Morning update: Leeds squander two points, Philly & LAFC prepare for the CCL semi, & more
April 26, 2023
IT’S BEEN A WHILWIND of a start to the week in American soccer. We’ve seen U.S. Soccer name their new Sporting Director, there have been important games in Europe, the U.S. Open Cup had a busy Tuesday, and Philadelphia & LAFC are set to renew their rivalry on Wednesday.
As everyone knows now, Matt Crocker has been hired as the new Sporting Director for U.S. Soccer. ASN broke down his introduction in a piece on Tuesday night.
Here are what we thought were the big takeaways.
New big piece is up over at ASN. What were my big takeaways from the Matt Crocker introduction as the new U.S. Soccer Sporting Director? I write about what I found to be most important things discussed - and why. https://t.co/qlK5BDTrsh— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 26, 2023
Bottom line is that Crocker doesn't seem to have visions of being a revolutionary - which is good. He seems to be looking at enhancing the status quo more than rebuilding anything. He seems to want to listen and learn what is working on the youth side and then find ways to make it better.
After that, let’s talk about the return to the field.
Leeds United concede late in draw
In a game that was ultimately a blow to Leeds United’s hope of avoiding relegation, the club conceded an 80th minute equalizer and settled for a 1-1 draw with Leicester. The two teams occupied the two places north of the relegation zone but for Leeds, it there were other factors to consider. Leeds has played miserable soccer the last three games, all losses, and was trending downward. This game along with this weekend against Bournemouth are winnable games compared with a very difficult schedule to end the season. For Leeds these two games are crucial.
Weston McKennie got the start against Leicester with Brenden Aaronson on the bench and Tyler Adams out injured (seemingly lost for the rest of the season).
For McKennie, he has his best game in over a month. He wasn’t sloppy, he was dangerous, and he was effective with his passing over a full 90-minute effort. Aaronson came on in the 68th minute but was just 4/6 in passing with 19 touches. He fouled three times (one of them was a very smart tactical foul) and didn’t draw a foul. Aaronson continues to have a few moments every game that put opponents on the back foot. But at Leeds, it is tough to sustain that over 90 minutes.
The most painful moment of the game came in the 90th minute when a Leeds corner found Patrick Bamford at the back post and Bamford missed the net from two feet out.
Richards returns to the field
Chris Richards returned to the field for the first time in two months with a start for Crystal Palace in a 2-0 loss to Wolves. The U.S. international has struggled mightily with injuries over the past two years and played decent in this game. In the first half, he played as a right back and in the second half he shifted to right central defense. Richards was not at fault for either of Wolves goals.
Overall, it was not a performance that would hurt his standing at all at Palace. On the other hand, it also wasn’t a performance that would boost his case to leapfrog anyone else ahead of him on the team. In this case, Richards got the start largely because of a minor injury to right back Nathaniel Clyne.
Aston Villa defeats Fulham
At this point, it seems like Fulham is at the point of winding down a successful season. They easily avoided any relegation fears from the beginning. A year after promotion, midtable is about right.
Aston Villa defeated the Cottagers 1-0. Tim Ream was caught a bit flat-footed on Tyrone Mings header off a corner in the 21st minute for Villa’s goal. Antonee Robinson was a dangerous threat constantly at left back. No matter what, it’s been a good season for both Americans.
Elsewhere in Europe
Ricardo Pepi and Groningen finished their abandoned match against NEC Nijmegen on Tuesday. The match started on Saturday but was halted for fan behavior. With it being resumed on Tuesday behind closed doors, Groningen ended up dropping a 1-0 decision at home.
Pepi went all 90 minutes and Groningen is now 11 points deep in the relegation zone with no hope of surviving. For Pepi, it’s just about completing his loan professionally and then finding a better team and better environment. Whether that be on a full transfer or on another loan from Augsburg remains to be seen.
After making the bench on Saturday and going as an unused substitute, Jonathan Gomez was not on the bench for Real Sociedad in a 0-0 draw with Real Betis on Tuesday.
This weekend, Sam Vines might be able to both make his first appearances for Royal Antwerp since his broken tibia on November 4 and win some silverware. Antwerp will take on Mechelen on Sunday in the Belgian Cup final.
#USMNT left back Sam Vines in training for the Belgian Cup final this Sunday between his Royal Antwerp team and Mechelen. Vines has not played with Antwerp's first team since suffering his broken tibia on November 4. He has played in reserve games https://t.co/smHf4gESpH— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 26, 2023
U.S. Open Cup 3rd round opens
Tuesday was the start of the third round of the U.S. Open Cup with eight games on the docket. There are 16 games on Wednesday. This is the first round of MLS team involvement.
