“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.” -- Friedrich Nietzsche
There is no "right way" to play soccer. I periodically remember to make this point because, I think, a loud and proud majority of us tend to value certain aesthetic attributes more than the blunt and unblushed pragmatism that so often defines our game. You can see it in our heroes, and the tales we spin of them.
Pep Guardiola is fêted. He is the warlock who truly unleashed tiki-taka to its fullest extent, and thus he is emblematic of what is "good" in the game. Jose Mourinho, on the other hand, is largely scorned. His teams collect glamorous names and smash them together into an unglamorous, ungainly and largely unloveable whole. He is "reactive" or "dour" or... well, I'm sure you've come up with a few names for him and his teams yourself.
It's not trophies that divide them -- not really. It's aesthetics, and our appreciation thereof.
We see this in MLS as well. NYCFC have committed whole-heartedly to the aesthetic side of the game under Patrick Vieira, while San Jose under Dom Kinnear have tended toward the other end of the spectrum. Every NYC possession begins from the back, and triangles its way up the field (or not). The majority of Quakes possessions are far more linear, progressing up the sideline at pace before bludgeoning their way into the attacking third.
I'll say that NYC played the better soccer, but will readily concede that the Quakes had the best chances in Friday night's scoreless draw at Avaya Stadium. There is no way to say one is right and the other is wrong, but I know which one I've enjoyed watching more this season.
Here's the rest of the week's slate:
The LA Galaxy are now unbeaten in eight, which is what Bruce Arena's teams do. They lurch through the first half of the season, start picking up results somewhere in early June, then right the ship by about mid-August and cruise into the playoffs. Sometimes this leads to a Supporters' Shield, sometimes not -- that doesn't ever seem to bother Bruce one way or another.
It's all about getting to the playoffs, then survive-and-advance into MLS Cup itself. And then what's the secret of winning MLS Cup?
"Your best players have to be your best players," is Arena's stock answer, and he's not even remotely wrong. Arena's won five MLS Cups in his years in the league, and here are the game-winning goalscorers
The best thing any coach can do is have great talent.
Nonetheless, I firmly believe that talent alone isn't enough. There has to be fit and flexibility, and even as the Galaxy are on their eight-game canter I still don't quite see it with this team, and it's still about figuring out where Gio Dos Santos plays. In Sunday night's 2-2 draw against the Red Bulls FS1 play-by-play man John Strong told an anecdote Keane had passed along about LA's play earlier in the season, and specifically about how Dos Santos's propensity for playing narrow made the field smaller and the LA attack more predictable.
Dos Santos had arguably been better about that over the last two months, but not against RBNY. Here LA's network passing graph from the draw, courtesy of Opta:
Each circle represents a player's aggregate position for all measurable events, and the thickness of the lines connecting players represents the number of passes exchanged back and forth. Dos Santos is No. 10, and he was ostensibly lined up on the right wing of a 4-2-3-1.
Obviously it didn't play out that way, and just as obviously the Red Bulls took advantage of it by tilting the field in that direction, setting up shop in the space Dos Santos left behind and out-manning the stranded A.J. DeLaGarza.
Here's a map of NY's chance creation on the night. Yellow arrows indicate key passes (passes that lead to a shot), and blue lines are assists:
The field was so one-sided that Arena had to sub Baggio Husidic into the midfield order to help prevent DeLaGarza from being overrun.
The truth is it didn't work. LA got themselves a point, but this doesn't feel anything like the 2014 team or even the 2012 version of the Galaxy that were so listless for so long. This still feels like a squad where the best players don't make each other better, where the defense is constantly putting out fires, and where Keane's presence is more "opportunistic" than "dominant."
Arena being Arena, he'll probably figure out a way to win the whole damn thing anyway, at which point I'll have a healthy serving of crow to eat. But if you want to figure out where any bad underlying numbers for the Galaxy come from -- and why, maybe, the analytics don't love them quite so much as past versions of the team -- look no further than Dos Santos.
He's still a clunky fit in the City of Angels.
