Afternoon update

Afternoon update: LAFC thoughts, U-20 roster news, Musah's tough day, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up some thoughts on Tuesday's LAFC - Philadelphia game, the U.S. U-20 roster news - along with another projected World Cup roster, Eduvie Ikoba winning silverware, Damion Downs signing a first-team deal, and much, much more. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 03, 2023
6:10 PM

TUESDAY AND WEDNESDAY BROUGHT a lot of news in the world of American soccer including the CONCACAF Champions League, players signing, getting released, and performing well on the field. With that said, here’s the news to start your week.

Let’s start with full analysis of the game in Los Angeles


LAFC rolls past Philly


After an epic MLS Cup in 2022 where LAFC got past Philadelphia in a shootout and it was two evenly matched teams trading blows over 120 minutes, the Concacaf Champions League semifinal meeting between the teams nearly six months later was no contest.

Yes, LAFC convincingly won the second leg 3-0 (4-1 on aggregate) and was all over the Union from the opening whistle. For Philadelphia, what was disappointing is that they beat themselves almost as much as LAFC beat them. Philadelphia made mistakes and LAFC were ruthless in punishing them.

That started in the first leg when Philadelphia had a 1-0 lead but coughed up a turnover in their own half for a stoppage time equalizer.

Now in LA, it was simply too many mistakes. In the second minute, Union captain Alejandro Bedoya was shown a yellow card when it easily could have been a red.  Timothy Tillman opened the scoring when Philadelphia’s defense failed to pickup LAFC attackers on a rebound from an Andre Blake save.

Then in the second half, Philadelphia was reduced to 10 players after Olivier Mbaizo picked up his second yellow card in the 59th minute. This then paved the way for two more LAFC goals. The first from Kwadwo Opoku in the 82nd minute and then Denis Bouanga in stoppage time.


Union paid price for mistakes

LAFC should have been the favorite to win this series, even after Philadelphia played well in defeating Atlas. But Philadelphia made it too easy.

The big takeaway is that Philadelphia simply made too many mistakes – a rarity for such a well-coached team.

"Against a great team like them, you have to be clinical. You can't make mistakes," Union coach Jim Curtin said. "You have to be perfect – can't concede on set pieces like that to beat a good team like this in a high-stakes game."

From Bedoya’s near error, to the failed marking on a set piece, to Mbazio’s red card – it was just too much.


LAFC – Philly rivalry

While there weren’t many great fireworks in this series like there was in MLS Cup last November, Philadelphia and LAFC are building a great, organic rivalry. One that is not created by geographic expansion, but rather through a desire for league dominance and quality games in the league’s biggest stages. For fans it is gripping because of the bicoastal nature, the difference in philosophies in putting together the teams, the likeability of the players, and the two charismatic American head coaches in Curtin and Steve Cherundolo.

"I have a ton of respect for what this club is all about here in LA," Curtin said. "I have a ton of respect for what the Union's about. Two good clubs and obviously one of us was going to get to a final and represent MLS. I think rivalries are healthy, so we have a rivalry between us and them.”


LAFC on to the final

In the end, the best MLS team is advancing to the CONCACAF Champions League final where they will face either Leon or Tigres. While Seattle won this tournament last year to become the first MLS team to do so, the Sounders defeated Pumas in the final and Leon in the quarterfinals. LAFC now has two teams that are on another level from what Seattle faced last year (Leon this year is improved from last year and Tigres is always challenging).

“But now there's also a bigger rivalry which is MLS vs. Liga MX,” Curtin said. “And you're going to get a great final regardless of whether it's Tigres or León – two special teams… So we know LAFC will represent our league very well. Of course, we wish it was us that was going there but, again, they deserved to win on the night."

If he wins, Cherundolo has the chance to cement his reputation as the next talented up and coming American head coach.

"It's about focusing on what's next and not being happy with what we did tonight,” Cherundolo added. “There is always room for improvement."


U.S. U-20 roster news

The U.S. U-20 team will open its World Cup campaign in just 17 days. And there are so many moving parts right now with the team and how the roster will come together. The biggest issues are releases and injuries.

As far as releases go, on Tuesday the big news was that the Fire made it official that Brian Gutierrez and Chris Brady will not be released. Paul Kennedy at Soccer America has the full quote from Chicago manager Ezra Hendrikson.

As with all clubs, this is their right. And this decision was likely made primarily by sporting director Georg Heitz and technical director Sebastian Pelzer. The decision not to release Brady was unsurprising given he is likely a backup keeper to Gaga Slonina on the U-20s but a starter at the Fire. The decision to no release Gutierrez is significant because he is playing well and would certainly be earning minutes with the U-20 World Cup team.

But this is going to happen more and more in this league. Clubs hire foreign technical staff and have varying levels of concern for releasing starters for youth national team duty. One thing to consider about the Fire’s reasoning, missing seven or eight games is a significant part of the season.

As for the remainder of the team, Varas will still get releases for the majority of players he requests in both Europe and MLS. Aside from Gutierrez, the likely big areas for releases are Jalen Neal who starts with the Galaxy and Rokas Pukstas who starts for a Hajduk Split team that has the Croatian Cup final in the middle of the season.

There is also the question about Kevin Paredes, who has missed the last two Wolfsburg games with a hamstring injury. He is an issue on two fronts. Would Wolfsburg let him go? Then, is he even healthy enough?

Finally, with the Philadelphia Union’s loss to LAFC, there is no longer a concern about the CONCACAF Champions League final with several players. That means Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan, and Brandan Craig should all safely have the green light.

Here is the bottom line. The U-20 World Cup rosters are due in the middle of next week with FIFA. The United States will probably wait until near the deadline to check for injuries and tie up all the release issues, one way or another.

