Armchair Analyst: Team of stars vs. an All-Star team? There's only one choice
Two weeks ago, after Manchester United annihilated the LA Galaxy in a friendly to the tune of 7-0, Twitter decided the world was ending. Twitter does that a lot.
Every single player on the Galaxy was some shade of bum. Bruce Arena was past it as a coach, and obviously needed to be replaced. The Galaxy? They were on a death spiral, destined for Chivas TBD-like ignominity. And MLS, of course, had failed as a sporting entity. Just close up shop right now.
"How could any professional team lose so badly?" they asked, unironically, less than a month after Brazil's meltdown in the World Cup semifinals.
I'm expecting to hear similar stuff on Wednesday night after the MLS All-Stars meet Bayern Munich (9:30 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMas, TSN/RDS). It might not be 7-0, but I think it's going to be lopsided. A good team always has an advantage over a thrown-together collection of talent, and Bayern, of course, are much more than just a "good" team. They are a truly great team, the most dominant club side in the world over the last three years.
Here are a couple of things to watch for in the game:
1. Possession to Pull You Apart
Bayern don't play the pure tika-taka Barcelona and Spain made famous in the second half of last decade, but they have stronger elements of Catalonian keep-ball in their game than pretty much any other team in the world right now. It's only natural, since Bayern's boss is Pep Guardiola – the same guy who guided Barça to 14 major trophies over four seasons.
Guardiola's time at the Camp Nou includes the 2008-09 season, which I still think is the best I've ever seen a club team put together (New York's Thierry Henry was a starter for that group, by the way).
They won those titles by using the ball faster, better and more precisely than you could win it. Guardiola's Bayern are their heirs:
That sequence above (watch the whole thing) came against Manchester City, the world's most expensive team and winners of the English Premier League. They never even came close to disrupting Bayern's rhythm.
Expect the All-Stars to retreat into a similar final-third shell and drop their line of confrontation deep. If they go chasing up the field, those posssession passes from the German champions will turn into attacking passes, and those will turn into goals.
2. The Moment of Recognition
Many of the smartest soccer people subscribe to this aphorism, or a variation thereof: If you watch what a player does on the ball, you'll see how good he is on the day. If you watch a player off the ball, you'll see how good he is.
And of all the off-the-ball moments, the most important one comes on the turnover. Whether it's transitioning from defense to attack or vice versa, the guys who can see what's about to happen are orders of magnitude more valuable than the ones who need a beat to assess before shifting into gear.
The US has been lucky over the last 15 years, having produced a handful of guys who are elite in those defense-to-attack transitions. The obvious two are LA's Landon Donovan and Seattle's Clint Dempsey, with Toronto's Michael Bradley a more recent addition to the group.
There are some obviously highlights to reference here – Donovan and Dempsey helping high press the Spaniards into a turnover that led to the second US goal in the 2009 Confederations Cup semis; Donovan's 18-to-18 goal against Brazil in the final of that same tournament; and, of course, Algeria.
Even though transition play has fallen out of favor for the USMNT (don't get me started), it's still a weapon. Bradley was at the heart of the best US goal in qualifying, which did, in fact, come on the break:
Even a team as great as Bayern will turn the ball over, especially in preseason. And when those turnovers happen, the All-Stars have to get out and run.
Having three attackers out there who've done exactly that together against the best teams in the world should help.
3. Peel Off and Run the Channels
One of the areas in which Bayern struggled during the second half of the year was in keeping clear lines of communication between the central defense and central midfield. They were particularly vulnerable to mobile, strong center forwards who were willing to drop deep and bust through several different defensive zones.
I basically just described Obafemi Martins, who is in the MVP running more for his ability to peel off that front line and become a playmaker than for his ability as a finisher. He will fight central defenders if he needs to, but is at his best actually doing his target forward thing against midfielders.
On this play below, look at how deep he is:
Nobody's quite sure how to pick him up, and the Seattle attack takes advantage with some clever criss-crossing.
Henry does the same thing, though New York's runs tend to be more direct:
This is all good, fundamental stuff that the MLS attackers should have little trouble reading quickly.
But Bayern will read them quickly, too – and they'll read them together. Just like Roma did last year, and like Manchester United did in 2010 and 2011.
Always bet on the great team in this game of ours. And, win or lose, try not to overreact on Twitter.