It’s that time of year again - time for summer friendlies! One of the most incredible spectacles in American sports is arguably that fans will pay inflated prices to sit in football stadiums, sometimes with artificial turf, and watch a mix of players with jersey numbers in the 40s that are destined for the second or third division with their favorite European clubs’ star players as everyone tries not to get hurt. This weekend it gave us a great moment with Christian Pulisic’s brace and excellent scene of taking the ball away from a teammate who scored a goal in a World Cup final.
The friendlies really show how far soccer has come in the US that Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund can draw over 50,000 fans but also begs the question as to why MLS can’t seem to create the same kind of relationship with fans that teams from other continents and countries can. That may be changing with LAFC successfully drawing fans along with the Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, the Seattle Sounders, and Atlanta United. For now, the league is having trouble getting viewers, finding a national audience, and being relevant in local markets.
For now, the biggest strides have been made in recent expansion markets, but for that strategy to be sustainable, the new clubs will need to maintain their fans and the product on the field will need to continue improving. The markets that already exist, unless the league plans to replicate what it is doing to the Columbus Crew, will need to show they are committed to fans or the league as a whole will never have the same following as the most popular ones in the world.
Those leagues, thanks in part to promotion and relegation, typically don’t reward owners for neglecting their fans and their teams, but with little chance of that being implemented in MLS, it may be a long time before the league builds enough of a following to match the popularity of leagues abroad.
More referee madness in Columbus
Wil Trapp is the central midfielder of the future for the US Men’s National Team - or he’s not, who knows. After taking a step back in 2016 and being somewhat better but not amazing in 2017 he seems to have found a bit more consistency this year. His showing against France showed that he can perhaps hang with the best international competition. Orlando City probably should have come away with at least a draw in this game after a laughable penalty was awarded to give Gyasi Zardes a brace.
This wasn’t even a dive or a flop it was just the referee... who knows I guess?
Zardes converted the penalty against Joe Bendik, who was benched but came on when Earl Edwards had to come off injured, but this strike from Trapp ended up sealing a win for the Crew.
Meet Edgar Castillo, the best American left back in MLS
Which would possibly even put him the conversation for first pick in the player pool. Castillo doesn’t get a lot of attention because, well he’s the best player on an awful team that is hard to watch and is owned by someone who treats his club as an afterthought. This was a great piece of skill to get past several defenders and set up an equalizer against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night.
Like high school, but fun and good
A pair of American 18 year olds squared off in Atlanta as Andrew Carleton finally got his first start of the year against DC United. Carleton had a solid showing, didn’t try to do too much, and perhaps was being a bit more cautious in limiting turnovers as opposed to displaying his creative flicks playing on the left wing. He sent a cross in that was deflected by a DC United player to the forehead of Josef Martinez for a goal and had a key pass in the game.
After the game Carleton had some comments about the feeling he had playing against one of the best players in the world:
Speaking of Chris Durkin, his team wasn’t quite up to the challenge of containing Martinez on his way to breaking the MLS hat trick record, and the defensive midfielder was somewhat isolated in the 4-1-4-1 that Ben Olsen lined him up in. Durkin has shown that he has what it takes to build a midfield around, but DC hasn’t been able to put together the defensive performances that his solid play has deserved.
Things finally coming together for Minnesota
Since Darwin Quintero joined the team and the Loons finally got a player teams had to worry about, they have a 7-1-8 record, including a three game winning streak. That is three fewer wins in the 16 games he’s been with the team than they had the entire 2017 season. The team won two games against playoff teams this week as they beat the New England Revolution 2-1 and then gave LAFC the distinction of being the best MLS expansion team to ever lose to the Loons 5-1.
One player who has contributed to the recent run of success is Christian Ramirez. Superman had a slow start to the season after his first call into the national team in January. Through his first eight games he had just one goal and fell out of favor with manager Adrian Heath until finding his way back to the starting line up on May 12th vs. San Jose. Since then, he’s got six goals in 11 games and an assist.
Minnesota has also experienced a fair bit of adversity this year thanks to injuries. Wingers Kevin Molino and Ethan Finlay were both lost for the season, however this did give Miguel Ibarra time to finally get consistent starts with the Loons. Through 28 starts, just two fewer than last year, Ibarra has six goals and four assists. Interestingly, he’s done it playing a new role for Minnesota in recent games as a right wingback in a 3-5-2 formation. The results have the Loons just two points out of the playoff spots as they prepare for a difficult stretch with just one home game in their next seven matches.
Ibarra and Ramirez combined on this goal to seal the rout in Minnesota.
The #Loons are absolutely flying! Christian Ramirez scores a tap-in from Miguel Ibarra's assist, and #MNUFC lead 5-1 now. #LAFC defense is all over the place and getting torn apart so easily. #MINvLAFC #MLS pic.twitter.com/Z8ZCGhC2Nu— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) July 23, 2018
Goals are fun, but
While Minnesota United and Atlanta are pouring on goals, the New York Red Bulls are continuing their steady, unflinching pressure on the top of the table. New York beat the New England Revolution 2-0 thanks to their typical space constricting, ball winning, pass denying press. Aaron Long and Tim Parker are very quietly forming one of the best center back pairings in MLS as the Americans kept a clean sheet in front of Luis Robles. Meanwhile Sean Davis and Tyler Adams each put in a solid shift in midfield as the Red Bulls have picked up where Jesse Marsch left them.
There weren’t a lot of highlights for Americans in this one - but here’s some nifty footwork from Adams.