MLS at mid-season: Staff discussion on Coach, Newcomer of Year

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Richard, Noah and I continue our MLS at mid-season discussion.

We covered MVP and Rookie of the Year earlier.

Fortified with snacks, on we go …

Steve Davis: I have to say, Coach of the Year is turning out be the hardest choice since I had to pick between the nerdy-adorable girl and the drill teamer as my U2 concert date in high school.

I’d say Ben Olsen deserves some Coach o’ Year thought. So does Frank Yallop, clearly. But Martin Rennie is killing it at BC Place. And good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, Hans Backe’s team is almost beautiful, never mind that his locker room doubles as a triage staging area.

Richard Farley: I think Robert Warzycha deserves some consideration, too. His team’s tied for the best GAA, though the pace they play at probably has something to do with that (as does some awesome play from his goalkeeper). Still, it’s not like he has a ton to work with there.

That said, I like Olsen. He’s making us forget all the questions that surrounded D.C. coming into the season. He’s got the defense under control, he’s dealt with the lack of production from some big ticket items, and look at what he’s gotten out of Pontius and Santos?

That said, I feel like I’m underselling Rennie a bit. And aren’t I supposed to be the West Coast guy?

Noah Davis: I’ll take up the Rennie torch. The Whitecaps were terrible last year, finishing 18th out of, you know, 18, giving up 55 goals while scoring a league-low 35. Fast forward, and they are third in the Western Conference, sixth overall, and well-positioned for the playoffs. BC Place (5-1-3) is a fortress. There’s some turnover in the roster, but not that much. Rennie deserves credit for building a band of castoffs, misfits, goofballs, and, yes, genuine talents into a formidable squad. (As does director of soccer operations, Tom Soehn, for the changes he’s made and the picks he’s selected. Darren Mattocks is looking more and more like a superstar in the making.) If Rennie can successfully incorporate DP Barry Robson into the mix, he has my vote.

Steve Davis: Ok, Bruce Arena it is. Let’s move on.

I can’t remember, is Breakout Player an award? Well, we’re no slave to The Man … by gosh, let’s make it one. Power to the ProSoccerTalk people! I’ll take Michael Farfan from Philly.

Noah Davis: I’ll take Andy Gruenebaum. Guy deserves a trip to Philly.

Steve Davis: Maybe All-Stars coach Ben Olsen will make him a “coach’s choice” and bring him in a couple of weeks.

Hmmm. I’m getting weird looks from Richard, which either means I’m getting too much orange Cheeto substance on our official ballots or he wants to move on to Newcomer of the Year. Or that he is super PO’ed about my Bruce Arena funny.

source: Getty Images

Steve Davis: So … Newcomer of the Year: I suppose we have to leave some room for consideration over Alessandro Nesta, Barry Robson, Oscar Boniek Garcia and other summer signings. But I’m measuring up Victor Bernardez for a ProSoccerTalk Newcomer of the Year t-shirt. San Jose “D” is a such a lesser beast without him.

This is where Merritt Paulson stalks us on Twitter with talk of Kris Boyd’s huge second-half ahead, but we’ll see.

Richard Farley: Kris Boyd’s got to be a whole different discussion, but Bernardez? My notes from Tuesday game were crazy. I have this shorthand I use for effective headers: H+. Within 30 minutes, Bernardez had 6-7 H+’s by his name (going up against Boyd, incidentally). I said to my running mate, “Troy Perkins needs to start avoiding Bernardez.” I wish I’d been more clever.

Alright, Steve. As long as you put a bunch of “H+” stickers down those sleeves like they’re Ohio State buckeyes, I’m on board with Bernardez being back on top come game 34 …

Either him or Frank Lampard. I mean, why would a guy want to stay with a team he just helped lead to a Champions League?

Steve Davis: Well, Noah just said something about rehearsal for his Pearl Jam cover band starting early and went running out of the room.  …

So, I’ll see if I can get Hans Backe on the phone to fill out the rest of Noah’s ballot. Or, maybe we’ll just put down New England’s Saer Sene (8 goals, 15 games … not bad) for him and table the last discussions until tomorrow.

Richard, please text Noah and ask him to think up some choices for Defender of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and maybe some wild cards, like biggest disappointment or favorite Honduran or something.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

‘ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.

Report: Crystal Palace to build new stadium

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Crystal Palace may have a new home in the next few years.

That’s according to reports out of English, which state that Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish is set to make a major stadium announcement before Christmas.

Crystal Palace’s home stadium, Selhurst Park, is nearly 100 years old, and the club has looked over the last few years at either new locations for a stadium in South London or ways to renovate the current ground.

“When I came into this thing, the aim was to bring something for all of us to be proud of on the pitch and very importantly off the pitch,” Parish told the Croydon Advertiser. “We want to give everybody in Croydon a south London stadium that we can all be proud of and not lose our atmosphere and uniqueness.

“That’s a dream for me, a lifelong dream and one that hopefully everybody will share when they see what we’ve put together. It’s fantastically exciting times for us to look forward to.”

Unlike in America, where many sports owners demand a new stadium every 20-25 years or so, in England, there are many stadiums still in use across the Football League and Premier League that were initially built in the 1800s.

It’s unclear who would pay for a new Crystal Palace stadium, what it would look like and how many seats it would hold, but perhaps a new stadium and facility could help

FOLLOW LIVE – MLS Conference Finals, Leg 1

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There’s never been more on the line in the latest Trilliam Cup matchup.

For the first time, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs, kicking off at 8:00 p.m., with both teams taking different paths to the Eastern Conference finals.

Toronto FC battled the New York Red Bulls to win on away goals, after a 2-1 win in Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but tempers flared and the Supporters Shield winners will be without both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore on Tuesday night. The Crew meanwhile survived an incredible 120 minutes at Atlanta United to win in a shootout, and then carried that momentum into a 4-3 aggregate victory over New York City FC.

[FOLLOW: MLS Conference Finals Play-by-Play]

Now, with the Crew’s status in Columbus still up in the air, Crew fans have one chance to pack MAPFRE Stadium to support their team and prove to the league they can support an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the upstart Houston Dynamo host a sold-out crowd as the defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders visit, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m.

The Dynamo stunned the injury-riddled Portland Timbers in the last round and the Dynamo has lost just once at home in MLS action this calendar year. On the other side, the Sounders are getting a major boost, with Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris close to returning, either in this game or next week, and Clint Dempsey remains fit and raring to go back in his home state.

Follow all the action from tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchups.