MLS 2018: More Barco Than Bite

Titans Bastard

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The new season is upon us: opening day is tomorrow.

I liked Doyle's extensive preview, dividing the league up into six tiers. 2017 saw a shift in power from the West to the East for the first time in quite a while. This trend will likely continue in 2018. Toronto has reloaded after one of the best seasons in MLS history. NYCFC looks solid, Orlando has had a huge offseason and should be a contender. Even DC has made some significant upgrades.

The West will have an extra club with the addition of LAFC, giving Los Angeles two clubs once again. After LA Galaxy's dumpster fire of a season, it will be interesting to see which club will be bigger off the field after LAFC's new club sheen fades after a few years.

On a local note, nobody (myself included) has high expectations for the Revs this year. They added an attacker in Cristian Penilla and they'll have Krizstian Nemeth for the full season. However, Lee Nguyen will probably be disgruntled after an aborted transfer holdout and the Revs did little to address a very leaky defense this past winter. In the tough-looking East, it's just hard to see how they'll finish in the top six.

One of the bigger storylines of the offseason is how MLS clubs have ratcheted up the pace of young Latin American signings. The infusion of "TAM" this offseason has inflated team salary budgets and given them the resources to go out and sign more expensive players. One side effect is that it looks likely that the percentage of minutes going to American players will reach a new low in 2018.

Atlanta United broke the MLS transfer record in a big way by signing 18 year old Argentine attacker Ezequiel Barco. But there were plenty of others - Kaku (NYRB), Jesus Medina (NYCFC), Josue Colman (ORL) just to name a few. MLS clubs have also been plundering the Venezuelan league and (if YNT results are any indication) a stronger young generation of Venezuelans.

A couple of new stadiums opening for LAFC and (at long last) DC United.

Managerial changes:
  • MTL: Mauro Biello was fired and replaced with Rémi Garde
  • NE: Brad Friedel was hired to replace the interim Tom Soehn (Heaps)
  • POR: Caleb Porter resigned and was replaced by Cosmos manager Giovanni Savarese
  • SJ: Chris Leitch was pushed back into the front office and replaced by Swede Mikael Stahre
  • COL: Englishman Anthony Hudson arrived from the NZ national team to replace the interim Steve Cooke (Mastroeni)
On a viewing note, the MLS Live streaming package for all games not on ESPN/FS1/Univision has ended. It will be rolled into the new ESPN+ service, which is nice because it will be cheaper and also provide access to other sports. However, ESPN+ hasn't launched yet so all non-national-TV games will be streamed by the league for free in the meantime.
 

moly99

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A lot of the new managers are interesting. Unfortunately for Remi Garde, I think has left one team with awful support for the manager (Aston Villa) only to take on another poisoned chalice in Montreal.

The infusion of "TAM" this offseason has inflated team salary budgets and given them the resources to go out and sign more expensive players. One side effect is that it looks likely that the percentage of minutes going to American players will reach a new low in 2018.
It is important to note that this is offset by the continuous expansion of the league. LAFC has added 22 roster spots to the league. There are still more than enough roster spots to go around for the American players.
 

Titans Bastard

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It is important to note that this is offset by the continuous expansion of the league. LAFC has added 22 roster spots to the league. There are still more than enough roster spots to go around for the American players.
I'm not talking about roster spots, I'm talking about playing time. I guarantee you that USMNT-eligible players will get fewer minutes in MLS in 2018 than they did in 2017 in absolute terms, even with LAFC coming in. Remember that in addition to increased TAM spending on foreigners, MLS clubs are getting really good at finding green cards for players within 12 months, making it easier to sign more foreign players.

It's totally debatable as to whether or not this is a good thing. Fewer Americans will get to play in our own domestic league, but OTOH those who do will face a higher standard of play than if investment in foreigners was scaled back. In my view, it comes down to the faith and trust managers place in the young American players who are ready to take the next step. MLS managers shouldn't be too conservative about giving chances to talented youngsters; it's not like MLS is EPL standard, nor is there a relegation threat.
 

Titans Bastard

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NYRB has traded midfielder Felipe Martins and some cash to Vancouver for center back Tim Parker. Parker is a good quality MLS center back and this really shores up the backline for NYRB. Aaron Long is good, but their other CBs are unconvincing (Collin, Escobar) or unproven (Redding, Ndam). It does significantly reduce CM depth for NYRB. Tyler Adams and Sean Davis are good players, but they'll really have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders now.

The Whitecaps are accumulating a lot of CMs, as they also acquired English CM Jordon Mutch on loan from Crystal Palace. I'm never quite sure what their plan is.

LAFC added two more players to their undersized roster. Charlie Lyon, a goalkeeper who spent last year with Orange County, should be their #3 GK. James Murphy, a 20 year old midfielder, is an American who spent the last several years on the books at Sheffield Wednesday (but never played outside of one cup game).

