Deeper Cuts: Possession in the Final Third, Captain Hoyte, Cup Competitions Loom

A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati. A 3-1 loss in the Centennial State…

Photo Credit: Paul-Michael Ochoa / FC Cincinnati

A two-game road trip before the Gold Cup break started with a thud for FC Cincinnati on Saturday. A 3-1 loss to Colorado in the Centennial State leaves the Orange & Blue with the lowest point total in MLS as they near the midway point of the 2019 season.

Possession in the Final Third

Some may be surprised that FCC maintained a 60%-40% possession* advantage over the Rapids Saturday, their highest possession total this season. However, a closer look suggests that not all possession numbers are created equal, and a more telling metric is possession in the final (offensive) third of the field.

The chart below shows total passes by each team split between the defensive, middle, and offensive thirds of the field. Colorado’s numbers are on the left (orange) and FC Cincinnati’s are on the right (blue).

Graphic via whoscored.com

The Rapids actually completed one more pass than FC Cincinnati in the final third over the 90+ minutes. These numbers highlight that, despite FC Cincinnati’s overall possession advantage, Colorado actually had slightly more possession in their offensive third. 77% of FCC’s possession was held in the non-threatening defensive and middle third.

In another match on Saturday, the New York Red Bulls had a clear advantage in overall possession as well, 62% against Real Salt Lake. However, New York registered a much higher 39% of their possession in the final third in comparison to FC Cincinnati’s 23%. FCC created 8 non-blocked shots against Colorado with that 23%, and only 1 of the 4 on target was a goal. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls created 16 non-blocked shots against RSL, and 4 out of the 9 on target found the back of the net.

Possession even in non-threatening positions does limit the time the opponent has with the ball, which is obviously a good thing. It’s also the platform for the attack, but a team still has to create the chances and convert them.

To keep the short story short, overall possession doesn’t tell much on its own without assessing where possession was held and whether it led to a proportionate number of goal-scoring opportunities.

Hoyte as Captain

Justin Hoyte wore the armband on Saturday in place of the suspended Kendall Waston, who is now on his way to Gold Cup duty for Costa Rica. Hoyte tallied the third-most passes on the team (74) and completed them with a remarkable 96% passing accuracy.

While his passing numbers are nice, the defense’s primary role is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, and that didn’t go so well. Hoyte reflected those sentiments in his post-match comments.

“It’s just disappointing. First half, we’ve done okay in the first 15, 20 minutes, and then we are not sure what happened. Second half, we gave away some silly goals. It was good to come back one-one, and then to concede a goal straight away after we have scored is not good enough. It is just disappointing. We just have to reflect on our performance and we must do better as a team.”

The directness of Hoyte’s comments are refreshing, and they ring more true than narratives about the team being unlucky or not getting rewarded for hard work.

Cup Competitions Looming

The CONCACAF Gold Cup starts in less than two weeks. The group stage begins on June 15th and lasts until the 28th. The knockout stage then extends from June 29th to July 7th.

Key members of the Orange & Blue, including Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell, will therefore be unavailable, as soon as Thursday’s contest against NYCFC.

Yoann Damet will have to roll out some makeshift squads during that time-period especially if the injury list doesn’t getter shorter soon. Leo Bertone, Fatai Alashe, Kenny Saief, Przemysław Tytoń, and Greg Garza have all been injuried or ill for multiple games and there’s no clear indication they will return soon.

Of course, these roster limitation will impact FCC for the start of their participation in the U.S. Open Cup. Given the thin squad, it stands to reason that fans will see some of the less-experienced faces for the matchup with rival Louisville City FC, maybe even appearances by SuperDraft picks like Rashawn Dally and Tommy McCabe. That contest is scheduled for Wednesday, June 12th.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS season.

*Possession definition – During the game, the passes for each team are totaled. Then each team’s total is divided by the game total to produce a percentage figure which shows the percentage of the game that each team has accrued in possession of the ball.

Colorado Rapids 3 – 1 FC Cincinnati

After a late first-half Colorado goal, Kekuta Manneh leveled the score for FC Cincinnati in the 73rd minute. The stalemate lasted for…

After a late first-half Colorado goal, Kekuta Manneh leveled the score for FC Cincinnati in the 73rd minute. The stalemate lasted for less than a minute though, as Nicholas Mezquida scored in the 74th minute, and Diego Rubio added a final goal for the Rapids 9 minutes later. The loss is FC Cincinnati’s third consecutive and their tenth defeat in 15 matches.

