Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Track record of Top League vets bodes well for Rooney in MLS

Leave a comment

Sometimes you start researching a post, only to have just a few clicks on a stats page end any misgivings about the other side of your argument.

[ MORE: JPW on Rooney move ]

Wayne Rooney looks set to make a move to DC United, which is predictably being met by three sets of rallying cries:

  1. MLS is a retirement league (false)
  2. He’s not going to be worth it (relative and debatable)
  3. DC would be better served spend its money on younger Player X “not everyone’s heard of”

There’s little doubt that the fine work of Atlanta United has inspired and invigorated teams to look younger. Better to sign those on the stairway to the elite, not the escalator away from it.

But how often has a top European league starter, let alone a 10-goal Premier League scorer, produced at MLS?

Spoiler alert: Almost always. And the “clear busts” are very hard to find.

Here are two things we’ve learned, when it comes to Rooney or any player coming from an intense season in a top league:

  1. There are usually good signs in the abbreviated first season, but the second year is where the best output occurs (logically due to the stress of going from one season to the next and the ensuing offseason of rest).
  2. These may’ve looked like moves to sell jerseys and spread their club names worldwide, and they surely accomplished that, but class is close to permanent.

First we have to define the sample size, and we’ll stay in recent seasons considering the league — and this is not up for debate — is better than ever.

[ MORE: Mourinho reacts to finishing 2nd ]

It’s still too soon to judge Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 17 goals for Manchester United in 2016-17 before missing most of this season.

We’ll also steer clear of Americans returning home, in part because that deserves its own post. Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, and Brad Guzan have met very different fates, but there are myriad components to their moves home.

Who does qualify? We look through traditional numbers and take a run through advanced stats site WhoScored.com to back us up.

Pre-S: For those who say, “but you listed some of the best names in modern soccer history,” … exactly.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Last team: Manchester United
MLS team: Chicago Fire
Age upon arrival: 32
Status report: Unqualified success; Chicago was on an entirely different level when Schweinsteiger was healthy, as the Fire went from also-ran to threatening a first-round bye in the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.

David Villa

Last team: Atletico Madrid
MLS team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 33
Status report: One of the best players in MLS history. Don’t really need to write more, do I?

Giovani Dos Santos

Last team: Villarreal
MLS team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 26
Status report: Amazing start, but jury out; Dos Santos posted three goals and five assists in his first 10 MLS matches, then followed it up with a wonderful 14-goal, 12-assist performance in 2016. Last season was terrible, but the early returns make the deal worthwhile.

Kaka

Last team: AC Milan
MLS team: Orlando City
Age upon arrival: 32
Status report: Unqualified success; Twenty-four goals and 19 assists in three seasons with a brand new MLS club. That is not bad. His second of three seasons here was marvelous.

Sebastian Giovinco

Last team: Juventus
New team: Toronto FC
Age upon arrival: 28
Status report: One of the best players in MLS history. Next.

Andrea Pirlo

Last team: Juventus
MLS team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 36
Status report: Disappointment, but not as bad you recall; Pirlo had a bad ending at NYCFC, as his legs and waning passion caught up to him, but his first two seasons were good offensively, including an 11-assist campaign in 2016. He was 10th in key passes that season.

Steven Gerrard

Last team: Liverpool
MLS team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 35
Status report: Slow start, but a success; Gerrard was fine in his first half-season, but really shone when available as a sophomore. The Liverpool legend scored three goals and added 11 assists in 21 games; Only Sacha Kljestan recorded a better assist-per-90 minute ratio in MLS that season, and he was the 20th rated player in MLS by WhoScored.

Frank Lampard

Last team: Manchester City
New team: New York City FC
Age upon arrival: 37
Status report: Slow start, but a success; “Lamps” came to MLS at 37 after a long PL season, and fought injuries. But despite his age, Lampard scored 12 goals in 19 matches as a midfielder during his second season. Villa, Pirlo, and Lampard ranked 1, 4, and 5 on NYCFC’s performance score in 2016.

Ashley Cole

Last team: Roma
New team: LA Galaxy
Age upon arrival: 35
Status report: Just okay; Considering that his signing seemed a laugh to the majority of fans (everywhere), his consistent appearances with a poor LA defense move this above considerably above “bust” status.

MLS Three Things: TFC falls again, Guzan red ruins marquee match

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Five MLS matches hit midweek to join the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in bringing a busy Wednesday for soccer in the USA (and Canada).

