After easy opening win, U.S. U-20s set for Canada plus a look at the weekend in MLS
June 20, 2022
WITH THE INTERNATIONAL window now closed, normal summer schedule resumed in the United States with a full slate of MLS games. In addition, the United States U-20 national team opened up its World Cup/Olympic qualifying tournament with a comfortable win over a minnow.
Ideally, the United States U-20 team would have played this tournament during the international break when MLS was on hiatus and top players could have been released. But CONCACAF inexplicably scheduled this tournament after the international break. Now some MLS teams balked at releasing players (to the detriment of many teams, not just the United States) and European teams also were reluctant given the start of preseason.
Anyway, it was a good weekend in American soccer with so many games and a nice start to the tournament for the United States.
Here are some of my observations.
U.S. U-20 update
Opening win vs. St. Kitts
The U-20 team opened the tournament with a 10-0 win over St. Kitts & Nevis to move atop Group E. The win was expected, and the 10 goals will certainly help if the team needs to advance via the goal differential tie breaker.
The U.S team took a 6-0 lead at the half with goals from Cade Cowell (via penalty), Caden Clark (via a penalty), Rokas Pukstas, Tyler Wolff, Mauricio Cuevas, and then Nico Tsakiris (also via penalty). In the second half, the U.S. scored four goals with two coming from second-half substitute Paxten Aaronson, another goal from Tsakiris, and then finally an own-goal from St. Kitts & Nevis.
You never want to over-analyze or read too much into a game like this. There are so many different stories at play. First, the U.S. also played this game with an eye towards the last two games of the group stages (with games being played every other day). With this, Mikey Varas has to heavily rotate his squad, rest players, and use his substitutes as often as he can.
Varas simply can’t start his first-choice bunch of players. He has to mix and rotate. His starting lineup against St. Kitts & Nevis saw all four Philadelphia Union players on the bench. In particular, Aaronson, Jack McGlynn, and Quinn Sullivan have all been big players for Varas the last eight months. With these players on the bench, it was a sign that he is going to roll with a Union-heavy approach vs. Canada.
Against St. Kitts, the U.S. team looked as if they were having fun and were really happy to be taking part in this tournament. There was never any frustration, and the entire team was out there supporting each other. Everyone played well and understandably took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half.
Canada on Monday
The best thing you can say about the U.S. U-20 team is that they look ready for the big games ahead. That starts on Monday night against Canada.
How is that starting XI going to look?
The U.S. team has 19 players on its roster, so it can’t rotate everyone. Antonio Carrera, Markus Ferkranus, Jalen Neal, Noah Allen, Niko Tsakiris, and Alejandro Alvarado played 90 minutes against St. Kitts & Nevis and are the most likely to be swapped out against Canada. If any of them start against Canada, it becomes almost impossible to start them against Cuba.
Two questions I have are who backs up Noah Allen at left back since he is the only true left back on the roster and whether Chris Brady (who has been dealing with an injury) is ready to go. Regarding left back, Varas has a plan, but it isn’t clear. Other than that, here is how I think he will go against Canada
U.S. Projected XI vs. Canada: Scott; Cuevas, Craig, Neal, Allen; Edelman, McGlynn, Luna; Aaronson, Clark, Sullivan.
The one point to make about this game is that Canada, regardless of their XI, will be desperate. Cuba upset Canada 1-0 on Saturday and Canada will be fighting to keep its qualification realistic. With the top three teams from Group E advancing, Canada is still likely to make the knockouts. But a third place finish would put them into the tough bottom-half of the bracket with a Round of 16 game likely against El Salvador or Panama. If they win, they it’s likely Mexico.
The U.S. team will have to face a desperate Canadian team – which should present its own sort of challenges.
Turner says goodbye to Revs
Matt Turner said his farewell to New England with his final game in a Revs uniform before he travels to London in a few days to join Arsenal. The New Jersey native was an unused substitute for the Revs as they defeated Minnesota 2-1 at home. It was expected to be Turner’s final appearance but thanks to food poisoning which affected him all week, he was the backup.
Turner’s development in New England has been a remarkable success. He was undrafted and simply arrived in New England as part of a trial to make up preseason trainings. He impressed to the point where he earned a deal and became the starter. Now he is potentially the U.S. team’s first choice keeper heading into the World Cup while also earning a transfer to Arsenal.
New England has been very good at development of players just outside of their youth years. Tajon Buchanan added a ton of value under Bruce Arena to the point where Club Brugge paid a fortune by their standards. DeJuan Jones is gaining accolades for his play. Adam Buksa saw his time at the Revs bridge the gap between the Polish League and Ligue 1. Now there is Turner.
