Morning update: thoughts on Philly - LAFC draw, Open Cup, Yanks abroad, & MLS movement
April 27, 2023
THE TOP STORY FOR Tuesday’s morning update is Kellyn Acosta. For the U.S. national team midfielder over a span of about five minutes, it was the worst of times and then it was the best of times. And it ended with LAFC having an edge on Philadelphia after the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal.
With that intro, let’s get into Thursday’s news.
Much of the anticipation to Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg between the Philadelphia Union and LAFC was due to the excellent 2022 MLS Cup final last November which was one of the greatest games in the history of the league. What made the game so dramatic is the way LAFC rallied at the end after a late injury to their goalkeeper and a late Union goal in extra time. Gareth Bale ended up scoring the dramatic equalizer and Philadelphia native/Union product John McCarthy ended up the hero for LAFC with multiple saves in the shootout.
But there are two sides to every story. LAFC’s late rally was also the Union’s late collapse. And that theme was once again revisited on Wednesday night when the Union had the opportunity to host LAFC in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal.
For 89 minutes, the game was intense and physical but lacking a high number of quality scoring opportunities. The Union had the better of chances and most of the possession but couldn’t find a breakthrough. But a Jack McGlynn shot in the 87th minute hit Kellyn Acosta’s hand and a VAR review awarded the Union a penalty. McCarthy was not able to deny this penalty as Daniel Gazdag’s low shot to the left side hit the back of the net.
It looked like the Union were going to take a 1-0 lead to Los Angeles, but then minutes later in stoppage time, Acosta went from the goat to the hero. The Union struggled to get the ball out of their end and a turnover eventually found Acosta who skillfully finished a ball that was played behind him.
The series will now return to California and LAFC has the edge. They will advance with any win as well as a 0-0 draw due to having scored an away goal. But LAFC has a strong homefield advantage and this will make Philadelphia’s task extremely difficult.
As for the takeaways from the game, here a few:
Painful late game concession: It wouldn’t be surprising if Philadelphia ends up losing this series based on what happened in stoppage time. Manchester United used to have Fergie time, but LAFC now has Cherundolo time. There is an art towards closing out big games when talented opposition find way to raise games. Philadelphia has acquired this yet. It’s tough because the Union were the better team for the balance of the game.
McCarthy was exceptional again: Johnny McCarthy is Philly to the bone. He was born, raised, educated, and developed as a player in Philadelphia. He just moved to LAFC because he couldn’t get by Andre Blake. And he was expected to be a backup at LAFC too. But he earned the starting job after what he did at MLS Cup. And now he looms large again in the Champions League.
McGlynn was solid again: U.S. U-20 midfielder Jack McGlynn tends to show up the most in big games. He’s been great in the playoffs, and he’s been great in the CCL, so far. He was once again very good for the Union on Wednesday. He was at the heart of most of the Union’s best chances.
The Union were too wasteful: In games like these, opportunities are fewer than in regular seasons. Teams tighten their defenses and there is always an extra effort in knockout competitions. But for players like Mikel Uhre and Gazdag, they need to finish these chances.
This rivalry is legit: This bicoastal rivalry is one of the best in the league. It’s developed naturally based on two very different teams seeking league and continental dominance. It’s the MLS version of the Celtics and the Lakers of the 80’s. What Wednesday’s game indicated is just how much these teams don’t like each other. There were skirmishes and hard tackles throughout the 90 minutes. It was entertaining to watch.
U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday
On Tuesday night, the U.S. Open Cup staged eight third round games. Then on Wednesday night, there were 16 games. The appeal of this tournament is generally the hope of upsets and for Cinderella teams to merge.
For those hoping to see that, they were greatly disappointed. MLS teams posted a record of 16-2 in this round. The two upsets were Memphis 901 getting past Atlanta 2-1 in extratime on Wednesday. Then on Tuesday, Monterey Bay FC posted a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
Love this volley from Nighte Pickering, 18, to put Memphis up 2-1 on Atlanta in the #USOC2023. An FC Dallas academy product & BIrmingham, AL native, Pickering was called up to the U.S U-19 in 2022 pic.twitter.com/F5xXGlUYoc— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 27, 2023
But the Round of 32 will now feature 24 MLS teams and eight USL Championship teams. The third division (USL League One, NISA) and amateur leagues were all dismissed in this round. For some, the 2023 US Open Cup has lost its luster compared with previous versions. In 2022, six third division teams were in the Round of 32.
But there were some great moments. Using a heavily rotated squad, the Seattle Sounders defeated the San Diego Loyal 5-4 with the decisive goal coming as a 120th minute penalty from Freddy Montero. Former U.S. international Joe Corona had two goals in regular time for San Diego before his teammate, Kyle Adams, found a 90th minute equalizer to send the game to extratime at 3-3. U.S. U-19 midfielder/defender Reed Baker-Whiting put Seattle up in the 101st minute with a great goal before San Diego equalized again in the 115th minute through Jackson Kasanzu for a 4-4 score.
