MLS Weekly, Week 1: Process First, Knowledge Later

Jeff Bull rounds up week 1 in MLS, including five featured games, and discusses The Process and how it will work over a long season.

Forward Fanendo Adi (9) plays a through ball during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington. Credit: Noah Riffe

Welcome to this inaugural Major League Soccer Weekly, featuring MLS Week 1. (For the record, I recommend you stop counting the weeks on MLS’s terms, because that’s the path to madness and bad math.) I’ll be putting these up once a week, every week from now till the end of 2019. I plan to post them on Tuesday, with a swing to Wednesday whenever vacation or maybe a really powerful distraction or a hangover of the same magnitude keeps me from it.

To introduce how I follow and talk about MLS, I mostly track results from week to week. I put up a post on Conifers & Citrus (my home site) that, 1) explains how this personal tracking system works, and 2) sets down placeholders on how I see every team at the start of the 2019 season. How sound is The Process? Relying as it does on cumulative and imprecise data – e.g., all the games played in MLS every week, and over several weeks – it does take a while to come around. All the obsessive bean-counting doesn’t really pay off till the middle of the season, but it becomes a surprisingly robust indicator when it does, and it measures more details than you’d expect. I’ll stop explaining at this point, mostly because I don’t think I can explain how it works any better than that. We do, however, have one week of data and that’s where the whole thing starts.

Until the sweet, sweet data rolls in, anyone tracking the game is relying on assumptions and reputations, your host very much included. Explaining why one result or another didn’t make my weekly top five feels like the most clarifying way to show The Process in action. Here goes.

All of the 1-1 draws from the weekend don’t really tell you anything because they all more or less make sense – in no particular order: there’s nothing shocking about two middling Western Conference teams drawing, regardless of venue (that’s Houston Dynamo 1-1 Real Salt Lake), or one good team drawing an arguably better team at home (that’s Columbus Crew SC 1-1 New York Red Bulls; tho I heard the Red Bulls played their kids), and, finally, mystery meat is mystery meat, even when it’s made from different animals (that’s FC Dallas 1-1 New England Revolution). Moving on, nothing is more unremarkable than the San Jose Earthquakes losing, especially to a sneaky-sh*t team like the Montreal Impact, and, finally, I posted extended comments on both the Colorado Rapids v. Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC v. FC Cincinnati on Conifers & Citrus because those are my two teams in MLS, except for all the other ones. (Kidding, I’m not that poly; on the other hand, full disclosure, I have soft spots for the Red Bulls, Sporting Kansas City, and Real Salt Lake; also, Minnesota United FC and the Philadelphia Union, underdogs, basically, just not from Florida). With that out of the way, let’s dig into this week’s five featured games, listed in the order they caught my eye…

…also, don’t worry, the preambles will shorten. Swear to all the gods I’ve ever ignored.


Philadelphia Union 1-3 Toronto FC

My God, I’m glad I’m watching the 20-minute mini-games (hereafter, “20-minute-minis”), because that 1-3 home loss for Philly telegraphed as an S.O.S. After going down two goals (more later*), the Union pulled one back from the spot through Marco Fabian (good call, too), and had some real chances down the stretch – including a ball that looked(?) like(?) it rolled over the line (watch the 20-minute-mini and judge for yourself). They also out-shot TFC by a fair stretch and, judging by the box score, they’ll continue to take a possession approach (503 passes), despite switching to a 4-4-2 diamond that sees them press here and there. That said (and speaking of which), * Philly allowed two goals courtesy of their midfielders utterly failing to track runs (that’s runs, plural), especially a pair by Michael Bradley, who translated those two gifts into a brace (Gift 1 and Gift 2). Sure, the Union’s young defense dropped too deep, then ball-watched on both of Bradley’s goals, but, if you watch those goals and you’ll see a midfield leave its back-four for dead. As for TFC, they have a couple happy thoughts. First, their depth came through – e.g., Jordan Hamilton (sort of) at forward, and new kid Nick DeLeon (from DC) as one of two attacking midfielders with Jonathan Osorio. Toronto has a new high-profile midfielder coming, and Jozy Altidore will surely return, so their starting days are likely numbered, but good outing for DeLeon, especially, who was both active and useful out there (noted). TFC’s second edge was attacking efficiency; Philly out-shot them by multiples, but TFC put more shots on goal…and scored more goals, obviously. Better looks allowed that. So, file away those details, and check for recurrences.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2-3 Minnesota United FC

