeper on the roster.

New York and Philly will take a step backward.

I think the dark horses in the East are Toronto and DC. I think they'll be working out the kinks, and if either of them makes it to the playoffs, there's enough talent there.

Jacob Klinger said...

I actually just did a piece on one of their keepers, Vuolo. We'll see how he and Meara shake out.

But you answered your own question, those guys plus Marquez and Keel give the defense something decent give them a chance. It's a hyper-talented team and if they ever click they could easily win MLS Cup. I just don't think they will.

Joshua said...

Will and Jacob,

I have to agree with your USA and Mexico comments. I hear everywhere (including American soccer pundits) that Mexico is pumping out talent, but we REALLY proved otherwise last week. I also agree that their senior team is more talented, but in as little as a year that could be argued differently. If a couple of players play to their potential and start seeing some big time minutes for club then I don't see Mexico holding on. (I'm talking Gyau, Shea, Boyd, Altidore and numerous others)

Also, the big argument for Mexico, the players that really take them to the next level, comes from two players: Chicharito and Dos Santos. I have to begrudgingly say that Chicharito is a fantastic player and as for Dos Santos, I don't know how long a player can play like he does for his country and never play for his club. It's gotta catch up with him sometime.

Good reading. Cheers

Phil McCracken said...

New York is a hyper-talented team? I disagree.

True that they have some talented players, but basically they're a top-heavy side with little to no talent/depth in key positions.

Jacob Klinger said...

Relative to MLS they are. Maybe one or two teams can claim "depth," but it's only getting there.

Few teams have as complete of an attack in terms of talent. They just have to put it all together, but I don't think they will.

Will Parchman said...

It's all bitterly contested conjecture at this point, and by definition predictions are a mite ridiculous at this point anyway. So why not go whole hog? New York has as much talent as anybody in the league with a borderline narcissist head case in the middle of the park, a young keeper who's a complete unknown and one of the most confusing head coaches in the league. In this league, who knows? Because few things that happen in MLS, the most parity-driven league in the world, make a whole lot of sense.

dikranovich said...

the real question is who is going to have the best record in the league. the playoffs are like a second season and anyone that gets into the playoffs can win the playoffs.

deRo shows up with any kind of form at all and dc united is going to be pretty much unbeatable. we can check back in after tomorrow night when skc comes to rfk and gets fubar

Matt said...

Off topic, but has George John even made the team sheet since his move? Championship teams seem to play like 70 games a season, so it's amazing to me John can't make the gameday roster for at least one them, much less the actual field. Is he hurt?

Greg Seltzer said...

George John is back in Dallas already.

jon said...

That's an interesting opinion on DC. Does DeRo play every position now?

Matt said...

I'd say, based on one game, that Blaz Perez is going to be quite the pickup for Dallas. Looking forward to your writeup of MLS action, Will...