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The Morning Rekrap: June 24, 2017

Let’s talk about Pablo Mastroeni and about who is talking about him

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to something new at DSS. In an effort to bring a daily post like the irreplaceable Daily Dirt I’ll be posting a new daily, or as close to daily as possible, morning column. There will be different things in it like links to articles I think are interesting, my own hot takes, take downs of other garbage hot takes, and just general over-indulgent and self-important diatribes. This one is pretty long, they won’t all be like that, like I said over-indulgent. At the very least it should be entertaining, but if you don’t like it I didn’t say it would be good and it’s your fault for reading it (that’s a joke).

Anyway, consider this the first installment of it and part two of the What to Watch For that I promised yesterday.

I want to win this game...

The Colorado Rapids are everything that is wrong with MLS. The league is built to bring exciting attacking players into it with the designated player rule. Rather than do that and try to play with an attacking mindset the team plays a turgid style of soccer as advocated by their manager. Pablo Mastroeni may be many things. He’s what passes for a U.S. Men’s National Team quasi-legend, a haver of good fashion sense, and a hater of math. Here’s what he’s not: he’s not a soccer coach.

The point of soccer is to score goals and the way to do that is to get the ball and put it in the net, Pablo Mastroeni coaches the team like he hates goals and he hates the ball. Colorado plays with a lot of players behind the ball and tries to stay compact on defense, there isn’t much more to it than that.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t coaches and teams that play defensive soccer and that every one of them falls into this category. Diego Simeone has made two Champions League Finals and won La Liga by being compact, but there is more to it than that. As Billy Haisley (I know, but between trash posts he’s got an amazing mind for tactics) points out, Atletico Madrid presses all over the pitch and invites players to pass into certain areas, as ESPN points out, so they can cause turnovers rather than retreating into a shell to absorb pressure and launch the ball 80 yards from their goal whenever they manage an interception like the Rapids. The statistical result of this is that Atletico allows poor quality shots when it concedes chances at all. This is a real soccer tactic, it is not the same as parking the bus like Colorado does.

And about Pablo’s defensive philosophy: In four years with Pablo Mastroeni managing the Rapids, their goal difference is negative 29 and he has losing record of 37-48-42. It is one thing to say a defensive style of soccer is effective and shouldn’t be criticized if it gets results, but Mastroeni isn’t getting them and his team isn’t even playing the defensive soccer that he promises if they can’t keep the ball out of the net.

Pay no attention to that, Colorado excels at ‘Human Spirit’

If Mastroeni’s tactics are dull on the field, off of it he’s a human Thunderdome of excitement. Anytime anyone points out that his tactics are lacking and he’s been lashing out. It is super entertaining, and he’s been defending his strategy as ineffectively as his players defend their goal on game day.

For example, after winning their fourth game of the year 1-0 to rise to last place in the Western Conference on a header from a set piece (or put another way a play he couldn’t have coached his team to make if it was all they did in training) he was asked about possession, and said this:

Which was such an amazing statement that it led world class hyperbole machine Kurt Larson to write this: “What’s wrong with that? I prefer Mastroeni’s take to the usual alternative: Losing managers grandstanding postgame about “being the better team” amid erroneously citing in-game analytics to bolster their arguments” about a coach who has led his team to one last place finish and one second to last place finish in the Western Conference and is on his way to falling a full 10 places in the table in one season.

Amazingly, Larson only uses the Rapids record from 2016 to cite how good they are rather than the overwhelmingly poor quality of soccer the team played in 2014, 2015, and so far in 2017 which have them at the bottom of the table to support his points. This is using selective evidence to create confirmation bias at it’s worst. Furthermore, there might be problems with analytics but quoting unnamed ‘gurus’ about how statistics can be misleading and building an argument off of a failmaster of a coach like Mastroeni isn’t the mountain to die on in making it.

Not only is the selective use of data egregious, but there’s unwarranted speculation and false information in here also. I give you the piece de resistance of the take: “Furthermore, the advanced stats we see every day are five years behind models that top experts within the field currently analyze, they said. Perhaps these best practices haven’t reached every MLS club — which could explain Mastroeni’s reluctance to concede the long-term relevance of data analysis within the sport.” Really?

The first sentence is misleading and implies that MLS teams are using bad data methods, which they aren’t - the league has an analytics deal with Opta which wouldn’t be one of the best data firms in the world and have other deals with World Cup winning national teams, clubs appearing in the Champions League Final, or sides taking the Premier League title if their analytics were five years behind anything.

The data is there, it is good, teams that use it are successful, whether MLS sides are using it and why they are or aren’t is another issue. It is also one that Larson never explains, or does any research on that he cites, choosing instead to use conjecture to make his point. If the media wants to see soccer improve in MLS, validating a tactical philistine like Mastronei with spurious logic and bad evidence isn’t the way to do it (I couldn’t imagine what Larson would say in the Sun if TFC was in last place and Greg Vanney lectured a reporter about how his failing tactics panned out for once, but it is really entertaining to think about).

Luckily Pablo wasn’t done. After beating Portland last weekend to rise to last place in the Western Conference on an 89th minute header from Alan Gordon (again a play that a coach could be only be credited with by telling his team to kick the ball at the tall guy) Mastroeni said this about things like having the ball and taking shots: “If all those other stats are so critical and so important, then why don’t we just change the game and make those stats decide who wins the game?" Mastroeni asked with a chuckle. "The last time I checked the only stat that counts is the first one on the score sheet, the score of the game.”’

On Wednesday night the only stat that counted was the one that Colorado hasn’t been on top of for most of 2017, the final score. LA Galaxy II fixture Jack McBean, a backup who hadn’t scored all year, led the California team with a brace. Tim Howard’s Human Spirit failed him when he came too far out of his goal and was chipped for the first goal. The second came when Mike da Fonte couldn’t muster the Human Spirit to head clear a ball and LA, in an effort to win the possession that Mastroeni so often says is irrelevant, won a turnover thanks to their high press and McBean slid the ball past Howard yet again.

Apparently against LA the Human Spirit was willing but the flesh is unable to play cohesively on defense or create and finish chances in the attack. What I’m trying to say is I hope Atlanta holds 100% of the possession on Saturday, hangs a bunch of goals against Colorado’s trash defense, and gets back above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference as we reach the midway point in the season.