For the second consecutive game since returning from the Gold Cup, Jozy Altidore found the back of the net, and once again it was in tremendous fashion. Taking a cross in from the right, Altidore realized his near-post run was too close to goal. Instead of controlling the pass or letting it by him, Altidore caressed the ball with the inside of his right heel, directing the ball past New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles and in for a goal.
Altidore scored a brilliant free kick last week to help secure all three points. Toronto FC inside ten minutes is already on its way to another three.
It’s an exciting four-game slate in some Wednesday MLS action, headlined by Toronto FC hosting the New York Red Bulls. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore always seem to relish playing their old club, but it’s also a crucial game for the playoff picture
Toronto FC is right on the red line to make it into the playoffs, and three points tonight will go a long way to helping them make it there. The Red Bulls meanwhile can jump into second place with a win and will be just two points back from the first-place Philadelphia Union.
Elsewhere, Atlanta United looks to rebound from a 2-1 defeat to the Seattle Sounders with a trip across the continent back home as Atlanta hosts the Houston Dynamo. Emerson Hyndman has earned the start for his new club while Brandon Vasquez starts ahead of MLS record signing Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez.
New addition Mo Adams also makes the bench for Atlanta.
Also tonight, the New England Revolution host the Vancouver Whitecaps, and new signing Gustavo Bou makes his first start for New England. In addition, the Chicago Fire host the Columbus Crew in a match between two struggling Midwest clubs.
Follow along with us at the link above and stay right here at PST for plenty of postgame analysis.
Here’s a look back at some of Saturday’s MLS action.
Savarino makes a statement for RSL
There’s a lot of talk about Designated Players like Carlos Vela, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, and for good reason. But one Designated Player people may need to pay more attention to now is Jefferson Savarino.
In just his second game back at Real Salt Lake from the 2019 Copa America with Venezuela, Savarino scored two outstanding goals and set up another as RSL trounced the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union, 4-0. The Union didn’t do itself any favors defensively, with a ton of communication errors, but Savarino has that clinical finishing touch that teams spend huge money for. Finally in his third season in MLS, he appears to have taken the next step in his development – he’s still only 22-years old – and could lead RSL into a playoff run.
Mike Petke’s squad, with still plenty of season to go, sits in sixth place, tied with FC Dallas on 29 points. Watch out for Savarino to be a difference maker down the stretch this season.
There’s no doubt that Toronto FC fans are happy to see Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley back with their club.
With goals from Altidore and other Designated Player, Alejandro Pozuelo, TFC knocked off rival Montreal Impact, 2-0 at Stade Saputo, boosting itself back into playoff contention. Toronto FC is currently just above the red line for the playoffs, with 26 points, one ahead of Orlando City SC, which also won on Saturday to stay in the playoff hunt.
It has been a tough couple of months for TFC. Prior to Saturday, TFC had won just one in its last 11 games in all competitions, including six defeats. Even the win, a 3-2 triumph over Atlanta United, could have been a draw if Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez had scored a penalty kick deep into second half stoppage time.
And yet, Altidore’s free kick and Pozuelo’s natural finish could be a sign that this team is looking like a title contender again, ready to shed off the poor form and like a gazelle, race up the standings.
Columbus, Chicago continue to drop points
It’s a rough summer to be a soccer fan in the east-to-central Midwest. Specifically, if you’re a fan of the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati.
FC Cincinnati won its second-straight game, this time at the expense of the Chicago Fire, though it’s still dead-last in the Eastern Conference standings, tied with Ohio rivals Columbus Crew on 17 points. The Fire themselves aren’t much better, with just 22 points this season, good for 10th place in the conference.
For FC Cincinnati, a rough season may have been expected, especially how the team operated in the offseason. But there was so much hope for the Crew and Fire, which has made 2019 even more deflating. After the fan-led mission to #SaveTheCrew was successful and Caleb Porter – a former MLS Cup winning coach – was hired, it looked like the Crew could really take a step forward this season after all the off-the-field drama from a year ago.
And yet, thanks to a season-ending injury for Federico Higuain and poor performances from Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Justin Meram (who has since been traded), Pedro Santos and many others, the Crew have been in the doldrums all season. It certainly didn’t help to lose Trapp, Zack Steffan – who was signed by Man City but loaned back for the first half of this season – and Zardes for the month of June, just to see them mostly come off the bench, if at all for the national team.