Colorado Rapids 3, FC Cincinnati 1

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park | Commerce City, Colo.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

SCORING SUMMARY

COL –  Andre Shinyashiki (Sam Nicholson, Cole Bassett) 43’

CIN –  Kekuta Manneh (Roland Lamah) 72’

COL – Nicolás Mezquida (Diego Rubio) 73’

COL – Diego Rubio (Jack Price) 82’

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey, Mathieu Deplagne, Justin Hoyte ©, Nick Hagglund, Alvas Powell, Caleb Stanko, Victor Ulloa, Frankie Amaya (Corben Bone 60’), Allan Cruz (Kekuta Manneh 70’), Roland Lamah  Darren Mattocks 84’), Fanendo Adi

Bench: Jimmy Hague, Forrest Lasso, Emmanuel Ledesma, Eric Alexander

Stats: Shots 11, Shots on goal 3, Saves 3, Corner kicks 2, Offsides 1, Fouls 5, Possession 60%, Passes 548(84.1%)

Colorado Rapids: Tim Howard ©, Keegan Rosenberry, Deklan Wynne (Sam Vines 18’), Lalas Abubakar, Tommy Smith, Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett (Nicolás Mezquida 60’), Sam Nicholson, Andre Shinyashiki (Diego Rubio 68’), Jack Price, Kei Kamara

Bench: Clint Irwin, Danny Wilson, Dillon Serna, Sebastian Anderson

Stats: Shots 12, Shots on goal 6 , Saves 2, Corner kicks 4, Offsides 2, Fouls 6, Possession 40%, Passes 361(77.3%)

MISCONDUCT SUMMARY

COL – None

CIN –   None

REF: Ted Unkel

AR: Ian Anderson, Andrew Bigelow

4TH: Farhad Dadkho

VAR: Younes Marrakchi

AVAR: Jozef Batko

Weather: 71 degrees and clear

Attendance: 16,998

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at Colorado Rapids

Graphic: CSDIV

FC Cincinnati opens a two-match road trip against the Colorado Rapids in the Centennial State on Saturday. The Orange & Blue come into the match following a 2-0 home defeat to the New York Red Bulls last weekend. After a promising but goalless first half in that contest, a defensive error by typically-reliable fullback Mathieu Deplagne led to FCC’s demise.

The Rapids are the not-so-proud owners of the worst points total in all of MLS, with just 9 total. However, they have been resurgent lately, earning two wins and a draw in their last three matches played. Their most recent result came on Wednesday, when they drew 1-1 with the Philadelphia Union in Pennsylvania.

This match is the second “Toilet Bowl” of the 2019 MLS season — a meeting between the last place teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences. On April 27th, Atlanta United was the last place team in the Eastern Conference and defeated the same Colorado Rapids 1-0 in the first toilet bowl.

FC Cincinnati is currently plagued with minor injuries. Fatai Alashe, Leo Bertone, Corben Bone, Greg Garza, Allan Cruz, and Darren Mattocks are all listed as questionable for this contest.

Rookie midfielder Tommy McCabe was recalled from loan this week and is available for selection in this match. McCabe made nine appearances, including eight starts and scored two goals while with North Carolina FC in the USL.

Kendall Waston will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation and therefore left early on Friday for Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica.

Kickoff is at 8:30pm Eastern.

Fast Facts

  • Frankie Amaya leads all players from both teams in passing accuracy, at 88.5%. This stat excludes players that have logged less than 300 minutes of playing time this season.
  • The Rapids are led by veteran striker Kei Kamara, who has seven goals on the season. Interestingly, Kamara was drafted by FC Cincinnati in the expansion draft last December but was promptly traded to Colorado for an international roster spot.
  • This match features the only two current interim head coaches in MLS: Yoann Damet and Colorado’s Connor Casey. Casey took the reins for the Rapids on May 1st when Anthony Hudson was fired.
  • The Rapids average 5 more shots per game than FCC (14.6 to 9.6) and have scored 10 more goals (21 to 11). 43% of their tallies are from set pieces or the penalty spot.
  • The Colorado Rapids lead the league in red cards with 5. In contrast, FC Cincinnati has yet to receive a red card this season.

All stats via mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati at the Colorado Rapids on Saturday.

MLS Weekly, Week 4, Leg 1: Absentees and a Frank Admission of Limitations

Jeff Bull is back with his luxurious and link-laden look at MLS Week 4 and a round of matches abridged by the international break.

