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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Jeff Bull gives you a luxurious and link-laden look at MLS Week 2, and the five games that are most worthy of your undivided attention.
“It’s early, but trends for 2019 are starting to form in Major League Soccer after just a week.”
I read that sentence…five(?) days ago (here) and it still hasn’t come out from under my skin. Go past beyond the oxymoronic idea of conjuring a “trend” out of a single piece of information (a game, in this case) and ask the more relevant question: is every team in Major League Soccer a kind of generic “widget” that compares with every other team apples-to-apples? Just…stop making a mockery of all the work I put into these damn posts, yeah?
Of which, here’s the results tracker I use as a reference for this and all future posts, updated so it’s current on results/trends. (Full disclosure: you will find typos in there; I try and I will always correct, but that’s a lotta moving parts.)
To stick up for it a little, the article isn’t hot garbage – e.g., the note that Minnesota United FC will play just one team that made the 2018 playoffs counts as news you can use – but talk of a “new and improved attack” for the Chicago Fire, talk about Atlanta United FC regaining momentum, and Los Angeles FC “winning ugly,” all fell flat to varying degrees once the results for MLS Week 2 rolled in. Just to give one example, LAFC kicked the Portland Timbers’ collective ass, and most of the ugly came from Portland. (Any FC Cincinnati fans looking for a little encouragement about next weekend’s home opener should look into the Timbers’ record without Diego Chara in the starting XI).
With that off my chest (no, thank you), allow me to turn your attention to what actually happened during Week 2 of the 2019 MLS season, starting with the games that failed to cough up any kind of real news or useful data. For example, get rid of draws between “perceptually equal” teams – i.e., games between teams that most reasonable people would reasonably lump into the same tier of talent – and there goes Chicago’s 1-1 draw in Chicago against Orlando City SC and New York City and DC United knotting up at nowhere (aka, a 0-0 draw in The Bronx). Next, yank all the games that follow expectations or reputations – e.g., the Seattle Sounders beating the Colorado Rapids in Seattle, as they would, and always will on most timelines. To extend the idea using one team as an example, the Fire had a chance to back up the (or that one dude’s) speculation that their attack had improved; by failing to do that, Chicago failed to rewrite its reputation as a team that neutrals can safely ignore. By association, Orlando will remain the team that sucked in 2018 until they flip the script.
As for the rest, I’ll take a closer look at the five games that sent weird signals, big signals, or both. That will leave one last game unlooked at (but not unloved): FC Dallas’ 2-0 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy. That’s a solid win for Dallas, if just on paper, while also not likely to cause a massive stir back in LA – especially with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his ego sitting that one out.
More significantly, the stars aligned to where I happened to tune in for the full 90 minutes of the two more defining of the weekend results – Portland’s dark-night-of-the-soul loss to LAFC mentioned above, and FC Cincinnati’s perhaps-less-stunning-than-it-should-be draw against the reigning champs (Atlanta) in Atlanta (those links will take you to the extended notes on both of those games). The results meant more to the teams opposite the ones I follow – e.g., LAFC has started very strong and against two respected teams (if at home), while Atlanta looks like a deeply-puzzled shadow of their former selves – but, with them averaging 3.5 goals against per game so far, Portland fans have every reason to feel anxious about their defense. As for Cincinnati…ask me what I think after they play the Timbers next Sunday.
Of which, here’s the results tracker I use as a reference for this and all future posts, updated so it’s current on results/trends. (Full disclosure: you will find typos in there; I try and I will always correct, but that’s a lotta moving parts.)
All right, that’s the state of things generally. Now, let’s see what I can sort out of those other five games.
I always type Columbus Screw, and it bugs me, but, short version, they were good for the win. It took them nearly to the expiration of the policy to score their insurance goal – which, for the record, was embarrassingly simple from the Revs perspective – this match-up comes down to a simple question of quality. Wrapping your head around the question only takes asking yourself, would you rather have Gyasi Zardes or Teal Bunbury, Gaston Sauro or Michael Mancienne, Federico Higuain or Carles Gil? And, dragging this all the way in Columbus’ favor, Pedro Santos showed up Cristian Penilla, the one player New England has who could complicate that decidedly lopsided game of War (the card game). It wasn’t just that one player got an assist (on Columbus’ first goal; do note how the Revs defense conspired to allow two dudes to pull that off) while the other didn’t; Santos worked better with the space and timing he had – much as he did on that assist. Too many of New England’s “attacks” boiled down to “mazy runs” into a dead-end of Columbus players; count Penilla, Juan Agudelo and Edgar Castillo all guilty of that sin of excess. New England did manage to earn a penalty kick, but, sticking with the theme, Zac Steffen (who you’d rather have than New England’s Brad Knighton) stuffed it. One of the most telling stats/patterns I’m seeing is when the team that puts up the fewest total shots still manages to put more shots on goal. Whatever their actual level of talent, there’s just something…off about the Revs, and there has been for some years – and, more to the point, until further notice.
