Monday, July 9, 2012

The MLS Grinder: All-Star XI of Week 18

Many apologies for the tardiness of this grinder. Will was doing his thing, I was doing mine, I ended up chasing around a bunch of different stories, some of which you'll be reading soon, and we ended up here. I know, I know ... there's only one Will Parchman, but I stuffed this thing with numbers, insights and pretty pictures and captions. So work with me and please do not take the captions seriously. At all.

First thing's first. Landon Donovan just snagged his 12th straight all-star selection. Oddly enough he was only the game's MVP on his debut in 2001. Sure, there were twice as many spots when he made it then and in 2004 - who misses the East-West games? anybody? Bueller? - but Eddie Pope has the next best all-starry record with 11 appearances and most of them came in the East-West days.
How's history look from down there, mortal!?
I know MLS is unique in that the corral only holds so many ponies. And yes, Donovan has been undeniably off lately. Still, he's stayed pretty pancake-flippin' golden. Whether or not he's Everton-bound remains to be seen, but I will get on PayPal and bet any of you this won't be his last All-Star Game. It's just nice to know you're watching history.

With Saturday's All-Star First XI announcement in mind, this week's grinder will focus on the already-named stars and their clubs. I'll also be tossing you some fun figures and random thoughts.

The Games
Chicago 0-2 LA (Beckham and Donovan)
Poised to slump their way back into early season lack of form, the Galaxy broke free of some disturbing habits against one of the league's most in-form teams. Where Arena's team had capitulated when it counted most, late in games against San Jose and Philadelphia, a Beckham-less Galaxy was efficient in putting away Chicago. The defending champs still can't really boss possession, but they don't really need to. The defensive circus of the spring seems to be settled down and Robbie Keane did enough to at least partially erase his late-April penalty miss. Back then, he strangely usurped Donovan to the spot. On Sunday Donovan watched from the bench before coming on to assist on Keane's second. It's far from time to say we're seeing a "vintage" Galaxy team, after all, the Fire quite clearly missed Grazzini. But if the playoffs started today LA would be in. Bad news for anyone else that wants to win MLS Cup.

Kansas City (Nielsen, Collin and Zusi) 0-0 Houston
Remember when the Dynamo knocked out the sexy favorites of the Eastern Conference on a set piece and counter last fall? Sporting certainly did as they gave up no corners and allowed just four crosses in the run of play. The 104-degree heat did little to encourage end-to-end action, perhaps to the benefit of the hosts. Ultimately the team's stars did their part to manage the game. Nielsen was only forced into two saves as Aurélien Collin kept Houston's physical attack quiet enough while Graham Zusi might have been more selective in front of goal.

New England 2-0 New York (Henry and Pearce)
So if Van Persie's leaving Arsenal ...
The Red Bulls are one of those teams whose stars do the subtle work that glues the team together. Whether from choice or necessity, Thierry Henry has covered copious amounts of ground in Harrison. Heath Pearce doesn't compromise much either. In fact, he's re-strengthened a flailing defensive unit. But neither all-star played Sunday. The absence was telling. Father Time is already inevitably taking the Revs and the Bulls in opposite directions, but the loss of skill and grit could not be covered for by just the latter. Credit is due to Jay Heaps' side for picking up the pieces and getting something from this season. He's still not coaching a team that should be outclassing much, yet where the Red Bulls are involved, it's always possible. The injuries have not been fair to Soler and Backe, but if the value of depth was not already made painfully obvious by past failures, this game and this season should really hammer home the obviously valuable point about winning trophies.

Dallas 0-0 San Jose (Beitashour and Wondolowski)
David Ferreira returned to FC Dallas' starting lineup for the first time in more than a year. Brek Shea was out there too. As a lone striker. The combination of Ferreira's relatively unmatched vision and passing ability yielded some early chances for the hosts and in a game where both sides gave each other enough space where you'd have expected more shots from distance. Oh well. Ferreira's return, though currently less the mazy runs of yesteryear, is still a good sign for Dallas and the league as a whole. A pair of Ferreira-chipped through balls from 30 yards out was as good as it got for the hosts as San Jose put the clamps on the Dallas attack. Shea's no striker, and certainly no target man. Two and two is still four. That said, Dallas has patched together a defense again. This time it was Hernán Pertúz stepping up and shackling Wondolowski and co. for most of the night. Wondo nearly scored twice. Once after round Kevin Hartman and chipping him only for Pertúz to clear off the line. And again when he appeared to be so far offside that the AR didn't see him. This time, Hartman stoned him from distance. Beitashour created San Jose's next best shout for a goal when he followed the clearance of his long throw-in and whipped in a cross that appeared to graze someone's hand. Also, Corrales got a stupid, stupid second yellow. As in Ramiro Corrales was being stupid stupid.

