Frank De Boer

Thierry Henry
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Thierry Henry’s Montreal, Seattle’s Ibarra get clever with TP (video)

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Like the majority of us, MLS players are limited in his opportunities to find live soccer.

The (social) distance between them didn’t stop isolated Montreal Impact players and Seattle Sounders midfielder Miguel Ibarra from getting in some touches in a challenge inspired by Atlanta United boss Frank de Boer (and, really, a quality PR team).

Whether you call it juggling or keep-ups, you won’t deny that the “ball” is pretty clever given the coronavirus-challenged times.

Let’s begin in Quebec, where Thierry Henry led his men through juggling and “passing” (presumably) taped-up toilet paper rolls to each other via video on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

And let’s be real… Titi is the star with that classy pass.

As for Ibarra, the Seattle Sounders man is, however, proving to have quite sense of humor during his time at home.

The three-times capped USMNT midfielder filmed himself juggling a roll as well.

He was doing pretty well until his dog went all N’Golo Kante on him.

Ibarra turned 30 on Sunday, and had started both of his MLS matches since signing with Seattle.

He’s spent most of his career with Minnesota United, NASL and MLS stints of their existence broken up by time with Club Leon.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

MLS: Five things we learned

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The second day of the 2020 Major League Soccer season was just as enticing as opening day, featuring thrilling goals, a handful of debuts and a late winner.

[ MORE: Vela, LAFC spoil Inter Miami’s MLS debut]

This is what we learned from Sunday’s action:

1) Carlos Vela is the league’s best player, and it’s not even close

Many players, coaches and followers of the league are already onboard with this idea: Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS. He is, and it’s not even close. And if one still had their doubts about the rationale, the Mexican attacker, who turned 31 on Sunday, scored one of his best goals in the league thus far:

These next-level sequences are routine for Vela. Sure, Alejandro Pozuelo quickly assembled a highlight reel of his own in his first season in the league in 2019, but the consistency from the Spaniard pales in comparison. The Cancun native is cut from a different cloth. And, if you ask Bob Bradley, he’d probably tell you that it’s an exclusive cloth.

“I have been a coach for many years and I have been fortunate to train a select group of special players,” Bradley said following Sunday’s game. “Carlos Vela is on that list with Hristo Stoitchkov and Mohamed Salah.”

2) Lucas Zelarayan fits like a glove in Columbus

Lucas Zelarayan’s arrival to the Crew didn’t get the airtime it deserved, but after his debut on Sunday, oblivious onlookers got their first taste of the Argentine’s nifty skills.

In Mexico, Zelarayan got the short end of the stick at Tigres, who boast one of Western Hemisphere’s most lucrative rosters, accumulating more time on the bench, or in club suites than on the field towards the tail-end of his stay. That may never happen under Caleb Porter’s watch, giving Zelarayan the chance to engrave his name into MVP conversation list this season. 

3) Inter Miami didn’t look all that great, offensively 

It’s totally fair game to summon the “it was the first game ever for Inter Miami” one-liner when taking a defensive posture in an anti-Inter Miami debate.

The fact that they made their MLS debut, however, doesn’t save them from being analyzed – for better or for worse. They have both feet in the arena and are fair game.

That said, they didn’t have a productive game on the attacking end.

Rodolfo Pizarro, the player that was purchased for a reported $12 million from Liga MX’s Monterrey, fell really short of the hype surrounding his league debut. The 26-year-old Mexican ended the night with two shots on target, two more than his teammate Robbie Robinson, who offered little goal-scoring threat up top. Matias Pellegrini, too, proposed little from the left flank and was subbed off in the 79th minute.

There’s no doubt that Diego Alonso will eventually figure it out in Miami. After all, David Beckham and company set him up with a decent roster, but don’t be surprised if Inter goes through a long session of growing pains.

4) Atlanta United need a proven striker to fill in for Josef Martinez

On Sunday, Atlanta United revealed that their goal king Josef Martinez tore his ACL against Nashville SC. 

The injury is, undeniably, a major blow to the Five Stripes. To make matters worse, at the moment, Frank De Boer has only one healthy striker to chose from in Adam Jahn. Jahn put together a praiseworthy season with USL Championship side Phoenix Rising in 2019, but has shown the opposite in over 100 MLS appearances.

Luckily, de Boer mentioned the possibility of signing an emergency striker. Atlanta needs to exercise that option, but they can’t afford to execute it mindlessly. In other words, if one wants to fill in the void left by a goal-scoring machine, one needs to do so with a goal-scoring machine.

With the primary transfer window not closing until May 7, the Five Stripes won’t be in a time crunch, but they will have more time to get the ideal signing down (or not). Carlos Bocanegra has done well on player recruitment, but perhaps this is his biggest challenge yet.

5) Jordan Morris needs to start for Sounders moving forward

Like any other coach in a similar situation, Brian Schmetzer had his tactical reasons to start Miguel Ibarra over Jordan Morris. It’s completely understandable.

