MLS Week 8 breakdown
Young Dallas continues to impress, the East is a mess, SSFC U-17s, & more
April 22, 2019
Here are the stories that jumped out at me
Youth movement continues
Last weekend, 26 U.S. youth internationals played in MLS. This current weekend, it was 25. Overall a steady number with many of the players not just getting on the field, but also playing important minutes.
Here is the total
2019 U17: Gianluca Busio, Griffin Yow
2021 U20: Cole Bassett, Julian Araujo
2019 U20: Brenden Aaronson, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Edwin Cerrillo, Sam Vines, Omir Fernandez, Chris Durkin, James Sands
2020 U23: Djordje Mihailovic, Matt Freese, Sebastian Saucedo, Aaron Herrera, Justen Glad, Reggie Cannon, John Nelson, Jeremy Ebobisse, Jackson Yueill, JJ Williams, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Jonathan Lewis, Miles Robinson
The list only tells half the story.
In recent years, typically the young players that would get on the field were defenders or holding/defensive midfielders. The number of young American players in attacking positions is eye-opening. Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Gianluca Busio, Jackson Yueil, Brenden Aaronson, and Djordje Mihaliovic have all had solid starts to the season. Jeremy Ebobisse continues to grow as a player. This weekend also saw the debut of U.S. U-17 forward Griffin Yow.
The number would have matched last week’s total if Mark McKenzie didn’t come down with appendicitis.
It will worth keeping an eye as to other players breaking through. This has been a great year so far with getting young players on the field in MLS but it needs to be a pipeline, not just a flash. And most importantly, can the young players not only play but deliver results?
Can Seattle’s youth see a breakthrough? Will Dallas get even more young players on the field? What other teams will follow Dallas and Philadelphia?
Seattle’s youth wins GA Cup
Staying on youth, the top story of the weekend was the Seattle Sounders academy winning the GA Cup in Dallas win wins over Flamengo, River Plate, West Ham, and Valencia. All four of those opponents are among the best academies in their respective countries and this was the first time an MLS team has won the competition.
Seattle had standout performances from its U.S. U-17 duo of Alfonso Ocamp-Chavez and Daniel Leyva. Ocampo-Chavez won the tournament’s Golden Boot with six goals and an assist and Leyva was named the tournament’s MVP.
Here is the winning goal for Seattle over Valencia. US U-17 forward Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez with the assist to Ray Serrano who heads it home. Ocampo-Chavez finished the tournament with 6 goals and an assist. pic.twitter.com/yIaEHddd1c— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 21, 2019
Youth development is always typically best measured in broad trends as opposed to specific instances. With that in mind, Seattle’s win is clearly part of dramatically upward trend for youth in American soccer. The U.S. U-20 teams are in their third consecutively strong cycle. The U-17 team should also compete favorably this year. Young American players are being sold to impressive teams based abroad – where they are performing. Young players are getting into MLS games and are also turning in impressive wins.
Now you add Seattle’s win on top of it and it is another strong indication that the next generation of American players are on the accent.
Red Bulls and Atlanta crumbling
Last season, the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta were the two best teams in MLS. At the start of this season, the two are among the worst. Their struggles have made the Eastern Conference fall far behind the Western Conference in terms of quality.
There are obvious answers. Atlanta sold Miguel Almiron and the Red Bulls sold Tyler Adams. Those are huge losses. On top of that, both teams are in their first full season with new coaches in Chris Armas for the Red Bulls and Frank de Boer in Atlanta.
The less talked about reason for their respective drops, however, are the front offices. Blame should be focused there.
For Atlanta, why was a strict and rigid tactician in de Boer hired to replace a team built under the free-flowing style of Tata Martino? Shouldn’t the team have hired someone who can build under that approach?
The Red Bulls had a great thing going for years but gradual sales of players, the age of others, along with an inability to effectively replace those players has left Chris Armas with a mess. Bradley Wright-Phillips is now 34 and there is no real heir apparent. The Red Bulls have tried to internally replace the losses of Tyler Adams, Sacha Kljestan, and Dax McCarty – which is a lot. The one major import was Kaku who is not happy and should have been sold. There are also reports that Michael Murillo also wants to leave.
