MLS Week 5 breakdown

The important day for FC Dallas, Pozuelo's debut, playing kids, & more

Week 5 in MLS brought us a lot of news as FC Dallas had a momumental day on Saturday with their winning and youth-oriented approach. We also look at what's wrong with the Red Bulls, the play your kids movment, the awesome debut of Pozuelo, and a look at the strong start from Memo Rodriguez at Houston. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
April 01, 2019
12:20 AM
THE FIFTH WEEK of the 2019 MLS Season had more positives than negatives as there was high quality soccer from the league’s best players while also young domestic players continued to earn opportunities that were unprecedented in the past.

Is there still room for concern? Plenty. Defense continues to be very week for too many teams and that was evident with the high number of blowouts the past few days. New York City lost to Toronto 4-0, San Jose lost to Los Angeles FC 5-0, Montreal lost to Sporting Kansas City 7-1. Colorado lost at home to Houston 4-1.

It is also clear that parity is slowly declining in this league with good teams significantly ahead of the lower teams in this league. While a few of the good teams are struggling to start the season, most of it is due to coaching changes (like Atlanta) or player turnover (like the Red Bulls). But heading into the season we knew DC United, Sporting Kansas City, and Seattle were good and that is how it is playing out. We also knew San Jose, Colorado, Chicago, and New England weren’t going to be good and it loos like all will be outside the playoff picture.

In terms of quality, the league’s star players delivered. Carlos Vela was superb for LAFC, Zlatan had two goals, Alejandro Pozuelo had one of the best debuts in league history. Wayne Rooney’s free kick was eye-opening, Alberto Elis was also equally impressive.

But for American fans, the best news is probably the important youth movement within the league, led by FC Dallas.

Huge day for FC Dallas

When FC Dallas hired Luchi Gonzalez in the offseason, it highlighted the club’s emphasis on first-team minutes for the young players that came from its academy. In addition, the club also established a USL team, North Texas SC, to provide a bridge from the academy to the first team. At the time, Gonzalez told ASN that he believed that it was still possible to be competitive in MLS while playing very young players.

Starting the MLS season, Dallas has delivered with Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, and Edwin Cerillo (all U-20 eligible, with Ferreira’s citizenship nearly completed). In addition, U-23 eligible Reggie Cannon continues to start while 2021 U.S. U-20 eligible Thomas Roberts also having made his debut.

But Saturday was a coming out party and an emphatic statement. In a 4-2 road win over Real Salt Lake, important U.S. youth internationals won Dallas the game and showcased strong development.

Paxton Pomykal indeed played like one of the top U-20 players in the country and a player who looks in-line to get 2500 minutes this season. The Texan scored two goals and was part of the build-up to another. He is one of the most exciting young midfielders in the league.

Meanwhile, Jesus Ferreira continues to show that young domestic attacking talent can flourish in the league. He scored a goal but also was impressive with his passing for FC Dallas. Ferreira remains a top attacking prospect but will likely be kept off the U.S. U-20 team due to the longer-than-expected citizenship process. He officially applied on December 24, 2018 (his 18th birthday) but it still has not come through yet and U-20 head coach Tab Ramos must submit his 50-player provisional roster Monday (which must accompany a copy of the player’s U.S. passport).

But even after the U-20 World Cup Ferreira will be able to join the U.S. program soon and he looks exciting.

Meanwhile, Edwin Cerrillo, 18, could be a late push to make the U.S. U-20 team as he is starting (over Brandon Servania, who was on the U-20 team for CONCACAF) and performing well for FC Dallas. Reggie Cannon, 20, is also sharp at right back. For now, Gonzalez is finding a way to win while playing his youth. Perhaps this will inspire other teams to follow suit. Midfielder Thomas Roberts, a likely key player for the 2021 U-20 team, made his MLS debut last weekend and was instrumental in the build-up to a winning goal. 

On Saturday night, North Texas SC made its club debut in USL League One and defeated Chattanooga 3-2. The story of the game was a hat trick from U.S. U-17 forward Ricardo Pepi. After turning 16 in January, Pepi looks like the high-profile prospect he is made out to be.

