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MLS roundup: Red Bulls, Orlando, Atlanta all win big

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A full slate of Major League Soccer games came our way on Champions League final day, so if you missed any of the action while Liverpool secured the European crown. There was plenty of movement made, with the Eastern Conference getting a new leader for a short time and the West seeing a number of playoff teams go down.

Atlanta United 2-0 Chicago Fire

Josef Martinez is back to scoring in bunches and the defending champions was back on top of the Eastern Conference – for a short time – as they beat Chicago 2-0. Martinez scored his second brace in a row, giving the Venezuelan six goals in his last five games and into double digits on the full league season with 10.

The clean sheet is also the second straight for the club and eighth on the year, helping to bounce back from a two-game losing streak to temporarily claim the top spot in the conference (D.C. United since jumped back on top, but Atlanta closed the gap to just one point). Frank De Boer‘s back line looks to be gaining traction, conceding just three goals over the last nine matches.

NY Red Bulls 4-0 Real Salt Lake

RSL’s road woes continue as they were trounced at Red Bull Arena. The game was 0-0 at the break, but a 58th minute own-goal broke the deadlock and it got out of hand as Daniel Royer doubled the lead a minute later, Michael Murillo made it three on a deflection, and Omir Fernandez capped it off with seven minutes to go.

The win leaves New York unbeaten in five and pushed them to fourth in the Eastern Conference, three points off the leaders.

Montreal Impact 0-3 Orlando City

Orlando City went on the road and got a massive win over a playoff team as they got all three in the first half and held on from there. Nani opened the scoring from the spot for his 100th career goal, while Tesho Akindele tapped in at the back post past the half-hour mark for the second and Will Johnson’s diving header capped off a beautiful flowing move for the third minutes before the break.

The win broke a 4-game duck against the Impact for Orlando City and avenged a 3-1 loss at home earlier in the season. Montreal managed just a single shot on target out of its nine total efforts, without Ignacio Piatti for the first time in what will be a long injury layoff.

D.C. United 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes

D.C. United maintained its spot atop the Eastern Conference, but the gap is now just a single point as the home side was forced to come from behind to secure a draw against San Jose. Chris Wondolowski can’t stop scoring after setting the career MLS goalscoring record, bagging a goal for the third straight match with his 37th minute header, assisted by USMNT call-up Nick Lima.

That forced D.C. to play from behind, and they earned a draw on Luciano Acosta’s 67th minute equalizer, with the 25-year-old pouncing on a save spilled by Daniel Vega. There were 36 total shots ripped off by the two teams combined and 12 of them on target, but the two goalkeepers combined for 10 saves.

Columbus Crew 2-2 NYCFC

The home side blew a pair of leads in a 2-2 draw with NYCFC. Gyasi Zardes struck from the spot in the 28th minute, and again Columbus took the lead in the 61st minute when Pedro Santos was left all alone at the far post. It wasn’t enough though, as Valentin Castellanos blasted a long-distance rip to equalize with 14 minutes to go.

The draw spoiled Zack Steffan’s sendoff with Columbus with the goalkeeper headed to U.S. national team duty before departing on a transfer to Manchester City. It also kept Columbus from moving into a playoff position, potentially jumping three teams with a win.

Houston Dynamo 1-1 Sporting KC

Two goals six minutes apart shared the spoils in Houston as the Dynamo fail to keep pace with the Western Conference leaders. Sporting KC jumped in front in the 63rd minute as Yohan Croizet chipped a charging Joe Willis on the break to open the scoring. Houston pulled back level in the 69th minute with a fabulous volley that found the top corner, but they were unable to finish the full comeback.

That left Houston in fourth in the West, three back of third-placed Seattle and four behind the second-placed LA Galaxy. Sporting KC also missed a big opportunity to pull closer to the playoff positions, currently in 10th with 15 points. Kansas City has just one league win since late March, leaving them four points back of a playoff spot.

