MLS Week 3 is here, which means that it is time for an infuriating international break soon. March and September are both lovely months that mean the return of regular soccer, and both contain the record-scratch interruption of international soccer. So enjoy the full slate of MLS action while you can, before World Cup qualifying takes the wind out of everyone’s sails.
Last week, I singled out two matchups to pay attention:
My pick for game of the week was Houston-Columbus, and yeah, this was a super interesting match. Looking at the xG and passing maps generated by Twitter user @11tegen11 is evidence of that:
My player match-up was Onyewu v Giovinco. And it turns out those two did have an impactful tussle that ended when Onyewu caught Giovinco in the thigh and forced him to leave the game with injury.
National Focus: The run-up to the international break. The United States has two key World Cup Qualifiers coming up, and the national team has a very MLS feel to it, with the return of MLS’ Grumpy Old Man Bruce Arena to lead things, while much is being made over the return of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, who have both returned from injury to factor into the squad.
MLS is happy to hitch its wagon to the US Men’s National Team, the most popular US, male-only, competitive soccer team, and wow, that was quite a few qualifiers after that. The fact remains that without MLS being bound up with the USMNT’s television rights, the league would appear to be much shakier than it currently does.
MLS also likes to claim that its success and growth is bound up in the success of the national team, though there is a strong argument the US players coming into and still in their prime would be better served plying their trade in Europe. In addition, there is a strong argument to be made that out of all the national teams in CONCACAF, the US has benefited the least from the growth of MLS.
While it is wonderful that US national team players can earn a good living playing soccer at home, the opportunities given to players like Andy Najar, Deshorn Brown, and Roger Espinoza are all counterpoints that MLS is doing a better job putting local competition in the shop window for moves to Europe.
Game of the Week: Colorado-Minnesota. As you may have heard, last weekend Minnesota lost 6-1 in their home opener, meaning they are comfortably the worst team in the league. Coach Adrian Heath says he hasn’t given up on his players yet. They’ve only played two games, so I hoped that went without saying. The question for Heath, then is, how to approach the game after such a huge loss.
Do you keep doing what you are doing, risking extra scorn if the result isn’t improved? Do you have your team play ultra conservative soccer, to try and re-build confidence one half at a time? On the other side, if you are Pablo Mastroeni, do you switch from your more cautious style of play to try and get an early goal and rattle the opposition?
The respective managers will have the best read on their locker rooms and how best to proceed, but this choice of whether to stick or twist makes this the most interesting game of the weekend for me.
Despite losing 6-1, Minnesota actually created some decent opportunities. The OPTA expected goals had Minnesota at 1.70 versus Atlanta’s 2.14. Given some of the chances the defense conceded, this is a stat that shows Minnesota can hurt you. Based on this, I am hoping that both teams stay the course. Pushing too many men forward against Vengeas, Martinez, and Kadrii would be disastrous for Colorado. But the reward is tempting, isn’t it?
Matchup focus: Anibal Godoy v Roger Espinoza. Two CONCACAFers going head to head in the San Jose-SKC game. This is the first road game for a seemingly liberated San Jose, and Anibal Godoy has been the early breakout player of the year. Two goals in two games, both stunning in their own way, hint at a confidence and ease of play that seem at odds with his previous seasons in the league. Godoy attempted 115 passes last weekend, which is absolutely stunning for a team not known as great possessors of the ball. San Jose coach Dom Kinnear may look at FC Dallas’ performance last weekend as a good one to emulate, which would mean backing off the press that defined their Week 1 win and the possession that marked their Week 2 win over 10 man Vancouver.
On the other side of the ball, Roger Espinoza will be the switch in the Sporting KC midfield to examine. Playing ahead of Ilie Sanchez and less offensively minded than Benny Feilhaber, Espinoza can do just about anything for SKC. The question will be how he matches up against Godoy, and whether Godoy can push enough to force Espinoza to change his patterns of play and focus more on preventing San Jose’s build up. Espinoza certainly has the grit to do so, and he could be key in stopping the resurrection of San Jose’s offensive production in central midfield.