Strength of schedule matters. Since this should go without saying, I risk entering the realm of mansplaining just by bringing it up, but it’s something often overlooked this early in the season, even if this point in the season is where an easy schedule will have its biggest influence.
Just look at the top of each conference. In the East, you have a Houston team that’s been able to rack up six points and a plus-five difference with home games against the Revolution and Impact. This weekend’s results in New England and Montréal only reinforced the idea that the standings (and, our rankings) may have overvalued Houston’s hot start.
It’s the same story in the West. FC Dallas has seven points in three games, but its wins have come against Montréal and Chivas USA. Óscar Pareja’s team got a point in Kansas City, but it was against a Sporting squad that’s been juggling commitments. Dallas deserves credit for their start, but proper credit considers their level of competition.
As games go by and we learn more about teams, perceptions need to be adjusted. In Week 1, Vancouver blew out New York, a result that earned them a spot high in our rankings. With time we’ve seen the Red Bulls’ struggles go beyond one game. And with Houston, that 4-0 win on opening night over New England looked different once the Revs went their next 180 minutes without a goal.
It works the other way, too. Toronto’s win in Seattle looks better after the Sounders’ performance in Quebec, while Sporting’s 1-0 over San Jose looks very good when you consider that same team took a Champions League semifinalist to penalty kicks three nights before.
The point: We need to stay mentally nimble in this early portion of the calendar. The unknowns vastly outnumber the knows, part of the reason teams keep jumping around this table.
Here’s our Power Ranking, after Week 3 of the MLS season:
Toronto FC: A day after TFC’s win over D.C. United, I was still not on board with moving them to the top of this list. A second viewing of the game convinced me. A one-goal loss was the best possible result for D.C. United, and while D.C. is the worst team int he league, in all phases of the game, Toronto was much better. Their performance exceeded a 1-0. Combine that form with a win at CenturyLink and Toronto is clearly off to the league’s best start. (2-0-0)
Real Salt Lake: Even after their slip on Saturday, RSL still fairs well in the test that matters to this list: If they play tomorrow, neutral field, who wins? I know the cosmic law of Power Rankings says a team with two straight draws shouldn’t be this high, but when I watched those San Jose and LA draws, I didn’t see a team that’s so incredibly vulnerable. I saw a team that had two difficult games against tough opponents. Granted, one of those games was at home, but it will take more than a Robbie Keane counterattack (and, some late match fatigue) to make RSL look worse than the other 17 teams on this list. (1-0-2)
Columbus Crew: With the possible exception of central defense, the Crew look incredible right now. Every person in Gregg Berhalter’s starting XI has such a strong, specific idea of what they’re supposed to do – a cognizance that’s most evident in their midfield. Wil Trapp’s the anchor, Tony Tchani’s the shuttler, while Federico Higuaín’s the creator. Thanks in no small part to Tchani (an unsung hero on Saturday), the threesome maintains a balance that centers the team, a virtue that allowed the Crew to defeat a strong Union squad. (2-0-0)
Sporting Kansas City: Kansas City has so many asterisks, it’s impossible to feel good about this ranking. On Saturday, the team was still resting players (Matt Belser, Uri Rosell, C.J. Sapong), playing on short rest, and facing a quality opponent. At the same time, this team needs to start generating more chances. Against San Jose, there were enough opportunities before Dom Dwyer’s goal to make me believe the attack’s coming around. Besides, the team Sporting was going up against had Victor Bernardez and Clarence Goodson in central defense. (1-1-1)
Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s game was great – by far the best game of the week. Both teams, so drastically improved since last year, played at a level that would have beaten most teams in the league. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, they happened to be visiting another of the league’s better sides, but if you look at the first 15 minutes and the quarter-hour that begins at the 60-minute mark, you’ll see the quality Philadelphia brings to this spot. (1-1-1)
Houston Dynamo: Dom Kinnear’s team didn’t play, but we learned more about their start. The two teams they played (and, played at BBVA Compass) are a combined 0-5-1 through six games, with neither team producing a win at home this weekend. We need to see Houston against better teams before we’re so sure this perfect record goes beyond an easy schedule. (2-0-0)
