Aaron Long

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An infuriating attempt at the 2018 MLS Best XI

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It occurs to me that projecting an MLS Best XI for this year is tougher than its been in some time.

In truth, it’s probably been growing in that manner on an annual basis. Shoot, look at last year’s post on the topic.

It’s especially difficult to narrow down your attackers if you want an XI to be representative of anything close to a unit you’d place on field.

[ MORE: Champions League Weds. wrap ]

Consider that the league has three 20-goal scorers, none who could be considered anything close to a midfielder, and six players with double digits goals and assists.

Let’s start with the necessities.

Forwards: The XI could not look remotely rational without Josef Martinez’s 30-goal record season, and there’s on debate that Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s 22 goals in 26 matches rates.

So there’s two forwards, which means you need to exclude all but one of the following players:

  • Wayne Rooney — 12 goals, six assists, 19 matches
  • Bradley Wright-Phillips — 20 goals, 7 assists, 31 matches
  • Carlos Vela — 13 goals, 10 assists, 27 matches

And, by the way, Adama Diomande has 12 goals in 17 matches and David Villa 13 in 22. Not bad.

Midfielders: Miguel Almiron, Ignacio Piatti, and Nicolas Lodeiro have had out of this world campaigns, as has Alphonso Davies. Both Davies and Piatti are unlikely to make the playoffs, and should that matter? Orlando’s Yoshi Yotun and Mohamed El-Munir (a defender) have been amongst the best at their spots, but their team was terrible.

Borek Dockal, Luciano Acosta, Lodeiro, and NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez have 15 assists or more. Sebastian Giovinco and Darwin Quintero are just off the pace despite playing 27 and 26 games on bad teams.

Dockal is averaging an assist in two of three matches this season, and Piatti.

Piatti!

Defenders: This one’s difficult because you need at least three and this league is like the Dutch Eredivisie on steroids (Even that league only had one 20-goal scorer last season).

There’s a bit of cheating in including Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi, the influential right back who also plays advanced at times and also guarantees us an SKC man on the roster. And Matt Besler is a better positional fit, but Zusi feels more necessary.

It feels like either Aaron Long or Tim Parker should represent the Red Bulls, and Walker Zimmerman has reclaimed his elite form with LAFC.

Goalkeepers: Tim Melia and Luis Robles both pace the league in clean sheets with 13, while Andre Blake of Philadelphia and Evan Bush have thrived on… less impressive units. Bush has faced 181 shots, more than all but one goalkeeper, and has made a league-high 130 saves in keeping Montreal alive.

Conclusion: Look, we’re going to have to try and outscore the other team now, aren’t we? And we’re going to lose. But it’s going to be fun.

I’ve got it down to 10 players, only repeating two teams (Red Bulls and Atlanta).

There’s no one from Dallas, who deserves a man, nor NYCFC. Plus  we’ve got two players who could miss the playoffs in Zlatan and Piatti, but it’s crazy not to include them. It just is.

So who gets our 11th slot? A stable center mid? Vela to make it a 3-4-3 and a third team with two slots?

Robles (RBNY)

Zusi (SKC) — Zimmerman (LAFC) — Long (RBNY)

Almiron (ATL) — Piatti (MTL) — Dockal (PHI) — Lodeiro (SEA)

Vela (LAFC) —  Ibrahimovic (LAG) — Martinez (ATL)

Three things from USMNT’s 1-1 draw with Peru

AP Photo/Jessica Hill
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The USMNT led Peru 1-0 late before a back post marking error allowed the World Cup participants to level the score line in Connecticut.

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings ]

But that’s not what resounds from Tuesday’s match, as we once against confirmed that the U.S. is producing some fine young attackers.

Teenage trio grows into game, puts U.S. ahead

These friendlies provide good chances for players to express themselves individually, and there’s reason to be excited by three young Americans attackers.

Yes, there were plenty of sloppy moments for Josh Sargent (18) and Jonathan Amon (19), but those came early and both European-based players seemed to relax as the match wore into the second half.

Sargent in particular showed flair with one-touch flicks and dynamite touch passes even before he scored his opener. Amon misplaced a looping outside of the foot pass in the first half, but swept a ball over the top of the defense to cue up Sargent in the second half.

And while Tim Weah misfired on that chance, the Paris Saint-Germain man is as exciting as any American teenager on the scene.

Moving forward, it’s all about the attack (and that is exciting)

This isn’t to say that Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, Tyler Adams, and a few other intriguing young players can’t buoy the hopes of the U.S. heading into the Gold Cup and then World Cup qualifying, but what’s so exciting about this team is a new wealth of attacking options (most of it now growing overseas).

Sargent, Weah, and Amon are 19 or younger. Christian Pulisic is the most important national team talent in a generation, and just turned 20. That’s the same age as Weston McKennie, whose played everywhere from CDM to CB to CAM at his club.

All are playing for clubs whose senior teams are competing for places in Europe. Sargent has yet to play for Werder Bremen’s senior team and Weah sparingly for PSG, but the other three are key pieces for Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, and Nordsjælland.

That’s why it’s key the new U.S. coach knows how to push down on the gas pedal.

