MLS Week 1: Ranking the Unrankable.

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That first car? Nick DeLeon is friggin’ INSIDE!

Power rankings used to appeal to me, at least the idea of them did, as a means of measuring each MLS team against the other. I even tried to “science up” that shit by creating “collective” power rankings – i.e. I’d average the rankings posted on as many as eight sites (once hit 22 data sets, by soliciting readers) – on the idea that data would produce more accurate results.

Power rankings don’t make sense, though, not even as averages. Lists are convenient and cognitively satisfying, so they present well enough, but no one should bother with rankings until, say, Week 10. And that’s at the soonest. You don’t build houses out of paper mache for the same reason you don’t rely on thin data: it doesn’t really work for keeping out the rain. Or providing good information…wow, those analogies don’t really connect. At all.

The point is that trends need some time to, y’know, establish, good players take time to hit their “real season” form, as does figuring out which players injury will steal for the season, and it sometimes takes a few spins around the centrifuge for chemistry to come together. Early points are nice, but a shit team is like a lie; they both get exposed in the end. Like Montreal in 2013…hey, at least the analogy improved.
So, all I’m willing to say so far is that some teams enjoyed a lovely opening day. And some didn’t. This can be for all kinds of reason – e.g. fitness issues, over-confidence, marital problems for some players, hangovers for others, etc. Besides, not even the most die-hard fan will give a shit that the team won the first game if they don’t make the playoffs in October.

A lot of the above arises from my viewing choices this weekend. I watched the Timbers v. Philly (of course; blabbed about it here…and I do mean blabbed), but also DC v. Columbus. Portland v. Philly was what it was – full credit to the Union and all that, more on it later – but something about Columbus’ slow, steady asphyxiation of DC tells me it’s too early to read into the result.

Columbus’ commentators said different – because they were weird and wrong – but DC didn’t start either half well; they never got started at all, really. Errant passes abounded, while ideas on how to get the ball upfield did not; throw in enough stupid mistakes for two preseason games (see: Bill Hamid’s main area of reliability) and it’s easy to conclude that the only working connection between DC’s players were their uniforms. Small surprise, then, that Columbus rolled over them like fucking Grave Digger.

And that’s the question: was DC bad enough to give a false impression of Columbus’ overall competence and capabilities? Judge by Saturday’s result and you’re set to see Josh Williams dominate 2014. Basically, a bad team, or even just a lousy outing, can inflate a team’s stock.

That game contained one more telling contrast – one related to the thing with Josh Williams above. DC’s left featured Fabian Espindola in front of Nick DeLeon, two players who operated at entirely different levels on the day. Espindola buzzed all over, pressuring high and chasing down everything within 10 yards; he put in that “man-possessed” performance that the Argentine reliably gives. DeLeon not only continually lost track of Williams – see Columbus’ opener – but he also turned in an aimless, low-energy effort. At one point, I’m pretty sure Espindola shot him a look that said, “Dude, you’re half my age. WTF?”

That dynamic between Espindola and DeLeon raises the deeper question of how much work it’ll take for DC to steady the ship. For every Espindola out there, DC fielded three guys who stunk it up – DeLeon, as noted, but Perry Kitchen looked off and Davy Arnaud, invisible. There’s some equation between personnel – some of whom can’t be expended (see: Kitchen, who should have a decent reservoir of good will by now) – and chemistry that needs working out. Columbus clearly benefited from the motherfudging mess; the question is the extent.

To be clear, I don’t begrudge Columbus the win. They earned it for no better reason than adopting the obvious tactic of applying smothering pressure to a team that’s still coming together. Add a couple good finishes – which they did – and it’s all over.

Philly poses another question. As noted in my write-up, more than a few of our guys seemed off – key players like Diego Valeri and Will Johnson, among them. It didn’t really matter because the Union took the game to the Timbers. They enlarged the field somehow, finding space to operate all over small-ish Providence Park, creating chances that forced the central defense to scramble, etc. They played very well between 18 and 30 yards from Portland’s goal and kept most things in front of the defense on the opposite end. Impressive, without question, and good pundits are already talking up the new guys.

Personally, I’m inclined to see more in Philly’s win than Columbus’ and for an obvious reason – e.g. that Portland is a better team than DC and has been since 2013. For all Portland’s glass-jaw tendencies on set-pieces, the Timbers typically take the game to the opposition. The Union pushed right back – with equal force and more effect. And on the road. So, yeah, fascinating stuff from Philly. And, for Portland, there’s nothing to get too stressed about, at least not till signs of a failed chemistry experiment surface.

Moving on to other venues, it looks like Vancouver turned in the game of the week by rolling over the Supporters’ Shield winner (Red Bull New York). And that’s my homework for this week, giving that one a full look. Houston could force attention their way if they do to the next team what they did to New England. Those games, between them, looked like the big news of the weekend, but I only have so much time…and must spread out the time I have. Anyway, I’ll post on those if I see something worth sharing.

I’m not sure what anyone learned from the other games: Seattle needed every second to beat a KC side that rested (some) starters. Until either side builds the Joe-mentum, it’s hard to care about Chivas or Chicago; Dallas’ win over Montreal seemed thinner than it should be, what with the way some people talked up Dallas; Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, didn’t do anything terribly new by stealing points from LA, in LA – that’s a very Nick Rimando thing to do.

Helluva an opening week, no matter how you slice it. It was my opening week in some ways as well. Things came together in such a way that I couldn’t post this on Sunday as intended. I’ll aim for Sunday’s going forward. The mid-week stuff is supposed to be much lighter.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: MLS Week 3: Cocktails and Cluelessness | The Next 5-Year Plan

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