Three Things: Slow starts have I-95 teams feeling some early heat | Armchair Analyst
You can't win any titles in March – just ask last year's Montreal Impact.
But if you lose enough in March, or even just drop enough points here and there, you can dig yourself a hole from which you'll never quite climb out. The playoffs end up being a target that spends eternity just out of reach.
Just ask last year's San Jose Earthquakes and Chicago Fire.
I covered the struggles of the Portland Timbers on Saturday – read it HERE. Let's move onto three other strugglers so far:
1. EJ doesn't look anything close to "goal-hungry"
When Eddie Johnson is on, he's an unmatchable force of nature out there. Former USMNT defender and current KICKTV faux journalist extraordinaire Jimmy Conrad once called him the toughest matchup he ever had because of EJ's otherworldly physical skills and ability to play simple.
The scenario plays out one of two ways when EJ is locked in.
In scenario one, you force him to face up, give him space to respect his speed and blazing-fast first step. So he gets you backpedaling, hits a wall pass, then uses his momentum to burn into space behind you. And you can't keep up with him because you are not Eddie Johnson.
In scenario two, you get tight to him and force him to control with his back to goal. In Jimmy's words, "So he just plays the simple pass, rolls off you and is gone."
That's not happening with D.C. United, who drew 2-2 vs. Chicago this weekend.
Watch EJ release Jared Jeffrey on the left then simply jog to the spot:
If he makes a hard, near-post run, he may not get to Jeffrey's cross. And even if he gets there, he may not finish it.
But all of his effectiveness is predicated on being sharp and aggressive with his movements. For some reason, right now he's not.
D.C. are still winless, and EJ is still goalless. Those two things are related.
2. Cristian Maidana is well off the pace
The Philadelphia Union brass are due a tip of the cap for the vast majority of their offseason acquisitions. Maurice Edu has been 100 percent worth his Designated Player tag, covering an inhuman amount of the field on both sides of the ball. And Vincent Nogueira may be even better – the best new midfielder in the league not named Michael Bradley.
The below is his Opta events chart from his last 20 minutes on the field. It's hideous:
Maidana touched the ball 12 times in a 20-minute period. Ten of those times resulted in the Impact heading in the other direction.
Remember, this comes a week after his lax marking on a corner allowed Bernardo Añor his first goal, and his cheap giveaway at midfield set Añor up for his second.
Leo Fernandes has already started eating into Maidana's minutes, and Philly – in spite of conceding the late equalizer this weekend – have generally looked much better with him out there. This is in part because Fernandes is very good, but also because Maidana has been very, very bad.
And this isn't a case of Maidana being pushed off the field because of MLS physicality. This is just bad, sloppy, indifferent soccer.
3. New York's Shield defense is off to a walking start
Hey, at least EJ moves at a jog! The Red Bulls have strolled through the first four weeks of the season and will enter April still looking for their first win.
Because of last season's hardware, it took longer than usual for the fans to throw up their hands and start crucifying their players on Twitter and various message boards (and by "various," I mean "Metrofanatic"). But the grace period is over. I received a barrage of texts from New York partisans this weekend after a sluggish 1-1 home draw with Chivas TBD, and the following is the most optimistic of them:
"This is just pathetic."
It's not just the fans, though. Here's a bit from the match notes, provided by our own Jonah Freedman:
"[Dax] McCarty is being forced to do way too much, and that’s not sustainable if Red Bulls want to outdo 2013."
Other professionals also weighed in:
Continuity? Doesn't look like it out there. Armando frustrated after misunderstanding w Convey. Then McCarty plays pass to no one. #RBNY
— Franco Panizo (@FrancoPanizo) March 30, 2014
As did semi-professionals:
No one seems to know what their role is when the ball is anywhere other than at Lloyd Sam's feet.
— K. (@FriendlyFAUX) March 30, 2014
FriendlyFaux really sums it up in that tweet: The Red Bulls only look comfortable when they're advancing in transition, and only when the ball is wide. They're a mess in defense and a slog in possession.
Mike Petke hinted at changes next week, saying he'll be taking a look at the reserves. One of them best bring a shovel, because New York's found themselves a pretty good hole to climb out of.
A few more points to make...
7. Dom Dwyer finally broke the streak. It took Sporting KC center forwards 690 minutes – 11-and-a-half hours of game time – between goals from the run of play across all competitions. His game-winner in SKC's gutty 3-2 win over Colorado was legit – watch it HERE.
6. Never bet on Eastern Conference teams traveling to Vancouver. The Whitecaps have a pronounced homefield advantage thanks to the crowd (which has always been large, but is now starting to become "loud"), but even moreso thanks to the artificial turf. It plays weird:
Eastern Conference teams who only play on BC Place's turf once every two years … always bet against them.
— Richard Farley (@richardfarley) March 30, 2014
5. I'm going to start including a "Pass of the Week" in this column. We'll retroactively give it to Mauro Díaz for this insanity from Week 3. Week 4 belongs to a different South American playmaker, Vancouver's Pedro Morales. His onetime cross to the back post, which sets up the first goal in their 2-1 win over Houston, is Beckham-esque. Watch it HERE.
4. The limits of the flat 4-4-2. Both the second and third RSL goals in their dominant 3-0 win over Toronto FC were "pulley system" goals. The pulley system is nerd speak for playing two box-to-box midfielders (Bradley and Jeremy Hall in this one) together in central midfield, rather than one designated defensive midfielder and one designated attacking midfielder. It's supposed to work like a pulley, so that when one goes forward, the other drops back, and vice versa.
Unless the pairing is well practiced, the pulley system can cause the very problem it's supposed to solve – namely, acres of space between the central midfield and central defense. That's the space where Javier Morales went to work in this one, and why the Reds have their first loss of the SuperClub era.
3. Fabián Castillo continues to be good. Obviously he's a nightmare in transition, but the new wrinkle to his game this year (other than not putting every single one of his shots into the 15th row) is an ability to pinch inside and help out in midfield. It gives FC Dallas a numbers advantage whether they're playing with 11 or, as they did in the 2-1 win over Portland, with 10.
Somehow Castillo is still only 21 years old.
2. The Crew are for real. I don't have much else to say on this, because I haven't been able to watch anything except the goals with a critical eye. But they're scoring from inside the box and out, and everything they do with moving the ball is designed to disguise Federico Higuaín's intent. You almost can't gameplan for him because he can pop up anywhere.
Did they deserve that 2-1 win over Seattle? Like I said, I haven't seen the whole thing, so I won't weigh in on that. But I will say I'm not the least bit surprised they got it.
1. San Jose's switch to the 3-5-2 is inevitable. They played the 4-4-2 to good effect a couple of years ago in winning their Supporters' Shield, and with their superior attacking fullbacks – who are now gone – that made sense. So it's time to dispense with the pleasantries and switch formations.
Adding another central midfielder will make them less one-dimensional in possession, while making them more dangerous on the attack. Gum up the middle and play to the flanks quickly to get in early crosses – that's what an old-style, German 3-5-2 was best for.
And after Saturday's crushing 2-1 home loss to New England, I expect Mark Watson to give it a look.