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MLS Watch Grid for July 1st-2nd, 2023
The New England/Cincinnati rematch, a Stanford Stadium retrospective, and Homefield Advantage Georg
NOTE: I’m posting this one early, as I’ll be in a car all day on Saturday.
Hopefully, I’ll reach my destination in time to watch some of the hot soccer we have awaiting us in Major League Soccer this weekend! The Gold Cup, as it does, has taken a chunk of players from MLS rosters. I see this not necessarily as a negative. Though it takes good players away from MLS games, it brings us the special brand of soccer that only the Concacaf Gold Cup can produce (if you get the chance to attend one of those group stage double-headers, I recommend going to both matches, you’ll see players you’ve never seen before taking opportunities to play on stages bigger than they normally face), it opens opportunities for depth pieces on MLS teams to make cases for themselves as major parts of their teams, and not being called up can motivate domestic players when they’re left behind. There are a lot of good American (and Canadian, and from many other Concacaf nations) players who, even considering that the USMNT squad out there is considered an alternate team of mostly MLS-based players, did not receive call-ups for this tournament. In each of the entries to follow, I’ll highlight a specific Gold Cup snub, typically an American international, to pay attention to in their match.
Window One: 6:30pm
Game of the Weekend: New England Revolution at FC Cincinnati
Gold Cup Snubs To Watch: Bobby Wood vs Roman Celentano
For the second time in the 2023 MLS Season, we have a match between #1 and #2 in the Supporters Shield standings, and for the second time in the 2023 MLS Season, those two teams are the New England Revolution and FC Cincinnati. The first bout in April was defined by inclement weather, a few controversial penalties not given to Cincinnati, and a draw that a short-handed Revs side was probably happy to get. The second bout, this time in Cincinnati, will test the depth of both squads. Cincinnati’s dream run finally ended in DC last week in a 3-0 road loss. It’s hard to criticize them for it considering how shorthanded they’ve become due to the Gold Cup – it’s obviously not a coincidence that this team who was so prolific in attack and stingy in defense suddenly failed at both when their star striker and center back became absent.
The Revolution are shorthanded as well, but I don’t know what a non-shorthanded (a longhanded?) Revs team looks like. With so much jostling within their roster, they wouldn’t have been blamed for slumping in June. Last month, they had to overcome injuries on the back line, a buy-out of Jozy Altidore’s contract, and a swarm of bees, but here they are in second place in the Supporter’s Shield standings with a chance to break Cincinnati’s ten-match home winning streak to start the year.
That the MLS plays through the Gold Cup once every two years is frustrating to great teams, but at the very least, it’s frustrating across the board, and both teams are missing players this weekend. I like to think of this as a test of depth for the best teams, and a chance for Concacaf-based players to get a chance to, in the words of one of the guys missing from this match, “Stamp their Ground”, showing their national team what they’re missing.
I doubt that Bobby Wood will have an opportunity to wear a USA jersey again, but he’s stepped up for New England in this past month. They still have a hole in their attack that is roughly the size and shape of Adam Buksa, and though Wood doesn’t fully fit it, he’s scored with relative frequency in his opportunities with the Revs so far this season. While Cincinnati has a number of Americans in critical roles on their roster – Nick Hagglund deserves credit for his presence alongside Miazga in central defense, too – if Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Bobby Wood can generate the quality chances that DC was able to get against the thin FCC backline last weekend, Roman Celentano will need to be the best version of himself. He’s a young, developing goalkeeper who was a quietly significant part of Cincinnati’s elevation out of the cellar last year – He replaced Kenneth Vermeer’s ineptitude with competency last season and he’s only improved this year. He’s been good, but he’ll have to be even better if they want to continue their home winning streak.
Free Window Winner: Chicago Fire FC at Orlando City SC
Gold Cup Snubs to Watch: Brian Gutierrez vs Big Dunc
These last few weeks have been some of the more ambivalent ones in the history of the 1996 Kansas City Wiz. Mike Sorber lost his job up in Toronto. Garth Lagerway’s first big signing as Atlanta United’s president was named an All-Star. Preki’s Sounders team is struggling. Mark Chung has not tweeted in two years but I assume he’s doing well, probably driving an electric car around somewhere. Frank Klopas, in his second stint as interim manager of the Chicago Fire, has won two road matches in a row, the second of which was against the club he helped get off of the ground back in 1996. Chicago’s renaissance this season has a lot to do with the success of young homegrown player Brian Gutierrez, who’s been more productive for them than his teammate Xherdan Shaqiri, also known as the highest salaried player in the league. From what I understand, the Fire kept Gutierrez from going to the U20 World Cup with the US, but he simply wasn’t called up to the Gold Cup roster. Perhaps he’ll continue his case to be a part of the national team with another successful road performance in Orlando. He’s starting to remind me of another young exciting Fire homegrown, Djordje Mihalovic, who’s looked quite good for the USMNT so far in the Gold Cup group stages.
