Ola Kamara

Expected Narratives: Have Some Ambition by Ian L.

Narrative: Ambition Rankings

If there is one day on the MLS calendar that I dread with a clarity and purity often seen only in very expensive diamonds (let’s call them “diamonds of ambition”), it’s Grant Wahl’s annual musings on which MLS teams have proven their ambition the most. For those unaware, every year our nation’s preeminent soccer scribe sends out a questionnaire to every MLS team asking them to flex their financial bonafides and then ranks them according to how expensive their DPs are, whether or not they get good crowds, and that “it” factor that you can’t explain but Grant knows it when he sees it. Unsurprisingly, Atlanta tops this year’s list and Colorado pulls up the rear, but the middle is just gluttonously full of incisive takes. “We’ve invested 10 million dollars in our academy says one team”, “oh yeah well WE expanded our stadium so suck it” says another. “Tell me more” says Grant Wahl, and we’re left with a bunch of people squabbling over whether Jan Gregus or Pedro Santos is a more ambitious signing.

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Los Angeles Galaxy 2019 Season Preview by Harrison Crow

Undisputedly, last year was a disappointment... wait, I used that line already. Oh, well... this is pretty near the end of our “we probably should have made the playoffs but something went wrong” team previews fashion line. The Galaxy may have finally found the right management pieces but are they ready to lead the organization back to glory this season?

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Setting the Table Week 30: Higuain and Alessandrini by Eric Walcott

Welcome to Setting the Table. Each week we take some time to focus on the best chance creators in MLS from the last weekend. If you want to see the best chances that were wasted check out Lowered Expectations. Here we focus on chances that ended with the ball in the back of the net.

#5 Maxi Urruti to Santiago Mosquera, FC Dallas, 41:25, 0.427 expected goals
Passes in sequence: 1

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Little Things from Week 22: A Healthy TFC, the Galaxy defense, and Adi's Farewell by Harrison Hamm

By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)

Gregory Van Der Wiel and Toronto FC

Toronto FC started their 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire playing a 3-5-2, finally with their best players (Jozy Altidore, Justin Morrow, Victor Vazquez, Chris Mavinga) back. They played fairly well in the first 45 minutes, for the most part stopping Chicago’s attack and avoiding sloppy mistakes at the back. But it was still 0-0 at halftime.

All three goals came after Greg Vanney pulled wingback Ashtone Morgan for center midfielder Marky Delgado, switching the formation to a 4-4-2 diamond. With this change, they were able to get Jonathan Osorio on the ball in the attacking third (he scored the second goal) without sacrificing distribution deeper in the formation. Delgado could shuttle, Michael Bradley could stay home, and the fullbacks could hug the touchline.

Gregory Van Der Wiel, who was the right-sided center back in the first half and the right back in the second, had tried to fill the Delgado role from his center back position. It was an interesting tactical gamble from Vanney, who likely hoped that Van Der Wiel could step into midfield and let Osorio stay forward, keeping the various benefits that the 3-5-2 allows.

Van Der Wiel is an efficient passer — he completes seven percent more passes than expected, and his score is 56.2 — but he doesn’t break lines or distribute the way that Delgado does. Pushing defenders into roles like this is consistent with the Guardiola inverted full-backs trend, and it was a worthy experiment from Vanney. Credit for adjusting in the second half.

The Dutchman’s pass maps from each half (first half is on the left) reflect the change in tactical positioning:

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 1st half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

Van Der Wiel 2nd half

TFC looked really good in the second half, as good as they’ve looked since the CCL final. Hard to say whether they can sustain it, but with their next two games at Atlanta and at home against NYCFC, they’ll have to.

The LA Galaxys defending

Excluding own goals, the LA Galaxy have given up 32 goals on 32.2 xGA, a below-average figure, if not at the futility level of MLS’s worst defending teams. They give up 14.4 shots per game, the worst of any current MLS playoff team.

There’s no doubt that the Galaxy’s defense is a prevalent weakness. No game passes without “what were they thinking” moments out of Michael Ciani and Jorgen Skjelvik.

They’ve settled on a 3-5-2 as their preferred formation, trading defensive solidity (they weren’t going to have much anyway, a known fact that probably went into the thought process) for attacking firepower. All four of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giovani dos Santos, Ola Kamara and Romain Alessandrini can plausibly play together in this set-up, the only alignment that comes close to getting them all together.

They risked that alignment against LAFC and survived long enough to storm back in the last 10 minutes for a wacky 2-2 draw. They risked it again — albeit with Chris Pontius (a natural winger, of course) in for the suspended Alessandrini — on Sunday against Orlando, and they produced a 4-3 win that lacked any viable defending.

The game against Orlando revealed a lot of the Galaxy’s defensive weaknesses. They were often disorganized and struggled to put pressure on Orlando’s attackers around the box. Defending from the front was always going to be a problem for this LA team, and that major weakness only compounds weaknesses deeper in the formation. They looked a lot better after Servando Carrasco came on as a sub.

