Tuesday kickaround

Tuesday: LAFC thoughts, MLS observations, Dual National Panic, Berhalter, & Americans abroad

ASN's Brian Sciaretta offers up his thoughts on a huge number of topics including LAFC and the CCL, MLS games, Gregg Berhalter, Americans abroad, and Aidan Morris & Dual National Panic. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 06, 2023
8:45 AM

THE NEWS IS A BIT slower these days as MLS is now on a break, most of the seasons for Americans abroad are over, the U.S. U-20 team is out of the World Cup, and LAFC fell to Leon in the CCL final. All that’s left now is the USMNT opening camp ahead of the Nations League semifinal against Mexico.

Here are some notes on my thoughts on some of the recent news ahead of this point.


LAFC lose to Leon


The CONCACAF Champions League title is not back in the hands of a Liga MX team after Leon defeated LAFC 1-0 in California for a 3-1 aggregate win. Over the full 180 minutes, the result was fair as Club Leon was the better team.

It was a clear learning lesson for LAFC as to the intensity that is needed to win this tournament. It took Seattle several attempts to get there and while this wasn’t LAFC’s first attempt, it was the first attempt under Steve Cherundolo who is only in his second year of head coaching.

Not all of Liga MX, but the big Liga MX teams still have bigger budgets and huge homefield advantages.


“I think the facts that we face as an MLS team in tournaments like this, if you want to consistently play in finals and win these, you're going to have to rethink your roster rules and regulations,” Cherundolo said. “You're at a big disadvantage. There's a little more money on that side of the table, and money in this game buys quality players."

The gap is closing between the leagues. Even in this tournament, Tigres only got past Orlando on away goals and Philadelphia defeated Atlas. Last year, Seattle defeated Leon easily in the quarterfinal of the CCL. But Leon was able to upgrade and improve.

It won’t take another decade for an MLS team to win this tournament. And every edition of the tournament since 2018 has seen an MLS team getting by a Liga MX team. That should continue. But to win it, MLS teams will remain the underdog. Upsets happen. But to become the favorite? That is going to take some work.

But there is anohter point to consider about expanding the salary cap: doing so would likely crowd out minutes for young players. The expanding number of minutes for young players has been a big positive for MLS the past 5-6 years. 


Pulisic and Berhalter


The USMNT camp is open in Carson, California ahead of the Nations League semifinal against Mexico on June 15. On Monday, Christian Pulisic and Matt Turner spoke to the media.

One of the big takeaways from the conference is that Pulisic still thinks highly of Gregg Berhalter and thinks he should be considered for a second term as the national team head coach.

"I think he is still considered. I think he should be considered,” Pulisic said of Berhalter. “I think he did a great job with the team. He brought us a long way. I think a lot of people and a lot of guys in the team, especially, would agree with that."

The quotes from Pulisic reveal Berhalter still has a strong backing within the team. If Berhalter were to return, it would probably be seen as a good thing among most of the team. But on the flip side, there has been a lot of change within U.S. Soccer. JT Batson is the federation’s CEO. Matt Crocker is the Sporting Director. Oguchi Onyewu now has a role within the sporting side.

Typically, new leadership is going to want to implement their own vision and personnel as opposed to go with vision from the previous regime. But then again, if the players are comfortable and are progressing with the previous coach, then maybe that could swing things in favor of keeping the national team on that track.

My own personal guess is that it is less than 50-50 that Berhalter returns but I don’t think it is necessarily a long shot either. The national team is in a tricky spot right now from a player perspective. Most players are coming into the summer games on the heels of a bad season. The confidence of the players has taken a hit. Even more of a concern is that a lot of players will be on the move this summer and need to get the decision right as to where to go in order to avoid back-to-back bad seasons. Some will get it right, but some won’t.

Berhalter improved as coach throughout the cycle, but his best strength was making the national team a positive experience for the players. Given the mostly negative club situations for the players, that positivity for the players is needed.