To anyone wondering whether I’d do one of these on a short week, the answer is yes. At the same, no, this isn’t “MLS Week 4.” Only 10 of the 24 teams in Major League Soccer played this weekend – less than half – so, to lay down a house rule, I won’t call any given week “Week [X]” until over half the teams and league have played as many games, and you’re welcome for the confusion, now pronounce “banal,” because it turns out I’d been doing it wrong for years.

Fans owe the shorted schedule to an international weekend, of course, and the teams that played weren’t all there. This mattered more (Los Angeles FC v Real Salt Lake), less (FC Dallas v. Colorado), or not at all (New York Red Bulls v Orlando City SC), but it might have mattered most in the Philadelphia Union’s 3-0 win over Columbus Crew SC (links and further notes/adventures soon). The Union missed Corey Burke and Andre Blake (both Jamaica), but it probably hurt Columbus more to go without Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes (and maybe they’ll go back to missing Justin Meram soon). Based on the how well Philly played (more below), I think they would have taken all three points regardless. All the same, I think most people would accept that a talent/output drop off happens between Zardes and Patrick Mullins. What a goal might have done for Columbus during those opening 20 minutes…

With the Portland Timbers (happily) off for the first leg of MLS Week 4 (send help 2 us, plz), I had time free to watch all of that game and, to elaborate on the obvious, watching 20 minutes of a game will never compare to watching the full 90. As a rule, I don’t claim to “know” any team I don’t follow week to week. The same thing goes with the condensed games, products that are simultaneously interpreted and impressionistic. At any rate (what’s did that mean?), I would have come away with a completely different impression of Philadelphia’s win had I only watched the condensed game. Even combined, the box score and the condensed game aren’t equipped to translate how comfortably the Union controlled that second half. Of Philly, I wrote “they’ve found the seams” in my notes somewhere around the 55th minute. Bottom-line, I never thought for a second that Columbus would come back. And I wouldn’t have known that without either watching the whole game or pissing away far too much time on the internet.

In the final equation, I watch four teams a week for 90 full minutes (Cincinnati, Portland and special guests); I watch five condensed games after that, review all the box scores, and that’s pretty much it. Just…adjust your expectations to that level. I’m full-disclosure kind of person. I know where my skis are at all times. Or most of the time.

OK, notes on the rest of Week 4, Leg 1’s games are down below and, thanks to the small sample, I got to literally all of them. Fans of the site might have noticed by now that I haven’t yet mentioned FC Cincinnati’s dashing 2-0 win over the New England Revolution. I wrote extended notes on that (kinda mean) win back on my home site, but, to contextualize Cincinnati’s weekend with all the above: Cincinnati had a real handful of players missing, and the fact that they proved that mattered not at all is the least complicated, best feeling I’ve experienced all season. Also, Cincinnati kicked the crap out of New England, and pretty much across the whole game. Seriously, this was close to the lowest point, and Spencer Richey kicked its ass twice.

Onto the games!


Philadelphia Union 3-0 Columbus Crew SC

As I should have noted in the MLS Form Guide ULTRA (aka, source material for this post), if the Union lost this one, it would have forced the asking of questions. While it took some time for Philly to get this game by the short danglies, just about every player stood up and grabbed a handful when they did. David Accam, who announced his intentions early and then followed through with two goals (including one that bent physics) and a half-accidental assist on an emotional night, hogged the spotlight, but that win doesn’t happen without Faca Picault (involved on both of Accam’s goals) and Haris Medunjanin, a player I just…like, for what he does. For what it’s worth, this was a fun game to watch, with most of it played inside the lines and with very controlled, intelligent passing. After starting strong and sharper, Columbus slowly succumbed to where the Union controlled the game – and despite holding the edge in possession (so much for that “passing them to death” theory in the Form Guide ULTRA). The low shot total by both teams suggests some amount of dicking around, I suppose, but this one delivered above-average aesthetics. And…yeah, given everything covered above, I feel pretty good about leaving this game here. Next!