The first thing I heard about this game came from Bruce McGuire, indie-soccer-writer legend (see, du nord), when he complained about Minnesota’s set-piece defending by listing the professional minutes played by all the players in Minnesota’s defense. Vancouver’s 2nd goal was a “team debacle” (hey! we all blew it!), but everyone except Romain Metanire and Francisco Calvo escape blame for Vancouver’s first (and yet they, and new ‘keeper Vito Mannone, still blew it very, very badly). On the one hand, it’s an odd gripe; Minnesota won its season opener, on the road, and they played the more proactive (if imprecise) soccer, globally. Both teams played an open game (500+ passes for each; bravo!), but, with Darwin Quintero directing traffic, Minnesota looked more dangerous – something to track going forward. Francisco Calvo, who started at right back, popped up in the attack over and over again (and to some effect; but, again, see who provided the assist), but signs that Minnesota finally has a core is the big thing to watch – i.e., names of certain players are starting repeat more than they used to. As noted in your finer outlets that jabber about MLS, the Whitecaps basically blew up its team in the post-season. The reality of the rebuild crossed a clear enough threshold for the (para)phrase “Vancouver is struggling to stay on the same page” to come out of the broadcast booth*, but the ‘Caps did have some bright spots. Yordy Reyna looks good, as does Hwang In-beom (who I was told wouldn’t start, but, based on what I saw, what the heck, give the kid a go). I suspect this has as much to do with Vancouver’s rebuild as anything, but still call it a place-holder win for Minnesota. If they get more…also, if Jan Gregus’ name really is pronounced “grey goose,” I have a pitch for a vodka company…

D.C. United 2-0 Atlanta United FC

The lowest hanging, official MLS content is about as deep as I go on reading these days, but when I heard Matt (Armchair Analyst) Doyle talk about Atlanta having trouble moving the ball upfield, noted. Based on the 20-minute-mini and the box score, Atlanta’s problems went deeper on Sunday. In one of those equations that is so simple you almost miss it: DC beat Atlanta to almost every ball and to every 50/50. They wanted it more, basically, and it’s worth wondering whether Paul Arriola couldn’t have beaten Atlanta on his own (if with an eight-ball of HGH and meth). Atlanta’s Brad Guzan will be physically ill at the second goal he allowed, no doubt, but that really was the least of Atlanta’s worries last weekend. They have Champions League this week (tonight, in fact), and that had some people talking about a failure to rest key players. I’m seeing enough first-team guys on Atlanta’s subs list (e.g., Jeff Larentowicz, Julian Gressel and Pity Martinez) that I’d worry less about that and more about why my team looked so damn…I dunno, sad out there. As for DC, this was a great start, something like planting a flag with “Ambition!” written across it in Comic Sans. With the talent they have on the roster, the level of intensity they showed against Atlanta could mean a lot.

Orlando City FC 2-2 New York City FC

In Portland v. Colorado, a cleverly-hidden hand-ball resulted in a red card and a PK. In this game, Maxime Chanot all but slapped down the ball and got…nothing. (Huh. Has anyone else noticed that MLS buries the bodies in the highlights? They didn’t highlight that hand-ball (and the terrible non-call) with the rest of the highlights.) Call it crappy justice, because NYCFC played Orlando toe-to-toe in Florida, and looked sharper doing it on both sides of the ball. Alexandriu Mitrita stood out; even when he screwed up, his technique was flawless. He also hit this pass to another NYCFC stand-out, Alexander Ring, who tucked it home (note the hitch in the broadcaster’s thoughts; he didn’t see it coming either). MLSoccer.com’s recap nominated Nani stepping onto the field as a late sub…so he’d be there to bitch at the ref after the missed PK call (I guess)? To nominate a moment that mattered, Maxi Moralez could have swaddled NYCFC’s advantage in bubble-wrap had he buried a 1-v-1-v-Brian Rowe. Maybe NYCFC could have stood up a 3-1 advantage, but, with Dom Dwyer playing provider, Tesho Akindele sacrificed his body for the win (think he limped off, anyway). In the end this felt like a cage-match between Quality (NYCFC) and Heart (Orlando), and I nothing about the game pointed toward cause for concern for the Quality side of the equation. It’s only a good result for Orlando with context added – e.g., last season, a rebuilding year, and will-power to spare. But, on the theory that they need more, I’m still on wait-and-see with them. Finally, it’s worth poking around the names you don’t recognize in this one (e.g., James Sands and Sebastian Mendez), and for a variety of reasons (e.g., Sands is 18, from New Jersey, and he started for NYCFC on their season opener, while Mendez is 21, a defensive midfielder, and surely, this can’t be Orlando’s actual line-up).

Los Angeles Galaxy 2-1 Chicago Fire

Won’t lie, I only tuned into this one to see whether Zlatan Ibrahimovic would put down his first installment on his promise to break all the records this season. (On the evidence, he’ll win Goalkeeper of the Year before Nick Rimando.) Of course the bastard scored, even if Chris Pontius did all the work. Had this one ended differently, the straight-up miracle save for which David Ousted almost certainly sold his soul would have been the moment of the match on top of being the Save of the Week. Sadly (because I hate LA), this one ended where it did, won by Zlatan’s put-back and Daniel Steres’ booming header off a cross by (16-y-F-o) academy kid, Efrain Alvarez (one to watch, I’m thinking). Chicago had at least three glorious chances to add better goals to their goal of shame (assist, Rolf Feltscher, which lead to a goal that even C. J. Sapong couldn’t miss), and new kid Przemyslaw Frankowski had a lot to say about that, which makes him another one to watch (and Sapong reverted to form on one of ‘em). To back up a stray comment from the broadcast booth, Chicago took LA to nearly 70 minutes in, with a lead and with several chances to extend it. The box score supports the “good day for Chicago” theory, and that’s the kind of thing you watch for. To their credit, LA did the business…but it was also against Chicago in LA. Something else to file away. Oh, and before I close out, Djordje Mihailovic and Aleksandar Katai got good looks; Katai got tricky ones, actually, and to the extent he almost pulled goals out of his ass. Those are just data points.


