Three Things: Playmakers, magicians & why MFs stole show on Matchday 3 | Armchair Analyst

There were a lack of breathtaking goals this week (save for Bernardo Añor, and let's just give him the AT&T Goal of the Week nod now, shall we?) which has made some of my colleagues sad. Especially those in the video department.

But I can live without multiple 35-yard blasts every gameday. I prefer, above everything including good scotch and mid-afternoon naps, the threaded through-ball, or delicate chip into space.

We had plenty of those in Matchday 3. I'm going to highlight three of the guys who provided my favorites:


1. Michael Bradley, the modern central midfielder

I am glad, to my core, that Bradley chose to sign with Toronto FC and ply his trade in MLS. But there is a part of me that wishes Sunderland had made some sort of obscene bid, because what Jozy Altidore is lacking is service like this:

There are a few things that make this play special:

First is that Bradley's coming from a deep-lying position to fill the role of the playmaker. TFC play without a traditional No. 10, so that means Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, as well as Gilberto and both wingers will take turns being the attacking hub. In this particular instance, as soon as Gilberto checks and puts his back toward goal, Bradley knows there will be both lanes and runners, and a collapsing defense that is vulnerable to the slip pass. It's instant recognition of advantage.

Second is the patience he shows on the play. Most midfielders in that situation want to get the ball off their foot as soon as possible, since there are three defenders coming and more on the way. But he takes a touch, and then takes an extra chop-step, and Sean Franklin – the D.C. United right back – takes the bait. Bradley's body language is so convincing that Franklin just can't help himself.

Third is the weight on the pass. Totti would have been proud of that one.

  • Click HERE for the OPTA Chalkboard from Toronto's win

So, credit to Bradley for being brilliant. But credit to Osorio as well for, once again, showing maturity and basing his own movement off of what Bradley's doing. He knows it's Michael's midfield, and he's happy to play the supporting role.

That is something still missing from the USMNT lineup, by the way. You don't get to see Bradley make plays like this because there is still a tug-of-war for initiative whenever he's paired with Jermaine Jones. Too often it's Jones trying to dictate the pace of the game and where on the field it's played, and with all due respect to him, he's not capable of the final third magic that Bradley can conjure.

For the US, it would be Landon Donovan running onto that ball from Bradley. I want both of those guys in position to make that play, and right now they're not.

Back to the game: A chipped through-ball from Bradley led to the only TFC goal on the day, and it was just as pretty as this slip pass. Watch it HERE.


2. Dillon Powers, the throwback

I have a lot of fun arguing with people about what position Powers plays. It seems that, since he actually gives a damn about defense (even if he doesn't play it particularly well), he must be a box-to-box midfielder. He can't possibly be a playmaker.

And honestly, I'm kind of stunned by that. Powers is the closest thing to an old fashioned, Valderrama- or Etcheverry-style No. 10 that the US has produced. Ever.

(Understand that I'm not saying Powers is as good as Valderrama or Etcheverry. It's a stylistic comparison only.)

He created both Rapids goals in their 2-0 win over Portland. The first came on a one-time, left-footed chip to release Deshorn Brown and earn a penalty. Watch HERE -- he plays the ball before the midfield pressure can even get close.

The second came after he picked off a bad pass, then put Vicente Sanchez through – left footed, on the run – for yet another penalty. Watch how he absolutely undresses poor Pa Modou Kah and has both the strength and balance to handle a challenge from Diego Chara HERE.

Powers is nominally, in Colorado's 4-2-3-1, the second-highest attacker. Most playmakers in that spot do the bulk of their damage in the box (think of Federico Higuain).

Not so for Powers. Here's the sum total of his final third action:

He stays deeper, almost near the midfield stripe. As a result, the defense comes up higher and higher to meet him. As a result of that, there is almost always space in behind for clever runs and properly weighted through-balls.

It's beautiful to watch, and reminds me of the 1990s. I'm glad to see there's at least one throwback playmaker in the league these days.


3. Mauro Diaz, the magician

Diaz is obscene. He's put eight shots on goal in his MLS career, and four of them are goals (that will regress to the mean soon, but still). Since September, he creates more "big chances" per 90 minutes than any other player in MLS. He's basically David Ferreira Part 2, and Ferreira was a deserving MLS MVP back in 2010.

Of the three players I'm talking about here, Diaz is the most stereotypically modern playmaker. He sits in the hole and drifts left – just like Ferreira – acting as a second forward as often as he does a tempo-setter or facilitator. Bradley is obviously at his best behind two forwards, and I think the same will be said of Powers eventually. Diaz, on the other hand, would be lost in that set-up.

Anyway, this is filthy, and too long to GIF. Click play – you won't regret it:

It's unfair that you have to pay just as much attention to Diaz when he's 70 yards from goal as you do when he's 17. And if you're still looking for your "MVP Candidate Nobody Is Talking About Yet," he's your guy.

Dallas, after their 3-1 win over Chivas TBD, now have seven points out of nine to start the year.


A few more points to make...

8. I've been going on a bit about how New England have to play a double-pivot, which could limit their effectiveness moving forward. Andy Dorman might have other ideas – he was excellent for the Revs as a lone d-mid in their scoreless draw against Vancovuer. Obviously the attack is still a work in progress, but if Dorman can nail down that spot then Jay Heaps has some flexibility.

7. Poor Peguy Luyindula. What a painful miss in the midst of an acceptable result:

6. Familiarity bred sloppiness between RSL and LA. I wrote a good bit about it – including LA trying a diamond midfield of their own – HERE.

5. Portland are struggling. My March to the Match partner sums it up nicely:

4. Columbus and Philadelphia are both really good. If you're going to pick one game to re-watch this week, that's the one (which the Crew held on to win 2-1). Pay particular attention to Wil Trapp, who reads and plays the game at an incredibly high level.

3. The drought is over! Dom Dwyer's 57th-minute penalty broke a 571-minute scoreless streak for Sporting KC front-liners – center forwards and wingers. The streak continues from the run of play, however, as Sporting's attackers are now over 10 hours without a goal across all competitions.

2. Chicago are going young in attack. Harrison Shipp picked up his first assist in his first home start, and Benji Joya continues to look like a guy who will run a team soon. I think they're both starters from here on out – which means that some familiar faces are probably on the trading block.

1. Nothing's solved in Seattle or Montreal. I actually think the Impact are closer to being on the right side of things, since some of those looks that will have gone wanting over the past couple of weeks will be falling to Marco Di Vaio henceforth. Not sure what to do with the Sounders at this point, despite the win. Two wins out of three is fine to start the year, but this still looks like 11 guys who've never met each other far too often for comfort.