MLS analysis

MLS thoughts: Messi's arrival, Luna shines, McGuire rolls on, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up thoughts on Messi's arrival and Inter Miami along with other top performers including Duncan McGuire and Diego Luna - two young American players in breakout seasons.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 17, 2023
12:40 PM

THE WEEKEND OF GAMES in MLS was overshadowed, understandably, by Sunday’s unveiling of Lionel Messi in South Florida. That brought the attention of the soccer world to Inter Miami and the party is on. But on the field, there were a bunch of takeaways from many of the games.


Messi, Busquets, Martino in Miami


It’s tough to add anything to what has already taken place with Inter Miami. I’ve followed the league closely and I became more interested in its direction around 2016-2018 when the academy and homegrown pathways took a real step forward in their growth. It was also around this time when the league’s teams began using DP slots on younger players with the hopes of developing them and selling them – like Miguel Almiron.

There was a move away from signing aging superstars looking to close out their career. Yes, it still happens but it is far more atypical. Most DP’s are still in their early-mid 20’s, while the older players get the most attention. But going younger was always better for the teams and the league.

Is Messi counter to that positive change? Yes. But you gotta make exceptions sometimes. Being overly rigid is simply never smart. Messi is a game changer. This is a special moment. Martino is a homerun too in that he knows how to win in this league and he’s managed Messi and Busquets.

What does this mean for Inter Miami? It would be better if this had been happening earlier in the season when there was time to change, or if Inter Miami were better. But that is not the case. They are a whopping 12 points out of the final playoff spot.

The prospects of them turning into a playoff team are slim. J. Sam Jones explains it well.

“They’re going to need about 42-45 points to make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs this year. And that’s just for one of the play-in game spots. They’ll at least need to be on a 2.0 points-per-game pace from here on out, and even that may not be enough. Only FC Cincinnati are averaging 2.0 points per game or better right now. Inter Miami are essentially going to have to transform into the second-best team in the league for the final 12 games.”

If anyone can do that it would be Messi and friends. Plus, the fact that they now have the all-star game and the Leagues Cup, there is time for Tata Martino to work on building a real team. The team doesn’t have an MLS game until August 20. It is essentially like preseason now and the fact that they have this time means you can’t count Miami out of the playoffs just yet. But everything is going to have to break their way.

But the fact that the team can compete for trophies in the Leagues Cup and the Open Cup, all is not lost. Both could still pave the way into Miami getting into the CONCACAF Champions League this year. It’s not a matter of playing out the string for Miami.

Next year, however, will be a different story. The circus will die down a bit and it will be far more abouts wins and losses. What kind of team can Miami build around Messi? Expectations will be so much higher next year.

Luna & RSL impress


When looking for teams that are contenders, Real Salt Lake is clearly in the mix. After a terrible start to the season, the team is climbing quickly. Right now, they’re in third place, even on points with second place LAFC and only four points behind upstart St. Louis.

There are several reasons for this. Obviously, Pablo Mastroeni has done a great job as head coach. Also, the signing of Cristian Arango is still fresh, but it gives the team confidence moving forward with a strong scoring option.

But there is also the phenomenal play of Diego Luna since he returned from the U-20 World Cup. Since he came back from Argentina, he has been on another level. Over the weekend, he scored two goals in a 3-1 win over the reeling New York Red Bulls.

"When I'm free and I'm having fun playing, it shows who I really am, so I think that was something when I came back,” Luna said of his return from the U-20 World Cup. “I felt free and open to the game and relaxed and able to play."


Cincy pounds Nashville


Heading into the weekend, I was curious to see how the high-flying Cincinnati would fare against the defensively steady Nashville team. In the end, it wasn’t as good of a game as I hoped - with Cincy defeating Nashville 3-1. For Nashville, it prolonged their slump, and they now just have one win and five losses in their last six games.

Nashville is falling apart in key areas. Red cards and a Hany Mukhtar dry spell that has stretched for six games.

Cincinnati is what you want to see in a good team in this league because they have multiple points of attack. If Brandon Vazquez doesn’t score, Luciano Acosta will. If Acosta doesn’t score, Sergio Santos will. There are so many ways this team can beat you and that is what you find in teams that are serious to win MLS Cup. It’s why Miami isn’t there yet, despite landing Lionel Messi.

But it’s the problem with Nashville. There aren’t enough points of attack and Mukhtar has been arrying the team. The team will reportedly be landing Sam Surridge soon from Nottingham Forest. If he works out, Nashville will solve a big problem. But it is still a lot of “ifs” right now.