Moving forward, though, Schmetzer won’t have any reasons to do the same. Morris, who scored two goals off the bench for the Seattle Sounders, handed the defending champions a prized victory over a new-look Chicago Fire, solidifying his place in Seattle’s starting lineup for the pair of weeks to come.

As pointed out by MLS analyst Matt Doyle, Morris, since June 23, has recorded 17 goals and 14 assists for club and country. Morris should be far removed from bench treatment. It’s pretty simple.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez tears ACL in season opener

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Atlanta United will be without its goal king for the foreseeable future.

[ MORE: MLS opening day roundup ]

The team revealed on Sunday that star striker Josef Martinez, 26, sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Saturday’s match against Nashville SC. The Venezuelan is expected to undergo surgery and subsequently begin a lengthy rehabilitation process.

In the dying minutes of the first half, Martinez chased after Nashville defender David Romney, who had possession of the ball. As he closed in on Romney, the striker collapsed to the ground after minimal contact, holding his right knee.

Martinez continued to play for a few minutes before signaling to the bench that he needed to be subbed off. He was eventually strapped to the backboards and stretched off the field.

With his absence, Frank De Boer and company are left with Adam Jahn as the only striker on the club’s roster. Scoring responsibilities will heavily shift not only on Jahn, but on Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez as well.

“Everybody knows that Josef, when he’s in form, he’s the best in MLS,” de Boer said following Saturday’s match. “In training you see the quality. It’s going to be a big loss.”

In 84 appearances for the Five Stripes, Martinez has scored 77 goals, making a case that he’s one of the best strikers to play in the league. In 2018, when Atlanta United crowned themselves MLS Cup winners, he was named league MVP.

It’s unsure if Martinez’s injury will keep him out for the remainder of the season. What is sure, however, is that Atlanta United will need goals from whoever fills his role – despite having Jahn in the fold. That will not come easy.

In

“We have to search and not make a hasty decision,” de Boer added. “If he’s ruled out, there’s a good possibility that we are looking at the market for a replacement.”

Martinez’s loss is a gigantic blow to Venezuela’s Copa America chances, but, most notably, to Atlanta United, who will play on without their historic goal scorer.

5 things we learned from MLS opening day 2020

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2020 Major League Soccer opening day had it all. A late winner, a late equalizer, a victorious debutant, a defeated debutant, and lots of great goals.

[ MORE: MLS opening day roundup ]

One things people should avoid is making any broad assumptions about a team’s season from just 90 minutes of action, but we can still draw plenty from the Saturday results. From in-form players to injuries and new boys, there are lots of lessons from the first slate of games.

1) Nashville S.C. won’t lay down and die

While Nashville couldn’t find an equalizing goal against one of the league’s best squads, they certainly showed fight and determination. The MLS debutants were thought to be a more defensive squad, but David Accam and Randall Leal had plenty of good chances, threatening one of the more stout back lines on numerous occasions. If the MLS new boys can get more cohesion as the minutes tick on this season, they will be able to produce more venom on the chances that seemed to just barely go begging on opening day. With this kind of more aggressive performance on a regular basis, Nashville will be a tough out this season and could push for a playoff spot.

2) USMNT stars will shine

For U.S. national team fans, it was a great day of individual results. Walker Zimmerman scored the first goal in Nashville S.C. history. Emerson Hyndman bagged a fabulous volley. Jonathan Lewis picked out a late winner for Colorado. Paxton Pomykal struck late for FC Dallas in a win. Brad Guzan was stout in goal for Atlanta United.

During a time when USMNT fans have seen nothing but brutal injury news over the past few months, it was good to see a number of Americans have good days on the field. That could be a storyline all season long.

3) Cristian Pavon has a real shot at MVP

The LA Galaxy were only able to work a point out of their season opening visit to Houston, but Cristian Pavon looks a dangerous one. In addition to his brilliant early goal, Pavon delivered three key passes and was a general menace in the Houston attack. It was all the more impressive considering that otherwise, the Galaxy had little to offer up front outside of Joe Corona’s 66th minute chance. If the Galaxy attack builds into the season and helps Pavon, he could have a real shot at the MVP award this season, especially if Josef Martinez misses significant time. Speaking of…

4) Atlanta United is in trouble without Josef Martinez

When Josef Martinez collapsed into a heap and pointed to his knee, Atlanta United fans – and frankly, all fans of exquisite soccer – held their breath. It’s tough to speculate, but by the looks of it, one of the most electric players in the league could miss a significant amount of time. No one wishes that on Atlanta, but it sure looked a serious one.

Martinez’s exit sucked the life from Atlanta United, and they absorbed pressure through the final 20 minutes. There’s plenty of positives for Frank De Boer to take from the road victory, but the finish is unlikely to be one of them. The withdrawal of Pity Martinez was another reason for their lack of incisive personality, but Josef’s absence is a real problem for Atlanta. If he is indeed to miss significant time this season, de Boer has his work cut out for him to keep this attack as one of the most dangerous in the league.