Let’s hear it for the long-term caretaker

Sarachan (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Dave Sarachan may’ve just coached the final match of his long-term interim run as USMNT boss, and the Rochester-born 64-year-old deserves a lot of credit for Tuesday’s performance.

While his late substitution of DeAndre Yedlin for a thriving Reggie Cannon led to Peru’s equalizer, no one should blame him for thinking an every week Premier League starter would be able to mark a back post.

Sarachan drew up a short free kick from Kellyn Acosta that led to a Josh Sargent goal, and coaxed a strong performance from first time center back mates Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Long.

The longtime assistant’s record as USMNT boss sits at 3-3-3 despite a very tricky schedule. He’s earned draws against three World Cup nations: Portugal, France, and Peru. He also has the distinction of being 1-0 against Mexico, never a bad thing.

In another climate, Sarachan would have earned something close to a full-time gig. And Bruce Arena’s assistant will surely be involved with the USMNT program in some capacity. But coming off a World Cup qualifying failure, it was always going to be time for fresh blood.

Player ratings from USMNT 1-1 Peru

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The United States came within a handful of minutes of giving their fans a win over a World Cup participant, but instead had to settle for a 1-1 draw with Peru in the final home match of 2018.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Here’s how the individuals fared:

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 6 — You’d like him to do better on the goal, but he made a big stop on a crazy free kick in stoppage time to save the draw.

Ben Sweat — 5 — Struggled in the first half but put in a solid second 45.

Aaron Long — 7 — A decent performance from an unfamiliar center back pairing, and Long was the better of the two.

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 6.5 — Needs to get more playing time at club level to work out his propensity for making spectacular plays… but also occasionally looking like he’s unsure of his responsibilities. Both happened Tuesday.

Reggie Cannon  (Off 83′) — 6 — Not a bad debut at all, as the FC Dallas man was involved from minute No. 1. He almost drew a penalty in the first 10 minutes, and had a few gutsy tackles.

Wil Trapp — 6 — Some good interventions, but not a major factor moving forward. Is the 25-year-old capable of raising his game to the international level.

Jonathan Amon  (Off 55′) — 6 — The 19-year-old Nordsjælland winger fought his touch early but showed good vision and an ability to try the daring pass.

Kellyn Acosta (Off 78′) — 7 — Dangerous for sure, but his touch betrayed him on a number of solid moves. Executed the short free kick to Sargent to perfection.

Marky Delgado — 6 — Composed and technical, if unspectacular on the night.

Timothy Weah (Off 90+2′) — 8 — Just looks to have that extra special something, to go with a competitor’s mentality. The future is very bright when the USMNT can put him on one wing and Christian Pulisic on the other.

Josh Sargent — 8 — Like Amon, he looked a little rattled early but also showed a number of clever flicks and tricks in his arsenal. A goal is a goal, but his lay off for Weah moments earlier was the stuff of promise (even if you maybe like him to tear into a shot there).

Subs

Julian Green (On 55′) — 5 — For all of his offensive gifts, he does not in the slightest get stuck in as a midfielder. Timid.

Bobby Wood (On 69′) — 6 — Followed up his goal against Colombia with an industrious 20 or so minutes.

Michael Bradley (On 78′) — 6 — Moves into third all-time in USMNT caps.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 84′) — 4 — Maybe he wasn’t prepared to come off the bench, but quite simply the reason Flores was able to equalize. He won’t want Rafa Benitez to see the tape.

Antonee Robinson (On 90+2′) — N/A

USMNT call-ups versus Portugal, revisited

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So now that we have a final list of MLS semifinalists, we can make one final prediction for Dave Sarachan’s USMNT roster versus Portugal before Tuesday’s expected announcement.

The interim boss will lead the U.S. into Leiria on Nov. 14, and members of quarterfinal losing New York Red Bulls, Vancouver Whitecaps, Portland Timbers, and New York City FC are in play for the roster.

[ MORE: Martino running for USSF presidency ]

Portugal has announced its squad here. We projected the U.S. 23-man roster last week, but will have a few changes following the MLS quarterfinals.

Our guess? Three new players into our projections, a mainstay from Portland and two uncapped Red Bull products.

Goalkeepers (3) : Bill Hamid, Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath

Changes: None.

Defenders (8): John Brooks, Matt MiazgaDeAndre YedlinCameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Besler, Brandon Vincent, Matt Polster, Aaron Long.

Changes: RBNY’s Aaron Long has a bit of LB versatility to go with his CB skill set, and he’ll take the place of Geoff Cameron, who is suffering from a head injury.

Midfielders (8): Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Lynden Gooch, Alejandro Bedoya, Tyler Adams, Darlington Nagbe, Jonathan Gonzalez.

Changes: Pulisic is reportedly out, and that’s fine because the Yanks would love to get a look at the Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams. Room will also be made for Darlington Nagbe and we’ll guess he takes Kelyn Rowe’s spot instead of Alejandro Bedoya. We’re also moving Jonathan Gonzalez of Monterrey ahead of Danny Williams, as Bedoya and Nagbe will have the experience/leadership angle covered.

Forwards (4): Bobby Wood, Josh Sargent, Aron Johannsson, CJ Sapong

Changes: We suppose Jonathan Lewis (NYCFC) or Haji Wright (Sandhausen) could fit here over Sapong, but we’ll stick with our gut instinct.