There is now talk about replacing Chris Armas with Thierry Henry and that would generate a lot of headlines. But big-name imports (whether a coach or a player) only translate to interest in the team if they win. Does Bastian Schweinsteiger still sell any tickets for Chicago?
This isn’t to say Armas is without blame but while the team had success the last few seasons, the front office didn’t have a great long-term plan either.
DC United: what’s wrong?
With a lot of the poor play in the Eastern Conference centered on Atlanta and the Red Bulls, DC United has also been poor as of late and this team doesn’t have the excuses of coaching turnover or the loss of key players.
Instead, DC United is the one team that finished last year in strong form and had the best chance of maintaining success through continuity. At the start of the season, it looked as if DC was going to live up to expectations.
But lately it has gone far off course. It started two weeks ago with a 4-0 loss to LAFC at home (that showed the massive gap between the West and the East this year). But the team has now failed to score in three straight games at home.
Luciano Acosta is playing poorly as of late and if you are a DC United fan, you hope it is not because he is disappointed about his failed transfer prior to the start of the season. Ulises Segura provided nothing. The backline looked shaky and vulnerable which forced the central midfielders to play further back. Why did Ben Olsen take Donovan Pines out of the game after his outing in Colorado?
Paul Arriola has the skills to be a good right back because he can cover a lot of ground, his final ball has improved, and his defense is very good for a winger. But you have to wonder if DC United needs him further up the field to help with Wayne Rooney in the attack. Right now, with the other attacking midfielders struggling, it is very easy for opponents to take Rooney out of the game.
DC United is still going to do well this season but a lot of that is due to the East being horrible. But DC is capable of better but Olsen needs to rethink a few of his selections.
Colorado’s shocking defense
Last season, Orlando set a record for the worst defense in the history of MLS when it conceded 74 goals in the regular season.
Through eight games, Colorado has conceded 23 goals. If you project that over a 34 game season, it would nearly 98 goals a season. That is absolutely shocking. It’s true that Chicago has performed better than expectations at the start of the season but it is tough to read to much into its 4-1 win on Saturday over Colorado.
Head coach Anthony Hudson is starting to panic and you can tell as the only defender to play all eight games has been right back Keegan Rosenberry. Axel Sjoberg has played five games and all other defenders have had fewer appearances. Hudson is trying everything and nothing is working. To his credit, there probably isn’t anything that can work with this roster. It is just poorly put together and like many teams in the league, it just didn’t spend enough on quality defenders.
It is a sad way for Tim Howard to end his career. All 23 goals have sailed past him.
On Saturday, Colorado will face an Atlanta team that has only scored five goals in six games. Underachieving offense meets a terrible defense. Something has to give.
LAFC: the best team in the league
If there was any doubt about which teams was the best in MLS, LAFC erased all doubt on Sunday with a 4-1 drubbing over Seattle. LAFC played beautiful soccer with great passing and first-rate finishing. It was fun to watch and Bob Bradley’s team should be considered the favorite in the league. Seattle was expected to put up a better fight but was outmatched.
Carlos Vela is the best player in the league at the moment but Christian Ramirez gave Gregg Berhalter a reason for more minutes with this delightful goal which was started by his own backheel.
This was a nice sequence with Christian Ramirez’s backheel then get on the receiving end of a return-pass for the finish. LAFC is the best team in the league at the moment. pic.twitter.com/wRECxrKeoq— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 22, 2019
The two teams will meet up against next week but it should be a lot closer. Seattle will get key injured players back in Chad Marshall, Raul Ruidiaz, and Will Bruin. Plus, the game will be in Seattle which will also provide an edge.
Despite that, LAFC should still be considered the favorite. Their attack and midfield is just too much for Seattle to handle.
Philly crushes Montreal
Only a few weeks ago Philadelphia Union fans were booing Jim Curtain. Today, the club is in third place and has won four out of five. The latest victim is Montreal which the Union easily sent packing with a 3-0 win over the Canadian team.
