MLS Week 9 breakdown
Free kicks, Philly impresses, FCD & RBNY improvement, youth report, much more
May 02, 2022
WEEK NINE of the 2022 MLS season is now in the bag and the past few days saw Nashville SC unveil the latest gem of a stadium in the league. On the field, there weren’t too many upsets but there are those questioning whether or not the LA Galaxy and Atlanta United are simply overrated based on preseason predictions? On the flip side, are Austin FC and the New York Red Bulls for real?
Before we get started, we have to say – what a great Saturday for free kicks throughout the league.
Diego Rubio on a free kick in the 30th minute for his fifth of the season— DNVR Rapids (@DNVR_Rapids) May 1, 2022
A ripper from Pedro pic.twitter.com/iFOb77NxMp— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 1, 2022
Here are some of my observations from the weekend
USMNT players have solid weekend
From a USMNT perspective, you had to like what you saw from USMNT regulars.
Kellyn Acosta played a very Acosta-like performance for LAFC in a 2-0 win over Minnesota. Defensively, he neutralized Minnesota and allowed his LAFC team to be on the front foot.
Walker Zimmerman signed a new DP deal that will make him the highest paid defender in the league. He did his part to help limit Philadelphia to one goal in a the Geodis Park opener.
Aaron Long continues his bounce-back season from the Achilles injury that kept him out of almost all of 2021. He was sharp for the Red Bulls in a 2-1 win over Chicago. He's been important all season long.
Jesus Ferreira scored his sixth goal of the season for FC Dallas in a 2-2 draw with SKC.
Paul Arriola played well and assisted to Ferreira in the 2-2 draw vs. SKC.
Matt Turner returned from injury to make his first appearances of the season for New England.
In terms of young Americans in action, there were some standouts. Here are a few.
Damian Rivera scored in his first start for New England to open the scoring in a 2-0 win over Miami. While still just 19, the 2002-born Rivera is too old for the current U-20 team.
Nathian Harriel is also too old for the U-20 team at 20 years old, but he continues to play well at right back for Philadelphia. He had a good outing in a 1-1 draw with Nashville.
John Tolkin remains a very good left back prospect who fits ideally into the Red Bull system. He was strong again for the Red Bulls in a 2-1 win over Chicago.
Aidan Morris looks well on his way back from his torn ACL in 2021. The defensive midfielder could have been a starter on the 2021 U-20 team had it not been cancelled. He helped the team win MLS Cup in 2020. On Saturday, he went the distance for Columbus in a 3-0 win over DC United.
Philly crashes Geodis Party
As sell-out crowd of 30,109 packed Geodis Park on Sunday as Nashville SC opened up their new stadium after starting the season with an eight-game road trip.
The game started, as one with expect, with Nashville playing with a ton of energy. The hosts were unable to take advantage of their chances (Alex Muyl hit the woodwork) and Philadelphia did what you would expect a good team to do – grow into the game.
In the second half, Philadelphia moved in front with Mikael Uhre scoring the first goal in the history of the stadium. Randall Leal eventually equalized for Nashville when he converted a penalty after the ref saw a handball from Philadelphia.
I came away from this game impressed with Philadelphia. Jim Curtin’s team responded extremely well to a hostile environment and a team that is known for its defense. Last week, Curtin said his team was boring during a 1-1 draw with Montreal. It’s true that the Union are rarely going to play like an LAFC or Seattle team that is firing on all cylinders, but the team is still adjusting to two new forwards in Julian Carranza and Uhre. Neither player is similar to Kacper Przyby?ko, who was the team’s No. 9 through last season.
The Union have now gone four games since they scored more than one goal. Clearly work needs to be done on the offensive side while they are playing terrific defensively. Part of the solution could come when Quinn Sullivan and Paxten Aaronson are given more chances with the first team. With them set to miss a month due to duty with the U.S. U-20 team.
Curtin is in a good spot. His team sits a top the East, he will have the ability to gradually introduce a talented group of young players later in the season and it won’t jeopardize his team’s playoff chances.
As for Nashville, it was a bit disappointing. After an eight-game road trip to start the season where they survived with 11 points based on defense, the team was not able to find another gear offensively while playing in front of a uniquely special home crowd. Right now, the team’s offense is too overly reliant on Hany Mukhtar (similar to Minnesota with Reynoso).
RBNY wins ugly
RBNY is now a perfect 15 points from five road games to start the season after Saturday’s 1-0 win over Chicago. This game saw both teams awarded penalties (both converted). The Red Bulls also had a goal called back (harshly) because Aaron Long was resulted to have been in an offside position and involved in a free kick. With the officiating and a wet field that caused an hour-long delay, it was just an ugly game of soccer – but the Red Bulls are in a great spot.
