MLS Weekly, Week 9: Who Made the Most of Their Busy Week?

With one glaring exception, MLS Week 9 coughed up broadly predictable results, or, failing that, explicable ones. That exception was…

Image: Joe Craven

To start with a wee spread of interrelated good news and bad news, the time-swallowing Sunday night bowling league that has dominated my life for the past 30+ weeks just ended (yay!). The bad news is that that final roll (in which I performed horribly) coincided with…just a MASSIVE week’s worth of Major League Soccer…soccer. A suffocating, sadistic seventeen (17) games went from first to final whistle over the past week and, if you’re a guy trying to wrap all that up in a weekly post, that feels like loading 16 tons, and for just as little as the guy gets in the old song.

With one glaring exception, MLS Week 9 coughed up broadly predictable results, or, failing that, explicable ones. That exception was Sporting Kansas City’s utterly puzzling, thoroughly desperate 4-4 draw at home against a New England Revolution team that seems as dedicated to finding fresh arguments for firing Brad Friedel as they are at playing the game. Then again, with the injury bug biting SKC pretty hard, they fielded a thin/make-shift middle three in a 4-3-3, and maybe that, along with Matt Besler’s absence, and Ilie Sanchez’s absence explains how the Revs could easily play over and through them. New England committed heavily to the counter – to the tune of 537 passes to 184 – and with all the gaps left by the wounded, that worked for them. In a testament to the talent they still have left on the table, SKC battled back twice, and Krizstian Nemeth had himself another game. Best case, this becomes a game they rally around, like the Alamo, only with fewer in-game fatalities.

[* I’m taking a station break for a short, by very important caveat. Any week time is tight, all I have time to check with each of these games is the box score (yes, I know it can be one word, but I hate it like that) and the shortened highlights. For what it’s worth, the box scores are useful so long as you don’t read too much into them; with those, I mostly scout for oddities – e.g., the numbers Real Salt Lake put up against the Los Angeles Galaxy in LA. I’m on firmer footing with the two games I watched in full, Red Bull New York’s hideous win over FC Cincinnati (see my extended notes) and the Portland Timbers’ gentle throttling of Toronto FC (see my extended notes). Moving on…]

With most of the other results, two things stood out: 1) the scores are generally tightening, which suggests a general, collective finding of feet for most teams in MLS; and 2) most of the surprises happened for a fairly specific reason. A larger sub-plot dominated the week: 10 teams played two games in MLS Week 9, and that gave it a dose of nitrous. In last week’s post, while I failed to give a “full list” of those teams (apologies to D.C. United and the Seattle Sounders), I did provide thumbnail theories as to what I expected each team to pick up during Week 9. I’ll at least note all the results before wrapping up, but measuring last week’s expectations against what actually happened will stand most teams in MLS against the ruler to see how they stack up. For no particular reason, I’ve decided the list those 10 teams according to the descending order of how much they suffered over Week 9.

Chicago Fire

Prediction: “2 points would impress me and that says a lot.”
Actual Results: 0 points, two 0-1 road losses, one at New York City FC, the other at the Montreal Impact, zero points, and no goals scored, but, hey! Thin margins!
Notes: Both games looked like low-opportunity affairs, and both turned on moments the Fire would almost certainly rather forget. The Fire, specifically, had few memorable chances in either game (Djordje Mihailovic had a decent rip against NYCFC, and they managed to miss a bunch of different ways against Montreal), and that’s why the hype-train for the Fire should stay put until it has a few more miles behind it.

Columbus Crew SC

Prediction: “higher than three points would be great.”
Actual Results: That’d be 0 points again. A 0-1 loss to D.C. in Columbus, followed by a less surprising 2-0 loss to the Houston Dynamo in Houston.
Notes: I heard some kind words for Columbus even during the highlights (“some of the best passing we’ve seen out of Columbus this year”), and, per the numbers, they played pretty even against both teams, Pedro Santos had some good looks, etc. No matter how you slice it, though, getting zero points out of this swing hurts – especially when you give up goals like this, which very much runs against type for Columbus in 2019.

Seattle Sounders FC

Prediction: Didn’t, um, make one, but both I and they would have expected four points at a minimum.
Actual Results: 2 points from two draws in as many home games, one a 2-2 against the San Jose Earthquakes that they rescued and almost lost over 10-15 minute period, the other a bitter, red-tainted 1-1 draw against Los Angeles FC.
Notes: Kelvin Leerdam had himself a very full week, what with all that two-way dueling against Shea Salinas and (I think) getting hosed (but how?) by Diego Rossi to set up the assist for LAFC’s (puzzling) lone goal. I hereby hold up Harry Shipp’s equalizer as proof that Seattle can still ball, but these were two home games, one of them against a comparative minnow, and two points can’t be enough.

New England Revolution

Prediction: “I can see zero, I can see four; two would be good.”
Actual Results: They surprised me with one point, the one they earned against SKC. The other was a 0-3 cringe-fest at Montreal, brutal in every dimension.
Notes: I decided they felt less pain over the weekend than Seattle on the grounds they should be used to it by now, but that loss to Montreal was devastating. First, Cody Cropper, a rare, reliable bright spot for them, bobbled a free kick, but the real pain comes with the fact that they put zero (0) shots on goal in that game. After fail-investing in a defense, this is a team in profound trouble.

D.C. United

Prediction: Had I guessed, I would have called it between three and four points.
Actual Results: 3 points, better than a kick in the head. A 1-0 road win over Columbus that I could have called, but would never have predicted and a 1-0 loss at Minnesota that reverses that argument.
Notes: Not bad for a two-game road swing, obviously, even if they got the results in the wrong place. They looked about as sharp on paper in both cases, at which point it becomes a question of whether or not, say, Wayne Rooney nails a free kick, or whether Chris Durkin (as in, not Bill Hamid) saves a goal.

Los Angeles Galaxy

Prediction: “4 points minimum.”
Actual Results: Of course they did it, and on the back of a goal-less draw in Minnesota and an arguably fortunate (and weirdly angry) 2-1 win over RSL in LA.
Notes: The Zlatan Show always gets lots of press, but I was impressed by the way Minnesota’s Ike Opara matched him in that game, maybe even topped him. He poked home the winner against RSL, of course, but do check the box score because 22 shots against, 7 on goal is not what you expect from a home team with LA’s record. When you see that, and hear they’re on shaky ground, it starts to add up.

San Jose Earthquakes

Prediction: “getting tested in real time; anything above 2 is real.”
Actual Results: 2 solid points on what looked like a genuinely unremarkable draw at FC Dallas, preceded by a gutsy 2-2 draw at Seattle that truly looked like it could end either way.
Notes: It took 10 totally chaotic moments for Seattle to undo San Jose’s 2-0 lead, and I took that to mean they took the kind of chances that nearly allowed San Jose to retake the lead. As noted above, Shea Salinas stole the show, but Cristian Espinoza has looked good-to-menacing often as I’ve seen him lately (again, not often). Even if they fell short of my threshold to declare them interesting (e.g., 3 or more points), San Jose picked up two draws on the road against their alleged betters. Watch them.

Minnesota United FC

Prediction: “as many as they can get, but it better be 4.”
Actual Results: Yep, 4 points, courtesy of that goal-less draw against LA, and a thieving 1-0 win over D.C. United in Minnesota.
Notes: The numbers say they didn’t front-foot either game – and D.C. even had a goal called back – but positives ranged from enough points collected to Angelo Rodriguez racking up a respectable set of chances (and one goal), to Opara putting shots on goal that score, oh, 7 times out of 10. The only warning sign is that their heretofore reliable attack struggled a bit. Just something to watch.

New York City FC

Prediction: “All 6; [then in all caps, there, not here]: this would be one of the bigger deals of the week.”
Actual Results: 4 points, by beating Chicago in New York, then drawing Orlando City SC 1-1 at the same venue.
Notes: They didn’t stall against Orlando for lack of trying – surely, it’s significant that Orlando only topped them in fouls, yellow cards, clearances and saves – but Nani lived up to his billing (while Dom Dwyer did not) and NYCFC failed to bury their key chances. Chicago played them very tight (a theme with the Fire), and that makes the Orlando draw feel like the bigger blown opportunity. Still, a decent week for a team looking to turn around its season, and Heber looks pretty damn real.

Montreal Impact

Prediction: “6 would say a ton, but anything 3 and north is fine.”
Actual results: 6 points, aka, they said a ton, with a 3-0 precision-guided whuppin’ at New England, followed up by a narrow win over Chicago won by an inspired goal from Omar Browne.
Notes: Look, it’s late and I snuck them into the prediction frame, like a twit. The most impressive thing is that they beat New England away, and by quite a bit. Now that I’ve given serious thought to Chicago, they present as a fairly tough nut to crack. Good week for Daniel Lovitz, though, and who needs Ignacio Piatti when you’ve got Anthony Jackson-Hamel? (While I’m here, the defending on that shot is New England in a nutshell.) (I’m kidding, obviously, any team in MLS needs Piatti until his legs give out.)

OK, that’s everyone. And, if I haven’t apologized already, sorry to make all the above so bullet-point driven. Hopefully, the absence of bowling and light yard grooming will open up more time to tell a better story next week. To wrap up the results I haven’t covered yet, let’s see…Portland’s win over Toronto was really something, and mostly because the way TFC totally lost the “intensity battle” says a lot about how much they trust their own defense. Elsewhere, the Philadelphia Union picked up a respectable 1-1 draw at the Vancouver Whitecaps; that’s a solid result for Philly, but Vancouver does look better – Jordy Reyna, in particular looks saucy. Uh, no one should care about Atlanta United FC beating the Colorado Rapids in the season’s first Toilet Bowl because, 1) that’s the minimum expectation, and 2) they still don’t look like 2018 Atlanta, and that still matters till something changes.

I guess that just leaves the Red Bulls “hideous win” over FC Cincinnati, but that was depressingly, decidedly uneventful – and for both teams.

OK, that’s all for this week. I’ll aspire to something prettier next time around.

MLS Weekly, Week 4/5: About the Futures Market

Credit: Porsche997SBS / License

Here we are just four weeks into Major League Soccer’s 2019 regular season (well, five weeks in for eight teams), and Week 4/5’s Form Guide ULTRA, the source material for these narratives, is already busily spinning off the kinds of sweet, subtle caveats that cause a man to question everything he thinks he knows. It’s also predicting the future, if only the very near future, or at least suggesting it. With that, time to dig in.

To start with the latter, say someone asked you to opine on whether the Chicago Fire or the New England Revolution will build on their first wins of the season, or whether Real Salt Lake might crawl out of the never-ending paddle-wheel that’s been wailing on their fannies for the past three weeks. The answers to all of the above are the same: oh, hell no – because they face Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC, and the Seattle Sounders, respectively, and on the road in every single case. That doesn’t mean none of those three teams will recover by the end of the season, it just means they’re highly unlikely to do it next weekend. Going the other way, what kind of signal would it send if all three of those teams yanked unlikely wins from unsavory places in those games? (For what it’s worth, I’d start to take the hype a little more seriously on Chicago if they win, but it’ll take more to re-write the sorry scripts the other two teams have written for themselves so far.)

Basically, whatever happens in the three games above, the result will either reinforce a narrative (e.g., weak teams in bad circumstances losing), or they won’t be enough to create a new narrative on their own. That doesn’t apply to all of this weekend’s games, fortunately, and that’s how I chose which games I decided to treat as “important” by giving them extended commentary down below. By my reckoning, DC United v. Los Angeles FC and the Philadelphia Union v. FC Dallas have evolved into the marquee match-ups of MLS Week 5/sorta 6. In the latter case, you’ve got two teams who’ve started…reasonably well (i.e., Dallas has started well, while Philly’s only come on recently), while the former pits two teams widely regarded (if in my own tiny circle) as the best in MLS in 2019. And this is where the Form Guide ULTRA does double duty – specifically by putting sharp questions to exactly which teams DC has beaten so far this season, versus all the teams from which LAFC have stolen many points. They’ve both been perfect so far, or close to it – and they both pummeled a vulnerable team by the same, shameful 5-0 score-line – but something tells me LAFC will go farther in 2019, scare more teams, etc. That said, no matter what happens between them next weekend, I expect both teams go far this season, and to cause problems for the teams around them. The same goes for Dallas and Philly, even if their fates/upsides look less settled than the other two.

That’s not to say there aren’t some damned solid under-cards ahead – among them, e.g., Vancouver Whitecaps v. Los Angeles Galaxy (a race to get their sh*t together), New York City FC v. Montreal Impact (will the least wounded team please stand up), and Red Bulls New York v. Minnesota (how bad is Red Bull, really?). And, because I follow them both, the Portland Timbers and FC Cincinnati have equally interesting Week 5/6’s ahead, but for the opposite reason. For obvious reasons, Portland had better [placeholder for very naughty words] have no trouble tagging in and continuing the embarrassing beat-down LAFC started last weekend. As for FC Cincy, they’re staring down a game that every single thought worth minding says they’ll lose, maybe even badly. At the same time, both Cincinnati and Portland are freaky precisely because it’s too early to be either sure or surprised at either result. In other words, I’d be no less surprised to, say, see Cincinnati wrestle SKC to a draw than I would to see the Timbers fall apart against the San (the worst set of words you’ve ever heard, no worse) Jose Earthquakes.