“Does your friend have a name?” “His name is Ben.” “That is a show that is not going away. Classic.”
I’m guessing the second quote is about…Friends(?), but I have no idea who Ben is or how his name came up, but that is the bless’d sound of broadcast booth boredom (take a bow, Glenn Davis and Eddie Robinson!). I mostly dipped into this game to check on Houston; their record against mediocre teams (e.g., RSL and Montreal) was the only hook I needed. When the announcers got around to talking about the game, they described the same thing shown in the condensed highlights: Houston dominance for the first 30 minutes. Montreal scored first against that back-drop (cool goal, too; and Michael Azira?), but it was only appropriate for Houston to clap-back (and louder; that’s gotta be in for Goal of the Week). A lot of credit goes to Houston’s Tomas Martinez for combining grit with grace the same way he did in the assist on that first goal, but the Dynamo looked like they had some ideas going forward. After nearly 40 minutes on their backs, L’Impact dragged itself back closer to equal footing, and that only makes Houston’s scrappy winner more impressive. Overall, though, there’s no question this game played out as expected, if on largely historical terms: both Montreal and Houston sucked on the road last season, and Houston made BBVA a fortress…if a pregnable one when the right suitor came around (sorry…I’ve been considering the meaning and origin of the word “impregnable” all day, and I don’t love where it’s taking me). I’m not sure what I was looking for here – especially given that I expect* both the Galaxy and FC Dallas to go deeper than Houston – but I’m wondering whether my personal rooting interests (i.e., Portland and Cincinnati) aren’t making me more curious about mid-table competition. (*That’s expect, because nothing would surprise me with any of those three teams.)
While they’ve got ample reason to complain about the penalty kick – I’m pretty confident Corey Baird was leaning ground-wards before he got touched. Vancouver really can’t scream injustice about the final result. Credit where it’s due, Albert Rusnak scored one of your more technical penalty kicks, but, by the same logic, the Whitecaps played RSL pretty damn even at Rio Tinto (as confirmed), and that should give a rebuilt team still trying to come together some comfort (yes, they’d rather have the point, but…). They can draw more positives not just from their steady goal creation, but from solid play by Yordy Reyna and what looks like a tidy bundle of technique and stamina from new (literal) kid, Hwang In-beom (srsly, this kid might have some realupside). Doneil Henry also deserves a shout, more for how often I heard his name in the context of thwarting RSL attacks than his one misplaced shot at glory. Since they’re working with (mostly) same players, it’s hard to read (or make easy excuses for) RSL. The usual suspects stood out – e.g., Albert Rusnak, Jefferson Savarino, and the rest (fine, Damir Kreilach) – their lack of multiple “money” players really does stand out with RSL. Their “live-or-die-by-committee” ethos might be as old as the club, but they haven’t had players like Javier Morales, Jamison Olave, and Kyle-Beckerman-from-10-years-ago since, oh, 10 years ago. And yet they had at least two cracks at taking advantage of Vancouver’s failure to equalize late in the game. To flag one detail that could spell joy for RSL, Nedum Onuoha was both usefully large (he’s 210, people, and looks every pound) and all over the game. If RSL can stop leaking goals – the curse of their stable of promising youngsters – they could compete in 2019.
I want to pause here to point out a dangerous symptom of watching the condensed games as opposed to strictly tracking the results. Every time you see a player like Yordy Reyna come close to killing it, you start thinking “man, what would it mean if he starts killing it?” This is how focusing harder on results pays off: the results Vancouver gets will say whether or not he’s killing it – or, on a finer point, it will tell you whether or not that matters. Right, aside over, back to the capsules.