But the fact is that FC Dallas has developed several of the top key U.S. youth internationals. It plays and wins with these players – who could go on to play big roles for U.S. Soccer and get sold for nice sums in the future. The club developed Weston McKennie but lost out on him but was able to cash in on Chris Richards at Bayern Munich.

FC Dallas continues to be groundbreaking and the club deserves to take a victory lap after the promising early-season returns.

DC United, Sporting KC, & LAFC are the class of the league

The three best teams in the league right now are DC United, Sporting Kansas City, and Los Angeles FC. That was known before this weekend and before the season. After this weekend it became even more clear.

DC, Sporting, and LAFC defeated Orlando, Montreal, and San Jose by a combined score of 14-2 (with DC and LAFC playing on the road). There is a value on continuity in this league as all three largely built off the previous season without many changes. DC United has a great starting XI with strong central midfielders, playmakers, wingers, and forwards. The fullback imports have only helped.

LAFC and Sporting KC are very well-coached and the imports into their teams have made sense. In both situations, the team had a strong existing backline and then supplemented it will strong attack.

Sporting KC has an experienced backline and the one concern is that age across the back could adversely affect the team later in the season. But Krisztian Nemeth is one of the best forwards in the league and fits Peter Vermes’ system so well.

For LAFC the team has a very dangerous and dynamic forward line. Carlos Vela has been the best player in the league the first month of the year.

Red Bulls & Atlanta blues

What to make of the Red Bulls and Atlanta - the two best teams from 2018? Both teams are a concern right now although Atlanta is in worse shape. For one, Frank de Boer doesn’t seem to understand his player and what works. Instead, he’s been focused on fixing things that aren’t broken.

While it’s hard to blame him for Saturday’s loss because the weather made the game a farce, it does continue to fit the poor trend that the club has shown in its start. But it makes it more puzzling why the organization hired a rigid tactician when it was so successful with very free and open system. Why didn’t it just look for a coach who was similar to Tata Martino?

Right now everyone in the Atlanta organization needs a lot of soul-searching.

The Red Bulls lost again. After a 1-0 loss to Orlando last weekend, it fell to Chicago 1-0 on the road. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned for the Red Bulls but at least its problems are more identifiable.

The club needs more production out of Kaku and perhaps selling him will open the door for another creative presence who is happy to be in New York or New Jersey. Bradley Wright-Phillips is also off to a slow start and it is unreasonable to think he will continue at the form of the previous seasons – although he probably won’t fall completely off the cliff either.

The good news for the Red Bulls is that the team’s defense is still very good. That will keep the team in games and allow the front office to replace the necessary pieces in the attack. A dramatic overhaul isn’t needed but its two designated players are question marks at the moment – due to age and a desire to move.

Alejandro Pozuelo & TFC

It’s fine to get excited when youth prospects shine in MLS and it’s also worth getting excited when expensive imports come into the league and play up to a high level.

On Friday night, Alejandro Pozuelo put on a show for Toronto FC in a 4-0 win over New York City FC. The Spanish attacking mid assisted to Altidore on an opening goal, then scored a penalty via a Panenka, and finally scored a goal with a world-class chip.

Pozuelo was previously with Gent in Belgium where was integral to the team in winning a Belgian title, playing competitively in the Champions League and making a run in the Europa League. After the loss of Sebastian Giovinco, Pozuelo brought a lot of excitement and was a breath of fresh air after last season’s struggles.

With the struggles of Atlanta and the Red Bulls, there is plenty of reason that a rejuvenated Toronto team could do well again this season.

Playing your youth

The season is still in its infancy but so far, 44 different players who are eligible for either the U.S. U-23 team, the U.S. U-20 team, or the U.S. U-17 team have played in games this year (including Jesus Ferreira, who will be soon). 17 of those players are eligible for the U.S. U-20 team.

That’s encouraging and an impressive stride from previous seasons.

Pay attention to Memo Rodriguez

Houston is off to a strong start in the league and local homegrown attacker Memo Rodriguez is one to watch. He’s surrounded by some quality players in Alberto Elis and Mauro Manotas but Rodriguez fits very well into that group. So far, he has four goals in four games over 199 minutes.

With those kinds of numbers, American fans should be paying attention to the Wharton, Texas native who not just scoring but scoring high-quality goals as well.

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