And, that’s everything. Hope you enjoyed it, hope it was reasonable and comprehensible, and so on. Ideally, all the above gave you a sense of how I track soccer, plus some faith that it’s worthwhile. Also, close readers might have noticed that I skipped over Los Angeles FC’s 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City. I passed because it looked like a reasonable enough result to me that all I really wanted to know was who SKC started (and, wow, those are all starters; watch this space). The Process should make more sense as I build it out in the weeks and (wait, what?) months ahead. To close with one piece of parting advice, if you do start watching the condensed games, or if you have been watching them, only on mute, pay attention the commentary. Also, pay attention to the clips they isolate that don’t seem to go anywhere. Those feel like attempts at establishing patterns for players. It stood out a bunch of times, but the Mitrita “skillz-fest” felt like the most deliberate.

OK, till MLS Week 2.

Forward Fanendo Adi (9) plays a through ball during their game on Saturday, Mar. 2, 2019 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington.

Spencer Richey, Cinderella, Injuries and #HELLISREAL the Prequel

Match notes from Wednesday’s draw between FC Cincinnat and the Chicago fire including Spencer Richey, Injuries, and #HELLISREAL the Prequel.

FC Cincinnati earned an unlikely draw against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday in their second match of the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston. Despite a lackluster performance for the first 70 minutes, a late Roland Lamah thunderbolt and some epic Spencer Richey goalkeeping earned the Orange and Blue a point from the contest.

Spencer Richey

If there’s one name you should take away from this preseason tie, it’s Spencer Richey. He played a blinder of a match on Wednesday, and while we don’t have official match stats, that had to be close to a 10-save-match for the Washington native. The score line could and would have looked a lot worse without his notable efforts between the posts.

Przemysław Tytoń, with his extensive European pedigree, seems a shoo-in as the regular starter. But if Richey can continue to perform at the level he did on Wednesday, Alan Koch and Jack Stern won’t be able to keep him out of the net for long. That’s a good problem to have for the coaching staff.

Cinderella Transformation

The first unit that took the field for the majority of the match struggled mightily against a Fire side that began the match without many of its regular starters. Alan Koch said the following at the game’s conclusion, when speaking about the troubles they encountered.

“We looked completely disconnected. There was no support. When we tried to get the ball forward, Darren was completely by himself. When guys at the back had the ball, there was no movement . . . It’s not that they aren’t capable of doing it, but it’s the tightness in the way they went out and played. Also give Chicago credit. They pressed, and they did a very good job of it.”

In the 70th minute, FC Cincinnati ditched their proverbial rags and transformed into something quite different. Alan Koch rotated his squad, changing 9 players. The difference couldn’t have been more stark. They were immediately able to possess the ball and penetrate Chicago’s midfield, leading to quality chances in the final third. Lamah’s slice of finishing brilliance gave the Orange & Blue the unlikely equalizer.

Injuries

Injuries are beginning to loom quite large for the Orange & Blue, particularly in defense. At this late stage of preseason, those injuries seem likely to impact the start of the regular season. Greg Garza and Kendall Waston, arguably the two most valuable and expensive pieces of FC Cincinnati’s defense, still aren’t dressing for games. What is already an EXTREMELY difficult to start to the regular season will become even more difficult without the quality and experience those players provide. It is difficult to see them being match fit by March 2nd, even if they have recovered from their respective injuries.

FC Cincinnati’s depth will, therefore, be tested early. Players will need to step up to the challenge, and the goalkeeping will have to resemble last night’s display if the Orange & Blue are to claim points out of the early-season schedule.

#HELLISREAL, the Prequel

FC Cincinnati will suit up against Columbus Crew SC on Saturday for the first time as an MLS team. In truth, I would prefer that they didn’t play in preseason, to build up anticipation for the August matches. Because this is an exhibition match, there will be lots of caveats regarding fitness, player selection, substitutions, and the like.

However, on the positive side, it will be a first look at what everyone hopes will become one of the best rivalries in MLS. As one of only two playoff teams that FC Cincinnati will face in the preseason, Columbus should provide a stiff test and give an indication of where the team stands one week before the matchup with Seattle. Given the squad rotation against Chicago, we are likely to see a starting eleven that looks similar to what will run out at CenturyLink Field for the MLS opener.

Oh, and of course, FC Cincinnati also has a chance to take the Carolina Challenge Cup with a win. Not that it matters really at all, but another small cup in the trophy cupboard would be nice, and could give them a morsel of extra confidence as they head into the regular season. This team has had a short runway to get ready for the top flight. Whether they are ready or not, March 2nd is almost here.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for move coverage of FC Cincinnati’s preseason.

