Armchair Analyst: On late runs, early MVPs and defenders who leave the door ajar in Week 6
I embedded that video of New York's finishing profligacy above because, above everything else, that's what I'll remember from this weekend.
The Red Bulls are starting to give off a slight "San Jose in 2013" stench. The Quakes, like New York, were the defending Supporters' Shield champs. The Quakes, like New York, had enough talent and quality to be a playoff team. The Quakes, like New York, spent the entire first half of the season flubbing open looks from in and around the six-yard box.
It took a lot for San Jose to miss last year's postseason - including "The Shoe Incident," which now and forever holds a place on the Mt. Rushmore of MLS gaffes.
New York, of course, have a spot of their own on that Rushmore of Broken Dreams (encroachment on Kenny Cooper's penalty vs. D.C. United in the 2012 playoffs), and it's starting to feel like another similar season-defining catastrophe is on the way.
Or they're going to take heart from the second-half barrage and start banging in goals left and right. We live in a post-Curse of Caricola world now, so that is an option.
But following that 1-0 loss at D.C. United, I'm not holding my breath.
Here are a few other takeaways from the sixth matchday of the regular season:
1. Late runs out of the midfield are causing teams fits
There were, like, a bunch of them this weekend. It seemed like every other game featured a textbook third-man run that caught a defense leaning to one side or another.
This has become the default goal in MLS this season, and if you can't figure out how to defend it then you're not a playoff team. Picking up runners between the lines has to be on everybody's agenda in film study this week.
2. I guess we're not still worried about Deuce
Dempsey's got five goals in two games, and six in three. This after a run in which he scored once in 27 appearances for three clubs and the USMNT across all competitions.
So I guess the slump is over.
His hot streak doesn't quite reach "historic" levels just yet, but it's heading in that direction:
— Peter Hirdt (@PeterHirdt) April 13, 2014
With a bit less than 20 percent of the season gone, and with the 3-2 win at FC Dallas in the books, Dempsey has to be No. 1 in the MVP race. He's followed by Higuaín and FC Dallas playmaker Mauro Díaz, but suddenly there's a bit of distance as Deuce has been phenomenal.
A lot of the credit for that great form has to go to Obafemi Martins.
Martins has done a ton of unselfish work both on and off the ball for Seattle, playing as more of a target forward than the channel-running No. 9 he actually is. This means he's doing a lot of thankless battling against much bigger defenders – forearm in the neck, cleats on the Achilles, clash-of-heads stuff.
The goals haven't come for him, but they're coming for the Sounders – Dempsey – in large part because Martins is presenting as the primary threat each and every week. Defenses can't key on Dempsey, because if they do Martins is now 1-vs-1 in the center channel, and that's not a winning move for anyone going up against Seattle.
Look how central Martins was against Dallas:
And he did all that without taking a single shot on goal.
It's probably not how Martins thought he'd be used, and I suspect his role will continue to evolve. But it says a lot about the man that he's done it so well, even if his body language doesn't suggest that he's always done it happily.
3. What's that behind you?
It's a goal. For the other team.
Being a defender is tough. You've probably heard the old refrain: "I have 89 good minutes and one bad minute, and I'm a goat. A forward has 89 bad minutes and one good minute, and he's a hero."
The wording can change but the point gets made, right? Defenders have to be close to perfect out there or suffer the ire of fans, coaches, and journos (hi!).
Two of the most important things to balance are "help" and "pursuit."
Help is this: At what point do you shade toward your fellow defender, who's out on an island trying to stop a 1-v-1?
After Leandro Barrera beats Alvas Powell, Futty Danso takes a couple steps out of his channel to help. Pa Modou Kah's help instincts are so strong that he actually does the same thing, and in the process leaves the back door open for Cubo Torres.
It's an individual mistake born out of the the threat presented by Barrera, a tricky dribbler and good 1-v-1 player. Often the threat of a penetrating dribble is more effective than the actual dribble itself.
Pursuit is this: After a turnover – yours or your team's – how hard do you go after the ball in an effort to win it back immediately?
As players get more and more technical and present multi-layered threats, MLS defenders are having to make their decisions faster and faster. So far, not everybody's keeping up.
A few more points to make...
7. The Galaxy just continue to switch roles on the fly. Last week it was Landon Donovan doing center forward things on the buildup to Baggio Husidic's goal; this week it was Husidic getting central and giving Keane a perfect wall pass early in LA's 1-0 win over Vancouver. That ability to interchange rapidly is obviously a nightmare to scout, let alone defend.
6. Get well soon to Tommy McNamara. My favorite rookie went down clutching his knee midway through the second half of Chivas' 1-1 draw at Portland. It was a non-contact injury, which is almost always the scariest kind.
5. Darlington Nagbe gets my Pass of the Week award for matchday 6. Patience, vision, and an assist:
4. Lee Nguyen is making the leap - once again he was New England's best player, this time in a 2-0 win over the listing Dynamo. He's always been difficult to track in tight spaces, but now he's added a range of passing that was never really there before. Watch his sublime through-ball to Teal Bunbury HERE.
That's a close second to Nagbe for Pass of the Week.
3. Did the real Earthquakes finally show up? Their first half vs. Columbus was awful, as they played at a snail's pace. Then Yannick Djalo came on and changed both the tempo of the game and where it was played. His ability to cut inside and create useful possession had been sorely missing, and the Quakes deserved the point. I'll be shocked if he's not a starter from now on.
Also, he did this:
2. The Rapids mined a diamond. I wasn't at all in favor of Colorado's switch to a 4-4-2 diamond (they'd been playing a 4-2-3-1 so far), because I felt like it would make the game too compact and ask Dillon Powers to do stuff in the 18 that he's not really built for.
1. Toronto are in better shape than I thought. I was able to write off last week's 2-0 win over Columbus as "that's what happens when you have Michael Bradley." But even without Bradley – and Jermain Defoe – this week they were tough as hell before eventually falling 1-0 to the Rapids. Second-year man Kyle Bekker was particularly good, tracking back and taking smart positions defensively.
The Reds are deeper than expected. And that means they're not going away any time soon.