Chicago, meanwhile, signed coach Veljko Paunovic and Designated Player Bastian Schweinsteiger to new contracts this offseason, and acquired CJ Sapong, David Ousted, Francisco Calvo and the gem, Nicolas Gaitan.
Yet all these individual talents have yet to merge into a cohesive unit under Paunovic, and the Fire are looking once again at missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. With Schweinsteiger likely gone after the season, will Paunovic walk as well, unable to turn around this once-proud club for the last 2 seasons?
A pair of moves took place on Wednesday in Major League Soccer, with immediate impact likely on both ends.
First, the New England Revolution officially announced the signing of Argentinian striker Gustavo Bou on a Designated Player contract, occupying New England’s second DP slot next to Carles Gil. According to Goal.com reporter Ives Galarcep, Bou cost somewhere around $6-7 million, while the Boston Globe’s Frank Dell’Apa reports that number rises to $12 million guaranteed cost when factoring in his salary, with the potential to rise as high as $16 million.
Bou, a 29-year-old attacker who has played for Argentinian clubs River Plate and Racing Club before most recently arriving from Liga MX side Club Tijuana, comes to New England in good form. He blitzed the most recent Liga MX Clausura, scoring eight goals in 14 matches, finishing with five goals in his last four regular-season matches before grabbing two in his two playoff appearances.
“Gustavo is a versatile, creative forward with a proven history of success who will bring a high level of experience and leadership to the roster,” Revolution head coach Bruce Arena said in the official club release. “We have followed him for a number of years and have confidence he will be an integral part of our success this year and moving forward. We look forward to welcoming him to New England.”
Aside from the big-money Revs signing, there was a significant trade that took place Wednesday, although not yet official. According to The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal, Toronto FC sent 23-year-old academy product Jordan Hamilton to the Columbus Crew in exchange for journeyman striker Patrick Mullins. The deal is significant as Hamilton, a Canadian international, had spent his entire career with Toronto, never truly gaining a consistent foothold in the starting lineup. He is acquired by former Toronto FC general manager Tim Bezbatchenko who now serves as Columbus Crew president.
With Hamilton leaving his boyhood club with four goals in 14 appearances – including seven starts – this season, the 27-year-old Mullins heads in the opposite direction to join his fifth MLS club. He has yet to score in nine appearances this season – seven of those off the bench – but comes in as an experienced bench option to back up injury-prone Jozy Altidore.
Gregg Berhalter is winning over his detractors. Now he needs to start winning against Mexico.
The United States men’s national team manager failed in his first bid to win a trophy, the 2019 Gold Cup, albeit against a much better Mexico team which was highly-favored to win its eighth trophy.
There were stumbles along the way — the men clearly expected to waltz past Curacao — but the Yanks largely passed tests in paving the way to the CONCACAF Nations League and 2022 World Cup qualifying.
Let’s talk about the good and the bad. We’ll try to avoid the meh.
Necessary negatives: The extended extended extended proving ground
Imagine, for a moment, you’ve moved to another country. Hey, maybe you have. Congratulations on your international jet-setting ways.
Now you’ve found one place around the corner from your apartment where you like the food. It tastes like home. The person who runs the place knows your name and always thanks you for your business.
But now your new friends are showing you other places. They are tastier places which are also healthier for you.
Still, you keep going back to the first place. It’s served you well.
It’s called Gyasi and Wil’s Family Restaurant, and Gregg Berhalter loves the lunch special.
This was one of the prime stumbling blocks of Berhalter’s early tenure as USMNT boss and one of its only true setbacks before his questionable substitutions in the Gold Cup Final against Mexico.
Berhalter overachieved in a big way during his time as Columbus Crew boss, and that was aided in no small way by midfielder Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. One needs to look no further than Caleb Porter’s first season with a very similar Columbus roster to see just how well Berhalter did in Ohio.
But Trapp has been average at-best for the last four seasons in MLS and doesn’t have a place anywhere off the fringes of the national team pool (He’s been especially suspect this year in the United States’ top flight).
And to a lesser extent, the same is true for Zardes. Even in last year’s 20-goal season with Columbus, his stats were not wonderful (aside from the goals and yes, goals are pretty important in soccer).
Berhalter gave 17 of Trapp’s 19 caps to the midfielder, but only used him twice in the Gold Cup run (once off the bench). Trapp captained the side in his first eight caps under Berhalter, and again in June’s friendly slaughter at the hands of Salomon Rondon and Venezuela.