Golly, that is a lot of preamble, and I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Down below is brief commentary on all the games I chose to focus on this weekend, and for the reasons hinted at and alluded to above. Just like every week, I posted extended commentary on the weekend’s games for Portland and Cincinnati and, for the first time in 2019, I was happier with the Timbers. Anyway, let’s dissect 2/9ths of some games.

San Jose Earthquakes 0-5 Los Angeles FC

“The best that could happen for San Jose right now is…just for this first half to end. Regroup. Come out in the second and see what you can do.”

I’m not sure who called this game, but, holy crap, did he find all the ways to kick San Jose (the above comment came about 33-35 minutes after the same guy went off-and-on for 3+ minutes about San Jose’s “amateur mistakes”). That guy never let up, not least because the ‘Quakes never gave him cause. So went this game, so goes the season that feels unrelentingly, even pathologically hopeless for San Jose. They’ve literally given up one more goal in every game so far this season, if nothing else, and that’s closer to concept art than professional sports, people. To close out the intro, LAFC rather cruelly declined to give San Jose that chance to regroup, because Carlos Vela scored his second goal, LAFC’s third, about a minute before the first half ended – and that’s one hell of an assist by the generally effective Diego Rossi. And to drag “amateur mistakes” out of the parentheses, Vela scored his first goal off one of them and, to float a theory, this is what dunking looks like in soccer. (Also, with an eye to the sub-theme, that was a hat trick for Vela). There’s not a lot of mystery to this game: LAFC is good, San Jose is whatever you call the historically bad opposite of good. For what it’s worth, I gasped “Oh my God” out loud while checking the box score, because that was an ass-whuppin’ in number form, and hide the children. I guess what I wanted to see by watching this was the scope of Vela’s role in the win. I caught up on Vela’s goals via ExtraTime Radio You Can See, or whatever the hell calls their weekly recap show, but this was the kind of dominant performance you’d expect when a good team meets [other].

Orlando City SC 1-2 D.C. United

I’ve always been squeamish(?) about watching Orlando play, but I at least have a good reason in 2019: it breaks the heart to watch a team fight hard and fall short. And that looks like such a happy and colorful supporters group down there. They deserve a win, you want them to win…and then they don’t, and with some reliability. They don’t lack for ambition – see, Portugal’s Nani, if nothing else, but Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, and Uri Rossell don’t come cheap – but, until they stop falling short on results, who gives a crap where Nani played? Both Dwyer and Chris Mueller have done more for Orlando so far (and, to second MLS’s Armchair Analyst, Mueller should start). After watching the condensed game, the box score was the first thing I wanted to see, Orlando looked awfully busy, etc. Sure enough, they put up a good number of shots – far more than little league darlings, DCU; they lobbed in a hefty number of crosses* too, and maybe that says something about their chances, even if they scored off a cross. (* I don’t like crosses, so I ignore them, so I don’t know how many crosses is a lot, also I’ll get better.) On a deeper level, a lot of those shots came late and my 2/9th knowledge tells me Orlando had D.C. under real, if chaotic pressure late in the game. Orlando had a plausible shot at holding onto at least one point till the end, basically. From DC’s side, hell of a goal by Wayne Rooney, obviously, even if controversy lurks in the alpha (was that a foul? (yes)) and omega (was Orlando’s Brian Rowe obstructed on the play? (….yes?)) of that goal. After glancing at D.C.’s line-up, I was less surprised to see that defense cope under pressure. Oh, and it’s when you’re watching a team coming back against DC that you realize how good Bill Hamid can be. Now that I’ve reminded myself about D.C.’s defense/spine, the hype makes a little more sense. Still, caveat lector because, again, it’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that D.C. is coasting on a soft schedule, circumstantially or otherwise.

New England Revolution 2-1 Minnesota United FC

I’d call surviving the five minutes after Minnesota equalized and pushed for the go-ahead goal the first little victory of New England’s 2019 season; during that time, had Ethan Finlay poked home the ball that suddenly appeared at his feet, or if Cody Cropper didn’t save the header tripped over its heels, God knows how much panic would have seeped into the hearts of a team that has known nothing but panic and an angry coach lately. It looked like it took the Revs 10 minutes to contain the surge and they ultimately pushed back long and hard enough to find the game-winning goal themselves off what turned out to be a fortunate miss by Teal Bunbury. Credit where it’s due, the run Bunbury made and the pass that new (literal) kid DeJuan Jones hit to find it where your focus should go. New England found a way past Minnesota’s defenders in something like the same way several times on Saturday, most often with Carles Gil doing the hunting/probing. It’s just one win at home, and New England’s first three points of the season, but they really do seem to have landed something special with Gil (dude can find a needle in a damn haystack so long as he’s got a ball at his feet), and so long as Bunbury, Jones, and Brendan Bye (who scored the second), the Revs have the upside if they can figure out how to use it. As for Minnesota, they don’t need to panic – playing .500 ball on a road trip (one more game to go!) – but the asterisks after those first two wins become bolder with each successive stumble.

Toronto FC 4-0 New York City FC

Just because I happened to look at, I have to say I don’t see a great defensive midfield player in Toronto’s lineup. Seems to be working out so far in 2019, but I caught a stray comment that said this was TFC’s first clean sheet since July 28, 2018 (checks out too). NYCFC came close to keeping that trend alive somewhere around 50’, but nothing about the condensed game makes a case they would have held onto any points – so says the TFC’s shots on goal as well. They made all those shots by making BMO Field look about twice as big every time they had the ball; NYCFC’s defenders seemed miles away far too often, and they failed to do much to slow down TFC when they were around (see TFC’s 4th goal; and does Dome Torrent have NYCFC playing zonal?). If you’ve tuned into any MLS reporting at since Friday, you’ve already seen the Alejandro Pozuelo’s second goal, and he looked as good as advertised over 2/9th of the game I saw (his work in creating Toronto’s game-winner impressed me more, honestly). Had NYCFC’s Alexandriu Mitrita showed bigger than he did, this had real “battle of the stars” potential, but Mitrita’s apparent contribution toward only as high as failing to put due enthusiasm around two opportunities (that they didn’t make the highlights…). As laid out in the Form Guide ULTRA, this loss feels like NYCFC finally falling all the way down after stumbling through the open weeks of the season. They finally succumbed to the pressure…maybe of their own incoherence. It’s not unlike how they broke completely after giving up the penalty (Alexander Callens; good call) that lead to TFC’s second. As for Toronto, they look pretty impressive…you gotta wonder when the hype train will get rolling…