Colorado Rapids 3-1 FC Cincinnati

The Rapids shook off a 72nd minute visiting equalizer to claim a critical victory and pull two points from dragging themselves off the bottom of the East, beating fellow basement-dwellers FC Cincinnati 3-1.

With the hosts holding a 1-0 lead, Kekuta Manneh came off the bench to level the score in the 72nd minute, but that lasted just a single minute as Colorado went back in front via Nicolas Mezquida. The winning goal came from a tight angle to the right, with the shot clattering off the hands of goalkeeper Spencer Richey. Diego Rubio put the game away with eight minutes remaining with a header off a corner. Cincinnati would have pulled off the bottom of the East with a win, but instead it’s Colorado who earns the spoils to pull within two points of Portland.

FC Dallas 2-0 Seattle Sounders

A pair of own-goals five minutes apart has FC Dallas up 2-0 at the break. The first came off Xavier Arreaga as Ryan Hollingshead delivered a header in the 33rd minute, and soon after Brad Smith deposited one into his own net on a Michael Barrios cross.

Portland Timbers 0-0 LAFC

The late Saturday night start is just under way at Providence Park.

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.

It’s hard to be humbled. Anything less could cost Berhalter his job

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Wild nights, positive or negative, deserve reflection one day later. Here’s our bid to put the USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Canada in context less than 24 hours later…

The humbling of Gregg Berhalter is one of two distinct hopes for his survival as United States men’s national team coach.

The other is an unreliable route, one filled with long-term health for his best players on some pie-in-the-sky road where he utilizes the same 12-14 players per game for the rest of his tenure.

So, yeah, the first one is pretty key.

Coaches are by nature arrogant, and Berhalter earned his confidence by nurturing a suboptimal Columbus Crew roster into an over-performing playoff mainstay despite owner and former showgirl Rachel Phelps trying to move the club to Miami (Movie reference No.1, achieved).

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

When Berhalter beat out the field of two to lay claim to the USMNT position, he won over the media with Powerpoint slides about Pep Guardiola-inspired possession, which assumed to the delight of the American fan base that the nation had the immediate tools to out-class most of CONCACAF simply by being organized. He even had people handing him cute nicknames and defending the idea of using a Bundesliga regular defensive midfielder as a right back because he was generous with his time. Who needs La Masia when you’ve got the DA?

It should be pointed out that the philosophy’s failure through nine months doesn’t entirely destroy the idea to try it, but Berhalter’s often bizarre player selection and tactical destruction at the hands of Jamaica, Mexico, and now Canada have hastened the end of his honeymoon period almost as effectively as his the federation’s refusal to interview anyone other than Berhalter and Oscar Pareja. I mean, who needs Sergino Dest’s optimism when you can keep trying to jam a Wil Trapp-sized Wil Trapp through an Andrea Pirlo-shaped hole?

So you get what we had last night, a tire fire of a match in which his midfield had no idea what to do with the ball and his forwards might as well have been on a monastic retreat. According to the broadcast, Berhalter thought a miserable first half was due to his men not moving the ball fast enough side-to-side. His answers via subs, even before they were down, were to take off Christian Pulisic and leave creative minds Sebastian Lletget and Tyler Boyd on the bench. After the game, he claimed his players weren’t working hard enough and didn’t match Canada’s desire.

Here’s the problem, though, that’s on Berhalter, too. There were myriad articles out there, including several on this site, detailing Canada’s desperation to get results in the CONCACAF Nations League in order to move into a Top Six CONCACAF spot on the FIFA Rankings and qualify for the Hex.

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

All it takes is a cursory look at the Canada roster to see that their electric attackers were their hope of winning the match, and that pressing their relatively weak group of defenders — one of whom has only been a defender for a year — was probably a great idea.

But Berhalter again stuck with his idea that the United States men’s national team program, even without several of its best players, could implement his system anywhere, against anyone.

And it failed spectacularly.

