There's like a 99 percent chance that, if you're reading this blog post, you also watched the 2012 European Championship final between Spain and Italy.
It was awesome. Even if you had no rooting interest (full disclosure: I'm a quarter Italian, but was pulling for Spain), it's hard not to get caught up when the stakes are that high and the quality of soccer on display matches it.
And it just kills me that CONCACAF and CONMEBOL can't figure out a way to get a "Copa Américas" up and running every four years, starting immediately after the Euros. What an incredible opportunity the two confederations are missing.
Hopefully someday, they'll figure it out.
Anyway, only one real observation this week...
Scoring keeps going up and up and up
OK, now that you've read it, you know that teams are passing more, passing more accurately, passing more aggressively, and as a result (we assume), scoring more. Before this week scoring was already up 12 percent over last season's pace. That will have gone up some more, since in Week 17's 10-game slate there were 34 total goals.
And it's not just a blip. Since the end of the international break, MLS clubs have produced 100 goals in 33 games (thanks to Greg Lalas for that little tidbit).
It's the reversal of a 10-year trend. Back in 2001 MLS averaged 3.28 goals per game; by 2010, that was down to 2.46. Here's the whole table:
2011 -- 2.58
2010 -- 2.46
2009 -- 2.54
2008 -- 2.81
2007 -- 2.66
2006 -- 2.62
2005 -- 2.87
2004 -- 2.61
2003 -- 2.89
2002 -- 3.01
2001 -- 3.28
2000 -- 3.19
1999 -- 2.86
1998 -- 3.57*
1997 -- 3.26
1996 -- 3.37
The key thing here isn't just that MLS have imported guys like Thierry Henry (one of the league's elite finishers) and David Beckham (one of the league's elite chance creators). The league's also kept guys like Dwayne De Rosario and Brad Davis, who've both had overseas interest; they've developed highly rated talents like Chris Pontius and Will Bruin, who've both been given plenty of time to figure out where the net is; and, of course, used the Reserve League to help build Chris Wondolowski, who's turning into one of MLS' all-time greats.
It's a multi-faceted approach to finding and cultivating talent, and the numbers say it's working.
* For those of you who don't remember 1998 for one reason or another ... yes, that season was as crazy as the numbers indicate. Go find some YouTube clips of that year's Galaxy squad — it'll be worth your time.
Some MLS clubs spend years searching long, far and wide in the hope they finally find one. And even then, it's no sure thing.
Just scan the league. How many foreign No. 10 playmakers are out there? How many are panning out?
And yet here we are with a few days remaining until Sebastián Grazzini's contract option is up with the Chicago Fire and the club still hasn't taken a definitive stance on whether they're bringing him back.
Little do the Fire know that they actually hit the jackpot. They have on their hands a left-footed, creative genius, in many ways reminiscent of D.C. United legend Marco Etcheverry, capable of great passes and great goals who has proven a great fit in MLS and with the Fire since the very first day.
If we're going to be picky, Grazzini's problem is that he landed in MLS a year or two late. His age (31) and his lack of name recognition hurt his cause. In fact, if Grazzini disappeared from the league, it's possible few would even take notice. He's only featured in 25 total MLS matches with little national exposure.
But even with all that, Grazzini is a keeper.
We don't know the details of his fitness levels and we don't understand what personality quirks there might exist with the Argentine. But no one can dispute his productivity. Seven goals and nine assists in 25 matches (across two seasons) would make for an All-Star season for most players. His five assists in 2012 are already better than Brad Davis and equal to maestro David Beckham.
What makes the Grazzini situation bizarre is that Chicago's playing style actually depends on having a real No. 10, who can maneuver down the middle of the field. Dominic Oduro needs Grazzini's service. Patrick Nyarko benefits from his vision.
The Fire were never the same after Cuauhtémoc Blanco left and it will be deja-vu all over again if they don't bring Grazzini back.
Y Marco Pappa se unió al Equipo Pepsi.
Como ya es costumbre en muchos de los comerciales de Pepsi, varias de las estrellas del fútbol mundial hacen parte de sus inteligentes y graciosas propagandas, incluyendo a estrellas como Kaká, David Beckham y en su momento hasta a Roberto Carlos (como olvidar este).
Sin embargo, para este 2012, la presencia emelesera se hizo sentir con la adición de Pappa del Chicago Fire en su último comercial. El volante guatemalteco actúa junto a estrellas como Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba, Sergio Agüero y Fernando Torres en el comercial “Donde hay Pepsi, hay fútbol”.
Juzguen por ustedes mismos…
I just went 2/9 on my weekend picks. This was after going 2/6 midweek.
It’s not because I’m bad at picking games (though lord knows, I’m not good), but it’s because the parity in MLS is just that hard to get a handle on these days. This is a league where players like Branko Boskovic and Chris Rolfe come off the bench, where Danny Koevermans goes from misfiring back to deadeye, and where a nine-point week is enough to vault you back into the playoff race.
