MLS Notebook: Slonina to Chelsea, Vazquez's rise, Philly kids, RBNY mess, Brooks rumors & more
August 02, 2022
THE MLS SCHEDULE is crowded now with a busy weekend behind us and a midweek slate of games ahead. The roster deadline is approaching, the playoff race is clear. There are also intense individual battles among players (of many countries) to make national team rosters for the World Cup and beyond.
Here are few notes from my notebook
Slonina to Chelsea
This had been coming for seemingly months, but it was finally announced on Tuesday that a deal had signed to transfer Gaga Slonina to Chelsea FC for a fee of $15 million. The deal would allow him to finish the season with the Chicago Fire and move to Chelsea in January.
Slonina, 18, has now been the starter at Chicago for over a year and he has earned positive accolades for his performances. In January he was called up to the United States national team for three World Cup qualifiers but did not play. Despite heavy interest from the Polish federation, in May he announced that he was going represent the United States moving forward.
The start of this season was tough for Chicago but the club has enjoyed a strong summer and now sits in eighth place, just two points from the playoffs. Now, Slonina will be given the chance to finish his job in Chicago. It would be a true accomplishment for him to leave his hometown team on a winning note and to qualify for the playoffs.
Another RIDICULOUS save from Chelsea-bound Gabriel Slonina. ????— Chelsea Loan Army (@ChelseaLoanArmy) June 30, 2022
Slonina kept a clean sheet. ????????pic.twitter.com/81iYAAreTb
This deal is great for all parties involved. For Chicago, it is a massive financial boost, and it should be able to acquire a solid goalkeeper for a decent price. Chicago also gets credibility for its youth development path. The Fire have had an academy in place for years, but this is the most high-profile sale that they’ve ever had. The question then becomes whether they can keep it going with continued production.
For Slonina, this is a tremendous opportunity. Chelsea is a one of the elite teams in the world and the club is spending a considerable amount to buy him. Chelsea is invested to the point where they want to make this deal work.
The question becomes the path forward. The odds are heavy that Slonina will not be the starter at Stamford Bridge soon. Is Slonina going to play on the reserve and youth teams at Chelsea? Are there loans planned for his future? Where is the path for him to get minutes? He has minutes at the Fire, it would be tough for him to leave a starting job to get buried at a big club.
Financially, this is a great deal for the Fire and for Slonina. But it’s very risky for his development in that he is walking away from a present situation that is great. If Slonina had started for the fire for three or four years and then moved, he’d be closer to a number one when he made the move and he’d still be very young for his position. An 18-year-old who has a first-team starting goalkeeping job for over a year is in a great spot. It is extremely rare for a teenage goalkeeper to start anywhere. Now he will have to leave that for a reserve level or a loan where minutes are not assured.
On a flip note, the odds are likely now that Slonina will be able to be involved with the U-20 World Cup next year. Chelsea should be willing to release him in order to give him minutes and keep him involved in the international game. Slonina was involved to be part of the U.S. U-20 team for the recent CONCACAF U-20 Championships (which the U.S. won to qualify for the 2023 U-20 World Cup and the 2024 Olympics) but Chicago did not release him. The odds are now heavy that he is part of the team in Indonesia next year for the World Cup.
Vazquez is raising his game
Many years ago, Brandon Vazquez was a good player in the U.S. youth systems. He hit some tough times, played behind Josef Martinez in Atlanta, occasionally showed some class, but the consistency wasn’t there.
In 2022, however, he has put it all together and is scoring at will. It’s not unsimilar to Haji Wright this year – who, coincidentally, was teammates with Vazquez at the 2015 U-17 World Cup (Wright was the starter most of the cycle but Vazquez overtook him at the World Cup).
Vazquez, 23, is now second in MLS in scoring with 13 goals in 1840 minutes. He is only goal off the lead behind Sebastian Driussi, who has 14 goals in 1988 minutes. They’re both scoring at the same clip and Driussi is the likely favorite to win the MVP this year.
On Saturday, Vazquez scored two goals for Cincinnati in its wild 4-4 draw with Inter Miami. His second goal of the game, was impressive.
