MLS Week 2: which of the 6 pointers are for real? Play Your kids update, and other thougths
March 07, 2022
THE SECOND WEEK OF the 2022 MLS season was pretty revealing. Most of the results weren’t terribly surprising. Good teams did well, bad teams did poorly, and teams in the CONCACAF Champions League all continued to struggle. The key word, however, is “most.” There were some surprises and we should look into that.
The big surprises are the torrid starts of Austin FC and the New York Red Bulls. Few expected the performances from each of those teams. On the flip side, the pointless start from Seattle is disappointing even if the team is focused on the Champions League. Charlotte and Cincinnati meanwhile are off to bad starts that were expected.
Here are some thoughts.
Play Your Kids Week 2
Kids continue to get opportunities in the league – both domestically produces as well as young imports – but this past week saw mixed results among the top young players. It also comes down to the typical definition of what constitutes a young player.
Philadelphia Union were handcuffed in how they played their youthful contingent. For one, the team went down to 10 players after Julian Carranza was sent off in the 70th minute. Quinn Sullivan played the final three minutes while Jack McGlynn and Paxten Aaronson were unused subs (Aaronson twice got up to enter the game but was called back after the red card and after Gazdag’s goal).
But Philadelphia had two very good performances in seeing out a 2-1 shorthanded away win from young-ish players. Right back Nathan Harriel replaced Olivier Mbaizo in the starting lineup because of Mbaizo’s struggles in the opener and Harriel (who would have been on the 2021 U.S. U-20 team) was very good. Meanwhile, Leon Flach (who also would have been on the U.S. U-20 team last year) was very strong defensively. With Flach, only modest offensive improvements should put him in the extended player pool for the national team.
Gaga Slonina was in goal and had another clean sheet for Chicago, although he wasn’t tested in a 0-0 draw against Orlando.
Moses Nyeman was playing well for DC United against Cincinnati before he was sent off with the score still 0-0 (DC eventually won 1-0).
Reed Baker-Whiting, 16, is one of the more promising American players so far in the 2005 birth year. He got the start for Seattle in a 1-0 loss to RSL and was decent, but unspectacular. Obed Vargas, also born in 2005 but is on the U.S. U-20 team, came into the game for Seattle in the 66th minute and was pretty sharp despite the loss.
One of the more impressive young players so far early this season has been New York Red Bull left back John Tolkin, 19, who has started in each of the team’s wins to start the season. He has always been smooth with the ball, but he’s been feisty defensively and strong with his left foot.
In the Red Bulls' 4-1 win over Toronto on Saturday, Toronto started young Canadians Jayden Nelsn and Jahkeele Marshall Rutty, but neither were as close to being as sharp as they were in the opening week draw with FC Dallas.
In terms of the young imports, Senegalese central defender Mamadou Fall (born in 2002) played well and scored his astonishing fifth professional goal for LAFC in under 2000 minutes. It was a dramatic stoppage-time equalizer to force a point in a 1-1 draw against Portland.
Six pointers, for real?
There are four teams that are off to six point starts – the New York Red Bulls, DC United, the LA Galaxy and Austin FC. Needless to say, all of them have had at least one game against a poor opponent. But which ones should be taken more seriously and which ones shouldn’t.
DC United is the one that needs to be viewed most skeptically with wins over Charlotte and Cincinnati, the two worst teams in the league. Hernan Losada’s team wasn’t even terribly impressive in either game and the offense hasn’t impressed. If Ola Kamara doesn’t score, it’s going to be tough for Hernan Losada’s team. They just bled so many players from 2021.
The LA Galaxy have the best win of the six pointers when they defeated NYCFC 1-0 in its opening weekend. Then this past weekend, they downed a Charlotte team 1-0 that was boosted by 74,000 fans. The Galaxy needed magic from Efra Alvarez just to make it happen. The question for them this year is age, but they are improved as Greg Vanney enters into his second season.
The New York Red Bulls look better than people gave them credit for heading into the season. Defeating San Jose followed by Toronto doesn’t constitute top matchups but this was still six points on the road playing against teams in their home openers. The team is either the same or improved in all areas of the field and still awaits the arrival of a DP winger in Luquinhas and a strong second forward in Ashley Fletcher who should be an upgrade over Tom Barlow. Lewis Morgan was the clear MLS Player of the Week with a first half hat trick. If they continue to win, confidence will only build for Gerhard Struber’s team.
Austin FC is the wild card. Like the other teams, scheduling needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Home wins over Cincinnati followed by Inter Miami is ordinary. But 10 goals in those games? Maybe there is something there. This is considering it was a team that couldn’t score a lick last year. What is impressive is the quality of the goals it has scored. Some of the 10 have been very impressive. You can’t read too much into this but you also can’t discount there is a turnaround in Texas. It’s wait and see. Next up is a visit to Portland. If they win that, we can say that Josh Wolff is onto something.
Nashville: the long road journey
We’ve seen that when teams are building or renovating stadiums, they have to start the season on a long road trip. It’s never fair and the adjustment to having a home field advantage is reduced when there is a prolonged run at home and normality sits in.