FC Dallas 2-1 Colorado Rapids

This played out per the famous soccer cliché, a tale of two halves (Dallas owned the first, but the Rapids attempted a hostile takeover in the second), but one can arguably measure the distance between these two teams through their short South American players. Dallas continues to rely on Colombian winger, Michael Barrios, and he keeps coming good, scoring goals and providing a really consistent outlet – which was huge for a Dallas team visibly invested in playing out of the back. The Rapids, meanwhile, brought Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Mezquida over from the Vancouver Whitecaps and…he’s doing everything for Colorado that he did for the ‘Caps, and that’s why he was moved. After surviving an early onslaught, Colorado recovered enough to put in a respectable road performance. Going the other way, they rarely looked dangerous, Tim Howard had to bail them out with a couple saves, and they strained to score their one goal. They’re nothing like an easy opponent, but the way that divide between Barrios and Mezquida carries across personnel, generally tells me Dallas wins this match-up 7 times out of 10. On a detail level, I finally got glimpse of Pablo Aranguiz, and he looks like a handful (and that’s it so far) and I like the way Dallas uses Reggie Cannon (their right looks good, generally, e.g., see “scoring goals” above), but I’ll have to wait another day to see the hub-bub surrounding Paxton Pomykal. The one thing that most impressed me: the ice-cold pass by (17-year-old) Thomas Roberts to break the Rapids’ defense on Dallas’ winner. Oh, and I’d count fighting back for the win a good sign for Dallas.

New York Red Bulls 0-1 Orlando City SC

Hats off to whoever edited the condensed game: he/she gave about a quarter of the time (20 minutes) to Red Bulls’ flailing after the equalizer to Orlando’s game-winning goal – which, for the record, Dom Dwyer helped immensely with one of the better back-to-goal passes you’ll see this weekend (small sample). The Red Bulls couldn’t get close enough to generate danger and, judging by the box score, Orlando did very well to limit New York generally. Stray comments from the broadcast booth hinted at deeper struggles – e.g., in the words of Shep Messing, circa the 66th minute, “finally, this game is tilted in favor of Red Bull.” (Again, when your diet consists of mini-games, clues in the commentary can reinforce what you’re watching, or Messing’s a twit and his words are valuable as the sawdust in yer dog’s food.) What’s up with the Red Bulls, one of MLS’s most-reliable regular season teams, now a (for them) pitiable 1-1-1 to start 2019? And against Orlando in Harrison, NJ? For all the beautiful plays/passes (Bradley Wright-Phillips had an absolutely majestic centering ball in the first half), they simply didn’t create a lot of clean looks. The question is how much to credit Orlando for that. It’s not a team I know well – they’ve lingered on a permanent “to-do list” for me for as long as they’ve been in MLS – but this result made me care enough to look into the names I don’t know. I started with Carlos Ascues, and not just because he cleared the equalizer off the line three minutes after Orlando went up. Defense killed Orlando last season, so if they can clean that up (without relying on fouls and/or breaking Connor Lade), the Lions do have some weapons. Getting a point where they least expected; that’s a good three points for Orlando. New York, meanwhile, loses some reputation points with this one.

Los Angeles FC 2-1 Real Salt Lake

LAFC’s choices of substitutes interested me as much as anything (e.g., can’t think of the last time I saw a player cross-over from indoor), but they tested three young, for lack of a better word, randos in a competitive match and that makes you wonder what they have up their sleeves. They also dropped the kids into what looked like a pretty damn rugged game, one with cards flying, yellow and (a soft) red (again, with the hands to face thing). What else? I wouldn’t credit the whispers about a close contest, because that didn’t really show up in anything I saw. Sure, LAFC was lucky to have a central defender score…that (also, Walker Zimmerman celebrations make me uncomfortable), but the box score confirmed a telling detail that the condensed game suggested: RSL might have given them Hell around midfield, but they didn’t get close to goal much, Nick Rimando had more saves than RSL had shots, etc. Despite that lowly output, RSL came real close to putting another goal past LAFC (offside called it back; good call, apparently, one of several), and, given that Zimmerman waited all game to scare the children (i.e., he scored late, then horror celebration), who knows what having a taller hill to climb would have done to the dynamic? This was another game with players missing, and I have two further notes on that: that Eduard Atuesta and, of all people, Latif Blessing held down LAFC’s central midfield (and Andre Horta probably did stuff too) in the absence of Mark-Anthony Kaye, and that puts them on solid footing at that position for the season. As for RSL, it’s possible that Albert Rusnak could have given RSL a better mix of shots versus saves, but I’m more fixated on whether Everton Luiz is up for the job. He is…untidy, and otherwise underwhelming. The search for New Kyle Beckerman continues.


And, that’s it for this week. Can’t wait to see how the rest of Week 4 plays out. And, for some teams, the beginning of Week 5. Just…forget the calendar thing, MLS. Till next week.