Seattle Sounders: Here’s the difficulty with the Sounders: They just played their best game of the season but did so playing a formation (4-3-3) they’re unlikely to employ when Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans are available. That midfield that performed so well in Montréal? Two of its three parts will be on the bench when a full squad is available. I want to rank the Sounders higher, but when I ask myself how Saturday’s result informs how the team will fair forward, I’m not sure which Sounders team to judge. The one that played on Saturday was better than the one we’ve seen to this point in the season, but it’s also not Seattle’s preferred setup. (2-1-0)
FC Dallas: Pros – most points in the league; MLS’s best attack; Mauro Díaz and Fabian Castillo; a set-up that is going to give Castillo and Je-Vaughn Watson a chance to embarrass defenders all year. Cons – their schedule; their defense; not knowing whether Watson can maintain Saturday’s level all season. (2-0-1)
LA Galaxy: A draw in Sandy should normally move a team up the rankings, but this early in the season, with enough teams making big leaps (Columbus, Dallas), LA still managed to slip. The defense looks better with A.J. DeLaGarza in the middle, with Todd Duivant’s return to the starting lineup also giving Galaxy fans hope the back four can be stabilized. We’ll have to wait and see how often Bruce Arena goes with a midfield diamond, though. That may have been one part opponent (RSL), one part resting players. (0-1-1)
San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski’s late miss in Kansas City may have cost the Earthquakes a point, but a 1-0 loss at Sporting is nothing to fret over. A bigger concern may be getting the team’s two-man midfield working together. Right now, it’s too much of the same between Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi and Sam Cronin. At times it felt like all three Sporting midfielders could do whatever they wanted in the space between Wondo and the Earthquakes midfielders. (0-1-1)
Colorado Rapids: If Columbus-Philadelphia was the weekend’s best game, Colorado-Portland was the worst. Neither team looked good, with the Rapids eventually breaking the game open after Donovan Ricketts got himself sent off. If the Timbers’ keeper doesn’t do his Street Fighter impression instead of staying calm on his clearance, that game ends 0-0. Instead, Colorado gets a win and, thanks to other teams, a small bump on this list. (1-0-1)
Vancouver Whitecaps: Another uninspiring performance on the road is rewarded with a point thanks to David Ousted, whose first half save on Andy Dorman rivals Troy Perkins’ Sunday stop for weekend’s best. Ultimately, however, the result recommends Vancouver more than the form, something that’s worrisome going forward. Fortunately, the Whitecaps get to make their tweaks while enjoying an unbeaten start. (1-0-2)
Portland Timbers: The Timbers have had 270 minutes to tempt us. Now, we’re inching toward conclusions, mostly based on their consistently teasing performances. The defending is fine but tends to have one or two big errors per game. Going forward, the team stills control play, but the only goals they’ve scored this year have been poached by Gastón Fernández. With Will Johnson and Diego Valeri yet to show their 2013 form, Portland has small questions at each level of the field, something that’s led to a poor start. (0-1-2)
Chivas USA: The 3-1 loss looks worse than it played out. Michel’s final goal insurance was a fluke deflection off the Chivas wall. At the same time, Chivas was clearly second best on Saturday, and while you can chalk that up to the absences of Bobby Burling and Agustín Pelletieri, it may also be the team regressing to their mean, a little. (1-1-1)
Chicago Fire: This may be a bit low, but given how bad New York (and, in hindsight, Portland) has been, it’s difficult to assign too much credit for Saturday’s performance. Chicago were the slightly better team, generating the better chances throughout, yet they were unable to find a winner against a team who, on current form, they should be beating at home. The central defense looked very good, and Jeff Larentowicz has had a strong start to the season. Mike Magee, however, doesn’t look like a two-in-three scorer. (0-1-2)
New York Red Bulls: That attacking midfielder Mike Petke so desperately wanted? The Red Bulls needed him on Saturday. They also needed a much better day from Tim Cahill, who couldn’t seem to stay onside or keep his hands off the ball (or, mark Jeff Larentowicz on a corner). The fullbacks look like a problem, but thanks to Luis Robles, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Dax McCarty, the Red Bulls were able to get out of Chicago with a point. (0-1-2)
