Wheelchair analyst: riders, pack and 24 MLS teams per level


With one end of the cap to the big Zach Lowe, here is my own version of his "Annual NBA Levels" column, in the MLS style. What follows is not in itself a rigorous power classification, but rather a bit more vague in terms of level of talent, cohesion, chemistry and all the other factors that make teams work (or not).

These teams are mostly in order, I think they'll finish, but what really matters is the level designation.

Do not forget, by the way, that with the playoff format change (simple elimination organized by the top seed), the regular season should be warmer than usual. Every point counts.


New York Red Bulls

It's been a quarter of a century that I argue this argument: the shield of supporters is the best indicator of the identity of the best team. I know it's not the trophy that most teams want to win – RBNY players, coaches, wickets and fans would trade against the MLS Cup in New York's minute – but I appreciate more consistent excellence over eight months than constant results achieved over the course of five playoff games.

Of course, the Red Bulls in 2018 were not just "excellent" – they always were. They scored 71 points to set a new record in one season and recorded a better differential of +29, their best league total. best goal league 33 goals against. They were a wagon.

And in 2019, they return 10 of 11 starters, recover three key players due to an injury (one on the wing, one in the center of the field and one on the back), add two potential young stars in attack and finalize a potential young star of RBNY2 in central midfield. They will probably have the advantage of all this without experiencing a coaching change in the mid-season.

To ask for more than 70 points is a big question, but that's not out of the question, is it?

My concern: The only player they have to replace now places legitimately dominant screens for one of the top four Bundesliga teams. Tyler Adams was awesome in 2017, awesome in 2018 and apparently he has no cap. How do you replace that?

The answer is "via a little rotation and a little tactical / formative adjustment". RBNY played what appeared to be a little more 4-3-3 than 4-2-3-1 last week, with Sean Davis as holder and Marc Rzatkowski a little further as No. 8. Rzatkowski and Cristian Casseres, Jr. – this potential young mid-stream beginner of the USL – will likely share responsibilities.

Breaks is a Adams type insofar as he covers a lot of ground, but is actually much more of an 8 than a 6. Rzatkowski gives a different look:

It is conceivable that their combined skills make the RBNY stronger in the center of the field than last year with Adams. Imagine that.

First choice XI *

4-3-3: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, Michael Murillo; Kaku, Sean Davis, Marc Rzatkowski; Daniel Royer, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Florian Valot

(*) When Casseres plays, it will be more of a 4-2-3-1.

Atlanta United

The Atlanta season was also historically an elite, scoring 69 points (identical to that of Toronto FC in 2017) and winning the MLS Cup while leaving no open goals in the playoff game. It was quite a change from a team that had been viewed primarily as an attacking juggernaut during its first two years in the league.

Obviously, the dose of pragmatism – they went into absorbing and countering at the beginning of the series – did them good. And new head coach Frank De Boer has focused on a similar defensive mindset, if not necessarily inspired by the style Tata Martino finally fell in November.

The extremely early returns have not been great and I fully understand the level of panic / disgust that reigned in the fanbase after the defeat suffered in Costa Rica last week. But being coached 3-1 in Costa Rica is a rite of passage for the MLS teams, the Liga MX teams, the USMNT and El Tri. Costa Rica is the gom jabbar of Concacaf.

I'm not entirely convinced that Atlanta United is the Kwisatz Haderach of the MLS, but they bring back 9 of the 11 starters, have depth everywhere and correspond to almost all the players of the league in terms of high-end talent. They can go there and win most games just because they have more gas in that tank.

My concern: In case you had forgotten what they lost, Miguel Almiron was the best player on the field in his first two starts in EPL:

Pity Martinez is supposed to be a substitute close to that of the other, and you could say he is the best player of the attacking third. But he is not the force on the ground, in all the facets of the game that represents Almiron.

Replace it is difficult. It gets more and more difficult when De Boer aligns the team in a 5-4-1 janky that does not really seem to highlight the strengths of anyone on the list. Atlanta was in a disastrous state last week and, although it will likely not continue indefinitely, a slow start could cost them dearly.

First choice XI *

3-4-3: Brad Guzan; Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, Michael Parkhurst, Miles Robinson; Brek Shea, Darling Nagbe, Eric Remedi, Julian Gressel; Ezequiel Barco, Josef Martinez, Pity Martinez

(*) I bet it goes to 3-4-1-2 with Hector Villalba coming up and Barco going on the bench.


Sporting KC

The sport began to make the series in 2011. They have not stopped and will not stop. And since we apply the rule of 3s: can not stop!

This is largely due to a complete, talented and balanced alignment, and this is almost due to in all to the relentless ingenuity of Peter Vermes, both in terms of player acquisition as tactical adjustments. Yes, the Sporting still plays a 4-3-3, but do not confuse "training" with "tactics": it is a team very different from that of it. two years ago. They are much more married to the ball and have a methodical possession of face to face and are much less committed to putting pressure on the teams until they suffocate.

