MLS breakdown

Orlando rolling, Dallas impresses, The kids are alright, a look at the ATL-RBNY rilvalry, & more

We are now heading into July and ASN's Brian Sciaretta looks at the lastest round of MLS games, and in particular, the "play your kids movement" is at another level. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 28, 2021
9:00 AM

THE WEEKEND’S SLATE of games told us a lot about many of the teams, players, and coaches as it capped off a busy three games/seven day run for most clubs. It was an important period as most teams had nine points up for grabs and the congestion gave some players more opportunities due to squad rotation.

It’s obvious to see who the real winners were. Orlando came out with nine points from three games and looks like a genuine contender. Sporting KC and the Galaxy should also feel satisfied.

Meanwhile, teams like San Jose and Toronto now heading into July in a terrible position with many questions, and even fewer answers.

Here are my thoughts on the weekend in MLS


The kids are alright


The “Play Your Kids” movement in MLS essentially started in 2019. That’s not to say the process wasn’t underway well before then – the academies and homegrown initiatives had been going on for the better part of a decade. The 2019 season, however, is when things finally started to come together in meaningful numbers.


This season, things continue to be strong and this weekend was a good one. Here were the highlights.

Gianluca Busio: the SKC midfielder put up solid numbers yet again in a 2-1 win over LAFC on Saturday and SKC essentially played through him.

Ricardo Pepi: The FC Dallas forward had a great two-goal game on Sunday in a big 2-1 win over the New England Revolution.


Justin Che: The FC Dallas defender earned the start at right wingback and was important to the win, and improved from the midweek loss to LAFC. He is still very early in his career.


Jesus Ferreira: The 20 year old attacking midfielder has fought through injury this season but had his best game in a very long time on Sunday in the win over New England.


Quinn Sullivan: The Philadelphia Union homegrown midfielder became the first 2004-born player to score in MLS this season. The Union’s pipeline under Curtin has been magnificent.


Moses Nyeman: The DC United homegrown dropped this dime of an assist against NYCFC – which was a brutal loss in the end for DC but an impressive moment for the soon-to-be American midfielder.


Cade Cowell: The San Jose Earthquakes are in terrible form this season but Cowell hit a late consolation goal in a 3-1 loss to the Galaxy.

Julian Araujo: The American right back has thrived under Greg Vanney and was solid on both sides of the ball on Saturday in the win over San Jose.

Michael Halliday: The 2003-born Orlando City right back went the distance on Friday in a 2-1 win over Miami as Orlando is playing like one of the best teams in the league.

John Tolkin: The New York Red Bull homegrown left back put out a competent outing on Sunday in a 0-0 draw with Atlanta and his crossing produced a few dangerous chances.

Andres Perea: The 20 year old Orlando City defensive midfielder put in a very solid shift on Friday during a 2-1 win over Inter Miami.


Transfer watch


The summer transfer window is here and we’ve already seen some movement. The long-anticipated move of Caden Clark to RB Leipzig is now done – although Clark will remain with the New York Red Bulls through the end of the 2021 season.

On Monday, Christian Ramirez’s transfer from the Houston Dynamo to Aberdeen became official. Ramirez has struggled for minutes this season under Tab Ramos but will now look to reverse his fortunes in Scotland.

So what is next?

There is a lot of chat about Gianluca Busio and that is completely understandable. He’s a teenage midfielder thriving right now at Sporting KC. He’s turning in great outings game after game and he also boasts a European passport. Sassuolo is one of the many teams interested and a move to Italy makes sense.


Busio’s days at Sporting KC are numbered but it will be interesting to see if Sporting can find a way to negotiate a “loan back” in the transfer that would allow them to keep him for the remainder of the season. It’s in SKC’s best interest to sell a top young player but selling him puts a massive dent in their hopes to contend. It might not be possible to keep him for the remainder of the season, but SKC is going to give it a fight.

Like it was for Philadelphia with Mark McKenzie and Brenden Aaronson along with the Red Bulls and Tyler Adams before (and now Caden Clark), it seems like keeping players through a season is going to be more and more an important part of negotiations.

The Daryl Dike saga will continue on as the striker is now back and starting for Orlando City. There is certainly interest in Dike from abroad, but nothing seems to be imminent at the moment. For Orlando, he is the difference between contending and falling short. Dike will eventually move on but with each passing week, it seems more and more likely that it will happen in the winter.

There are plenty of other rumors flying right now. Ricardo Pepi and George Bello will continue to get interest but will know more in the coming days and weeks if things are serious. Pepi certainly helped his case this weekend.


Orlando is a contender


There is no way anyone who watched Orlando the past week would not put them among the very best teams in the league at the moment. To be fair, it has been a bit of a bottom-feeding run with wins over Toronto, San Jose, and Inter Miami but Orlando is also a bit short-handed as well (Sebas Mendez is away at the Copa America).