I put down a marker before checking the box score for this one and…drum roll…nope, that doesn’t line up with what I saw in the condensed game. If I had to hypothesize on a reason, it would start with the eye-bulging number of crosses San Jose played (some of them rather good by Cristian Espinoza and even Chris Wondolowski once), but the more salient detail shows up (again) in the shots/shots-on-goal numbers. Now, that matched what I saw in the condensed game – e.g., Minnesota creating whole, sound chances against the scraps San Jose dragged off the table. Most of the credit I saw drifted Darwin Quintero’s way (and, yes, he played a role), but there should be shouts just as loud about Miguel Ibarra’s decisivecontributions – and, yes, yes, that is a hand ball on San Jose’s opener. To linger a little on Ibarra, Minnesota has had…at least minimally respectable attacking players for as long as they’ve been around – none on Quintero’s level, but a solid, healthy-Kevin-Molino good. What they’ve lacked – outside six(-ish) short games when Michael Azira and Sam Cronin were both healthy – was the spine they’ve now built around Ike Opara, Osvaldo Alonso, and, can I say just how impressed I was with Jan Grey Goose in this match (fine, Gregus, and is anyone else getting thirsty?). Nice as it was to see him ping a double-insurance goal off Harold Cummings, he’s pretty quick, looks like he knows how to pass and tackle, and he has good size to boot. If Minnesota’s spine holds – and, literally, all I mean by that is if they stay healthy – I’d be stunned if Minnesota didn’t make the playoffs. The same thing goes for San Jose, only going the other way. Bless the vets (Wondo) and the high-priced new additions (Espinoza), but give DanielVega a raise and do his errands for him. This game could have ended 0-6 real damn easy. San Jose…it’s gonna be a long season…
First, Marco Fabian absolutely went after Johnny Russell. Elsewhere, and despite some first-blush qualms, I even agreed on the penalty call against Seth Sinovic once I came at it from a “natural movement” point of view. Going the other way, the call that lead to the first penalty kick hasn’t stopped throwing me since I watched it. (I can only ask “where?” so many times before I give up, so I did.) Maybe SKC got lucky in the end, maybe they made their own luck; either way, I’d call this MLS Week 2’s “clash of the titans.” But for the grace of God and Tim Melia (who really deserves more highlight clips than he got), this game could have ended very differently for SKC – and that’s the bright spot for Philly. That’s the bottom of the Eastern Conference with not even one number on the positive side of the ledger, Philadelphia Union. Going the other way, SKC won this game because, 1) because Melia was there and, 2) Sporting held up its end of the fight. For what it’s worth, I think they’ll manage the same all season – and in spite of the permanent conversation about how they don’t have a forward. What SKC does have, and right now, is a group of players who are talented enough that, when one line of attack fails, they always have another one on which to fall back. If it’s not Russell’s night, what’s Gerso Fernandes up to? Or if Krisztian Nemeth has a “bout of the breezes” what’s the harm in starting Daniel Salloi? The 18 I see for SKC in the box score (which is both educational, and, to second Jim Curtin, a spark of hope for the Union), and, if it’s not the best 18 players in MLS on average, it’s close. Emphasis added for the complexity of the ask. Overall, I’d call this a good all-around outing for Sporting KC and a good response to a bad set-up for Philly. I do think they’ll both hang in and around the chase this season.
And…yep, that’s me tapped out. As with last week, I hope most of the above makes sense (it does…right?). As I see it, most of what’s going on right now feels like confirmation – e.g., that Kansas City and Seattle have good teams, and that there’s this massive queue of decidedly middling teams peaking over their shoulders to the promised land. As much as I think the order of that queue will shift around during 2019, I’m not sure how exciting most people will find the shifts. Speaking for myself, I’d like a few plot twists. And I appreciate Atlanta for providing them. Gucci*.
A look at the teams that took the Eastern Conference by the scruff of the neck last year, to see how they finished, transfers, and their playoff potential.
The thing about racing is that it only takes a bad turn to lead to disaster.
Perhaps you could say Toronto missing the 2018 playoffs was an anomaly. A year after finishing third in the East, Chicago crashed out of the race. Hey, even the fastest cars with the strongest engines hit the wall or dawdle too long in the pit stop. (Don’t know what to tell you guys, Orlando—y’all drove a golf cart most of the season.)
However, the standings in the East last year may not have been so different from reality. Over the past ten years, Orlando, Chicago, Toronto, New England, and Montreal have missed the playoffs over half of the time (13 total appearances over 41 attempts). Meanwhile, the top teams from last year have made the playoffs 29 times over the last 45 attempts.
I’m not saying that these six teams are a lock to make the playoffs again. I’m just saying that they have good arguments that they’ll stay competitive in 2019 and beyond. Here’s how they’ve retooled to make sure they do so.
2018 Finish Line: 6th in Eastern Conference (15-14-5), 50 pts. 49 goals for, 50 goals against.
Despite a rough start to the season, the Union went on a solid run over the last three months to sneak into the playoffs. It’s probably fair to consider 2018 an overall success—the Union blew through the Red Bulls, Chicago, and Orlando to get to the U.S. Open Cup final before losing 3-0 to Houston. However, lack of a consistent scoring threat left the team toothless—none of their scorers ranked in the Top 25 in goals. The Union wilted to close out the season, losing to NYCFC 3-1 in both the season finale and the knockout round. .
OUT: M Fabian Herbers, D Keegan Rosenberry, M Borek Dockal
IN: F Sergio Santos, D Kai Wagner, M Marco Fabian
Sneaking into the playoffs may not sound like a big step, but the 2018 version of the Union was arguably their best team yet, scoring the highest number of wins (15) and points (50) in their nine-year existence. The promotion of goalkeeper Matt Freese and midfielder Brenden Aaronsen means the Union now have seven homegrown players on their roster. The midfield appeared to be a question mark, but the signing of Mexican international Marco Fabian may be the biggest DP splash in team history. The addition of Sergio Santos also provides a third scoring threat that the Union couldn’t get from David Accam last year.
