MLS Week 7 recap

Busio, Clark, Arriola, & Bond top MLS Week 7 action. Philly shines, Miami's Nightmare

MLS played its final game before the Nations League break and ASN's Brian Sciaretta wrote up his observations - including the growing Play Your Kids movement which continues to bear fruit. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 01, 2021
11:05 AM

THE SEVENTH WEEK of the 2021 MLS Season is over and the league is now going to take a fortnight off as the final stage of CONCACAF Nations League takes place starting later this week in Denver. The break is certainly good news for several teams – like Columbus and Toronto – while it is an unfortunate break in momentum for others.

For fans, like myself, of the league’s youthful turn in recent seasons, this past week only served as notice that the process isn’t slowing down.

This past offseason saw Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie, and Bryan Reynolds get sold to various high-profile European teams. That’s fine and good but the real test is to replace those caliber of players with equal-level prospects.

So far, that has been successful in 2021. While he’s not new anymore, Gianluca Busio has continued to make enormous strides in Kansas City and this season he has taken another level. George Bello has also raised his game this season. Caden Clark is a budding star with the Red Bulls. Leon Flach is a very impressive new comer at Philadelphia. Cole Bassett also continues to improve at Colorado and could be sold within the year.

This past week, Flach and Araujo had great games in nice wins. Kevin Paredes has made important strides and was nice for DC United in a 3-0 win over Inter Miami this weekend. Clark and Busio scored, Bassett assisted. It is also deeper too. Kyle Duncan has really been strong in recent weeks at Red Bulls. James Sands is a true asset to NYCFC. Paxten Aaronson finally made his debut for the Union.

“Play your kids” has been huge for MLS in 2019 and 2020. The 2021 season has only continued to make important strides.

Here are some other observations I had from the weekend

Busio's stellar game


By now, you’ve probably seen Gianluca Busio’s free kick in the 3-2 win over the Houston Dynamo. Just in case you have not, watch this a few times.


But that wasn’t Busio’s only value to the game. He also had an assist, 102 touches, and was 72/79 passing over 90 minutes. To see that much of the ball while also being directly involved in two goals is an enormous impact. The way he’s playing right now is how you expect designated players to perform, but instead he’s doing that as a homegrown teenager.


After making his debut in 2018, Busio has notched 3,274 minutes in MLS but this season has seen him finally take strides from a young player with potential to a player who can be a difference maker. It’s been a very nice case-study in development and one of the best instances outside of the Red Bulls, Philadelphia, or FC Dallas.

Busio’s ability to be a chameleon has also showed his unique ability. He’s either a No. 6, a No. 8, a No. 10 or a second striker, or a winger. In this game, he owned the center of the field.

It’s important and this will help his total soccer education, but at somepoint he’s going to have to settle into a role. Will that be at Sporting Kansas City or will that be wherever he is eventually sold to? That remains to be seen.

As for when Busio gets sold, I think it will happen after this season. Peter Vermes will want to keep him for a title run, Busio looks like he’ll probably be on the Gold Cup with the way he’s playing. It’s possible someone comes in this summer with an enticing offer, but money is still tight for most of Europe and more cash should be available come January.

The recent trend, however, has been to see players leave in January (although sometimes the deals have been announced much earlier) – Tyler Adams, Alphonso Davies, Aaronson, McKenzie, Reynolds all left their MLS clubs after the offseason because teams wanted to compete for titles. I’d expect this to continue.


RBNY wins but questions surface


The Red Bulls might make the playoffs this year, it will be close. But they’re doing it with a young team and that is refreshing to see. Gerhard Struber has lived up to his billing in that regard and it is great to see the players respond favorably.

Saturday’s 2-1 win over Orlando City, really showed that to be the case. Caden Clark scored his fourth goal of the season and his first since turning 18 last week. This wasn’t a goalazo but Clark did well on the initial ball in the box and to make a smart run to get open for a tap in.


Youth, however, was served for the Red Bulls as Struber started Clark (18), John Tolkin (18) at left back, Frankie Amaya (20) in midfield, Cristian Casseres (21) in midfield, and Patryk Klimala (22) at forward.

Tolkin in particular had a very good game at left back and this allowed Kyle Duncan to start at right back – which is where he is by far the best. Right back Tom Edwards, meanwhile, moved into central defense to fill in for the suspended Andres Reyes and/or the injured Aaron Long.

Right now, injuries are taking their toll on the Red Bulls and Frankie Amaya had to be subbed out before halftime after taking a knock. Amaya had been playing well in this game and it was yet another setback for the club.

The international break comes at a good time for the Red Bulls who must hope that Amaya is okay while also figuring out a way to navigate the central defense issues. Reyes did not play well against the Revolution last week and Amro Tarek still looks like he could be overtaken with competition.

Struber has done a good job with the team’s midfield and Cristian Casseres is another case of positive development when you see where he is right now. He was one of the best players in the win over Orlando and his free kick, like Busio’s, was stunning.


There is plenty to like about the Red Bulls right now even if the team is far from complete. Klimala also looks like a very promising addition from Celtic.

On the flip side, this was Orlando’s first loss of the season but the team could clearly be better. Injuries have been tough and Chris Mueller (who should have been in the running for the league’s Best XI) has not performed well to start the season. On top of that, the team misses Daryl Dike – who is officially an Orlando player again, for now (we will see what happens when the offers come in).