Tuesday’s games failed to deliver many upsets. Six games involved MLS teams and with five teams from the country’s top league advancing. The lone upset was Monterey Bay FC posting a 1-0 upset over San Jose on an ugly “When Playing It Out of The Back” goal for the winner.
We might never forgive San Jose for being the birthplace of “the wave.” Nothing ruins a sporting event like it. But forgiveness for San Jose might be in order for giving us an Open Cup #WPIOOTBGW. Well, at least it’s a start pic.twitter.com/brdAGDuBdX— When Playing It Out of the Back Goes Wrong (@wpiootbgw) April 26, 2023
The rest of the MLS results were mostly convincing wins.
St. Louis City downed Union Omaha 5-1 with American attacker Aziel Jackson scoring two goals.
Count’em ?? ?? ?? ?? ?? pic.twitter.com/REe30Bouzf— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) April 26, 2023
After falling behind 1-0, Minnesota rallied for three goals in a six-minute span in the second half for a 3-1 win over Detroit City.
A 76th minute goal from David Romney broke a 1-1 deadlock and gave the New England Revolution a 2-1 win over Hartford Athletic.
Sporting Kansas City didn't let a poor start to the MLS season distract them in a 3-0 win over Tulsa Athletic.
Charlotte fielded a strong lineup and pounded Tormenta 4-1.
Also, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds cruised past the Maryland Bobcats 2-0. The Charleston Battery got a 112th minute goal from Nicholas Markanich to sneak past the Charlotte Independence 1-0 after extra time.
Philadelphia set to host LAFC
In the first leg of a highly anticipated CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, the Philadelphia Union will host LAFC on Wednesday in Chester, Pennsylvania.
This is the first time the two teams have met since the 2022 MLS Cup final where LAFC prevailed in a shootout after a stunning stoppage time equalizer via Gareth Bale. But now Philadelphia will have the chance to host a game before heading to California next week for the second leg.
"We want to show what we are about and get a good result against what is a really quality team... we know we are a really good quality side as well.— Philadelphia Union (@PhilaUnion) April 25, 2023
We haven’t played them at our home in quite some time so we are all looking forward to it."
- Captain @AleBedoya17 ???? #DOOP pic.twitter.com/ZZzIEaQ2tN
While Philadelphia hasn’t been consistently sharp to start the MLS season, things have been trending positively for Jim Curtin’s team. The team posted an impressive 3-2 aggregate win over Liga MX’s Atlas in the quarterfinal. Over the weekend, Philadelphia played its best league game of the early season in a 4-2 win over Toronto.
LAFC, meanwhile, has been consistently strong with five wins and three draws from its first eight games. Danny Bouanga has been stellar both in league and in CCL play.
LAFC are the favorites entering into this series, but Philadelphia still has the players to get it done. Daniel Gazdag and Mikel Uhre are the top scoring options. The backline and defense is overall solid. They have also been bolstered by American teenager Jack McGlynn who has earned a spot in the starting lineup and came up with a big assist in the win over Atlas.
Meanwhile in the other semifinal, Tigres UNAL posted a 2-1 win over Leon at home in the first leg. Tigres has the advantage, but Leon has an away goal. The second leg should be a thriller there.
Wednesday’s other games
Aside from the CCL semifinal, there are plenty of other games from an American perspective.
In the Premier League, Chelsea host Brentford and it is still an open question what sort of role Christian Pulisic will play for the Blues the rest of this season.
Also, Matt Turner will likely be on the bench for Arsenal in the pivotal clash with Manchester City which could play an important role in determining the Premier League title.
In La Liga, U.S. national team midfielder Luca de la Torre will likely start for Celta Vigo against last-place Elche.
In Croatia’s HNL, HNK Gorica host second place Hajduk Split with U.S. U-20 midfielder Rokas Pukstas likely to start and American winger Agustin Anello, 20, likely to be on the bench for Hajduk Split, who are locked into the second-place position with little hope of contending for the title or any prospect of falling to third.
As mentioned, there are 16 games in the U.S. Open Cup tonight. There are a lot of games with good geographic rivalries such as Miami FC hosting Inter Miami, DC United hosting the Richmond Kickers, Cincinnati hosting Louisville SC, the Chicago Fire hosting Chicago House, and the Colorado Rapids hosting the Northern Colorado Hailstorm.