2019 MLS Western Conference Preview: Part 1 – The Victims of 2018

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

The 2018 Major League Soccer regular season was something that happened, obviously, but for the teams below, it was something that happened to them. Each team’s experience ran the gamut from nagging doubt, through uncomfortable physical sensation, all the way down to nights, weeks, even months of wrestling with one’s choice of careers, maybe even his basic self-worth. (Chin-up, Chris Wondolowski.) With that, welcome to this 2019 preview for the teams that finished on the wrong side of MLS’s Western Conference.

The format largely explains itself, but I do want to reference a couple resources at the top – just big picture things to help you cut corners while keeping current. First, MLSSoccer.com has a page that keeps a running tally of all the players coming into and going out of every team in the league – also, key disclosure, I do not list every player that left or joined each of the teams down below, only the players that have potential to change things. The Mothership (as I’ve long called MLSSoccer.com) also posts a feature that provides some context to all that coming and going; when I reference the “Transaction Interpreter” deep in the bowels of this post, that’s what I’m talking about. Fair warning, finding that article is hell any time it’s not on top of the main page. You’d think they’d do better with a regularly rotating feature, but how often does MLSSoccer.com feel like scrolling through a poorly-conceptualized twitter feed? But I digress.

My best understanding of what happened to each struggling team in the Western Conference last season is below, along with my best guess as to why they struggled. What they intend to do about it follows after that, along with a lot of guesswork about whether or not it’ll come off. Again, these are the bad ones, whether awful, cursed and awful, or just top-heavy, so don’t expect a lot of happy endings. To put a sub-headline to this piece, “Bright Futures Equally Scarce.” Now, starting with the worst…

San Jose Earthquakes

2018 Finish Line: 12th in the Western Conference (4-21-9), 21 pts. 49 goals for, 71 goals against

Dead, painful last, just shy of historically painful (DC United 2013 is the benchmark), the ‘Quakes had a uniquely painful 2018. They lost valiantly up until around August, but lost almost exactly 2/3 of the time across the season. In the middle of the season, (out-of-position) centerback, Florian Jungwirth publicly admitted the obvious: the ‘Quakes didn’t have the personnel to compete. The coach they’d hired at the beginning of 2018 to turn the team around (Mikael Stahre), would first lose the team, then get fired before the season ended. Bleak.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Yeferson Quintana, M Jakmir Hyka…see above, does it matter?

IN: F Cristian Espinoza, M Judson, D Marcos Lopez, F Cade Cowell (youngest-ever homegrown player, btw)

San Jose let former New England Revolution star Steve Ralston escort them off the plank at the end of 2018, but the ‘Quakes went massive with a coaching hire: Matias Almeyda, aka, the most successful coach in Chivas Guadalajara history (and elsewhere). They let go a handful of players who never really arrived in MLS (e.g., Hyka and Quintana), while taking an oddly short-term approach on their rebuild. They’ll have their splashiest signing, Argentine forward Espinoza, for only as long as Spain’s Villareal will allow. The two players they signed to actual contracts – Peru’s Marcos Lopez at left back and Brazilian defensive midfielder Judson – didn’t arrive with much for hype.

2019 Forecast:

When you tied for the West’s worst defensive record (71 goals allowed), a player with Judson’s profile acknowledges a need; the idea of having a right back to counter-balance your team’s best player (Nick Lima) also presents as sound. The new players shouldn’t make them any worse, but they are being added to roughly the same group of players that rather violently under-performed in 2018. A successful season – even just a better one – would build Almeyda’s legend.


Colorado Rapids

2018 Finish Line: 11th in the Western Conference (8-19-7), 31 pts. 36 goals for, 63 goals against

The Rapids tried to “play soccer” in 2018 – y’know, possess the ball, work it upfield, etc. They’ve arguably been doing that since signing Shelzhen Gashi, but he’s better as a shorthand for what ails the Rapids: he fits into no known scheme, and that’s how Colorado builds rosters (so far): grab whatever’s handy, throw it at the wall, and, often as not, weep. They got a couple days’ buzz/hope out of beating the Los Angeles Galaxy in a mid-season home-and-home series, but, if the team ever got over the playoff redline last season, they didn’t stay long. The Rapids finished miles under it instead, and the scoring was particularly…infrequent all season. Just north of 1.0 goals per game. Again, bleak.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: F Jack McBean, GK Zac MacMath, D Edgar Castillo, M Marlon Hairston, M Enzo Martinez

IN: F Kei Kamara, M Nicolas Mezquida, GK Clint Irwin, M Benny Feilhaber, F Diego Rubio

Colorado let some interesting pieces go in the off-season – e.g., Hairston and Castillo (arguably their best player going both directions in 2018) – and they’ve played “Moneyball” since then. Familiar, quality(?) cast-offs like Kamara, Feilhaber, Mezquida, Rosenberry, and (to a lesser extent) Diego Rubio were either signed on or shanghaied in a bid to make the Rapids competitive.