They still have this club in the bag and used it in the playoffs last year against RSL. But this is not their first choice, and it is not long.

And look, it's dangerous to read too much in a game (especially a game against a team that struggles as much as Toluca), but: over the last fifty years, American and Canadian teams have beaten a team of the Liga MX by three goals or more exactly twice. This 3-0 really meant, really something.

It means even more when you contextualize with "they brought back nine starters and improved their depth to improve a team that scored 62 points and +25 last year".

It was a Shield caliber team in 2018. They had just the misfortune to do so during the same season as two great teams historically.

My concern: No, I have not finished worrying about the role of 9th place despite Krisztian Nemeth's great first leg and despite a system that borders on Berhalter-in-Columbus and that produces great odds . Josef Martinez and Bradley Wright-Phillips succeeded these opportunities last year:

That said, I am strangely more concerned about defense. Andreu Fontas did a wonderful job in distributing the ball, but every time he was asked to go back, it looked like the first time in his life that he was trying to play in defense. They definitely give up more than 40 goals this year.

First choice XI *

4-3-3: Tim Melia; Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, Andreu Fontas, Graham Zusi; Felipe Gutierrez, Ilie Sanchez, Roger Espinoza; Daniel Salloi, Krisztian Nemeth and Johnny Russell

(*) Expect a lot more Vermes rotations than in previous years. There is a non-zero chance that Kelyn Rowe wins a starting position on the field at one point.


In 2017, Atlanta United set fire to the league by amassing 55 points and finishing fourth in their conference season in their expansion. In 2018, they won the MLS Cup.

In 2018, people were yawning a bit when LAFC had 57 points and was third in the conference. They even scored the same number of goals – Atlanta with 70 in 2017, LAFC with 68 in 2018 (although it's worth noting that Atlanta scored a goal differential of +30, while LAFC n & # 39; 39, was "that" of +16).

I do not know if it's what was previously extraordinary now has become ordinary since it's consecutive, or because Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi are not as exciting as Almiron and Josef, but few matter, this does not give the impression that there are enough expectations around this team. But there should definitely be some.

One of the main reasons is that their offensive talent is as good as anyone in MLS (and that their midfield talent is also at this level). Another underrated reason is that Bob Bradley has made the essentials of his "preparations for 2019!" The negotiations are taking place in the middle of 2018. Lee Nguyen, Christian Ramirez, Adama Diomande, Eduard Atuesta, André Horta, Danilo Silva … are major pieces that have entered the season. They collected 57 points during the reconstruction and restart on the fly.

How much will they take now that they have had an offseason to work together and achieve a higher level of chemistry and cohesion?

My concern: Let's go back to this differential goal between Atlanta's expansion and the LAFC expansion. Obviously, this is the defense – the Five Stripes conceded 40 points and got one of the best defenses in the league on which to support to qualify for the second year. LAFC conceded 52 points, which is best at the center.

Many of them were only guys who did not play what they should do, but most of the time it was that they were not getting pressure on the balloon at all. midfield:

I am expecting a significant improvement in this regard this season. I'll admit though that I'm also a little worried about the central defense's ability to handle the aggressive approach Bradley asked him.

First choice XI *

4-2-1-3: Tyler Miller; Jordan Harvey, Eddie Segura, Zimmerman Walker, Steven Beitashour; Eduard Atuesta, Mark-Anthony Kaye; Lee Nguyen; Diego Rossi, Christian Ramirez and Carlos Vela

(*) When Horta shows up for an Atuesta or Kaye, it will be a 4-3-3, but you should really look at the ESPN + doc on LAFC. I do not think Horta will be the first choice.

Seattle Sounders

How shocked are you by the fact that they just finished a pre-season without a win? How did you get the impression that Chad Marshall is 34 years old and that he just hurt himself? How shocked are you by the fact that they are replacing Ozzie Alonso, literally the biggest d-mid in the history of the MLS? How are you upset when you think that if the form is the same for three years, they will probably spend the first months of the season in a coma?

Each of these alone is likely sufficient to prevent the Sounders from winning their second fan shield. All these efforts and the worst deal in 2019 could be enough to keep the Sounders from becoming a very good team.

But probably not.

The Sounders are deep, talented and well built and have A + plays on every level of the field (Raul Ruidiaz on top, Nico Lodeiro in midfield, Marshall on CB, Stefan Frei on goal). You can win a month here or plan a period of adjustment if you have that type of foundation.

Beyond that, they have this third DP niche and a well established habit of using it well next summer. Add to that a fairly well defined game style, which I'll call "Bring the ball to Nico, then make a good run for Nico to give it to you," and I do not think it should be so. so many worries in Seattle.

This should be a very, very good team, and has a very, very good chance of being more than that.