2019 MLS Eastern Conference Preview: Part 1 – The Reclamation Projects

A look at FC Cincinnati and last year’s Eastern Conference teams that missed the MLS playoffs, to see how they finished, transfers, and their playoff odds.

Photo Credit: Amil Delic License

A common adage is that a season in any sport “isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon”. That could also apply to soccer, but perhaps the more appropriate description for this region of the country is that “it’s not a drag race; it’s an Indy 500”.

We’ve gotten used to that feeling here in Cincinnati, except that now the pit-stop in the middle of the season involves less home friendlies and more transfer-window panic. Yes, there’s an All-Star Break somewhere in the middle, but for the most part, unless the wheels have come off, the vehicle can still be repaired and sent out again.

But what do these sports-car clubs have under the hood to start the race? This is no longer a league where Cincinnati can be content to take its time out of the gate and cruise into the playoffs. The competition is harder, and the trips are now to Los Angeles and New York City, not Louisville and New Jersey. This is the big time that calls for monster trucks, not Micro Machines.

Of course, all of these racers are looking to compete from the wave of the starting flag. Let’s take a look at last year’s non-playoff wreckages (and FCC’s own entry) to see how they finished last year, the major pieces they added in the offseason, and their chances at making the Winner’s Circle.


FC Cincinnati

2018 Finish Line: 1st in USL Eastern Conference (23-3-8), 74 pts. 72 goals for, 34 goals against.

The regular-season USL champions only made it to the conference semifinals, but the team set USL regular-season records for their consecutive-wins streak (10) and unbeaten streak (23) during the regular season. (We swear we won’t talk about the individual accolades and attendance records, even though there were many.)

Offseason Overhaul*:

OUT: Half of the 2018 regular-season USL champion team

IN: The other half of the 2018 regular-season USL championship team, as well as 5 trades, 4 transfers, 4 expansion draftees, 5 Superdraft draftees, and GK Przemyslaw Tyton

Can you call an expansion season an “overhaul”? Perhaps you can, considering 11 players were kept from last year’s USL squad. It almost feels that head coach Alan Koch took his Best XI with him to the MLS team. Many of the holes have been filled with international talent (too much to hold within the allotted amount), and the defense has been beefed-up with stronger defenders in Kendall Waston and Greg Garza. The offense hasn’t had much of a facelift (but the arrival of winger Kekuta Manneh could provide a boost).

There still needs to be a little work done to figure out who goes where and if any of the Superdraft or ex-USL players get loaned out. Most importantly, it will be interesting to hear and see who the vocal leader will be on this team. No captain has been announced yet, but there’s a good possibility that Waston takes the mantle.

2019 Forecast:

Many dice have been rolled for Cincinnati’s first MLS season. Not much time has been allotted to get a strong squad together, and some voids appear to still exist (attacking midfielder, second capable striker next to Fanendo Adi), but that possibly keeps the cards available for a mid-season transfer. This team should be potent on defense, but it will be interesting to see if Jack Stern’s “GK Union” can be restructured and fine-tuned to combat MLS-level offenses.

The hardest pill to swallow will be the starting schedule. Nine of the first 10 matches will be against teams that made the playoffs last year. While it’s good to be positive, a playoff finish might be just out of reach if they cannot start strong.


Orlando City SC

2018 Finish Line: 11th in Eastern Conference (8-22-4), 28 pts. 43 goals for, 74 goals against.

An early-season 6-game winning streak was followed by a devastating 9-game losing streak which ultimately cost head coach Jason Kreis his job. The team went on to give up 74 goals, an MLS single-season record, and their -31 goal differential was worst in the league.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Yoshimar Yotun, GK Joe Bendik, D Mohamed El-Munir, D Jonathan Spector, F Stefano Pinho

IN: F Tesho Akindele, D Joao Moutinho, D Danilo Acosta, M Sebastian Mendez, GK Greg Ranjitsingh

Head coach James O’Connor now gets to build this team from Day One, responsible with translating his success at Louisville to Orlando. 15 players from last year were either let go or traded, including most of the D-line. Acosta and Moutinho are young resets on defense, and Mendez should be the key defensive midfielder the Lions needed. However, the team is rolling the dice with Greg Ranjitsingh given the keys to the net.

2019 Forecast:

Supposedly, this team still operates around Dom Dwyer’s offensive skill and Sacha Kljestan’s distribution, but both were shells of their former selves last year. The defense can’t possibly get worse, but the release of Spector also means that the team is without an assigned captain, and Ranjitsingh has not played a single MLS minute. Midfielders Chris Mueller and Josue Colman will solidify next to Kljestan, but will it matter if Orlando can’t get a striker to complement Dwyer? It’s hard to see this team making a run at the top and probably need another season to mature.