5) Thierry Henry can coach

The Montreal Impact handed Thierry Henry his first MLS win in spectacular fashion as Max Urruti delivered an absolute stunner to win it in the 80th minute. That’s nice and all, but Urruti’s boss Thierry Henry way able to coach his way to victory as well. With a defensive formation that featured three center-backs, Henry hoped to sit deep, absorb pressure, and counter his way to victory. Montreal eventually held 57% possession against New England, but much of that was ultra-conservative passing out of the back, with very little actual attacking third action. Still, it choked the life out of New England – not in a Man City or Liverpool high-energy asphyxiation, but instead in a lull you to sleep type of way. It worked, at least on opening day, and the Frenchman could be on his way to an enjoyable managerial career if he can manage to tweak his system to fit his opponents each week.

BONUS: Don’t worry, there will always be controversy

It took until the final few moments of the day, but there was a clear moment of refereeing controversy on opening day. With Nashville S.C. looking to pour forward in the dying minutes of the game, Atlanta United broke the other direction which forced Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis to come and challenge near midfield. As the ball pinged around in the chaos, Willis lept into the air to stop an Ezequiel Barco shot from just past the midway line. Willis clearly raised his arms into the air and stopped the effort well outside his box which should have led to a blatant red card. The on-field referee, however, only gave a yellow and the VAR review did not reverse the call. While it didn’t change much in the game coming in the dying minutes and benefitting the eventual losing team, it does mean that Nashville won’t lose its goalkeeper for a one-game suspension and reassures fans that – don’t worry folks – there will be plenty of controversy to savor this season.

2020 MLS Power Rankings, Vol. 1

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With the 2020 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, here’s a (surely brilliant) predictive edition of the Power Rankings, which will be updated at the start of every month here on PST…

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

MLS Cup favorites
Los Angeles FC and New York City FC

We all remember what LAFC did last year, and the fact they didn’t win MLS Cup despite settling most every relevant league record will only serve as further fuel for Bob Bradley to demand even more from (inarguably) the most talented team in the league. One potential pitfall: after trading Walker Zimmerman (for a record amount of allocation money), it’s unclear who’ll start at center back, and if you think it’s clear it’s a less than ideal situation. As for NYCFC, they managed to fly under the radar last year despite finishing top of the Eastern Conference by six points. While they don’t have the household names of an LAFC or Atlanta United, Domenec Torrent’s side (now that of Ronny Deila) played every bit the attractive, fluid attacking soccer of the league’s darlings. In a week East, NYCFC could wind up Supporters’ Shield winners.


MLS Cup contenders
Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC

These teams will be in the playoffs, 100 percent guarantee. (fingers are now crossed) With satisfactory answers to certain questions, they could make the leap from contenders to favorites with ease. Those questions are… Seattle: does the completely rebuilt backline come together, and how long does it take? Atlanta: will head coach Frank De Boer find the right balance between his preferred defensive slant and the roster’s natural tendency to attack at all costs? Galaxy: is the defense, which has been horrific for five or six years now, any better? Toronto: wait, why aren’t they on the “favorites” line? Ah, yes, because only one team per conference is allowed.


See you in the playoffs
Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United

Here’s the thing about this group: the two teams from the East should finish fourth or fifth in the junior circuit (some ways back of the clear-cut top-three), but they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. By default, Philadelphia and D.C. get a bump in the tiers for the fact they’ll walk into the playoffs in the East. That is not — repeat not — to say they are as good as RSL or Dallas, who would actually push Atlanta and Toronto for second and third.


In the hunt
Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and Montreal Impact

That’s a long list of teams. As stated above, the teams from the East will be in playoff contention due to not having seven standout sides. Basically, any combination of these teams could wind up in the playoffs. Looking to the West, Portland, Sporting KC and Minnesota have the potential to climb a tier (or two) if all goes right for them, but each of those sides has a glaring, and potentially fatal, flaw. The temptation to say Colorado will actually be quite good and also a playoff team is very strong, but it goes against all human instincts when you think back to how they opened the 2019 season, before firing Anthony Hudson and hiring Robin Fraser and almost making the playoffs anyway.


Fulfilling obligations
FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC and Vancouver Whitecaps

Barely a month into their first season (last season), Cincinnati was very clearly the worst team in the league. Somehow, the offseason has gone even worse for them. They (probably) managed to improve enough so as to not claim back-to-back Wooden Spoons, but enough to contend for a playoff place? Highly unlikely. Orlando City has never — not once in their five-year MLS history — given me, or anyone, reason to believe they are a competent organization. Until they do so for a period of six (6) months or more, they just exist for existence’s sake. Speaking of merely existing, the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Expansion teams, TBD
Inter Miami and Nashville SC

Here’s the thing about expansion teams: they aren’t to be trusted, either way. What looks good on paper can sometimes look terrible on the field, and what looks terrible on paper can sometimes look great on the field. We’ll give Miami and Nashville their first assessments after a month of games.