MLS breakdown

Play your kids hits high point, Morris and Mueller shine, LAFC blues

For those wanting to see MLS clubs take a youthful approach, this was the weekend. Not only did young players play, they performed exceptionally well. Plus U.S. national team players Jordan Morris and Sebastian Lletget enjoyed strong performances while Chris Mueller continues to be one of the most improved players in the league. ASN's Brian Sciaretta breaks it all down for you
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
August 31, 2020
2:50 AM

THE WEEKEND IN MLS will be remembered for quite some time. For those who have wanted to see MLS teams not just play young players, but also succeed with young players, Saturday was perhaps the best day ever the league has ever had under the concept of “Play Your Kids.”

With hope, the league and its teams can keep this up and continue to offer more opportunities. This will help show that its academies are working, bearing fruit, and that more talent is flowing behind Tyler Adams, Alphonso Davies, and Weston McKennie – who all grew up within the academies of MLS teams.

Saturday’s numbers were eye-opening. There were nine games in the league that day:

  • Six homegrown U.S. Youth national team players scored: Brenden Aaronson, Gianluca Busio, Omir Fernandez, Jesus Ferreira, Cole Bassett, and Cade Cowell – who is still only 16 years old.
  • U.S. U-23 midfielders Hassani Dotson, Brooks Lennon, and Keaton Parks also scored
  • 17/18 teams which played on Saturday, played at least one U.S. youth national team-eligible player.
  • U.S. youth national team eligible players scored 10 goals and added three assists. They range from 2021 U.S. U-23-eligible and 2021 U.S. U-20-eligible all the way through the 2023 U.S. U-20-eligible and 2021 U-17s.
  • The 2021 U.S. U-20 pool was well-represented by Cole Bassett and Gianluca Busio who scored. The 2023 U-20 pool saw Cowell’s goal while also being boosted by an assist by fellow 2003-born Ricardo Pepi.
  • In total, 46 U.S. youth national team-eligible players played on Saturday.

No matter how you look at it, these are very good numbers by any standard.

This also doesn’t include the fact that Reggie Cannon didn’t play as he is likely on his way to Boavista in Portugal. Brenden Aaronson (who played) and Mark McKenzie (who did not) are also rumored to be next on the selling list.

This is all healthy. The develop-play-sell-repeat model is on its way and unfortunately it is coming at a rough time due to COVID depressing the transfer market. But it was always going to take some time to become a selling league as the previous sales needed to help create value in the American market. But even beyond McKennie, Davies, and Adams, the league is on a winning streak with its sales. Jack Harrison, Carlos Gurezo, and lately Chris Durkin have done well in recent sales. Before them, DeAndre Yedlin and Matt Miazga have also moved on to do well.

So, what you hope from this new generation is to follow in the foot-steps of the last impressive group of exports an create a dependable cycle of players. This can only happen if the players play, which they are doing now – while Saturday was just the high point.

What also separated this game was the effective nature of attacking players. Attacking midfielders were a big part of key wins. Omir Fernandez had the best performance of his young career for the Red Bulls in its 1-1 draw with New England and Jesus Ferreira also was back on track after a shaky start to the season.


Cowell’s scores but Galaxy win

Cade Cowell, 16, earned his first start for the San Jose Earthquakes and it is easy to see why San Jose rates the attacking midfielder.

He ended up playing 67 minutes and scored an impressive goal in the 59th minute to give San Jose a 2-1 lead. His performance was strong enough to likely mean he’s going to earn more minutes this season. Aside from that, it was a great moment for the youngster.


The Galaxy ended up rallying for a 3-2 win with U.S. national team midfielder Sebastian Lletget scoring the winner – and the San Francisco native has scored in consecutive games. After a dismal MLS is Back tournament where Chicharito picked up a injury that was going to keep him out for over a month, the LA Galaxy have now played to consecutive wins against playoff-caliber opponents.

It is going to be really interesting when Chicharito returns because the Galaxy are playing well in ways that do not play to the Mexican’s strengths. They’re shooting from distance, they’re relying on individual playmaking – as opposed to looking for Chicharito’s movement in the box.

For now, the Galaxy are climbing but difficult decisions are on the horizons.

Mueller shines as Orlando surges

Chris Mueller has been one of the most productive players in the league this season and he was the MOTM for Orlando in an impressive 3-1 win over Atlanta on Saturday – which also happened to be his 24th birthday.