It’s not the development of very young players, but it still is very important development that is seeing players improve to impressive levels. Now if the Revs can add the development of top young players to its development of players outside the youth spectrum, it’d be massive. Arena will have his opportunity as the Revolution boast some very impressive young players at the moment – such as U.S. youth internationals Esmir Bajraktarevi? and Noel Buck.
As for the game, New England defeated Minnesota 2-1 and Arena’s team is climbing quicky after a tough start to the season. Arena still has to figure out how tactically play since his team has shifted around so much over the past year (and into this season), but the team can find ways of winning on individual talent – for now.
As for Minnesota, the team looks like a paper tiger right now. Emmanuel Reynoso is one of the best players in the league but he simply has to do too much. Minnesota United is essentially Reynoso and Robin Lod. After that, this team is very weak and is being propped up by two players. If those two play well, Minnesota can win. But it’s not a formula for being a dangerous team week-in, week-out.
NYCFC draws in Cushing debut
NYCFC was the best team in the league heading into this weekend. But with Ronny Deilha leaving to take the Standard Liege, a rug has been pulled out from under the team. Now it remains to be seen if everything falls right back into place with Nick Cushing taking the job on an interim basis – or if everything is ruined.
Cushing has been an assistant under Deilha all season and he is probably going to keep everything the same way. But Cushing has never been a head coach outside of England and he’s never coached a men’s team before. He’s never played the game at a high level earlier.
He can probably take the tactics from Deilha and keep them going, but there is more to coaching than that. He has to manage a locker room, big personalities, scout the opponents, manage minutes throughout the roster.
His coaching debut came on Sunday as NYCFC hosted Colorado at Yankee Stadium and played to a 1-1 draw. It was a good result for Colorado but a disappointing one for Cushing. It wouldn’t surprise me if NYCFC see the pack of chasing teams gain ground.
This Wednesday’s Open Cup game against the Red Bulls will be interesting to see how NYCFC respond.
Red Bulls down TFC 2-0
After a miserable 2-0 loss to Charlotte last weekend in its worst game of the year, the New York Red Bulls took care of business at home with a 2-0 win over Toronto FC. After opening the season playing poorly at home and playing dominantly on the road, things have returned to normal for Gerhard Struber’s team.
The Red Bulls got a little lucky in this one as goalkeeper Carlos Cornell bailed them out with three stops on 1v1 opportunities. The game should have been a lot closer but overall, the Red Bulls were the better team.
The Red Bulls are punching above their weight right now because this team desperately needs a No. 9 center forward. Patrik Klimala was suspended, and he has been inconsistent. Ashley Fletcher was brought in on loan and it’s hard to see the Red Bulls extending the loan or using their option to buy as Fletcher is not playing. Tom Barlow is limited.
The Red Bulls are good because of the backline, goalkeeping, and midfield. Luquinhas has been a homerun of a signing. Frankie Amaya and Cristian Casseres are both solid and played well together against Toronto. Lewis Morgan is a type of player that fights and that every team wishes they had.
It is going to come down to fixing that No. 9. Will Klimala raise his game? Will the team make a midseason acquisition? Will it be someone else?
As for Toronto, it is not pretty and Lorenzo Insigne might win some games by himself, but this could be the same situation as Reynoso in Minnesota. There is only so much one great player can do. Yes, Pozuelo is also another good player but Toronto doesn’t have a good core group.
Austin FC continues to surprise
While Brian Schmetzer after guiding Seattle to the CCL triumph and Pablo Mastroeni improbable task at Real Salt Lake are earing the most coaching accolades in the league, Josh Wolff is on a pace to get some love in midseason coach of the year awards. Austin FC is at times fun to watch, but they’re also battlers.
On Saturday, Austin got past Montreal 1-0 despite playing away with Montreal having 62% of the possession and a shooting edge of 11-5 while also playing up a man. Max Urruti’s 67th minute goal was the difference while Austin was down to 10 men.
Austin fought it’s way to win on the road, and this is what it is going to take to make the playoffs.
Hit'Em on the counter. A build up the VERDE way! ???? pic.twitter.com/3QwGtbAgbV— Austin FC (@AustinFC) June 19, 2022
Meanwhile, it was disappointing from Montreal who continued to be without the injured Djordje Mihailovic with his ankle injury and it’s attack was toothless, despite having the possession and the chances.