Galaxy momentum halted


Just when it seemed as if the LA Galaxy had momentum following wins over LAFC in front of a full Rose Bowl and Philadelphia, the team came crashing back down to earth following a 4-2 loss to Vancouver. Within 24 minutes, the Galaxy were down 3-0 and reduced to 10 players.

The Galaxy actually played well in the second half, but were way too slow out of the gate and Chris Mavinga singlehandedly cost them a result. Unfortunately for the Galaxy, they can’t afford to have off days like this.


Seattle’s offensive woes


Seattle has scored multiple goals just twice in their last 17 games. This continued on Saturday in the team’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas where the team's only goal was via an own goal. Brian Schmetzer, however, wasn’t pushing the panic button.

“We will sort through some of the ideas that we’ve given them,” he said. “We’ve tried to add to some of those. I don’t think everything is broken, but we need to fine-tune it.”

But this team has been together for so long that they should know what works. It’s just a question right  now as to whether this is a core that has been together too long and has grown stale?


Orlando surges past Atlanta


Just a week after Orlando was played off the field in a 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, the team travelled to Atlanta and came away with an impressive 2-1 win.

The winning goal came from Duncan McGuire. If players were stocks, I would encourage you to buy McGuire stock. I’ve heard transfer interest in him is increasing with two Championship teams taking a look in the Omaha native.

Staying in Orlando might not be a bad option for McGuire, for now. He’s in his first professional season and his international prospects are strong with him being a front runner for the U.S. Olympic team. He now has eight goals on the season in 816 minutes. If he can push into double digits while making the U.S. U-23 team, he might be able to climb beyond the Championship.

But Orlando just had a great game. Captain Mauricio Pereyra assisted on both goals. Antonio Carlos scored off a classy header.

For Atlanta, the team continues to be maddeningly up and down. It can win any game or lose any game. It doesn’t bode well for the post season.

Caleb Wiley scored Atlanta’s only goal of the game and the U.S. U-20 left back still deserves to be one of the top teenage prospects in the league.


Harkes impresses for Revs


Ian Harkes came into MLS with a lot of expectations in 2017 given his Hermann Trophy at Wake Forest and the fact that he signed for DC United where his father was a star in the early years of MLS. But eventually he was released and he went on to do well in Scotland with Dundee United.

It remains to be seen how he will do in his return to MLS, but the 28-year-old is off to a strong start with the Revs, and he scored two goals against his former team, DC United, in a 4-0 win on Saturday. His first goal was a delightful chip.

The Revs under Bruce Arena are excellent on taking rebound projects – including Matt Polster and Bobby Wood.

DC United have shown a lot of improvement in 2023 but it’s going to be close if they make the playoffs.


Chicago remains hot


Things are clearly better in Chicago right now these days on Frankie Klopas and the club’s 1-0 win over a bad Toronto team was the club’s fifth in six games. Yes, it took a late goal from Kacper Przybylko but there is a lot of confidence in the Windy City these days.

For American players, buy stock in Chris Brady and Brian Gutierrez. Brady is looking on par with how Gaga Slonina played before moving to Chelsea. Gutierrez is one of the best young American attacking midfielders in the league.

As for Toronto, things are bad. It’s not just a bad team, it’s an expensive mess.

"It's been a few years now where the club isn't where it should be, and unfortunately when results don't go your way in sports, change is bound to happen,” Jonathan Osorio said. “I think, for sure, there's still a lot [of change] to go but for me it's not the time to speak about that.”


Other thoughts


The Philadelphia Union moved back into third place with a 2-1 win over NYCFC. Curtin made five changes from the midweek win over Nashville and was still able to get it done. As has been a common theme, NYCFC was done in by an inability to take advantage of opportunities. NYCFC had 56% possession and a 11-5 shooting advantage, but was not able to finish enough.

Like RSL, Minnesota is a team that should be a dangerous team in the playoffs. With Emmanuel Reynoso back and Teemu Pukki now a center forward, Minnesota is dangerous. They’re not deep, but their top 11 is good. Minnesota was better in a 1-1 draw with a struggling LAFC team.

Austin FC came away with a strong 2-1 win over Sporting Kansas City, but Sebastian Driussi left the game in the 43rd injury – which could be devastating. U.S. U-20 midfielder Owen Wolff played well in the win.

Aidan Morris returned from his absence for personal reasons and started for Columbus in a 3-2 away loss to Portland.

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