Monday update

Leagues Cup gone with Messi, goals, red cards, & Atlas while Pukstas headlines abroad

The Leagues Cup is the place for be for insanity. The debut tournament has Messi, red cards, goals galore, wild celebrations, and one team losing it on social media. Meanwhile, Rokas Pukstas was the headliner abroad with a huge goal in the Eternal Derby. ASN's Brian Sciaretta combs through the news with his thoughts and analysis. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 24, 2023
2:50 PM

MOST TIMES during a year, we have separate columns for MLS and abroad but given that its mostly the European preseason and now the Leagues Cup – along with the transfer window- we are combining everything as a news breakdown piece.

But for now, there is a lot to talk about. First, Leagues Cup has been bonkers - with Messi, red cards, goals, shootouts, and one team going mental.

Think about the first 3 days from the Leagues Cup:

  • 15 games
  • 47 goals
  • 3.13 goals average
  • 5 straight red cards
  • 53 yellow cards
  • 31 penalites in one shootout

Meanwhile, the news abroad is still very mixed.

Anyway, let’s get into it.


Messi magic


In case you’ve been living under a rock, everyone knows what happened on Friday night. Messi made his Inter Miami debut and made magic in the 94th minute with a stunning free kick for a 2-1 win over Cruz Azul.

There is not a lot to say about this that hasn’t been said. It was huge. It’s been viewed millions upon millions of times. Messi was brought into Miami to make magic, and he did.

There are all sorts of discussions about the philosophy of the teams in MLS. I generally don’t like bringing in aging players. I much prefer the approach of developing young players while adding good players in their younger/prime ages. But I am also not rigid. You have to make exceptions. Not all aging players in MLS have been bad. Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Robbie Keane worked. Most, however, ranged from bland to bad – Denilson, Schweinsteiger, Branco, Matthaeus, Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo, etc.

But Messi is just in another class, and he is still less than a year removed from his greatest accomplishment. When Pele came to the Cosmos, he was almost semipro and hadn’t been with Brazil’s national team in many years. If Messi had returned to Argentina to play with any club there or had signed with Club America, stadiums would be full. It would be the same thing as now.


For Inter Miami, I am more concerned about Alba, Busquets, or anyone else more than Messi. Those signings seem more akin to the aging stars that haven’t worked more than Messi.

But people are now comparing Messi to the move that he didn’t make – Saudi Arabia. The money there is off the charts and Al Hilal has made a $332 million offer for Kylian Mbappe, who is just 24 years old.

The Saudi’s can compete with anyone with their money. For MLS, getting Messi to Miami was great. But the comparison isn’t Saudi Arabia. The business model for most teams is still to either develop young players internally, or acquire younger players from abroad (typically South America) and then sell. More Tyler Adams, Alphonso Davies, and Miguel Almiron- types are better. That approach is far healthier and interesting.


Atlas goes nuts


Club Atlas defeated NYCFC 1-0 in the Leagues Cup on Sunday night, but that didn’t stop its social media manager from going insane. Late in the game, NYCFC believed they equalized via Justin Haak. But the goal was called back on VAR due to offside. NYCFC fans have been arguing that it should have counted. Atlas then made a tweet on Monday morning quoting Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Party's head of propaganda and the right-hand man of Adolph Hitler.


It goes without saying this horrible and it lacks any sense of decency or class.

No matter what, the Leagues Cup is indeed off to a wild start.



Minnesota & Reynoso impress


The best outing of the Leagues Cup so far was Minnesota United for their thorough 4-0 pounding of Puebla on Sunday night. To give some more context, Minnesota was reduced to 10 players in the 30th minute when Michael Boxall was sent off. The score at that time was 1-0. Minnesota went on to score three more times.

Emmanuel Reynoso was brilliant. Easily the best individual performance we’ve seen at the Leagues Cup.


RSL smokes Seattle


On Saturday night, Real Salt Lake blew past the Seattle Sounders 3-0. The big takeaway from this game is that, after a poor start to the MLS season, RSL is good right now – really good. There are just so many things trending in their direction.

First, Diego Luna is breaking out since coming back from the U-20 World Cup. Second, Cristian Arango is likely going to be the biggest impact midseason acquisition. Sure, Messi is better. But Inter Miami isn’t going to make the playoffs. Arango is giving RSL a chance to make a deep run.


Kudos to Pablo Mastroeni for putting it together.

On the flip side, I am happy I sold my Seattle Sounders stock awhile ago. I think this team’s core is beyond its expiration date.


Argentina is owning the League’s Cup


Argentina is putting a huge footprint on the Leagues Cup.

Lionel Messi’s big goal. Emmanuel Reynoso’s big outing. Julian Carranza’s brace for Philadelphia in the 3-1 win over Tijuana. Luciano Acosta scoring for Cincinnati in the shootout win over Kansas City.

Then you have Luca Zelarayan who scored this beauty for Columbus in the 2-1 win over St. Louis in a game delayed by lightening.

Anyway, this should not be much of a surprise. It shows the fact that many MLS teams spend a lot of money scouting in Argentina is money well spent.


Other Leagues Cup notes


The Red Bulls got past New England in a shootout. John Tolkin had a big game, and a big celebration after scoring the winning shootout goal.

This game still showed the main problem is that the Red Bulls simply can’t score. The team needs to create way too many big opportunities to convery one. The big problem is that Lewis Morgan is out injured. The team would have been bad in 2022 as well, but Morgan saved them with a huge season. This team is not deep, and no one is here to bail them out.


