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Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from the All-Star Game

25 July 10:52 de la tarde

Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from the All-Star Game

By Matthew Doyle

Halftime analysis from Chelsea TV: "It feels quite like an exhibition, doesn't it?"

Yes, yes it does.

The MLS All-Star Game is great for the pomp and pagaentry, for the chance to see the guys who are ostensibly the league's best gathered in one spot, and for the chance to heckle one European superstar or another (this year's target, courtesy of the Sons of Ben, appeared to be Frank Lampard. Bold choice that didn't quite work out).

But just as in other leagues, the All-Star Game doesn't quite run in the red. Players have a little more time and space, tackles are a little less meaningful and complaints to the ref are a little less vociferous than they'd otherwise be.

Bear all that in mind when trying to delve into the 90 minutes we just saw, and don't be too firm in the conclusions you've drawn.

With that caveat, here are three things we learned from the 3-2 MLS victory...

Ozzie Alonso can play in any league in the world

Alonso comes up short vs. a number of MLS d-mids in terms of passing ability. He's not a time-keeper like Kyle Beckerman or Dax McCarty, and when he gets frustrated, he'll play it long a bit too often. He never would have hit that pass to Eddie Johnson for the game-winner.

Many coaches would make that sacrifice, however, for his ability to win the second ball. Alonso is simply phenomenal at it, whether it's against Chivas USA or Chelsea FC.

Basketball coaches talk about guys like Kevin Love or — two decades ago — Dennis Rodman, and their "Rebounding Gene." They just, somehow, know how to read the shot, the angle, the momentum, the spacing of players, and get themselves into the right spot to grab the ball.

That's the nearest approximation I can make for Alonso's ability to gobble up everything in midfield. It's uncanny, like a mutant superpower. And while he may not be as well-rounded as other d-mids out there, his ability in this particular area does so much in terms of freeing the rest of the midfield to play higher that it's, at this point, incalculable.

With all that in mind, I'm kind of stunned that no Euro team has made the Sounders an offer they can't refuse. Having that one world-class skill out there would have a multiplying effect on the abilities of the rest of the players on any team. Period.

With All-Star teams, simpler is better

Ben Olsen started his side out in a 4-4-1-1 and basically kept them there all night. It didn't exactly make for elegant build-up (especially against Chelsea's 4-2-3-1), but in those rare moments that the field opened up and the All-Stars got moving forward, opportunities for flowing, aggressive counterattacks were there. That's about the best you can ask for from a team playing with one day of practice under their belt.

Defensively, it was even more important to keep it simple. Chelsea had their chances, sure, but it's worth noting that their goals came off a set piece and a goalkeeper error. That can happen no matter the formation.

Point is, keeping it simple was Olsen's way of keeping his team from making the errors that have plagued the All-Stars the last two times out. It's also why most tactical experimentation takes place at the club level, where coaches have their players for 10 months out of 12, rather than at the national team level, where the best most managers can hope for is a two-week camp. Can't reinvent the wheel on a deadline.

Balance is the most important physical asset for any soccer player

We didn't really learn this today (or the other two, to be honest), but it bears repeating here anyway.

Too often we get caught up in size, speed, strength, leaping ability, etc etc etc. And all of those are valuable (some more than others). But give me an athlete who can stay on his feet when everyone else around him is getting corkscrewed into the ground, and I can build you a soccer player.

The extreme version is Lionel Messi, obviously. His balance is the most outstanding physical trait in the history of the game.

On Wednesday night in Chester, Pa., it was Chris Wondolowski who stood out, particularly on his goal. When he scored, my Twitter timeline filled up with "Typical Wondo goal" and "All he had to do was put it in" and the like.

And, well, yeah. That's the point, isn't it? He was able to get into position in front of goal then stay on his feet in a situation where most strikers would have taken a tumble. Look at how quickly he stops his momentum, squares and finishes. It's not rocket science.

I'll leave you with a thought from the great George Best, talking about — appropriately — former Chelsea and LA Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit in Andrew Godsell's Europe United:

"Ruud Gullit is a great player by any standards. He has all the skills. He's not afraid to do things with the ball. And he looks as if he's enjoying every second of it. By my reckoning, that's what makes him an even better player than Maradona. Both have the key quality you will find in all the best players: balance."

It's the truth at any level.