Monday, June 25, 2012

The MLS Grinder: Week 16 winners and losers

The Grinder is in a break-it-down kind of mood this fine day. So no game of the week, especially considering two games (Seattle-Portland, DC-New York) pulled in even on the Parch-o-meter. Instead, we map out the MLS firmament by constellation, going one by one through our winners, losers and The Lost. This should be fun. Now with more game-winners!


Rivalry fans

Like rivalries? Week 16 had you covered. Not only were we treated to a miserly Cascadia Cup tie in which two reds were issued, Portland were unlikely 2-1 winners over Seattle and this beaut was unfurled by the TA (not unlike last year's King of Clubs rockstar).

"Legends are born when the previous are surpassed."
...But we were also treated to the forever bitter I-95 clash, which turned into arguably the best MLS game we've seen all year. New York dropped DC 3-2 despite a last-gasp effort from the visitors to lay claim to a point. A couple notes on both games, starting with Timbers-Sounders.

— Ozzie Alonso... My word. The guy has been on form for nearly two solid years now, but he's never looked this striking. He invariably arrived on the scene Sunday like a shrieking ambulance, all control and leg power and speed. His usefulness was best summed up through a minute-long stretch just before the halftime bell. Portland's Mike Fucito, who got his first start in the Rose City, broke open in Seattle's final third for a promising push and here comes Alonso from the back, cleaving ground to make up some 20 yards on a dribbling Fucito in less than five seconds. Alonso almost immediately dispossess the attack and turns back possession, feeding a last-gasp attack on the other end. It ends with Alonso blistering a 35-yard cannonade that forced Troy Perkins to fling out his right hand to parry the projectile over the bar. That happened bang-bang; a broken attack and a feverishly raw shot from waaaay out, both originating from one guy. If Alonso transfer rumors don't reach a howling gale force in the coming window, the world's scouts are a buncha dips. Not that I want to lose him or anything.

— There was an awkwardness about both back lines that never left you confident they'd do much of note in pressure situations. Portland's first goal was a shocking misplay from a woefully disorganized back shelf, and David Horst's header goal for the Timbers' second exposed every raw nerve in Jeff Parke's game. Horst slid inside Parke on a corner, shifted his weight forward and left Parke grasping at Horst's number on the back of his uni. Horst was soon in for Portland's second (and ultimately crucial) goal, while Parke arched his back and screamed at the cobalt sky. He was soon subbed off for Patrick Ianni due to an injury. Go figure.

— New York's slow start did a few things. For one, it further inured us to their talent. I've had conversations on Twitter and elsewhere with folks who refused to believe this year was any different with regards to the Red Bulls and that inevitable collapse. Just a matter of when it came. I never quite viewed it that way. Yes, the Red Bulls are thin, though not so much as they were last year. But with the lingering possibility that Henry, Lindpere, McCarty and whoever else are all healthy and firing at the same time and at the right time, can anybody in the East claim a definitive advantage? Maybe nominally, but certainly not with any certainty. It seems as though, even with the back line constantly on the blink, New York is figuring out how to win big games. This is a development.

— Take a bow, Brandon Barklage. And commit Sunday to memory, because stories like this don't come 'round often. Six months after getting axed by DC United, Barklage scored twice against his former club... in a New York shirt... in arguably the biggest rivalry in the league.... at home... from right back. He's been so good that Backe pushed Solli up to midfield just to fit Barklage into the XI. Here's both goals. The second was a lovely piece of target practice.

Entertaining soccer

MLS averaged 18,404 fans through the turnstiles in nine games this weekend, and remember, Seattle, which usually props up that number, was away. In those games, MLS teams combined for 29 goals, an average of just more than three goals per game, or 1.6 goals per team. If you include the mid-week contests, we had 50 goals in 14 games in the span of five days. That's an even better 3.5 goals per game, a tidy number to be sure. New England scored twice in the last 20 minutes to thwart TFC's attempt at its first win, and even the worst team in the league ('s history?) has five goals in its last two games. Philly scored four times against the stingiest defense in the league on Saturday. Wondo grabbed a late winner in a thriller against RSL, a team that previous led the West. And we've already touched on our outstanding rivalry twin bill on Sunday. I do not say this lightly: in terms of quality and entertainment, this has been the best opening three-month run in MLS history.

Plus, we have defenders busting a move like this.

Eddie Johnson

Well... just, yeah. While we're on quality and all. Flash forward to the 5:00 mark and feast thine eyes.