MLS thoughts


  • St. Louis is baffling. 39 points from 16 games in its expansion year. Many thought the hot start would fade after a brief slump in May, but the team now has three straight wins following Saturday’s 3-0 win over Houston. The team doesn’t have an elite forward but has multiple players who can put the ball away. Bradley Carnell is the front runner for the coach of the year. The Red Bulls made a gigantic error letting him go.
  • Speaking of Red Bull mistakes. Could you imagine if the Red Bulls had Brian White at forward (the team’s biggest weakness) and had Carnell coaching the team in the past few years? The team would be flying.

  • The Red Bulls had one of their worst performances across the board in a 3-0 loss at home to Orlando. It’s the kind of loss that changes your view of the team. Up to this point, I figured RBNY was just treading water until all their injured players returned (Lewis Morgan, Frankie Amaya, Luquinas, etc) and once they returned, they would return to being a good but not great team. These players are back, and they’re worse.
  • Much of the East is as expected. Cincinnati, Nashville, and Philadelphia are at the top and each of the three teams have at least a four-game winning streak. Nashville impressively defeated Dallas 2-1 on the road and has conceded just 11 goals this season while the offense is heavily reliant on Hany Mukhtar. Philadelphia is just a well-coached team with a variety of approaches to take down teams. Cincinnati doesn’t miss Brenner at all. Given New England’s injuries and Atlanta’s inconsistency, the gap after these three teams is wide.

  • NYCFC is going nowhere unless they get a No. 9. Some teams, can withstand the loss of a top scorer (like Cincy and Brenner) but Taty Castellanos leaving has sunk NYCFC to the bottom of the East. The problem, of course, is that replacing Castellanos with a like-for-like single player is impossible. It almost takes a rebuild. The 0-0 draw with New England was a battle of teams who are badly in need of offensive players.
  • Minnesota drew Toronto 1-1. Minnesota did a good job treading water without Emmanuel Reynoso. They should be okay in a Western Conference that has a lot of struggling teams. Reynoso played the last 25 minutes. Toronto is not a happy place right now and conceding an 89th minute equalizer is yet another gut punch.
  • Speaking of struggling teams out west, Seattle is another team who has faded badly the past month and Saturday’s 0-0 draw with rivals Portland is another indication. The Sounders have won just once in their last five games and have scored just two goals in that span. Yes, Jordan Morris is injured, but my concern about Seattle is how their core is simply getting older. They are starting to introduce some young homegrowns into the mix, but players like Joao Paulo, Nicholas Lodeiro, Freddy Montero, Raul Ruidiaz, and Stefan Frei are all on the older side.
  • Meanwhile, Portland hasn’t won in four games and has jus one goal in that span. Evander is the only player with more than two goals.


Aidan Morris: Dual National Panic


With Folarin Balogun now playing for the United States, many of the dual national panic cases in American soccer are domestic based players: Noel Buck, Benjamin Cremaschi, and Aidan Morris. The first two are young, 2005-born, youth national team prospects. Morris is a bit different.

Regarding Morris, there are important things to consider. He is a bit older, at 21, but is having a terrific season at Columbus. As a No. 6/No. 8 midfielder, he is already a very good player in MLS at his position.

People tend to think he’s at an age where he should be further along (a move to Europe, more caps, not much hype when he was a teenager) but his circumstances are clearly different. In his first season in 2020, he started and won MLS Cup in a very impressive outing where he helped shut down Seattle. People were starting pay attention to him as the next top American out of MLS.

But then he was hit with two major setbacks. First, COVID cancelled his U-20 cycle, including the World Cup. That massive spotlight was lost. Second, he tore is ACL and missed almost all of 2021. Then 2022 was mostly him getting back on is feet.

Now in 2023, he is playing like the player everyone saw he could become in 2020. But the problem is that Canada is realizing. Morris is a tri-national. He was born and raised in the United States but holds Canadian and Italian passports. Canada very much wants him to join their program and is aggressive.

The U.S. has been welcoming to Morris as he played in January camp and the March friendly. He is on the Gold Cup preliminary roster for both countries. He is eligible for the U.S. U-23 Olympic team and would likely play a big role in that team (Canada did not qualify) but he might make his decision before that.

The U.S. team is not in a good position to be losing good prospects – especially midfield prospects. The entire midfield pool has had poor seasons (McKennie, Musah, de la Torre, Adams, Busio). The next group of prospects – Tessmann, Morris, Cardoso – are needed given all the uncertainty. Morris is arguably having the best season of the bunch.


