Deep into the heart of the season we go...
“Don't bend; don't water it down; don't try to make it logical; don't edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” ― Franz Kafka
Kafka was not talking about being a striker. He was talking about alienation and guilt, and absurdity and the daily pressure of being alive. He was talking about relentlessly hunting your truth, and then living it. He was talking about the only way he knew of to relieve existential anxiety.
For goalscorers, the only way to relieve the same is to score more goals. For goalscorers, the only truth or beauty happens when the ball goes into the net. If they don't pursue that most intense obsession mercilessly, then they probably aren't going to be particularly good at their very, very difficult job.
Think about the best goalscorers in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo is a cartoonish egomaniac; Luis Suarez runs around the field like Dracula, biting anybody who gets into his way; Lionel Messi seems well-adjusted in comparison -- being a reclusive tax cheat means you're the normal guy in the room.
Then think about the goalscorers in MLS. Robbie Keane shows up his teammates with wild gesticulations; David Villa wears utter despair on his face at all times. I've seen Portland fans say awful things about Fanendo Adi, and I've seen fans of any and all comers say awful things about Chris Wondolowski. I'm sure those guys hear it, but there they are, week after week, powering through it in search of more goals. More goals. More goals.
"He doesn't want it enough."
I guess that's a criticism. But if you unpack it a little bit, you get to the meat of the discussion: They are not great goalscorers because they are not focused like complete sociopaths on putting the ball in the net. "You have to be a little bit unhinged to be a great goalscorer," is what people are actually saying. You have to want to score to what is probably an emotionally unhealthy extent.
Kei Kamara, over the past 18 months, has been one of the best goalscorers in the league. Then on Saturday night in a 4-4 home draw against the Montreal Impact -- a game which Crew SC led 4-1 -- he came entirely unhinged. You've read the quotes, and you've probably formed an opinion. Kamara's burned some bridges in his MLS travels, so that probably (justifiably) informs said opinion. The scene in the 53rd minute, when he and Federico Higuain jostled each other over the right to take a PK (Higuain eventually took and converted it) was unsavory and wildly entertaining. The Columbus locker room seems like a train wreck, and Kamara's outburst makes that gloriously clear.
Still though, #TeamKei. Higuain is an historically poor taker of penalties, converting just 14 of his 20 attempts. In MLS annals only one other player with such a low percentage (Dwayne De Rosario) had 20-plus attempts, and DeRo eventually coughed up PK responsibilities because it was costing his team points. I've read lots about Kamara's ego in the past 24 hours, and somehow not so much about Higuain's.
Because, of course, you need an ego to score goals. You need to want it. Higuain clearly does, as does Kamara. I suspect it's difficult to just turn that on and off in the run of play.
It's not all about the PK, of course. Kamara broke the unwritten rule of "it stays in the locker room" with his harsh words for Higuain, which has either fractured the situation beyond repair, or is the moment of radical confrontation and acceptance that the whole group needs in order to move past this and function as a team again.
As for the meat of Kamara's quote -- essentially that Higuain doesn't pass him the ball enough -- there is this:
And then, on the second goal, he burst through the United backline and was just able to pull a cross back into play. That forced a sloppy clearance, and six seconds later Khiry Shelton was celebrating his second career goal.
The second truly unusual thing about McNamara is that he completes easy passes at a level that increases their value. There are no Mauro Diaz-esque, seeing-eye through-balls here, and no Andrea Pirlo moments where he's entirely in control of the game's geometry. McNamara just plays the right pass to the right foot with the right pace on it, and then moves quickly and efficiently into space.
This skillset is different and subtle because lots of players complete easy passes. Making easy passes valuable, however, is something rare and special.
Jermaine Jones has three goals and two assists in 357 minutes in burgundy. Jermaine Jones, destroyer and defender and box-to-box terror, is playing as a No. 10 for Pablo Mastroeni in Commerce City, and Jones is playing the position as if it's what he was born to do.