With Daryl Dike now back with the club, Chris Mueller finding his form again, and Nani playing like an MVP candidate, Orlando looks like a very tough out in this league. Dike was excellent midweek in the win over San Jose. Against Miami, he was quiet but even when he’s not lighting up the scoreboard, he draws a lot attention from defenders and has a big impact on the game.

Meanwhile, Mueller followed up his strong outing against San Jose with a beautiful goal off a cross from Nani. There are just so many strengths to Orlando right now that they can overwhelm a lot of teams – although watching them against top competition will still be key.

As for Inter Miami, it’s hard to see this season getting any better after the cheating scandal. An older roster seems like it won’t hold up well over a long season in the Florida sun.


FC Dallas gets a life line


FC Dallas desperately needed a win on Sunday against The New England Revolution. That seemed like a rather big task given Dallas was in last and the Revs were atop the Eastern Conference standings.

This sport and this league can be very unpredictable, and Dallas walked away with a 2-1 win behind two goals from Ricardo Pepi. But this wasn’t just an upset where the underdog scrapped by with some goals against the run of play and bunkered out the rest. In this game, Dallas went toe-to-toe with Bruce Arena’s side and were the deserved winners.


The Revolution had the edge in possession and in shots, but things were quite even in terms of shots on goal and legitimate chances.

Everything really seemed to be clicking for Dallas. Jader Obrian struggled but just about everyone else was playing well. Young players are typically going to be inconsistent but Justin Che has played well in his first two games and was improved in this one. Ricardo Pepi will continue to start for Dallas after his brace.

Fortunes can change quickly in MLS but if Dallas is going to bank on youth, there is a good reason to think the playoffs are once again possible. It’s hard to see them contending but there is a big upside with a lot of these players.


Union’s set piece defense


The Philadelphia Union played the Chicago Fire to a 3-3 draw on Saturday and it was an entertaining game. It’s tough to determine what to make of the Fire’s performance. Their first goal was a fluke of a own goal and their final two goals were off set pieces where the Union failed to mark properly.

Still, the Fire generally played well from the run of play in this one, even if they didn’t score. That’s also part of the problem. Even on a good day, they were lucky to get a point. Rapha Wicky might be feeling the hot seat after this game.

As for Philadelphia, Curtin is going to work on set piece defending this week in practice.

I might worry about the Union come the playoffs again. That’s when you need a guy like Nani, Gil, Lodeiro, Vela, etc. But as for the regular season, they’re just steady and solid.  


San Jose’s nosedive


Matias Almeyda is in a position where he needs to show progress with San Jose quickly, or else his already hot seat might disappear.

It’s a tough situation. They’re not getting steamrolled in any game. They generally start every game going to-to-toe with opponents and then the bottom falls out. A bad decision or a mistake gifts a goal and then the confidence is gone. Their opponents make big plays and they come up empty.


This was the case in Sunday’s 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy. They had no answer for Chicarito and then were deflated by a Jungwirth own goal. In the end, the Cade Cowell goal was just too little, too late.

Now San Jose is facing a three-game road trip at Minnesota, Colorado, and Sporting KC. That’s the worst possible time for a road trip. The good news is that the schedule won’t be congested a long the way and Almeyda can prepare. But things aren’t looking good.

As for the Galaxy, it’s just amazing how quickly a good coach can turn things around. Greg Vanney has righted the ship and this team is even better than it was when Zlatan was banging goals in – and no one else was doing anything. They have big time DP in Chicharito doing what he should, multiple points of attack, and a solid backline.


Is Atlanta – RBNY rivalry alive?


Three years ago, this was the best rivalry in MLS. Jesse Marsch against Tata Martino, Josef Martinez against BWP, Tyler Adams against Miguel Almiron, Aaron Long against Michael Parkhurst. In 2021, both teams are several managers removed. Injuries, sales, and retirements have overhauled both rosters.

On Sunday, they played to a 0-0 draw and both teams were dealing with injuries and players away on international duty.

Neither team is bad but neither are among the best in the East. They’re both around the edge of the playoffs and both are looking to find a way into the mix and hope for the best.

Obviously both teams need to become good again for this rivalry to mean anything. It doesn’t have the geographic or historical narrative to exist without quality (unlike NYCFC vs. RBNY, LAFC vs. the Galaxy, Portland vs. Seattle, etc).

So how far off is either team? Who is closest to returning to be a contender?

It’s probably Atlanta because they have the willingness to spend to bring in special designated players. Meanwhile, RBNY has the edge in academy spending. If RBNY is going to sell a player like Caden Clark off at 18 years old, then it will be hard to have him at a point when he is an elite difference maker. Still, they could be quite good but it will depend on their role players – which look pretty interesting at the moment in Patryk Klimala, Fabio, Tom Edwards.

I think both of these teams will find a way into the playoffs, but for now, neither are going to get very far. Atlanta is certainly closer.

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