Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook

MLS Rewind: Vieira the tinkerer + Team & Player(s) of the Week

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VIEIRA IS THE IDEAL COACH, IN THEORY

If you’re a soccer fan — or a fan of any sport, really — what’s the no. 1 trait you want the head coach of your favorite team to possess? Beyond a genius-level IQ, it’s adaptability. As a fan, there’s nothing more frustrating than a thick-headed, inflexible coach who trots out the same tired gameplan week after week after week, despite a wealth of evidence that screams out, “It doesn’t work, dummy, try something else,” but of course, he’s too stubborn to do so.

[ MORE: Check out previous editions in the MLS Rewind archive ]

Major League Soccer – Week 2

Result Recap & Highlights
Orlando 1-1 Chicago Recap, watch here
NE Revs 0-0 DCU Recap, watch here
Impact 3-0 Red Bulls Recap, watch here
RSL 2-1 Sounders Recap, watch here
Rapids 1-0 Galaxy Recap, watch here
Crew SC 1-2 Union Recap, watch here
Dynamo 5-0 FCD Recap, watch here
SKC 2-1 Whitecaps Recap, watch here
NYCFC 2-2 TFC Recap, watch here
Quakes 2-1 Timbers Recap, watch here

Two games into his first gig as a first-team boss, New York City FC head coach Patrick Vieira is anything but stubborn. In fact, he’s proven to be a fairly resourceful, clever tactical tinkerer. A quick look at NYCFC’s roster indicates a wealth of quality in central midfield (Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara, Federico Bravo, Mix Diskerud, Frank Lampard and Kwadwo Poku), which is great in any league in the world not named Major League Soccer, but given MLS’s strict roster and salary rules, possessing that kind of depth in one area of the field can mean but one thing: you’re going to come up wildly short in another area, and true to form, NYCFC are totally devoid of any kind of quality wide players.

So what did Vieira do during Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Toronto FC to get the most out of what he has? He started two-thirds of the above listed six players (Lampard is currently out injured, while Poku was a healthy scratch) in a four-man central midfield (call it a 3-6-1, or an old-school W-M) on the teeny-tiny, narrow field at Yankee Stadium. Who needs wide players when the field might or might not meet FIFA and MLS’s mandatory minimum width of 70 yards? Dummies, that’s who.

With Bravo playing the role of destroyer next to Pirlo, the Italian maestro had by far his best game since signing for the Bronx outfit last summer (106 touches, 84 passes attempted at an 81 percent completion rate, three key passes and a should-have-been assist on an absolute peach of an over-the-top ball); Diskerud and McNamara were clever in their interplay (they also pressed incredibly well, far up the field) underneath David Villa, who led the line just as you’d expect a World Cup and two-time European Championship winner to do.

In short, it was functional; it was effective; and more than anything, it was a joy to watch. TFC were genuinely caught off guard by such an unexpected tactical wrinkle, and it took them more than an hour to crack the code an produce anything of merit from open play. Sure, Vieira won’t catch anyone by surprise the next time he throws out the four-man central midfield, but Sunday’s tactical deviation served a valuable lesson for all: let us not be afraid of new coaches with new ideas coming to MLS, for it’s those ideas that might just set them apart and on the pathway to success. In theory, Vieira’s everything you want your coach to be — adaptable, idealistic, and far from afraid to buck any trend.

David Villa, New York City FC (Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook)
(Photo credit: New York City FC / Facebook)

TEAM OF THE WEEK

Goalkeeper: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

MLS Goalkeeper

Defenders: Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Victor Cabrera (Montreal Impact), Jose Goncalves (New England Revolution)

MLS Defenders

Midfielders: Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Marcelo Sarvas (D.C. United), Calum Mallace (Montreal Impact)

MLS Midfielders

Forwards: Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Andrew Wenger (Houston Dynamo)

MLS Forwards


(CO-)PLAYER(S) OF THE WEEK

Dom Dwyer and Chris Pontius are my choices for co-Players of the Week, for two very different reasons — their two-goal performances in 2-1 victories for their respective teams aside.

Dwyer bagged 22 goals in league play in 2014 before falling back to earth in 2015, when he scored just 12. This year, Dwyer intends to break the all-time league record by scoring 30 goals. Nos. 1 and 2 came Saturday night as Sporting KC knocked off the Vancouver Whitecaps, last year’s Western Conference regular season runners-up, thanks to Dwyer’s first-half brace. If nothing else, I needed an excuse to post his opening golazo one more time.

Pontius’ last brace in league play was nearly four years ago — June 24, 2012 — thanks in large part to a rash of injuries that limited him to just 51 appearances over his final three seasons with D.C. United (6 goals, 4 assists combined). The season prior, 2012, he bagged 12 goals and four assists en route to his first (and only) MLS Best XI selection. It’s been a long road back to relevance for Pontius, but he looked healthy as ever in Saturday’s 2-1 away win over Columbus Crew SC. Here’s to Pontius’ name appearing in many more MLS Rewind columns this season.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”