The thing is that Berhalter is actually quite a decent coach, as he proved in Columbus, but whether or not he lives to show it to this American audience in this particular job depends on his accepting the shortcomings of his depleted roster.

I want to talk to you about Aaron Long, and not because of his “Stranger Things” lifeguard haircut (TV show reference No. 1, achieved).

Aaron Long is a mauler, the sort of player who’d be beloved by many segments of the USMNT community in several generations. He gets stuck in, has a good work rate, and can factor on set pieces in the attacking third.

What he does not do very well — and I’ve covered this a lot in this space — is pass the ball and aid in possession. Since breaking into MLS in 2017, the now 27-year-old center back has completed 76, 69, and 65 percent of his passes with the New York Red Bulls.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Part of that is a function of the Red Bulls’ system; The team doesn’t really care at all about possession, passing at a terrible 68.6 percent, and not one of their players had a completion rate above 80 percent this year. By comparison, 197 players in Major League Soccer completed 80 percent or more of their passes this season (WhoScored).

This is not an argument that Long shouldn’t be in the U.S. system. While he’s had a rough couple of months in the shirt, he’s in the mix for the toughest American center backs in the game.

Might this possession-based idea look a lot better when healthy? Of course, that’s what we mentioned above. John Brooks is by far the best passing center back in the pool, and has been out of the mix for sometime due to injury. The same is true for the side’s best No. 6 in Adams.

But what the Yanks were for so long was difficult to break down, a hassle to play against. Berhalter needs that right now, and he’s got the horses to do it (Watch Jordan Morris’ legs keep moving for 90 minutes if you need proof). Success could then require admitted in front of a microphone that his team can’t hack his system right now, and that he talked down to an entire room last month when they just spit facts his way. That’s humbling, and it’s not fun. But it’s needed.

Adding to the issue is that it’s easy to see the Yanks still emerging from their group by beating Canada in Orlando next month and then walloping Cuba. But if Berhalter hasn’t been humbled and sees victories against the 53rd and 145th ranked teams in EloRatings as validation, well, I’ve got some truly valuable early 1990s baseball cards to sell you for a premium price.

Arrogance does nothing for you if it’s ill-founded. That confidence has felled countless executives, coaches, and players over the years (and yes, even average writers). Being outfoxed by Tata Martino is one thing, but having no reaction to the plan of John Herdman is another (That’s not a shot at Herdman, who had done well with the New Zealand and Canada women, but let’s be real).

We won’t learn whether Berhalter has learned from his errors via results next month, rather by what he does to try and get those results. When Martino beat him in the Gold Cup Final, the rematch two months later was far worse. He gets a second chance to match wits with Herdman next month, and it really cannot get much worse. So he’s got that going for him, which is nice (Movie reference No. 2, achieved).

Last month, I wrote that Berhalter’s duties including the following bare minimum goals.

  1. Qualify for the World Cup
  2. Reach the final of all CONCACAF competitions
  3. Look like an adequate footballing nation in other competitions
  4. Make sure he doesn’t lose any talented dual nationals (also the GM’s job)

No. 1 is still far away, but 2-4… woah. We’re one Alphonso Davies star show away from finishing 2019 without a Gold Cup and no place in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal. Sergino Dest might’ve skipped town for Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands set-up either way, but being shoehorned at left back last month probably helped his decision.

Finally, a number of people on Twitter pointed out that Canada is due plenty of respect for out-dueling the USMNT on Tuesday. Absolutely! But if you think a nation with under 1 million registered soccer players should be absolutely clowning a nation with 4 million-plus, a side they hadn’t beaten let alone dominated in 34 years, then you’re not getting the point. There’s room for Canada and the U.S. to both be good, but the Yanks looked like a steaming hot mug of spoiled milk to Canada’s well-chilled bag of the fresh stuff. No good.

Your move, Gregg. Do what you did last night, and last month, and you’ll get the same results. Your only other option is Voodoo dolls of Alphonso Davies and Scott Arfield.