Real Salt Lake 2-4 FC Dallas

I’ll start by thanking the folks who splice the condensed games for giving Brian Dunseth’s half thoughts the under card of that video/audio experience (see “whatever the narrative with regard to PRO when it comes to ‘clamping down…’” And? What?). As for the game, it pissed me off a little that I’ve watched and half-watched (through one eye) the Officially Sanctioned Video around this game and at no point did something see fit to mention that RSL’s Deimar Krielach got sent off at the 17th minute. When a red card happens that early that is, and always will be, top-of-the-inverted-pyramid kind of information. That makes some sense of why Dallas more than doubled RSL in passes, but even if they got out-shot (and with particularly devastating timing every team they experienced hope) and smothered in passes, none of that came through in the condensed game. Sure, I still think Everton Luiz isn’t the solution to RSL’s problems, but it’s also possible that their alarmingly consistent problem with red cards could have as much to do with their record as anything. It’s also true that all of Dallas’ goals, their depantsing-equivalent first goal notwithstanding, came after Kreilach’s departure, but I also saw enough in the condensed game to make this present as the same bad day at the office RSL was destined to have, even with eleven dudes present and accounted for. In spite of their lowly ranking in the Form Guide ULTRA, not to mention the generally low regard in which they’re generally held, RSL does have some good players – e.g., Albert Rusnack, Brooks Lennon, and Jefferson Savarino, especially – the talent around them shows no sign of holding up. Dallas, meanwhile, feels like a different team under Luchi Gonzalez than it did under Oscar Pareja. If nothing else, putting the guy who knows “the kids” best in charge of “playing your kids” feels like a wise choice. To pose a question I haven’t heard, is FC Dallas one of the teams in MLS most willing to ship its players, whether within or outside of the league, and on the grounds they’ll reliably have replacements handy? The only two people I have in mind to back up that statement are Walker Zimmerman and Maximiliano Urruti, only wait, I just remembered Roland Lamah and Victor Ulloa. How many players did Dallas lose in the off-season? And where are they? After finally seeing Paxton Pomykal tear it up (the thing to note is where he took that ball with his first touch), it seems like something they can afford…but can they win titles on it?

And that’s all for this weekend. To wrap up the sub-theme, I’m mostly counting new, high(-ish) profile players successful, but with Nani and Mitrita as the highest profile outliers. We’ll see how I do with calling the games that will really matter next weekend.

Deeper Cuts: Late Arrivals, xG, Hydra is Back, “It Means Absolutely Nothing”

Many downgraded FC Cincinnati’s chances for success this season after the 4-1 drubbing in Seattle on March 2. Three weeks later, the Orange & Blue occupy second place in the Eastern Conference, and the outlook has changed. That lofty ranking may be irrelevant this early in the season, but after a 2-0 road victory over the New England Revolution, optimism is high.

Late Arrivals Pay Dividends

Fanendo Adi made noise in preseason about the team not having enough attacking options. Since then, technical director Luke Sassano landed Kekuta Manneh on February 14th and Kenny Saief via loan on March 6th.

Those late additions had had a key role in helping a squad limited by international call-ups take maximum points in Week 4.

Kekuta Manneh had a goal, an assist, two key passes, and an 81% passing accuracy in the opposition half.

Kenny Saief matched Manneh’s goal and assist totals against the Revs, and now has two assists and a goal in only 94 minutes played in an FC Cincinnati jersey.

Both made MLS Team of the Week, albeit during a week without a full slate of matches. Greg Garza earned a spot on the bench after his first FCC start, and Alan Koch claims coach of the week honors for the second week in a row.

Expected Goals (xG)

Also for the second week in a row, FC Cincinnati outperformed their expected goals metric. This week they scored two goals based on an xG of 1.49.

New England outshot FCC, but had only 2 shots on target out of 17, and a lower xG of 1.25. Despite that low expected-goals number, the Revs should have bagged at least one. Spencer Richey was a difference maker again with an inspired double-save in the 61st minute.

The Hydra* is Back

No opponent has kept a clean sheet against FC Cincinnati yet. Furthermore, FCC has scored 7 goals in 4 games, and each one was provided by a different player.

Leo Bertone, Roland Lamah, Kendall Waston, Allan Cruz, Mathieu Deplagne, Kekuta Manneh, and Kenny Saief have all hit the back of the net.

FC Cincinnati’s 2018 USL roster featured a hydra-attack that could hurt opponents in many different ways. That model was a highlight of their title-winning season, even though the goal scorers became more concentrated as the team settled into an identity. Alan Koch will want his bona-fide strikers like Adi and Mattocks in on the action soon, but right now the goals by committee approach is working.

“It Means Absolutely Nothing”

Given FC Cincinnati’s difficult three-game start, few predicted such a high point total after four matches. Alan Koch is now in temper-expectations-mode while still handing out praise for the team’s fast start.

“If you had said to me that at the start of the season after four games, and after having to play these particular four games that we’ve had, that we would have seven points, I would have said you’re crazy. So full credit to the players, full credit to the staff. Everyone is buying into what we are asking them to do. They are willing to be selfless. They are working for each other and we continue to improve. But we are not going to get carried away. It’s still early. You don’t gain anything in this league by being anywhere in the table after four games. It means absolutely nothing. It’s a long, long season. But I am happy for the players, they will take a lot of confidence from this which will help them continue to grow as a group.”

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

*The Hydra is a creature in Greek mythology that had nine heads and is a term used to describe teams that produce offense through a committee of players.

New England Revolution 0 – 2 FC Cincinnati

Kekuta Manneh and Kenny Saief scored the goals and FC Cincinnati return from Foxborough with their first road win of the 2019 season.

FC Cincinnati 2, New England Revolution 0
Gillette Stadium | Foxborough, Mass.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


CIN – Kekuta Manneh (Kenny Saief) 44’

CIN – Kenny Saief (Kekuta Manneh, Emmanuel Ledesma) 65’

FC Cincinnati: Spencer Richey, Greg Garza, Forrest Lasso, Nick Hagglund, Mathieu Deplagne, Kenny Saief (Eric Alexander 77’), Victor Ulloa, Leonardo Bertone, Roland Lamah, Kekuta Manneh (Corben Bone 90’+1’), Emmanuel Ledesma (Caleb Stanko 81’)

Bench: Jimmy Hague, Justin Hoyte, Fatai Alashe, Nazmi Albadawi

Stats: Shots 12, Shots on goal 4, Saves 2, Corner kicks 2, Offsides 1, Fouls 13, Possession 46.9%, Passes 414 (75%)

New England Revolution: Brad Knighton, Edgar Castillo (DeJuan Jones 78’), Michael Mancienne ©, Antonio Delamea, Brandon Bye, Wilfried Zahibo (Scott Caldwell 53’), Luis Caicedo, Cristian Penilla, Carles Gil, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury (Juan Fernando Caicedo 66’)

Bench: Cody Cropper, Jalil Anibaba, Andrew Farrell, Juan Agudelo

Stats: Shots 17, Shots on goal 2, Saves 2, Corner kicks 7, Offsides 0, Fouls 14, Possession 53.1%, Passes 452 (76%)


NE – Antonio Delamea (caution) 52’

CIN – Leonardo Bertone (caution) 73’

NE – Diego Fagundez (caution) 74’’

Referee: Joe Dickerson

Assistant Referees: Nick Uranga (AR1) and Claudiu Badea (AR2)

Fourth Official: Robert Sibiga

VAR: Jorge Gonzalez

Weather: 57 degrees and mostly sunny

Attendance: 10,605

Match Program: FC Cincinnati at New England Revolution

Orange & Blue Press’ Match Program provides an infographic and the fast facts you need to get ready for FC Cincinnati vs New England Revolution this Sunday.