One reason why people should feel more optimistic over the Red Bulls right now is Luquinhas. When he was announced (or when the rumors started to surface that he was on his way), it was a bit obscure as he was a Brazilian playing in Poland. But he has turned out to be a great addition that is really opening things up for the Red Bulls.
If someone was going to ask me what is the biggest oddity: the Red Bulls perfect road record or the team’s failure to win at Red Bull Arena? I would answer that the Red Bulls winless run at home is the outlier. I think this is a good team that is deep, and winning at home is only a matter of time. Patryk Klimala and Ashley Fletcher should improve and Klimala’s brace reflected that. That is really the only weakness on the team right now.
As for Chicago, the team is missing a lot in terms of becoming dangerous in the final third. Jairo Torres is set to join the team soon from Atlas, and now we see Chris Mueller is on his way.. and if they do not help, it’s hard to see Chicago getting back into the playoff spots this season.
FC Dallas draws at SKC
FC Dallas played Sporting Kansas City to a 2-2 draw on the road on Saturday. While FC Dallas let a 2-1 lead slip away in the second half, it was an encouraging sign for Dallas. If not for an unbelievably poor sequence from Brandon Servania (who was subbed into the game in the 60th minute, but sent off by the 66th with two reds), Dallas would have been very competitive to take all three points.
There was a lot of quality on the two Dallas goals – the Velasco free kick combined with the sixth goal of the season from U.S. international Jesus Ferreira.
Nico Estevez has done a solid job with Dallas. The defense is substantially improved, and the offense has more people contributing to it. The team is more in-synch and he does have the advantage of an elite player in Alan Velasco along with a more grown-up contingent of homegrowns than Luchi Gonzalez did.
“We came here to play and we showed it, especially in the play building up to Jesús’ goal,” Estevez said after the game. “There were parts throughout the game where we had good sequences and plays. Their major threats were when they would counter us, but other than that it felt like it was a fair match up. They came out pressing in the second half, but we still kept playing the way we did in the first half. We are a team that is still in the process of improving and playing better weekly. I am happy with the team’s performance and mentality they showed throughout the match, even when going down a player.”
As for Sporting, they are winless in five and have really come out of the gate poorly.
Revs finally look like the Revs
After New England defeated Inter Miami 2-0 on Saturday night, it was fair to ask of Bruce Arena’s team is back to their 2021 form? It was the closest the team has looked all season to being back.
Part of that was due to Inter Miami also looking like their 2021 form. After three impressive wins in a row, this game was a reminder that Miami still has a long way to go in order to be a playoff team.
Bruce Arena said afterward that he wanted to start both Matt Polster and Tommy McNamara together in central midfield because they were exposed recently on counters. That worked out. Also, the Revs were able to get their fullbacks forward very effectively and this opened the door for both forwards Adam Buksa and Damien “Tico” Rivera – who each had a goal. For Rivera, it was his first start with the first team.
Tico Rivera! The teenage homegrown forward from Rhode Island gives the Revs a 1-0 lead over Miami in the 2nd minute of the game pic.twitter.com/ptdtibpjhO— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 30, 2022
The Revs have a number of promising young players now in their academy. The Revs are not thought of being a top place for young homegrowns but Arena used Rivera’s goal to touch upon his thoughts on getting young players involved.
"Well, it’s just getting better. It’s his third year with us and we saw improvements this year in preseason. He’s played well with the second team and last week in D.C. I thought he gave us a good 30 minutes and he continues to make progress. We’ve got to pick the right times to give these young players an opportunity."
From an American perspective, the Revs are fun. They attack and the team starts a lot of American players. In this game, Arena started nine American players and used another two off the bench. The foreigners count big time – Buksa plays behind Lewandowski for the Polish national team and Carles Gil is the reigning MVP.
One of the Americans was also Matt Turner who made his first start of the season and his return from injury. It was his first game since starting for the U.S. national team against Honduras in Minnesota. Turner did not have a lot to do in this game but as Bruce Arena notes, it simply the confidence he gives the rest of the team.
Vibes were ???? in Foxborough Saturday night ???? pic.twitter.com/X4K77DXX8A— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) May 2, 2022
"I think he’s an experienced goalkeeper, he plays with a lot of confidence, and he gives the guys in front of him a lot of confidence,” Arena said. “And, you know, maybe one of those chances tonight, he had to make a decent save. I think it was in the first half, but for the most part he wasn’t tested a whole lot. But I think he gives the group confidence and it’s a good first game back because he hasn’t played, I believe, since January. We’ve been a little bit concerned about rushing him in too early and obviously he showed tonight that he’s pretty comfortable getting back in there.”
