The Throw-In: False positives of First Kick week
First impressions matter. They’re why we’ve all been gushing about how great First Kick weekend was. We saw some excellent highlights, some emotional moments and some historic new beginnings. But let’s not forget, kids: We’ve got another 33 match days left to go.
Don’t fall prey to some of the displays we witnessed in Week 1. Here are five trends we saw during the opening weekend of the 2011 season that you shouldn’t take to the bank just yet.
1. Seattle cannot score goals. Zero goals through two games is cause for alarm for the Sounders. It is not, however, reason to panic. We’ve seen this before from Sigi Schmid’s Seattle teams, where they go through a drought in front of goal and drop points in the table.
How soon we forget that seven-game stretch last spring when the Sounders won only once, scored four goals in the process and fans were wondering if it was time to make big changes.
[inline_node:318648]It’s not as dire yet. Fredy Montero is getting his chances – six of his total seven shots through two games have been on frame. As teams continue to key on him, the burden falls on Seattle to find a big body to replace Blaise Nkufo and give Montero some space.
Is O'Brian White that guy? Likely not. Nate Jaqua may be. But the Sounders also will benefit from a healthy Steve Zakuani, too, and once Schmid has figured out how to fully integrate creative midfielders Erik Friberg and Mauro Rosales – and look for more opportunities for Alvaro Fernandez (at right) – there will be other sources.
And don’t think for a second that Schmid and GM Adrian Hanauer aren’t exploring ways to use the vacant DP spot from Nkufo’s release. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Seattle, it’s that they won’t hesitate to make changes in midseason to correct things.
2. Vancouver are an offensive juggernaut. The Caps’ 4-2 win over Toronto FC was epic – a picture-perfect afternoon for their first game in MLS. But they’ve got TFC’s disorganized back line to thank for the scoring outburst.
Three of Vancouver’s four goals against TFC were off defensive breakdowns – both Eric Hassli goals were basically tap-ins and Atiba Harris’ was off a bouncing ball in the box. Hassli was essentially unmarked for both of his goals, and no team in the league is going to leave the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Designated Player that open for the rest of the season.
To me, the Caps still haven’t answered where the goals will come from in 2011. As of right now, their best creative force is clearly Davide Chiumiento, whose gorgeous through-ball to Terry Dunfield produced Vancouver’s second strike of the afternoon. That pairing has the most potential on the roster.
Hassli is far from 90 minutes match fit – head coach Teitur Thordarson told ExtraTime Radio last week that may take months – and Vancouver have no other players on the roster with established MLS scoring reputations. Don’t be deceived by a magical day at Empire Field.
3. Sporting Kansas City are on their way back to the postseason. Peter Vermes’ team barely finished outside the MLS Cup Playoffs last season and, in a wide-open Eastern Conference, have been picked by many to get there this fall. They’re young, dynamic and exciting.
[inline_node:331573]But it won’t be as simple as it looked last weekend at the Home Depot Center. All three of Sporting’s goals came from grave errors by Chivas USA’s defense, which made C.J. Sapong historic (the fastest-ever goal scored by a rookie) and Omar Bravo iconic (a brace against the sister club of his former team).
Vermes’ 4-3-3 offense is designed to apply pressure, which it did against a disorganized Chivas back line. But it also leaves them exposed in the back to counterattacks, which is a specialty of many teams in MLS. That could present some major challenges as SKC look for consistency down the road – a point that becomes more urgent as they open their season with 10 straight road games.
With three automatic postseason berths out of the East this year, Sporting are still a good bet to grab one of them. But an improved D.C. United and a retooled Philadelphia and Houston will apply as much pressure on KC as Vermes’ attack put on Chivas last weekend.
4. Toronto FC are an utter disaster. So much has been made about Aron Winter installing a possession-heavy Dutch-style system. And so far, it appears to be working. Against Vancouver, TFC held the ball over 64 percent of the game. That’s after a preseason full of concentrating on holding the ball. It’s the mistakes that are killing them.
Assume Winter will reorganize the defense, starting this weekend at home against Portland. And then realize that he’s integrating at least three new players into his starting lineup, and working with almost an entirely new bench. And that will take time.
Real Salt Lake, the reigning kings of possession in MLS were not built in a day, either. More than half their 2009 Cup-winning team was around two years prior when RSL finished second-from-bottom in the league table.
TFC may not have made the postseason yet, but they’ve been more competitive in their first five years in the league than RSL were. Toronto may not be headed for a title yet, either. But it’s only fair to give Winter time to install his system – even if it is admittedly befuddling for some of the players.
[inline_node:331525]5. Shalrie Joseph can be a playmaker, too. No offense to Joseph, who has graced nearly every position on the pitch during his nine years with New England. But the bizarre sight of seeing him as the most advanced of three central midfielders for the Revs last Sunday in LA is merely a quick fix.
Steve Nicol shifted into a 4-5-1 against the Galaxy to protect the result, which forced bodies into the midfield to disrupt LA’s attack. It worked well, but Nicol has been forced to juggle his lineup due to a litany of injuries.
With Kevin Alston, Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi hopefully returning the lineup, Joseph will likely return to his more familiar role of holding midfielder. That’s where he’s most effective, and that’s where New England get the best out of him.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.