He’s just okay, not a mainstay, and it took Berhalter some time to realize that Michael Bradley was the far superior option despite being nowhere near his peak powers and a sudden turnover machine.
Zardes is not the answer at striker, although he put in a solid sub shift on Sunday, and Berhalter made sure he asked that question continually over the past half-year. He’s capable of the sublime and there’s currently a place for him in a 23-man roster, but that’s it. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 50 career caps, and here are the ones that come outside of CONCACAF:
Anyway, the point is not to dog Trapp and Zardes. They are pool players, but are unlikely to be regular difference makers for the USMNT. Berhalter, as is his right, gave them a loyal chance to stake a claim to their preferred places. Neither has been exceptional despite a wealth of experience in his system. The game’s not over, but it seems their role is as mid-level boss.
Pulisic is a wonder, and we wonder what’s next (Alternatively titled: Don’t hurt him, Lamps)
Christian Pulisic is a terrific player with world class potential. He is a worker, a playmaker, a finisher, and a burgeoning leader.
But the key part of this is that the kid continues to show up bigger when it matters.
Not 21 until September, Pulisic’s first Gold Cup saw him post three goals and three assists in five matches. Prior to this summer, he has seven goals and seven assists in World Cup qualifiers.
Even including his failure to meet the score sheet in the Copa America Centenario, Pulisic has 10 goals and 10 assists in 21 tournament matches for the USMNT. Compare that to three goals in nine friendlies. Guy’s a gamer.
Now he goes to Chelsea, a new club with a new manager who did not purchase him (but will surely be no stranger to his exploits). Frank Lampard will need Pulisic to show him something, but the price tag means the American will get every chance to do so.
That said, this isn’t a plea for “Lamps” to play Pulisic, rather develop him. The player is a dynamite winger, but Lampard was one of the most complete attacking midfielders of his generation. We’d argue the hiring is a good one. Let’s hope to be proven correct.
Chances taken, squandered, and everything in between
Here is a partial list of players left off the USMNT roster: John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Antonee Robinson, Paxton Pomykal, Duane Holmes, Sebastian Lletget, Russell Canouse, Andrija Novakovich, and Bobby Wood.
Some went uncalled by Gregg Berhalter, yeah, but all remain prospects to get regular spots on the team.
Of the men who were called into the squad, there are several who entered the tournament as undoubted long-term mainstays: Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, and Zack Steffen among them. Others had a good handle on a place in the squad moving forward. While not perfect, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore ensured that they won’t be headed to the retirement unless they make that choice.
It’s difficult to get a read on Berhalter, and whether he’s dismissed a player or simply rotating according to some unnamed plan.
He benched Tyler Boyd with the U.S. in dire needed of attacking creativity against Mexico. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Walker Zimmerman were pretty decent in the tournament, so maybe he had just seen enough?
Reggie Cannon seized his opportunity to lay claim to a fullback’s place in the pool, and Boyd looked good to most of us (again, how does Berhalter really feel?). Jordan Morris had his moments.
Paul Arriola seems to have made the right impression on his coach, while Berhalter has a very high opinion of Cristian Roldan (His engine is elite, but production remains absent).
All told, the coach is doing a decent job
I’ve written a number of times that the U.S. Soccer Federation did Gregg Berhalter no favors with the mysterious hiring process, because he’s a worthy hiring.
The loss against Mexico stings but it doesn’t scar, maybe because Berhalter’s Yanks pummeled Trinidad and Tobago for a measure of revenge and staked fair claims of superiority over Panama and Jamaica.
His system is asking a lot out of this player pool, but once we see the full-throated team with John Brooks leading out of the back with his under-appreciated distribution and Tyler Adams spying Pulisic, Weah, and other electric attackers, the Yanks are going to roar through CONCACAF.
Injuries could cost them, yeah, and the youth we’ve seen shine with the U-20s and (hopefully) the U-23s heading into the Olympics need to be nurtured into contributors.
As of right now, you’d bet on the USMNT to sit in the top three spots for the Hex and it’s reasonable to expect Berhalter to develop the young players into a squad that can rival Mexico’s by the Nations League finals or the Hex.
That’s when Berhalter will get his next serious chance to rival Tata Martino. And this time, he won’t have to plug in maybes and what ifs.
Hopefully. And that adverb is the one that applies to almost every USMNT question.
Bonus item: USWNT
After 1300 words on the men, here are a dozen or so on the women that matter just as much: Pay them equally. They’re the best we’ve got, and it’s the right thing to do anyway.