2019 Forecast:

Will it work? I can imagine some positives – e.g., Rubio playing off Kamara, and Rosenberry as a long-term fixture at right back. Going the other way, neither Kamara nor Feilhaber have much career left, so, even if both players have a stellar 2019, the question of succession remains open and (to take another step into the future) what keeps Colorado from going from one year to the next as a permanent remodel? I happened to listen to ExtraTime Radio’s 2019 previews (for bad teams) this past week and, remarkably, the panel split on Colorado. Faith in Colorado wound up requiring faith in depth pieces like Cole Bassett and Kortne Ford.


Minnesota United FC

2018 Finish Line: 10th in Western Conference (11-20-3), 36 pts. 49 goals for, 71 goals against

Close observers will notice that Minnesota matched San Jose on goals for and against, but still finished 15 points above them. For those new to it, welcome to MLS. I kid, but wins do matter in any league, and the Loons had something San Jose didn’t: Darwin Quintero creating offense from nothing, sometimes entirely on his own. This is how The Battle of the Basement was won. Their defense was homicidally terrible, obviously (or suicidally; however that works), and nothing confirms a team’s attack isn’t overcoming quite like a -22 goal differential. And, with that, Minnesota adds another bitter season of falling short.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Marc Burch (Cincy!), Fernando Bob (best damn name in MLS history), M Collen Warner, and…

IN: M Jan Gregus, M Osvaldo Alonso, D Romain Metanire, D Ike Opara, GK Vito Mannone

Judging by their signings – a proven (if oft-injured) quantity Opara in central defense (and there’s a story there), paying for an upgrade at right back in Metanire, the still-more expensive Gregus with what’s left of Alonso in central midfield – Minnesota did the vital work of pointing to where it hurt and at least trying to make it stop. Expecting a slightly-diminished normal out of Alonso feels like a safe bet, and that leaves Gregus feeling like the main X-Factor (even having Sam Cronin healthy would help). To reduce what the Loons let go to just one solid, yet unspectacular player, the fact they got rid of Collen Warner shows that Minnesota gets what’s happening across the league.

2019 Forecast:

I can’t believe the changes listed above won’t help Minnesota, but the question of whether they can make a push – or, God forbid, make the playoffs – probably turns on which existing players show up and how. For instance, can Quintero get a little help, whether by Angelo Rodriguez leveling up to even 3/4 of his potential, or Kevin Molino staying healthy for 3/4 of a season? Minnesota has the talent, perhaps for the first time in its existence, but can they finally shake off the “expansion team” ball-and-chain in their third season?


Houston Dynamo

2018 Finish Line: 9th in the Western Conference (10-16-8), 38 pts. 58 goals for, 58 goals against

The Dynamo spent 2/3 of the season on the cusp of maybe, aka, the insufferable state of having the players to win a title (e.g., Alberth Elis, Romell Quioto, and, as much as anyone, Mauro Manotas), but not the team. Those 58 goals against leave a couple of the sharper details out of Houston’s tale of 2018 heartbreak – i.e., games they should have won ending as draws, and draws ending in losses. Houston could beat any other team last season, but they could lose just as easily.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Leandro, D Adolfo Machado, D/M Jared Watts, M Arturo Alvarez, M Andrew Wenger, M Luis Gil, M Eric Alexander (because pertinent to the audience)

IN: M Matias Vera, M Tommy MacNamara, M Marlon Hairston, D Maynor Figueroa, D Aljaz “Kiki” Struna

Sometimes, a team hints at a problem; other times, they go in for Soviet-style purges to obliterate the very memory of it. The Dynamo approached its defensive overhaul in that spirit, letting go of, oh, everybody (e.g., see above, down a shot of vodka for the fallen). They also dropped guys like Andrew Wenger and Luis Gil, once promising youngsters who, in spite of serious indulgence, failed to launch. When looking for replacements, Houston played a little moneyball of their own, grabbing guys like one-time New York City FC fan-favorite MacNamara and Hairston (see above). Their biggest bid to resuscitate the defense is named Aljaz “Kiki” Struna, a Slovenian centerback. He’ll be assisted by Adam Lundkvist – who played half of 2018 (but survived the purge), plus youngsters like homegrown kid, Eric McCue. Vera (a Chilean) also came on board at defensive midfield. Again, they identified the problem, but…?