Congratulations on the morale-boosting win, FC Cincinnati. A week removed from the hard-earned point in Atlanta, you deconstructed Portland 3-0 with a solid, full-team effort. Taking four points from last year’s MLS Cup matchup is an impressive feat. Doing it in front of a sold-out Nippert Stadium with the entire nation watching is even sweeter.

Oh, you were expecting a reward? Now you get to hit the road for the third time in four games during a roster-carving international break. Kendall Waston and Allan Cruz head to the Costa Rican team, Darren Mattocks and Alvas Powell join the Reggae Boyz in Jamaica, and Frankie Amaya heads to the USMNT U-20 team camp. You also don’t have your top starting striker, as Fanendo Adi is doubtful with a leg injury.

You also have to make your first trip into New England, playing against a demoralized Revolution team seeking their own first win this season. Coach Brad Friedel’s team hit a road block in Canada, losing 3-2 to Toronto last week, despite a solid offensive showing. While the weather appears to be clean and crisp, what was once perceived to be a winnable road game doesn’t feel like a certain thing.

Welcome to the league, Rookie.

Fast Facts

  • Although New England possesses some players who have USMNT exposure (forwards Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo), Cincinnati will be losing much more of their lineup to the international break. The departure of Waston, Powell, Cruz, and Mattocks means that FCC loses 26% of their minutes played (786). Compare that to New England, who loses only 1.5% (45 minutes lost).
  • One of these teams will have to possess the ball for the majority of the match. FC Cincinnati (42.5%) and New England (42.2%) are at the bottom of the league in possession. However, both teams were able to salvage draws in games with their lowest possession numbers.
  • Despite having a team built for defense, FC Cincinnati has been disciplined in their fouling. FCC commits only 10.7 fouls per game (5th lowest in the MLS), while New England leads the league (17.3). The difference is also reflected in the number of yellow cards (FCC with 3, New England with 7). New England’s Wilfried Zahibo is only one of two players who have received a yellow card in each of the first three games of the season.
  • New England’s newest designated player Carles Gil has been the team’s workhorse so far. The Revolution’s #10 has scored 3 goals off of 9 shots, which accounts for 100% of their goals and 33% of their shots taken. Considering that 27 of their 49 goals came from the forward position last year, the Revs will be anxious to return to that form.
  • With half of the starting back line missing, FCC will have to perform with untested talent. Nick Hagglund will have a bigger role to play, and so far, he’s recovered from a shaky start. His 5 blocked shots are third in the league. Waston’s void could likely be filled by Forrest Lasso if he makes his first start of the season. The big man from Wofford led the USL in clearances last year (239).

Stay tuned to Orange & Blue Press for coverage of FC Cincinnati’s first visit to New England.

MLS Weekly, Week 3: We Got (Mini) Narratives

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.

There’s only one high-level point I want to flesh-out during Major League Soccer’s Week 3, and it’s on the nature of trends – how they develop, how far back they can go, and the kinds of things that make them as undeniably irrelevant as Iggy Azalea. Also, let that be your official warning that weeks are about to get weird – e.g., next week can’t really be Week 4, right? – and my naming convention around the phrase “MLS Week [X]” will go nuts as a result. Back to it…

A handful of teams underlined meaningful personal narratives in Week 3, but not all of them followed the same logic. With that in mind, I sorted all…dammit, how many teams are there now? At any rate, I sorted all the teams in MLS into four vague categories down below, all of them reputation-based, as opposed to any kind of ranking. I’ll hang a super-short narrative on each team after listing them in the relevant category. Hope this makes sense…feeling good.

Reputation Carried Over, for Good or Ill:

Seattle Sounders: The team that ended 2018 with a kicking-ass, naming names winning streak.
Columbus Crew SC: Efficient in a way that feels boring, also effective!
New York City FC: Glamor team some kind of chops, but it’s imperfect.
Houston Dynamo: Good at home! (Where they’ve been all season! Against weak(ish) teams!)
FC Dallas: We are good…
New York Red Bulls: We will be good. C’mon, you see it.
Sporting Kansas City: See above.

…this is where it gets dark…

Orlando City SC: Did you say the worst defense in league history (wait, was that someone else?)
Chicago Fire: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chicago.
San Jose Earthquakes: The horror. The horror.

New Reputations

Vancouver Whitecaps: Radical rebuild, date of completion: unknown.
Portland Timbers: don’t even…fine, it’s the goddamn defense. Maybe more. (Send help!)
Atlanta United FC: doesn’t know what they Hell they’re doing and it’s Frank de Boer’s fault.
FC Cincinnati: can’t help but be new, but pretty damn awesome so far.
Toronto FC: No, two wins can’t erase that past. Also, good start.
Los Angeles FC: Wait. Are they that good? Will Carlos Vela win the MVP?


Real Salt Lake: Pretty terrible away from home (but…does that really…? (see below)).
New England Revolution: They played all right (see below), but you can’t erase the results.
Philadelphia Union: Not awful, but that home loss to TFC really lingers.
Colorado Rapids: Better? Or just low-key racking up another solid “C”?

Messy and Intriguing

Los Angeles Galaxy: Mostly, see below. But, on thin data, they have potential.
Minnesota United FC: Again, see below, but I see an unquestionably better team.
Montreal Impact: Another see below (sensing a theme), but they’re winning games they should.
DC United: They haven’t given up one goal. In three games. And they played away. Against NYCFC.

That’s as short as I could make it, and I hope that’s more clarifying than the “games that didn’t count” bit that I used last time. My basic point is that I can defend steady narratives – i.e., ones that I’d trust – for ten (10) teams in MLS at this point. That leaves fourteen teams in some kind of flux, some of them more anchored than others, some made out of some kind of hoo-doo coming together in my head that, to return to the original point, I can’t necessarily defend.

All the theories above come from the reference post I call the “Form Guide ULTRA (Week 3 Ed.)” and my observations and notes on the five games listed below. While all of the games not mentioned below didn’t matter, I hereby confess my regret that I didn’t go deeper on Houston’s home win over Vancouver. Vancouver feels like the real story right now, and that’s where I might have barked up the wrong tree. Anyway, that’s the first nine. The back nine is the five games I dug into, right or wrong. Enjoy!