My concern: Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson are potentially excellent. They are not this:

What a terrifying legend.

Defensively, they can survive Marshall by losing a step. They can not survive if the Roldan / Svensson combo does not replace Alonso's destruction ability in the central midfield.

First choice XI *

4-2-3-1: Stefan Frei; Nouhou, Kim Kee-Hee, Chad Marshall, Kelvin Leerdam; Gustav Svensson, Cristian Roldan; Victor Rodriguez, Nico Lodeiro, Jordan Morris; Raul Ruidiaz

(*) When Morris pushes hard and Lodeiro drops deep, it will work much more like a 4-3-3 than in the past. They can sometimes be exposed on the defensive side in transition because of this.

D.C. United

D.C. United was legitimately a joy to watch during the second half of last season. And that causes me at least a bit of concern because they have been a joy to watch in the second half of 2016 before cratering for a year and a half. There is no guarantee that what they have done in the last six months will result in the next 12 months.

But it seems like something close to "likely" that they are very good, right? Wayne Rooney is still Wayne Rooney, and Lucho Acosta has shown that he could be more than a top player and Paul Arriola has taken a step forward. All this happened at the top of a defensive midfielder who suddenly became one of the best in the league. overlap and are suddenly among the most dangerous in the league. Oniel Fisher looked like Dani and made Alves panic for weeks! What the hell is happening!?

That's what D.C. was once Rooney arrived, Bill Hamid came back and Russell Canouse became healthy. They will have these three guys on the first kick this year, as well as some reinforcements in other places – right back, left wing, maybe also centered. Even if one or two of these guys do not manage, they are still superimposed.

This should be the best DC team in 20 years. I do not think they're as good, in relative terms, as the big teams from the Bruce Arena-led dynasty of the '90s, but they're not far off (especially if Lucas Rodriguez is actually better than Yamil Asad) .

My concern: No one can replicate what Rooney does in terms of game liaison, threatening purpose, and generally being a center-forward that fulfills, in many ways, the same function as a terrifying regista. If he's hurt, they have problems.

It's the "if, then …" do not worry. The current concern is that their defense is not as good as the other teams at this level and above:

Steve Birnbaum must take a big step forward in terms of organizing things this year and Donovan Pines must use the first months of the season to adjust to the professional game, then in recent months to show he is the rookie of the season. Year and a potential player of the national team.

Both guys have the talent to handle it.

First choice XI *

4-2-3-1: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Steve Birnbaum, Frederick Brillant, Leonardo Jara; Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno; Lucas Rodriguez, Lucho Acosta, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney

(*) No real asterisk here, although it was at least a question of Rodriguez's early adjustment period based on his pre-season form.


Montreal Impact

I have already written this elsewhere, but that will not prevent me from writing it here too: the Impact has imposed 11-6-4 on the last 21 games of the 2018 regular season. That was not enough to get them involved in the series, but the size of the sample is enough to convince me that Remi Guard has a plan and knows how to implement it. In other words: they spent nearly two-thirds of the season playing at a rate of 60 points and beat the hell of good teams – Sporting, RBNY, Columbus, Philly -.

Montreal is a strong playoff team this year. I will be really surprised if they are not.

They will do this by playing a deep line and limiting the quality, if not the amount, of the shots they allow, then starting with Ignacio Piatti and his actors. Here, let's take a look at Piatti's goals:

This tactical approach will not win them any prize for aesthetics, except when Piatti is in 1v1 situations depriving the defenders of their souls. And that could not bring them any trophy because the ceiling for the teams that play this way is perhaps slightly lower than that of the teams that play, for example, at Sporting. But the floor is also very high, which means that they will avoid the abyss that we saw in March, April, and May of last year.

Apart from Piatti, the rest of this list lacks some high-end talent (though Saphir Taider can deceive me), which is another mark in the column "a good team, no real contenders".

My concern: First of all, what happens if Guard decides that he does not have to follow last year's plan but returns to the well: play via possession? I think adding Micheal Azira in the central midfield makes them less susceptible to the usual attacks that they experienced in early 2018, but they are still not designed for that. Coaches can be stubborn, and I have a slight concern in this regard.

I am more concerned about central defense. Rod Fanni was really good last year and Zakaria Diallo has a lot of work to do. If he's not up to it, the Impact will have to really struggle.

First choice XI *

4-3-3: Evan Bush; Daniel Lovitz, Rudy Camacho, Zakaria Diallo, Bacary Sagna; Sapphire Taider, Samuel Piette, Micheal Azira; Ignacio Piatti, Maxi Urruti, Orji Okwonkwo

(*) I really think that the wing vis-à-vis Piatti is up for grabs, and I would not be shocked if someone ended up pushing Azira to this post.