Turns out the Galaxy aren’t dead yet
Sorry, I know this is going to annoy a lot of you. It’s always fun to try to shovel dirt on the champs – doubly so when it’s a high-profile team.
But it turns out that was premature. LA just rattled off three straight wins, including two by shutout. It’s too early to say they’ve returned to their 2011 form, but it’s also clearly too late to take back all the nasty stuff we’ve said about them over the past couple of months.
One thing to bear in mind: David Beckham said it came down to being happy and loose in the locker room, and that it’s cleared up only in the past couple of weeks. So whatever it was that was eating away at LA’s commitment went away when Robbie Keane did. Will it return now that he has?
“Emergency Defender” proving a rock in Philly
Last week John Hackworth said that youngster Amobi Okugo would be playing in central defense for the time being as an emergency measure. If his first two games there are any indication, he may never get a chance to move back to the midfield.
Okugo is simply excellent when the game is being played in front of him, showing good anticipation and understanding of both when and how to play outlets to the midfield. He’s also big and strong enough (6-foot, 170 pounds) to bully around in the box when it comes down to that.
Most importantly, though, he’s just a better player when he doesn’t have to have 360 degree awareness. This isn’t unusual – d-mids tend to mature later than other players precisely because it’s such a complex position.
But Philly already have two veterans (Brian Carroll and Gabriel Gomez) for that spot, and are paper-thin in defense. And the US… well, we know all about the plethora of defensive-minded central midfielders available to Jurgen Klinsmann.
There are, however, precious few young central defenders who’ve impressed on a game-to-game basis. Okugo’s off to a good start in that regard. Let’s hope he stays there, and we see a bit of him in the red, white and blue this January.
Why not build more Gordons?
Alan Gordon didn’t just become a good soccer player overnight. He’s always had a great passing eye, a good understanding of where to be in build-up play and a willingness to stick his nose in. Even if he’s not a 90-minute player, he’s still valuable. The past two months – and past two games especially – have been proof enough of that.
The thing is, though, that Gordon (and his teammate Steven Lenhart) were built by years of practice and occasional game time. Each of them took several years to get up to speed, and now the Quakes are reaping the rewards of both LA’s and Columbus’ hard work.
Which begs the question: Why don’t more teams take on young guys like Gordon and Lenhart then groom them for that specific role? While combing through MLS rosters, the only ones I’ve seen who are really, truly doing that are Columbus (with Tom Heinemann and Aaron Schoenfeld), Houston (Cam Weaver and Colin Rolfe) and New England (Blake Brettschneider).
None of these guys are truly ready right now – though Brettschneider is close, and Heinemann would have gotten there this season if not for his injury – but in two years, all of these guys can be looked at as Gordon or Lenhart-types.
Or, if you want to go with the original model: Brian Ching-types.
So yeah, putting a guy like that – a true center forward – out there may not be what Vicente del Bosque would do. But no MLS team is going to have Xavi, Iniesta, Silva, Fabregas and Busquets to call on. If you’re not Spain, chances are you’ll need a target.
I’d want my team already hard at work making one.
Pavel Pardo hizo un pare a su preparación con el Chicago Fire – que jugará el único partido de la fecha este sábado en su visita al New England Revolution (7:30 p.m. ET; ONLINE: MLS Live) – para recibir a la que fue su selección nacional en 148 ocasiones.
México esta en la Ciudad de los Vientos para jugar un partido de preparación ante Bosnia-Herzegovina el miércoles y aprovecharon la oportunidad para reunirse con Pardo, quien acompañó a los jugadores y cuerpo técnico en una cena.
FutbolMLS.com charló un rato con el volante del Fire sobre su experiencia de volverse a encontrar con el equipo al que sirvió por tanto tiempo.
Total Points – Dwayne De Rosario (89)
With Thierry Henry missing several weeks due to a hamstring injury, DeRo has taken over as the No. 1 player in Fantasy Soccer: Manager. He’s had a weeks of 10, 15 and 20 points, and his most recent point output was the most by a single player thus far in 2012. DeRo has 20+ more points than the next closest midfielder, making him a legitimate threat every week and a player you can build your team around.
Percentage Owned – Jay DeMerit (35.3)
DeMerit has been the most widely selected player in FS: M the entire season. Thirty-five percent of all managers currently have him on their roster. The second-closest player is Kenny Cooper (28 percent). At one point, DeMerit had the highest score of any defender, but lately he’s been slipping. D.C. United players Daniel Woolard and Brandon McDonald, Aurélien Colin, and even teammate Lee Young-Pyo have since leapfrogged DeMerit, so only time will tell if it’s his worldwide fame or his actual production that makes him the most “popular” player in MLS.