On paper, this is the most improved team in the East. On paper. Philly already had one of the stronger USL squads to begin with, and those youngsters are starting to get deserved call-ups. Goalkeeper Andre Blake asserted his status as one of the best in the league last season, racking up 118 saves and 10 clean sheets. More importantly, Fabian should immediately produce dividends with both feet and be able to feed forwards Cory Burke and C.J. Sapong. Those assists lost from letting Dockal go should return in bunches. Philly could find themselves challenging for the top of the conference, as long as the youth grows into their defensive roles.
2018 Finish Line: 5th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 43 goals for, 45 goals against.
Ownership issues? What, me worry?
Despite a season of attendance worries and threats to split for Austin, the Crew exceeded expectations to make the playoffs. Yes, their 43 goals scored tied them with Orlando for second-lowest in the league, but their trade for Gyasi Zardes paid back in spades (20 goals in 2018 after 15 in the previous three seasons). The Crew almost shocked the Red Bulls in the playoffs, beating New York 1-0 at home before losing 3-0 on the away leg.
OUT: M Cristian Martinez, M Mike Grella, GK Zack Steffen
IN: GK Joe Bendik, M Robinho Barbosa, D Waylon Francis, F
While not much movement has taken place within the roster, the largest movement was obviously within the front office and coaching staff. Gregg Berhalter departs to coach the U.S. national men’s team, and Caleb Porter moves in to coach the team he beat in the 2015 MLS Cup when coaching Portland. The ownership group will turn over and gladly spark more joy within the fanbase, especially with Anthony Precourt on his way out and an in-state rival on the way in.
The lack of movement may mean that the team is comfortable with its lineup, but the Crew will need to activate its offense by midseason. The 43 goals scored by Columbus was the lowest of all 12 playoff teams, with 44% scored by Zardes. Another scoring threat will be required to take pressure off the midfield of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, and Pedro Santos, who will all be 30 or older. The anticipated departure of Steffen will require Joe Bendik to step in seamlessly, so if offense hasn’t arrived by then, it’s hard to say if the defense will stay solid to repeat their form. Look for Columbus to be one of the teams to take a step downward.
2018 Finish Line: 4th in Eastern Conference (14-11-9), 51 pts. 60 goals for, 50 goals against.
There probably hasn’t been such a Jekyll-and-Hyde season
before like DCU’s 2018 season. With their new home stadium set to open in July,
DCU played 12 of their first 14 games on the road, winning only twice. However,
the signing of Wayne Rooney and the opening of Audi Field led to an incredible
turnaround—DCU went undefeated in their final 10 games (7-0-3) to make the
playoffs, only to lose to Columbus in the knockout round.
OUT: F Darren Mattocks, M Yamil Asad, D Nick DeLeon, GK
IN: D Leonardo Jara, M Lucas Rodriguez, GK Chris Seitz, F
The roller-coaster season from 2018 continued in the offseason with the on-again, off-again relationship with midfielder Lucho Acosta. Once thought to be gone to Paris Saint-Germain, Acosta is still with the team and likely looking for a contract signing in 2019. It’s a good thing DCU held onto Acosta and bought the rights to Lucas Rodriguez from Atlanta—the departing Mattocks and Asad had 19 goals last season, so offense will be at a premium. Ousted’s ousting means that this is now goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s team, but the trades for Seitz and Earl Edwards Jr. at least provide depth for backup (or at least a start on the Loudoun United USL team.)
Had it not been for that Zlatan guy in the West, Wayne Rooney probably would have been the Newcomer of the Year. (Admit it—that video of him slide-tackling Will Johnson and setting up a stoppage time game-winner to Acosta’s in your YouTube “Favorites” section.) Still, he’s one of only two experienced forwards on this team’s roster, so can he last 34 games? Where will the goals come from? The midfield tandem with Acosta, Rodriguez, and Paul Arriola should form a strong shield behind Rooney and the newly-signed Amarikwa, but it’s hard to say how much offense can be produced if there’s no help on the horizon. At least the road schedule is less hectic and easier than the grueling trek in 2018—four of the six Western away games are at teams that missed the playoffs last year.
New York City FC
2018 Finish Line: 3rd in Eastern Conference (16-10-8), 56 pts. 59 goals for, 45 goals against.
Say what you will about Yankee Stadium not being a good field for soccer. The constricted dimensions smother an opponent like the summer subway air. The Bronx Boys in Blue lost only twice at home all season (13-2-4), but one of those losses was to Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. Despite Patrick Viera’s departure in June, interim head coach Domènec Torrent kept NYCFC afloat just long enough to earn the permanent role.
