By Ian L. (@ahandleforian)
xN is our weekly look at what you can expect to read, write, and discuss about Major League Soccer this week. We take a look at each prospective narrative and rate it based on its strength and whether or not it has any actual merit.
They say time flies by when you’re arguing over video review, and would you look at that? We’ve crossed the halfway threshold in the 2018 edition of Major League Soccer. The first half of the season has been a lot of fun if you like to read and talk about Atlanta. Last year’s MLS Cup finalists are more or less dead in the water, two of the league’s best coaches just peaced out to Europe, and with the transfer window opening shortly we’re bound to see some table shuffling over the next few months. We’ve been gone on World Cup duty for the last couple of weeks, so there is a lot to talk about now that I’m back from break. We’re gonna hit a few narratives hard and fast so buckle in.
Narrative: The All Star game is stupid.
Narrative Accuracy: Yes.
The All Star game is pretty stupid every year. This year it is exceedingly stupid. If Atlanta beat Juventus, everybody will point out that Juventus is in preseason so it doesn’t actually matter, and if Juventus beat Atlanta people will say that MLS sucks. You have to love an occasion from which you gain little and learn nothing. Besides, Mike Grella didn’t even make the team so how can we claim this is the best MLS could offer? Naturally the best thing about the All Star Game is how people like me can scoff at it whilst simultaneously composing our guaranteed to get clicks “The REAL All Stars” pieces. Mine will be forthcoming later this week.
Well, you may be asking: If you’re so smart how do you fix it? I’m so glad you asked strawman I just made up. Ready for this:
DON’T DO IT!
How about this?
Five-a-side tournament. Keep the fan voting and let the top 12 vote getters be captains that can pick their five a side team. Do FIFA skills stuff the first day and a fun little tournament without a ton of running or challenges afterwards. I think some mildly competitive short field soccer could be a good opportunity for tricks and passes and the like. It would be a fun showcase, it wouldn’t require a EURO team, and having the fans pick the captains, and the captains pick the players is a good way to include the fans in voting and make sure more deserving players get selected. You’re welcome Major League Soccer.
Narrative: Marsch and Vieira leaving for Europe is ACTUALLY a GOOD thing for the league
Narrative Accuracy: I buy it
In the short term I can understand fans of NYCFC and RBNY being more than a little disappointed to have the ship’s captain bail in the middle of a Supporters’ Shield race, but taking a longer view of things you have to acknowledge that anything that helps MLS shoo the elephant graveyard perception away is good. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that younger coaches on the rise seeing Major League Soccer as a valid path to European jobs is fantastic. Does this sort of throw the top of the East into a bit of disarray favoring Atlanta? Probably, and that could make what was looking to be an exciting title race in the East less so but let’s make the lemonade.
Narrative: What is Minnesota doing?
Narrative Accuracy: I don’t know
So Minnesota went out and signed another DP striker. Signing a DP striker isn’t a particularly unusual thing to do with one’s MLS roster, but Minnesota have several issues that need addressing and another forward is probably not the highest on that list. Minnesota’s depth chart at forward is pretty good all things considered. Darwin Quintero, Christian Ramirez, Abu Danladi, Mason Toye are all pretty decent options even if you’re needing minutes for your fourth choice striker. So why then Angelo Rodriguez? I know that Quintero is being deployed as more of a #10, Ramirez is going through some struggles at the moment, and Danladi is always injured. Maybe I just answered my own question? I don’t know. It seems like Ramirez should be on the move somewhere that needs a decent striker. Perhaps a change of scenery will do him well. Sporting Kansas City are a little short up front. Colorado always needs assistance in this department. You get the feeling they probably had some idea they were going to do this earlier in the season, and they probably could have gotten a lot more in return for a guy that just game off of a 14 goal season instead of the current iteration of Ramirez who doesn’t seem to be the same he was in the previous campaign. Nonetheless, Loons gonna Loon and I while I certainly don’t understand the whole plan at this point, I can hardly act like I’m surprised. Minnesota’s roster construction is words on water and we shall no sooner solve their mystery than lasso the moon. Anyway, it’s not like they’re one good center back from a playoff spot so whatever keeps the lights on.
