Afternoon update

San Diego joins MLS, U-20 roster change, Steffen & Boro out, busy MLS midweek, & more

ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the news including San Diego joining the league, the busy MLS midweek games, Anthony Fontana gets an Eredivisie deal, Steffen and Boro's disappointing end, and the U.S. U-20 roster shakeup. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
May 18, 2023
6:55 AM

WEDNESDAY & THURSDAY have been busy in American soccer as MLS had a full slate of midweek games, the U-20s are in final preparations for Saturday’s World Cup opener, and there was some key tidbits of news from around the globe as well.

Here are some ASN thoughts on it all – starting with a few of the MLS games as well as some of the big news.


San Diego to become the 30th MLS team


As expected, MLS has awarded San Diego with an expansion team. The team will begin in 2025 and it will become the league’s 30th team.

The team will play at Snapdragon Stadium – a 35,000-seat venue which will be a host site for the 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup. The club will be owned by businessman Mohamed Mansour, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, and baseball star Manny Machado. Tom Penn will serve as the club’s CEO.

Mansour is also the founder and owner of Man Capital, which owns Right to Dream - a global soccer community of world-class academies.


The move was not much of a surprise as MLS has wanted to be in San Diego for a long time. Recent MLS expansion teams have all been met with enthusiasm while many of the league’s original teams have struggled.

San Diego will surely be a gem to the league, but MLS will need to continue to find ways to help restart the enthusiasm with the Galaxy, the Red Bulls, DC United, Colorado, and New England. FC Dallas has been a rare exception of an original team that that been rejuvenated. Sporting Kansas City found success after its rebrand 13 years ago.



Atlanta flexed muscle


It’s hard to know what version of Atlanta United will turn up on any given day. The team has the talent to contend for MLS Cup but hasn’t been able to consistently put it together. On Wednesday, Gonzalo Pineda’s team put it all together with their best outing of the season. Of course, it remains to be seen if this is the start of a consistent trend or just another anomaly.

Matias Almada missed an early penalty but was otherwise excellent. His free kick to open the scoring in the 29th minute was special.


Atlanta opened the floodgates with three goals after the 80th minute. The first and the last of those three was assisted by Brooks Lennon who was excellent with his crossing. Luis Arujo had an excellent game and was able to take the pressure off Almada.

“We saw tonight, what he can provide to the team,” Pineda said of Arujo. “I think he was close to scoring goals. I told you he was unlucky in a couple of plays here and there.”

From a U.S. perspective, Miles Robinson was strong again and should be in a good position heading into the summer.


Cincinnati is a contender


Here we are in the second half of May and FC Cincinnati has the best record in the league. Yes, LAFC has been a little distracted with the Champions League, but Cincinnati is atop the Supporters Shield standings with 8W, 1L, 3D record for 27 points. Pat Noonan’s club saved their best performances for Wednesday in a thorough 3-0 win over what had been an improving Montreal team. Even more impressive, Cincinnati has won each of its first seven games at home.


In this game, Brandon Vazquez scored his third goal of the season, which is behind his pace in 2022 but that will likely improve throughout the season as the offense flows through him more after Brenner’s departure. In this game, he managed 46 touches over 81 minutes and was heavily involved. He drew four fouls and had four shots. He’s likely a Gold Cup nominee.

Then on the other end, Matt Miazga continues to look sharp in his first full season in Cincy. It seems like he should be a Gold Cup candidate along with Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman. It will come down to the health and availability of the European-based players as well.


Ferreira continues torrid start


FC Dallas defeated Vancouver 2-1 behind a big-time performance from Jesus Ferreira that included two goals scored, five shots, and two chances created.

The West is a three-team race right now between FC Dallas, Seattle, and LAFC. Ferreira is a big reason why Dallas is right in it.

