MLS in Orlando

A look at the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly in Orlando as knockouts approach

The group stages draw to a close and ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at what has been a good two weeks for American players while also going  through the painful woes of two of the league's biggest teams. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 22, 2020
11:05 AM

THE GROUP STAGE is nearly over in Orlando and the remaining European leagues draw to a close and it has been a tournament so far that most fans would find to be pretty good. The bubble has prevented further outbreaks and the quality of play, while rusty from the layoff, has probably been a little better than expected.

For American fans, the best news has been the performance of either U-23 American players or players now entering their prime years. Some like Jordan Morris aren’t surprising but some like Ayo Akinola and Chris Mueller are surprising.

But here are some observations to kick off a Wednesday morning.

Jordan Morris shines

One of the most promising stories out of Atlanta so far has been Jordan Morris. It’s a tough spot to be playing in the COVID era and given his health issues as a diabetic but the U.S. national team winger helped drag Seattle into the knockout stages after his performance in a 3-0 win over Vancouver. The Seattle native had his hand in all three goals


The goal he scored showed impressive technique, speed, and finishing ability.


Will Morris ever leave Seattle? With two MLS Cups in the bag and a clean bill of health, it’s certainly possible. I would not discount it these days as he has done everything he can do with the club.

Orlando vs. Philadelphia

A few things stood out to me as Orlando and Philadelphia played to a 1-1 draw.

First, both teams can win this tournament and it is impressive to think how much improved both teams are since the start of the 2019 season. Oscar Pareja is a good coach and Jim Curtin is simply one of the better American coaches in the game. Developing quality American and Canadian coaches would be a great benefit to soccer in this region of the world – it is not always about the player.

Second, Andre Blake is a great keeper for a team trying to improve its stature. He can make the game-changing saves repeatedly that give the team a chance to win.

Third, Chris Mueller has had a very good tournament but was quieter in this game. Philadelphia was focused on limiting him and Nani.

Finally, Brenden Aaronson was instrumental to the Philadelphia goal and has had a nice tournament. He needs to see the ball more but when he does, he is deceptive, shows good technique, and makes good decisions. He has a way to go but has made a lot of strides since last season when he rarely went 90 minutes and his impact was still a little inconsistent.

Now he is regularly going deep into games and his biggest impacts are also coming late in the games.


Overall, 41 touches is still not a lot but it is still pretty decent for a player who is positioned further into the attack. What I like about his game is that he is quietly deceptive. He can hang onto the ball while disguising what he wants to do. He also has the skill to pull it off. On Philadelphia’s goal, Aaronson had defenders on him but was still able to hit a nice pass in the final third to set up Alejandro Bedoya for an assist.

Galaxy meltdown

The reality right now is that the Galaxy are not a good team – with or without Chicharito. The team seems to be built on the idea of buying known players but without any kind of concern for how it works in an overall system.

When city neighbors, LAFC, scored four goals in the second half to dismantle the Galaxy 6-2 it just highlighted the difference between two teams. LAFC was missing Carlos Vela but Bob Bradley has his team playing the exact same way as if Vela was here. Every player on LAFC knows its role and what is being asked of him to get the job done. There seems to be a big understanding of the need for every player to contribute to both sides of the ball.

The Galaxy’s problems have been going on for quite awhile now and Zlatan was covering up the problems for two years. There is no real sign of a system, only the hope that someone can make an individual big play. Then the Galaxy go out and spend a fortune on Chicharito who is a player who needs a system to thrive. He needs players around him to in position to pick out his devastating runs.

That’s not the case and now the Galaxy aren’t just a typical team in a mess, they are an expensive and visible mess.

Frank goes Goalless in Orlando

Frank de Boer and Atlanta were a disaster in this tournament with three losses and zero goals scored. United was always going to take a huge hit with Josef Martinez out but what happened in Orlando was far beyond missing Martinez. Atlanta has plenty of individual talent to score and the team’s defense wasn’t bad in Orlando.

What happened was just offensive dysfunction. Unlike the Galaxy which really have no system and are paying the price, Atlanta and Frank de Boer actually have a system. The problem is that the system just doesn’t match the qualities of the players. With Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez in the midfield along with an American who likes to play that style in Emerson Hyndman, Atlanta United are still built for Tata Martino. Sure, Pity Martinez is a different player than Miguel Almiron, but the mindset and skillset is still built for an open-style South American system like Martino – albeit with some changes due to different players. Frank de Boer is almost the complete opposite of Martino.

For youth development, it is still not great. Miles Robinson is not to blame for the current woes but U.S. U-20 left back George Bello is struggling to get involved. 


Watching struggles of the Galaxy and Atlanta, you wonder if the two teams would be better swapping coaches.

Americans thriving in Orlando

When looking at players who are thriving in the group stages of Orlando, what is particularly striking is how many non-DP, mostly young, American players who are all thriving.

The list Americans who are impressing in Orlando is quite long at the moment.

  • Ayo Akinola
  • Chris Mueller
  • Darlington Nagbe
  • Brenden Aaronson
  • Aaron Herrera
  • Gyasi Zardes
  • Aboubacar Keita
  • Kyle Duncan
  • Frankie Amaya
  • Jeremy Ebobisse
  • Cole Bassett
  • James Sands

Some of these players are completely flying under the radar. Look at Aaron Herrera for Real Salt Lake. Despite the 2-0 loss on Wednesday to Sporting Kanas City, Herrera’s numbers were fantastic on both sides of the ball.


The passing from Herrera, both in terms of accuracy and range, is fantastic and he was perfect in the final third. Herrera is a playing flying completely under the radar in terms of his development and stature within the league. He is a highly effective fullback who is there with Reggie Cannon and Kyle Duncan in terms of impressive U.S. U-23 eligible right backs.

While now 30, Darlington Nagbe has overseen the resurgence of the Columbus Crew. Not only was he 42/42 passing against Atlanta, he completed 154/157 (98%) of his passes during the group stage where Columbus earned a perfect nine points.


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