When You Are Who You Are
And after a brief absence, the Colorado Rapids are back atop the table on points per game. This time it's thanks to a 2-0 win over the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, with third-year midfielder Marlon Hairston taking a star turn with a goal and an assist.
Hairston only forced his way into the lineup at the end of May, and only secured his spot after an unfortunate injury to Dillon Serna and uninspired play from the since departed Luis Solignac. He now has three goals and two assists on the season, all of which have come in his last nine games. His three goals are tied for second on the team; his two assists, good for third.
This is who Hairston is:
He is a winger who will drift central without the ball, trying to find the same spaces that the likes of Ignacio Piatti or Kevin Molino work in. The difference is that Hairston is not a 1-v-1 wizard. Instead, his gift is his acceleration -- I'm not sure there's a quicker player in the league over 10 or 15 yards.
Weaponizing that was crucial for a Rapids team that's not creative enough with the ball to consistently break down good sides. What they don't get enough credit for is how creative they are off the ball. They score more late arrival goals than anyone aside from NYCFC, and willingly flip their wingers with their "playmaker" (those are air quotes, because neither Dillon Powers nor Jermaine Jones is really a playmaker) on the run. Target forward Kevin Doyle acts as a fixed point ahead of all of them attracting just enough attention to open up enough space for Hairston to do what he did on that play.
I admit to being disappointed early in the year when I heard that the "Hairston to right back" experiment was mostly over, but clearly that's a good thing. There's more and more value placed upon scoring from the wings in the modern game, and finding someone who can do it consistently is like striking gold.
In just a few short months that's become Hairston's M.O. Given how little offense Colorado otherwise generate, he'll need to keep it up if they're to stay at or near the top of the Western Conference.
A few more things to ponder...
6. Toronto FC this week became the first team since 2012 to win three regular season games in seven days, starting with last Sunday's 3-0 win over Columbus, extending into Wednesday's 1-0 win over RSL and finishing with Saturday's 4-1 smackdown of New England. I wrote about how sad that was for the Revs HERE.
In each of those three wins, Jozy Altidore came off the bench just before the hour mark. In each of those three wins, he contributed either a goal or an assist.
I'm not sure how close to 100% fit Jozy is, but given TFC's forward depth and his history of injuries, I see no reason to force him into the starting XI as of yet. He's been not just a game-changer when coming in and going against tired defenders, but a game-breaker. The best thing the Reds can do is continue to nurture that, continue to monitor those troublesome hamstrings, and continue to collect points.
5. RSL bounced back from that loss at TFC to turn around and thump the Fire 3-1.
Chicago are on a road winless streak approaching biblical proportions -- 39 games (all competitions) stretching over two years, to be precise. And to put it into context, Chivas USA have a road victory more recently than the Fire.
4. Face of the Week goes to Fabinho:
That is exhaustion + frustration, since Philly conceded a late goal at RFK for a 2-2 draw with D.C. The Union's road form has been problematic, and they've sunk to fifth in the Eastern Conference because of it.
3. Matteo Mancosu has been productive for Montreal, tallying two goals and an assist in his brief, 142 minutes of action so far. His latest contribution was the game-winner in a necessary 1-0 triumph over Houston at Stade Saputo on Saturday.
2. Take a look at the video embedded at the top of the page for my take on the Timbers following Sunday's 3-0 win over Sporting KC. As for the visitors, the best chances they're creating still fall to their wingers, and it's still true that none of their wingers are reliable goal-scorers.
1. And finally, our Pass of the Week goes to Sounders playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro:
Clint Dempsey had a hat-trick, and Jordan Morris laid off two assists (and should have had three more). But there's no doubt that the best player on the field in Seattle's 3-1 win at Orlando City on Sunday was Lodeiro.
All season long I've been talking about that team's inability to turn the good possession they were generating into the type of penetration you can see above. Now I'm wondering if, given their games in hand, they'll be able to climb into the Western Conference playoff race.
It's not just that Lodeiro is that good, it's that he's the perfect fit. Sometimes all it takes is one piece to tie the whole room together.