Monday, July 2, 2012

The MLS Grinder: A Clasico to remember

Wondo, your MVP frontrunner at the turn.
Game of the Week
San Jose 4, LA Galaxy 3

There have been moments in the brief flash of light that has been MLS' existence that the league makes you stop for a moment and marvel. Goals, transfers and individual bits of skill often fill this void, though these moments of tempestuous brilliance are often kept at a reasonably low rate of return so as to not delude their significance. While I'd love to see more skill injected into MLS play, its scarcity provides for some real "ooh-aah" moments when somebody pulls off a Cruyff turn just so. For me, Saturday's California Clasico was one of these moments that comes along every so often that just defies conventional description. I was left so breathlessly unaware of what had just transpired after the final whistle carried that I turned to a friend and merely shrugged. Whatever happened, it just reinforced the grit and grind and glory that MLS is capable of producing. Oh how I wish I could've rubbed Jim Rome's face all over this one.

You've by now most likely read the match report, which will tell you that seven goals were scored and there were two runs of three unanswered goals and David Beckham hates mascots and kittens and all the rest. But the humanity in this game was transcendental. San Jose's Jason Hernandez looked every bit the goat after knocking in an own goal and then laying a horrid back pass into the path of Mike Magee just outside the 6 five minutes later. After the gaffe led Donovan in for a goal and a 3-1 LA advantage, Hernandez crumpled to his knees and sunk his head into his hands. He had every reason to shrink away from the rest of this game, and yet he was redeemed by a relentless attack that continued to break upon the swamped Galaxy back line. Then there was Victor Bernardez's remarkable snap shot off a Marvin Chavez corner, across the body and across the goal on first introduction. By then the momentum was really starting to build, and when Sam Cronin's tidy finish in the 47th squared us at 3-3 no one could be rightly surprised. Nor when Wondo came up with that little flick-on that he's perfected in the last few weeks especially. And then there were the scrums, the Beckham-didn't-get-an-Olympic-bid-so-he's-on-a-rampage looks and all the rest.

In 90 minutes a wayward defender found redemption, an Englishman claimed his anger and a rivalry was driven to newer, more volcanic heights. Behold MLS, bringer of awesomeness and destruction.

This fixture has routinely provided dense clumps of drama. You'll remember last year's tilt at San Jose produced this memorable shot after Mike Magee was forced to don an oversized uni and play keeper for a half. Earlier this year, the Quakes seemingly produced one of the wins of the year by coming back for a 3-2 result by scoring three times inside the final 20 minutes on the road in May. In anticipation of the crowd skirmishes for the return battle, which routinely gets as feisty as any in the league, the league moved the game to Stanford's 50,000-seater and filled every seat. It was a grand sight as the camera swept through a sea of roiling mass, all heaving with anticipation as the Quakes yet again surged beyond LA in a game with enormous ramifications. For one, it arrested LA's ascent up the table, no mean feat considering the guile and power with which Bruce Arena's club were playing with over a three-game win streak. But even more importantly it continued San Jose's incredible turn-around from last year, keeping the Bay Area Boys in first in the West a league-high 36 points from 17 games.

I can trumpet the offenses as I should do, and both deserve their share of credit. The set-up on Donovan's finish was deceptively tough, and both sides capitalized on chances they should've taken (and a few they maybe shouldn't have). But both defenses assumed shaky postures throughout much of the 90 minutes and I would be remiss to not point to a few big lapses that led to the fireworks display. Individually, Todd Dunivant and David Junior Lopes have both shrunk into appalling runs of form that have stressed LA's back line to the point of continually snapping in two. The wide channels for the incendiary Marvin Chavez down the flanks were there for the duration of the night, though to be fair a great many defenses have capitulated to his flaming runs this year. More importantly, the gobs of space left by LA's midfield was shocking. Juninho was uncharacteristically slow in recovery and it forced him into more break-up attempts in the box instead of well out of it. As the rest of the midfield sagged back with him, there was little to do but allow wave after wave of successive attacks roll forward.

And I should not leave San Jose off the hook either. The Quakes are so frequently bailed out by a thunderous offense that I shudder to think what might happen if the offense suffers a dip in form or (heaven forbid) Wondo or some other critical attacking piece goes down. Hernandez's howlers aside, San Jose was blown open on a few occasions, and the third-worst defense in the West (guess who's worst? Our own Galaxy here) once again watched Wondo and Big Bird and a hurricane offense pitch the onrushing water over the side of the boat and right the ship just in time. It's hard to believe these kinds of theatrics will continue if the defense keeps bleeding goals, though I guess it's worked thus far. Though it's long off yet, the postseason is not the time to get loose at the back.

As for Beckham, the flashpoint of the game-ending fracas. There has been talk in some circles about censuring Becks for his conduct in the late stages, including that fateful kick toward referee NAME that rattled softly between him and a downed player. And then the infamous hand slap on Q, an unassuming blue blob of a mascot who just wanted to let us all know that SportsCenter was on its way next. What temerity from the Brit! Eh. I hear those arguments but I cannot summon the bile behind them. Perhaps this is merely down to Beckham's increasingly smaller role in MLS, but I find less and less Beckham does rankles me in any way. He no longer inspires any great rabble-rabble from me on just about anything he does, including a meek kick toward a ref that was out of frustration. Just indifference. I suppose that's more damning than anything.

Best of the best

— Yeah, not MLS, but a shout out to Greg for busting this Mikey-to-Roma thing wide open. Forza Luppi!

— The Chicago Fire, quite honestly, had no business beating SKC on Friday night. Featured on NBC's weekly broadcast, which continues to get better each week, SKC seemed on the edge of goals at every turn. And frankly, I get the sense that SKC embodies Jurgen Klinsmann's ultimate attacking 4-3-3 ideal, with a compact middle, disciplined wingers and an athletic striker. They looked the part at times, out-shooting Chicago 27-10 and won the possession battle 62-38. Yet nothing cracked Arne Friedrich & Co., and meanwhile Chicago's offense continued to pick times to come forward. As Friday proved, there is no better counterattacking side in MLS than Chicago when Nyarko, Pappa and Oduro find space from long outlet passes. Midfielders like Grazzini, Rolfe and Pause can easily spread boomers that find the feet of those three, and from there it's curtains with a 1-2 speed-skill combo. In fact, that's exactly how the winner went down. See the break starting at 2:00.

— DC United chewed through free-falling Montreal 3-0 on Saturday, and Chris Pontius now has nine goals and looks as productive as any midfielder in the league right now. If he can avoid injuries, DC is a sexy MLS Cup pick (wood, meet knuckles) going forward.

— MLS recently eclipsed both the NBA and NHL as the third-most attended league in the US. It has not, it seems, managed to get the "the" from showing up in front of its name, however.

Footy in Queens? We'll see.

Worst of the worst

— Wanted to take a moment to point out that TFC is not featured in this section this week after a 1-1 draw with New York. So that happened. The Reds are not yet winning but they're not losing either. Baby steps.

Guess this bit of encouragement didn't work.

— Aaron Campeau on the Seattle Sounders amid their GAME winless streak: "This is not an especially good team right now."

- Will Parchman

1 comment:

Mark said...