Expected Narratives: There's a Bad Loon on the Rise / by Ian L.

By Ian L (@ahandleforian)

It finally happened! I got one right last week! I did! I was doing a sarcasm and lo and behold I got a take dead on. ANALYSIS! Yes Atlanta and Cincinnati did in fact turn out to be a low scoring affair between two evenly matched sides. It feels like six months ago I was called a straight up hater for raising my eyebrows at De Boer’s most recent entries on his resume, but now discussing whether or not he knows what he’s doing is the take du jour. What can I say folks? I was bashing FDB before most of you had even heard of him. I have it on vinyl.

LOONS RISING

Now then, surely we have better things to discuss than 10th place teams. For example, LOOOONS. What has become of my beloved also-rans? Where is my charmingly inept expansion team? Who are these swashbuckling rogues from the North? Gone are my favorite underdogs and now we have these marauding raiders ready with a smile, a friendly handshake, and an “aww geez gosh would you look at that” while they eviscerate your defense. If there’s anything that surprises me about Darwin Quintero, it isn’t that he’s awesome (any fan of an MLS team who had to come up against him in a CCL match knows that he is equal parts irrepressible and unrepentant), but that he wound up in Minnesota where he’s comfortably settled in to being one of the league’s most productive attackers.

Quintero’s early season tally of 3.0 xG+xA puts him second highest in the league behind only (double checks notes) Marco Fabian? Wait. What’s going on here? Oh… penalties. Well. Nonetheless. Yes, Quintero has had two more penalties than most players in the league but more to the point is that he is currently top of the league with open play xA. The man is creating chances and you know who is finishing them? Two guys named Ibarra and Francisco Calvo. That’s who. It’s too early to draw up comparisons on xG/xGA on a teamwide scale this year for Minnesota but it doesn’t take any advanced mathematical knowledge to watch them play and realize that there’s something different happening here. Adrian Heath had one of my favorite quotes of the week (and BOY were there some quotes this week)

“Well you know, I’ve said this before, and I don’t want this to be disrespectful to anybody but we’ve got a team now that’s comparable with a lot of teams. We haven’t had that in the past. You know now suddenly people think - well he knows what he’s doing - well I’ve always known what I was doing but when you go on the field and the opposition’s got a better team than you nine times out of ten, it normally comes through. Now we’ve got a team that can compete.”

We can certainly discuss whether or not Adrian Heath has always known what he’s doing, but he’s definitely not wrong that this team has better players than last year’s team did and boy what a difference two or three tremendous improvements to the roster can make.

I can’t caveat this stuff enough with how small of a sample size we’re dealing with here in the early season, but let’s take a look at how some of these upgrades are operating so far in 2019.

NAME AVG PASS PASS % PASS SCORE TCK P 90 INT P 90 BLK (S/P) Touch % xB% xChain
Ibson (2018) 56.7 81.9 -0.2 2.9 1.30 0.3/1.11 12.3 83.6 0.78
Schuller (2018) 52.5 81.9 -0.85 5.1 2.90 0.2/1.7 11.6 76.0 0.72
Alonso (2019) 71.9 94.4 5.77 4 1.00 0.5/0 12.8 77.6 0.51
Gregus (2019) 64.8 89.1 2.62 2.50 1.50 0/0.5 12.30 93.9 0.5

One thing that jumps out at me is just how unsurprisingly good Osvaldo Alonso has been. The man can pass. He’s offering you a comparable defensive workrate to Ibson and Rasmus Schuller last season, but giving you significantly more in possession.

Last year, Schuller had a statistical line that made it look like somebody swapped out his smelling salts for bath salts. He’s shifted roles a bit this season, and while his defensive workrate looks to be as impressive as ever, he’s been tasked with much less responsibility this season and that’s almost certainly a good thing for Minnesota. You will never hear me impugn the good name of Ibson, but it’s difficult to deny that Gregus and Alonso is a better pivot than Schuller and Ibson.

If there is any question mark that looms large over Minnesota it is that of Angelo Rodriguez, the de facto replacement for fan favorite and legitimately very good soccer goal scorer Christian Ramirez. While trading away Superman was a tough pill to swallow for a lot of the Loon faithful, it’s hard to deny that those funds weren’t put to good use. Rodriguez’s stint in MInnesota thus far hasn’t been particularly fruitful, but injuries and fitness are a legitimate reason to hold off on judgment. Quintero has been shouldering the entire offensive burden thus far, and while he’s more than capable, a second option would really make this team dangerous.

Getting wins isn’t the easiest thing to do in MLS and getting them on the road is certainly harder. To start the season with six points from two road games is the brightest this franchise has ever looked no matter the opposition. Eyes to the North friends. The Loons are rising. And now here’s Wonderwall.

Luis Felipe Fernandes Update

We haven’t gotten to do one of these this season because Matias Almeyda has seen to it to not even pick him for the 18 yet. It’s hard to argue with a coach that’s masterminded his way to two home losses against Montreal and Minnesota but I’m going to go ahead and go out on a limb here and question this decision. While some of my praise for the young man was admittedly hyperbolic to be sure, the kid was a legitimately promising player and to see him just sort of phased out in order to accomodate a marginal upgrade frustrates me. There’s still time though, and I have to trust that Almeyda will see the error his ways eventually. Until then, this regular feature is temporarily on hiatus. Damn you samurai manager. DAMN YOU.