OUT: F David Villa, F Jo Inge Berget, M Rodney Wallace, M
IN: F Alexandru Mitrita, M Juan Pablo Torres, M Keaton
Parks, M Tony Rocha
How do you recover quickly from a heart transplant? David Villa was the soul of NYCFC for four years, scoring 77 goals in only 117 games. Only Robbie Keane scored more goals at a faster clip (83 in 125 games). Villa’s departure for Japan meant that the City Football Group had to dig deeper into their pockets to pony up for Alexandru Mitrita. The striker already has 12 goals after 16 games this season with first-tier Craiova in Romania. The team may not be finished, as Spanish striker Carlitos could join as well. Much of the defense remains the same, which will suit goalkeeper Sean Johnson (10 clean sheets) just fine.
As long as NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium and adapts to its smaller dimensions, the home wins should continue. However, the departure of Villa and Berget leaves the team without an actual center forward. Maxi Moralez will have to work to become the new face of the club, and if he’s able to dictate play as a true #10, he will likely lead the league in assists. NYCFC does get the benefit of a soft schedule to start the season—only three of their first 12 matches are against 2018 playoff squads. They also face their rivals only twice in the Hudson River Derby this year, which could be a blessing in disguise. They’ve only beaten the Red Bulls four times in 14 contests.
Atlanta United FC
2018 Finish Line: 2nd in Eastern Conference (21-7-6), 69 pts. 70 goals for, 44 goals against. 2018 MLS Cup champions.
The first match of the season was a surprising 4-0 loss to a Houston team that floundered in midseason. No big deal. The “A-Train” dropped points only 12 times in the next 33 games. Despite finishing below the Red Bulls in the standings, there was no stopping Atlanta on their way to a 2-0 victory over Portland in the MLS Cup final. The Five Stripes have scored 140 regular-season goals over two seasons, and 50 of those have been by Josef Martinez. Over that same two-year span, the entire Colorado Rapids team has scored 67.
OUT: D Greg Garza, M Miguel Almiron, M Chris McCann
IN: D/M Brek Shea, M Pity Martinez, D Florentin Pogba
The biggest change is obviously the one at the top, as Gerardo
Martino traded his Five Stripes for the Green, Red, and White as the Mexican
national team head coach. While Tata’s shoes are arguably hard to fill,
bringing in Ajax stalwart Frank De Boer
to helm Atlanta was a bold decision. Name recognition is one thing, but De
Boer’s winning percentage hasn’t been great outside of the Netherlands (6-2-11
in two very quick stints over the past three years).
Miguel Almiron’s departure for Newcastle is mammoth, but resigning Martinez and pairing him with another Martinez (Pity) only makes the offense stronger. The biggest loss is likely Garza, as the left back spot now goes to either homegrown George Bello or fallen star Brek Shea. However, many of the pieces are still in place, including the extremely-vocal crowd, which definitely contributed to the 11-2-4 home record last year.
Truthfully, this team should have enough energy from 2018 to coast into the playoffs in 2019. However, the same was said about Toronto FC last year, and the deep run into the CONCACAF Champions League depleted Toronto in the regular season. At least this CCL is a knockout-style tournament, but it’s still a lot of travel in the spring if Atlanta wins their way up the bracket.
While Atlanta’s vibrant offense will be bolstered by Pity’s talent, the pressure will now be on Julian Gressel and Tito Villalba to distribute in Almiron’s place. There are plenty of midfielders to pick up the slack if neither get the job done, but those minutes will be hard to distribute—Darlington Nagbe is already rumored to want out. The defense is a year older in the middle and newer on the edges, so it will be interesting to see if the shots at goalkeeper Brad Guzan increase.
All those points of caution shouldn’t matter. It’s Josef Martinez, guys.
New York Red Bulls
2018 Finish Line: 1st in Eastern Conference (22-7-5), 71 pts. 62 goals for, 33 goals against. 2018 Supporters’ Shield champions.
Despite only missing the playoffs once over their 13 years as the Red Bulls, New York has made only one MLS Cup appearance, losing to Columbus in 2008. They lost their head coach Jesse Marsch to a June transfer to RB Leipzig’s coaching staff, but that didn’t crush their spirits. Their +29 goal differential in 2018 was tied for the fifth-best ever in MLS history, thanks largely to Luis Robles’ 14 clean sheets. Still, all that success only produced an insurmountable deficit against Atlanta in the conference finals, losing 3-1 on aggregate.
OUT: M Tyler Adams, D Aurelien Collin, D Hassan Ndam
IN: M Marcus Epps, D Amro Tarek, F Mathias Jorgensen
The offseason was a bit quiet for incoming transactions, but the Red Bull machine managed a big get by signing 18-year-old forward Mathias Jorgensen, who had excelled in the Danish Superliga’s developmental system. The key loss is, of course, the move of Tyler Adams to Red Bull Leipzig in the Bundesliga. While this is an immense developmental move for the 19-year-old, it leaves RBNY empty in the defensive midfielder zone. The natural move is to insert Cristian Casseres Jr., but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the opportunity to promote Andrew Tinari from the Red Bulls II affiliate. Of course, all of the first-team reserves that were cut away can easily be replaced by the USL backups, so there isn’t much movement necessary. That could make the Red Bulls dangerous for years to come.
