To Minnesota, or to Atlanta, that is now the question for an MLS expansion team. The 2017 MLS expansion teams took divergent paths to roster building. Atlanta supplemented their young expensive South American signings with older proven MLS veterans. Minnesota relied on a corps of players brought up from their NASL squad and a more journeyman group of MLS players, sprinkled with some lower profile international imports and no Designated Players. FC Cincinnati has answered the question with an emphatic “Minnesota.”Read More
As a Canadian the struggle of the Vancouver Whitecaps is probably more personal than someone who follows MLS from elsewhere. After Toronto FC became the joke of the league mainly through the miss-management of ownership, the Whitecaps expansion to MLS was a huge hope for Canadian soccer. Because of their past NASL, CPL and USL success, as well the Vancouver region being known as a Canadian hotbed for soccer, expectations were high. Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi might also be the biggest name in Canadian Soccer for his success with a number of Vancouver soccer teams and the Canadian National Team.Read More
On September 19th, 2015 the Vancouver Whitecaps led the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield. From then, the team fell victim to an almost-comical trend of league leaders performing like cellar dwellers, collecting five points from their last six games and backing into the playoffs (inasmuch as a second seed can back into anything). Vancouver bowed out of the playoffs on their own turf, losing 2-0 against Portland to follow up on a scoreless draw down south, landing only 5 of 22 shots on target over the two-leg series. At their best, the Whitecaps are a dangerous counterattacking team that overwhelms opposing defenses with an athletic attacking midfield and aggressive passing (note the high total shot ratio of 0.532). At their worst, the team looks much the same… but wastes the ball with poor shot selection and lost possession (note the possession ratio at 0.469, third worst in the league).
2015 in Review
Drew’s 2015 ASA preview called attention to a young and promising attack, but raised questions concerning Vancouver’s defensive strength with a new pair of centerbacks. Ultimately, the Whitecaps defense significantly improved from 2014, ranking second in goals allowed and first in xGA, on the strength of Matias Laba, Kendall Waston, and an outstanding year from goalkeeper David Ousted. Waston and Laba together account for roughly 34-35% of the team’s defensive actions (excluding recoveries and fouls), reflecting the former’s physical dominance (particularly in the air) and the latter’s exceptional activity rate in the defensive midfield. No individual attacker stepped up as a consistent scoring threat across the full season, with streaky production from forward Octavio Rivero and midfielders Kekuta Manneh, Pedro Morales, and Christian Techera.
More on the keepers and defense after the jump.Read More
By Drew Olsen (@drewjolsen)
For a team that entered 2014 with middling expectations, securing 50 points for the first time in MLS club history and making the playoffs was no small success for the Whitecaps. But this is a team that has finished with between 43 and 50 points each of the last three seasons and been eliminated twice as the 5th seed in the playoffs. Vancouver is beginning to take on the same role Costa Rica occupies in CONCACAF qualifying; both are good teams that can be counted on to pose a challenge to any opponent, but are not contenders to finish near the top of the standings.
To try to change that reputation the team is building a young, talented roster led by 2nd year coach Carl Robinson. It is a roster that is unlikely to win MLS Cup in the next season or two, but has lots of promise for the future. With eight homegrown players 22 or younger plus the addition of Young DP Octavio Rivero, the future looks bright in Vancouver.
Expectations are tempered for 2015 and it will be difficult for the Whitecaps to make the playoffs again in a competitive Western Conference, but that does not mean this season won't be a success. With an average roster age less than 24, this year is likely to be a stepping stone towards eventual success in Vancouver.
There is plenty to build on from last season, beginning with the Whitecaps' stingy defense. Allowing only 1.17 goals per game last year kept Vancouver in many games, and our expected goals metrics suggest they actually got a bit unlucky by allowing as many as they did. In other words, the quality of this defense was no fluke.