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

We are here to talk about three of them.

Brad Guzan deprived us of cool dual litmus tests

Two of the top teams in Major League Soccer met in Atlanta on soccer, and we can’t really tell you which team proved its mettle (Not that anyone’s doubting the quality of either).

That’s because Yohan Croizet played a delightful ball to Khiry Shelton, and Brad Guzan… didn’t… get it… right. Sent off, Sporting KC was able to break through with a pair of second half goals in a 2-0 win.

Shots were still just 18-17 for KC despite the DOGSO red, but playing in Atlanta is no picnic.

Soccer is a funny game

Toronto FC took 24 shots, 10 of them from Sebastian Giovinco, but Seattle took its chances and spun a 2-1 win out of not much in an MLS Cup Final(s) rematch Canada.

Homegrown Sounders 18-year-old Handwalla Bwana scored the winner after Magnus Wolf Eikrem took advantage of overly enthusiastic center back Michael Bradley on the opener (see video below).

TFC’s seven points are seven back of a playoff spot, and Victor Vazquez left the game with injury (Jozy Altidore is already out). Uh oh.

By the way, TFC’s best player this year after Giovinco has unquestionably been Jonathan Osorio, who bagged another goal tonight. The 25-year-old hometown kid is completing better than 90 percent of his passes.

On the flip side, Auro has been a major defensive liability several times this season. Hey, maybe we’ll see a proper 90 (or more) from these two in December.

Kevin Ellis: Golden Boot candidate

In his first 90 professional games, Kevin Ellis scored six goals.

The 26-year-old defender now has two in his last two, and this one is pretty nice.

Chicago needed this win, which pulls it back within sight of the playoffs. Montreal did not need this loss, its seventh of the young season.

Championship playoff primer: Who’s coming up?

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The story lines for the 2017-18 Football League Championship playoffs are many.

Aston Villa is looking to return to the Premier League, where it was a mainstay for so long, while Fulham competed in the Europa League within the past decade.

[ MORE: Iniesta to Japan? ]

Derby County has been knocking on the door to return to the top flight on a near annual basis, while Middlesbrough is bidding to go one-and-done in the second tier.

So here’s a bit of a cheat sheet ahead of the weekend’s semifinal first legs, as only one of the quartet can joins Wolves and Cardiff City as promoted sides.

Schedule

Derby County vs. Fulham — 2:45 p.m. ET Friday

Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Fulham vs. Derby County — 2:45 p.m. May 14

Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. May 15

Top scorers

Derby County – Matej Vydra, 21 goals

Aston Villa – Lewis Grabban, 20

Fulham – Ryan Sessegnon, 15

Middlesbrough – Britt Assombalonga, 15

History

Last Premier League season
Middlesbrough 2016-17
Aston Villa 2015-16
Fulham 2013-14
Derby County 2007-08

American connections
Fulham has two Americans on its current roster: mainstay defender Tim Ream and young midfielder Luca de la Torre. Some of the U.S. most recognizable names have played for Fulham, including Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller. Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, and Emerson Hyndman have also played for the team once nicknamed Fulhamerica.

Aston Villa was the long time home of USMNT backstop Brad Guzan, and Eric Lichaj also spent a good period of time in Birmingham. Michael Bradley and Brad Friedel also played for Villa.

Derby County‘s American alums include Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Lewis, and Ian Feuer.

Middlesbrough had Guzan on the squad for its 2016-17 relegation campaign.

Best top flight finish
Aston Villa – 7 top flight titles
Derby County – 2 top flight titles
Middlesbrough – 3rd place in 1913-14
Fulham – 7th place in 2008-09

 

Three (early) things we learned on MLS opening day

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer is back and true to form it was wildly unpredictable.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

In the early slate of games on the opening day of of the 2018 season, things got weird, fast.

The Columbus Crew rolled into Toronto and beat the reigning champs, while Houston hammered much-fancied Atlanta United.

[ MORE: MLS 2018 season previews

Below is a look at what we learned from two huge shocks in the opening 180 minutes of the 2018 MLS season.


Columbus Crew’s players seem unfazed

The #SaveTheCrew movement is still going strong and even though Columbus’ owner broke his silence to speak out on Friday about his plans to relocate the team to Austin, Texas, the players seem unfazed. Ridiculously so.