Chicago Fire

2018 Finish Line: 10th in Eastern Conference (8-18-8), 32 pts. 48 goals for, 61 goals against.

Chicago suffered a mid-season 8-game losing streak that doomed their season, forcing them to miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons. Had the team not had the lowest number of shots (341) and shots-on-goal (129) in the conference, perhaps their -13 goal differential would have been better.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Matt Polster, D Brandon Vincent, F Alan Gordon,

IN: D Marcelo, F Fabian Herbers, M Przemyslaw Frankowski, M Amando Moreno

The Fire had a headscratcher of a season last year. Midfielder Aleksander Katai was an instant success with 12 goals and 5 assists, but there wasn’t much else that contributed. The team could not put two straight wins together and were sunk by midseason. That didn’t discourage the team’s confidence in their squad, as Bastian Schweinsteiger and Johan Kappelhof were re-signed in the offseason. The addition of Marcelo should make the defense stronger and push Schweinsteiger up higher, but Fire fans might also wonder what would have happened if they kept homegrown talent Andrew Gutman.

2019 Forecast:

While Orlando has traded everything but the kitchen sink, Chicago has been content with just letting contracts expire. The Fire will be rolling with a lot of experience in the offensive end now that Schweinsteiger can push upward, but that also means an older offense. The other question area is in net—Richard Sanchez returns after only 3 shutouts and 13 losses last season, and backup David Ousted might not be at 100%. It’s hard to see this team keeping up with faster and younger squads, so the playoffs might be another miss for Chicago.


Toronto FC

2018 Finish Line: 9th in Eastern Conference (10-18-6), 36 pts. 59 goals for, 64 goals against. Canadian Cup champions.

The defending MLS Cup champions almost defeated Mexican side Guadalajara in the CONCACAF Champions League final. However, the congested schedule also led to only 3 wins and 10 points in their first 11 games. They also had the distinct honor to have the worst penalty-kick conversion rate, missing 4 out of 9 attempts.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: F Sebastian Giovinco, M Victor Vasquez, F Tosaint Ricketts, D Nick Hagglund

IN: D Laurent Ciman, F Terrence Boyd, D/M Nick DeLeon, M Tsubasa Endoh

The offensive machine had some issues in Toronto, but the 64 goals against indicated that there were major concerns in the defense. Perhaps the rough CCL schedule hurt them early, or perhaps the thin USL reserve team presented weaknesses in squad depth, but the team just wasn’t the 2017 championship squad anymore. This forced a need to sacrifice offense—the team trimmed 36% of their goals and 39% of their assists by transferring Giovinco and Vasquez to Middle Eastern teams. While Laurent Ciman and Nick DeLeon are big defensive additions, the team has the top spot in the Allocation Order and may be hunting for more DPs.

2019 Forecast:

The Reds might have a difficult season ahead of them, if the demoralizing 5-1 preseason loss against Las Vegas Lights is any indicator. Toronto again has the CCL ahead of them, but they may opt to focus more on the MLS season. It will be important to see if Jozy Altidore can stay healthy after a difficult 2018 and work in tandem with fellow national-teamer Boyd. It’s hard to envision this team getting to the same level in 2017, but if midfielder Jonathan Osorio surpasses his 2018 numbers (10 goals, 7 assists), they can cash in a spot in the playoffs.


New England Revolution

2018 Finish Line: 8th in Eastern Conference (10-13-11), 41 pts. 49 goals for, 55 goals against.

The rebuild in head coach Brad Friedel’s first year wasn’t too painful, and their pressing football forced the most corner kicks in the league (224). However, the Revs still couldn’t perform well on the road. New England have only won five away games in the past three seasons.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Kelyn Rowe, D Claude Dielna, D Chris Tierney

IN: D Edgar Castillo, F Carles Gil, F Juan Fernando Caicedo, F Tajon Buchanan

In his first year, Friedel almost took New England back into the playoffs, but the team failed to score a positive goal-differential for the third straight season. While defense has been the Revs’ weakness, the team stacked more offense in place, claiming Juan Caicedo on a transfer and promoting more homegrown talent. However, Carles Gil may be the biggest pickup, as the Revs have needed an attacking midfielder after the departure of Lee Nguyen in early 2018. The defense has been tooled, but the loss of Tierney to retirement may be hard to replace with just Castillo.

2019 Forecast:

There is suddenly a lot of offense on a team that doesn’t have a USL reserve squad. The Revs have eight forwards on their current roster, and all could benefit from Gil’s playmaking. However, that also means that there could be unrest and demands for more minutes—forward Diego Fagundez has already stated his desire to be traded. If the midfield can effectively connect the front and back thirds, Friedel can hide the lack of adjustments to the back line and get the Revs in the playoffs.


Montreal Impact

2018 Finish Line: 7th in Eastern Conference (14-16-4), 46 pts. 47 goals for, 53 goals against.

The Impact went cold to start the season, losing 10 of their first 13 games. While they bounced back behind Ignacio Piatti’s 16 goals, the team could not succeed on the road enough to make the playoffs (3-12-2). The -6 goal differential is a bit deceptive, as the team was +15 at home and -21 away.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M/F Alexandro Silva, F Matteo Mancosu, D Chris Duvall, M Jeisson Vargas

IN: F Maxi Urruti, F Harry Novillo, D Zachary Brault-Guillard

The above listing may not show it, but Montreal opted to decline, trade, and transfer a lot of contracts. 14 players were dealt, while only six (including only one from the Superdraft) were pulled in. However, the trade to pick up Max Urruti (8 goals, 11 assists) from FC Dallas at least fills the loss of Silva to Paraguayan club Olimpia. The offensive pieces may be a good addition to Piatti in his last contract year, while the addition of Brault-Guillard could be a good counter to left back Daniel Lovitz.

