Monday, May 21, 2012

The MLS Grinder: Five things

There are a lot of things to like about getting married, but missing Chelsea's proudest moment for wearying (but satisfying, honey!) engagement photos is not among them. It also washed out my ability to watch any MLS live, so I spent the last few hours or so scouring Twitter and gorging on MLS Live clips to catch up. Not perfect, but it'll do.

So in lieu of a shakedown of the league this weekend in the classical Grinder style, I'm doing something a smidge different this week. I'll run through five of the weekend's major talking points and suss out some truths. Gotta be some in there, right?

MLS refereeing is still mediocre

And mediocre is often generous. Two instances from one man this weekend reinforced this. 

Markus Holgersson, unimpressive as he's been, was raked over the coals by referee Ismail Elfath, who pointed straight to the spot after Bernardo Corradi tripped over a shadow in the box. Whether Elfath thought he saw a handball or Holgersson somehow posting up and then bowling over Corradi, neither were correct decisions. Corradi's header bounced off the elbow of an unaware Holgersson as he was facing the opposite direction. So clearly that was intentional, yes? Think again. It was a shockingly obtuse call. Corradi's PK led to Montreal's only goal in a 2-1 loss. 

Elfath blew another one that was equally as daft a mere 15 minutes later. Dane Richards found a free patch of grass on the right side of the box and sent over a cross that skipped off Tyson Wahl's right hand. Only Wahl's hand was not only not outstretched, but he was in the natural process of letting his arm settle by his side. To me, this is damning evidence.

Doesn't look anything like a man trying to obstruct the natural flow of the game. It's a bit hard to tell by the photo, but everything Wahl did, from the slide to the position of his arm, was perfectly in line with how your body fluidly reacts to that motion. Unless Elfath expected Wahl to presume to calculate the precise trajectory of the ball path before Richards even kicked it, then it was a nonsensical call. But at least he was consistent. I don't have a comment on the PK that decided the Superclasico, but I'll assume it was egregiously awful as well.

Anyhow, these types of strange calls that end up being the progenitors of stranger make-up calls will have to be stamped out as you would any pimple. But we've known this for years. The trick is getting anything done.

Something's not quite right in Kansas City

After beginning the year on an otherworldly 7-0-0 run, KC is 0-3-1 in its last four. There have been a few troubling shin kicks here in the last few weeks, but the signs from the one draw in that bunch — a 2-2 game with Colorado last weekend in which KC gave up a 2-0 lead — may be even more troubling than the three losses.

So what does the Opta Chalkboard say?

First and foremost, let's look at KC's formation. Peter Vermes organized SKC in a loose 4-2-3-1 on Saturday with Bunbury as the lone striker up top, Kei Kamara on the right, Bobby Convey on the left and Graham Zusi in the middle. It's baffling, looking at the heat map, that KC does not have a win in its last four. I can find little fault with any of it, and I tried fairly hard. Bunbury and Kamara are both getting into dangerous positions to take shots (though Bunbury could do this more), Graham Zusi is covering scads of turf and Chance Myers' heat map looks like the Predator's field of vision just caught a hormonal grizzly bear. If I could say anything, it's that SKC has become too unbalanced. Zusi naturally drifts into a pocket on the right side just above half field and likes to look for crosses and killer passes. That's fine, but Myers and Kamara both call that side home, and neither have much of a tendency to do much toward the middle of the field.

The easiest thing to poke at is that KC simply isn't scoring at a rate comparable to the rest of its Eastern counterparts at the top of the table. But also take into account that KC has given up three fewer goals than anybody in the East, and we're right back where we started. And the simple statistic of goals scored can often mask the amount of chances taken. Sometimes it's just a matter of luck that a ball finds the net.

I can come up with niggles like these — and they do play a part, make no mistake — but all signs point toward SKC finding some sort of ballast soon and resuming a pace more in keeping with their earlier form. For instance, Julio Cesar made 19 passes in Colorado's half last weekend and missed on just two of them. For a defensive midfielder especially, those are not trifling numbers. As inexplicable as this winless streak has been, I wouldn't expect it to last much longer.

And a quick shoutout to my cousin Greg, who actually made a celebratory cut in the Rapids broadcast after Kosuke Kimura's 61st minute equalizer, and then hilariously deadpanned like a boss as soon as the camera swept by. Awesome.

The weekend of late equalizers

Don't quite know what it is that makes defenses tighten up tighter than a snare drum in the last five minutes, but I have a brief message for you back liners.

Fredy Montero equalized in the 90th minute in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup. Alan Gordon's stunning double tap in the 86th pushed San Jose into a 1-1 draw with Columbus that didn't seem likely. And Luiz Camargo salvaged a point for Houston with an 87th minute rip from close range that left Matt Reis utterly helpless. Draws, draws everywhere.

And yes, apropos of nothing, it does bug me that MLS Live spells center "centre."

Toronto is historically bad

Will this never end? I've seen TFC several times this year and wouldn't call them the worst MLS team I've ever seen in snippets. Trouble is, it's a long season, and TFC has been as consistently bad as anybody in MLS history. 0-9-0 with a league-low seven goals for and a league-high 21 goals against. That is... not good.

When your local paper writes articles with titles like "Will TFC ever win?" it's abundantly clear that the (Aron) Winter of Toronto's discontent has been extended indefinitely. The coaching carrousel is about to claim its first victim of 2012. Just a matter of when, now.

Chivas USA is... good? The Galaxy are... bad?

Well that just felt all kinds of strange to type. 

In a parity-driven league like MLS, I can't express how poorly a team has to play to go winless against a particular opponent for five years. For each of those winless encounters to also come on the field on which you play all your home games is nigh unthinkable.

Which is why I'm not sure how to classify this game: as either a case of a seemingly improved Chivas side surging into the national consciousness, or of a tanking LA side giving up its crown in startlingly easy fashion. Either way, Danny Califf was tremendous. He completed 31 of his 36 passes inside his own half and was appropriately aggressive, giving the Goats a surprisingly quick return on investment just days after completing a fleecing swap with Philly.

- Will Parchman


jon said...

"I don't have a comment on the PK that decided the Superclasico, but I'll assume it was egregiously awful as well."

I don't really understand why you would write something that lazy.
Anyway, the play starts at about 3:45 in the highlight package.

Will Parchman said...

It was more of a joke, jon. Just needlessly piling on refs for the occasion.