MLS Week 7 breakdown
Youth is served as Busio, Pomykal, Ferreira, & Durkin shine, Kaku's shame, & more
April 15, 2019
Here are 10 stories I took away from the weekend.
1) Great weekend for youth
For years, American fans have wanted MLS teams to develop and play more young players, be willing to sell them, and generally be part of the global exchange for buying and selling players. More than one person involved with MLS academies has told me that it would happen soon but that the young players needed to be good enough.
The current generation of young American players (born 1998 and younger) seems to really be a cut above. And that is welcome news as it comes on the heels of the huge generational gap as the 1990-1994 and 1996 birth years produced very little in terms of top professional talent.
But the current wave is not just limited to the high-profile youngsters like Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, or Tyler Adams who are now based in the Bundesliga. The wave beyond them seems ready for first-team soccer in MLS and could certainly follow in the likes of Adams or Matt Miazga in terms of being able to eventually make a jump to a high level or at worst, have a nice domestic-based career.
So far in 2019, 53 players eligible for United States youth national teams (including Jesus Ferreira who is near American citizenship) at the U-23, U-20, and U-17 levels have played at least one game this season in MLS.
But this past weekend was a high point as 26 took part in the 12 games from Friday through Sunday.
Here is the breakdown
2019 U-17s: Gianluca Busio
2021 U-20s: Cole Bassett, Julian Araujo
2019 U-20s: James Sands, Edwin Cerrillo, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Ayo Akinola, Chris Durkin, Sam Vines, Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie, Frankie Amaya
2020 U-23: Jeremy Ebobisse, Reggie Cannon, Jackson Yueill, Djordje Mihailovic, Jeremiah Gutjahr, Miles Robinson, Aaron Herrera, Justen Glad, Donovan Pines, Auston Trusty, Brooks Lennon, Josh Perez, DeJuan Jones
Of the 26 eligible youth national team players who played, exactly half (13) are born 1999 and younger – which makes them eligible for the upcoming U-20 World Cup.
But it wasn’t just quantity, there was a ton of quality in this group. Jesus Ferreira scored the game-winner for Dallas, Gianluca Busio scored the late equalizer, Chris Durkin scored and was great for DC United in its win over Colorado. Paxton Pomykal is one of the best midfielders in the league. Julian Araujo’s shift was strong for the Galaxy.
Among the U-23 crowd, Miles Robinson is growing into a big role with Atlanta United, Jackson Yueill is a pretty good midfielder with San Jose and scored a great goal over the weekend, Reggie Cannon is transitioning into a veteran right back, and Djordjie Mihailovic should be a key U-23 playmaker.
2) Pomykal and Ferreira - best young American combo since?
One of the best stories in MLS this year has been the youth movement in FC Dallas. While a lot of players have been part of that movement, Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira are front and center.
For Pomykal, Dallas fans better enjoy them while they can. The midfielder showed an impressive passing range in Dallas’ win over Portland. He also was not afraid to play physically against Diego Chara.
The U-20 World Cup will be a big stage for Pomykal and if he can replicate his success for Dallas, he could attract offers Dallas cannot refuse. For Jesus Ferreira, he is playing really well and it is too bad his American citizenship hasn’t come in time for him to be part of the U-20 World Cup team. But he should make his way onto the U.S. U-23 team soon.
Paxton Pomykal vs Portland Timberspic.twitter.com/qFqkB6tOp8— USMNT Videos (@USMNTvideos) April 14, 2019
But the two players have made their way into becoming integral parts of a winning team while playing attacking positions – where young Americans have struggled to play. On top of that, they’re just fun to watch.
3) Kaku embarrasses himself
So many examples of the best moments of MLS have come from the Metrostars/Red Bull organization. While the team never won an MLS Cup, the team has produced so many good American players and now coaches with Jesse Marsch. The list is beyond impressive with Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, and Tyler Adams all getting their professional start with the club.
But the club also has been the home to famous foreign imports that didn’t represent themselves of the club well. Rafa Marquez, Branco, and Lothar Matthaus are the three most obvious examples.
Kaku has enough talent to be one of the foreign imports that works and one who could produce big results for the Red Bulls. But in 2019, Kaku has embarrassed himself repeatedly and Sunday was his darkest day.
Earlier this year, Kaku made it known he wanted to transfer to Club America. Throughout the process both he and his agent ran their mouths off (and even name-dropped Hitler on one occasion). Then his play began to suffer and Chris Armas had to drop him from the matchday lineup to send a lesson. Then on Sunday, out of frustration and to show a teammate up, Kaku kicked the ball into the stands from close range. He promptly saw a red card and is likely facing a lengthy suspension.
He could have come and been the Red Bulls version of Miguel Almiron but through his own petulant behavior, Kaku is quickly trending in the direction of Rafa Marquez.
Like many, I can’t see him with the team much longer.
4) Great soccer in Los Angeles
There are a lot of bad teams in MLS right now at the moment. That might not necessarily be a bad thing as the league is gradually scrapping the elements that promoted parity and now teams are forced to succeed or fail on their own. While that has resulted in some bad soccer in some major markets like New England, Chicago, and San Jose it has also resulted in some great soccer being played right now in Los Angeles.
In 2019, both the LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC are playing very well and both have won four in a row after this weekend. The Galaxy’s revival and LAFC’s second season surge has made the city an exciting base for the league right now. LAFC has a +16 goal differential and is outscoring opponents 11-0 over the past three games. Carlos Vela is best player in the league at the moment.
On Saturday, it thoroughly outplayed Cincinnati 2-0 with Vela picking up a goal an assist.