2019 Forecast:

Not many changes have been made to Montreal’s defense, which might have been the difference between making the playoffs and barely missing them. A lot of trust is being placed in Evan Bush’s gloved hands and his defensive line to do better than last year. The Impact dealt USL stud goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to Vancouver. While the front office and coaching staff is depending on a thin forward line for offense, the harshest reality might be the Impact’s schedule. They will play 10 road games in their first 13 matches, including the first six alone. Montreal can’t let their road woes extend into the 2019 season, but perhaps their strong home form could push them into the playoffs.


Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more preseason and preview coverage. Next time, we’ll take a look at the Western Conference.

*NOTE: The Offseason Overhaul does not include every move made by the team in the offseason, only those the author chose to highlight.

Photo Credit: Amil Delic License

Blog: Subplots, Chicago Fire US Open Cup Victory

Subplots from FC Cincinnati’s US Open cup victory including scary selection, Hoyte’s central role, and Wiedeman’s glorious disallowed goal.

Subplots-Header
Photo courtesy of JES Photography / Joe Schmuck

There are so many storylines from Wednesday night’s triumph at Nippert. I jotted down a few thoughts on the smaller narratives that people aren’t talking about enough in my opinion. The majority of the chatter is about Mitch’s master performance, the games implications on the MLS bid, what it meant to Austin Berry and Corben Bone, and even what it means for American soccer. All valid topics, but some of the less obvious talking points are more interesting to me. Screw clicks, right?

Ballsy Lineup

Alan Koch set the team up in a 3-4-3 formation that looked like a 5-4-1 when Chicago had the ball. Critically, HE MADE SIX CHANGES from the strong eleven that started last Saturday in USL action. If you didn’t gulp when that lineup was announced, to match-up against a Schweinsteiger-led Chicago Fire, you’re one of those overly-positive people I’ll never understand.

Everyone expected some rotation. Everyone expected König to play a role. Djiby of course was hurt. But six changes and no Jimmy Mac, no Kenney Walker, no Corben Bone, no Wiedeman? Koch started Stevenson and Dominguez, both players I like, but both young players that haven’t figured much in the starting eleven this season.

The beauty is that it worked, somehow. He put a lot of trust in the squad and it paid off. They certainly needed the spark and possession-play from McLaughlin, Bone, and Wiedeman as substitutes. They needed a game-of-your-life performance from Mitch Hildebrandt to pull off the victory, but wow. It could have backfired. In light of the result, you have to tip your hat to the coaching staff. I’m still not sure whether it was genius or crazy.

Hoyte Steps into the Back Three

Justin Hoyte started in the center of the back three, and combined with Berry, Delbridge, and defense-minded wingbacks to keep the Fire at bay for 120 minutes. Surely Hoyte is a quality defender, and we know he has the ability to play center back. But we’ve only seen him at fullback or wingback this season, and Nico’s been a rock there recently. Was now the time to experiment? In arguably the biggest match in club history to date? Again, it worked. Hoyte was stingy in defense. Berry was everywhere, and the best at the back in my opinion. Bahner cleared a sure goal off the line. Delbridge was a monster in the air as always. In truth, the entire defense had a great performance.

Wieda One Bad Call Away from All the Headlines

Every article you’ve read about this match has one man on the cover photo, Mitch Hildebrandt. And rightly so. His performance during the game, and in the shootout was at a different level.  I’m not trying to minimize that at all. One should also point out that Mitch was quick to heap praise on his teammates and give them all the credit in post match interviews.

However, Andrew Wiedeman’s extra time goal was SO onside. It should have been the game winner and if that had happened, think about how different the dialogue and the headlines might be. Who would be on the cover photos? Also think about the outrage that would have ensued about that incorrect offside call if Chicago had won the shootout. We talk a lot about statistical trends, aggregate numbers, and the like to analyze matches. But individual moments and decisions, by players and officials, usually define matches. It’s part of why this game is so unpredictable, and why we love and hate this sport all at the same time.

Danni and Kadeem’s Effort

Thursday was truly a team performance. Danni König and Kadeem Dacres don’t get many mentions in the write-ups, but I thought they absolutely ran their socks off, especially in the earlier portions of the match. The Fire were pressing for the opening goal, and these two were a big part of a defend-from-the-front approach, that made life difficult enough to keep the Fire off the score sheet. Effort isn’t everything, but these guys really laid it out there on Wednesday night. Staying in the game despite Chicago’s early onslaught was a key part of this US Open Cup success.