New England Revolution: Just like on the field, New England’s progress in this ranking is small but noticeable. The team generated more chances on Saturday, but Teal Bunbury couldn’t do anything with them. The questions at the back went untested, largely because of improved play in midfield. New England earned its first point of the season, but as we said last week, the result is less important than the performance. The Revolution need to keep that momentum going into San Jose. (0-2-1)
Montréal Impact: It’s difficult to both praise Seattle and be down on Montréal, especially with Marco Di Vaio yet to play a minute for the Impact. But Hernan Bernardello and Patrice Bernier look redundant in midfield. Collen Warner is a non-factor when starting at left midfield, and the team has no consistent, non-Di Vaio way of generating chances. Saturday only added context to their two losses in Texas. (0-3-0)
D.C. United: Despite the improved result, D.C. shortcomings were still evident. The attack was ineffectual. The midfield did nothing to stop Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osario. A central defense pairing of Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell seemed to spend as much time turned toward their own goal as facing the middle of the field. The team spent big for Eddie Johnson and have no way to get him the ball. (0-2-0)
Christian Pulisic hasn’t played for the U.S. men’s national team since last October but next Monday he will step out onto the pitch for the Stars and Stripes once again, and he will be less than a few hours away from his hometown of Hershey, Pa.
It will be quite the homecoming for Pulisic, still just 19 years old, as the Borussia Dortmund star plays for the USMNT in a friendly against Bolivia at Talen Energy Stadium, close to Philadelphia.
In an exclusive chat with Pro Soccer Talk, Pulisic revealed that he is ready to be a leader, if that’s what is asked of him, as the USMNT continue rebuilding after their World Cup qualification nightmare eight months ago.
“We definitely have a younger roster this time around and I’m really looking forward to going in there and obviously I am young as well but I have a few caps to my name and I’m looking forward to being kind of a role model to these guys and helping shape our new team for the future. If it takes me being more of a leader out there that’s what I’ll have to do and I’m happy to be in that role,” Pulisic said.
Pulisic was speaking to PST about his new partnership with the Hershey Company and the playmaker was delighted to be linking up with his hometown brand as he received a Reese’s Outrageous Bar inspired cleats.
“I am super excited to be Stateside, always, so being able to spend a lot of time here recently has been awesome,” Pulisic said. “And I am super excited with everything with Hershey.”
Returning to the state of Pennsylvania to play for the USMNT, Pulisic’s Dortmund side will also take on Benfica in Pittsburgh this summer in the International Champions Cup. The kid will be spending plenty of time with family in the Keystone State as he recharges his batteries from a tough season in the Bundesliga.
With 42 games under his belt for Dortmund this season in Germany’s top-flight, Pulisic isn’t concerned with playing too many games in just his second full season as a pro. And with four goals and five assists in the Bundesliga, he set a goal and assist record for himself in league play.
He believes the best is yet to come as he gets set to work under a new coach, Lucien Favre, at Dortmund.
“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs this season but I’ve learned so much this year and obviously I feel that I have improved in the last season and I still feel that I have a long way to go,” Pulisic said. “Looking back at the season, finding things I can improve on and I will continue to work on those and hopefully we can do even better personally and as a team next season.”
“I just want to work hard every day in training and earn my spot every weekend. That’s always been the goal for me. Obviously I want to continue to build. Personally I have so much to build on, to be more clinical and get stronger, even trying to get my numbers up higher next season. That’s what I’m going to try and do and I’m going to work very hard to achieve that. Every player wants to score goals and get assists. I think I can do much more than that on the field, which doesn’t show on the stats, but of course that’s a very important part of the game.”
As Pulisic’s star has risen, rumors regarding his future have intensified and he continues to be linked with moves to Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United.