In terms of big questions marks remaining. I think right back is in doubt. Does Michael Halliday sneak in there? Is Mauricio Cuevas worthy of a lock even though he’s been a captain. If Neal isn’t released, who is the third central defender after Craig and Josh Wynder?

I think midfield isn’t quite set after Daniel Edelman, Obed Vargas, Jack McGlynn, and Owen Wolff. There needs to be one more. Caden Clark hasn’t played a game in nearly eight months. Alejandro Alvarado’s club minutes have fallen off a cliff in 2023. Noel Buck has been excellent but hasn’t been with any youth national team this cycle. Can he make a late push?

In the attacking roles, there are mostly locks but one exception being Darren Yapi. Has he done enough to convince Varas he can be the team’s true No. 9 that allows them to have a different type of attacking option.


Latest projected roster

Goalkeeper (3): Gaga Slonina, Antonio Carrera, Emmanuel Ochoa

Defenders (7): Mauricio Cuevas, Justin Che, Joshua Wynder, Brandan Craig, Markus Fekranus, Caleb Wiley, Jonathan Gomez

Midfielders (5): Daniel Edelman, Obed Vargas, Jack McGlynn, Owen Wolff, Caden Clark

Attackers (6): Cade Cowell, Quinn Sullivan, Paxten Aaronson, Kevin Paredes, Diego Luna, Darren Yapi



Downs signs deal

Young German-American forwards Damion Downs, 18 (2004 birth year), has signed his first pro contract with FC Koln this week. Downs had been around the club’s first team recently – even making the bench on occasion – so this is not surprising. But now he will be a full professional with the Bundesliga club moving forward.

Downs has been called up to the U-20 team one time this cycle in April 2022 but doesn’t seem likely to be in the mix for the U-20 World Cup later this year. But if he can start getting Bundesliga appearances, he could resurface for the Olympic team.


No Pulisic for Chelsea


Christian Pulisic wasn’t even in the matchday roster on Tuesday for Chelsea in an ugly 3-1 loss to Arsenal. The game was terrible, and Arsenal had a 3-0 lead before the halfway point of the first half.

At this point, it’s not a bad thing to be away from the field for Chelsea. The team is spiraling out of control. Sure, it can replace the coaching staff but how the front office handles the player turnover is another matter. Pulisic seems like he’s playing out the string now.

On another note, Matt Turner watched from Arsenal’s bench. It begs the question if he was always brought in to be the club’s backup and at what point does that change? When he signed, few expected him to start. But will Arsenal hang on to him as a permanent backup? Will they toss him a few Premier League games?


Nice assist for Hoyos


Meanwhile, Michael Hoyos had this assist for Independiente del Valle in a 2-1 win over Brazil’s Corinthians in the Copa Libertadores.

The Orange County native has had a nice late-blooming career where he has done particularly well in South American competitions – including a run to the Libertadores semifinal two years ago with Barcelona. Even at age 31, perhaps the winger will get offers from an MLS team?


Ikoba wins Magyar Cup


The first American in Europe to play and win silverware in the 2022/23 season is Eduvie Ikoba, 25, who started for Zalaegerszegi TE in Hungary’s Magyar Cup final in a 2-0 extratime win over second tier Budafoki, who was on a Cinderella run in the country’s cup competition.

Ikoba only played the first half as ZTE changed their attacking formation after the break. Ikoba is a target forward and Budafok was sitting deep marking him. He was subbed out for the more mobile Dániel Németh, 19, who scored the dramatic winner in the 117th minute.

Ikoba has scored 10 goals in Hungary’s top league, the NB I, but hasn’t scored since November 8 in league play.


Spain’s relegation fight


There was a lot of interesting stories in Spain’s La Liga today in the relegation battle. The games involved two Americans.

First, Valencia, entered today in the last safe place but only two points clear of the relegation zone and with two teams in the relegation zone just two points behind.

Valencia was hosting Villarreal and finished with a 1-1 draw. Yunus Musah started for Valencia at right midfield and was pulled at halftime with very poor numbers – seven touches and one completed pass. Fortunately, he left with Valencia still in the game at 0-0.

Even playing on the right side with most of the play going up the left side, these numbers show way too little involvement and that is why he was subbed out. He was clearly not doing enough. Fortunately for him, Valencia earned at least a point. That point, as it turns out, is keeping them out of the relegation zone on goal differential.

The other game was Celta Vigo away against one of the two teams which entered the day two points behind Valencia in Getafe. Luca de la Torre was on the bench to start this game after a tough full 90 minutes over the weekend.

Getafe took the lead in the third minute via a penalty and that is all they needed in a surprising 1-0 win. De la Torre played the second half for Celta Vigo and was once again good in possession but wasn’t really behind any scoring chances. Celta Vigo also had to play the final 13 minutes down to 10 players.

What this means is that Yunus Musah and Valencia are even with Getafe in points for the final safe spot in La Liga but Valencia holds the edge on goal difference.

This is going to be close.


Other games


In some other games involving American players, a big one was Liverpool defeating Fulham 1-0 at Anfield. Antonee Robinson played all 90 minutes for Fulham and was decent in the first half, even better in the second half. He had some dicey moments but overall continued to be mostly positive in what has been a good season for him overall.

Fulham confirmed Tim Ream was scheduled for surgery on Wednesday on his broken arm and would miss the remainder of the season but is expected back for preseason.

In Norway, Sam Rogers went 90 minutes for Rosenborg in a 2-0 loss to Brann.

Finally, Aron Johannson scored for Valur in a 6-1 win over Fylkir in a Reykjavík Derby in Iceland. The 2014 U.S. World Cup veteran played the first half and scored right before the break. He was subbed out at the half with Valur comfortably up 4-0. 

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