It could be possible to suggest the only way is down. Chris Armas didn’t have much weight to pull last year as interim head coach, but now the pressure will be on him to produce trophies bigger than a Supporters’ Shield. If the hook is pulled early, don’t be surprised if Red Bulls II coach John Wolyniec gets the promotion.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is showing little signs of rust, blasting his 100th MLS goal for the Red Bulls last season. He has 124 over all competitions in his five years with New York, but he’s also logged a ton of minutes. BWP has played in at least 40 games each of the past four seasons. If he does go down, Jorgensen and local product Brian White will have to be ready to fill the void.
The defense was the best in the league in 2018 (33 goals against) and should still be solid without Adams in the midfield. Re-signing Tim Parker to anchor the back line with 2018 Defender of the Year Aaron Long was key, and goalkeeper Robles should be able to duplicate his performance from last year. If Atlanta is unable to find traction under De Boer, the Red Bulls should be ready to dominate the conference. Again.
That puts a pretty bow on the Eastern Conference previews. There won’t be any quizzes later on, but now you know how the field appears on the starting line. Strap on your seat belts, roll down the window, and enjoy this crazy ride.
Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more preseason coverage and previews of the remaining Western Conference squads.
We picked through the finer details to give you key insights beyond the basics of FC Cincinnati’s 2019 MLS schedule.
FC Cincinnati announced its full 2019 schedule on Monday, and fans can finally plan for the big games against new and existing rivals. We picked through the finer details to give you a few insights beyond the basics.
You’ve probably already heard about FC Cincinnati’s exceptionally difficult start to the season. The first three games are away to Seattle and Atlanta, then home to the Portland Timbers. That’s a brutal early gauntlet. Things don’t get much easier thereafter, as six of their next seven opponents were also 2018 playoff teams. The only non-playoff opposition in FCC’s first 10 can be found on March 24th away to the New England Revolution.
The schedule gets more manageable thereafter. However, there is another tough-looking run in August when the Orange & Blue face the Crew, home and away, with NYCFC sandwiched in between. They’re then off to Frisco, Texas to face FC Dallas before returning home to duel with Toronto FC.
Father’s Day Break & Sundays
Most of the weekends from March and October are now dedicated to supporting the Orange & Blue. There is just a single weekend where the FCC doesn’t have a match once things kick off in March. That is Father’s Day weekend, June 15-16th. That slot could accommodate a US Open Cup match, but those are typically played midweek. This weekend might not feature matches, as it is caught between a FIFA international window and the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
MLS’s new condensed schedule features more midweek games, as there are a total of four Wednesday or Thursday matches this season. That isn’t a change for FCC fans accustomed to the USL calendar. However, fans will have to get used to quite a few more Sunday games, with nine total during the regular season.
FC Cincinnati’s involvement in everyone’s favorite cup competition should begin in early June. That will serve up a dose of schedule congestion similar to year’s past. Here are the possible dates in June and July if FCC progresses to play in three USOC games.
6/1 at Colorado Rapids 6/6 at NYCFC (Thursday) 6/12 – USOC 4th Round 6/22 – LA Galaxy 6/26 – USOC 5th Round 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 NYCFC and D.C. United games are both on Thursday which limits the weeks that FCC can participate in a midweek USOC game. These scheduling wrinkles could cause the fourth round to get moved up to late May, but then the earlier USOC rounds would have to move even earlier. The big change, of course, is that MLS teams enter later in the tournament, expectedly in the fourth round.
Schedule Symmetry & Home Finish
The MLS schedule will look a little more balanced in 2019 than it has in seasons past. FC Cincinnati will play every other team in the Eastern Conference twice – once home and once away. Furthermore, they will play each team in the Western Conference one time, either home or away. Every team’s schedule is now organized in this fashion and has a more “fair” look, or at least that was the goal.
One really pleasant change from season’s past is FC Cincinnati’s end-of-season calendar. Alan Koch and company could be scrapping for a playoff spot come September, and Orange & Blue will get to play three of his last four games at Nippert Stadium.
Five Best Road Trips
The FC Cincinnati faithful will look to build on their reputation as good travelers in the first MLS season. With new regional rivals, there are a lot of travel dates to choose from on the 2019 calendar. Here are our top 5 road-trip recommendations.
#5 – June 29th at Minnesota United – It’s a quick flight and a Saturday game. You can check out the new Allianz Field in Saint Paul while watching the Orange & Blue claim revenge for the 2018 USOC penalty-kick defeat.
#4 – May 19 at Orlando City – It will probably still be drizzling in Cincy in May, so head south to Florida and heckle James O’Connor in his new home while taking in some sunshine.