Toronto FC 3-2 New England Revolution

In a moment that says something about how I view Toronto right now – and I think most people would get this, or at least accept it – when I saw Jay Chapman slip through with tons of space down the Revs’ right side, my first thought was, “he’ll piss all over this one.” Something weirder happened in the end (this matches my understanding of the rule(s), yours? tough break regardless), and that’s not the last li’l piece of quirk in this game. I thought Carles Gil’s second goal made particularly little sense, but he got that one plus one more on Sunday, so credit to New England for a good early return on investment for the Spaniard. After that, when I look at the box score, I see a competitive road game (you?), so that’s good (while also being bad for FC Cincy).  I also saw Laurent Ciman find Jonathan Osorio in a literally stupid amount of space in the area on a free kick (no highlight, but he should have done better), while also seeing Teal Bunbury – who, noted, made 2018 one of his better years – cause some trouble, while also seeing the Revs call Cristian Penilla, Juan Agudelo and Juan Fernando Caicedo come off the bench. Going the other way, who did they face? Even if they came out the wrong way, TFC has two decent wins so far. Moreover, they’ve got Jozy Altidore back (the run and the finish are both non-obviously very good), and Ayo Akindola (19, academy kid) scored an attention worthy goal, even if Revolution defenders generally adjusted to him. Call this one a grab bag, and one that speaks reasonably well of both teams.

Orlando City SC 1-3 Montreal Impact

Orlando ‘keeper, Brian Rowe, was the one thing that stopped them from giving away goals like Oprah. It wasn’t all highlight reel material (see Maximiliano Urruti’s soft-serve attempt), but Rowe put in what can only be called a facesaving shift. Otherwise, it would have been you get a goal (Orji Okwonko; too much space), you get a goal (Ignacio Piatti; flustered by a one-man press), and you get a goal (Piatti, again; another gift, and it made Sacha Kljestan look stupid). This game announced to the league that Orlando’s defense panics when pressed (credit to Urruti, one of the league’s most relentless forwards), but, judging by the condensed game, Orlando struggled with bad passes and long touches all day – and from just about every player. The box score underscores the comprehensive blow-out theory, and Orlando started 2019 by assuring fans across the league that, yes, they really are that bad. They had a least one visible bright spot, Chris Mueller looked active and savvy, but Dom Dwyer shanking two gilded opportunities (before sliding one in late, and assholing up a red card on Montreal’s Zakaria Diallo) sums up their day. That said, don’t read too deep into Montreal’s hot start: they’ve only shown they can boss the kiddie pool so far (before Orlando, San Jose). But two road wins, a player to watch in Okwonko (fast, smart, good skillz), and some very good pieces around him (you know them; Piatti, Saphir Tadir), and there’s no reason to write off L’Impact.

D.C. United 5-0 Real Salt Lake

From what I remember from MLS’s ExtraTime wrap-up (mostly pretty colors and annoying men, but also), the panel agreed to allow RSL to write this one off and, apparently, go get blackout drunk (what? they said it). Based on what I saw, this game fell apart for RSL like a Matryoshka doll with each figure getting made of successively grosser stuff (that’s your strained metaphor for the week). After holding up…reasonably well through the first half, unraveled completely over 20 minutes: first Jefferson Savarino sees red for trying to kick off Luciano Acosta’s face (fair call; he should have seen Acosta), followed by DC forcing a turnover/third goal, and wrapped up by Marcelo Silva getting sent off for an entirely justified yellow card. Is now a good time to admit that I accidentally only watched the plain-old highlights? On the plus side, that allowed me to catch both of RSL’s brightest moments without wasting too much time (no video; sorry); red cards or no, the box score suggests a rout, and that’s good enough for me…crap, knew I should have reviewed Houston v. Vancouver. The one thing noticed that feels worth mentioning is how ruthlessly DC worked its press to set up their second goal (and nice finish by Rooney); also, does the soul good to see an academy kid (Lucas Rodriguez) score a first-time, one-touch beauty. As for RSL, this carries over the “crap road team” narrative from 2018, which I can’t imagine they’d want. Call this one half-reviewed, and did I mention the fatigue? Julius Caesar, I am wiped out.

New York City FC 2-2 Los Angeles FC

As I watched this game, I was reminded of all the fun players both teams have – without going nuts, Maxi Moralez (for NYFCFC) and Diego Rossi (for LAFC) – and, for all that, a promoter could boil this match-up down to Carlos Vela versus Alexandriu Mitrita, and their respective support systems. Measured on that specific level (e.g., star-power), between the way he used his body to make his first goal a lose/lose option and the way he wrung all the life he could out of the attack to make the second goal possible, Vela won the duel. That said, Mitrira is one hell of a player, seriously, watch him play, it is a blast. All the same, even if he’s nearly as talented and probably faster, Mitrita is not David Villa – by which I mean, through no fault of his own, Mitrita plays a different role (one similar to Gil’s as it happens). NYCFC will need to figure out how to weaponize…well, the rest of that (which is a lot). From a higher level, framing this as one player against another goes against what made this such a fun game to watch (2/9ths of), because, to sum it up in one player, a lot of defenders thwart plays, but Maxime Chanot could be rounding into my favorite central defender in MLS for all the times I see him make a play in the best possible way – and precisely because it’s the one option that nobody expects. In pure paper terms, NYCFC has less to love about this result, but they played really well top-to-bottom (equipoised in the damnation and salvation of “Sweaty” Ben Sweat), and these both remain teams to watch…though maybe LAFC more than NYCFC, because Vela plays closer to the same spot Villa did and he looks really good this season, the end.

Los Angeles Galaxy 3-2 Minnesota United FC

The fact that LA won this game without having a “name” guy on the field – e.g., Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or even Romain Alessandrini – will mean more or less to you to the rough extent that you believe in Minnesota’s defensive reformation. Sadly, The Mothership (aka, didn’t include the precise highlight I wanted to isolate, but Uriel Antuna got very free at one point and lofted a second ball off a corner into the proverbial mixer and, with two Galaxy defenders fairly open at the back post, Minnesota defenders made a damned solid rotation to stuff the first order threat (while allowing a second, for the record). The growing collection of signs like that make liking the Loons’ chances reasonable. All the same, lacking a true (or trusted) forward, LA started Antuna at forward; Antuna showed how better suited he is to the wing with his combo/assist on Sebastian Lletget’s game-winner – and that’s not even your best starting point for flagging LA’s present potential. The Galaxy’s second was the goal to rightly terrify Timbers fans. Unless you count the accidental diagonal channel through which Emanuel Boateng threaded the secondary assist, there’s not much to dissect on that goal from a defensive stand-point: all those openings weren’t just counter-intuitive, they didn’t open up for long. The question then becomes how much you downgrade Minnesota’s defense not just for the loss, but for giving LA as many chances as they did (hold that thought*), no matter how much LA squandered them. On the still-rawer-data side, Minnesota put up respectable numbers – more than New England’s at Toronto – but, when you measure them all against the condensed game, the numbers that feel like your best guide to the game are total passing, passing accuracy and possession. If I had to flag one detail, I’d say LA looked better and more dangerous on the ball. On Minnesota’s side, their defense held the game together until Jan Gregus gave them hope with the kind of shot opposing scouts should flag in their training sessions (Gregus has been good generally, maybe even better). And they’re too-late comeback goal was pretty good, and they’re still on the road. Overall, I’d say Minnesota got measured, and LA came out on top.