The game was a missed opportunity for Matko Miljevic. The former U-20 player for both the United States and Argentina had played well in short spurts and the injury to Mihailovic opened up the door for some more time. Unfortunately, he did not play well in the start against Austin. For Montreal, it was a tough weekend with so many playoff contenders winning – RBNY, Atlanta, New England, and Orlando.
LAFC draws Seattle
While some of the star power was missing with Raul Ruidiaz out for Seattle and Carlos Vela on the bench for LAFC, Saturday’s weekend kickoff game between Seattle and LAFC was probably as big of a high-profile game that you can get midseason in MLS.
After a scoreless first half, Albert Rusnak gave Seattle the lead in the 58th minute with Cristian Arango equalizing in the 79th as both teams finished to a 1-1 draw.
Both teams were lucky as Stefan Frei continues to have an amazing year and bailed out Seattle with some great saves. Meanwhile, LAFC was also lucky when Nicolas Lodeiro shanked a point blank shot in the first half.
Obed Vargas, meanwhile, will be joining the United States U-20 team for the knockouts. For a 16-year-old to gain the experiences he is getting now in Seattle is remarkable. With the Mexican federation kicking up recruitment for Mexican-American players into overdrive, U.S. Soccer will lose some (it has already lost a lot), but it should hope to circle the wagons around Vargas.
Vargas played 74 minutes in this game and had a ton of responsibilities for Seattle and when he left, the Sounders were up 1-0.
Pablo Mastroeni is going to win votes for coach of the year and his Real Salt Lake team, who were expected to finish near the bottom – even before a wave of injuries, are now in second place after a 2-0 win over San Jose. It might be the most remarkable, feel-good story in the league right now. Especially when you consider this team was run by the league just last year. It’s great to see the team drawing well too.
Atlanta United defeated Miami 2-0 in game that was tough to draw too many conclusions. Jean Mota was sent off for Miami in the 30th minute and Atlanta completely dominated the match afterward. If Atlanta United is not going to release Caleb Wiley to the U.S. U-20 team, at least the club is playing him and he is a very interesting left back prospect. He was instrumental in Atlanta’s second goal.
FC Dallas has had a good season but Saturday’s 2-0 loss to Vancouver in Texas was the team’s worst outing of the season – and Vancouver’s best. Ferrera created some chances but Alan Velasco and Paul Arriola didn’t get it done with finishing.
Chicago defeated DC United 1-0 in a matchup of the two worst teams in the league. It was nice to see a decent crowd on hand at Soldier Field. But DC United is in a tough spot and Chad Ashton’s approach is no better than Hernan Losada. The Chicago Fire have struggled to score all season (with Xherdan Shaqiri also out injured) and DC United goes with five defenders.
It’s a dark spot for DC United who could win the wooden spoon this season.
After looking poised for a turnaround, Houston is coming back down to earth after a 2-1 loss away to Orlando was its third loss in four games. Houston is now out of the playoff positions. Orlando is getting good used of its designated players with Ercan Kara scoring both goals and Facundo Torres and Mauricio Pereyra picking up the assists. Orlando looks like a team that could thrive in knockout formats where designated players are the difference makers. If Orlando is in MLS Cup later this year, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Nashville had a rough 2-1 home loss to an underwhelming Sporting KC on Sunday night. Nashville began the season fighting on a long road trip. Now that they’ve been able to return to Geodis Park for most of the games, many (including me) figured they would go on a long-positive home run. That hasn’t happened. The new home has not been the fortress in the first season the way its fans hoped.
Columbus is not a good team without Lucas Zelarayan and the team played to a lackluster 1-1 draw against a Charlotte team that remains better than expected in its first year, despite the coaching change. Charlotte probably won’t make the playoffs this season, but there is a foundation there. The best story for Columbus in this game (despite the disappointing result) is that Aidan Morris played his best game since 2020 MLS Cup when he replaced Covid-stricken Darlington Nagbe in the win over Seattle. He missed most of 2021 with a torn ACL but in this game, he looked like the talented No. 6 that people hoped he could be. Now he just needs to keep it up.
Finally, Philadelphia will be disappointed with its 1-1 draw at home to Cincinnati. Alejandro Bedoya had a great goal in this one, but Philadelphia cant seem to find the difference makers to elevate the team’s current string of draws and turn them into wins. Brandon Vazquez, however, notched his 8th of the season for Cincinnati and he’s just one behind league leaders Jesus Ferreira and Jeremy Ebobisse who each have nine on the season.