MLS 2021: On a scale of 1-10, my baby's 26

67YAZ

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A new season, a new thread. The Fire and NYCFC kick off preseason matches this coming Saturday in what promises to be 90 minutes of soccer.

A quick look around the league shows some interesting developments. The number of DPs signed this winter is way down (only 4), not surprising given tight budgets and most clubs holding out for the post-pandemic window when sale price should be higher. But the lack of incoming DPs and a keen eye on the bottom line seems to have opened space for a bumper crop of homegrowns. Real Salt Lake is still searching for new ownership, and the Canadian clubs are setting up shop stateside for the time being (Vancouver in Utah, Toronto and Montreal in Florida). And the defending champions, the Columbus Crew, look a strong bet to repeat. They reinforced their squad well while some of the other top sides have lost key contributors to transfer or injury: LAFC, Seattle, & Philly. But every projection should come with a standard COVID caveat. Who knows how the next 9 months will play out.

And since I'm here, the 2021 Chicago Fire are looking to take a step forward. After the disappointment of just missing the playoffs last season, qualifying this season is the minimum expectation. The current roster makes that look likely. Top-scorer Robert Beric is back for his second season, as is the squad's lynchpin, Gaston Gimenez. Stojanovic and Kappelhof return from injury-shortened seasons, with the latter hopefully relegating Francisco Calvo to the bench. There are also 2 true wingbacks on the roster - Navarro and Espinoza - which should facilitate a switch to Wicky's favored 3-4-3 formation. Early experiments with 3-in-the-back were a disaster last year, so the bulk of the post-tournament season was spent in a conservative, counter-attack-based 4-2-3-1. Too often, this left Beric isolated up top and progression getting stalled out on the wings. Having in-cutting wingers and overlapping wingbacks appear to be Wicky's preferred solution, but the team will have to be much more tidy in possession to make it all work.

There's also depth at every position now, which wasn't the case going into last season. So much so that the Fire have a raft of homegrowns signed a year ago that will struggle to see the pitch unless there's a rash of injuries. Some of these kids will end up at Forward Madison (a good excuse to buy one of their always awesome jerseys), whose manager is part of the Fire's camp to scout and help develop the young'uns. Finally, a pipeline is starting to emerge.

Last season's breakout rookie, Mo Pineda, spent the winter in USMNT camps (and still is now), which is very exciting. Pineda's current weaknesses are physical strength and reading the game from the CB position. This is understandable since Pineda played CB, CDM, and CM in college, meaning his technical and passing skills are very well developed for a defender, but he's not as practiced at the position as many of his peers. (I also have sympathy for Pineda for having to play next to Calvo. Anyone who has ever shared a backline with an unreliable knucklehead knows that it shapes every decision you make - should I step up here or do I need to hang back in case numb nuts screws it up?) But being in USMNT camps, competing against great players, and receiving high-quality coaching in a tactical setup similar to the Fire's should really pay off for Pineda.

There's early buzz about new transfer Stanisolv Ivanov, a winger from Bulgaria, who looks to be the kind of incisive dribbler and direct threat that Djordje Mihailovic never became. If Ignacio Aliseda can build on his competent first season on the other wing, then the attack won't be so Beric-dependent again. We're talking about 20 and 21 year olds, so we'll see. But at least it feels like there are possibilities this season where there were few last year.

My starting XI

------------------Shuttleworth-----------------

-------Kappelhof--Pineda--Sekulic------

Navarro-----------------------------Espinoza

---------Gimenez------Stojanovic----------

Aliseda----------Beric------------Ivanov---
 
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Titans Bastard

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MLS announced home openers today.

View: https://twitter.com/JeffreyCarlisle/status/1369741390335205376


The season kicks off on Friday, April 16 with Houston vs. San Jose — though it will only be on ESPN+. Locally, the Revs open at Chicago on 4/17 and have their home opener vs. DC on 4/24.

In the opening weekend, LAFC vs. Austin will be on FOX on 4/17 and Inter Miami vs. LA Galaxy will be on ABC on 4/18, which is more network TV exposure than usual.
 

67YAZ

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It looks like a high school pitch with quality to match.

But Elliott Collier did a thing.

 

Titans Bastard

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Signings have continued to trickle in over the last few weeks. As noted in the OP, there haven't been a lot of big-name signings, nor have there been as many of the typical DP no-name-outside-of-their-home-country signings of Latin American talent. That said, there's still more offseason, and the penalty for waiting until the summer is less because of the late start this season.