LAFC: Scary Soccer Team

Lost in all the Atlanta hoopla of last season was LAFC’s pretty stellar opening campaign. Maybe it is just me, but I feel like they kind of flew under the radar a bit for a team that finished third in their conference and scored a whopping 68 goals (two less than Atlanta and the ninth highest tally for any team in league history).

A quick glance at this roster shows a team that is indeed quite stacked and ready to compete for all of the prizes. It’s early weeks but they’ve laid their bona fides bare by beating a very good SKC team and then casually swatting away Portland like a cat that can’t read the room.

LAFC have the most goals scored thus far this season and their underlying numbers tell an optimistic tale. They have the fifth best xGA (2.3), the third best xGF (4.2), and the second best xGD (1.9). It’s a long season and if there can be any criticism of LAFC’s debut campaign, it’s that they faded a bit before ultimately vanishing in their first playoff series against RSL. This year though? Carlos Vela and company look very much like they have zero intention to go gently into that good night.

CCL Is Like the Dark Souls of Soccer Tournaments

The Dark Souls series of video games by FROM Software are known for their difficulty. To people unfamiliar with the games they appear to be so difficult as to be unfair. This is a mistake. Dark Souls isn’t unfair. It’s brutally fair. It pulls no punches and makes it very clear that it has no intention to do so. You will make countless mistakes and those mistakes will be mercilessly punished. These games can be unapproachable for people who enter them with the wrong mindset. The secret to making progress in these games is understanding that dying - that FAILING is the only way that you will get better at progressing through the game’s cutthroat path. While the game regularly throws obstacles your way that seem to be too much to handle, enough experience will enable you to handle the challenges that previously seemed unconquerable. If you play these games enough eventually you’ll be able to recognize when the game is about to go all CONCACAF on your ass and avoid the traps and navigate the obstacles with ease.

Ok, I’ve taken this memey metaphor thing as far as I care too. CCL is hard. MLS teams are still learning how best to navigate it. The field surface is often odd, teams have no qualms about hacking your best player out of the game, the refs make some let’s say… “unorthodox” decisions, and it comes at a time when MLS teams are still very much getting into form and fitness while their opposition have settled into a midseason groove. CCL is hard. It SHOULD be hard. Trust me, the euphoria at conquering it will only be all the greater for it. It would be easy to say that CCL games aren’t fair, but to do so is merely a cop out. You know these obstacles are coming. They aren’t going to go away. They aren’t going to change. You have to learn how to beat the tournament on its own terms or you’re just simply not going to win the tournament.

I’m not sure how to best apply this practically to soccer tactics, but I think the philosophy would do a lot of teams and certainly a legion of disappointed MLS fans some good. It will come. It may not be this year, and maybe not even the next. Our hopes now lie with Sporting Kansas City and Peter Vermes. I think we could do a lot worse and Vermes strikes me as the type that would get what I’m saying here. Whining about the challenges may ward off the sadness for a day or two, but you start up a CONCACAF tournament and complain about getting CONCACAFed you’ve really only got yourself to blame.

Oh, and before I get any comments, I beat all the Soulsborne games so miss me with your “git gud” takes. Stupid nerds.

Taking it to the Corner

We’re going to finish up with some power rankings this week, and I’d like to thank the good people at MLS Social for providing me with some terrible internet humor for fodder. Here are the top five worst pies listed in this MLS Pi-Day offering.

  1. Churros (LAFC): Churros are in no way pie. Even at pie’s most expansive definition this is reaching. Get out of here with this.

  2. Green Jello (RSL): Is this trolling? How is jello pie? Why is it specifically green jello? Is all of Salt Lake just a giant church potluck? I think I answered my own question.

  3. Sushi Pie (Vancouver): I had to look this up and it’s exactly what you’re imagining. One time I visited Vancouver and went to a sushi restaurant. I didn’t get any sushi pie but they served me cocktails in small lacquer boxes which is the worst possible shape to drink something from. I’ve never seen it done anywhere else, but I assume it is just a thing that happens in Canada and I will never return until it is addressed at a national level. As for this Sushi pie, I love sushi and google images of this pie version made me never want to look at it again.

  4. Tomato Pie (Philadelphia): I am pretty sure this is just a pizza? What in the world is a tomato pie? Wait does it have cheese and stuff? Is it just pizza on a flakey pie crust? That actually sounds pretty good. I’m gonna need to take some time on this one.

  5. Sugar Pie (Montreal): Well don’t go too crazy on our account Montreal. Did they reject the idea of just submitting the word pie? This is the kind of name I’d expect to find on the label of some doomsday rationed MRE. It’s a pie with sugar you say? A bit indulgent aren’t we?

If I offended anybody’s sensibilities or local pie by dragging this tweet, I apologize and will quite humbly hope to be proven wrong by trying any of these offerings the next time I am in your town. You’re buying though.

Ok, week three coming up and you know what they say about the rule of threes? It’s some kind of thing for writing that I don’t know, and that’s probably why I don’t get paid to write very often. I’ll see you lovely nerds next week to talk about what we’re talking about.