Portland Timbers

They will go away badly. The defense, during most of the pre – season, was in a state of total disorder and the wait – and – see attitude prevailed in the attack, nobody being really sure of what to expect. wait for Andy Polo and Jeremy Ebobisse, and – most important – they are on the road. for three months. Remember that Portland has never been an excellent team on the road, and leaving the conditions pleasing until June means that it is virtually guaranteed to enter summer somewhere at the bottom of the rankings.

Breathe. Relax. They will be fine.

Portland has brought everyone back from participating in last year's MLS Cup, with the exception of Liam Ridgewell, and yes, that means they have a ton of talent. Talent is the best starting point. A solid coach (Gio Savarese proved he was at least for the first year of his MLS career) is a good second step, and a good part of the composition alignment is a good third step.

This balance in the composition of the group means that they can be a wait-and-see team when they finally go for this third DP. If Polo or Ebobisse or both prove to be elite players at their respective positions, they suddenly have a lot of flexibility in July. Maybe instead of adding to the attack, they turn to a high-level defender or an heir to Diego Chara in the middle of the field? Everything is on the table.

Be that as it may, describe this group as "the team most likely to skyrocket in the second half."

My concern: The pollsters are very dependent on Lodeiro. D.C. is not much without Rooney. It's hard to see the Impact being a big part of everything without Piatti.

Portland, without Chara, has won no win in 29 consecutive games.

Ok, it's the "if, then …" do not worry. Ebobisse does not find this type of goals often enough:

It needs typing occasionally to be able to display real numbers, and if it does not, it means that the attack does not fire exactly during the first four months of the season. And if this This means that Timbers will use this DP slot next summer, not to strengthen the team, but to fill a hole.

Many rests on his shoulders.

First choice XI *

4-4-1-1: Jeff Attinella; Jorge Villafana, Julio Cascante, Larrys Mabiala, Jorge Moreira; Sebastian Blanco, David Guzman, Diego Chara, Andy Polo; Diego Valeri; Jeremy Ebobisse

(*) Yes, it is a 4-4-1-1 since Valeri is no longer a real midfielder and has been for two years. Cascante is the only real question regarding the staff, since it's unconvincing in pre-season and Bill Tuiloma is about to get in shape.

FC Dallas

It felt like going too far placing them here, but Dallas scored 57 points last year, restores the core of its core and should expect a new level of dynamism via internal improvement. They're doing a lot of RBNY stuff, and it seems like no less than three new Homegrown players, all of whom have excelled in either USL or US national youth teams, are pushing for big minutes. (or maybe even start jobs).

I do not hesitate to say that I think it's the right way to do things. In the second half of 2017, we saw what happens when a staff member – even a super talented – goes away, and that jobs are no longer in danger. We will see now if a new coach and a new generation of players can push the FCD back to silverware.

That said, I do not think that all or even most of the internal improvement will come from our children. Santiago Mosquera, Dom Badji and Michael Barrios, on the front line, seemed to be reborn in the pre-season:

There was a lot of this in February. YMMV on everything that matters to you, but 1) it does not mean anything, and 2) taken in the context of "Luchi Gonzalez's super mobile and pressing scheme seems to be playing to their advantage", I actually think it means a little.

My concern: The depth of their back line has not been proven and, although Paxton Pomykal was good in the pre-season, he did not ignite the world to perfection. If you're wondering whether or not you're starting out the first week, it means you have not been quite convincing, you know?

This is potentially a big gap. Add to that the fact that no one on the list has ever had a two-digit goal season in MLS, which represents a large number of known unknowns.

First choice XI *

4-3-3: Jesse Gonzalez; Marquinhos Pedroso, Reto Ziegler, Matt Hedges, Reggie Cannon; Paxton Pomykal, Carlos Gruezo, Bryan Acosta; Santiago Mosquera, Dom Badji and Michael Barrios

(*) If it's not Pomykal, it will probably be Jacori Hayes – a more conservative player – in this role of midfielder. Pablo Aranguiz, who was supposed to be the main playmaker of the central midfield, has been Mosquera's replacement as an inviting left wing and playmaker until now, in 2019.

Columbus Crew

I am slowly talking about myself to the film crew in the last month. The reason I found myself in a team that won two playoff games last year? In simple terms: I think they have a talent gap compared to almost every other team in the East.

In recent years, they have made up for this deficit by playing one of the most defined and structured systems in the league. For years, Gregg Berhalter's team was known for his ability to generate chances to win the 9th place as Kei Kamara, then Ola Kamara, then Gyasi Zardes, who all had their best season in the center from Ohio.

But last year, they evolved to become something better: a team that generated spinoffs from one side, and then shut down any quality appearance of the other. No cheapies against the crew in 2018.

So why are not they better? Global talent.

The talent has not changed much this season, but the coach did it. And with the arrival of Caleb Porter, some changes (at least) will be made to the system, including a high selective pressure that I think should work well.

Beyond that, it is hard to imagine that wingers are as poor in the net as last year. Add another eight goals in total from last season and you have a team that flirts with 60 points.