Other Leagues Cup Notes


Montreal squandered a 2-0 lead in the 88th minute against Pumas and headed to a shootout after a 2-2 draw. Montreal ended up winning but Bryce Duke has been really good since arriving in Canada. Eligible for the U.S. U-23 team, he’s filling the void left by Djordje Mihailovic nicely.

Duncan McGuire
now has nine goals in all competitions this season for Orlando. His goal against Houston in a 1-1 Leagues Cup draw was a WPIOOTBGW gift, but the better you are, the more luck you get. Like Duke, we’ll see McGuire on the U.S. U-23 team.

Leon defeated Vancouver on penalties after a 2-2 draw. The 16-15 shootout was one of the wildest I can remember. Yet again, the Leagues Cup is off to a fun start.

Two own goals and an Alan Pulido red card featured in Cincinnati’s 3-3 draw with Sporting Kansas City (Cincy won in a shootout). But Brandon Vazquez found the back of the net and he is warming up. The forward position on the USMNT is crowded but will he get a call-up in the fall? Also, will he continue to get interest abroad. He’s one of the more interesting American players right now in the league.

The Union defeated Tijuana 3-1 after Xolos was reduced to nine players. The second red card didn’t seem right.

Ben Bender had a tough start to the season, but things are picking up for him in recent weeks. He equalized late to send Charlotte to a shootout after a 2-2 draw with Dallas. He then converted his shootout attempt as Charlotte won.

Everyone is talking about Messi, but Drake Callender was huge for Miami in making seven saves in the win over Cruz Azul. Will he stay in the running for the USMNT as there are a lot of questions about the team’s current group. The good news for Callender is that he’s going to have millions of eyes on him ever time he plays. It’s a good situation.


Pukstas wins the Eternal Derby


Rokas Pukstas, 18, is having a good year. He earned a starting spot for Hajduk Split in the winter. He played big minutes last year and helped Hajduk win the Croatian Cup (drawing a penalty in the final). He then went to the U-20 World Cup with the U.S. team.

Now, the start to the 2023/24 HNL season couldn’t have gone any better. Playing against the reigning champs Dinamo Zagreb in the Eternal Derby, Pukstas earned the start and scored the dramatic winner deep into stoppage time for a 2-1 victory in the opener in Zagreb.

Pukstas still has a way to go in his development. He doesn’t get on the ball as much as you’d expect and he only had 32 touches and 16 completed passes in this game. But what he does, he does well. He’s a fierce competitor with a great nose for the goal. With still some important steps to go in his development, he shouldn’t be looking to move from Hajduk yet. If he can find a way to be consistent throughout a game, he would have a very high ceiling.

Internationally, Pukstas should be viewed as a prime candidate for the U.S. U-23 Olympic team next year. Success there could then put him on a quick transition to the full team.


Pulisic starts AC Milan


Christian Pulisic is in the United States with his new club, AC Milan, and he went 70 minutes on Sunday as Real Madrid came away with a 3-2 friendly win. Pulisic left with the score 2-2. It wasn’t completely Milan’s best team that started this match.

Overall, it was a decent game from Pulisic. He had some very good moments but was also limited. He played a very wide role and was isolated too often in positions that weren’t that dangerous – especially with Milan defending for long stretches.

The big news for Pulisic, however, is that AC Milan have reportedly acquired Nigerian winger Samuel Chukwueze from Villarreal so Pulisic will have competition.


No Musah with Valencia


We know AC Milan were after Yunus Musah but Valencia reportedly raised their price. But there is still is a lot of interest in the American-born midfielder despite a tough season where he failed to score and only had two assists as Valencia needed a solid final three weeks of the La Liga season to avoid relegation.

But Musah is also no longer training with Valencia per reports. If this is accurate, it begs the question if this is Musah trying to force a move or if this is Valencia holding him out?


Fulham defeats Brentford


Fulham defeated Brentford 3-2 in a friendly in Philadelphia on Sunday. U.S. national team defender Antonee Robinson played 83 strong minutes in the win and left to a nice ovation from the crowd. Young American goalkeeper Alex Borto was a backup for Fulham in this game while Tim Ream is still out recovering from his broken arm.

Robinson is one of the few American players who can say he had a good season in 2022/23 – with Tim Ream being another.


Green & Dietz vs. Liverpool


2.Bundesliga club Greuther Furth played Liverpool to a wild 4-4 draw on Monday. For Furth, they started two American players.

Maximilian Dietz, 21, went the entire game playing right center back in a three-man backline. Dietz made a few cameos last season for Furth but could this be the first season he plays regularly? Born in New York, Dietz had a U.S. U-17 call-up in 2019.

Julian Green played 87 minutes and scored a goal in the second half off a “When Playing It Out Of The Back Goes Wrong.”



Joel Sonora to Huracan

Joel Sonora, 26, has left Club Juraez after a brief run dating back to February. His younger brother, USMNT midfielder Alan Sonora, left Juraez last week. But Joel Sonora has returned to Argentina to play with Huracan - which finished eighth last season in the Primera. 

Sonora is coming off a difficult run in his career. His last two stints (Martimo in Portugal, Club Juarez in Mexico) have each lasted just a few months. Prior to that, he was a journeyman in Argentina with four teams in four seasons. He started his professional career with a brief stint in Stuttgart with the reserve team. 

It is still undecided where Alan Sonora will land. 

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