Miami’s caps horrendous week


Inter Miami has had an embarrassingly bad week. On Friday, the league threw the book at Miami as part of its misreporting of salaries – and in effect had five designated players. The team was hit with fines and a reduction of allocation money the next two seasons.


Typically, in American sports, teams that are caught cheating are really good – the New England Patriots, UNLV basketball, or the Houston Astros. Those teams know how to be good, and take shortcuts to get there. Inter Miami doesn’t have the right ideas on how to be good – and cheated apply these bad ideas. It’s a terrible combination.

Most teams have figured out that bringing in older designated players doesn’t bring success. This was the old NYCFC model with Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. Now it’s about younger designated players, homegrowns, and smarter/well-scouted undervalued signings (like Leon Flach at Philadelphia). Miami’s model is MLS around 2000 and there is a reason it doesn’t work anymore. Not only has Miami shown all the wrong ideas, but they cheat to do it.

So after the embarrassment of that announcement, Inter Miami goes out and gets run off their home field in a 3-0 loss to an already struggling DC United team.

How is Inter Miami going to fix this? The Higuain brothers, Blaise Matuidi, and Ryan Shawcross all played in this game and they’re not getting any younger or are likely to improve. They also have less money to spend. Does Phill Neville have any answers in his first coaching gig of a men’s team?

As for DC United, this was their best game of the season. Paul Arriola had his best game since tearing his ACL and the U.S. national team winger had a goal and an assist in the win.



Kevin Paredes, part of the talented 2003-born class, also played well for DC United. The young homegrown was very effective in the press, forcing turnovers, tackling, and making quick passes. Overall his numbers were solid: 61 minutes, 52 touches, 21/30 passing, 7/13 duels won, 5/6 successful tackles, 2 interceptions.


Bond, Jonathan Bond


LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond has made a massive difference for the team this year. The former Wales and English youth international made 12 saves on Saturday in a 1-0 win over San Jose.

Bond is a U.S. citizen but is not eligible for the U.S. team has he played for Wales in an official youth competition but apparently used his one-time switch to play for England’s youth national team. It’s too bad as, even at 28, could probably help the U.S. team for depth at goal keeper. Bond won the MLS Player of the Week and it’s hard to disagree.


The Galaxy are just so much more improved under Greg Vanney. Chicarito is playing well, Sebastian Lletget is playing well and young players are getting real opportunities. Efra Alvarez, Cam Dumbar, and Julian Araujo all started in this game and played well. Araujo looks like he’ll be in the mix for the Gold Cup team.

San Jose, under Mattias Almeyda, remains stunningly inconsistent. Under his tenure there are long stretches of winning and long stretches of losing. Right now, it’s a four-game losing streak and perhaps when Yueill returns they’ll be better. But right now, the offense is bad and morale seems low.


Cincinnati is better wtih Cameron


It’s hard to talk positively about at team that loses a midseason game, but FC Cincinnati deserves it. This team should have been blown out by the Easter leading New England Revolution – but its 1-0 loss is the second game in a row where the club was actually tough to play against.

While most of Cincinnati’s signings haven’t been well-thought out, Geoff Cameron has worked out. The former U.S. international has helped to tighten the backline and add some fight into the team.

For New England, the goal from Adam Buska and assist from Carles Gil saw its two best players deliver a win but this wasn’t the dominant performance that was expected.  


Columbus underperforms but wins


Unlike LAFC – who lost, or even Atlanta or Seattle who drew – it’s seems pretty petty to complain about a win when other recent top teams did not. Columbus, however, is still punching way below the sum of their parts.

It’s easy to see what’s wrong with Seattle as Jordan Morris and Nicholas Lodeiro are out. Toronto is old and hurt (and currently infighting with Jozy Altidore, who is frozen out). Atlanta is still finding their way back from an offseason. LAFC is just prone to mental mistakes.

For Columbus, the team has one of the league’s best players in Lucas Zelarayan, an effective forward in Gyasi Zardes, and generally most of the same players that won the title in 2020. On Saturday, Columbus defeated Toronto 2-1 but it took the club scoring its first goal of the season from open play to get it done. That’s good, but the problem isn’t fixed yet.


Zelarayan’s brilliance has bought the club time to figure it out, but it hasn’t yet done so. It has the weapons but this international has come at the right time to figure out what should be a fixable problem.

As for Toronto, there are injuries to Yeferson Soteldo and Alejandro Pozuelo. Once those players return, it should be better – but there is still an older core that might have run its course. We will see. Jozy Altidore remains in exile and that is a nightmare.

Philadelphia rolling into break


Philadelphia is one team that probably wishes the international break wasn’t here. Following Sunday’s 3-0 win over Portland, Philadelphia now has four wins and a draw in their last five games.  

Right now, everything Philadelphia touches turns to gold. Leon Flach continues to be a great fit. Kacper Przyby?ko has been tremendous. The backline doesn’t concede – even after the sale of Mark McKenzie. On top of that, Jim Curtin was finally able to give Paxten Aaronson his debut in the dying minutes of the win over Portland.


This game was a good reflection on the mental side of the game. Philadelphia looked like a team that was playing well, having fun, and happy to be there. Portland looked like a team that was clawing to break, decimated with injuries, and had travelled across the country just to show up on a cold and rainy night in Philadelphia.

It's a great winning culture that Philadelphia has right now and everything they do works out.

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