#3 – March 10th at Atlanta United – It’s right after the big MLS opener, but if you can’t make it to Seattle, you must make it Atlanta and see what 70+ thousand screaming MLS fans look like in a plush Mercedes Benz Stadium.
#2 – March 2nd at Seattle Sounders – Washington is on the other side of the country, but it’s FC Cincinnati’s first-ever MLS game, and it comes equipped with one of the best environments that MLS has to offer. We’re sure you can find a way.
#1 – August 10th at Columbus Crew – We have to wait until August (*sigh*), but the Crew are saved and the rivalry renews at MAPFRE. This is a historic derby match that you cannot miss.
Lots of big dates and interesting twists ahead. Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for more coverage of the MLS SuperDraft and FC Cincinnati’s preseason.
Even more images of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC at Nippert on June 14th, courtesy of Joe Schmuck.
Here are 30 images of FC Cincinnati’s historic US Open cup victory over Columbus Crew SC 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.”
Images courtesy of Ryan Meyer of FC Cincinnati’s 1-0 victory over Columbus Crew SC in the US Open Cup on June 14th.
Relive FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup victory with 30 images courtesy of Ryan Meyer. When browsing the gallery below for any given image, a high resolution version can be found by scrolling down and clicking “View Full Size.”
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for bonus photos of Wednesday’s Cup win over Crew SC and more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s season. Up next is a match at Nippert against USL Eastern Conference leaders the Charleston Battery.
Four numbers that mattered from FC Cincinnati’s dramatic underdog victory over Columbus Crew SC in the US Open Cup on Wednesday.
FC Cincinnati defeated MLS giant Columbus Crew SC by a 1-0 scoreline in a historic win at Nippert Stadium on Wednesday. A US Open Cup record crowd looked on as the second year Cincinnati side toppled their prestigious neighbor from the north. Senegalese striker Djiby Fall was the hero again for the Orange & Blue. His 64th minute headed goal gave Alan Koch’s side a slender advantage and ultimately the victory against their new rival.
Four Numbers That Mattered
3 – The number of defenders in FC Cincinnati’s back line. Alan Koch started a bold lineup in a 3-5-2 formation that departed from the setup FC Cincinnati has been featuring in USL league play. Paul Nicholson, Austin Berry, and Harrison Delbridge anchored a bend-but-don’t-break defense against a threatening Crew SC attack. Nicholson made only two USL starts for FC Cincinnati in 2017 prior to Wednesday’s match. Playing three at the back also allowed FC Cincinnati to start Djiby Fall and Danni König together up front for the first time.
17 – The number of chances created** by Columbus Crew SC over the 90-plus minutes played in this match. As one might expect, Crew SC were dominant for large portions of the contest. They had 19 total shots compared to FC Cincinnati’s five and maintained a 60%-40% possession advantage. They could not convert their opportunities though, and Djiby’s lone goal proved enough to settle the contest. It worth noting that 12 of crew SC shots (70%) were from outside the box.
3 (again) – The jersey number of left wing-back Tyler Polak who had a stand-out performance on Wednesday. Polak repeatedly repelled and intercepted Crew SC’s determined efforts to attack FC Cincinnati’s left side. Although not part of the three man back line, Polak and the other wing-backs played a key defensive role by dropping back to form a back five when Columbus had the ball. Polak, who recently won USL Team of the Week honors against Toronto FC II, carried his good league form into Wednesday’s Cup competition.
Polak made the following comments after the match:
“Coach mentioned that we needed to stay compact. We executed perfectly tonight as a full group. Coach also gave me a bit more free position so I had some additional confidence for tonight. Right now, I’m exhausted. But we’re going to get back to training tomorrow for Saturday’s match.”
30,160 – The attendance for this US Open Cup fourth round match. A big crowd was expected on Wednesday, but not a crowd as big as the one that showed to watch the first ever “Hell Is Real” / Ohio derby. The attendance pulverized the existing US Open Cup record for the fourth round, and became the highest US Open Cup attendance for any match that was not the final. The Seattle Sounders hold the top two record attendances in the US Open Cup, both in finals that they hosted and won .
FC Cincinnati advances to the fifth round and the final sixteen of the US Open Cup with the victory. Their opponent will be determined Thursday by a draw and subsequent coin toss to determine which team will host the match.
UPDATE: FC Cincinnati has drawn the Chicago Fire of MLS in the fifth round and will play them at Nippert Stadium on June 28th at 7:30pm.
Match Photos, credit Ryan Meyer
Bonus Photos, credit Joe Schmuck
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of the US Open Cup and FC Cincinnati’s 2017 season.
