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MLS Power Rankings Week 4: Vancouver remains steady, Harry Shipp makes another case for caps, FIFA dates impact lineups

By Liviu Bird
March 30, 2015

Despite most leagues around the world taking a break during the FIFA international window, Major League Soccer played on to finish the first month of the 2015 season last week.

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Four teams won their first matches, as Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire got off the mark. The same number remain without a win, with the Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union, Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers still searching.

At the same time, no teams with perfect records remain. A drab draw against the Seattle Sounders kept FC Dallas undefeated, but its three-game winning streak ended.

Here are some thoughts on the Week 4 slate of games to close out March:

What makes the Whitecaps dangerous? 

Manager Carl Robinson’s tactical plan takes into account the team’s strengths but is practical enough to succeed in MLS: a disciplined defense with big men in the center, speedy wingers and supporting fullbacks and a complete forward in newcomer Octavio Rivero. With all this in mind, Vancouver’s most dangerous aspect is its speed in transition from defense to attack.

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After regaining possession, the Whitecaps go forward quickly in an exciting style that showcases its choreography and repetition on the training ground.

It’s not likely that the Vancouver attack will fizzle as long as it can play this way, but it will be interesting to see what happens when it meets a team that holds numbers back and tries to play on the counterattack itself.

The Whitecaps likely have the tools to control the majority of possession, which they have not done yet this year except for a narrow advantage in their only loss, against Toronto FC on the first day of the season. They haven’t had to do that yet and likely won’t for at least three matches, until they play the San Jose Earthquakes in mid-April.

Excitement doesn’t always equal quality 

The flip side to the Whitecaps’ style of play is the chaotic, back-and-forth slugfest that occurs when neither team really knows how to control a match. This is often the problem in leagues with more physical reputations, such as the majority of the Premier League and most teams in MLS.

For every carefully plotted match such as Vancouver-Portland or the New York Red Bulls’ well-executed high-pressure system against the possession-oriented Columbus Crew, ugly games stand out as well.

Despite all four goals in a 16-minute span, Montreal’s 2-2 draw against Orlando City SC lacked true quality, except for Kaká pulling the strings in midfield.

South of Quebec, New York City FC and Kansas City battled via launched balls and long throws on a small field. Kansas City specifically prepared for Yankee Stadium’s constraints by training on a small field, and Matt Besler launched all four of SKC’s throw-ins in the attacking third into the penalty area, including on Ike Opara’s game-winning goal.

It might be an effective way to win, but such a style won’t win MLS many plaudits from fans of high-quality European leagues who are yet to embrace the American game.

MLS’s insistence on playing through FIFA dates is at least partly to blame 

Injuries and international duty took their toll across all league matches in an unfortunate double-jeopardy situation. Saturday saw the first match in MLS history with zero shots on target from both teams as Dallas and Seattle played to a goalless draw with both missing key men.

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Besides the senior national teams, both the under-20 and under-23 U.S. national teams are in camp, further depleting MLS rosters as they prepare for a World Cup and Olympic qualification.

It’s amazing the league continues to play through FIFA dates established well in advance, especially since there have been no league games in midweek so far and only three total are scheduled through April.

At least regular starters missing out means that overlooked young players get opportunities to play at the professional level, sometimes for the first time. Those chances would be even more valuable if they were earned and commenced while squads were at full strength, but at least rookies had a chance to plant a seed in their coaches’ minds that they are up to the task at the MLS level.

How is Harry Shipp uncapped at all levels?

The second-year Chicago Fire pro is one who should’ve been missing this week through international call-up, but he hasn’t received a call from the U.S. in any age group. The closest he has come to a serious accolade was at Notre Dame, when he was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy.

He contended for Rookie of the Year honors in 2014 but fell short in voting again. Shipp’s diminutive 5-foot-9, 145-pound stature doesn’t make him stand out, but it also forced him to become a student of the game who works through problems with his brain rather than brute force.

As a result, he “sees the game a little differently than most,” as Chicago coach Frank Yallop put it after the Fire’s 1-0 win on Sunday. Shipp boasts a superior soccer IQ that has seen him become Chicago’s most valuable playmaker despite being in just his second season. He’s also a player who should be on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar.

Week 4 Best XI

GOALKEEPER: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

DEFENDERS: Chris Tierney (New England Revolution), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Ike Opara (Sporting Kansas City), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)

MIDFIELDERS: Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Michel (FC Dallas), Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake), Harry Shipp (Chicago Fire)

FORWARDS: Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)

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