Orlando signed free agent center back Chris Schuler, addressing their depth at CB after trading Jose Aja to Vancouver.
 

moly99

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I'm not talking about roster spots, I'm talking about playing time. I guarantee you that USMNT-eligible players will get fewer minutes in MLS in 2018 than they did in 2017 in absolute terms, even with LAFC coming in. Remember that in addition to increased TAM spending on foreigners, MLS clubs are getting really good at finding green cards for players within 12 months, making it easier to sign more foreign players.
I don't necessarily disagree but even high-spending Seattle had two U-23 domestic starters in Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris until he tore his ACL. Toronto also has two U-23 domestic starters in Marky Delgado and Alex Bono. Even the best teams in the league are giving chances to young American-born players.
 

Titans Bastard

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I don't necessarily disagree but even high-spending Seattle had two U-23 domestic starters in Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris until he tore his ACL. Toronto also has two U-23 domestic starters in Marky Delgado and Alex Bono. Even the best teams in the league are giving chances to young American-born players.


EDIT: the fact that some second-tier prospects, the vast majority of whom have limited ceilings, are still in college by age 20/21 doesn't make these stats look much better, imo.
 

Titans Bastard

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Not a very hot start for Atlanta, who are getting absolutely crushed by Houston right now. The loss of Carlos Carmona might turn out to be the biggest story for them...for all the attacking glitz, there are real question marks at DM.
 

Titans Bastard

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Lee Nguyen not in the 18 for the Revs today. Matt Turner(!) gets the start at GK with Knighton on the bench. Cropper is apparently sick, but I didn't realize Turner had jumped to the #2.

Rowe on the bench at well. Hrm.
 

jkempa

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The Whitecaps are accumulating a lot of CMs, as they also acquired English CM Jordon Mutch on loan from Crystal Palace. I'm never quite sure what their plan is.
Most good plans do not include Jordon Mutch. I’m glad someone took him off Palace’s hands at least for a few months.
 

Titans Bastard

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Another season. Another early defensive red card for the Revs.
The Revs have good roster balance, though. They also got a late defensive red card.

I guess this means there will be a formidable Anibaba-Samayoa pairing next week? Or maybe Farrell pairs with Anibaba and one of the first rounders starts at RB.
 

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A couple of quick thoughts on the Revs opener:

Rowe and Nguyen are probably the two most offensively talented players on the team, so it’s… less than ideal they didn’t start

Nguyen didn’t show up for camp much later than Delamea, who was getting his green card, so it’s ludicrous to leave him off the 18 if he’s not getting traded

I forgot Matt Turner was still on the team

Brandon Bye as a substitute when trailing by a goal was far too conservative

It’s just one match, so I don’t want to overreact, but it’s not great so far.
 

Titans Bastard

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Interesting comment from Arthur Blank. Going after (at least!) Kraft in Boston and Sugarman in Philly.


I found an MLS GM survey from last week. Some responses I found interesting:

Which MLS coach is the best tactician?
1. Gregg Berhalter — 7
T-2. Gerardo "Tata" Martino, Greg Vanney — 2
T-4. Jesse Marsch, Peter Vermes, Patrick Vieira — 1
Which MLS general manager or technical director is the worst to negotiate with?
1. Mike Burns — 6
T-2. Matt Jordan, Garth Lagerwey, Nelson Rodriguez, Peter Vermes — 1
lol


LAG signed attacking midfielder Efrain Alvarez to an MLS deal. He's a 15 year old academy kid who was on USL terms last year. He'd be getting more hype in US soccer circles if he didn't seem solidly committed to Mexico. Alvarez looks pretty awesome on highlight reels, but of course a lot of his ceiling depends on how his athleticism develops.

Montreal signed Rod Fanni, a very old (36) French center back to a half-season contract, with an option for the rest of the year. He's a last minute band-aid after losing Zakaria Diallo to a long-term injury.


There's more CCL this week with Tijuana vs. NYRB tonight. I think the Xolos are beatable, but disappointment reigns supreme in this competition. Hopefully NYRB can keep a lid on things in the away leg.
 

Titans Bastard

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BWP scores an early away goal for NYRB. Nice start for the Red Bulls. Still 170 minutes left to f*ck it up.
 

moly99

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Red Bulls beat Xolos 2-0 in Tijuana. First American team to get a win in Mexico in CONCACAF champions league since 2011.
 

Titans Bastard

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Red Bulls beat Xolos 2-0 in Tijuana. First American team to get a win in Mexico in CONCACAF champions league since 2011.
Also, I think it’s the first multi-goal win in Mexico ever. Great stuff, especially given that Parker was just thrown into the lineup and Kaku hasn’t been truly integrated yet.
 