But if Nashville can tread water on the road, it will be a great sign. So far, so good. The 1-1 draw with Minnesota followed by the win over Seattle is more than enough.
What is great about Nashville is that they are defensively strong in the midfield and Sean Davis was a great midseason acquisition. They have Hany Mukhtar who can create, score, and always be dangerous. They have the best central defender in the league, by far, in Walker Zimmerman. Then there is a steady CJ Sapong.
There are some concerns. One being age. The second being defending set pieces, which is beyond frustrating as it was a weakness last season and despite a full preseason, it continues to be a weakness. Nashville should have defeated Minnesota in this game but couldn’t handle a set piece or the ensuing scramble.
Nashville should be a contender but if they fatigue during the year due to an older midfield, or if Zimmerman or Mukhtar miss games, they’re in trouble.
Entertaining LAFC – Portland
In what was probably the most well played game of the week, LAFC played Portland to a 1-1 draw. It was good to see Juventus and U.S. national team midfielder Weston McKennie in attendance as he makes his way back from his broken foot.
This game had a lot to breakdown but let’s start with Yimmi Chara’s second straight week with a bicycle to begin the season.
???? YIMMI CHARA TWO WEEKS IN A ROW ???? pic.twitter.com/rmdl8R3tH2— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 7, 2022
Carlos Vela, meanwhile, left at the half for LAFC due to an injury that Steve Cherundolo said was: “precautionary we’re still accessing what exactly what it is but doesn’t seem severe.”
It wasn’t until Mamadou Fall equalized in stoppage time that LAFC secured a point
LAFC look improved under Steve Cherundolo but still struggle to finish without Vela. In this game, they controlled the possession edge by a lopsided margin but had no answer for a bunker.
“It’s great, I love it, relish that,” said LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo postgame. “It's a clash of two styles of football, and that's always going to be heated. We believe in this, they believe in that, and we'll see who comes out on top. It's a great rivalry. It's great for the league, it's great for our conference, so I can't wait for more.”
“Look, we all know Portland, we know what they do well, and they're very successful at playing that way,” he added. “Very result-oriented, pragmatic. They're very good at it – compliments to Portland for defending very well. It's not easy to stay disciplined for that long. And then with a man down as well.”
Cherundolo seems to be doing well, but a Plan B after Vela is needed.
As for Portland, they can defend. They have experience and the maturity to play on the road. But they’re getting lucky with their goals – both on bicycles. Still, it’s been two tough games to start the season and they’ve gotten results.
After a brutal opening to the season for Colorado – which included getting bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League by Communicaciones along with a lopsided defeat on the road to LAFC, it was surprising to see Atlanta fall to Colorado 3-0. Colorado was playing in its MLS home opener in touch conditions, but Atlanta was terrible.
U.S. national team defender Miles Robinson was sent off in the 86th minute. Josef Martniez only had 28 touches with one shot and one successful dribble. After an impressive 3-1 win in the comforts of home to start this season, Atlanta looked in preseason form with how disjointed they were in the attack.
Atlanta had 64% possession and completed 214 more passes than Colorado but everything dangerous was in favor of Colorado. There just wasn’t any creativity or playmaking from Atlanta and it isolated Martinez or anyone trying to be dangerous off the ball.
Colorado is still likely to have a period of adjustment as they haven’t adequately replaced Kellyn Acosta and Cole Bassett. To go along with their small payroll, they are limited. Still, they are well coached under Robin Fraser and is always dangerous to picking apart a team that isn’t clicking on a particular day – like Atlanta.
Revealing New England & Dallas
New England defeated Dallas 1-0 in Foxborough and it was a fair result. It was also revealing in how both teams showed strengths and weaknesses that are reflective of where the teams stand. It wasn’t a pretty game and it lacked flow. The only goal was scored by Carles Gil from the penalty spot. The call was awarded when VAR determined Paxton Pomykal tripped up Gil on the edge of the box.
Right now, Dallas has an all-homegrown midfield of Brandon Servania, Edwin Cerillo, and Paxton Pomykal. The good news is that Pomykal looks closer to his preinjury days than he has in three years. Servania as the No. 8 and Cerillo as the No. 6 are not involved in the offense as much as they need to be. It separates the front line from the midfield. Defensively it is an upgrade from last year for Dallas. When Alan Velasco joins soon, it will help the offense. But linking between the midfield and the attack will be the challenge for Dallas plus there is the transition of Jesus Ferreira from a second striker to a lone striker. There are a lot of questions.
Hit with pace. Quality penalty. pic.twitter.com/qzFCDxYRQL— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) March 5, 2022
As for New England, it’s a different team without Tajon Buchanan and it is a lot narrower. Fullbacks Dejuan Jones and Brandon Bye are asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting. It is actually not too different than Dallas in that the midfield has two more defensive players in Tommy McNamara and Matt Polster ahead of and definite attacker in Gil. There really isn’t a lot of fluidity in their ability to switch positions.
The difference is that the Revs have better attacking fullbacks right now, a set striker, and more fluidity between their wings (who are more comfortable cutting in) and attacking midfield positions. It wasn’t a great performance by New England but they should improve as the season moves along. A big shoutout also to EJ Edwards who has done a great job filling in for Matt Turner.