On Saturday he scored the only goal in Colorado's 1-0 rivalry win over RSL. It was a clinical finish from a spot where No. 10s all over the world get their goals. Jones looks and plays like a trequartista out there, and is usually the second-highest Rapid in attack:
When you have a guy in that spot scoring those types of goals, the benefit is obvious. The not-so-obvious (at first) other benefit is that Jones is still very much a destroyer out there -- one who runs fast and tries hard and can be pulled out of position, but not fatally so since he's so far up the field and has two true defensive midfielders behind him. That's meant a 90-minute expression of soccer id without the down side of a broken shape.
"He finds ways to impact the game from all different angles and today was a top-notch finish from what was a fantastic build-up, a great combination play," Mastroeni said afterward. "But his ability to get in good spots and deliver the goods has been spectacular for us. And again, that's why he is where he is in his game, and that's why he'll be joining the national team and at 34, he's still a guy who has so much left in the tank and so much to offer."
Apropos of nothing, Jurgen Klinsmann recognized Jones's great recent play, even if he did get the number wrong:
new #9 now?? https://t.co/2q5A2nKeJB— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) May 9, 2016
While other No. 10s often need to be hidden on defense -- or at the very least are considered luxury players -- Jones still runs as much as anyone on the field, tackles as hard, and spends every minute on the pitch making life hell for the other team. So he's an "advanced destroyer," a position and role that is nothing new in the world of soccer. Mastroeni himself played a variation on that role back when Colorado won their only MLS Cup, in 2010.
But it's something that hasn't really taken off in US circles since then. Perhaps that's because Jones is such an unusual specimen. You can't just go out there and imitate what he's doing.
The rest of the league, however, hast to figure out a way to stop it.
A few more things to ponder...
7. On Friday night Aurelien Collin made his debut for the Red Bulls in his team's 1-1 draw at Orlando City. First he was lucky to avoid seeing a red card, and then he was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty (correct call, by the way).
I still think that Collin was a smart signing by RBNY. This, however, was an excellent reminder of just how much time he spends living on the edge.
6. The newly renovated and roofed BMO Field was rocking during Toronto FC's 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Saturday. That marked the Reds' fourth shutout of 2016; they had five for the entire 2015 season.
5. Our Pass of the Week goes to Vancouver's Pedro Morales, who should teach lessons on how to hit a one-time switch. This is outrageous:
The 'Caps got a much-needed 2-1 win over the visiting Portland Timbers thanks to a pair of Jake Gleeson howlers.
4. Something has gone dreadfully wrong with Sporting KC, who are winless in six following Saturday's 2-0 loss at Houston. There will be changes, it seems.
"I think there were certain players who absolutely hindered us throughout the game, and unfortunately I couldn't make the kind of moves that I wanted to because people got a little bit tired or strained," head coach Peter Vermes said afterward. "Unfortunately there were just certain people who really hurt us in the game tonight. They were terrible on the ball, and they just lacked the competitiveness that you need in this league to keep yourself in the game, and we lacked that in a few guys today."
Um, wow. He sounds frustrated...
"Is there frustration? Sure. There should be. When you don't play well, there better be frustration. If you think it's happy-go-lucky time and you're just okay with getting your [butt] beat, you're not only in the wrong profession, but you're in the wrong club."
Yikes. OK then. Expect changes.
Part of it has been Seattle's switch back to something of a 4-4-2. But part of it is that Morris is clearly a talented player who's working hard to improve.
2. I talked a little bit about the Galaxy's wild 4-2 win over the Revolution in the video above. I'm still not convinced about the Giovani Dos Santos/Robbie Keane pairing, but as long as Gyasi Zardes is up top, they don't really have to be a pair -- instead they can just take turns playing off their No. 9.
For now, anyway. I think we'll eventually see a return of the type of struggles that were all too real last autumn and early in this season before Keane was sidelined.
1. And finally, our Face of the Week goes to Ben Olsen:
Let's check in with Ben Olsen. Ben? pic.twitter.com/NrE2pKY4t4— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) May 9, 2016