Titans Bastard

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Nemeth is on the trading block for the Revs:


They spent $400k in allocation money, an international slot, and gave him a TAM-sized contract last August, so it's not awesome that he's already being shown the door. It was always a strange signing and felt like one of those Revs-esque moves for a familiar, available player who seemed good without regard to how he fit into the team. It's hard to imagine they'll get all that much value for him at this point.
 

Titans Bastard

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Double dose of Champions League today. Toronto vs. Tigres is kicking off momentarily (stream here). It's chilly in Toronto which hopefully benefits TFC.

Toronto is rolling out their standard 3-5-2. Victor Vazquez is on the bench after an injury scare over the weekend; Jonathan Osorio will be a more conservative/defensive replacement for him. Gignac isn't starting for Tigres, which is good news, but they still have Enner Valencia and Eduardo Vargas up top. Long-forgotten Jose Torres is on the bench.

Seattle vs. Chivas coming up right afterward.

Second legs in Mexico are brutal, so MLS clubs need to walk away with a win or -- maybe -- a 0-0 draw.
 

Titans Bastard

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Toronto have been toe-to-toe with Tigres, then give up the traditional MLS-in-CCL goal off of a brainfart and/or soft defending. Chris Mavinga is the culprit.

Given how good Tigres is, that's pretty much the dagger for the entire series.
 

Titans Bastard

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Damn. One minute later, Jonathan Osorio misses the sort of chance that Mexican teams bury.
 

Titans Bastard

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Jozy! 1-1. Nice ball from Marky Delgado and nice finish.

Toronto need more, though.
 

Titans Bastard

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Wow, an insanely good sequence from Bradley involving an interception, successful dribble, and magnificent early cross is bumbled by Altidore.

This second half has been excellent.

EDIT: now with a GIF:

 
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SoxFanInCali

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California. Duh.
Altidore need to bury that chance a few minutes ago. Looked like he didn't expect the ball to get through to him.
 

Titans Bastard

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Ah, the sweet, sweet sight of a petulant Mexican player losing late.
 

Titans Bastard

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Wow, what a recovery from Mavinga. That was almost a total disaster.

Fantastic performance from Toronto against a really, really good opponent. A 2-1 win likely won't be enough, but it gives them a fighting chance in Monterrey. That Osorio goal was huge.

Bradley was immense today. On the whole the level of composure and confidence from Toronto tonight and NYRB yesterday has been a cut above what we've generally seen from MLS squads in the past.
 

Titans Bastard

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On to Seattle vs. Chivas. I would have told you that this was the most winnable first leg game for the three MLS clubs, but I'm feeling that a reversion to the mean is inevitable here....

Seattle is without Morris (long-term), Leerdam at RB, Alonso at DM, and for some reason unknown to me, Eikram (AM). The right side looks weak defensively with McCrary at RB and Lodeiro ahead of him.

Recent academy signing Handwalla Bwana gets the start at left wing. He's raw, but could bring some spark.
 

Titans Bastard

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Me finding out that Carlos Salcido is still an active pro must be like an El Tri fan finding out that Beasley still plays for Houston.
 

Titans Bastard

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Ref swallows his whistle when Bwana is fouled in the box. #concacaf
 

Titans Bastard

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Jordan McCrary with a TERRIBLE header to not give Seattle the lead...


EDIT: Dempsey!
 

Titans Bastard

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Sounders should have more than one. MLS teams are always punished for missing chances like this...
 

Titans Bastard

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Seattle should be up like 4-0. Lets just hope they don't give up a late goal.
Yup. 1-0 is a strong result, though. Shutting out Chivas is really big given the away goals rule.

I can't believe MLS went 3-0 this week.
 

Titans Bastard

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The Revs have signed a DM. It's Luis Alberto Caicedo, a 21 year old Colombian on loan from Cortuluá. All I can see is that he was a starter in the Colombian league for the last two seasons; his club was relegated and just started the new year in the second tier.

I don't know if he's any good, but I'm not overly optimistic that Zahibo will work out so it will be good to have another option. Friedel said that they were close with another signing. I would hope it's a defender.

Meanwhile, DC United signed Joseph Mora, a 25 year old Costa Rican left back who comes from Deportivo Saprissa.
 

Titans Bastard

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Lots of TV news today, for some reason.

Most Univision games will be streamed in English on Twitter. The TV broadcast has an SAP option for English, but some people don't get Univision Deportes or their cable provider screws up the SAP feed.


Chicago is ditching their local TV contract for a partnership with ESPN. This basically means that when ESPN+ launches, Chicago games won't be blacked out locally. Stejskal reports that this deal is worth seven figures, which is probably significantly more than what the Fire was getting from CSN Chicago. Most MLS clubs get peanuts (at best) from local TV deals and some actually pay for production costs.

This makes the $5/month cost of ESPN+ a no-brainer for Fire fans, but it certainly limits exposure to a team that is approximately as relevant to its city as the Revs are to theirs.