Reed Baker-Whiting makes his contribution to this Open Cup classic for @SoundersFC with this ????!— U.S. Open Cup (@opencup) April 27, 2023
B/R App ? https://t.co/yYKiCa74bk
B/R Football YT ? https://t.co/m9fmYSTpnn#USOC2023 pic.twitter.com/LIx24ARQf2
Miami FC almost had an upset over Inter Miami and held the lead for most of the game but conceded a late equalizer in the 89th minute off a Shanyder Borgelin header. Miami FC took the lead again in the 116th minute thanks to an ugly DeAndre Yedlin own goal but then equalized in the 118th minute thanks to Ryan Sailor. Inter Miami then prevailed in penalties.
What were the reasons for the lack of upsets? MLS teams clearly came into this tournament more aware and the underdogs might have been more overconfident. Many MLS teams didn’t quite start their top starting XI, but even the backups on MLS teams were more motivated.
Anyway, the draw for the Round of 32 takes place on Wednesday at 2pm EST. The eight non-MLS teams are all from the USL Championship and they are: Birmingham, Charleston, Loudoun, Memphis, Monterey Bay, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, and Sacramento
Americans in Europe
Two Americans were on matchday squads in the Premier League on Wednesday but neither player – which was probably to their benefit.
Chelsea’s stunningly horrific season continued with a 2-0 loss at home to Brentford. It seems like an ugly situation where Chelsea will want to clean house to the extent possible this summer. Meawnhile, all the players want to be anywhere else. It’s tough to see Christian Pulisic not doing everything he can to run for the exit this summer.
Reports and rumors are flying about Mauricio Pochettino taking over this summer. He hasn’t coached this season since leaving PSG last summer. But, honestly, Chelsea’s problem’s seem so much deeper.
Matt Turner, as expected, remained on the bench for Arsenal in a 4-1 loss to Manchester City that tipped the frontrunner to win the Premier League to City.
In La Liga, U.S. international Luca de la Torre actually did play and was in the starting lineup for Celta Vigo in a lackluster win over a horrible Elche team that is in last place and has less than half the amount of points (13) as the second-to-last team, Espanyol (28).
De la Torre had a decent game in possession but didn’t create much. He left in the 76th minute with the game at 0-0. He was not on the field for Celta Vigo’s 90th minute winner.
Luca de la Torre for Celta Vigo in 1-0 win vs. Elche— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 26, 2023
- 76 mins
- 42 touchs
- 30-33 passing
- 1 pass into final 1/3
- 1/1 in long balls
- 3/3 tackles
- 3/6 ground duels
- 0/1 aerials
- LDLT passed well and was good in possession but created little against last-place Elche (13 pts)
Overall, the game was disappointing for Celta Vigo to need a late winner against a team that is easily the worst team in any of Europe’s top five leagues.
Finally, Hajduk Split played HNK Gorica to a disappointing 0-0 draw. Miami-area native Agustin Anello played the final 18 minutes while U.S. U-20 midfielder Rokas Pukstas was still resting from playing in the UEFA Youth League Final where Hajduk Split lost to AZ Alkmaar 5-0. Hajduk Split is almost a lock to finish second in the HNL, behind leaders Dinamo Zagreb.
As expected, FC Cincinnati announced the sale of starting attacker Brenner, 23, to Udinese in Itay’s Serie A. The Brazilian will become the fourth highest ever paid for a player by Udinese. Cincinnati paid $13 million for Brenner in 2021 but the move was certainly worth it as the club got a ton of value on the field from Brenner. Over 69 MLS games, Brenner scored 27 goals and was instrumental in turning the club from the worst in MLS to one of the best in the Eastern Conference. The value in turning the team was well worth the $2 million difference between what Cincy paid and sold him for.
Brenner will return to Ohio and play for Cincinnati through July.
But another question about Brenner’s sale is how it affects Cincinnati’s center forward Brandon Vazquez? Vazquez is a big producer of goals for Cincy and the U.S. international is attracting interest from European teams, including Borussia Monchengladbach whose sporting director flew to the United States to watch Vazquez in March (in a game where Vazquez scored against Nashville).
Will Cincinnati be willing to part with Vazquez along with Brenner in the same summer? Does the team have contingency plans if they lose both players? Will they only sell Vazquez on the condition of having him loaned back to Cincy through the rest of 2023? That would by my guess.
Also in MLS, U.S. U-20 right back Mauricio Cuevas has moved from Club NXT (the reserve team of Club Brugge) to the LA Galaxy. Cuevas grew up through the Galaxy academy but attempted a move abroad, but Brugge never seemed like a good fit and he never seemed to gain much traction there. But now he is moving back at a younger age and can restart with a club where he is still familiar with the environment and where the coaching staff knows him.
Cuevas has been a mainstay with the U.S. U-20 team and has even worn the armband at times (serving as co-captain at the 2022 CONCACAF U-20 Championships along with New York Red Bulls defensive midfielder Daniel Edelman). The experience in Belgium might have shifted him to the bubble of the U-20 team due to the rise of Orlando City right back Michael Halliday and the versatility of Hoffenheim/FC Dallas defender Justin Che.
Finally, St. Louis City SC is in the middle of a terrific inaugural season where everything is working out. It currently sits atop the Western Conference and is alive in the U.S. Open Cup. Nearly every decision the club has made has worked, from players, to the coaching staff, to the front office. But now the club has made a key hire in Diego Gigliani as St. Louis City’s new president and general manager.
A native of Argentina, Gigliani, arrives after overseeing several clubs owned by City Football Group including Girona and Troyes.