My concern:

I mean, maybe he broke a mirror or walked under a ladder or something. Yeesh.

First choice XI *

4-2-3-1: Zack Steffen; Waylon Francis, Gaston Sauro, Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful; Wil Trapp, Artur; Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Pedro Santos; Gyasi Zardes

(*) They would do well to run Afful and especially Higuain, who are both 30 years old now. And of course, the transfer of Steffen is imminent.

THE Galaxy

Lost in the heckle of watching the galaxy fall on him for the second consecutive season: they improved their performance by 16 points in a year and produced one of the league's best attacks. It was a marginal team in the playoffs last season that failed (hilariously, if you're coming from outside of Southern California) on the last day of the season, but it's clear that the pieces are up to make another jump in 2019.

A Zlatan in good health from the beginning of the year? Check. A dose of reality on the overpay for aging European advocates? Check. A little more youth, balance and dynamism in the midfield? Check.

They also have a stable head coaching situation for the first time since the farewell of the Bruce Arena after the 2016 season. Guillermo Barros Schelotto may well be more than a "stable coaching situation", it could actually be an intrinsic advantage over most teams (despite what Boca Juniors fans hurt by their defeat against River Plate might feel about the situation, anyway).

LA will not make a 16-point jump from last season as there are still too many questions on this bottom line, as well as Sebastian Lletget's health week after week. But – sorry to tell you more about most of you – it's a playoff team.

My concern: The bottom line is thin, and I rely a lot on my "hey, they are not going to give up 64 goals" again "confident" on the last two months, which have been relatively strong, as well as on the finish from a reinforcement to Diego Polenta.

We will not have to see this stuff anymore, at least:

First choice XI *

4-2-3-1: David Bingham; Jorgen Skjelvik, Diego Polenta, Daniel Steres, Rolf Feltscher; Sebastian Lletget, Jonathan Dos Santos; Romain Alessandrini, Emil Cuello, Uriel Antuna; Zlatan Ibrahimovic

(*) Our man, Scott French, said the rookie selection, Emil Cuello, had priority over 10th place, at least for week 1 – which is quite shocking, but it's good to be un fan de Boca Juniors quand GBS est votre entraîneur .


Philadelphia Union

Il y a une chance que tout fonctionne. Il y a des chances que leurs nouvelles signatures off-saison en attaque soient des mises à niveau énormes, et l'explosion offensive qui s'ensuit les propulse au classement. Il est possible que la progression linéaire de la jeune défense centrale et de quelques autres joueurs ayant fait leur chemin dans la rotation permette de réduire de quelques buts le total de la saison. Il est possible que tout ce qui précède se produise, alors que l'adoption d'un système hautement pressant inquiète les opposants et se traduit par une multitude d'objectifs de transition.

Tout ce qui précède est un bon concept. Ce que l’Union manque, c’est la preuve de concept. Ils ne peuvent pas en parler tant qu'ils ne sont pas sur le terrain avec des matchs gagnants qui comptent, et cela ne commencera pas avant ce week-end.

Je comprends pourquoi Ernst Tanner a exigé de passer au football, tout comme je me suis demandé pourquoi ils ont dépensé (selon leurs critères) pour Marco Fabian. Leur plafond, dans son ensemble, est beaucoup plus élevé maintenant.

Homme, ça va me manquer, cependant:

Ce fut la meilleure séquence de jeu en MLS la saison dernière. Il méritait un but à la fin.

Mon souci: Ce n'est pas parce que tu es rapide que tu vas être un bon défenseur dans une situation urgente. Mark McKenzie et Auston Trusty ont toutes deux été invitées à éteindre de nombreux feux de camp arrière l'année dernière, et la plupart du temps, elles se sont bien débrouillées. Défendre sur le pied avant, cependant? Le monde n'est pas rempli de CB âgés de 20 ans qui excellent dans ce domaine.

Plus inquiétant encore, si vous êtes lent, vous ne serez probablement pas un milieu de terrain pressant efficace. Haris Medunjanin et (dans une moindre mesure) Fabian sont plutôt lents. Cela va mettre beaucoup de pression sur les gens qui les entourent – surtout quand ils apprennent un nouveau système.

Premier choix XI *

4-4-2 diamant: André Blake; Kai Wagner, Auston Trusty, Mark McKenzie, Ray Gaddis; Haris Medunjanin; Derrick Jones, Alejandro Bedoya; Marco Fabian; Sergio Santos, Cory Burke

(*) Si Medunjanin ne peut pas faire le travail à l’arrière-plan, cherchez Jones dans ses fonctions et Warren Creavalle ou Brenden Aaronson dans le onze.

the Chicago fire

Tout cela pourrait mal tourner à la hâte, mais j'achète ce que je vois parmi les six premiers de Chicago – y compris ce qui est sur leur graphique de profondeur. Le milieu de terrain devrait être capable de dominer le ballon de manière similaire à ce qu'il avait fait en 2017, alors qu'il préparait certaines des plus belles séquences de buts en MLS:

Ce n'était pas si longtemps! L'entraîneur de cette équipe – qui a terminé troisième de la ligue – est toujours là, alors c'est un bon pari que ses idées sont toujours là. Un certain nombre d'acteurs clés de cette séquence sont toujours présents, tout comme leur talent.