A few of note:

- Normally MLS Cup-winning teams have to manage the departures of a few players who got too expensive to fit under the cap, but the Crew just keep adding talent. They already brought in Kevin Molino and now they're getting another attacking midfielder in 21 year old Alexandru Matan from Viitorul Constanta for $1.8m. Matan had been linked to NYCFC, who have been weirdly quiet this offseason.

Columbus' depth across the attack is really impressive. And if Aidan Morris is really as good as he played in MLS Cup, their CM depth is going to be good too (and Morris will be on the fast track to being Tyler Adams' backup for the USMNT, too).

- Vancouver signed 22 year old Brazilian Caio Alexandre for a reported $4m from relegated Botafogo. That's a big-money signing for the Caps, who need a lot of talent in a lot of places. This guy is a CM.

The Caps also took 27 year old Angolan RB Bruno Gaspar on loan from Sporting CP.

- LA Galaxy signed 24 year old French winger Samuel Grandsir on a free from AS Monaco. He hasn't played much for Monaco, but spent last year on loan in Ligue 1 for Brest. The Galaxy have been trying to reacquire Cristian Pavon for months, but wrangling over the transfer fee is complicated, and now Pavon faces sexual assault charges in Argentina. Regardless, the Galaxy will need to sign at least one more winger: aside from Grandsir, they have three unproven youngsters.

- Inter Miami has signed Joevin Jones as a free agent. Not a huge surprise, as Miami's new GM Chris Henderson came from Seattle. Jones wasn't nearly as good for the Sounders as he was in his first stint, before his foray at Darmstadt.

- RSL took 24 year old Ecuadorian winger Anderson Julio on loan from San Luis. RSL have to be creative because they are on a tight budget being effectively ownerless, as the league has taken over the effort to sell the club. They will likely be bad this year.

- NYRB signed young American winger Cameron Harper from Celtic, where he wasn't getting a shot. I have heard good things about Harper and am glad that he has moved to a better situation. They also picked up Andrew Gutman on loan from Atlanta.

[viewer's note: unsafe levels of MLS-y stuff are found in the paragraph below.]

Gutman has had an extremely weird career. He was a Fire youth player who went on to be one of the best LBs in college, but for some reason Chicago had no use for him. He then stupidly signed for Celtic despite not being eligible for a work permit, so he had to be loaned out. They were going to loan him to Nashville in their last year of USL, but since Nashville were coming into MLS in 2020, the league wanted them to respect the fact that the Fire still held his MLS rights. He wound up on loan at Charlotte Independence instead. In 2020, FC Cincinnati acquired his MLS rights from Chicago and signed him on loan. In 2021, Atlanta took his rights in the Re-Entry Draft, worked out a deal with Celtic to purchase his contract, then immediately loaned him to NYRB. My thinking is that they have an eye on selling George Bello at the end of the season and want a replacement lined up.
 

Titans Bastard

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NYCFC signed Chris Gloster. Gloster left NYRB's academy for Hannover and, later, PSV Eindhoven. At PSV he's been stuck in the reserves; this winter he was told they'd let him go for free if he found a club. That's not a huge surprise, as the writing is usually on the wall when a club gives up on a reserve team player based on how the player is used.

Gloster is a 20 year old left back who has showed some promise for the U17s and U20s. He's fallen behind the similarly-aged Sam Vines among the U23s, as well as the younger George Bello. A change of scenery might help him, though. He isn't assured of a starting role by any means, as he'll compete with fellow new signing Malte Amundsen who came from Vejle in Denmark.

https://www.nycfc.com/post/2021/03/22/new-york-city-fc-signs-defender-chris-gloster-psv-eindhoven-acquires-homegrown
 

67YAZ

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Ugh, the Fire lose new guy Ivanov for 4 months with a torn meniscus. There had been good buzz about him so far as the kind of direct, incisive wing that Mihailovic looked like against the DR...but now he's on the shelf, likely to be replaced by Frankowski. Solid, but not threatening.

Andre Reynolds II has started both Fire pre-season matches at LB so far and looked really lively both times, the second match connecting with Beric very well several times. Reynolds is an '01 & the Fire's first homegrown from Chicago(!). During MLS is Back he had "Laquan McDonald" written on his jersey and has been featured in a few articles speaking with great maturity and insight about being a Black pro soccer player & local role model. It would be wonderful for him to break through this year, though Navarro will be given many chances to lose the job first.
 