Chivas USA 0-0 Vancouver (Jay Demerit)
Many have argued over the years that Joe Cannon is the best American keeper never to be capped - at least  in the modern era. He did little to disprove that notion Saturday night. In a physical if-not "chippy" game - such an innocent-sounding word for something that really means a bunch of dudes kicking each other! - the 37-year-old made three saves. Not statistically stunning until you recall that his Caps were playing for the second time in four days and the Goats were going on 10 days rest. By the way, Chivas USA is very OK now. The Clippers of MLS likely won't make the playoffs, but a team that fielded James Riley, Danny Califf and Juan Pablo Angel while Juan Agudelo and Ante Jazic sat out with a bum knee and old age respectively. Davide Coumiento should have out Vancouver up in the 55th minute when he put his shot over the bar in a one-on-one with Ian Kennedy. The second of Cannon's saves came as he bobbled a dipping Angle free kick from 25 yards. A minute later he went sprawling to his right to keep out Paolo Cardozo's free kick from just outside the right edge of the box. At the end of the night Cannon left HDC with his 85th clean sheet. Considering the edginess of the game - six yellows - Demerit had a quiet night. Rarely a bad thing for a central defender.

Some Digits
- 35 is the total number of MLS All-Star selections of the First XI. It's the first for Beitashour, Demerit and Zusi meaning the other eight average just over four selections each. Olsen's two makes 37 total and just over 3 per team member.

You can't tell me what to do. I'm older!
- 30.36 is the average age of the XI. The number jumps to 30.75 with Ben Olsen's, 35, inclusion.

- 6 teams are represented in the XI. KC leads the way with three delegates.

And for those of you wondering who rounds out the XI, it's DeRosario. DC was off this week though.

Other MLS-related brain droppings:
- The potential for outer space-based puns that Donovan and Beckham's selections warrant is truly awful. ESPN has the call, but I'd be pleasantly surprised if Ian Darke and Steve McManaman call this one. Bad news if you're not a pun guy or gal.

- The only all-star representing a Canadian team is American (Jay Demerit) and the only Canadian selection (Dwayne DeRosario) plays in our nation's capital.

- Speaking of DC, it's easy to take an eye off of the MLS standings. The schedule's unbalanced and there is enough parity that it's not the be-all end-all that it is elsewhere in the world. For the first time this year, though, I'm looking at DC as more of potential Shield-winners than a hot, young and dangerous team. Level on points and games with KC, United trails San Jose by four with a game in hand and Salt lake by three with two in hand. Drive for five Cups or Shields?

- The roster is not yet complete, but with such a veteran group so far you have to wonder how much desire there is to fight for All-Star Game glory. I won't speculate beyond that, however, if I was Ben Olsen I'd glue DeRo to the bench.

And lastly, these grinders are a beast. They were one of the best regular MLS roundups a year ago and subbing in for them has only gotten harder.

- Jacob Klinger

3 comments:

Matt said...

Alright, Grinder, if you had to take a guess as to which of these guys actually ended up in MLS, who would you say has the best chance? Diego Forlan, Frank Lampard, or Stephen Ireland? And could any of them end up someplace other than New York or LA?

Will Parchman said...

Forlan just signed a three-year deal with Internacional so he's out, and despite what Soler says I can't imagine NYRB can stomach Ireland's bloated contract unless it gets a major devaluation, which I suppose is quite possible. Lampard is the most intriguing to me, but its pointless to even speculate until his contract runs out, which doesn't happen until after the upcoming season. He's been fairly adamant about rejoining Chelsea recently.

That said, no, its unlikely any of those guys goes to anybody other than the Big Two. Ireland's transfer fee from Villa is reportedly around 4 million pounds and Lampard loves LA and will probably be fairly comfortable playing a year or two with Becks before he hangs em up.

Jacob Klinger said...

Definitely Lumpy if you're asking me.