The Union did not have many of its top players either. Marco Fabian was out with a sprained ankle, Austin Trusty was suspended, and Mark McKenzie had appendicitis.
Brenden Aaronson was again impressive as he builds a case to be part of the U-20 World Cup team – which he is still probably on the outside looking-in. Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro easily picked apart Montreal’s bunker.
Armchair Analyst: Montreal parked the bus. Philly punched 'em in the mouth, stole their keys, jumped behind the wheel and ran the Impact over 3 times for fun pic.twitter.com/q5KvKXW8Du— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) April 20, 2019
It’s hard to say Philadelphia’s ceiling is high. There are just so many question marks and last year the team looked solid for long stretches before fading down the stretch and getting ousted in the first round of the playoffs.
Curtain still hasn’t had his first-choice team together for very long as Fabian was suspended earlier this season and Aaronson is still not yet established. But Philadelphia could succeed based on the ineptitude of the East. It’s still too early to say Philadelphia is one of the better teams in the conference but a few solid moves this summer, some luck with injuries, and growth with its young central defenders could put them in that category. It certainly is possible.
Dallas leaves Atlanta with 3 points
Despite Atlanta’s struggles, this was the biggest test for the young Dallas team so far this season. Luchi Gonzalez stayed with his young core in Atlanta and came away with a hard-fought 2-1 win. First with a goal from Jesus Ferreira and then a late strike from Bryan Acosta was enough to make a late Josef Martinez penalty a non-factor.
What was impressive is that the Dallas kids were able to remain calm in front of a large and hostile crowd and play their game. Atlanta controlled possession but Dallas was lethal with their opportunities.
Jesus Ferreira, 18, has 3 goals in his last 4 games. Anytime the US Government wants to sign off on his citizenship application would be welcome news for #USMNT fans. It’s too late for the US U-20 team but if it comes soon, I think he the U-23 starter https://t.co/R3c0qU905p— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) April 20, 2019
Edwin Cerrillo is one of the most surprising young players in the league. While Paxton Pomykal, Reggie Cannon, and Jesus Ferreria were highly regarded, Cerrillo has never been called up to a U.S. youth national team before. With the way he has played, if Cerrillo is the U.S. U-20 team’s starting defensive midfielder at the World Cup next month, no one would be surprised.
Ferreira, 18, is a very impressive story and his goal now has him with three goals in his last four games. He is showing nice movement in and around the box and his composure with the ball is giving a high percentage to finish his chances.
It is too bad Ferreira is not going to be eligible for the U-20 World Cup because he would be fun to watch in that tournament and could shine in front of all those scouts (it does not appear as if Colombia has any interest in him at this point). But if Ferreira’s citizenship comes through soon, as expected, he could possibly be the starting forward for the upcoming U.S. U-23 team.
Toronto & Minnesota meltdowns
This was an interesting game for those who enjoy since nice individual playmaking as well as meltdowns of all variety.
In this game, Minnesota had a 1-0 lead earl and a 3-2 lead heading into the 77th minute. Then it all came crashing down with two goals conceded in two minutes with two goals from Jordan Hamilton – made possible by horrific Minnesota defending.
Alejandro Pozuelo was once again brilliant and he now has four goals and four assists in just four games since joining the league.
But part of Pozeulo’s rise has also been made possible by Jozy Altidore’s fine form since returning from an injury. Altidore has five goals and two assists in five appearances.
But Minnesota wasn’t the only meltdown on the evening. Altidore had to be taken out of the game with, you guessed it, a hamstring injury that might affect his availability for another major tournament.
It’s understandable that Altidore is frustrated. He should be frustrated. If he was regularly healthy, the U.S. team would have been far better off the past eight years. But instead he went after the club’s president Bill Manning for firing a team trainer when Sebastian Giovinco was sold.
Altidore has since apologized but it remains to be seen how much time he will miss. The U.S. team would be in much better shape if he was able to continue his form into the Gold Cup.