No Djiby, No Kenney, No Problem

If I had to write down the starting eleven for any FC Cincinnati match, Djiby Fall and Kenney Walker would likely be the first two names I would write down. The fact that we beat an almost full strength, in-form Chicago Fire team without those two players is incredible. The depth of this roster, which has been touted since preseason, paid off on Wednesday. We’ll continue to need that depth as the Orange and Blue will play six matches in the first 15 days of July. That run starts tomorrow against Orlando City B. Just one more day left to savor that historic US Open Cup win.

So many storylines, which is one of many reasons why this match will live on in FC Cincinnati legend for some time.

Any underreported storylines that I missed? Let me know in the comments section or on social media.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more news, analysis, and color commentary on FC Cincinnati.

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Match Photos: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs)

Fourty-five images of FC Cincinnati’s victory over Chicago Fire at Nippert Stadium in the US Open Cup, courtesy of Joe Schmuck.

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Here are 45 images of FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup victory over the Chicago Fire courtesy of Joe Schmuck. When browsing the gallery below for any given image, a high resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”

Also see the post-match article: FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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FC Cincinnati 0 – 0 Chicago Fire (3-1 PKs): Four Numbers That Mattered

Four numbers that mattered and the match changing moment from FC Cincinnati’s round of 16 US Open Cup triumph over the Chicago Fire.

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Photo Courtesy JES Photography / Joe Schmuck
NO. NO. NO.

In what could be considered arguably the biggest “cupset” of the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, FC Cincinnati continued their miracle run with a win over the Chicago Fire of MLS, winning 3-1 in penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0 action. Most of the honors will go to Cincy goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt, as all 26 shots fired by the Fire, 10 of which were on goal, were parried or stopped by the 2016 USL Goalkeeper of the Year. His efforts were seen by a national audience, thanks to ESPN’s coverage of the 5th-round game.

The entire first half of the game was a wait-and-see approach by Chicago, controlling the ball and forcing Cincinnati onto their heels. With most of the action taking place in their defensive third, FC Cincinnati’s back line was forced to deflect shots out for corner kicks. The highlight clearance came at the 16th minute when a juicy cross by Bastien Schweinsteiger found Juninho, only for the misdirect to be narrowly cleared off the line by Matt Bahner.

The second half started with more of the same pressure put on Hildebrandt, who had to make three sprawling saves within a 20-minute span. However, once FC Cincinnati started to slide in their substitutes, the pace of the game changed dramatically. Jimmy McLaughlin and Corben Bone came in and began to take advantage of the Chicago press, intercepting in the middle and sprinting ahead of the tiring Chicago defense. Both were denied scoring opportunities in stoppage time, only to be turned away by goalkeeper Matt Lampson and a questionable non-call in the Chicago box.

Extra time saw some point-blank saves by both keepers, as action ran from goal line to goal line. An early extra-time substitution almost paid dividends, as Andrew Wiedeman’s intense 109’ goal celebration was cut short with an offsides call. That chance was followed by more fingertip saves by Hildebrandt, and a late near-post save by Lampson.

With all the time played with no resolution, Hildebrandt outperformed Lampson in penalty kicks, letting in only one shot to Lampson’s three. After watching Hildebrandt deflect Juninho’s final attempt, the bouncing Nippert crowd erupted in cheers and blue-orange smoke while the team dog-piled on the hero of the day in excitement.

This win marks the furthest a USL team has made it into the U.S. Open Cup tournament since then-USL Orlando City upset Colorado and Kansas City to make it into the quarterfinals in 2013. FC Cincinnati now travels to play NASL division-leaders Miami FC on July 12th, as Miami upset MLS’s Atlanta United with their own late-game heroics, advancing on a 3-2 win after a 93rd minute goal by Kwadwo Poku. This matchup guarantees a D2 team in the USOC semifinals for the first time since the Richmond Kickers did it in 2011.

Match Changing Moment

Mitch Hildebrandt’s first PK save on Chicago’s Nemanja Nicolic. After Aodhan Quinn had skied FCC’s first PK attempt, Hildebrandt slapped the MLS scoring leader’s shot away to the left with a sprawling save. Had it not been for this play, FCC could have been forced to come from behind for the win. Instead, Josu, Harrison Delbridge, and McLaughlin calmly stepped up to bury their shots, while Mitch said “No!” two more times against Arturo Alvarez and Juninho.

Four Numbers That Mattered

18-7 – The advantage Chicago had in corner kicks. While FCC managed to adjust and make more ventures into the Chicago box in the second half, most of the possession belonged to Chicago, who held a 70-30 advantage over the entire game. Chicago received the first 9 CKs of the game, only for the FCC D-line to bend and not break. Outside of the possession and corner kick battle, Cincinnati managed to keep it close in shots (20 to 26), shots on goal (7 to 10), and fouls (13 to 14).

66’ – The minute that Jimmy McLaughlin came on to substitute for Eric Stevenson. With Cincinnati struggling to keep consistent possession during the game, McLaughlin was subbed on to give a spark on the edge. McLaughlin immediately stretched the field with his speed, matching König for most attempts on goal (5).