All right, that’s me tapping out. Tonight, I’ll dream of bricks, Krogers, and a head full of regret that I saw Lake Erie for less than one minute (literally) and never got freshly prepared Skyline Chili. If someone could buy a couple of 5-ways on my behalf, I’d appreciate the gesture/love for Skyline.

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

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

Photo Credit: Amil Delic License

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

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

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

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

FC Cincinnati

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

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

Offseason Overhaul*:

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

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

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

Orlando City SC

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

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

Offseason Overhaul:

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

Chicago Fire

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

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

Offseason Overhaul:

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

Toronto FC

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

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

Offseason Overhaul:

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

New England Revolution

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

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

Offseason Overhaul:

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

Montreal Impact

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

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

Offseason Overhaul:

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

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

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

2019 Forecast:

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Amil Delic License

Preseason Opener – Results vs Process, an Unlikely Duo, and More

More on FC Cincinnati’s preseason opener including Koch’s process over results approach, the unlikely duo, and the number 45 jersey.


Maybe we shouldn’t dive too deep into the details of the first preseason match of 2018, but we couldn’t help ourselves. It’s been a long while since we last “saw” the Orange and Blue in action. So here are a few things we’ve pondered since the final whistle blew on yesterday’s 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution.

The result versus the process

Results don’t matter in the preseason—we’ve heard that several times from Alan Koch in interviews over the last few weeks, and it’s true. And while the results may not matter, confidence does, and the 2018 squad should take some confidence away from Tuesday’s result. Why?

They drew with an MLS opponent that’s further along in their preseason than FC Cincinnati. Granted, the Revolution were missing some good players due to knocks and discipline, but so was Alan Koch’s side. Not only did FCC draw the match, but they would have benefitted from 17 minutes with a red-carded man advantage had they not been playing a friendly. To add to those positives, all three trialists played and contributed to the 1-1 result, and the team suffered no additional injuries. All-in-all, it has to be considered a good start.

Before leaving for Florida, Koch’s encouraged fans to focus on the process during the preseason rather than the results.

“It’s the process. The games do not mean anything. We can go lose all 3 games, and it’s not going to change how we approach anything. We can go win all 3 games, and it won’t change anything. You obviously feel better when you win. In terms of where we’re going and what we’re doing, it doesn’t change anything at all.”

Not Your First XI

The first eleven selected yesterday doesn’t give us any clues about who will start on March 17 against the Charleston Battery. Koch said as much prior to the match—“The game [against New England] is a chance to get to know each other, [We] also want to see how player relationships develop.”

The first eleven featured six of the seven returning players from 2017 on the roster (that were healthy) with an injection of new talent. The second eleven entered after 45 minutes (excluding goalkeepers) and, except for Matt Bahner, showcased a cast that was entirely new. Here’s a look at the two squads again.

First Half Lineup:
Laing – Bone – Ledesma
Halfhill – Walker
Smith – De Wit – Lasso – Hoyte
Newton (replace by Village)

Second Half Lineup:
Cicerone – Albadawi – Haber
Trialist #1 – Seymore
Trialist #2 – Barrett – Keinan – Bahner
Village (replaced by Richey)

Unlikely duo shines

Two players that started the game—Corben Bone and Garrett Halfhill—made unlikely contributions during FC Cincinnati’s first outing.

Bone wasn’t even training with the team the day before the game due to a minor knee injury, so it was a small surprise just to see him in the lineup. However, the Texas native showed no signs of wear on Tuesday and bagged the lone goal of the game for FC Cincinnati.

Halfhill surprisingly showed up in the starting eleven as a defensive midfielder rather than a center back, a position we’ve never seen him occupy in Orange and Blue. Additionally, the Xavier product combined with Kenney Walker to protect the back line and keep a clean sheet during the first 45 minutes. Is Halfhill the 2018 edition of Paul Nicholson? He’s a lot earlier in his career development of course, but can he become a player that contributes as a defensive midfielder and a center back, providing minutes for FC Cincinnati when the team is short on depth? Time will tell.

The #45 Jersey

There are several players that FC Cincinnati fans have set high expectations for in 2018, but #45 Emmanual Ledesma might be on top of that list. He didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. ‘Manu beat two players on the dribble to set up Corben Bone’s opening goal.

You’ve probably heard about Ledesma’s 2017 stats, but they deserve to be repeated; 73 chances created, 10 goals, and 6 assists in only 19 appearances. His ability to play-make, beat players on the dribble, and shoot from range should make him a crowd favorite. I think he’s going to sell a lot of those new diamond-laden jerseys.

Building on tactics

As Coach Koch explained last Thursday, the players went into yesterday’s match with only a very simple tactical “platform.” Now that that is established and they have a game under their belt, the coaching staff will “build on it every single week” during the preseason. Koch also stated that he would experiment with a couple of different systems, so don’t be surprised if they roll out more than one look in these early preseason matches.

Saturday’s game will definitely be streamed, so plan your weekend accordingly. Find a watering hole with reliable internet, and tune in with a new appreciation for the IMG stream.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason.


FC Cincinnati 1 – 1 New England Revolution: Bone Strikes in Preseason Opener

FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 stalemate with the New England Revolution in their first preseason match of the 2018 season.


FC Cincinnati played to a 1-1 stalemate with the New England Revolution in their first preseason match of the 2018 season. Corben Bone opened the scoring in the first half with a 40th-minute strike assisted by Emmanual Ledesma. The Argentine playmaker, Ledesma, is a new acquisition from the New York Cosmos, and one of 15 new players acquired in the offseason.

The Revolution evened the score four minutes after halftime through a goal from midfielder Brandon Bye, assisted by Cristian Panilla. A more physical second half featured a dose of drama when Haitian midfielder Zachary Harivaux was sent off in the 73rd-minute for a dangerous tackle on Matt Bahner. New England was permitted to substitute in another player to keep the match at 11 vs 11 in support of Tuesday’s preseason exercise. FC Cincinnati had a couple of late chances to win the game through Dekel Keinan and Daniel Haber, but could not find a winner.

