Armchair Analyst: Jermaine Jones, playmaker – and more from Week 7

The game goes in cycles. Some enterprising manager from Barcelona or Buenos Aires or Bavaria takes a look at the game, figures out the angles, understands the rhythms, and comes up with a new approach to an old problem. Maybe it's tiki-taka, or maybe it's total football. Maybe it's parking the bus, or it's hoof-and-run.

Maybe, as is the case in this day and age, it's gegenpressing -- a tactical philosophy born out of its predecessors, and aimed like an arrow at the dominant stylistic tendencies of the great teams from the end of the last decade and the first few years of this current one. Barcelona (and Spain) dominated by routinely holding 60 percent or more of the ball, and you just couldn't beat them by playing that way. What you could do -- what you must do -- is turn them over in bad spots, then hit them as hard and directly as you can. Don't focus at all on the possession battle, because you'll lose it. Focus on the turnover battle, and win it.

This was not a cure-all for bottling up those Barca/Spain teams on the club or international level, but high pressure and straight-line, physical attacks provided better outcomes than the bunker. Especially once Xavi got old -- the man and the system were intertwined -- in the summer of 2013. Brazil embarrassed Spain in the Confederations Cup final that year, and we all remember what happened at the following summer's World Cup. La Furia Roja haven't been a dominant team since then, and while Barça have kept winning, they bear only a passing resemblance to the glory days of 2008 through 2012.

The thought processes behind those glory days trickled down, as stuff that works is wont to do. Gegenpressing, naturally, has not been far behind in spreading to the four corners of the soccer globe.

That includes MLS:

 

Back in 2013, if you didn't have most of the ball you had mostly nothing. Only one of the league's top 10 possession teams missed the playoffs (D.C. United), and their share of possession was due much more to game states than any sort of stylistic or tactical dogma.

This year, we're up to five of the top 10 lurking below the red line. There is hardly any correlation between possession and position in the table and while 2016's sample size is not sufficient to draw a sweeping conclusion, it's noteworthy that this year does seem to continue a trend away from the "winning possession is half the battle" ethos of the early 2010s. Last year, for example, three of the top 10 possession teams missed the playoffs, while FC Dallas and Vancouver Whitecaps -- second and third in the standings -- finished 17th and 19th in possession, respectively.

MLS has evolved quite a bit in a fairly short timespan. That will surely continue.

On to Week 7's slate:


Lord Snow

And so Jermaine Jones made his debut as a Colorado Rapid, and naturally he did it in a springtime blizzard, skating on three inches of snow. And naturally he played as a true No. 10, freed of any tactical responsibility or positional need. For 90 minutes, Pablo Mastroeni freed Jones of any id the latter may have been harboring, and it was truly glorious.

Jones had a goal and an assist in Colorado's 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. It was not pretty or elegant or beautiful, but it was effective. He chewed up swathes of ground with athleticism that no other central midfielder in this league (and few in the world) can match, constantly pressuring the fragile RBNY backline and alternating between lurking under a lone forward and tracking all the way back to the defense.

It was soccer as Jones has, I suspect, always felt it should be played.

Here is Colorado's network passing map, which is constructed using Opta data:

The circles represent the aggregate position of the player, while the lines connecting them represent the number of passes exchanged. Jones is No. 13.

It's right to marvel at this performance. Jones has played most of his career as a box-to-box midfielder, and much of the rest as a defensive midfielder. He's been tried in central defense by Blackburn Rovers, the New England Revolution and the US national team. He's 34 and has never scored more than a handful of goals in a season -- truly an old dog learning new tricks, surrounded by a team almost everyone (including yours truly) wrote off before the season started. So he bagged a goal with a clinical run-and-finish to open the scoring, then played a one-time through-ball that closed it.

Xavi himself would have admired the weight on that pass.

Between him, Chris Klute and Ned Grabavoy, the Portland front office deserves some dap for their offseason.

5. The Quakes deserve some dap for theirs, too. They weren't great on Saturday, but they made Portland sweat well into second-half stoppage time. And on Wednesday they left no doubt in a 2-0 win over the tail-spinning Red Bulls

Shea Salinas has been nearly unplayable on the wing, and his left-footed cross to Chris Wondolowski had a good argument for Pass of the Week.

4. It didn't win Pass of the Week, though. That's reserved for Yura Movsisyan for this delightful lay-off to Luke Mulholland in RSL's 1-0 win over Vancouver on Saturday:

Now imagine what happens if it's Javier Morales receiving that pass.

RSL remain the league's only unbeaten team...

3. And Columbus Crew SC are no longer the league's only winless team following Saturday's 3-2 win over NYCFC. Columbus put on a vintage attacking display, repeatedly punishing both Light Blues fullbacks whenever they overlapped. Ethan Finlay gave Ronald Matarrita a particularly torrid time on that side of the pitch.

2. My video analysis Lee Nguyen's performance against Orlando City in Sunday's 2-2 draw is embedded at the top of the page. Nguyen was great, and if he keeps playing like this the goals will come for him and the Revs.

As for OCSC, the difference once Larin and Kevin Molino came on at the hour mark was noticeable. The Lions are one of the few teams in MLS that really wants create chances via possession, and it's easier to conjure those with Larin & Molino opening space on the wing for Kaká:

 

OCSC were all over the ball in the last half hour.

1. And finally, I wrote about a pair of target forwards doing big things for Canadian clubs. Didier Drogba had the equalizer in Montreal's eventual 2-1 win at Chicago -- a goal that broke a nearly seven-hour shutout streak for the Fire -- while Jozy Altidore had the game-winning assist in Toronto FC's 1-0 win at RFK over D.C.

That TFC game also gave us our Face of the Week:

Will Johnson is a national treasure in two countries.

Series: 
Topics: