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.
By Ian Lamberson (@ahandleforian)
For many in Sports media around the world, Deadline Day is one that is circled three times on the calendar. The reason? DRAAAAAAMA. So much drama. Helicopters being deployed all over Europe, fax machine malfunctions, Harry Redknapp, players just up and showing up at rival teams training facility hoping to force a move, and of course, the heartbreak for fans and players of dream deals falling just short.
MLS does not have this. The league is too centralized. Europe has an entire industry devoted to transfer speculation and rumor mongering that gets fans into an agitated fugue state. That industry is not as well established here in Major League Soccer. Teams tend to be pretty leaky and so there are very few transactions that come as a real surprise. There is a lot of irony on Twitter about various odd situations that demonstrate how “soccer has finally made it here”, but until we get our own Harry Redknapp getting blockaded in his car by reporters on the way home from practice, we’re still just playing dress up.
Alas, that will have to wait at least another season as MLS deadline day was relatively quiet once again. Narratives this week are almost all transactional, and we’re going to do our best to forecast what will become of these bubble teams now that the window has slammed shut.
NARRATIVE: _____________, ________________, and _________________ didn't do nearly enough and are finished for the season.
Am I supposed to fill in the blanks? Ok. Colorado, San Jose, and let’s see… how about a curveball here… Minnesota.
Colorado’s trade for Kellyn Acosta seems to be working out so far, but it’s not going to be nearly enough to see them work themselves back up into a playoff position. Sending Dominqiue Badji to FC Dallas to secure Acosta was an understandable move from a long term perspective, but he was by far their most productive offensive weapon and since it looks as though Giles Barnes is going to be the only significant attacking addition, I’m not expecting to see Colorado suddenly sprout wings. I think this season was probably a lost cause a while ago, and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens to a team in desperate need of a comprehensive overhaul this offseason.
Dominic Oduro and Quincy Amarikwa are both well traveled forwards, and Montreal and San Jose swapping them could potentially be a small boost to both sides. Amarikwa was struggling to find minutes in a very crowded San Jose attack, and Oduro will give the bay area side some of the extra pace that they’ve been lacking. I don’t know that either one of these moves is going to significantly alter either sides postseason chances for good or bad but I can see Oduro possibly helping out San Jose a little bit. San Jose also acquired the services of Georgian center back Guram Kashia and he’s settled in nicely with San Jose only allowing two goals in his first three matches. However, I purport that this new found defensive semi competence has more to do with a fascinating young player named Luis Felipe Fernandes. We’re dealing with an extremely small sample size here after four MLS matches but that’s what we do around here so let’s go:
|Minutes||Tackles||Tackle Attempt||Successful||Fouls||INT||Avg. Passes||Pass %||Pass SCORE||Pass Distance||Touch %||Def Duels||Recovery/opp Half|
As you can see, not bad at all and we’re comparing him here to a lot of veteran players. Only time will tell if he slows down or if San Jose decides to bench him in favor of a 32 year old Latvian. I mean that’s not outside the realm of possibility is it?
So there’s been a little progress with the Quakes and on a long enough timeline, I could see San Jose getting better and having some luck swing more in their favor, but with the amount of matches left, I just can’t see it happening for them in 2018.
I feel bad throwing Minnesota into this pile, as they’ve actually shown more signs of life this last month than at any other time since their MLS inception. Darwin Quintero has been everything they could have hoped for and plenty more and they added another DP forward in Angelo Rodriguez. Rodriguez looked solid in his first outing against Seattle, and gave fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his future with the club. In an ideal world of endless summers, that would have been the biggest story out of Minnesota this window, but alas it has become completely overshadowed by the dealing of club icon Christian Ramirez.
Looking at this completely free of sentiment, I can definitely understand why Minnesota wanted to make this move. Ramirez isn’t going to get more valuable and keeping him on as a third choice striker wouldn’t do much to help develop their younger prospects like Abu Danladi and Mason Toye. Ramirez hasn’t been quite as productive as he was last season and so exchanging him for a million dollars in allocation money is actually pretty good business. Now all Minnesota needs to do is turn that million dollars in allocation money to help address their sievelike defense and then...wait the window’s closed isn’t it. Dang. Well. Minnesota are currently sitting six points outside of a playoff spot but they’re in the midst of a hellacious road trip that will see them play their next four matches away from home against some very good teams. Thus far this season Minnesota has only accumulated three road points and sadly, I suspect that by the time they get back from this transcontinental sojourn, the playoff race will have left them behind.
NARRATIVE: Orlando is the league’s biggest dumpster fire
While Orlando’s return to earth after their six match winning streak earlier this season was well prophesied, the sudden and comprehensive nature of their collapse has been surprising to say the least. Before the season started I had Orlando marked down as a lock for a playoff slot. Orlando were the highest volume dealers this winter and had seemingly finally built a team capable of competing with the best sides in the league. Sacha Kljestan, Justin Mearm, Ludovic Sane, Stefano Pinho, Oriel Rosell, Josue Colman, Amro Tarek, Mohamed el Munir I mean sure, some of those sent us straight to Google but what we found there was certainly encouraging. Sometimes an influx of new signings like this can cause a team to need some time to “jell”, are we spelling this with a “J”? Really? Whatever.
That didn’t happen though. Orlando stumbled a bit out of the starting block taking a loss and two draws in their first three matches, but they recovered and went on to win their next six. Much hay was made. Plaudits were passed around. Orlando fans smugly eyed Atlanta in the standings knowing it was only a matter of time.
|PPG||Goals Per Game||GA per Game||xGF per Game||xGA per Game||GD-xGD|
There’s an old webcomic called Achewood that I love dearly and there's one panel where a character remarks to another character that they "failed with a focus and intensity normally only seen in successes". Something about that line has been popping into my head the last few months every time I consider the plight of Orlando City. They don’t just fail. They fail in spectacular, dramatic ways. Of course before going further, we should certainly acknowledge that injuries to Jonathan Spector and Ludovic Sane have not been kind. Orlando’s one bright spot, Yoshi Yotun, missed some time due to World Cup commitments, and Scott Sutter dealt with some injuries as well. Those kinds of losses can be devastating to a defense, but Orlando’s issues go beyond the physio room.
Let’s start with discipline. I know that some Orlando fans are going to be upset here, because I will not acknowledge the apparent vast conspiracy against them. Orlando has taken five red cards this year, not the worst in the league, but certainly closer to that end then one would like. They’ve recorded the second highest total of yellow cards and fouls as well. You can call it getting stuck in or playing for the crest or whatever you want, but the fact remains that these are worrying trends for a team who hasn’t been winning matches. The indiscipline hasn’t been limited to the field either. Following Orlando’s loss against DC United earlier this week, the Washington Post reported a bust up between players in the dressing room. Justin Meram commented on receiving death threats from fans during comments in which he was explaining his difficulties getting settled in his new team. The situation in Orlando was so bad that Justin Meram wanted to leave and go back to the situation he had begged to be let out of just a few months earlier. Orlando took a net loss on that transaction.
If we go back and peer at that table I posted earlier you can see a staggering drop in PPG. For reference 2.11 would be the best in the league right now, and 0.26 is definitely the worst. So what happened? Well for one, they started playing against better teams. The margins on xG/xGA suggest that Orlando were somewhat fortunate to take six matches in a row during those salad days of March and April. Their underlying numbers have only gotten worse and the results are certainly on the harsher side of fair, but certainly more in line with what you would expect.
Any bright spots? Sure. Yoshi Yotun has been outstanding and fully deserving of his All Star selection. Chris Mueller has also been enjoying a good rookie season. Yep. That’s it.
I don’t know if I’d categorize Orlando as the biggest dumpster fire in the league though it is certainly close and may well be by the end of the season. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt even though they haven’t earned it and suggest that things will improve once Spector and Sane get back. Whether or not that improvement will be enough to be actually good? That remains to be seen.
Dang that was kind of a negative column. There are teams in MLS that are doing quite well! Maybe next week we’ll talk about some good times. Oh hey did you see that Wayne Rooney play? It’s really quite extraordinary. Who cares if Acosta was probably half a yard offside? We’ll be back next week to talk about what we’re talking about.