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MLS still plans to play full 34-game season

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Atlanta United President Darren Eales says MLS still intends to play a full 34-game schedule this season, even though the league will be shuttered for at least two months because of the new coronavirus.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Eales says Major League Soccer is more fortunate than other leagues around the world that play the traditional fall-to-spring schedule and may have trouble completing their seasons in such a compressed time frame.

MLS was just two weeks into its season when play was halted March 12 because of the pandemic. The league has set a tentative return date of May 10, though the growing death toll in the United States could force that date to be pushed back.

Eales says everything is on the table, including the possibility of resuming league play in empty stadiums.

“We’re fortunate that we had just started our season,” he said Monday during a teleconference with Atlanta media. “We have the whole calendar year to reschedule the games we missed. The emphasis is on playing all 34 games plus the playoffs.”

MLS will likely schedule more midweek games and push back its MLS Cup championship game into mid-December in a bid to play a full season, according to Eales. He added that the playoffs could begin in mid-November – around the time MLS had been planning its title game.

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Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez: ACL surgery went well

Josef Martinez
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Atlanta United star striker Josef Martinez says his ACL surgery was success.

Martinez posted a photo from his hospital bed following surgery to repair the ACL torn in the Five Stripes’ season opener versus Nashville SC.

He’s expected to miss six months, but the coronavirus suspension may not give him the chance to return to the club this season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

According to the Associated Press, Martinez’s surgeon Freddie Fu is credited with saving Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s career following a 2017 ACL tear.

Martinez turns 27 in May. He’s had an explosive career in Atlanta, and had two goals and two assists in three 2020 matches spread between MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League.

He’s posted 90 goals and 12 assists in 103 matches for the Five Stripes following time with Torino, BSC Young Boys, Caracas FC, and FC Thun.

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In the midst of the humanitarian crisis we are all living through, in which more than ever we need to think about and take care of each other, just wanted to share that I'm blessed that my knee surgery today went well. I want to personally thank UPMC in Pittsburgh, doctors Freddie Fu and Volker Musahl (pictured), @atlutd , my teammates and most of all the city of Atlanta for the unconditional support. Also, everyone in Venezuela and around the world for the good wishes and support. God bless and protect us all in these challenging times 🙏❤️. En medio de todo lo que está padeciendo la humanidad, que nos tiene aferrados en cuidarnos, protegernos y orando por quienes más lo necesitan, quisiera hacer un paréntesis para anunciarles que gracias a Dios todo salió bien hoy en la operación de rodilla a la que fui sometido. Agradezco al Hospital UPMC de Pittsburgh; a los doctores Freddie Fu y Volker Musahl (foto); al @atlutd y a la ciudad por el apoyo constante; a mis seres queridos; y a todos ustedes mi gente querida de Venezuela y desde muchas partes del mundo por sus buenos deseos, muestras de cariño y darme fuerzas en la recuperación. Dios nos bendiga y proteja a todos por estos días que tanto lo necesitamos 🙏🏻❤

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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.

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.