The impact of box-to-box midfielders | On the Field presented by Windows

SUBSCRIBE TO EXTRATIME RADIO:iTunes   |   Stitcher   |   RSS FEED  |  DOWNLOAD

Just 10 days left in the regular season.


The first game of Friday night's doubleheader is going to be interesting because I really don't know what Orlando City will do in a must-win game without Kaká or Brek Shea. Those two guys have been their best chance creators all season, and their movement has been key to creating space for the entire team to use.


Normally, then, you'd expect a nice, compact, rope-a-dope type of performance. But when they hostNYCFC (7 pm ET; UniMas) they can't afford to rope-a-dope because they definitely don't want to let Andrea Pirlo get a passing rhythm, and they need all three points. So I kind of expect OCSC to come out and play, even though they're out-gunned.


The nightcap, in which Sporting KC travel to San Jose (11 pm ET; UniMas) is going to be pure brutality. Sporting need the win in order to close on securing homefield advantage in the playoffs, while San Jose need the win in order to keep their (increasingly faint) postseason hopes alive.


Desperation makes for good soccer.


Here's a few more to keep an eye on:




1. Heart of Gold


Look, Sebastian Giovinco is going to win the MVP award, and it's probably going to be unanimous. His is the best season in league history, and that he's now translating his form to Italian national team play is the icing on the cake.


Up in the air, however, is who will win the Audi Golden Boot. Giovinco's on 22 goals, and Columbus Crew SC's Kei Kamra is on 22 goals, and the two players and teams will meet on Saturday (2 pm ET; TSN1 in Canada | MLS LIVE in the US). Kamara has been masterful at moving off the ball and is basically the ideal center forward for Columbus's cross-heavy attack.


Get some:


I'm just gonna come out and say that the #Kei4MVP hashtag is, um, optimistic. But any other year Kamara would be the front-runner, and while he hasn't been Giovinco-level brilliant, he's been integral to the Crew SC attack.


They need that attack to keep on churning out goals, by the way, because the defense is still struggling. Columbus can't afford to bunker on the road in this one; they'll need to go out and attack.




2. Out of Gas


In 2014, the Seattle Sounders won the US Open Cup in September, and a month later, the Supporters' Shield. A month after that they came within an away goal of knocking off the LA Galaxy and making it all the way to MLS Cup.


Seattle did it on the strength of their attack and on their ability to win the second ball in defense. The Sounders were third in chances generated from the run of play (316), second in big chances generated (37) and third in recoveries (2,228). They converted all of the above into goals and wins and silverware.


In 2015 they're a year older, and they've changed the way they play, and the drop-off has been kind of staggering:

Team
Chances Created from Open Play
Big Chance Created
Recoveries
Portland Timbers
303
16
1,759
Columbus Crew SC
301
42
1,857
Chicago Fire
292
19
1,940
New York City FC
286
22
2,018
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
280
26
2,062
New York Red Bulls
277
26
2,191
Toronto FC
264
24
1,878
Colorado Rapids
261
26
1,772
FC Dallas
251
25
1,926
New England Revolution
248
32
1,950
LA Galaxy
247
25
1,982
Montreal Impact
240
23
1,973
Orlando City SC
236
24
1,901
Philadelphia Union
228
18
1,852
Sporting Kansas City
223
26
1,890
Houston Dynamo
218
19
1,868
Real Salt Lake
216
22
1,783
San Jose Earthquakes
211
21
1,976
Seattle Sounders FC
204
25
1,901
D.C. United
198
19
1,785

They're in the middle of the pack in big chances and recoveries, and down near the bottom in chances generated from the run of play, with a roughly 33-percent year-over-year reduction.


Obviously injuries have played a key role in this, as all three of Seattle's most important players – Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Ozzie Alonso – were healthier in 2014 than this year. And just as obvious is that Sigi Schmid & Co. started the season determined to keep the ball and build from the back more than they had in 2014.


They have to get back to doing that, starting on Sunday in Houston (5 pm ET; ESPN). Weary legs or not, the Sounders are a team that's got to switch into "win now" mode, because they badly need homefield advantage in the playoffs.


The good news is Houston's central defense have trouble preventing combination play up the middle, which is the long-time specialty of Dempsey and Martins. If those two guys are ready to go (and it's worth remembering that Dempsey looked exhausted in last weekend's CONCACAF Cup even before logging 120 minutes), Seattle should once again start to look like the team they clearly haven't been since late May.




3. Objects In Space


I remain confused about the spacing issues the Galaxy are dealing with, largely because I can't figure out Steven Gerrard. I thought he'd push higher and harder into the attack than he has been, operating in the spots just beneath the front line in sort of relentless, box-to-box style he'd been feted for at Liverpool.


But Gerrard does not seem to want to be that player anymore, and as a consequence is pushing Juninho higher into the attack – thus causing a dislocation between the longtime LA d-mid and the backline.


This is a network passing map, which uses Opta data to aggregate the location of each player's pass, while the thickness of lines between players represent the number of passes between the two:

Armchair Analyst: On the radar for Week 33 of the 2015 MLS season - OPTA passing map LA Galaxy

Juninho is No. 19, at top right of the center circle, and you can see he barely received any passes from the central defenders (this is from their last game out, a 1-1 draw with Seattle).


Last year, Juninho was LA's central hub, and had one of the highest usage rates in the league. This year, in order to make room for Gerrard, he's become a hybrid.


This is something the Timbers can exploit on Sunday when they travelto StubHub Center (7 pm ET; FS1). LA are more mechanical in their movement and distribution, and thus more vulnerable to the type of quick-hit attacks from midfield that guys like Lucas Melano and Rodney Wallace excel at.




One more thing:

View post on imgur.com


Drinking can be good cardio if you're willing to try. Don't forget to stretch first.


Happy weekending, everybody.