Lalas: Don't run away mad, just run away
including the revitalized Tenywa Bonseu. (What will head coach Bob Bradley do when my boy Jeff Parke is healthy again? Hmm ... quite a predicament. I love you, Jeff, but my money is on Bonseu.)
The key to it all, what allowed New York's midfield to run riot, was the performance of the Caribbean tandem up top, Fabian Taylor and Cornell Glen. Most impressive was how the "Tropical Twins" ran off the ball. [Yeah, I know, lame nickname -- but "Reggae Boyz" was taken and I'm pretty sure my editors wouldn't have let me go with "Ganja Kings." (Editor's note: He's right.) Plus, it resembles the Thompson Twins, and who didn't love "Hold Me Now"?]
They were criss-crossing, coming back for the ball, dashing to the corners for the long ball over the top, and getting to both posts on crosses. This made the midfielders' jobs that much easier because they had an outlet up front, someone to hold the ball while the fullbacks moved upfield, someone to create gaps in the opposing defense, and someone to get on the end of their crosses. Imagine if Columbus had someone like Glen making runs in the box. Frankie Hejduk would have 17 assists by now. (OK, I promise to give the Crew's forwards a break after their big win. Jeff Cunningham is a good player -- No. 17 on the all-time scoring list -- but he just doesn't look good this year. Let's hope he finds his rhythm again.)
If finishing is the striker's science -- think how many times you've heard Max Bretos scream, "Clinical!" -- then moving off the ball is his artform. It's about knowing when and where to run to get yourself into a position to do something great -- kind of like becoming a Senator from New York, although Hillary Clinton seems to have lost the whole "doing something great" idea along the way.
There are three types of away-from-the-ball running for strikers:
1) Gimme the damn ball!: This entails making a run back to the ball. Then, providing Pablo Mastroeni or Ryan Suarez hasn't broken both your ankles with a flying karate chop tackle, you turn and rush headlong at the defense. Jaime Moreno does this, which is why Nowak has moved him to attacking midfield, so he could run at defenses rather than from them. Prince Freddy also shows promise here. (Wow, what a great goal he scored Wednesday night.) With apologies to Clint Mathis, the best U.S. player at this I've ever seen is Tiffeny Milbrett. She was mad scary when she started running with the ball.
2) I'll just take the glory, thank you very much: This could also be called the Pescadito Run, in honor of L.A.'s Little Fish. Rarely is Carlos Ruiz going to make a 40-yard sprint with or without the ball. Instead, he'll scoot 10 yards in the box for one of those sneaky poke-in goals that turn fullbacks into A-League players. (And, yes, I speak from experience about the effect of these types of goals. It's a long way down from the New England Revolution to the Worcester Wildfire.) Chicago's Ante Razov is also good at this, which is why he was in position for that tap in to tie the Fire-Metrostars match. And Los Angeles' Alejandro Moreno schooled Brandon Prideaux on Wednesday for his third goal.
3) Just giving you a little room: This is the thankless stuff. Here is where the Tropical Twins are so impressive. They know when to help Guevara and Vaca by coming back to play quick 1-2s, and when to clear out and give the midfielders, and each other, space to run. Alecko Eskandarian and Jovan Kirovski are good at this, too.
What makes the Tropical Twins so dangerous is that they are proficient at all of these. They aren't afraid to hold the ball; they aren't above working to get to the far post, as Taylor did for his goal; and they aren't above opening up space for teammates to run into. Other MLSers good at all three are Landon Donovan, Josh Wolff and Taylor Twellman. I love watching T.T. run all over the place and then fling himself into the air like Cato attacking Inspector Clouseau.
Now, I sure hope you're sitting at home and saying, "Greg, this is basic stuff." Because you're right: This is basic stuff. Stuff that Glen and Taylor -- I mean ... the Tropical Twins -- get. But it sure seems like a lot people who get paid to know these basics don't get it.
The problem, though, is that this artform -- like all artforms -- takes a certain amount of intuition, of inherent understanding of the game's complex motions and unempirical rhythms. Maybe someday an MIT grad student can isolate the "striker gene," and we can implant it into our most promising under-10s. It'll be like the old East German Olympic program, only without the mustachioed women.
"Greg, please make a wrong selection this week so the rest of us don't continue to look like losers." -- Marc Connolly, fellow MLSnet.com columnist
Sorry, M.C., there's nothing I can do about you guys looking like losers. Most likely, Marc and my other colleagues will go with the Chicago over Columbus "gimme." But since I bet someone a beer that my beloved Crew will win five in a row, I can't do that. Besides, if we're the "experts," shouldn't we be picking the hard-to-predict games? I'm going with the Metrostars over New England.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.