 

Titans Bastard

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Another week of wacky results.

LAFC has now won their first two games, both on the road, and this time they CRUSHED RSL 5-1. I'm not convinced that LAFC will actually be good over the long haul, but they're off to a great start.

Normally all-defense, all-pressing, no-offense SKC won a crazy back-and-forth 4-3 game over Chicago.

NYRB started a close to 100% B team at home against Portland (resting their top squad for Club Tijuana in CCL this week) and still destroyed the Timbers 4-0. 17 year old attacking mid Ben Mines got a goal on his debut; NYRB played a total of six academy products and two other players they brought through their reserve team. As a neutral who generally wants to see MLS clubs invest in youth and give chances to youth, watching a youthful NYRB team beat the Portland Timbers of all clubs is delicious. (In fairness the Timbers -- who seem to never be interested in acquiring or trusting American players -- did start an academy left back. But only because Vytas is injured.)

No-talent Minnesota United went on the road to beat Orlando.


Up today: Atlanta vs. DC. Last year, DC was terrible and tied for the lowest points in the league with LAG. Somehow, though, they beat Atlanta all three times they played them. DC should be better in 2018, but Atlanta is still favored. ATL needs to sort out their midfield though -- DM without Carlos Carmona was a disaster last week.

NYCFC vs. LAG, too.
 

Titans Bastard

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Tata is rolling out a 3-5-2 (or maybe 3-4-3?) after last week's defensive tire fire. They have a real DM playing DM now (Larentowicz), but I don't think Garza has the legs to play LWB and Gressel isn't really a wingback either. US Soccer Twitter will be ready to roast Martino if he brings on Kratz instead of Carleton again.



Yamil Asad makes his return to Atlanta in a DCU shirt.


Meanwhile, it's time for the March tradition of praying for no basketball OT in the SEC championship.
 

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Another week of wacky results.

LAFC has now won their first two games, both on the road, and this time they CRUSHED RSL 5-1. I'm not convinced that LAFC will actually be good over the long haul, but they're off to a great start.

Normally all-defense, all-pressing, no-offense SKC won a crazy back-and-forth 4-3 game over Chicago.

NYRB started a close to 100% B team at home against Portland (resting their top squad for Club Tijuana in CCL this week) and still destroyed the Timbers 4-0. 17 year old attacking mid Ben Mines got a goal on his debut; NYRB played a total of six academy products and two other players they brought through their reserve team. As a neutral who generally wants to see MLS clubs invest in youth and give chances to youth, watching a youthful NYRB team beat the Portland Timbers of all clubs is delicious. (In fairness the Timbers -- who seem to never be interested in acquiring or trusting American players -- did start an academy left back. But only because Vytas is injured.)

No-talent Minnesota United went on the road to beat Orlando.


Up today: Atlanta vs. DC. Last year, DC was terrible and tied for the lowest points in the league with LAG. Somehow, though, they beat Atlanta all three times they played them. DC should be better in 2018, but Atlanta is still favored. ATL needs to sort out their midfield though -- DM without Carlos Carmona was a disaster last week.

NYCFC vs. LAG, too.
Curious why you don't believe in LAFC? I don't follow MLS that much, but their DPs are both really good and Feilhaber has always been a good MLS player. Add in that they rarely have a coaching disadvantage (in fact outside of Tata I'd say Bradley is the best manager in MLS) and I don't see why they'd be a big surprise.
 

Titans Bastard

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Curious why you don't believe in LAFC? I don't follow MLS that much, but their DPs are both really good and Feilhaber has always been a good MLS player. Add in that they rarely have a coaching disadvantage (in fact outside of Tata I'd say Bradley is the best manager in MLS) and I don't see why they'd be a big surprise.
They have a solid first XI, but they have very, very minimal depth. I think that when they pick up an injury or two at just about any position other than maybe RB or DM, they're screwed. That being said, they still only have 22 players on the roster so they could add depth over the next few weeks or during the summer.

Expansion teams also look a bit jumbled, especially in the first half of the season. Credit to Bob Bradley that LAFC is off to a good start; he may have inoculated them from that problem to a certain degree. Bradley has his faults, but struggling to get players to buy into what he's doing is not one of them (at least aside from the highest levels, e.g. his Swansea experience).

Of course, MLS has a way of making a mockery of all preseason predictions, so who the hell knows.
 

Titans Bastard

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US Soccer Twitter will be ready to roast Martino if he brings on Kratz instead of Carleton again.
Much better from Atlanta today.

Carleton got on in stoppage time for a couple of garbage minutes. Martino didn't make any subs until the 81st minute and seems to be continuing with his Achilles heel problem from the last season. He just drives his first XI into the ground over the course of the year, often bypassing numerous opportunities to safely give his starters a little bit of a break.