Wow.. Cincinnati was trailing Miami 3-2 into the 81st minute but Brandon Vazquez strikes twice to put Cincy in front 4-3. Vazquez now tied for the Golden Boot lead with 13. This was a solid finish. What a season for him pic.twitter.com/WpldSdjtaA— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 31, 2022
It’s exciting to watch how quickly Cincinnati has gone from a “wooden spoon” perennial to a decent team. Part of that is on new coaching, part of it is on a solid core team and effective designated players, but part of it is also on having a producing No. 9 in Vazquez. With his success, Cincinnati can then spend TP and TAM elsewhere (when most top teams spend it on forwards).
This leads us to the question as to where Vazquez stands with the national team. He has never been called up, but he is still friends with many of the guys on the national team dating back to the U-17 days at Bradenton (Pulisic, de la Torre, Adams, and Wright were on the U-17 World Cup team while Cannon and McKennie took part in various camps).
Brandon Vazquez with his 6th of the season. He has been enormous to Cincinnati’s improvement. Vazquez was part of a U.S U-17 WC team in 2015 that included: Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Haji Wright, Austin Trusty, & Alejandro Zendejas pic.twitter.com/X8L4AMXhaW— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) May 8, 2022
While the No. 9 position is considered weak on the national team, Vazquez is not the only forward playing well in the pool. But his form probably has him in the mix, but it remains to be seen where.
In the mix: Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Pefok, Haji Wright, Daryl Dike, Ricardo Pepi, Brandon Vazquez
Out of the mix, for now: Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes
Considering that Ferreira has been playing well and plays a different style, he is in good shape.
Pefok struggled in the March camp and wasn’t called up in June. But he is now in the Bundesliga and has a good opportunity at Union Berlin. But there is always the question whether or not he does enough except for being a finisher close to the box.
Pepi has been ice cold since last October for club and country. He has fallen behind and needs a long stretch of playnig well - but it is hard to see him playing significant minutes early in the season for Augsburg.
Daryl Dike has missed a lot of time and hasn’t been with the U.S. team since last summer, when he played hurt at the Gold Cup. For Dike, he simply has to break into the starting lineup at West Brom and score goals. He also has to showcase himself well in the link-up play.
Haji Wright played well with Antalyaspor towards the end of the season and scored a lot of goals. He’s now back with that club. He also struggled in the June camp with the U.S. team.
Vazquez has to keep up his current pace. If he does, he can probably convince Gregg Berhalter that he should get a late look in September. If that happens, it’s up for him to make the most of the opportunity. Whether he gets called up also comes down to how others are performing. If Pefok explodes with Union Berlin, he’s probably going to get another look. Same with Dike or Wright. Vazquez clearly deserves to be talked about and be penciled in somewhere on everyone's depth chart. But he is just one of several players hoping to be that "hot hand" guy.
Nice pass from Brenner. He’s great. Cincinnati’s front 3 are playing great. Brandon Vazquez is really developing nicely as a #9. What a season for him. 10 goals now. pic.twitter.com/brufH9Z3k4— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 14, 2022
With a 26-player roster, Berhalter might still only take two (three, at most) No. 9 players. Two makes the most sense because Weah can always fill that position if there are injuries or suspensions. If that’s the case, Vazquez needs to probably beat out Wright, Pefok, and Dike.
There are so many variables and in-form competition that it remains an uphill climb for Vazquez. But he is doing everything he can do to put himself in a position no one thought was possible. A strong August, might get him that look in August to go head-to-head against his competition, which would be fair.
The wild-card, however, is Mexico. Vazquez remains eligible for them and if they reach out to give him a chance before the U.S. does, he might very well go with them.
The Philly kids learning to be ruthless
I like the youth national team players in Philadelphia. They seem like a very promising group of kids – both the CONCACACAF U-20 tournament and the Philadelphia Union have shown that. But beyond talent, I like the trait that they are displaying in how they’re ruthless.
When the U.S. U-20s were starting at qualifying for the U-20 World Cup and then the Olympics, they scored early in both games to take their opponent out of the game early. In the away game against Honduras, Jim Curtin told me that they “stepped on their throat right away and didn’t let up.” That was in a game when previous attempts to qualify for the Olympics have come up short. Those steams looked scared. Led by the Union kids, this U-20 team looked ready.
From the U.S U-20 team that won the CONCACAF title, Jack McGlynn has been the strongest out of the gate after the tournament. This is his first Union goal and his third straight very solid performance. His left foot is impressive. pic.twitter.com/frllJ02CpN— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) July 31, 2022
But that is the mentality they are learning under Curtin in Philadelphia. You could see that over the weekend in the 6-0 win over the struggling Houston Dynamo. U.S. U-20 midfielder Jack McGlynn had his third straight start and all three have been good. His free kick goal was a thing of beauty. Quinn Sullivan then got in on the action with a goal.