The Lions have continued to tread water, which is disappointing to me because I really thought they’d be more fun, and disappointing to them because they’re situated in the conference in which one must take this time to start swimming. Were they a team underperforming their talent in the West, like if we were to pick up Orlando and drop them squarely in – I don’t know, I’ll just pick a random city West of the Mississippi out of a hat – Frisco, Texas, I wouldn’t be too worried about them, as the West is primed to be decided in the ten-game stretch following Leagues Cup. However, Orlando’s almost certainly out of the race for the top of the East and I’m doubtful that they could even secure the #4 seed (and thus two home games in the first round of the playoffs, which I suspect will be a significant advantage) if they don’t start looking better soon. Orlando’s brightest spot so far, one that my readers are probably sick of me mentioning, has been their rookie SuperDraft pick, striker Duncan McGuire. McGuire’s got all sorts of currents and roots and stuff interconnecting for his breakout season. He’s broken in from obscurity and has started scoring like fellow Omaha-bred player Jason Kreis did in the league’s early years. He’s the second striker to make a name for himself as a USMNT hopeful from a field in Orlando in 2023. He’s a rookie striker scoring goals for Orlando the way that Cyle Larin and Daryl Dike did in years past. Big Dunc is the man to look out for in purple tonight.
Window Two: 7:30pm
Window Winner: DCU at Nashville
Gold Cup Snubs to Watch: Donovan Pines vs Most of Nashville
I realize that I take on an unintentionally paternalistic tone in these posts from time-to-time, but when I see the potential for a team to step up, excite, and excel, and they don’t, I get bitterly disappointed. Two weekends ago, I was not mad at DC United for dropping a home match to Real Salt Lake, I was just disappointed, but they find themselves in a completely different position as they travel to Nashville this weekend. Beating the best team in the league, regardless of how many of their best players are out there, will do that, and when the schedule sets you up to take on another of the league’s best immediately following your first triumph, you have to take advantage. DC has the incredible potential to do what other MLS hopefuls haven’t: Take down both Cincinnati and Nashville. St. Louis is the only other team to give the… Gryffons(?) a loss this year, but they were beaten badly by Hany Mukhtar and Nashville last month. Even with the absences noted, DC has the chance to take two big wins and re-insert themselves in the jostle of Eastern teams in the playoff structure.
Donovan Pines unfortunately didn’t look great in his one Gold Cup opportunity, but he’s continued to put in good work for DC United this year, and he’s become something of a set-piece scoring threat for them as well. Nashville has lost some players to Gold Cup duty, but oddly enough (especially for a team with so many significant American players) none of them are for the USMNT. Jacob Shaffelburg is with Canada, Fafa Picault is with Haiti, and Anibal Godoy is with Panama, but none of their American players, not even Walker Zimmerman to provide veteran leadership or Shaquell Moore, who was on the 2022 World Cup roster and scored in the 2021 Gold Cup, are on Gold Cup duty. The Nashville team of the moment will be an interesting sort of throwback – Nashville had eight American internationals start the match against Columbus, an atypically high number in a league that has grown more internationally bolstered in the past decade. For example, since the 2014 Revolution started ten American international players in the 2014 MLS Cup final, no other finalist has started more than eight domestic players (Toronto had seven Americans and Jonathan Osorio in the 2016 final). Portland had as few as two American international players start the 2021 final. It’s very possible in the TAM era to build successful teams without a lot of domestic starters, but Nashville’s making good use of theirs this year. Several of them, particularly in defense, could make a solid case for a Gold Cup team call-up – Jack Maher’s come into his own as a center back beside Zimmerman, and fullbacks Dan Lovitz and Shaquell Moore have had good seasons as well – but they’ll be out there to try to stop a two-match losing streak from continuing against DC. They even have a non-USA Gold Cup snub in Costa Rica’s Randall Leal. The concentration of men pissed about not getting a Gold Cup callup might be at its highest here in Nashville.
Window Three: 9:30pm
I am declaring this an Artisan’s Evening. Both of these matches have some atypical intrigue to them, though on the face they’re a little hard to get excited for.
LA Galaxy at San Jose Earthquakes
Gold Cup Snubs: I don’t know, Tyler Boyd? vs Jeremy Ebobisse
It’s hard to sell this one even as a chance for snubbed players to show up, as the Galaxy are just difficult to watch at all this year, plus they’re missing some of their more interesting young players to the Gold Cup and not leaving a lot of intrigue behind for this one. San Jose’s Jeremy Ebobisse has scored seven goals this year, and though the list of American international strikers playing well in the league this season is crowded, he deserves your attention, especially in a big rivalry matchup like this one. The main attraction here is nostalgia. There’s nothing like a good Cali Clasico at Stanford Stadium. That stadium, when the lights are on and the water is running, has been the house of some incredible MLS matches: The 4-3 classic of 2012 which ended with David Beckham getting in a tiff with the Earthquakes’ mascot, the 2013 stoppage time Quakes comeback soundtracked by a hoarse local TV commentator repeating Alan Gordon’s name, the 2017 Shea Salinas stoppage-time winner. Stanford Stadium is the field upon which the underdog Earthquakes get their surprise, never-say-die upsets over the Galaxy. The roles are reversed this season – The Quakes are above the playoff line and the Galaxy are just above last place, but there’s a special old-MLS quality to these games at Spartan Stadium, and maybe we’ll see it shine through here.
