MLS Week 2: 7 Things I Like and Dislike


1. Snow Soccer!

Switch to the UEFA club schedule, you say? I love snow soccer and the orange ball … as a change of pace. Like so many of the world’s best things, snow soccer is best enjoyed in moderation.

No need for heatmaps in snow soccer. Minnesota featuring several Northern European players has a huge advantage over the South American’s on Atlanta, right? Slipping. Sliding. Snow blower breaks. All reasons to love snow soccer.

I just don’t want it for half the season.

2. Possession as a Proxy for Quality

Possession is an interesting statistic and I’m all for seeing what it is at various times throughout a match. However, more research into possesion shows a clearer picture that possession – and passing percentage – are better indications of style for a team than directly related to success.1

Intuitively, I understand why people use passing percentage and possession as short hand for quality. It may not be correct, but it doesn’t hurt anything for fans to discuss it. What gets to me is when announcers do both of these two things: use possession as a proxy for quality and explain that a team is sitting back on purpose.

The first 20 minutes of Chicago vs. Real Salt Lake had roughly even possession. *Small sample alert* After two fluky goals for the Fire, they predictably sat back, defended, and played on the counter. Possession magically flipped to 60% for RSL and Chicago’s passing completion dropped from 79% to 67%. All of this indicates a shift toward a reactive, direct approach. Not a drop in quality per se. The game state changed and heavily influenced what each side was attempting to do.

I don’t mean to pick on the Fire because I can’t quite remember if the broadcasters used possession to indicate quality, but the match was a good example of changing game state. I believe I hear the possession angle talked about a lot with Columbus broadcasts. This isn’t surprising because they’re a possession team and if you assume this is their game plan, it does show execution. It’s not harmful really, it’s just kind of lazy.

3. Teams Played Their Kids

I touched on the average age of Week 1 squads last week. Several teams would have been a lot younger this week. There are plenty of reasons for giving these youngsters minutes. FC Dallas was likely prepping for a tough midweek matchup against Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League. There were various injuries after Week 1 around the league. Not to mention there are some great young starting caliber players.

FC Dallas was the most stark example of getting young players time this week. Surprise, surprise. Jesse Gonzalez (21), Paxton Pomykal (17), Carlos Gruezo (21, DP), and Carlos Cermeno (21) all played a full 90 minutes against Sporting Kansas City. Don’t forget Jacori Hayes (21) played the first 45, only to be replaced by veteran midfielder Kellyn Acosta (21) for the second half.

Derrick Etienne, Jr. (20) got a start for NYRB, Derrick Jones (20) continues to get run for Philadelphia, Montreal gave Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla (17) another sub appearance, Nick Lima (22) continues to deservedly start for San Jose, Ian Harkes (21) made his debut starting for DC United, Marco Farfan (18) started for an injured Vytas, and that’s just to name too many.

I like to see MLS academy developed talent. Not everyone above is MLS developed, but prospects are fun either way.

4. “Fel-Ee-Pee”

I don’t really envy announcers. Mistakes and slips are understandable while discussing and describing a game in live action. But between Sean “David”, Michael “Ariza”, and “Fel-ee-pee”, things got a bit out of hand on Univision. My go to name mispronunciations usually involve English announcers in the Premier League, but this warranted mention.

It’s not the end of the world and I’ve mispronounced my fair share of names, but *tisk* *tisk* to the booth.

5. Playing Catch Up on Defense

Nick Lima is quickly becoming one of my favorite players in MLS. Between Lima and Rafa Garcia playing catch up on defense we got plenty of “grit” this week. Joking aside, they’re great plays made of commitment and athleticism. Lima’s chase down was less exciting but more impressive to me while Rafa’s was like seeing a chase down block in the NBA. I mean, technically that’s exactly what it was.

6. Embellishment/Diving/Gamesmanship

This one isn’t quite a dislike but something I want to spell out my thoughts on. Diving isn’t going anywhere in a sport where a single goal is so important. It’s becoming more noticeable in every sport as players realize that it’s mostly a zero downside proposition to help the team.

There was a good amount of talk about the disciplinary committee in relation to diving on the LA Galaxy vs. Portland Timbers broadcast. That’s something I support. One thing to make clear, a committee of that nature is not for borderline calls or things I would term embellishment or gamesmanship.

A committee on diving is for obvious dives a la the NBA. Not every unjust foul is given a post-game diving penalty in the NBA, it’s designed to eliminate the most egregious both because it’s not a good for the TV product and because it unjustly influences the game. Dives still happen for better or worse, but my subjective thought is that it’s gone down significantly after a peak roughly three years ago.

The impetus for my desire to explain this is the David Guzman dive/gamesmanship, self-injury, second yellow card incident.

First things first, that was an absolutely god-awful attempt at a tackle by Jelle Van Damme. This replay package doesn’t show the many angles of replays that were on the broadcast. The tweet below gives one of the best angles available.

You can see there how late Van Damme comes in. The ability this gives a player to dive is similar to throwing a feinted punch. Did you make contact? Nope. But you sure made it easy to look like you did. That doesn’t make diving a useful – in the broad sense – outcome. Getting past the fact that Van Damme did himself no favors here, Guzman clearly went down untouched or at best touched because of a toe drag.

In the process of this dive and getting exactly what he was going for in a second yellow for Van Damme, Guzman had to leave the match with a shoulder injury. This is self-inflicted to the fullest extent. You almost have to admire the dive executed so well that there is an actual injury on the play.

In the strictest sense, this is Guzman’s “fault” and he’s the person that comes out looking the worst. But let’s summarize the three types of diving here and place Guzman firmly in the dive category.

Embellishment: Like it or not, this isn’t going anywhere. These are legitimate fouls – even if some of them are soft – where the player throws their arms up or goes down easy to ensure the ref makes the call. They might look unflattering and might annoy many fans, but it’s key to remember that these are fouls. If the embellishment results in a card, that’s the downside but it’s an impossible line to walk to determine with accuracy which are natural reactions and which are embellishments for punishment. They exist as part of the game.

Gamesmanship: This is a tough one to define. Something along the lines of being a pest to the referee and players, more extreme forms of embellishment, and drawing soft fouls. There’s a spectrum within gamesmanship and gamesmanship is a spectrum within diving. As the Supreme Court defined pornography, “You know it when you see it.”

Diving: There’s a simple definition of diving for me. Above all else, it’s a complete lack of contact. One caveat is egregious tackle attempts where a dive could be seen as a self-preservation tactic. This complicates matters but it’s generally easy enough to see. S two footed scissor tackle that doesn’t connect, for instance.

Now let’s all agree with my personal definitions and move along. Sound good?

7. Fan Flight Service

This tweet started a chain involving the TotalMLS crew because the fan attends the home opener most years despite not living in the area. Unfortunately, the New England Revolution vs. Orlando City game was postponed preemptively due to weather. Credit to TotalMLS publicizing this and credit to the Revolution and their ownership who offered to fly the fan out for the real home opener.

Simple, classy, and a good overall story.

  1. I’m having trouble sourcing this, I’ll keep looking but it’s entirely possible this was in one of various print books I’ve read. 

About the author: Colby Rogers

Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.