Of course, Turner won’t be there for long and the Revs will have to get confident behind Djordje Petrovic.
Is Austin FC legit?
Austin FC traveled within state on Saturday to visit the Houston Dynamo and came away with a 2-1 win. The common knock with Austin right now is that they’ve had an easy schedule. That’s true, but there is a lot of parity outside the top teams, that it isn’t that much of a knock. They’ve also been respectable on the road.
I am a bit more optimistic than most about Austin’s staying power. None of their top players are particularly surprising. Sebastian Driussi is a DP and an MVP candidate. Max Urruti is a highly competent player. Diego Fagundez is showing that last season’s reboot after New England was no fluke. Ethan Finlay is the same. If the team falls apart because of injuries, that is one thing. But I look at the way the team is playing, I see a team that allows its best player to thrive while also giving him a strong supporting cast.
We will see how it goes moving forward when the schedule gets harder, and I don’t think they’re going to push LAFC atop the West. Once Seattle starts to prioritize MLS over the CCL, the Sounders will climb. Nashville will also climb out West. But Austin, if they stay healthy, should be in the mix to not just make the playoffs, but to host a first round game.
NYCFC is in a good spot
NYCFC is also sitting pretty after a 3-0 win over San Jose. The team has nine points over its last three games and has scored 14 goals in that span. For the team that won MLS Cup, this team is looking stronger offensively at any point during the regular season than last year’s team did.
Whether or not NYCFC remains a top team in the East will be determined by Taty Castellanos staying. If he is sold, who knows? Even if CFG spends money on a replacement, it’s never a likely investment to replace his level of scoring.
The major concerns over NYCFC are defensive. The team has looked vulnerable too many times. The second leg collapse against Comunicaciones which nearly cost a spot in the CCL semifinals. The first leg against Seattle. The 5-4 win over Toronto.
NYCFC either overwhelms opponents offensively to take them out of games or it hemorrhages goals. That’s not healthy.
As for San Jose, this team plays even worse defense than NYCFC and doesn’t have the offense to back it up.
Atlanta, Toronto, and LAG: Oh My!
To conclude my weekly observations, I wanted to write about three losses – these aren’t just ordinary losses, but they are concerning losses to three of the biggest teams in the league. Questions surround each of them.
Toronto dropped a 2-1 decision at home to an improving but still underwhelming Cincinnati team. It was the second straight loss for Toronto after a 5-4 collapsing defeat to NYCFC. There simply isn’t much consistency to this team at the moment. Bradley was asked with turning things around and, to be fair, it was a tough hand. They got rid of a ton of players. They kept some very good players. Insigne is on his way.
“The tempo was too slow which played into Cincinnati’s game plan," Bob Bradley said. "We didn’t move the ball fast enough, didn’t get forward quickly enough...Those are two poor goals to give up today. [We had] a push late in the game. It’s a little bit too crazy the way we’re trying to get the next goal. So, yeah, there’s a lot of things to look at.”
“As a team I still feel that we’ve got to be more consistent,” Bradley added. “So, finding the right way to get our best guys playing at their best levels, that’s one of the most important aspects of building a good team."
Atlanta United, meanwhile, has even more talent right now than Toronto but there is no killer instinct, and the team struggles to transform its possession into meaningful chances. Then defensively, they suffer killer lapses. This was the case in a 2-1 loss to Montreal.
Unlike Toronto, Atlanta didn’t quite need a complete rebuild. Both teams have solid DP’s but Atlanta has a stronger supporting cast. Both teams show how critical it is to get the balance right between tactics, star players who can be difference makers, having a strong supporting cast, and the need to keep mental lapses at a minimum.
The last part was the problem for Atlanta and Toronto. As Bradley said, his team gave up poor goals that were avoidable. It was the same for Atlanta.
For the LA Galaxy, it’s different. Their 1-0 loss to RSL is the case of having the right tactics and the wrong players. Chicarito needs service from wide positions. Right now, Douglas Costa doesn’t have an assist and neither does Kevin Cabral.
LA Galaxy can’t find the right mix these days. It’s either a DP problem or a supporting cast problem. Zlatan produced, but his cast didn’t. Then you had DP’s that didn’t work out like Jonathan Dos Santos of Steven Gerrard. More than coaching, it’s been a front office issue.
The Galaxy aren’t off to a poor start, but if only one DP is producing, they’re going to hit bumps in the road and be very vulnerable in the playoffs.