Mueller is thriving under Oscar Pareja and had a goal and an assist on Saturday in the win. With that, he now has six goals and two assists in the nine regular season games for Orlando in 2020. It is surprising that he has not even earned a January camp call-up in his career but if he can continue at this pace, he’s likely going to earn a look at some point. He’s always been pretty solid in this league but under Pareja, he is putting it all together. The same can be said for rookie center-forward Daryl Dike who is also breaking out and Benji Michel is also impressing.


For Orlando, the team continues to look impressive. With so many questions surrounding teams like New York City, the New York Red Bulls, Atlanta United, as well as the potential sales for Philadelphia, Orlando has a bright future. The biggest questions was its over-reliance on Nani but that was not the case in this game and the team has other ways to win apart from the Portuguese winger – Mueller, Michel, and Dike show that.

Dallas wins amid questions

FC Dallas came away with an impressive 3-1 victory over Minnesota on Saturday and it was made even more impressive by the fact two of its top young players were not in action – Paxton Pomykal and Reggie Cannon. Pomykal is, sadly, dealing with another injury, this time to his hip, and is starting at his fourth surgery in four years. Reggie Cannon is on the verge of a move to Boavista.

In this game, Dallas employed an approach of attacking heavily down the flanks and defended aggressively. Fafa Picault and Jesus Ferreira were especially effective in the attack and Ferreira, a U.S. national team and U-23 hopeful, was particularly impressive.


For Minnesota, it was a particularly poor performance and the team struggled to get the ball into dangerous positions and connect with forwards. It’s best chances were long shots and that’s how its one goal was scored – a banger from U.S. U-23 defensive midfielder and reserve fullback Hassani Dotson.  


Morris shines, LAFC defensive woes

The Sunday night game between Seattle and LAFC was a big one and a rematch of the 2019 Western Conference Final. Seattle was simply better in this one as it cruised to a 3-1 win. The MOTM in this one was clearly Jordan Morris who scored twice in a span of 61 seconds to give Seattle a 3-0 lead in the second half.

Morris continues to play at a very high level right now. Between 2019 and 2020 and since Morris returned from his ACL injury, he has scored 19 goals, added 9 assists across 40 games and 3151 minutes for the Sounders.


But another big takeaway in this game is that the LAFC defense has taken a huge step back and the decision to trade Walker Zimmerman looks bad in hindsight. The team is bleeding goals and many of them are the result of very sloppy defending.


Philadelphia routs poor DC United

The Philadelphia Union are a clear contender in MLS at the moment and this is the most relevant the team has ever been in the league. It’s too bad that the height of their existence comes at a time when their fans can’t attend.

Why is the team so good? It’s just an abundance of attacking options, a great goalkeeper, solid defenders, and a coach who knows how to bring out the best in his team. There are just a lot of ways the Union can beat teams and in this game they showed why – they can shoot from distance, they can create chances close to the goal with through-balls, they can attack centrally or down the flanks.

They’ll control possession but they’ll be lethal on the counter attack.


Meanwhile, DC United is in a poor state with just six points from eight games. One of the most historical teams in the league, it is the opposite of Philadelphia in that it is at its least relevant stage of its existence. It lacks complete effort on defense, and the only thing keeping it from being the worst team in MLS is Federico Higuaín.

Portland Collapses

Things haven’t been great for Portland since winning MLS is Back. The team now has a bulls-eye on its back and an ugly 3-0 loss to Seattle was followed by collapse in a 4-4 draw with Real Salt Lake on Saturday. The team had a 4-2 lead into the 90th minute but coughed up two late goals – including one to Giuseppe Rossi – to settle for just one point.

The two bad games reflect that the team is not quite set mentally. Both times, Portland has allowed opponents to score in droves late in games.

“I think sometimes when you mentally have lapses and you don’t have a full eleven the entire match engaged this is the situation that happens,” Savarese said. “In Orlando, there was commitment, resilience, discipline all the way through the match….It’s on us, it’s on me. I have to analyze some of the substitutions, I have to analyze some of the things that happened at the end and we continue to work going forward.”

It is odd that Portland’s focus would become an issue given that its core is old and experienced – Valeri, Chara, Blanco. But maybe that is also part of the problem as well. It will be telling as the season goes on with games in quick succession how much squad rotation Savarese uses and how effective it is.

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