As for Ferreira, Balogun’s arrival shakes up the USMNT forward pool. Everyone essentially gets bumped down a spot. What you want to see now is players like Pepi, Ferreira, Vazquez, Sargent, Wright, and others raise their game. Ferreira is doing that.


Columbus adds to Galaxy’s woes


Two teams going in the opposite direction met in Ohio as the Columbus Crew defeated the LA Galaxy 2-0 in front of a sold-out crowd in the state’s capital. The Galaxy has just nine points from 12 games and is the worst team in the league. It’s getting tough to watch and apathy seems to be setting in. The team’s fans are no longer expecting anything from this team while Chris Klein and Greg Vanney are in charge. It’s probably the right mindset too.


Meanwhile, LA Galaxy really needed Jalen Neal for this? They couldn’t have sent him to the U-20 World Cup to get him away from a club with a lot of problems and maybe learn to battle in Argentina?

Columbus was simply better than LA in every area – particularly in its DP’s where Cucho Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan both contributed to goals. Aidan Morris continues to be one of the better breakout young performers in the league. Columbus is slowly gaining steam under Wilfred Nancy. They’re heading in the right direction.


Steffen & Boro bow out


After a 0-0 draw in the first leg, Middlesbrough hosted Coventry in the second leg of their promotional playoff final. While Boro was the favorite, Coventry scored the game’s only goal via Gustavo Hamer in the 57th minute. Unfortunately, Zack Steffen could have done better while trying to incept the long-ball into the box. He managed to get back but perhaps could have been in a better position.

It’s important to note that while Steffen could have done better, Middlesbrough was shutout over both legs and the team’s failure to score was the primary reason why they failed to make Wembley.

Steffen’s loan is now over at Middlesbrough. I wouldn’t expect him back at Middlesbrough nor would I expect him back at Manchester City. It’ll be another loan or a transfer depending on what price Manchester City set. The likely destination is probably within the Championship.

Meanwhile, Coventry will take on Luton Town for a spot in the Premier League next season. American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath will start for Luton Town.


Fontana earns PEC Zwolle deal


In March, American midfielder Anthony Fontana, 23, signed a short-term deal with PEC Zwolle which was leading the Dutch 2nd tier Eerste Divisie. The deal was essentially a trial as it ran just through the end of the season. After his contract expired with the Philadelphia Union in 2021, Fontana moved to Italy to join Ascoli Calcio in Serie B. He rarely played and his contract was terminated in January 2023 by mutual consent. Then in March, he signed with PEC Zwolle.


After making nine appearances with the club, which recently clinched promotion earlier this month, PEC Zwolle announced that it signed Fontana to a two-year contract. Now the Delaware native will head to the Eredivisie with the club.

"We were able to register Anthony two months ago,” PEC Zwolle technical director Marcel Boudesteyn said. “He has made a good impression on the technical staff in the past period. It was certainly not easy for Anthony to join our selection in the middle of the season, but he has held up very well."


Halliday replaces Cuevas on the U-20s


Mauricio Cuevas was forced off the U.S. U-20 World Cup roster on Thursday due to an ankle injury. In his place, Mikey Varas has named Orlando City right back Michael Halliday to the team. Halliday has had a strong start to 2023 and went a full 90 for Orlando City on Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw with New York City FC.

Halliday actually offers more stability at right back given that he has played far more in recent months than Cuevas, who recently left Club Brugge’s reserve team to sign with the LA Galaxy, or Justin Che who recently saw Hoffenheim decline its option to buy on his loan from FC Dallas.

But the big question for the U.S. team is how many healthy and fit bodies it will have for Saturday’s opener.

Among the 18 field players on the roster, Rokas Pukstas and Kevin Paredes are not there yet and Cade Cowell is suspended. That leaves 15 field players for the game. But Halliday is only just arriving on Thursday night after playing a full 90 on Wednesday. Then Niko Tsakiris only recently returned from a long-term injury and has played very limited minutes in 2023. That is only 13 field players that Varas likely can feel confident for this game.

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