David Ousted was an exactly average keeper last year, and it's unlikely much will change for him in 2015. Jordan Harvey started every game last season, and he will again join Steven Beitashour at fullback. The question mark comes from the center of defense, where last year's starters for much of the year, Johnny Leveron and Andy O'Brien, have both moved on. If the quality on the backline of 2014 is to continue, it will have to come with a new centerback pairing. Kendall Waston looks likely to take one of the starting spots, with newcomers Pa Modou-Kah and Diego Rodriguez fighting for the other starting position. The 34 year old veteran Kah comes from Portland, where he has been in and out of the starting lineup for two seasons. Rodriguez joins from Uruguay, by way of La Liga side Malaga. It is not an understatement to say the Whitecaps' season may depend on the ability of its defense to mesh.
Anchored by DPs Pedro Morales and the now officially signed Matias Laba, the midfield will again be one to be reckoned with. Morales' 20.75 xG + xA was 4th in the league last season, and he will continue to be relied on to create for the young attacking corps. Laba isn't afraid to get stuck in, and should provide a valuable bit of protection in front of the new centerbacks.
Russell Teibert returns on the left side after a disappointing 2014. A lot was expected from him after two goals, nine assists, and 35 key passes in 2013, but he managed no goals and just two assists and 24 key passes, despite playing 2000 more minutes last season. Erik Hurtado may end up on the right, and also might compete against the aging Mauro Rosales for playing time. Rosales started the final 10 games of the season after coming over from Chivas USA, but at age 34 he set a career high for most minutes since coming to MLS. Whitecaps mainstay Gershon Koffie will also try to regain a foothold in the midfield after missing the end of last season with injuries.
Despite the hype surrounding young strikers Kekuta Manneh (20 years old) and former Rookie of the Year Darren Mattocks (24), scoring proved difficult last season. The 42 goals Vancouver netted were 6th worst in the league and six fewer than any other playoff team. To bolster their attack, Young DP Octavio Rivero was signed from Chile, where he scored 10 goals in only 18 appearances last season. Rivero looks ready to contribute from day one, having scored a brace in his preseason debut.
Vancouver has a very young team that looks to be both fun and frustrating to watch this season. While the attack has been improved, a drop-off in defensive quality is likely. It will be difficult to return to the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference, but if the defense can meld and Rivero can score, the sky is the limit.
I'll be frank: either week two of the MLS season was much less exciting than week one, or I did a poor job of picking games to watch and analyze this week. My bet is that both are true. Anyway, onto the show in which I take a look at three games from the weekend and pick a stat or Opta chalkboard image for each team that tells the story of how they played (last week's version is here if you missed it):
Sporting Kansas City 1 - 1 FC Dallas
Stat that told the story for Dallas: outpassed 418-213, including 103-41 in the game's first half hour
A thought occurred to me when watching this game: Sporting Kansas City has to look a lot like a prototype of what Oscar Pareja wants out of his teams. From the formation to the high-pressing, KC has long made their money by manhandling opponents as soon as they get on the ball and not letting them get comfortable. In this game, Sporting came out fired up at home and simply punched Dallas in the mouth (not even completely a figure of speech - this game was brutally physical). The high-pressing from KC's entire team had FCD out of sorts for most of the first half, particularly the first 30 minutes, when they mustered only 41 completed passes.
But the Hoops managed a road draw against the defending champs, so the game wasn't completely a story of getting worked over. As the game wore on and Sporting found it difficult to keep up the constant pressure, Dallas was able to grow into the game a bit. They certainly were never dominant, but another very good game from Mauro Diaz and some smart counter-attacks allowed Pareja's team to stem the tide for the majority of the game. In the end, it was fitting that the slugfest of a game saw just two goals, both from set pieces, but Dallas should feel good about how they played as the game progressed and were able to steal a point.
Stat that told the story for Kansas City: lack of production from forward line: 15 offensive actions in attacking third
Sporting KC won MLS Cup last year and has unquestionably been one of the league's best teams for the last few seasons. But few would argue that this success is built on a very strong defense and midfield. The forward line has often been sort of an Achilles' heel for this squad, especially now that Kei Kamara has moved on. In this game, Graham Zusi was held out so he could stay fresh for CONCACAF Champions League action, and DP forward Claudio Bieler only came on for the last 13 minutes. But the five players who saw time at a forward spot for KC (Bieler, Dom Dwyer, Sal Zizzo, CJ Sapong and Jacob Peterson) combined to register 15 offensive actions in the attacking third.