Si Djordje Mihailovic évolue comme je le crois, et que Przemyslaw Frankowski est un ailier légèrement supérieur à la moyenne, ils sont en bonne position pour être une équipe qui marque beaucoup de buts. Et comme je l’ai mentionné plus haut, leurs deux passes pour les six premières places sont légitimes (je dirais même qu’elles ont trop payé pour CJ Sapong, mais il répond à un besoin).

Je sais que ce n’est pas différent de ce que j’ai dit et écrit ailleurs sur cette équipe. Désolé, fans de Fire, mais c'est ce que c'est.

Ce qui signifie que vous savez exactement ce qui va arriver dans la section suivante.

Mon souci: Ils ne ressemblent pas à une équipe qui va abandonner moins de 55 buts. Et si vous en abandonnez autant, vous devez espérer et prier pour que vous trouviez suffisamment de retours en retard ou de miracles, des sauvegardes d'une fraction de seconde pour obtenir quelques résultats que vous ne méritez pas (compte tenu du cas de David Ousted d’années, cela pourrait ne pas être une valeur sûre).

Il a été rapporté que Chicago cherchait toujours des renforts défensifs. Cela ne devrait choquer personne si au moins un démarreur est ajouté entre maintenant et la fin du guichet de transfert / échange de printemps.

Mais oui … tout cela pourrait mal tourner rapidement.

Premier choix XI *

4-2-3-1: David Ousted; Jorge Corrales, Marcelo, Johan Kappelhof, Nicolas Hasler; Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger; Przemyslaw Frankowski, Djordje Mihailovic, Aleksandar Katai; Nemanja Nikolic

(*) Cela semble assez simple à ce stade. Les deux points de backback sont les grandes questions.


Certains membres de la fan-base ont exprimé leur inquiétude quant à la volonté du club de s’exprimer et de faire sauter les portes à la recherche d’un remplaçant pour David Villa. Some doubted ownership's willingness to spend big, or pursue a big name.

Enter Alexandru Mitrita, who commanded the third-largest transfer fee in MLS history:

Rather than pull a Danny Mills, I will say this: I have never seen Mitrita play aside from a handful of preseason games, and he's clearly got some stuff he can bring to the table. You want a reason why the Cityzens paid close to eight figures for him? There's the clip above.

What will determine, in large part, how much of a dip (if any) this team takes from the last three seasons of contention is 1) how well Mitrita replaces Villa, 2) how well they replace Yangel Herrera's presence in central midfield, and 3) how much of last season's late-season gloom was a permanent state of affairs.

But let's not bring it there yet. Let's focus on the "talent" question, one which NYCFC can answer resoundingly in the affirmative. Line them up, 1-thru-25, and they're probably a top four or five team in the league, resplendent with full internationals at almost every position.

Teams like that usually make the playoffs.

My Worry: Sometimes they don't, and it takes all kinds of mental gymnastics to say they were anything but a bad team for the last four months under Dome Torrent. From July 29 onward they went 4-8-4 – 16 games, which is just under half-a-season's sample size – under Torrent across all competitions. That's a 34-point pace, after playing the first 20 games of the season at a 71-point pace. Dome took an MLS Cup contender and turned them into a Wooden Spoon contender overnight.

It's not clear what exactly was wrong, as they were uniformly poor no matter who was available or not. My biggest worry (my worry within the worry, I guess) is that they stopped being able to press as well, which bespoke an underlying lack of organization.

That's why this is a bubble team and not a solid playoff team.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Sean Johnson; Ben Sweat, Alex Callens, Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm; Alex Ring, Ebenezer Ofori; Alexandru Mitrita, Maxi Moralez, Jesus Medina; Jonathan Lewis

(*) So yeah, it's a pretty bog-standard 4-2-3-1 save for a little bit of interchange and inverted fullbackery on the left. Lewis – who I love as a winger – looks like the starter (for now) up top. I'm not sure where Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, who was "excellent" last year by some metrics and "unsustainably excellent" by others, fits in. NYCFC have some problems to solve.

Houston Dynamo

I've been going back-and-forth about the Dynamo for a while now, but their two CCL games against Guastatoya have convinced me (maybe because I'm an idiot): They're going to be pretty good! Not great – they just don't have the depth, and their defense appears to be only "functional" rather than "a strong point," and unlike many other teams in the bottom tax bracket of MLS, they're not yet pushing Homegrown contributors through the ranks. It appears unlikely they'll find answers to pressing questions from within.

