Armchair Analyst: Matt Doyle

Armchair Analyst: On the radar for Week 3 of the 2016 MLS season


There is a moment in Thursday's ExtraTime Radio, which you can listen to/download via one of the links above, in which Quincy Amarikwa talks about the long and difficult road he's had to travel to get to where he is now: Firmly ensconced in the starting lineup of an MLS team. There were, in the words of Andrew Wiebe, "obstacles to overcome."

Amarikwa is 28, in his 8th season as a pro, and has played for four teams (this is his second stop with the Quakes). It seems like he is just coming into his own now, much like his strike partner -- Chris Wondolowski -- came into his own only in his late 20s.

This is a good story, and in any context it's a strength if you can identify previously underappreciated/underdeveloped talents and make them into quality players. Amarikwa was almost certainly not a finished talent at age 21 or 22, just like Wondolowski will admit he wasn't, either. The ability to find guys like this later in their prime is not a bad thing.

I remain concerned, however, that too few Canadian or American attacking products are getting a chance in MLS. Cyle Larin is the exception that proves the rule -- can you name the best U-23 domestic striker in the league besides him? Or even under 25?

It's not easy to come up with a name, even though it probably should be.

Amarikwa and the Quakes travel to LA to take on the Galaxy on Saturday night in the season's first California Clasico (10:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE). I'll be watching and hoping that a few of the local kids on each side get some run.

Time Stand Still

So let's talk about Larin, who is by miles the most productive young attacker in the league. He's still just 20 years old and, last weekend, scored his 19th goal for Orlando City in their disappointing 1-1 draw against Chicago.

It was a typical Larin goal in that he took absolutely no wind-up before thumping a rocket into the upper 90, giving the opposing 'keeper zero chance of making a save. Larin generates more power on a shorter backswing than any forward in the league, basically stopping the clock for half-a-second, and as long as this skillset exists he will continue to annihilate expected goals models. It's not that he shoots more accurately, it's that he shoots the ball harder and at a different rhythm than almost anybody else.

Here's Larin's shot:

Compare that to this shot from Fanendo Adi last week. Watch the wind-up:

Adi is an excellent forward, and deserves both the pay raise from the Timbers and the call-up to Nigeria he just got. But he absolutely telegraphs his shots, as do most other big, strong No. 9s in this league -- guys like Kei Kamara, Will Bruin and Octavio Rivero.

Larin doesn't. It's a subtle but remarkable skill, and it's gotten an otherwise underwhelming Orlando City team two points through two weeks. They'll get a chance for more on Friday night in The Bronx when they go to bat against NYCFC (7 pm ET; UniMas).

So from where I sit, the key for Larin's progression revolves less around goalscoring and more around the other facets of his game. He's already improved immensely with his hold-up play and vision (though he has a ways to go to be in the same league as guys like Adi and Kamara), and defensively he's made some improvements. That last bit could prove to be the key to tonight's match-up, since the Pigeons have struggled mightily against any sort of high pressure thus far.

Adrian Heath will know that, and Larin will have to be the tip of the spear on both sides of the ball.

I'll also be watching: Obviously it's going to be NYCFC's formation. Patrick Vieira said last week that he's got the team working on a 3-3-4 in practice, which I've never seen put into practice at any level. I am giddy.

  • Update: Larin got the game's only goal on a header in OCSC's 1-0 win. NYCFC played a 3-4-3 for the most part, and had their chances to equalize but came up short.


You'll find a certain amount of hand-wringing online about the "Haves" and the "Have nots" in this league, specifically with regard to salary budget. There are the big spenders, there is the healthy and growing middle class, and then there are the (for lack of a better descriptor) working class heroes.

That last group includes both D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids, who square off on Sunday in Washington (5 pm ET; ESPN2). Ben Olsen has proved masterful at cobbling together a competitive team despite limited resources, and while Pablo Mastroeni hasn't had the same success, he did get a taste of joy last week thanks to Marco Pappa's late winner against the Galaxy.

Still, I think things are not as they should be in Colorado. Mastroeni has persisted in deploying Dillon Powers as an enganche, a playmaking goal-scorer stationed directly underneath a lone center forward, and that's just not his position. He's managed to create five chances in two games -- not a bad haul by any stretch -- but he's yet to put a shot on target, and he's not an instinctive connector of passes in the attacking third:

That's his passing map against the Galaxy. Red lines are missed passes, green are completed, and yellow are key passes -- passes that lead to an assist. By no means was this a bad performance, but there's a distinct lack of a creative presence in the attacking zone for a team that has two goal-scorers (Kevin Doyle and Shkelzen Gashi) who don't create their own chances.

There's a reason why, for two straight weeks, Colorado have looked better once Pappa's come into the game. Pappa's not a pure chance creator either, but he's more at home trying stuff in the final third than anybody else in Burgundy.

If Mastroeni is going to persist with Powers in that No. 10 role, he needs to get a more creative presence in there on the wing. That's especially true against D.C. with Gashi suspended.

And to get back to the class warfare thing: What Olsen has proved, over the years, is that during the regular season any perceived talent gap can be closed by constructing a team that fits together on both sides of the ball. It may not always produce the prettiest soccer, but you don't need to be pretty to win.

I'll also be watching:Taylor Kemp on the overlap. He's arguably been the most consistent attacking threat for United this season, and his left foot should be bronzed.

D.C. need him to be dangerous if they're going to create chances.


Toronto FC has picked up four points from the first two stops on their eight-game, season-opening road trip. By any measure, they're having a great start to the season.

The same can be said for Sporting KC, who sit atop the Western Conference after two weeks thanks to wins at Seattle and home against Vancouver. Those results will almost certainly have an impact upon the playoff race in the months to come, and they're right to be happy about it.

If there's a worry in Kansas City ahead of these two teams' meeting on Sunday night (7 pm ET; FS1), it's exactly how Sporting's wins have come. They've brought their typical high pressure in bursts on defense, and in attack they've gotten a pair of long-range goals that probably aren't repeatable.

They've also scored one of the finest team goals of the year:

That's a team smelling blood after a great midfield win by Roger Espinoza, then throwing numbers high and hard into the attack. The final ball is played by right back Chance Myers, who's overlapped all the way into the Vancouver 18.

It's beautiful soccer, but there's always risk associated with this kind of approach. In this case, the risk is of a counter going in the other direction, which is how TFC have been most comfortable on the road over the last couple of seasons.

To wit:

That's Michael Bradley, one of the league's best passers, sitting deep and then springing Sebastian Giovinco, the league's best player, into the space an overlapping fullback had vacated. Most central defenders have no prayer against Giovinco in that spot, and TFC knows as much. That's why they're so content to counterpunch.

I don't think that means Sporting should appreciably change their approach. But Myers will have to be smart and selective about picking his spots, or KC's happy start to the season will come to quick and decisive end.

I'll also be watching:Tim Melia vs. Clint Irwin. Two of the better 'keepers in the league are somehow both flying under the radar.

One more thing:

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Hope everybody on the east coast enjoys the weekend!