Friday, April 21, 2017

Flank Stakes

The regulars here know I favor systems with wingers, and that I prefer to operate as one when playing myself. Obviously, I take this list very seriously.

There is no perfect recipe for a flank attacker. Some prefer to cut in and look for goals, some are more traditional cross-heavy types who aim to reach the touchline and yet others are some blend of those two descriptions. Many work the full length of their sideline, tracking back well and providing a pressure valve, whereas a select few get to shirk such responsibilities to focus on pinning defenses back. You get the idea; a winger can impact the game in so many ways, and that's why I love 'em.

This ranking ran a bit different than how I worked up the spine list, when I focused solely on line-up regulars. This time, I took stock of a team's entire wing stable. First, I ranked the starters separately, with a clear #1 choice shining through. Then, the depth crews served as tiebreakers for the rest of the picks.

As could be expected in the improved world of MLS, several clubs narrowly missed out on the list. Seattle and Portland were very close, but have little depth to speak of. Houston has plenty of that, but still fell a shade short, while the LA Galaxy's depth is largely unproven at this juncture. To boot, Chicago and Real Salt Lake weren't too terribly far off.

#5 - Montreal (Oduro, Piatti, Tabla)

Frankly, Nacho Piatti is nearly enough by himself to put the Impact in the list. He's the most goal-dangerous player not named Seba who is mentioned in this bit, and yet is enough of a playmaker to notch 23 assists in just over two campaigns worth of work. He's so vital to Montreal, that they've won just two of the 16 MLS matches he's sat out since joining up.

Of course, he's not alone, as book end Dominic Oduro is a speedy field-stretcher. Yeah, he's streaky as hell with production, but does have a flair for important goals. They also have teenager Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, who's already proven to be quite useful this season.

#4 - Colorado (Badji, Gashi, Gatt, Hairston)

This Rapids group hasn't accomplished much yet this term, but be patient. It's a talented stable with an excellent balance of skills, and Pablo Mastroeni would do well to have his team force-feed these guys. Veteran left-sider Shkelzen Gashi is steady in the build and capable of the big moment. Of all their options, he's easily the best long-range shooter. Dominique Badji, the speed threat on that side, is coming into his own. The 24-year-old has six goals and three helpers in Colorado's last 13 league games.

The Rapids have as much strength over on the right. Like Badji, Marlon Hairston is quickly growing in influence; he's been good for four goals and six helpers in his last 16 regular season matches. They also now have speed demon Josh Gatt, who could turn out to be a real steal. He has the wheels and moves to terrify any defender, and finishes well.

#3 - New York City FC (Harrison, McNamara, Shelton, Wallace)

Patrick Vieira's wing terrors are off to a great start this season. Not only have regulars Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace already bagged four goals, but each is a force on the build and responsible defensively. The 20-year-old Harrison has what it takes to end up on a Best XI honor roll in the not-so-distant future.

Meanwhile, after starting most of last year's games, bench ace Tommy McNamara proved a couple weeks ago that he can also come to the rescue with a late winner. The Bronx boys also have Khiry Shelton coming off a strong 2016 campaign, but he's currently on the shelf until June. All in all, this stable has enough quality and potential to make plenty of European teams envious.

#2 - Toronto FC (Beitashour, Edwards, Giovinco, Morrow)

Okay, this one requires some explanation. The Reds are a rare exception due to their formation; they don't use stereotypical wingers, but definitely make offensive bank off their flank mechanations.

In yesterday's post, I stated that Sebastian Giovinco (otherwise known as the nest player in MLS) shouldn't really qualify as a spine member. He's also clearly not an out-an-out winger, but he does spend enough time operating wide, that I'll include him here. That decided... well, what else do I need to say? Dude is a stone cold killer.

As with Giovinco, wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow earn a slightly inappropriate nod here. Sure, they do defensive work, but their main purpose on most days is to push the team forward down the sidelines and help create offense in the final third. Morrow is among the most productive wide backs in the league and his opposite is no slouch, either.

On top of all that, Toronto FC has an exciting young buck in Raheem Edwards. He's been pretty terrific in his three appearances this season and looks to be a real keeper with upside.

#1 - Columbus (Finlay, Hansen, Manneh, Meram)

And so we've arrived at the gold standard for flank squadrons. The Crew are the only team in the league with three pure wingers of All-Star caliber. And each of them is very different.

Early MVP candidate Justin Meram is a hybrid gem who likes to turn up in a variety of places in the final third. He's scores, he sets up chances for teammates, he is cool in the build and can make plays from every angle. Right-sider Ethan Finley is the pacy cross-master that can also find his own shot. The guy had six goals and nine assists on a bad team last term - and that qualified as a letdown season for him.

New addition Kekuta Manneh has yet to appear for the Crew, but he has a world of talent. He's a 21-year-old thrill-ride of a player that still has tons of room to grow. Columbus also picked up Niko Hansen in this year's SuperDraft. He's already proved me wrong, as I had him tabbed as a reach at #8. After hopping off the bench to strike a big late winner a few weeks back, the kid done well in starting ahead of Finlay and Manneh the last two games.

- Greg Seltzer

1 comment:

tom said...

Columbus has wingers? Having just watched them at the Arena on Saturday, I don't remember seeing very much of that play.