Narrative: #Stahreout (or #Stahrein)
Narrative Accuracy: Stahre crossed
Look, if you’re a manager, there is nothing you want less than a “vote of confidence” from the board. It’s uncanny how often “we have no plans to fire this manager” is soon followed by “we have fired this manager”, but I get the sense that’s not going to be the case here. For one, San Jose don’t have much to gain this season. San Jose are clearly building something, and I think it’s too early in the process to cut ties with a coach who hasn’t been given all that much time to implement his grand vis.. Wait, have San Jose only won TWICE? Apparently I haven’t looked at the bottom of the table enough recently. San Jose’s offense seems to be more or less okay. They’re seventh of twelve in the West for goals per game. Their 1.53 ppg is actually level with FC Dallas and Portland who are very much on the up and up.
This isn’t too surprising. San Jose actually have some respectable attacking talent in the omnipresent Chris Wondolowski (0.56 xG + xA p 96), Danny Hoesen (0.52 xG+xA p96), Vako (0.50 xG+xA p 96) and Magnus Eriksson (0.45 xG +xA p96). That’s an attack that you can build around.
Defensively is where we start to see some pretty glaring issues. San Jose have the highest goals allowed tally in the Western conference (2.05). Only Orlando’s (2.10) is worse in Major League Soccer. That’s slightly worse than their xGA (1.75) which is also in the company of the damned.
San Jose have used five different center backs this season, a bizarre six different left backs and really only Nick Lima has deservedly anchored a spoit at RB in the back line. Florian Jungwirth, San Jose’s most versatile (and arguably best) player has been deployed in every single spot along the back, but seems more effective in the middle of the park. Defenders like Francois Affolter and Joel Qwiberg have not impressed and are eating up around 400k of salary between them. You definitely don’t want to ask your GK to shoulder blame for stuff like this, but as far as metrics go, Andrew Tarbell hasn’t been very good either. Some reinforcement in the form of Georgian center back Guram Kashia has arrived, and hopefully an experienced reliable presence in the back will help keep San Jose less exposed.
I asked a Quakes fan friend of mine whether or not he thought that Jesse Firoanelli or Mikael Stahre or both should be fired, and he shared an anecdote he heard from somebody at GE. The anecdote goes something like:
A GE employee got put on a project and messed something up so badly that it winded up costing the company millions of dollars. They tell the CEO what happened and then ask if they should fire the employee. The CEO says “fire him? I just spent millions of dollars training him what not to do, I’m not going to let that investment go elsewhere.”
I think that works better as a joke than as actual practical business wisdom, but I can kind of see where he was coming from. Stahre is new to MLS, and Fioranelli isn’t much more experienced here either. While we like to think that our league isn’t vastly different from other ones around the world, the fact is that there are certain let’s say eccentricities that make running a successful MLS Club different from running one elsewhere.
You could fire Stahre today, and hire Pep tomorrow and I still don’t know that this San Jose side makes the playoffs. There seems to be a lot of discontent in the Bay Area, but Wondolowski has assured fans that Stahre has his full backing. With so little to gain, and a lot potentially to lose, I can see the wisdom in San Jose’s FO gritting their teeth and waiting for the offseason to reassemble. Of course this won’t be fun for fans, but San Jose fans aren’t strangers to this kind of thing, and no matter how bad things get you can fully expect to see a bunch of bare chested dudes cheering for Wondo.
That’s all we have time for this week. Next week I can go ahead and predict we’re going to be talking a lot about the disciplinary committee, US Open Cup roster rules, and whatever else lights up computer monitors around the league. Join me then when we’ll be talking about what we’re talking about.