But Philadelphia is atop the table because they’re well-coached, not because they spend a lot. Part of being well-coached is just to be ruthless and an eagerness to take your opponent out early and run them off the field.
McGlynn is starting, as is U.S. U-23 hopeful Leon Flach. For Sullivan and Paxten Aaronson, the minutes will increase as the season enters its final third. The Union know how to get young players onto the field and win. Sometimes it just takes time when the veterans are all playing well.
Brooks to San Jose?
John Brooks has been free to sign with any club since January when Wolfsburg announced Brooks would leave the club this summer once his contract remains out. Now eight months since that announcement, Brooks has not signed with a new club.
There have been rumors surrounding Brooks with clubs from France, Turkey, Germany, and Portugal all mentioned. But eventually the rumors fizzled out to nothing. Now there is this.
Heard a very interesting John Brooks rumor this morning. Seeing what I can track down. #Quakes74— Robert Jonas (@robertjonas) August 2, 2022
Brooks to the San Jose Earthquakes? This was subsequently confirmed by other San Jose media. It is important to note that every rumor for Brooks this summer has fizzled. Will it fizzle again? Maybe. But it is now August and Brooks needs a club.
Brooks has said he wants to play in MLS, but few expected it to be this early. There have been few details emerging about Brooks’ wage demands, the offers he was receiving (both money and years), and what his true interests are.
There is also the idea of San Jose compared with the rest of MLS. If this was LAFC, Atlanta, Toronto, Seattle, or even Minnesota linked with Brooks – that would be one thing. But San Jose is a team that has been struggling for years and who sits in 13th place for a reason. If Brooks was on a team like LAFC, surrounded by impressive talent on a winning team, a German-speaking American coach, and a full stadium, he’d be happy and producing. Brooks on San Jose seems like an odd fit and an expensive risk.
How happy would Brooks be there? How much would it cost San Jose? More importantly. Is he really going to help rebuilding a club that needs a lot of work? Is he the guy that can keep that locker room together as they go through tough times? Maybe he is the guy, but it’s going to be a big gamble from San Jose if this is legit.
Something’s wrong in Harrison
Something is wrong with the Red Bulls right now. They are absolutely bleeding goals, but the problems are deeper than the defense. Let’s look at the last three games.
July 23: RBNY led Austin FC 4-1 but conceded two late goals to hang on for a 4-3 win.
July 28: RBNY led Orlando 1-0 in the 45th minute of the Open Cup semifinals, but allowed five straight in a 5-1 loss
August 2: RBNY led Colorado 2-0 and 3-1 in the first half before falling behind 5-3 and losing 5-4
This is a team that is struggling mentally across the board. It’s a massive problem for Gerhard Struber as his team cannot hold a lead and then just shuts off. It’s not the defense falling apart. The entire team caves in. Once the team has a lead, it comes to a moment where the team can’t even hold the ball. Like against Colorado, in the second half when the Red Bulls were up 3-2, it seems like only a matter of time before Colorado would find a way to score enough to win it.
Compare that with Philadelphia that just knows how to take a lead early and never let up, the Red Bulls get scared when they have a lead and there is always a seeming fear among the players that they will collapse. It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Mentally the team is down, key roster holes remain open, the forward position is completely ineffective (Klimala was invisible the entire game – again), and the team is clearly fatigued.
The Red Bulls are not in a good place right now.
The Seattle Sounders are now caught up in games played with the rest of the Western Conference. And now, thanks to the 1-0 win over Dallas on Saturday night, the club finally sits above the playoff line. The CONCACAF Champions League was very rewarding, but this season has been a remarkable battle for Brian Schmetzer’s team. Injuries, schedule congestion, and general aging of key players have all played a role.
The win over Dallas was a tough game. Dallas rotated out Paul Arriola, Jesus Ferreira, and Paxton Pomykal out of the starting lineup. When those players came in as second half subs, Dallas began to control the game much better, and Seattle was on the back foot.
The loss to LAFC on Friday night was revealing. Seattle started the game well, but LAFC gradually controlled the game. The gulf between the teams was wide and it was clear. Seattle might be the CONCACAF champions, but LAFC is the best team in the league right now. That game almost felt like a changing of the guard. Yes, Seattle is still very relevant - but LAFC is the team to beat.