By Ian Lamberson (@ahandleforian)
We’re back! MLS has returned and as goeth MLS so too goeth the takes. Now, it would obviously be silly to make any grand sweeping proclamations based on only one week of soccer. It would be pointless, likely incorrect, and wildly irresponsible. So obviously we’re going to do it anyway. Let’s get that narrative machine cranked up!
Chatter amongst the savvier MLS analysts has been about Atlanta and SKC rising to dominate their divisions. While I don’t exactly have a seat at that particularly niche Algonquin round table, I do try and make myself available to refill their drinks or mop up any spills Tenorio makes when he gets over excited about a scoop, and impressionable as I am, I too was convinced of these teams being unmatched in their respective divisions. I think a good many MLS enthusiast was surprised to see the opening weekend come and go with neither of the presumptive divisional favorites taking even a point, and Atlanta being the only team in the entire league that couldn’t even muster a goal.
Benny Olsen should charge 200k TAM per team and offer up whatever he’s figured out that often makes Atlanta become utterly pedestrian when they come up against mighty DC. Actually, it seems like whatever the Red Bulls do also works more often than not.
Most Points taken off Atlanta by current Eastern Conference Managers (and also Jesse Marsch because I’m a big admirer of Jesse Marsch and he scored pretty well):
Ben Olsen - 10
Jesse Marsch - 7
Chris Armas - 6
Greg Vanney - 6
Veljko Paunovic - 6
Gregg Berhalter - 3
Brad Freidel - 1
Jim Curtin - 1
Domenec Torrent - 0
James O’Connor - 0
Remi Garde - 0
Narrative 1: Bill Hamid. Master of the MIND GAMES
While we’re thinking about our nation’s capital, what’s the deal DC United? Are you for real this time? I kind of thought we all got a bit carried away that day it looked like PSG were going to whisk away Luciano Acosta, but once again he was excellent. Wayne Rooney is already back to reminding everybody that he was found on that beach with his feet in the surf, a mai-tai in hand, and a children’s choir cover of Good Vibrations in his heart because he wanted to be and not because he was washed-up, and Paul Arriola showed that he can be a legitimate force with which to be reckoned should the notion strike him. Also, Bill Hamid threw out some mind games against Brad Guzan prior to the match and while I think it would be irresponsible to say that had anything to with his rather curious mishandling of a shot, it’s a lot more fun to say it did so that’s what we’re going with here. It sounds to me like a good narrative to stick in the oven.
Here’s hoping this becomes a weekly tradition.
Narrative 2: Pity Martinez can’t possibly replicate what Miguel Almiron brought to the table.
Ok, let’s do Atlanta first because, you know, it’s Atlanta so… Three competitive fixtures into Deboer’s tenure and we’ve seen Atlanta look somewhat short of convincing in two of them. It would be unfair not to mention that Atlanta managed to overturn a pretty damning goal deficit at home-ish (they played the second CCL leg against Herediano at Kennesaw State University due to a monster truck rally being held at MBS - as it turns out the five stripes don’t stop unless Bigfoot, Gravedigger, and Monster Mutt need them to. Yes, I googled “famous monster trucks”).
I’m anxious to get the #deboerout hashtag trending, not because I believe he deserves it but because chaos is almost always hilarious. It’s a bit early for fire alarms, but with as much hype as has followed Pity Martinez (he was prematurely named the league’s best #10 despite not playing that position or even having logged an appearance in said league), it’s only natural to cast a judgmental eye his way. I’m all for patience when it comes to appraising players, but I can’t help but think about how it only took about five minutes of watching Almiron play to know this guy was on a different level and I can’t say the same about Pity just yet.
It’s important that we remain extremely critical and dismissive of Atlanta while we can, since in about a month they’ll be back to pub-stomping the rest of the league en route to a treble.
Narrative 3: Jordan Morris: Figo Reborn
Jordan Morris is back baby! Much to the chagrin of many a pundit that clucked their tongue at his somewhat unexpected hefty contract extension this winter, Morris appears to be well and truly back. Two goals will grab the headlines, but Sounders and USMNT fans will be encouraged more by that hold R1 speed looking like it did only two years ago. I’ve had my doubts about the Jordan Morris: Portrait of a Winger As A Young Man project in the past, but in the 2019 version of the Seattle Sounders attack that looks to be exactly where he belongs. Let’s add this one to the narrative list.
Narrative 4: FC Cincinnati: Uh oh
For every success story like Morris’, there’s a flip side and that’s the story of defeat, and that story belongs to FC Cincinnati, who I went out on a limb for and declared them not to be a wooden spoon team. I will surely rue that day. I am already doing a touch of the rueing if I’m being honest. Anyway, Cincy should feel very happy with that worldie of a goal from Leonard Bertone, but there was one thing that their roster building pointed at and that was a solid defense. After 90 minutes in Seattle, I can very comfortably suggest that it may not be. It’s almost art.