42 percent of Orlando’s attacks came down their left side, attacking right-sided center back Dave Romney. Central defenders in a three-at-the-back have to defend in space, meaning they have to possess some measure of athleticism. Romney doesn’t fit the bill. Mohamed El-Munir (usually a left back!) roasted Romney on numerous occasions:

Amidst all the defensive incompetence in Carson, they still managed to give up just 0.91 xG, per Ben Baer, though our model showed them giving up 1.54 xG. They also only gave up 1.61 xG to LAFC. They’re bad, even if recent numbers favor them, but the attack is sparing them a surplus of attacks to blunder.

Adi’s final Timbers goal and the value of emergency defense

As you’ve heard plenty about by now, Fanendo Adi scored in his final appearance as a Portland Timber. His goal proved the difference in a 2-1 Timbers win over the Dynamo, and it exposed more Dynamo defensive weakness:

Houston inexplicably played a five-at-the-back formation against the counter-attacking Timbers. (Wilmer Cabrera’s conservative nature is losing the Dynamo points.) Sebastian Blanco brilliantly dragged Adolfo Machado out of his center back position on this play, forcing wingback Andrew Wenger to step to Blanco and unlock a cheeky give-and-go between Blanco and Zarek Valentin.

Blanco’s first touch in the box was a bit sloppy and forced him to scramble, giving further advantage to the numbers-heavy Dynamo. They shouldn’t have let the Argentine through to begin with, but they had everyone marked by this point. No goal should have been scored from this position.

However, Machado went sliding in on Blanco and missed badly, allowing him time on the ball at the edge of the six-yard box. Blanco’s slip pass to Andy Polo pinged around until Adi managed to have the ball bounce off him into the net. An ugly goal if there ever was one. But emergency defense is a skill, and Houston have decidedly lack that skill.

Earl Edwards Jr. is a weekly starter

This save was lost in the Zlatan show, but Orlando’s Edwards Jr. made the best save of the week on Ola Kamara:

Getting the top-hand to that shot is difficult, and probably the only way he could have saved it. He’s taken Joe Bendik’s job and run with it.

That’s it for this week, check back again after the post-All-Star Game weekend

Lowered Expectations: Week 20 by Drew Olsen

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, week 20 edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process leading to them.

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Expected Narratives: Atlanta Doth PRO-test Too Much by Ian L.

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.

Officiating controversy? Naturally. Following Atlanta’s 3-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls, Atlanta players and coaches had nothing but pointed criticisms at Mark Geiger’s officiating. Geiger, who oversaw their 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, was the video review official for Atlanta’s latest “bad feelings” match on Sunday. Were there incidents? Oh indeed there were incidents. To wit: Josef Martinez had a goal disallowed against Sporting Kansas City due to being waived offside (he was offside according to the letter of the law, which is a confusing law, but that’s a different subject entirely) and then had a goal disallowed after video review again on Sunday after he was judged to have fouled Tim Parker in the buildup (it sure looked like he did, but again there’s no way to be sure unless we let the official do something crazy like look at a video of the incident). I digress, but here we are again and although I don’t want this column to turn in to me becoming Simon Borg (THAT’S AN EASY RED CARD FOR ME FOLKS!) I’ve seen more than a few dozen (WHY ARE THE REFS AGAINST ATLANTA?) takes so let’s address the dumbest narrative we’ve done yet.

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Little Things from Week 12 by Harrison Hamm

This week’s Little Things include: the LA Galaxy’s impressive ceiling, Ryan Telfer’s debut, and the importance of confidence for a goalkeeper.

The Correct Way to Use Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Much of Monday’s 1-0 LA Galaxy win in Montreal was rendered irrelevant for the purposes of evaluating the Galaxy’s attack due to Zlatan’s 41st minute sending off. Before the red, though, they very occasionally looked competent — with no help from their horrendous and well-publicized defensive awfulness, of course, and only when Romain Alessandrini was trying things.

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Lowered Expectations: Week 11 by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week eleven edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts which did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process leading to them.

#5 - Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy, 61st minute, 0.426 expected goals
Assisted by: Romain Alessandrini
Passes in sequence: 4

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Lowered Expectations: Week 10 by Harrison Crow

Welcome to Lowered Expectations, the week nine edition! Each week, we go about posting chalkboards and GIFs of the weekend’s best open-play shot attempts that did not quite live up to expectations (and rarely do we update this paragraph). We look at each one and not only evaluate the results, but also the process that led to them.

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Expected Narratives: Gregg Berhalter is the #9 Whisperer by Ian L.

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.

The good news is that aside from this sentence, I’m not going write a single word about video review this week. Nay, much more compelling narratives are swirling about, mostly regarding fanbases posturing at each other in a miasma of insecurity or self loathing. We have Orlando claiming to be the real deal. Atlanta continuing to make light work of their opponents, and Seattle fans in their annual early season bout of despair.  Needless to say, it’s a good time to be writing about narratives.

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