To be clear, that 'offensive actions' stat that's illustrated above might have been made up by me just now, but it encompasses successful passes, dribbles, and all shot attempts. Too often on Saturday, and really for the last few years, Kansas City has dominated the game until the last thirty yards of the field, where they lack ideas. Getting Zusi back will likely help, as would playing Claudio Bieler for a full 90 minutes, but Sporting will need some more creativity and production from their forwards if they hope to lift another trophy this season.
Chivas USA 1 - 1 Vancouver Whitecaps
Stat that told the story for Vancouver: only 53 passes in the offensive third (23 of which were after Kekuta Manneh came on in the 60th minute)
I tuned in for the Chivas-Vancouver matchup excited to see an offensive battle between two sides that combined for 7 goals in week one. Instead, I saw an early red card to the Goats' Agustin Pelletieri followed by a lot of dull possession for Vancouver against a surprisingly organized team in red and white stripes. After looking so deadly in attack against New York, the Whitecaps looked completely lost for ideas on Sunday, with the only forays into the offensive third seeming to come from chips over the top from the superb Pedro Morales. That all changed when Kekuta Manneh came on, as he attacked the Chivas defense with and without the ball, causing fits for Eric Avila and eventually scoring the equalizer for the 'Caps. Still, after playing 87 minutes against 10 men, Vancouver has to be rightfully disappointed at only earning a point.
Stat that told the story for Chivas: Mauro Rosales turning back the clock: 151 actions
The Seattle Sounders traded Mauro Rosales to Chivas this offseason because he was too expensive and too old to fit into the club's plans for 2014. Nobody even really argued with the decision, though Rosales is undeniably a classy player and won the league's Newcomer of the Year award in 2011. So far in 2014, playing in the red and white of the Goat Zombies, Rosales has looked a lot like the 2011 playmaker that Sounders fans knew and loved. Playing down a man, Rosales was everything you could hope from a smart, skilled veteran; he hoofed it up field when in trouble so his team could get organized, he led smart counter-attacks and he kept the ball when possible (with the help of Erick Torres, who also played very well). All in all, he registered 151 actions in Opta's chalkboard, 12 more than any other player and a whopping 47 more than his nearest teammate. Not bad for a washed-up 33-year-old.
Houston Dynamo 1 - 0 Montreal Impact
Stat that told the story for Montreal: Marco Di Vaio's non-existant heat map
I've watched about 120 minutes of Montreal Impact soccer in the season's first two weeks, and just about every one of those minutes has been more impressive than I expected from the Impact this season. Despite having zero points from their first two games (both on the road), they've actually looked pretty good on the field. Justin Mapp is doing Justin Mapp things (like this awesome run & assist from week 1), Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier are pinging beautiful balls to open up space, and Felipe and Andrew Wenger are getting in pretty good goal-scoring spots. So what's the reason behind the zero points? Well, not putting chances away against the Dynamo killed Montreal. ASA's shot numbers had their xGF at 1.15 this week, but there were plenty of other times that they wasted dangerous opportunities (one particular Wenger near-breakaway early in the first half stands out). If All-Star Italian striker Marco Di Vaio wasn't suspended, I have a hard time believing the Impact gets shutout last week.
Stat that told the story for Houston: 8 fouls conceded in the defensive third
This was another game where what I ended up watching did not line up with the expectations I had going in. After an open, attack-filled opening game with New England, Houston came out and didn't really do much offensively against Montreal. It was actually sort of a gameplan of old-school Dom Kinnear, as the Dynamo got an early goal thanks to a deflected Will Bruin shot, and then packed it in and made themselves hard to beat. They sat in two organized banks of four so that only the perfect ball from Montreal would be enough to beat them, and when it looked like they might get beaten, they did the professional thing and took a foul. Eight of Houston's 14 fouls conceded were in their defensive third, and while I can't offer much perspective on whether that's a high proportion compared to league average, I can tell you that many of them occurred when Montreal players were breaking away and getting ready to provide a scoring chance.
Agree with my assessments? Think I'm an idiot? I always enjoy feedback. @MLSAtheist or MLSAtheist@gmail.com