2019 Forecast:

How a team that cut that many players can feel so unchanged is either a mystery or a statement of personal biases. Worse, Houston looks likely to lose Elis, who has fielded real offers this off-season (but Houston wanted more $). Going the other way, his raw talent is matched by his inconsistency – and that’s sort of a theme for the Dynamo. In the end, though, whatever success the Dynamo has next season will turn on whether Vera and Struna, et. al. can provide a foundation. Maybe a little more peace of my mind will transform the attack? (Just to note it, I watched Houston play the Seattle Sounders in preseason, and they were just a mess; sounds like the same thing happened against Sporting Kansas City. Still a work in progress, apparently.)


Vancouver Whitecaps

2018 Finish Line: 8th in the Western Conference (13-13-8), 47 pts. 54 goals for, 67 goals against

Vancouver came close last season, but, if you look more closely (using my personal, over-elaborate tracking system), that was more illusion than reality. A stretch against either bad teams, under-performing teams, or middling teams in favorable circumstances kept them afloat down the stretch, and running into better competition ended a lot like running into a wall. That they under-performed Houston in both goals for and against hints at how they lost too many games (e.g., blowouts). That poses some questions as to why they blew up the team over the off-season (see below), unless, of course, that was the price they paid for landing the coach they wanted…

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: M Alphonso Davies, D/M Brek Shea, F Kei Kamara, M Efrain Juarez, M Nicolas Mezquida, D Kendall Waston, and many, many, many more.

IN: GK Zac MacMath, D/M Victor “PC” Giro, D Derek Cornelius, M Andy Rose, M Jon Erice, M Lass Bangoura, M Lucas Venuto, M Hwang In-beom, D Jasser Khmiri, F Joaquin Ardaiz

Vancouver famously sold one player (Alphonso Davies), but sh*t-canned an astonishing 20(!) more players (or, fine, let them go). The list included long-time starters like Nicolas Mezquida and Cristian Techera, guys who operate below The New Standard, but also very large, fast man, Kendall Watson (by sending him to sunnier climes). It was all but an acknowledgment that the problem was the style of play itself. They charged Marc dos Santos, who has…a pedigree, with the rebuild. First, there’s no reasonable way to do justice to that many moving parts. As such, enjoy this parade of links on the replacements, all of whom I’m sure have very special stories: Cornelius, Erice, Bangoura, Venuto, Hwang In-beom, Khmiri, Erik Godoy (hold on; almost done) and Ardaiz.

2019 Forecast:

If you tick through all those links, you’ll see that Vancouver basically rebuilt its entire central defense this season. In spite of new signings like In-beom and Ardaiz, plus a pair of good wingers, they are presently thin in the attack; the 4-5-1 formation listed in the Transaction Interpreter shows you how much work they have to do. Rather than predict how an overhaul of this scale will pan out, I’ll close with one thought: the collective ages of the players Vancouver is signing points to starting with a new foundation. It might be 2020 before they know what they have.


Los Angeles Galaxy

2018 Finish Line: 7th in the Western Conference (13-12-9), 48 pts. 66 goals for, 64 goals against

After suffering two separate, not-yet-catastrophic breakdowns during the season (games 5-14 and games 23-29), the Galaxy righted the ship to where all they had to do to make the playoffs was draw a decidedly shaky Houston Dynamo team in LA. Even with a little breeze of good form at their backs, they choked, losing 2-3 at their literal death (and do mind the 3). That stumbling, so-close, so-far dynamic is a good short-hand for LA’s 2018. It’s a team out of whack, maybe even suffocating on its stars. In so many words, they have Zlatan Ibrahimovic on one end of the field and Daniel Steres on the other. Zlatan can’t win MLS on his own. Also, that’s not Steres’ fault.

Offseason Overhaul:

OUT: D Michael Ciani, F Ariel Lassiter, D Sheanon Williams, D Ashley Cole, M Baggio Husidic

IN: M Juninho, GK Matt Lampson, M Uriel Antuna, D Diego Polenta, and that is literally everyone on the “IN” side of the ledger, which is fascinating.