Key Events

40′ Goal – Corben Bone, assisted by Emmanuel Ledesma
49′ Goal – Brandon Bye, assisted by Cristian Penilla
73′ Red Card – Zachary Harivaux, New England Revolution

Match Notes

FC Cincinnati featured a 4-2-3-1 formation during both halves and completely replaced all their outfield players at halftime. The Orange and Blue’s three goalkeepers, Evan Newton, Mark Village, and Spencer Richey each split the game into thirds in terms of playing time. In addition, the three trialists currently practicing with FC Cincinnati all saw action in the second half of play.

Josu, Jimmy McLaughlin, and the recently sidelined Tyler Gibson did not play in Tuesday’s contest due to injury. FC Cincinnati announced today that Gibson will miss four to six months with a broken fibula suffered in training on Sunday. The Tennessee native, who FCC acquired from the SF Deltas, underwent surgery today. That injury, combined with Tommy Heinemann’s release, are two big, early blows to the Orange and Blue’s 2018 roster. Let’s see how Alan Koch can respond in the transfer market between now and the season opener.

The New England Revolution are the only full-fledged MLS competition that FC Cincinnati will face this preseason. Their remaining seven games feature four USL sides, two college teams, and an MLS reserve squad. They also have a friendly match with the University of Dayton scheduled for a week after the regular season begins.

First Half Lineup:
Laing Bone Ledesma
Halfhill Walker
Smith De Wit Lasso Hoyte
Newton (replace by Village)

Second Half Lineup:
Cicerone Albadawi Haber
Trialist #1 Seymore
Trialist #2 Barrett Keinan Bahner
Village (replaced by Richey)

Details are sparse because the match was not streamed per request of the New England Revolution. All future IMG matches are expected to be viewable on the IMG stream, at

Next Up

FC Cincinnati’s next date at the IMG Preseason Tournament is with the Tampa Bay Rowdies this weekend. Fans won’t need reminding that the Rowdies convincingly eliminated FCC from last year’s USL Cup playoffs. It’s preseason, so these results don’t matter. But maybe the bad taste left in the returning players’ mouths will add a little something extra to that contest. The match will be played on Saturday, February 10th at 3:30pm.

Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of FC Cincinnati’s 2018 preseason.


Preseason Phase Two Begins – Tactical Work and Florida Friendlies

Preseason for FC Cincinnati continues. Images and audio from training covers what to expect in Florida, Heinemann’s release, and an interview with Emery Welshman.


Orange and Blue Press visited FC Cincinnati’s training session at Gettler Stadium on Thursday. It was the last practice before Alan Koch’s team heads for warmer Florida climates. There they will play the first of three preseason games in the Sunshine State next Tuesday, February 6th, against the New England Revolution.

Preseason Phase Two

Alan Koch spoke to us about his new cast of characters and what he’s trying to accomplish on the team’s upcoming preparatory trip. This week concluded the third week of preseason and  “Phase One” of the preseason training plan. The focus of the first phase was simply for players to get familiar with each other, begin to develop fitness, and to get touches on the ball.

“We’ve got a great group of guys. They are fun to be around. There’s a lot of energy. … What I like is that they bring the same enthusiasm every single day.”

Phase Two will obviously feature friendly matches against other professional teams and a chance for players to showcase their skills in a game setting. However, the trip to Florida will also be the beginning of a building process that implements the tactical gameplan for the 2018 season.

“Once we get down there we’ll really start to focus on some tactical work. We won’t do much tactical work before the New England game.  We’ll assess that (game) and see where we’re at. We’ll give them a platform before we start and build on it every single week that we’re down there.”

Koch also addressed the recent release of forward Tommy Heinemann.

“It’s a pretty simple one to answer at this stage. … He came in just like all of our players, and he didn’t get through the physical. Everyone else did … and they’re all training. … It’s not good for Tommy. It’s not good for us. It’s disappointing for everyone involved.”

More from Koch’s interview here.

Emery Welshman

Forward Emery Welshman, a Guyanese international and native of the Toronto suburbs, spent some time with us, discussing his first few weeks at FC Cincinnati and why this preseason is unlike any he’s had recently.

“This is my first full preseason in two years. When I was at Real Salt Lake I was injured. And then last year I came late to Puerto Rico’s (preseason training). So this one’s a little different than what I’ve been used to. … I want to build up on strength and fitness, and technique, and then finish off with match fitness and finishing.”

Welshman was drafted 16th overall by Toronto FC in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft after a standout college career at Siena and Oregon State University. Welshman sustained a hip injury in 2016 during preseason with Real Salt Lake that saw him miss essentially a whole calendar year while undergoing two surgeries.

Listen to more of Welshman’s interview here.

Training Images Courtesy of Ryan Meyer

Training Notes

There’s only so much you can take away from these early training sessions. It’s going to be several weeks until we can draw many conclusions about the team and its prospects for the season, but here are a few takeaways from what we saw on Thursday.

Although I didn’t get the chance to interview him, Nazmi Albadawi seems as affable in person as he presents himself on social media. After training, he walked past those observing (mostly media), flashed a bright smile, and gave us a genuine “Hi guys!” For the record, that’s not normal. The players are always generous with their time when asked but usually look to move quickly past potential interviewers and get on with their busy day.  I get it—I’d do the same thing—but Naz looks the part of a people person.

‘Manu Ledesma does indeed like to shoot from range and bagged a gorgeous left-footed curler from 20+ yards in the 1/3-field game-play portion of Thursday’s session.

There’s a lot of new midfield talent, but veterans Kenney Walker and Corben Bone look right there with them in terms of quality. That shouldn’t be a surprise, and they should still make a strong case for First XI selection this season.

Justin Hoyte looks sharp and his technical ability in tight spaces stands out in small-sided drills. In addition, he blasted at picture-perfect goal from about 20 yards that was about as upper 90 as you can get.

One player that stood out Thursday that we haven’t seen or talked about much is Daniel Haber. He has great close control and tidy passing, and he assisted Naz on a goal after a fine piece of clever dribbling. He’s definitely one to watch in preseason as he competes for a starting spot in a very competitive attacking lineup.

Daniel Haber

There are still three trialists in training with the regular team. All are believed to be products of local universities.

Jimmy McLaughlin and Josu are on the road to recovery. They jogged at a reserved pace and did other calisthenics (do people still say that?) for the duration of the practice.

Coach Koch referenced three games to be played while in Florida. The third IMG match was announced Friday and will be played against the Chicago Fire reserves on Wednesday 2/14.

We finally get to see the 2018 edition of the Orange and Blue in action next Tuesday in a matinee against MLS competition. Stay tuned to Orange and Blue Press for more coverage of that match against the New England Revolution.