Do the reports frustrate him? Or is it flattering to be linked with some of the biggest clubs on the planet consistently?
“I really don’t look or read into it very much,” Pulisic said. “People know more about it than I do! Of course, the Premier League is a great league. It was a dream to play there when I was younger but I’m under contract with Dortmund and I’m just working hard there at the moment.”
So often American soccer fans say Pulisic shouldn’t move now to the rough and tumble of the Premier League and should instead spend the next few years improving his game at Dortmund and in the UEFA Champions League. When asked, the teenager didn’t set a timeframe on when would be the best time for a potential move to the PL.
“I’m very focused on the here and the now. Of course, you never know what can happen with professional sports but I am just focused on what I am doing right now,” Pulisic said.
Focusing on the past, Pulisic’s tears became the lasting image of the USMNT’s loss at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 as he broke down on the field after the defeat which sealed their failure to qualify for the World Cup this summer.
USMNT fans won’t need reminding that the U.S. won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
And Pulisic believes the USMNT not being at the big dance will have a big impact on the nation from a soccer perspective.
“When I was just a kid watching the U.S. at the World Cup, that gave me so much inspiration, seeing my country and seeing people playing with the U.S. crest,” Pulisic said. “Seeing them compete at a World Cup inspired me so much. Missing out on that is going to be a big thing but that doesn’t mean it’s over for U.S. Soccer. We are still growing a lot and we will do everything we can to be at the next one.”
As we edge towards the 2018 World Cup with excitement building across the globe, has time helped ease the pain for Pulisic?
“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and it definitely hurt more right after the shock and that it had happened,” Pulisic said. “Now, leading into the World Cup, I am just going to watch the games, I have some time off now to rest, which my body could use. Watching the World Cup is going to get me even more excited and I’ll want to be in the next World Cup even more… I’m just looking forward to some good games, now that the U.S. isn’t there, I just want to see some good football.”
Pulisic admitted that he “hadn’t really looked into” the intense fallout from the USMNT’s failure as outgoing head coach Bruce Arena and several senior players had their say.
Wise beyond his years, Pulisic summed it up simply. But it’s clear that the pain still remains.
“I just think we had a great chance to qualify with one game and we had a little slip up there… a big slip up, actually, and that’s what happened,” Pulisic said. “I don’t look at the tiny little details as to what could’ve gone wrong. Because that would just drive me crazy.”
With interim head coach Dave Sarachan in charge for three friendlies since the World Cup qualification debacle, plus the friendly against Bolivia and then outings at the Republic of Ireland and France next month, the USMNT are in a strange place.
They have no permanent head coach. No General Manager has been appointed in the newly-created role. And there’s a real lack of direction as U.S. Soccer seemingly waits for coaches to be out of work following the World Cup this summer so they can then plan for the future.
“Not being in the World Cup has put us in a whole different situation but we still have good coaches and new players that they’re bringing in and trying to develop, so I don’t think it’s a real problem at the moment. We are going to put our heads down and continue to work,” Pulisic said.
Those given the chance to work hard include plenty of youngsters, with the average age of the squad to face Bolivia just 22 years of age. With Sarachan expected to ring the changes and go with a more experienced lineup for the games against Ireland and France, now is a big chance for the youth to shine as the road to the 2022 World Cup has well and truly begun.
There’s no doubt that Pulisic will be the leader of a new era in American soccer and with the likes of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga and Tim Weah building their professional careers successfully at big clubs home and abroad, the future is bright.
“The next step is just the Bolivia game and continuing to develop all of our players and getting them minutes,” Pulisic said. “Hopefully all of the young players, and I see a lot of American names in Europe, which is great, hopefully we will continue to develop and continue to make time for the national team and play some games together and create some chemistry and hopefully build a strong team going into the next World Cup.”
Still just a teenager, could it be a case of ‘Captain Pulisic’ blazing the trail towards the tournament in Qatar?
“I always dreamed of just playing for the U.S. men’s national team, not necessarily being the captain, but I’m happy to take on whatever leadership role it is, be it leading by example or whatever,” Pulisic said.