Houston Dynamo FC at Seattle Sounders FC
Gold Cup Snubs: Corey Baird vs Several Sounders
There’s a classic Tumblr post, the only one I can think of with a Wikipedia Page, by Max Lavergne, who has a great Substack namedyou can check out, which reads as follows:
"average person eats 3 spiders a year" factoid actualy just statistical error. average person eats 0 spiders per year. Spiders Georg, who lives in cave & eats over 10,000 each day, is an outlier adn should not have been counted
The Houston Dynamo are the Western Conference’s Homefield Advantage Georg. This team wins (and I mean wins, they have only one home draw so far) at home and loses (and I mean loses, they have only two road draws so far) on the road. Now, most teams are supposed to be better at home (but I’ll get to that in a second) and worse on the road, but the Dynamo become a completely different team away from Houston. They dominate at home: 4-1 over San Jose and 4-0 over LAFC just last month, then they’ll go off and get blown out on the road: 6-2 in Vancouver, 3-0 in St. Louis, 3-0 in Austin. They did finally pick up a road win last month, on the road at LAFC in the mid-week right on the heels of that 4-0 home domination, but when they had the chance to get a big road rivalry win over Austin last week, they fell right on their face. Homefield advantage matters, but the way that it matters to the Dynamo is just unbelievable.
I think if you take it all into consideration, home-field advantage in the Western Conference is probably about bang-average. Many teams have the typical setup where they win at home and mostly lose and draw on the road, but the outliers are incredible: Houston and Vancouver can only win at home and at LAFC, San Jose’s much better at home than on the road, and if you add in this cavalcade of weirdness between Minnesota, Salt Lake, and Colorado, who can only seem to win on the road, I think we end up right about in the middle, but the outliers are truly fascinating.
Their opponent, Seattle, has seen their vaunted homefield advantage shaken since the turn of May, having scored only three goals in the last six matches for one win, two 0-0 draws, and three losses in that time on the same field where they’ve lifted two Open Cups, an MLS Cup, a Supporters Shield1, and a Concacaf Champions League trophy since 2009. We have two good teams (A winner here would take third place in the West), the road team defined by its road ineptitude and a home team defined by home ineptitude. There’s weirdness circling the whole thing. The dam does not have to break – we could end up with another 0-0 at Lumen Field – but if it does, it could get weird.
Also Corey Baird has played well for Houston this year, several young Sounders players like Obed Vargas and Reed Baker-Whiting have played well this year, but none have been called up. This recurring thing has kind of run its course in this post, I recognize.
Window Four: Sunday at 3:00pm
Window Winner: Philadelphia at Atlanta
Gold Cup Snubs: Many Union Players vs Many Atlanta Players
It is kind of weird to think, but there are no Union players on the USMNT Gold Cup roster. There are Union players on other rosters, two of them played well for Jamaica in their 1-1 draw with the USMNT, but for a team that’s produced so many good young Americans in the recent past and still prominently features American internationals like Leon Flach, Jack McGlynn, and Quinn Sullivan, that is a little unusual. Atlanta’s lacking Miles Robinson, which is significant considering their defense’s struggles, especially last weekend in New Jersey, but they’ve been starting and seeing good performances from quite a few American internationals this season alongside him, like Tyler Wolff, Caleb Wiley, Brooks Lennon, and Andrew Gutman.
On its face, this doesn’t look good for Atlanta. Philadelphia beat Miami 4-1 last weekend while Atlanta lost 4-0 to the Red Bulls, but the Five Stripes have been able to score consistently at home this season in a way that hasn’t shown up so well on the road. With Robinson gone and Julian Carranza staring them down, this will probably need to be a shootout with their two All-Stars scoring goals if it’s going to be competitive and entertaining. I have faith in Philadelphia to show up, but we’re edging dangerously into ‘You never know what you’ll get with Atlanta United’ territory. It’ll be the lone game on a Sunday afternoon and Atlanta will be the center of attention, which is typically where they like to be, so I have some faith that we’ll get something fun, if not a triumph of defensive prowess, in the Benz Sunday afternoon.
Who’s Off This Weekend:
Charlotte! You’re off this weekend! I appreciate the breadth of your work, loved Villette, but I enjoyed Emily and Anne’s opuses more than any of your novels. Everybody else, enjoy the soccer!
I looked it up, they lifted it at home after beating the Galaxy in the final week of the 2014 season