Brad Davis: Set Piece Specialist

Of all the outfield players Jurgen Klinsmann brought to Brazil, Brad Davis may have had the least fanfare. John Brooks and Julian Green scored in their short times on the field, and Mix Diskerud has the continuing allure of youth. They have Bright Futures. Davis, at 32, played just 45 minutes at the World Cup: a scoreless first half against Germany, before returning home to a club he’s played for since 2006. He hasn’t been subject to transfer rumors or a designated player contract. It’s time to give him his due.

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Pressing Concerns in Kansas City

When Sporting Kansas City won the MLS Cup last year, it culminated a franchise turnaround that began in earnest three years earlier. After the 2010 season, the Wizards exchanged their name and minor-league ballpark for a brand and stadium that more befitted modern MLS. They began to sell out Sporting Park (regularly, for the first time in franchise history), and on the field they leapt to the top of the Eastern conference. Last year’s title, celebrated in their fancy new stadium put a neat bow on the revival story.

More practically, though, a name and a stadium can’t win trophies. The MLS Cup was lifted on the shoulders of the league’s best defense. In 2013, as in 2012, Sporting allowed the fewest goals in MLS. The center back partnership of Aurelien Collin and Kansas-bred Matt Besler deserve credit for that, but defense starts at the top in KC. Former Wizards player Peter Vermes has instituted a high-pressure system that seeks to snuff out attacks long before they get to the back line. They starve teams of possession and force their opponents to make mistakes. It’s a very attacking way to play defense.

But perhaps cracks are starting to appear. SKC enters tonight’s game against Chivas USA riding a four-game losing streak, their longest since before Sporting Park opened. They’ve allowed 11 goals in that span, almost a third of their season’s total. What’s going wrong in Kansas City?

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Diego Valeri: The Creator

Everyone knows that three goals in a game is a hat trick. What do you call three assists in a game? A shoe trick? I don’t know. Anyways, Diego Valeri notched three assists on Sunday against San Jose. Only three other MLS players have managed that feat this year, and Valeri is the only one to do so twice. The fact that the Timbers didn’t win in either match says a lot about their frustrating year, but that shouldn’t diminish Valeri’s contribution. He leads MLS with 83 chances created, and his 12 assists are behind only Landon Donovan. He is the biggest reason why the Timbers have one of the league’s most exciting attacks.

Words don’t quite do justice to Valeri’s ability, so I’ll step side and let these GIFs speak:

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Lee Nguyen: Overlook at Your Peril

The New England Revolution have played all of one game on national television this year: a 1-1 draw against Chicago back in April. Compare that to say, the Red Bulls, who are currently in the midst of seven straight games being played on either ESPN or NBCSN. There are a couple reasons for this, but the end result is that the average fan isn’t very familiar with the team that currently sits third in the east. The recent signing of Jermaine Jones is by far the most recognizable name on the Revs, but there’s a lot of talent in Foxboro.

Perhaps the most important player for New England is Lee Nguyen. Born in Texas, Nguyen went to Indiana University for a season (like San Jose youngster Tommy Thompson), but began his professional career in the Netherlands. Unable to get much playing time for PSV, he moved to Denmark and then Vietnam before popping up in MLS with the Revolution in 2012. After a pair of solid seasons, Nguyen has emerged as a scoring threat this year with 12 goals, the most of any midfielder in the league. It’s time for us—and maybe Jurgen Klinsmann—to take a look at Foxboro and Lee Nguyen.

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DeAndre Yedlin: The Double-Edged Sword

Jonathan Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid, wrote in 2009 that fullback is the most important position in soccer. This importance is the result of a couple trends in tactics. He writes: “as the gradual move to a single striker has led to a return to a back four, the full-back has again taken on attacking importance.” Furthermore, with true wingers becoming rare, “the full-backs are the only players on the field who regularly have space in front of them.” Michael Cox included the rise of attacking fullbacks as one of the 10 biggest tactical shifts of the 2000s. The tiki-taka tyranny of Barcelona and Spain highlighted the significance of central midfielders, but even that system relied on fullbacks like Jordi Alba providing width.