But they have a style of play, they have that functional defense, they have a bit more steel in central midfield, and that front, attacking four is capable of just tossing you into the woodchipper:

Elis to Manotas is a cheat code. We saw it on Tuesday night, we saw it in the U.S. Open Cup, we saw it in the 2017 playoffs. Both of these guys could make high-7-figure/low-eight-figure moves to big European clubs sometime in the next 12 months. They are absolutely good enough, and when those are your two best attackers, and Tomas Martinez and Romell Quioto are your third- and fourth-best attackers, and you have a functional defense, you're gonna win some games.

My Worry: Juan David Cabezas is hurt already, and the Dynamo were helpless/hopeless/punchless against Guastatoya until Wilmer Cabrera brought in the starters.

This team is paper thin. They proved it last year and they proved it again this week.

I am also not a fan of Wilmer Cabrera's substitution patterns, which as often as not rob his team of momentum rather than give them an extra push for the final 20 minutes. It would not kill him to make a pro-active rather than reactive sub every now and again.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Joe Willis; DaMarcus Beasley, Maynor Figueroa, Kiki Struna, AJ DeLaGarza; Matias Vera, Juan David Cabezas; Romell Quioto, Tomas Martinez, Alberth Elis; Mauro Manotas

(*) I think there's a decent chance a lot of these guys are rested in Week 1 since there's a date with Tigres midweek, but in a perfect world, this is their first XI without much quibble.

Toronto FC

I held onto my TFC stock way too long last year and am concerned that I'm doing the same once again here. They were a 36-point team in 2018, and have come out of the gates looking like they'll struggle to collect even that many in 2019. Big changes are needed, and big changes are coming.

They clearly need Alejandro Pozuelo or someone like him to weave all that midfield possession they generate into penetration. Maybe he's the guy who hits the pass, or maybe he's the guy who hits the pass before the pass. Or maybe he's the guy who hits the pass that changes the defense's shape that allows some other guy to hit the pass before pass, or maybe he's just the guy who puts his foot on the damn ball when things are falling apart.

By all accounts he's been the captain and best player on the best team in Belgium this season. By many accounts he's been the best player in Belgium, full stop. He'll help a lot.

So would a couple of TAM winger if they're really intent on going to a 4-3-3 (which I think they are). Can they get Lucas Janson back? That guy was good.

They'll be a different team a month from now. I think it'll be a significantly better one.

My Worry: They may have to score 100 goals to even get to the bubble:

Maybe they should hold off on signing one of those wingers and consider better addressing their backline needs.

First-choice XI*

4-4-2 diamond: Alex Bono; Justin Morrow, Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor, Auro; Michael Bradley; Marky Delgado, Nick DeLeon; Jonathan Osorio; Jozy Altidore, Jordan Hamilton

(*) This is very obviously a "for now" situation. Hamilton did just score a goal on Tuesday and has the talent to be an MLS regular, though. He'll need to make the most of the season's first few weeks in order to prove to the powers that be that they should bet on him.

Real Salt Lake

They made the playoffs last year – by the grace of God and Mauro Manotas – and return everyone of note. Know what that means? By default they're a playoff bubble team this year.

RSL fans should be excited about a lot of the talent on this team. Corey Baird was the rookie of the year, made his USMNT debut and picked up an assist! Jefferson Savarino is a pretty decent bet to be the answer to "Who's the next MLSer to go for a hefty transfer fee to some European team?" Joao Plata can be the best player in the league for weeks at a time. Albert Rusnak is reliably fun and good and inventive in the attack. Bofo Saucedo's out here ending lives:

That's Damir Kreilach (a darkhorse Best XI candidate) and Marcelo Silva with key moments in the sequence above. Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon and Aaron Herrera are all former USYNT studs who have, for long stretches, looked like above average MLS starters. Everton Luiz has looked the part of a competent addition, there are yet more kids coming through the pipeline, and Sam Johnson is maybe going to be worth that DP slot at the 9.

We saw in the second half of each of the last two seasons what this team is capable of when they get cooking. The kids have another year under their respective belts, and that should lead to improvement.

My Worry: I have three big worries. For one… sometimes a lot of depth is too much, and can lead to bad blood in the locker room. Managing minutes, managing egos, managing everything that goes with leading a roomful of alpha males is still, even in this age of tactical innovations, the most important job a head coach has.

For two, RSL have at times looked overwhelmed on a tactical level. They had no way of coping with Portland in a pair of what should've been must-win games last year, and too often devolve into a series of individual battles rather than rehearsed, repeatable build-up sequences. It was on gory display often in preseason.