[ MORE: MLS scores/schedule

Gregg Berhalter’s boys made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals last season and although they lost the likes of Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and Kekuta Manneh in what seemed like textbook asset stripping over the winter, picking up the likes of Gyasi Zardes (more on him shortly) gives them hope they can hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Going away to Toronto FC on the opening day and bagging a big shutout win is some statement and this season can go one of two ways for Columbus: the players can relax and play open, attacking soccer without any worries as this could be the last campaign for the team in Columbus.

Or, perhaps they will coast through and pick up big wins when nobody expects them to and suffer weird defeats. For what it’s worth on Day One, it appears the former is the mindset in charge as this group of players seem to still be riding high from their improbable playoff run last season.


Sophomore slump for Atlanta United?

This is one of those “way too early predictions” but what if Atlanta’s players believed the hype over the offseason about how good they were in their debut MLS season in 2017?

A 4-0 hammering at Houston on Saturday didn’t kick off their season on the right footing and Brad Guzan‘s shaky display in goal was added to by a missed penalty kick by Miguel Almiron as it turned into a horror show in the Texas sun for Tata Martino’s men.

Wilmer Cabrera’s Houston deserve a lot of credit too. They were 3-0 up after 26 minutes but the Dynamo are just one of those teams right now that are neither expecting to, or getting any, credit.

Houston’s attacking unit was the main reason they stunned everyone last season and finished in fourth in the West and made it to the Western Conference final.

Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Andrew Wenger were at it again as Houston’s fluid attacking unit had Atlanta’s defense stretched all over the place. The signing of Chris Seitz and the likes of Philippe Senderos and DaMarcus Beasley being around has added extra experience and there is a good balance to Houston’s team.

Can the same be said for Atlanta?

There is a serious concern that this ATL side is too attack-minded and Darlington Nagbe certainly had a debut to forget in midfield after his big move from Portland in the offseason. How can Tata Martino fit in Barco (when he is fully fit), Josef Martinez, Almiro, Villalba and Gressel into the same team? He can’t. But still, we all expect Atlanta to be the main rivals to Toronto FC in the East.

Opening day in any league around the world throws up some bizarre results and this will be filed under that category. Unless Atlanta truly suffers a sophomore slump of epic proportions.


Zardes ready to get back on track

Remember when Gyasi Zardes was a starter for the U.S. national team and one of the first names on the team sheet? Yeah, that wasn’t too long ago. During the 2016 Copa America Centernario run he was an outlet for the then manager of the USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann, and Zardes’ ability to play out wide or through the middle gave his club and country options.

It seems like a long time ago that he scored 19 goals in the 2014 MLS season on the way to helping the Galaxy to yet another MLS Cup trophy.

Zardes’ star has fallen rapidly over the past few years and he has suffered with injuries and a lack of form in front of goal. He was never the most natural finisher, but his goal at Toronto on the opening day reminded us of what he’s all about.

With 38 USMNT caps and six goals to his name, is this the year Zardes finally puts his injury woes behind him and reignites his international credentials? He is just 26 years old and it’s not like the USMNT has many talented attackers ahead of him right now. Time to reintroduce yourself, Gyasi.

Tim Melia wins MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in a landslide

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What was thought to be a close race for Major League Soccer’s top goalkeeper award turned out to be an overwhelming victory.

Sporting Kansas City’s Tim Melia took more than 50 percent of the combined media, club and player vote as he earned 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors. The 31-year-old, in his best season as a professional to this point, set career highs in wins (12), shutouts (10), saves (91), minutes (2,759) and games started (31).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

While the Philadelphia Union’s Andre Blake and Seattle Sounders’ Stefan Frei each had superb seasons for their clubs, Melia was head and shoulders the best goalkeeper in the league this season, making saves in key times to help lead Sporting Kansas City to the MLS Cup playoffs and a U.S. Open Cup title.

Here’s a look below at how the voting panned out across all the nominees.

Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year Player Vote % Club Vote % Media Vote % Average %
Tim Melia (SKC) 46.12% 48.81% 55.95% 50.29%
Andre Blake (PHI) 15.51% 7.14% 7.74% 10.13%
Stefan Frei (SEA) 4.49% 7.14% 13.10% 8.24%
Alex Bono (TOR) 2.86% 5.95% 4.17% 4.33%
Sean Johnson (NYC) 2.86% 4.76% 5.36% 4.33%
Brad Guzan (ATL) 3.67% 2.38% 1.79% 2.61%