Yanks in Spain


It was a bit of sigh of relief in Spain as both Yunus Musah and Luca de la Torre avoided relegation. De la Torre was impressive for Celta Vigo in a 2-1 win over Barcelona. Even with Barca having clinched the title and playing at half-speed, de la Torre did well in his 71 minutes.

Meanwhile, Musah came into Valencia’s 1-1 draw with Real Betis in the 79th minute and sent off three minutes of later. Still, it was enough for Valencia.

Neither of it would have mattered as Real Valladolid couldn’t beat Getafe despite 75% possession.

But both players avoided heading to the second tier but both will head into the summer with loads of questions. Celta Vigo might spend money for more central midfielders this summer and de la Torre would then have to play better to see the field.

Musah finished the season with 33 appearances, 26 starts, and 2119 minutes. He scored 0 goals and notched just two assists. He was relegated to the bench for most of the past month and he badly needs a stronger preseason to show improved production or else he might not play as much.


Yanks in Belgium: Genk collapse


It was a brutal end to the season for Genk which conceded a decisive late goal to Royal Antwerp in a 2-2 draw. That result cost Genk the Belgian title and gave it to Royal Antwerp. Mark McKenzie went the distance for Genk in the 2-2 draw.

McKenzie, 24, finished the season with 3237 minutes and scored four goals. Still, his Genk team squandered a double-digit lead atop the table. The good news, is that Genk will get to play in the Champions League qualifiers next season but coming up short in the title race was painful.

Sam Vines hasn’t played for Antwerp since November when he suffered a broken tibia but will likely receive a medal and also get to take part in the Champions League qualifiers next season.

Standard Liege and Westerlo each finished 14 points back of a Europa League qualifying position. Both played an essentially meaningless finale. Cercle Brugge defeated Westerlo 2-0 with Bryan Reynolds going 90 minutes and Griffin Yow playing the final 14 minutes.

Reynolds is probably going to be on the Gold Cup team and is a front runner to be on the U.S. U-23 team. It seems unlikely he will return to Westerlo as this concludes his loan from Roma. Either another loan or a full transfer awaits him. Yow, meanwhile, should press for a bigger role on Westerlo next season.  

Marlon Fossey played 80 minutes for Standard Liege in a 4-1 loss to Gent. Overall, it was a good season for Fossey to stay healthy but Standard ended with just one point in its final five games as head coach Ronny Deila departed.


Yanks in Ligue 1


The three Yanks in Ligue 1 ended their season over the weekend. Folarin Balogun scored his 21st of the season in a 3-1 loss to Stade de Reims. Balogun will either return to Arsenal or be sold for a ton of money to a big club.


Lille drew Troyes 1-1 in the final game. Erik Palmer-Brown played the whole game while Tim Weah played the second half. Palmer-Brown finished the season with 3193 minutes but Troyes was relegated. He’s unlikely to return to Troyes.

Weah finished the season with 1747 minutes with no goals while mostly playing as a fullback. This is the most amount of league minutes he has played in a season. He is also one with questions to answer this offseason in terms of the role he wants to play moving forward and whether or not Lille is the best place.


Elsewhere abroad


Taylor Booth ended his Eredivisie season with Utrecht playing in the league’s playoff for a Conference League playoff spot against Sparta Rotterdam. Booth played the final 35 minutes of the second half plus 30 minutes of extra time. He converted his shootout attempt but Utrecht lost on penalties after the teams finished 2-2 on aggregate (Utrecht won the first leg).

Booth finished the season with 1645 Eredivisie minutes. It was a nice step in his career. There are rumors he could seek a transfer but still, his positive season is a relatively small sample size.

In Brazil, Johnny Cardoso played 80 minutes for Internacional in a 1-1 draw with Santos. Cardoso will now head to the U.S. national team camp with a chance to play the No. 6 position without Tyler Adams in his way.

In Norway, Rosenborg pounded Hamkam 4-0. Sam Rogers went 90 minutes in the win while Kobe Hernandez-Foster went 90 in the loss.

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