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Titans Bastard

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67YAZ

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City of Chicago announced that the Fire can have up to 7,000 fans for the April 17 opener vs New England. That's spread around Soldier Field's lower bowl, so it won't feel like much. Depending on conditions, attendance could get to over 15,000 per match later in the season.

Most importantly, it's confirmed that ice cream nachos will be back. Seriously, they used press conference time today to announce this.
 

steeplechase3k

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City of Chicago announced that the Fire can have up to 7,000 fans for the April 17 opener vs New England. That's spread around Soldier Field's lower bowl, so it won't feel like much. Depending on conditions, attendance could get to over 15,000 per match later in the season.
The Timbers are going to be capped at ~6300 to start. I've probably been to about 20 Timbers matches with fewer people in the stadium, but those were ~12 years ago in the USL, and there were still 1k people crammed together in the North End and we were able to get chants going. I know none of the drummers or capos will be doing their thing for a while so the atmosphere will be lacking. I'm close to getting my first vaccine dose so I'll probably be back before we can be at 100% capacity, but it will still be a while.
 

Titans Bastard

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The league has decided to nearly straight-up regionalize the schedules. Looking at the Revs' 34 games, they travel to FC Dallas once and I think that's the only game against anyone from the West. It's weird, but it does make sense — there's going to be a ton of midweek games, so this reduces travel. It also makes it feasible for clubs to do day-of-game travel in- and-out for most road games.
 

Jimy Hendrix

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I kinda like the idea of even more fully regional schedules. We're expanded damn near to the point where just a balanced East/West doing separate home/home tables until the playoffs could work, and my retro "still kinda grumbling about interleague and the lack of pennant races" self would be into it.
 

67YAZ

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I think Chicago made out pretty well here. It’s one western opponent is RSL and there’s a steady dose of Cincy, Montreal, Miami, Nashville, Atlanta, and DC on the docket. The Fire should have plenty of chances to nick points from the clubs hanging around their region of the table.
 

67YAZ

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Bobby Wood is coming RSL. That squad has some nice young players, glad they could add a veteran to the mix. Still wish they had an owner who could build on the roster.

 

Titans Bastard

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The drama around Frankie Amaya is getting juicier.

https://theathletic.com/2501527/2021/04/06/fc-cincinnati-frankie-amaya-mls/

Multiple sources said Cincinnati is once more gauging interest around the league for Amaya ahead of the start of the MLS season. After initially fielding offers for him, Cincinnati made Amaya, 20, unavailable in late January. He went public with a trade request shortly thereafter, telling The Athletic in a statement that he had asked the club to move him. FCC has put him back on the trading block in recent weeks.

The sources said that FC Cincy recently lodged tampering charges with MLS against the two teams that had shown the most interest in trading for him: the New York Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union. The sources did not share the exact nature of FCC’s complaints against either the Red Bulls or the Union. The league, FCC, the Union and Red Bulls all declined to comment.

The sources also said that LAFC has shown recent interest in acquiring Amaya.
 

Titans Bastard

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Today is April 6, and that's right folks — it's time for the first competitive games of the season involving MLS clubs. The UEFA Champions League games this afternoon serve as an appetizer for the main event: CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 first legs!!

In a better world, MLS clubs would have close to a month of the regular season schedule under their belt, but due to the delayed start of the league, it will be a battle to stave off the pitfalls of preseason form and fitness. Nonetheless, we march ahead and suffer like the martyrs that we are.
 

Titans Bastard

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Portland should have at least one goal by now. The Timbers are going to town in San Pedro Sula.
 

Senator Donut

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I appreciate the fact that Scotiabank Champions League knows how to stagger their matches unlike that other Champions League.
 

Titans Bastard

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Marathón-Portland finished 2-2. Portland looked lively and played on the front foot. They could have scored more than two, but the finishing was spotty, and they coughed up a lead twice. Spectacular free kick from Valeri for their second goal.

At the end of the day, a decent result given the circumstances: on the road, first game of the season, with a few key players injured.

Next up is Alajuelense-Atlanta. Alajuelense is riding high in Costa Rica and have some vintage Ticos like the now-35-year-old Bryan Ruiz at the #10. Atlanta denied the released of their U23s for the Olympics to prepare for this, while 7/20 of the players on Costa Rica U23 came from Alajuelense. So it will be interesting to see if Atlanta's stubbornness pays off...
 