499 – Number of minutes since the last time FC Cincinnati conceded a goal in U.S. Open Cup play. Ever since the 11th minute in the loss at Tampa Bay June 1st of last year, the combination of Hildebrandt and backup Dallas Jaye have completely shut down the opposition over the four games this year (three 1-0 wins and the 0-0 result vs. Chicago). All of Hildebrandt’s 10 saves came in the second half and extra time, not including those stellar three blocks in PK time.

32,287 – People packing the Nippert Stadium stands. This goes without saying. The crowd once again flooded the seats and stayed rocking throughout the game. FC Cincinnati and Chicago played in front of the second-largest modern-day U.S. Open Cup crowd ever, bested only by the 35,615 who witnessed the 2011 U.S. Open Cup final, in which Chicago also lost (this time to Seattle).

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s cup run and the 2017 season.

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Cheat Sheet: FC Cincinnati vs Saint Louis FC

An information graphic provides the vital details for Saturday’s match between FC Cincinnati and Saint Louis FC. Plus, four fast facts.

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Image for header and info graphic courtesy of Ryan Meyer Photography

FC Cincinnati continues a five game June home stand on Saturday with a matchup against Saint Louis FC. The Orange and Blue will benefit from a full week’s rest after their 2-2 draw on June 17th against the Charleston Battery.

Alan Koch’s side earned their marquee victory so far in the 2017 USL season against Saint Louis FC. They defeated the Missouri side 4-0 at Nippert Stadium on April 15th. Djiby Fall had a perfect hat trick plus one in that contest.

Saint Louis FC has fallen from grace after their tax day defeat at the hands of FC Cincinnati. They were in first place in the Eastern Conference before that match. Since, they have won just a single game and have gone 1-3-2 in league play. They sit in 12th in the Eastern Conference, two points behind FC Cincinnati but having played three fewer matches.

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Here are four fast facts to serve as a backdrop for Saturday’s contest.

  • Since the two sides last met on April 15th, FC Cincinnati has had a much heavier match schedule than Saint Louis FC. The Orange and Blue have played 13 matches in that time period, compared to their opponent’s nine.
  • Center back Harrison Delbridge leads FC Cincinnati’s defense in clearances (55), blocks (9), interceptions (42), and duels won (92).
  • Only one of Saint Louis FC’s 13 goals this season has been scored from a header (8%). 53% of FC Cincinnati’s goals, 8 of 15, have come from headed shots.
  • Saint Louis FC exited the US Open Cup in the fourth round by a 1-0 scoreline at the hands of the Chicago Fire. FC Cincinnati will face that same MLS side in the fifth round of that tournament at Nippert next Wednesday, June 28th.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of Saturday’s match.

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FC Cincinnati 2 – Chicago Fire 3

FC Cincinnati lost to the Chicago Fire in a preseason friendly at the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic in Bradenton, Florida on Wednesday.

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Photo courtesy of USL
FC Cincinnati fell to the Chicago Fire by a score of 3-2 in a preseason friendly on Wednesday afternoon. Despite the loss, the first eleven played particularly well against a quality MLS opponent that started a strong line up.

Match Recap

FC Cincinnati began with an impressive looking 4-1-4-1 setup that gave the Fire all they could handle for the first 30 minutes of the match. The Orange and Blue were the aggressor for most of that time. A goal by Aodhan Quinn was disallowed in the 11th minute because it was ruled offside, a questionable call by the referees.

A defensive mix-up in the 31st minute allowed Chicago’s Luis Solignac to escape completely unmarked in the box. He thumped a free header into goal from close range, giving Chicago the lead. Koch’s men lost some momentum thereafter and the half ended 1-0.

The Fire made wholesale changes in the second half and introduced several younger players to the match. FC Cincinnati kept their starting eleven intact through 60 minutes. When they did make changes, they replaced almost the entire squad but retained the same 4-1-4-1 formation. The majority of the second half was less entertaining than the first, as the play got more physical and both teams struggled to retain possession.

The Fire doubled their lead in the 70th minute with another headed goal. Michael de Leeuw was the goalscorer this time, and the Fire put further distance between themselves and their second division opponent.

Just when it looked like the game was drawing to a disappointing conclusion, more goals arrived. FC Cincinnati’s new number 9, Djiby Fall, got off the mark in the 88th by beating Chicago’s keeper to a long ball. He skipped a glancing header over the net-minder and into an open net.

The Fire responded immediately with a goal of their own in the 89th. Matej Dekovic sent a low drive past Dallas Jaye from close range in the melee that followed a corner kick.

Kenney Walker put a cherry on top of a respectable performance when he curled a beautiful free kick into goal just before the final whistle. The match ended 3-2 to the Fire, leaving both sides reasonably happy with the result and the run out.

Analysis

MLS’ Chicago Fire kicked the soccer ball into the net three times. FC Cincinnati kicked the ball into the net only two times. That’s one less time than the Chicago Fire. FC Cincinnati lost. Let’s not overanalyze a preseason friendly. It mostly about the team getting fit and Koch figuring out who his starting 11 will be. It was good to see Djiby get his first goal. It was also good to see Corben Bone back in the lineup after being sick. Kenney’s free kick was a peach.

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