First, last and always remember this: The MLS All-Star Game – any All-Star game – is an exhibition. There's a lot of pomp and a lot of glitter and, since it's Atlanta, 72,000 people doing the wave. It is an event.
It features a team of players who've never played together before going against a team in preseason mode. Drawing grand, sweeping conclusions is dangerous.
I, however, like to live on the edge. In the aftermath of Juventus's penalty shootout win over the MLS All-Stars (1-1, 5-3 PKs), let's have some fun by taking way too deep of a dive:
Juve working on their shape
It was striking, especially in the first 30 minutes, just how deep the visitors were defending. We saw a lot of the same general sequence of play repeated over and over, first on one side and then on the other: The MLS winger would get the ball and face the Juve fullback 1-v-1, with the MLS fullback hanging off a little bit to provide an outlet for a backpass. Beyond the Juve fullback were the center back, with the near-side central midfielder and winger dropping deep to form what looked like a rhombus.
It's basic stuff, and as I mentioned we saw it a million times – so often that I wonder how much of it was them being forced into that shape, and how much of it was maybe Massimiliano Allegri deciding "this is the preseason game in which we work on our defensive shape against inverted wingers in 1-v-1 situations."
The power of inverted wingers with 1-v-1 skill
Look at the above again. I'm pretty sure it was some of Column A, and some of Column B. If you have an active and aggressive center forward (off the ball), he's going to force the backline to react to him (which Josef Martinez did). When you combine that with two narrow, skillful wingers (Ignacio Piatti and Carlos Vela are), you have the recipe for pushing a defense into a shell.
The problem with this look, of course, is that a well-drilled and compact defense can and will make those 1-v-1s next to useless.
To borrow a line from a friend of mine: Individual creativity beats individual defenders. Team creativity beats defenses.
It's hard to be creative as a team when you've never played together before.
This is not a joke
Alphonso Davies should always play left back. Gives him more room to run really, really fast.— Sam Stejskal (@samstejskal) August 2, 2018
It's kind of a joke – Sam thinks he's funny. But you're out of your mind if you think that 1) Alphonso Davies' long-term position is settled, and 2) that it might not be left back.
Davies has, of course, played more than just a little left back this year for the 'Caps (including at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against Atlanta United), and was just fine in 30 minutes in that spot against Juve on the evening. He had one particularly good moment when he stood Federico Bernardeschi up on the edge of the area at about the 35th minute, winning the ball cleanly then starting an attack in the other direction.
Obviously his speed makes him an asset at pretty much any position, and his ability to complete plays at speed is what made him the type of player Bayern Munich would spend up to $22 million on. And he has shown, especially recently, that he's more than skilled enough to break defenders down off the dribble even in compact spaces.
Moreover, he doesn't need a lot of runway. His first step is ridiculous. He will probably be a winger.
But he will get looks at left back because that speed on the overlap is a fear-inspiring weapon, and because he's wise beyond his years with regard to ball security on the build-up. For a team, like Bayern, that use their fullbacks as fulcrums for possession, Davies makes a ton of sense.
Josef on the move
I will miss Josef Martinez when he's gone. He gets a lot of dap for the obvious things, including almost getting his face kicked in while scoring tonight's goal:
He plays hard and he plays angry and he has a greater hunger to score goals than any other forward in MLS history, and it's wonderful. All of that is what puts his name in lights.
But the man makes a million unselfish runs a game in which he never really intends to receive the ball. He makes those runs for the express purpose of opening up space for his midfielders to play, and for the express purpose of making the opposing backline's life miserable.
He did it for 30 minutes to Juventus on Wednesday night. He got a goal and was rightfully named MVP. It will not be – should not be – the only MVP award he wins this year.