I was actually on a trip this weekend and had cable TV access, so I watched the Sunderland-Hull and Manchester United-Arsenal games. It has been several years since I last watched a Premier League game when both Bolton and Aston Villa were still in the league (the Albany, NY public access station used to carry Bolton and Villa on 2 week tape delay if you can believe that.)
Both those Premier league games were terrible. And considering Bastian Schweinsteiger just publicly stated that the MLS is a few steps down from the German National Team, it got me really thinking about the differences between the EPL and MLS.
Difference #1: Teams in the MLS do not park the bus. The difference between the best team and the worst team is not tremendously big, so all teams take their chances, even playing on the road even though there is a large home-filed advantage in the MLS. At some level, this makes MLS games more fun to watch because they are more open.
Difference #2: Striker accuracy. It is amazing how clinical most finishers in the Premier league are. So many MLS teams create a great chance only to have the striker come up empty. You noticed the difference when Robbie Keane came to LA and he had that lethal quality. You see it today with David Villa, Bradley Wright-Philips, Sebastian Giovinco, and I am seeing it in Chicago with Nemanja Nikolic. These guys in a one-on-one are money in the bank (and sadly these are all imported European talent).
We really have two philosophies in the MLS today. There are teams who are built for the Supporter's Shield with depth to secure points throughout the long haul of the season. I would classify Portland, Dallas, Kansas City, DC United and perhaps Columbus in this group. What these teams really lack is that lethal striker. That means that on any given day in the play-offs, they may look great and get beaten. The other philosophy is to make sure you have that high-end talent that can win a game on its own. This is what NYCFC, LA, now Chicago, Red Bulls and Seattle have been pursuing. To be fair, Red Bulls and Seattle are a nice blend of both strategies.
Difference #3: Crossing accuracy. My biggest takeaway from the weekend was that Kamil Grosicki on lowly Hull City consistently made perfect crosses directly setting up an opportunity. Crossing in the MLS is notoriously bad, which is why it was such a pleasant surprise to see Miguel Ibarra (a young player the Timbers dropped and who has been toiling in the USL) make two perfect crosses in the same game as Minnesota surprisingly beat Kansas City 2-0. (I am also really glad they removed the painted Minnesota from the end zone making the game more watchable)
Other than these differences, however, I think you would have had a better time watching a typical MLS game compared to the Hull and Arsenal games on the weekend.
Other quick hits from around the league...all 3-0 victories are not equal. The Red Bulls looked like the better team despite losing to Philadelphia 3-0. Red Bulls are -5 on goal difference in their last two games, both on the road. The Timbers, however, were horrendously ineffective without Nagbe and Valeri in their advanced midfield and looked awful in a 3-0 defeat to San Jose. At some point they should have had Chara play as the #10. Check out Wondo's turn and perfectly placed shot here. Two goals and an assist in this game, 4 goals and 5 assists out of San Jose's 12 goals this season.
If Houston can get home field advantage in the play-offs, look out. They are 5-0-1 at home and 0-3-0 on the road. They defeated high flying Orlando 4-0 in a game they missed a penalty, two breakaways and hit a post. And all of this without their primary striker Cubo Torres. Normally I give the road team the benefit of the doubt because of the heat and humidity in Houston, but Orlando shouldn't really need that excuse. Houston really likes to run at space at speed, much like Atlanta. Teams really need to sit deep against these guys and not get suckered.
Most MLS teams are not handling two fixtures in a week very well. The Wednesday-Saturday with a plane trip is a real grind and is almost a sure thing to bet against the away team on Saturday in this scenario. And yet Toronto pulled off two wins from this scenario and just beat Houston, Orlando and away at Seattle in an 8 day stretch. They have to do it again this week away at Columbus tonight and home against Minnesota for 5 games in 16 days. I'm guessing they lose that game against Columbus.
Colorado have lost 5 games in a row. You know what that means. They will easily beat San Jose this weekend.
In other news, it appears that the Beckham group finally got what they needed to buy the last parcel of land in Overtown. And that means the Tampa Bay Rowdies are likely doomed to the USL forever.