We were eager to show-off our shiny new toys. We love something new to brag about in front of a big crowd. Problem with shiny new things is they rarely meet expectations.
At the start of the playoffs the most popular dark horse choices were the Colorado Rapids in the West and the New England Revolution in the East. Full of energy, young legs, and raw ability drove aspirations, even on veteran squads. Gyasi Zardes, Luis Gil, and Darlington Nabge were marked as X-factors. We know the ceiling on the stars and the flaws on the vets, soccer is a young man’s game and this league’s talent on a national stage will display the future of MLS. But, the story of the Eastern Semi-finals culminated with a pair of unlikely veterans carrying their clubs forward to face old foes.
Neither Omar Cummings nor Claudio Bieler ended the regular season in optimal positions. Cummings played a total of 49 minutes for the Houston Dynamo since his last start on July 6th, he produced five shots and zero goals over that time. In Sporting Kansas City’s final nine matches, Bieler started one game, subbed on in two others and became a causality of Peter Vermes quest to find an athlete to replace the void left by Kei Kamara. Not the faces you want to put in your next Adidas spot.
Houston’s substitution pattern during the semi-finals against the New York Red Bulls is a tell that Dominic Kinnear had a set plan for Cummings. In the first game he came in at 61st minute for Giles Barnes and at then again in the second leg at the 64th minute mark for Will Bruins. Kinnear had a plan to wear down the RBNY center backs with Bruin and Barnes then utilizing the 31-year-old Cummings’ speed to force the backline on their heels. It’s not a complex tactic, just a curious role to entrust to someone over thirty. At this point, however, Kinnear can do as he wishes in the playoffs, no need to second-guess him.
Bieler’s start from the bench was not part of the grand tactically scheme. Vermes choose a more youthful lineup on top and had little use for him. Bieler didn’t even appear in the first game. Without a goal for a forward or midfielder after more than 170 minutes and 60% plus possession in both games, Bieler was a final option. Bieler got himself to the right spot and in perfect position to score the series winner in extra time. It was not masterful athleticism or great talent but Bieler sat in space in the middle of the box and redirected a strong pass into the net. He made the right decision, it appears Vermes finally did as well, after many others had failed.
The one thing we learned from this playoff is coaches that know and trust their squad will likely succeed. Óscar Pareja and Marco Schällibaum didn’t know their best XI and got booted in the knockout round. Sigi Schmid was still unsure how to make the pieces fit after more than two months. Peter Vermes is the only coach to advance despite not having a set forward and midfield tactical alignment. However, it was Sporting’s backline and keeper that carried the team.
Do you want a reason why Sporting can’t beat Houston every year in the playoffs? Here’s one: Kinnear isn’t trying to find a something shiny and new to win a cup, he knows what he has, and how to win with it. Great coaches win with what they got, not with what they want.
THIS WEEK’S THROW-INS
My First Annual “I Don’t Get a Vote” Continues:
Chef of the Year: Caleb Porter – Portland Timbers
Cook of the Year: Mike Petke – New York Red Bulls
- Both coaches deserve credit for earning their conference’s top seed under two different circumstances. Portland installed Caleb Porter as coach with a full offseason to acquire players through the drafts and the winter transfer window. He implemented Porterball in Portland, leading to regular season success, and more importantly found the players that can do it in the professional game.
- Mike Petke become coach a few weeks before the Superdraft. It almost seems like the front office did it to appease fans by hiring an MLS-lifer, and Thierry Henry, who was pushing for post Backe. Petke was one bad result from being axed all season, he received little support from team executives and certain veteran players (former), such as Junihno. He survived the poor start, the annual summer slumped, and won their first major trophy in the team’s 18 years of existence.
Coccyx of the Year:
Mauro Rosales – Seattle Sounders
Carlo Cudicini – La Galaxy
Junihno – New York Red Bulls
Jorge Vergara – Chivas USA
- Appendix of the year is more accurate but Coccyx is simply a better word. This award goes to the most useless and expensive individual that should be(is) removed from MLS. Seattle is seeing why the Red Bulls had to cut ties with Junihno, both him and Rosales can(could) send in beautiful crosses from the flanks but are(were) total liabilities on defence. The Red Bulls thought Junihno could be their Brazilian Beckham, however both the club and Junihno under estimated the speed and physicality of the league. He became completely useless without the ball at his feet in space. Rosales is near that point and opponents are exploiting it. Cudicini was a nightmare behind a young backline. Jaime Penedo is not perfect by any means, nevertheless he’s not pulling a Willie Mays on the Mets the way Cudicini did. I find criticizing Toronto FC a more productive use of my time because it’s a professional MLS franchise, that is in comparison to Chivas USA. Do you know what Chivas USA is to this league? A mustard stain on a silk tie. American Football lines on a playoff pitch. A useless organ that is both expensive and painful it remove. Without legal action and assistance from the Player’s Union, I’m not sure what to do about the mess over in LA. Removal of Jorge Vergara from the second LA franchise will require extraordinary circumstances.
About the author:
Jay’s first memory of professional soccer was watching a flaming haired pirate in a blue shirt with white stars menace a golden shirt lion on the field of roses. Since then, he has followed the game from the cradle of US soccer, Northern Jersey. Tracking the progress of the sport in the states through the international team and Major League Soccer he has become a student of tactical football, the business of sports and the cultural impact of the game. Jay enjoys the view from the ivory tower but is not afraid to be in arm’s length of the ultras in the South Ward. You can follow Jay on Twitter @rescindedred.