Crosses & Key Passes – Graham Zusi (33) & (34)
Zusi has calmed down slightly after a fast start, but his 33 crosses are still seven better than the next closest player. Three successful crosses equals one bonus point, so Zusi could’ve potentially gained an additional 11 points for his efforts thus far. He also leads the league in Key Passes (34) and has seven more than the next closest player in this category as well. Zusi should continue to be one of the most coveted midfielders due to his time on the ball and SKC’s all-out attack style offense.
Big Chances Fluffed – Dominic Oduro (7)
One of the fastest – if not the fastest – players in MLS has been a huge bust in 2012. In the four games in which Oduro has scored, he’s tallied six or more points each time. However, in every other game this season (eight games) he’s managed just two points or less. In his last seven games he’s put up one point or less on six different occasions. Oduro is getting great looks, but he’s missing every single one of them. He leads all players in BCFs and has been deducted seven points total because of it. At this point, he’s more of a risk than anything.
CBI’s – A.J. Soares (123)
My initial pick for Defender of the Year is not having a sophomore slump by any means. His 123 CBIs (clearances, blocks and interceptions combined) leads all players and he’ll likely widen the gap with two games coming up in Week 13. Only three other players have more than 100 CBIs and none of them will be under more pressure than Soares should the rest of the season. He’s an absolute ball shark, but has never really been a threat on set pieces. One can only hope that his recent goal will encourage Jay Heaps to push him up more often.
Recoveries – Osvaldo Alonso (136)
Disregarding goalkeepers, there’s a tight battle for the title of “the best second-ball winner” in MLS. Alonso currently leads Dax McCarty (133) by only three recoveries, but that’s pretty much his only competition. Kyle Beckerman has the third most with 100, and it looks as if his absence due to national team duty will only widen the margin. Alonso has gained 19 bonus points already from recoveries so expect him to keep this all season long.
Transfers In – Nick DeLeon (3,800+)
When David Estrada (3,500+ transfers) started cooling down, DeLeon became all the talk. The D.C. United rookie is currently the most added player with over 3,800 transfers. His value started at $5.5m and quickly made its way to $6.8m. Now that he’s back from injury don’t expect him to return to his previous form. When DeLeon was clicking, DeRo and Salihi were in a slump. Now that they’re back in form, expect DeLeon to take a back seat. He’s still valuable, but not as much as he was back in April.
Dream Team – Kenny Cooper (4)
No one has made the “Dream Team” more times this season than Kenny Cooper, but you have to credit Thierry Henry with helping him reach this point. Coop-dog has scored six or more points on nine different occasions in 2012, making him one of the most consistent forwards in MLS. He continued to put up numbers even when Henry was out, so look for him to only get better now that he’s returned.
You have an iPhone. You use it all the time. You sing songs to it. You need it. You love it. Maybe a little too much.
Maybe you sleep with it under your pillow. Maybe you grouse to it about your boss. Maybe you tell it about that one time in college when you... well, that's between you and Siri. Because Siri understands.
Siri also understands updates. She loves 'em. And we love 'em, too.
So here's the MLS iOS app update, which was just approved in the store.
Key new features:
- Condensed games for MLS live subscribers
- Enhanced highlight ui
- New live ui
- Bug fixes
Oh, and Android users? Your update is coming. Be patient.
Sent from my flip phone.
Chicago Fire striker Dominic Oduro once bet his entire salary in a race against (the, in fairness, not professional athletes that are) his front office colleagues Brendan Hannan and Jeff Crandall. That might seem foolish, until you consider that Oduro thinks he is the fastest man in MLS.
The idea that anyone not named Usain Bolt would beat him in a race probably seems absurd to him, and it turns out that his confidence, in this case, was justified.
But apparently the Ghanaian's blazing speed is not reserved solely for the field. In the commercial below, you'll see Oduro get an entire shopping cart full of groceries in the five minutes until the supermarket closes and still have time for a shirtless celebration. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.
Now when are we going to see him actually race someone so we can definitively settle the "fastest man in MLS" question once and for all? How about it, Dane Richards?
Los atacantes latinos en la MLS sacaron las garras este miércoles, anotando tremendos golazos en la Fecha 12 de la temporada regular (mira los goles aquí). Sin embargo, la controversia también estuvo presente, y Marco Pappa estuvo en el centro de ella.
El volante guatemalteco anotó el gol del triunfo por 2-1 del Fire ante FC Dallas luego de que el portero Kevin Hartman tapara un penal de Sebastián Grazzini al minuto 63. El chapín fue quien llegó de primero al rebote para poner el balón al fondo de la red.
Los jugadores de Dallas se quejaron del posicionamiento de Pappa al momento de que Grazzini cobra el penal, argumentando que el centroamericano se adelantó prematuramente, tomando ventaja sobre los defensas texanos.
¿Debió el árbitro Hilario Grajeda invalidar la acción?
Ustedes son los jueces…