FC Cincinnati defeated rival Louisville City FC in the US Open Cup setting up a pivotal June 14th matchup with MLS side Columbus Crew SC
FC Cincinnati defeated rival Louisville City FC 1-0 in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday. Talismanic striker Djiby Fall thumped home a scrappy winner from a corner kick in the 49th minute to send FC Cincinnati through to the fourth round of the tournament. The Orange and Blue will host Columbus Crew SC at Nippert Stadium in two week’s time in the first of what’s sure to be many epic showdowns between the two biggest clubs in Ohio.
These two teams met just over a month ago in a tenuous 1-1 draw at Nippert Stadium. In the late stages of that match Djiby Fall was shown red card for a dangerous studs-up tackle. He was ejected and suspended five additional USL matches for an alleged biting incident in the altercation that followed. Despite the suspension, which lasts through June 3rd, Djiby was eligible to play in this contest because the punishment did not carry over into the US Open Cup. The intensity of the rivalry and the dislike between these two clubs could be felt from the opening whistle.
Louisville City started the match on the front foot and put FC Cincinnati under early pressure. Local boy and former FC Cincinnati player Luke Spencer started at center forward for Louisville City FC. He disappointingly got injured in the 15th minute and was replaced by Ilija Ilić. The game evened out after 20 minutes and was tightly contested, finishing scoreless at halftime. Possession was essentially even. FC Cincinnati had a 5-4 shot advantage with both teams putting three total shots on target.
FC Cincinnati opened the second half with the decisive goal. Aodhan Quinn delivered a curling corner kick that deflected off a crowd of players toward goal. Louisville keeper Greg Ranjitsingh blocked the ball away, but it rebounded into the path of Djiby who powered it home with his right foot. FC Cincinnati had the advantage it needed and didn’t let it slip away. Louisville City maintained a 60% possession advantage in the second half as they searched for an equalizer. However, they were limited to two total shots, neither on target. FC Cincinnati had a couple of late chances to double their advantage but couldn’t finish. The match ended 1-0 and FC Cincinnati advanced to fourth round of the US Open Cup for the first time.
FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch said the following of the victory.
“The guys are ecstatic, the club is ecstatic and the fans are ecstatic after today’s win against Louisville FC. We’re thrilled to host the Columbus Crew in the next round. This game is very, very unique. You ride the waves at times and we’re going to keep going with it.”
Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s US Open Cup run and the June 14th showdown with Columbus Crew SC at Nippert Stadium.
It’s been a busy week off the field for FC Cincinnati with the addition of Cristian Martinez and speculation about Danni König. Plus, FCC in the community.
It’s Saturday, it’s match day, and FC Cincinnati is in Richmond for a matchup with the 12th place Kickers. The big news ahead of today’s match is the loan of 20 year old Panamanian Cristián Martinez from Columbus Crew SC to the Orange and Blue. The deal is on a game-by-game basis, and provides some cover while Djiby Fall and Andy Craven serve multiple game disciplinary suspensions.
It’s unclear quite where Martinez fits into the picture for FC Cincinnati. The press release refers to him a forward. However, Crew SC lists him as a midfielder and the reports out of Panama about his signing for Columbus refer to him as the same. He may be able to play forward, but seems more likely to play elsewhere in an attacking three, or behind the lead striker. Saturday’s match will provide some answers if Koch is bold enough to put him into the lineup straight away.
Martinez was acquired permanently by Crew SC in January after being on loan there from Chorrillo of Liga Panameña de Fútbol in 2016. He’s made a handful of appearances with Crew SC, scored one goal in MLS, and was also loaned to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds where he made eight appearances. Here’s the video of his MLS goal.
The announcement comes on the heels of a report via Soc Takes on Thursday night that FC Cincinnati is in the process of signing veteran forward Danni König from OKC Energy. The 30 year old Danish striker is known for his breakout 22 goal season with OKC in 2015.
FC Cincinnati currently has eight attacking players on the roster if you include the wingers. Martinez’s short term signing provides an additional attacking option while two are suspended and certainly makes sense. It will also be interesting to see if Martinez might stick around further into FC Cincinnati’s season.
If they do in fact sign König to a permanent deal, it raises additional questions. What does that mean for the playing time of Omar Cummings if König comes into the fold? Will Victor Mansaray get any chances to start as a lead striker? Are any of the current attacking options on the way out? Could König and Djiby both start once he’s back, and if so who sits? Time will tell.
FC Cincinnati in the Community
FC Cincinnati has been on the unfavorable side of some recent news given the red cards, suspensions, and a lukewarm start to the season. It was good to see them on the positive side as a result of their work in Cincinnati’s community.
On Tuesday they were at Cincinnati Children’s visiting with kids, signing autographs, and on the air at Seacrest Studios.
On Friday, they announced the FC Cincinnati Community Fund, a partnership with the CRC to “create soccer and futsal courts in various areas throughout the city as well as run soccer clinics to engage underprivileged children in the Greater Cincinnati area.” More on the FC Cincinnati Community Fund here.