What did we learn from MLS in March?


By Tony Edwards - San Jose, CA (Mar 27, 2014) US Soccer Players - We’re a month into the MLS regular season and there’s more questions for most teams than answers. In the first month, all of the MLS teams exited the Champions League. Teams opted to ‘rest’ players from artificial turf. There were fewer lopsided scores than might be expected. Maybe it’s that defense is ahead of the offense or that bad weather and field conditions have been overly influential. Still, it’s time for teams to start answering questions rather than creating more for themselves.

What was the story of this weekend in MLS?

The story wasn’t just own goals and red cards, it was teams that beat themselves. Or, at least gave their opponents opportunity to win. For all my complaining about teams that play not to entertain, you think this would at least entail knowing how to kill a game.

Four games in (and three of them at home) Seattle looks like this week’s biggest question. We can all cite injuries, suspensions, a new backline, experienced players who should know better, the rain, the turf, the officials, and so on endlessly. This remains a team that is still struggling to find itself and now faces road games in Portland and Dallas on the next two weekends.

That is, if the Red Bulls aren’t the bigger question. Their vaunted ‘consistency’ in the offseason doesn’t appear to be translating into points in the early season.

Every team is going to have games like Toronto had last weekend. If it’s a one-time thing, then there is no shame in losing to RSL in Salt Lake. The problem in the past with Toronto, of course, is that it’s never been a one-time thing.

Four games in, some teams have an idea what their best team on the field is (Columbus, Dallas, Vancouver, Toronto, and Salt Lake for instance) and then there’s most of the rest of MLS who are still working that out.

What’s up with the home team listed second on at least a couple of MLS broadcasts this weekend?

On both the Seattle - Columbus and San Jose - New England games, the score at the top of the screen had the visiting team first and the home team second. It's as if it was a baseball game and the Earthquakes had last at bat. On the MLS website, the home team is either first or on top.

Hey, maybe it's a little thing and not even worth mentioning. However, we’re 19 seasons in and at this point shouldn't it be safe to assume best practices? Do broadcast partners need telling that, at least in soccer, it's home team first. We’re asking why games in many markets aren’t in high definition. We’re often asking why we can’t get some analysis during games beyond ‘they need to play with more energy.’ We’re not expecting an NFL-type production and broadcast. How about something better than the constant one side of the field camera angle and slow motion replays of goal celebrations.

How many shots (total) did Houston’s Giles Barnes take this weekend?

According to Whoscored.com, he took seven shots during Houston’s loss to Vancouver without scoring. Of course, Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio took nine and scored. Keeping the seven theme going, USMNT player Michael Bradley had the same number of ‘key passes’ in his team’s loss to Salt Lake according to the same website. Three players, Kyle Beckerman, Will Trapp, and Federico Higuaín, are averaging more than 70 passes per game.

By and of themselves, those don’t mean anything. But as the next question shows, having two Columbus players in the top three of completed passes does suggest something.

Are ‘black and gold’ the new green?

Portland was the team that came from out of the playoffs the year before to impose its style on MLS last season. Columbus leads MLS in both short passes and long balls. They have three wins out of three tries and are playing attractive, varied soccer. What’s not to like?

Well, their road uniforms, for starters. Getting beyond design matters, Columbus is first in possession and first in pass accuracy.

As we bid March goodbye, which player has scored the most goals in March in MLS history?

According to the Earthquakes, Chris Wondolowski now has 11 goals during his career in March. He’s apparently the only player to reach double figures in goals scored during the month.

Tony Edwards is a soccer writer from the Bay Area.

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