John Hackworth

Is this all it took? Bumping out Nowak and bringing in an untried rookie coach? Surely more potholes are on the way, but a 1-0-1 start for a Philly club that was floundering ain't half bad. And I think the Union are still scoring on SKC, hapless victims of a 4-0 thrashing on Saturday that made Philly suddenly look like clinical finishers. What the hell?

This win was just so... Philly. So quintessentially how they'll have to grind up games into a fine powder to get points the rest of the way. The first two goals were aesthetically limpid. Jack McInerney sprinted onto a free ball resting inside the 6 for the first, and a mad, dizzying dash on the goal line yielded the second when McInerney cashed in for a second time later in the first half from being in right-place, right-time positions. The third was off a penalty, and the fourth, clearly the prettiest of the night, was a nice chip from Antoine Hoppenot after a gorgeous ball from Michael Farfan. SKC destroyed Philly on possession, 61-39, completed roughly 120 more passes and fielded a full strength front line that featured all the big players. And yet Philly won with four goals on three shots on target in the run of play. Woof.

Things will not always be thus for Philly, and I'm still not convinced by McInerney, but for the immediate future Hackworth is strapping formations and players and theories to the hood of his jalopy and flying down I-95 at a thousand miles an hour. For now, it's working. Might as well ride the wave while it's here.

LA Galaxy

The rest of the league can hear the giant groaning in the cave, waking up from a winter-long hibernation. With three wins from their last three games, the Galaxy are beginning to creak into life, and I'd expect the Western table to look drastically different soon as a result. Robbie Keane scored LA's second goal en route to a 3-0 win over Vancouver over the weekend, and then grabbed a shirt honoring an Ireland fan who died during the Euros. The look on Keane's face says enough. Stirring goal, stirring tribute.


The Impact won games against playoff contenders Seattle and Houston in the span of a week, and did it big. Forgetting for a moment the loss over Chivas, which does sting, Montreal scored eight goals in two games. The fun part? All eight were different goal scorers. It seems this will not be a repeat of Vancouver's 2011.


FC Dallas

Like a wounded duck underneath a heat lamp, things are going south in a hurry for the Hoops. Saturday's boring 0-0 draw with Chivas outlined everything wrong with the world, from broken passes to blown chances to uninspiring link-up play (my world-view is limited to soccer, FYI). FCD had the fairer share of chances and won the possession battle, but it mattered little in the end. Chivas, which was more than content to sit back and let FCD take the game to them, registered a measly shot on goal and two period, and yet FCD couldn't yank out the precious three-pointer they so desperately need.

This has been the story for Dallas this year, which has given up more goals than anybody but Toronto this year. You can thank a brutally injured back line for that, as George John, Ugo Ihemelu and Hernan Pertuz have all missed significant time with injuries. Those are your 1-2-3 center backs, by the way. Brek Shea did make his return on Saturday, which is an encouraging blip on the biofeedback machine. But FCD has some ground to make up with an underwhelming 14 points from 17 games. For the sake of comparison, RSL, which was on equal pegging with FCD for much of the last two years, has more than twice that in the same number of games. This is bordering dangerously on lost season territory as the year stretches into July.

Sporting KC

...the hell, dudes? Does Matt Besler matter this much?

The Lost

Toronto FC

Yep, the Canadian outfit gets its own section for its unique brand of futility. Why? Let's first take the mid-week bomb they seemingly dropped on Houston in Houston, going up 3-1 before halftime for what would seem to be a momentum-building win. Houston equalized in the dying minutes and TFC left town with a horribly disappointing 3-3 draw. Few days later, TFC takes a 2-0 lead on New England into the late stretches of the second half, only to watch New England grab the equalizer on a demoralizing stoppage time strike. Painful stuff, that.

That's the soul-sucking core of this TFC team. They say the opposite of love is not hatred but indifference. That's also true within the locker room. A loss can easily galvanize, stirring a pissed off roster into action through a string of bad results. But a win-turned-draw? There's a glimmer of progress but not enough to drag ass up the table, leaving a mildly disinterested team wondering what it is they need to do to take thee points. And thus begets the rabbit hole mentality. This clearly isn't the worst MLS team I've ever watched, but the Canadian soccer god has been shaken from his icy slumber, it seems, and he is not happy. Anyone up for designing a TFC Suck-O-Meter? Only problem is the needle may never move off red.

- Will Parchman


Luetchy said...

the Sounders vs. Timbers clip is the wrong game. here's the right one...

Will Parchman said...

Good catch, thanks.