LA coughed up very little over the off-season – the blood-letting probably tops out with Boateng (also, give Cole credit for silencing the doubters during his time-in) – but they’ve only just started bringing in meaningful reinforcements. They retrieved box-to-box midfielder Juninho from the Hell that is the Chicago Fire, and rescued Lampson from Minnesota, but they really only got serious when they added Antuna (on loan from Manchester City) and central defender Polenta from Uruguay’s Nacional FC. It’s still a little shy on ambition, but there throwing to the right target.

2019 Forecast:

Tricky. First, they need a credible center back and, if Polenta fits the bill (good signs), that will clear up the glass jaw issue. Bigger questions lurk in the area in front of that defense: Perry Kitchen has yet to return to the form he had when he played for DC United and Joao Pedro hasn’t looked MLS-ready for as long as he’s been in MLS. They’re also doubling down on that pile of attacking DPs – in this case restructuring Giovanni dos Santos’ contract instead of pushing him out the door. It’s possible they’ll make the playoffs in 2019, but I don’t see anything that makes me expect greatness.

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for our verdict the better halves of the East and West Conferences.

Colorado Takeaways, Cruz’s International, and Open Cup Planning

FC CIncinnati is two-for-two on positive results in preseason, a Rapids debrief, info on Cruz’s 7th international, and a look at the U.S. Open Cup inmpact.

Image: Ryan Meyer

The Result

FC Cincinnati’s second preseason effort of 2019 yielded a slender 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids. The victory comes with an asterisk, given Kendall Waston’s 21st-minute red card and Colorado’s youth-laden lineup. But the squad is two-for-two on positive results, and more importantly, no injuries were sustained during the contest.

Adding to the positives, Eric Alexander and five of the draftees saw their first in-game action of the preseason. Alexander, the Portage, Michigan native, came into camp with a slight injury and didn’t take part in the first preseason match versus Montréal Impact. Despite being subbed out later on, Alexander logged 30 minutes against the Rapids. Alexander has 212 MLS appearances since 2010, the most on FC Cincinnati’s roster.

Forrest Lasso continued his strong start to the preseason on Saturday, deflecting a header from Hassam Ndam for the only goal. He now has a goal, an assist, and a clean sheet in both of the halves that he’s been on the field.

Alan Koch was especially impressed with the team’s defense against Colorado.

I was impressed with the shape of both groups. We got a shut-out in the first 45 minutes and in the second 45 minutes. When you focus on a lot of defensive work this week, that’s a huge positive.

FCC featured a three-center-back look over the 90 minutes against the Rapids. The team was set up in a 3-5-2 formation, in contrast to the 4-3-3 that FCC ran against Montréal.

Next up is D.C. United on Thursday for a 7 pm kickoff in the last match of FC Cincinnati’s IMG camp.

Cruz’s International

Allan Cruz missed the Colorado friendly in Bradenton and instead played the full 90 minutes in Costa Rica’s 2-0 loss to the United States Men’s National Team. Earning meaningful minutes at the international level at age 22 is impressive, even if a few fans were put off by a perception that the midfielder went down a little too easily at times. That was Cruz’s seventh cap for the Ticos, all of which were earned during 2018 and 2019.

The Greg Berhalter Era of the USMNT is off to a crisp start, despite the first-year coach fielding only MLS-based players. His teams claimed two victories including five goals-for and none against. Hopefully, Greg Garza can get healthy and keep himself on the radar for future national team selection.

U.S. Open Cup Schedule

Last week saw the release of the schedule for the 106th U.S. Open Cup. As expected, FC Cincinnati will enter in the fourth round and play their first match on June 12th. In a scheduling twist, the fifth round will occur just one week later if FC Cincinnati progresses. Those two matches would fill in FC Cincinnati’s only true bye week on the 2019 calendar.

Here is what the June through mid-July match schedule looks like with the addition of the Open Cup matches. This assumes FCC participates in three rounds. If they advance all the way to a semifinal match, that will be played on August 7th.

6/1 at Colorado Rapids
6/6 at NYCFC (Thursday)
6/12 – USOC 4th Round (Wednesday)
6/18 to 6/23 – USOC 5th Round (likely Wednesday 6/19)
6/22 – LA Galaxy
6/29 – at Minnesota United
7/6 – Houston Dynamo
7/10 – USOC Quarterfinal
7/13 – at Chicago Fire
7/18 – D.C. United (Thursday)

The early rounds usually offer some fairy-tale regional stories and kick off May 7-8. Those consist of 19 first-round games featuring 84 teams from all levels. FC Cincinnati’s first U.S. Open Cup match in June could produce an intriguing regional match with an old USL foe like Indy Eleven, who is carrying several players from FCC’s 2018 roster.

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