DeAndre Yedlin reflects the recent ambiguity of the fullback role.  He starts at right back for the Seattle Sounders, but there are few who would describe defending as the best aspect of his game. A few months ago, he made a name for himself at the World Cup appearing largely as a midfielder, not a fullback. In that midfield role, he was a key part of the build up in the USMNT’s second goal against Portugal. In the aftermath of Brazil, he was the subject of speculation and bidding from several European clubs, and eventually a deal was agreed to sell him to Tottenham Hotspur. But at the moment he is still in Seattle, still playing right back, and it’s worth taking a look at how he fills that role.

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Gyasi Zardes: The Right Place at the Right Time

If you took away penalties, the Major League Soccer golden boot race would look like this:

  1. Bradley Wright Phillips, 16
  2. Robbie Keane, 12
  3. Gyasi Zardes, 10 (Tied)

You read that right: only two players have scored more non-penalty goals in MLS this year than 22-year-old Gyasi Zardes of the LA Galaxy. Like Tommy Thompson and Wil Trapp, Zardes is a homegrown player, a product of MLS’s academy system. Given that, it’s surprising we don’t talk more about Zardes. Let’s change that.

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Tommy Thompson: A Bright Spot in San Jose

The San Jose Earthquakes are in eighth place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference. With 11 games remaining in the season, it’s not inconceivable that they could erase the 8-point gap between them and the final playoff spot, but things are looking bleak. Their big summer signing, Matias Perez Garcia, scored in his debut, but has since undergone knee surgery. Having long ago exited the US Open Cup, 2014 is looking like a lost season for the Quakes.

Sometimes, however, good things are discovered during lost seasons. Due in part to injuries, the Earthquakes have called on their first-ever homegrown player, Tommy Thompson. The son of Gregg Thompson, who made twelve appearances for the USMNT in the 1980s, Tommy played for the Earthquakes Academy before going to Indiana University, where he was the leading scorer his freshman year. He turned 19 on August 15th, and has gotten his first two MLS starts in San Jose’s last two games. It’s far too early to make bold predictions on his future, but from what he’s shown  so far, the youngster is worth keeping an eye on.

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Thierry Henry: Second-Half Showcase

The New York Red Bulls entered Saturday night with a slim hold on the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Just one point kept them above both the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution. A home game against the last-place Montreal Impact seemed like a good opportunity for New York to at least maintain their hold on fifth. Despite creating several chances early on, the Red Bulls went into half trailing by a goal. After the break, 36-year-old Thierry Henry took over. What you’re about to see is a 25-minute clinic on putting the ball into dangerous territory. There’s not much I can add to these gifs, so I’ll keep my commentary limited.

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The Object of the Game: New England vs. Portland

It is no secret that soccer is a low scoring game. Over the course of 90 minutes, the modern game  And so while goals may be the point of the game, you cannot boil a game down to its goals. There is so much more that takes place than the ball hitting the net, and that is important. Each match has its own flow and shape, and the goals that are scored largely occur within that frame. The majority of possessions, the majority of chances do not result in goals. But the game typically belongs to the side that can create more, better chances. A manager can’t score goals for his team, but he can put his players in the best spaces to do so.

On Saturday night, the Portland Timbers traveled across the country to face the New England Revolution. Both teams find themselves on the outside of the playoff spots in MLS, so both were looking for three points. The game finished 1-1, but that’s an oversimplification of what actually happened. Here’s how that result came to be.
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Anatomy of a Midfielder

The case could be made that Michael Bradley is currently the best American soccer player. At 27, he has played in two World Cups, and seemingly half the countries of NATO. US, Netherlands, Germany, England, Italy, Canada. That last stop was a stunner; an announcement that Toronto FC means business, and that Major League Soccer can provide a home for American talent even in their prime.

Wil Trapp is six years younger, but his future is bright. He played in last summer’s U20 World Cup, and with the age of Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, he might find a spot in the senior team before too long. For now, he can be found patrolling the midfield for the Columbus Crew.

On Saturday night, Bradley’s Toronto FC traveled to Columbus to take on Trapp and the Crew. I thought it would be interesting to see how some of America’s best midfield talent did.

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