Narrative 5: So…. About those Nazis
Hey you know what I wanted to talk about in my first column of the year? I mean do you know what I spent all offseason praying that I’d get a chance to opine on? Nazis. Yep. Nazis. I understand that in a political climate as cloudy as the current one and with the level of national discourse looking like the answer “hell no” in response to the question “Yeah but can our national discourse do it on a cold, rainy night at Stoke?”, we’ve got to choose our words carefully. I do get that. I really do. However, NYCFC and Don Garber’s response to a provocative Huffington Post piece about the persistent presence of right-wing extremists and skinheads within NYCFC supporters groups left a lot to be desired if you happen to be a person whose political alignment lies somewhere short of ethnic cleansing. I’m not sure why there seems to be a desire to not step on the toes of these 20 or so idiots who fetishize the very worst parts of the sport’s history and culture, but I guess skinhead money buys stadium concessions too, so here we are. I’d certainly be more amenable to accepting that your political affiliations “outside of MLS stadiums” shouldn’t be a barrier of entry to a sporting event if MLS didn’t already lay all of this out neatly in their own code of conduct. To wit:
Honestly, how hard is it to say that you don’t want Nazis at your soccer games? If that makes even one fan feel safer or better about the ever-evolving fan culture in this country, it’s worth it. Do that, and I’ll buy an extra chicken bucket the next time I’m in the stands to make it up to you. I want this particular narrative crushed within the week but until then it goes on the list.
Narrative 6: What I am going to say about Saphir Taider in just a second
People are going to start saying that Saphir Taider is one of the most underrated players in the league within the next few months.
Taking it to the corner:
Oh one more thing about Atlanta. They had the lowest team xG in the league last weekend at 0.4 and they underperformed it. With Cincinnati barely topping that with 0.5, next week’s matchup has the potential to be a thrilling defensive clash between two equally matched sides. I know my DVR is set.
Ok let’s wrap this up. I’m trying to think of a good way to end this column because every week I just sort of get bored at around 1500 words and I thought maybe it would be fun if I did power rankings, but since there are too many MLS power rankings already I would power rank other things related to MLS or not at all related to MLS. So if you have any suggestions for this hit me up. I’m going to start with early MLS logos.
1. Kansas City Wiz - This is the Beckenbauer of 90s MLS ephemera. This was on a kit that made you wonder if Peace Frog was making athletic apparel just this once. Truly a masterpiece.
2 The San Jose Clash - See this is the kind of thing that makes me hate the rebrand. I get that the newer more standard soccer crest badge thing looks a little more presentable these days, and calling back to a pre-MLS history is nice but like SCORPION BRO. SCORPION!
3. Dallas Burn - It’s pretty clear from this little collection that coming up with a team name that didn’t end in an “S” was part of whatever insane marketing memorandum was sent around. The Dallas Burn is a cool enough name I guess, but this fire breathing horse with lightning legs is what sells this. Jason Kreis back-flips and this weird ass horse. That’s FC Dallas’ DNA
4. NY/NJ Metrostars - This logo can only make the top half of the table if we ignore that awful font with some of the jankiest “R”s ever created. The rest of this is simple enough though. The big electric M is so out of control that it wouldn’t scan if you didn’t know what you were looking at, but I like the simple skyline above it. It’s not a triumph but it has a certain pizzazz that I think is undeniable.
5. Colorado Rapids -The Rapids and the Metrostars were the only teams that either didn’t get or outright ignored the aforementioned “don’t end your team name in an ‘s’” memo. The Colorado Rapids logo is super busy and the three colors look like something a little league coach picked. It’s not outwardly offensive or anything. It just looks like the answer to a question “what if the whole idea of fishing was a sports team?”
6. DC United - The logo hasn’t actually changed that much and it commits very few sins outside of the gravest of all which is being boring.
7. Columbus Crew - I can’t believe this made it out of the first presentation meeting, and I especially can’t believe how long it persisted after that. I get that they’re supposed to be construction workers but the weird silhouetting makes them look like Smokey the Bear’s biggest fans. I don’t know. It’s a classic though.
8. LA Galaxy - I’m sad this logo fell so low because it’s actually fairly competently done. It’s just such an ugly set of colors and that inadvisable yellow and gold swirl that I’m guessing is supposed to scan as a Galaxy just doesn’t land at all. I like the little line through the “L” and “A” to let the backing through and give it at least the appearance of some depth.
9. New England Revolution - This is still their same logo and it still sucks.
10. Tampa Bay Mutiny - What in the name of Preki is this supposed to be? I remember reading some oral history of something or other that explained that the designers got confused by what “Mutiny” meant and thought it meant “mutant like” which is why they drew that bat that we’ll be generous and call “stylized”. The font is just dripping with that quasi-futuristic 90s schlock that swung so hard and came up empty. The color scheme makes me want to die. If Carlos Valderrama wasn’t on this team, I’m pretty sure it would have been disbanded after two weeks of staring at this thing.
That’s all for week one, fans. Hit me up with power rankings suggestions (never do power rankings again is a fair suggestion.) Narratives are going to be crazy wild for the first month or two, but that’s what makes everything new and exciting. If you read all of this I thank you from the bottom of my heart. See you next week to talk about what we’re talking about.