This is now his team. The kid from Hershey has the reins. And let’s be real, he’s had them for the past two years since he burst onto the scene.
The federation did not announce when tickets would go on sale, or how they would be allotted, saying that information will come at a later date.
The U.S. is winless in its last three matches against Mexico, with two losses to go with the 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca in June 2017.
Theoretically, the Yanks will be facing the Mexico test with a new permanent coach. Dave Sarachan has been running the ship since Bruce Arena resigned after an embarrassing loss at Trinidad and Tobago which kept the U.S. from reaching the World Cup.
Mexico is in tricky World Cup Group F with Germany, South Korea, and Sweden.
“I think so, 100 percent. He has the mentality,” Pardo said in an interview as part of a promotional tour for Panini, the famed World Cup sticker company. “I think, in my opinion, he could be a great coach for the US National Team. He was doing it in Mexico – of course in Mexico he has a lot of critics. They talk about his teams, his rotations. When you see the results, the performance, the most important thing, qualifying and getting to the World Cup, he certainly understands the game and has had success. He also understands the American player too and certainly MLS. I think Juan Carlos would be a great coach for the US.”
As Pardo mentioned, Osorio has earned his fair share of criticism since taking over the El Tri job in 2015. He’s constantly rotating his squad and challenging his players, and when things have gone wrong, it’s been very wrong – i.e., the 7-0 defeat to Chile in the 2016 Copa America and the 4-1 defeat to Germany’s B squad in the FIFA Confederations Cup semifinals.
But on the other hand, Osorio has succeeded in ways his predecessors hadn’t. Under his leadership, Mexico has re-taken its place at the throne of CONCACAF and many of his young players have made the difficult move overseas, including the likes of Jesus “Tecatito” Corona and Hirving “Chuky” Lozano.
And all of that, plus his knowledge of MLS and the American soccer player, has made Osorio one of the most intriguing prospects to coach the U.S., should he become available after the 2018 World Cup.
Report: MLS to finally grant FC Cincinnati an expansion place
Major League Soccer is set to be special guests in Cincinnati next week, and it’s likely the league’s executives will be coming with a big offer.
According to a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer, MLS commissioner Don Garber, along with Cincinnati mayor John Cranley and FC Cincinnati officials will hold an announcement at local craft brewery Rheingeist, likely bestowing an MLS expansion place to the USL club. The report states that FC Cincinnati would join MLS in 2019, which would likely mean FC Cincinnati would remain at the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium for the short-term until their soccer-specific stadium is built.
If true, it’s the end of a long and labored process that has been stuck in the mud the past few months since MLS announced Nashville was getting an MLS expansion franchise. At the time, FC Cincinnati was also expected to get one of the two available expansion slots, but the club didn’t have a concrete stadium plan at the time.
Back in December, when Nashville was awarded its franchise, FC Cincinnati was looking at three stadium sites, including one across the river in Northern Kentucky. FC Cincinnati eventually settled on a site on the west end of the city, with the club paying a big cost to fund community initiatives to win over Cincinnati city council.
Ultimately, the stadium deal was contingent on earning an MLS expansion slot, one that looks like it is coming to fruition.
It’s been an incredible four years in Cincinnati, from when the club was announced in August 2015. Although soccer at a lower level hadn’t found success in the city, FC Cincinnati took the city and USL by storm, regularly averaging more than 15,000 fans at Nippert Stadium (while the league attendance average was around half of that). The rise of FC Cincinnati coincided with the decline on the field of both the Cincinnati Reds and Cincinnati Bengals, leading FC Cincinnati to become a household team in the city.
The run to the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in 2017 was another notch as the team looked to see whether it could earn an MLS expansion bid, knocking off both the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire along the way. While FC Cincinnati hasn’t come close to winning a league title, just the fact that the club’s been able to get so many people into the stadium is a win in it of itself.
Now, FC Cincinnati is entrenched in the city and with the billionaire backing of the Lindner family, they could be the next MLS expansion success story.