Titans Bastard

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Atlanta has looked a lot better than the Frank de Boer suckfest, but Guzan just got sent off for a DOGSO challenge that resulted from a poor backpass from Ezequiel Barco.

Second half prediction: pain.
 

Titans Bastard

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Atlanta up 1-0 on a dubious penalty call. Weird to see MLS get these calls on the road.
 

Senator Donut

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How does Johan Venegas keep showing up when you least expect it to end American hopes and dreams? He’s looked good in this second half.
 

Titans Bastard

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Wow. Crazy result given the circumstances. It seems that Atlanta's regular #2 and #3 GKs are unavailable, so they used 18 year old Rocco Rios Novo, who made a bunch of nice saves (albeit a few because he spilled a rebound) in his first professional club game. Rios is on loan with their second team from Lanús, and is also a dual national who started for Argentina's U17 team at a recent World Cup.

Atlanta looks a lot better under Gabriel Heinze already.
 

Titans Bastard

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Tonight we have Saprissa vs. Philadelphia and León vs. Toronto. Can yesterday's decent results continue? I think it will be tough. The Union squad doesn't have much international experience and we still don't know how they'll look without Aaronson and McKenzie. And for Toronto, going on the road in Mexico is always tough.
 

Titans Bastard

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Minnesota were in desperate need of a starting striker (sorry, Swagudelo) and they acquired their guy today: Ramon "Wanchope" Abila, a 31 year old Argentine who comes on loan from Boca Juniors. From his stats, it looks like he's never been a starter for them, but has been a spot starter for years. But backups for the top Argentine clubs can be awesome in MLS; Minnesota's playmaker signing from last year Bebelo Reynoso was awesome and was also a spot starter at Boca Juniors. Maybe the two will even have some built-in chemistry.

https://www.mnufc.com/post/2021/04/07/mnufc-signs-ram-n-bila
 

Jimy Hendrix

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It was somehow even grimmer on the replay where you can really see the leg scissoring action.
 

67YAZ

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The way #12 stands up and stares down his victim. I’m not a violent person, but he deserves an ass kicking & a 3 match ban.
 

Titans Bastard

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Nice dub for the Union in their international debut, though.
 

Pesky Pole

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The way #12 stands up and stares down his victim. I’m not a violent person, but he deserves an ass kicking & a 3 match ban.
I was sorta hoping Glesnes cold cocked the guy watching live. It would have been a red card that earned him “never buy a meal again” status in Philly.
 

Titans Bastard

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MLS unbeaten in 4 away legs. Good stuff. Let’s send all four to the Quarterfinals next week at home.
All five! Columbus plays tomorrow Nicaraguan champions Real Esteli tomorrow. We get a bonus team because of Canada.
 

Titans Bastard

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Aiden Morris with more footwork in the box than I would have expected from a d-mid
I'm a bit fascinated with him right now due to his domination of Nico freaking Lodeiro in MLS Cup after playing 360 minutes all season.

I'm really hoping that was real, because if it is he will absolutely seize the "Adams' backup" spot in the NT that is there for the taking right now.
 

Titans Bastard

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NYCFC signed 20 year old Brazilian winger Thiago Andrade. He broke into Bahia's first team last year, but doesn't have too much overall experience. NYCFC badly needed depth on the wing, with the only incumbents being the somewhat fragile Tajouri-Schradi, the disappointing Jesus Medina, and recent academy signing Andres Jasson (who reportedly has had a strong preseason, but still).

https://www.nycfc.com/post/2021/04/10/new-york-city-fc-signs-forward-thiago-andrade-ec-bahia
 

Titans Bastard

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Matias Pellegrini is reportedly likely to be dealt to Montreal. Inter Miami are in a bind because their signing of Blaise Matuidi is being investigated by MLS for violating cap rules in 2020. We know that Matuidi will count as a DP in 2021, in addition to Miami's other three DPs. Gonzalo Higuain, Rodolfo Pizarro, and Matuidi aren't going anywhere, so that means Pellegrini has to be traded, sold, or bought out. They spent a lot of money on him, but he was a disappointment in 2020, so if he's traded to Montreal I'm guessing they'll get him for pennies on the dollar. Of course, he's on a reasonably high salary and there's no guarantee he'll live up to it.

View: https://twitter.com/NiltonJorge/status/1381329253262897157
 

Titans Bastard

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