The Galaxy are thriving under Guillermo Barros Schelotto and are getting better every week. It was clearly better than Philadelphia in a 2-0 win and Zlatan Ibrahimovi? is still worth the price of admission.
There is a lot of buzz about both teams right now. It’s just too bad the teams won’t face each other until July 19.
5) Busio can’t stop scoring
It’s one thing when Zlatan scores in three straight games. It’s another when 16-year-old North Carolina native Gianluca Busio does it. But the U.S. U-17 playmaker scored a very late equalizer for Sporting Kansas City on Sunday in a 2-2 draw and now has three goals in three games.
Sporting Kansas City is handling Busio’s development well. He’s typically not starting but he is seeing regular minutes in important situations so that he can contribute in meaningful ways. He’s being eased into his professional career at an early age but isn’t given simply mop-up minute either. So far, Busio has responded positively.
Goals in 3 consecutive MLS games for 16-year-old ???????? midfielder Gianluca Busio. pic.twitter.com/Pmqob2QNXm— U.S. Soccer YNT (@USYNT) April 15, 2019
Busio will probably be allowed to participate with the U.S. U-17 team for qualifying although the U-17 World Cup could be tricky in playoff time. If the U-20 team wasn’t so set with attacking midfielders, it would be easy to see him playing at that level the way Josh Sargent did in 2019.
6) DC United changes and impresses
DC United made a lot of roster changes from the its poor week where it got crushed by LAFC and played to a dull 0-0 draw with Montreal. Chris Durkin was inserted into the starting lineup as was U.S. U-23 defender Donovan Pines. The result was an enthusiastic 3-2 road win over Colorado.
Durkin performed very well on the heels of a report from the Athletic where DC United refused to loan him to Bayer Leverkusen. With the No. 6 for the U.S. U-20 World Cup team, DC United has one of the best American players of the 2000-birth year on its roster in Durkin. It needs to do better getting him on the field. Even if Durkin does not start, Ben Olson has been poor with squad rotation to ensure that top young players see minutes – like how Peter Vermes is handling Busio.
A lot of teams in MLS are getting top young players on the field, DC United needs to follow suit. Young players like Durkin and Pines delivered on Saturday but will the club feel compelled to continue to play these players?
7) Atlanta's best outing under de Boer
On Saturday, Atlanta beat a bad New England team 2-0 on the road. While New England continues to toil in being an afterthought in the league, Atlanta is looking to shake off its disappointing start and Saturday was a step in the right direction.
For Frank de Boer, it pretty much happened by accident. Ezequiel Barco came into the game in the 15th minute to replace an injured Eric Remedi and scored two goals – one of them the goal of the week. For this game, he looked like the player who was a record incoming transfer from an MLS club.
????????????— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) April 14, 2019
An absolute beauty from Barco ???? pic.twitter.com/C5nV79XQ9u
With solid defense, everything seemed to click better for de Boer. The question is whether or not this is the start of a new trend, a blimp on the radar, or just a case of New England being awful. But as Barco shows, there is a lot of expensive talent on this team.
8) Altidore's impressive form
Toronto lost to Seattle 3-2 on Saturday but it was still a nice performance in the loss as Toronto is improved from last year and Seattle is a contender. Alejandro Pozuelo has been a great addition for Toronto and is nearly the production output from Sebastian Giovinco.
But also in Toronto’s early season success has been the form of Jozy Altidore since returning from his foot injury in the offseason. The U.S. international has been terrific and has formed an instant chemistry with Pozuelo. With a weaker Eastern Conference from previous years, Altidore’s revival should give Toronto a real chance.
Unbelievable goal from Pozuelo and Altidore again. What a finish. 3-2 Sounders. pic.twitter.com/wqOWz9KhoS— Mitchell Tierney (@mitchelltierney) April 13, 2019
For the U.S. national team, there are not many great forward options and Altidore’s numbers speak for themselves.
Jozy Altidore in 2019 #MLS season:— Joga Bonito (@Jasoninho10) April 13, 2019
10 shots on target
Excellent form after returning from long injury layoff. Immediate connection with Pozuelo. Scoring at impressive rate of 1.55 goals per 90 minutes. 50% conversion rate.#USMNT #TFCLive ???????????? pic.twitter.com/Ql3sWDfc0B
9) Seattle still among the best
The Seattle Sounders have had an easy schedule so far in the early going. And in Saturday’s 3-2 win over Seattle, the club passed its first major test of the season.
What makes Seattle so good this year is that it is one of the most balanced rosters in the league outside of LAFC. There really aren’t any major weaknesses and most of its core players are in their prime years. The team might not play that much youth, but it has a solid structure to win in 2019. Jordan Morris, Will Bruin, and Manny Ruidiaz have now scored multiple goals this season.
The midfield throughout is well experienced and has been part of a winning team for years.
The Sounders might eventually need to cross the bridge where they will need significant overhaul and/or hope that its academy and youthful USL roster can start bearing fruit. But for now, this team is poised to win games now.
10) The Allianz Opener
There is not much to say about the opening of Allianz Field that hasn’t already been said, but it looked amazing on television in the 3-3 draw against New York City. The game itself was fun although it was far from the most well-played game in the league this weekend (not even taking into account the horrible gaffe from Sean Johnson). Still, it is another first-rate gem in the league.
Allianz Field— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) April 14, 2019
Now & Forever pic.twitter.com/T65LIvMQVE
I couldn’t help but wondering what the New York City players were thinking after being part of the unveiling of such a nice stadium and then having to go back to Yankee Stadium with no soccer stadium on the horizon.