And for three, both Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando showed their age last year. It's painful, but it's reality. Cutting the cord on them will be tough, but will probably be necessary in order for this team to crest 50 points.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Nick Rimando; Aaron Herrera, Marcelo Silva, Justen Glad, Brooks Lennon; Kyle Beckerman, Everton Luiz; Albert Rusnak, Damir Kreilach, Jefferson Savarino; Corey Baird

(*) Yeah, that's Rusnak as an inverted, playmaking left winger. They tried that a bunch this preseason in order to get Beckerman, Luiz and Kreilach into the same central midfield together.

Minnesota United FC

The moment of truth is here: This is when the three-year plan, talked about so frequently during the "soft launch" of 2017 and then in more desperate whispers during a disappointing 2018, is supposed to come to fruition with a playoff berth. If it doesn't happen now, then major changes will be in order.

Of course, major changes have already taken place, with the biggest aimed at shoring up what has been a record-settingly bad defense over the past two years. In are Ike Opara, Ozzie Alonso, Jan Gregus and Romain Metanire. Out are a lot of guys whose names I won't be quizzing you on.

Those four guys are all cornerstones in what is, on paper, a team that definitely definitely definitely should not, in any conceivable reality, figure out a way to give up 70+ goals again. If they can carve it down from 70 to 60 allowed, they'll probably be in the playoff hunt but fizzle out. If they can carve it down to the low 50s, they'll probably make it.

A reminder, that they've never had a defender like a healthy Ike Opara. Hell, most MLS teams – even the ones that have been in business for a couple of decades – haven't had a defender like a healthy Ike Opara:

That's because there's a lot of reasons to be high on the attack. Darwin Quintero was worth the price of admission as a No. 10 last year, and they have 1,000 fun, fast and exciting wingers to choose from around him. They shouldn't need to throw crazy numbers forward to be a team that puts the ball in the net 55 times.

My Worry: I wrote about this when Opara and Alonso were acquired, but… both guys are over 30 and injury-prone, and both regressed last year. Maybe that regression halts or slows. Maybe it continues apace. Mayhmbe – god forbid – it picks up a little bit of steam.

They really can't afford that. This is a team that needs to be, at minimum, 15 goals better defensively to have a coin-flip of a chance at the playoffs. Think they'll be that if Opara and Ozzie give them 60% of available minutes at 70% of capacity? Me neither.

Obviously that's the "if, then…" scenario. The more pressing concern is that while personnel was a big part of Minnesota's problems the last two years, the bigger problem may have been structural:

Kevin's emoji says it all.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Vito Mannone; Francisco Calvo, Michael Boxall, Ike Opara, Romain Metanire; Osvaldo Alonso, Jan Gregus; Rasmus Schuller, Darwin Quintero, Miguel Ibarra; Romario Ibarra

(*) Yeah it's weird, right? But they've been using Schuller as an inverted winger for some reason so far in 2019, and given that DP center forward Angelo Rodriguez is nursing an injury, it seems a deeeeecent bet Romario gets the start up top. Good name for a forward, at least!

Vancouver Whitecaps

There's maybe a better chance that they drop down a tier than there is that they stay in this tier. But my column, my rules, and after a few years of paying attention to Marc Dos Santos's teams off and on, this is a rule: Give Marc Dos Santos's team the benefit of the doubt.

I'm not really sure what to say beyond that, other than that this team feels, in a lot of ways, more like and expansion team than the actual expansion team (FC Cincinnati) does. The goalkeeper is new, the defense is rebuilt, the midfield is rebuilt, and the attack is rebuilt. Last year's biggest acquisitions are all gone. It seems there's a decent chance only two starters, right back Jake Nerwinski and central midfielder Felipe, will hold their spots once again in 2019. And I would bet neither my money nor yours that those guys will both be full-time starters.

Based upon Dos Santos's past, the type of offseason acquisitions they made and what they played in preseason, I think it'll be a 4-3-3 with an emphasis on two-way play in central midfield and playmaking on the flanks. I think the fullbacks will often push up in support, but rarely to overlap (and almost never to bang in crosses). I expect they'll value having the ball more than past iterations of the 'Caps.

I like this. This is fun! I'm excited to learn new things.

My Worry: Integrating a million new faces into a new culture with a new style of play after losing your three best players in the offseason is not great. Let's remember what they had…

They'll have had to have hit on a lot of these most recent signings to be a playoff team. I probably am giving Dos Santos too much credit, but I don't care – I like the way his teams play.

First-choice XI*

4-3-3: Zac MacMath; Brett Levis, Derek Cornelius, Erik Godoy, Jake Nerwinski; Felipe, Jon Erice, Inboem Hwang; Lass Bangoura, Fredy Montero, Yordy Reyna

(*) Pretty much all the acquisitions they made this winter – including bringing Montero back – made sense, but I'll admit I lifted an eyebrow at Erice's signing. He's a 32-year-old Segunda Liga lifer who can pretty much only play d-mid. That doesn't scream "pay a transfer fee for me!", but they sure did.


Orlando City SC

Here I am, back to drink at the trough of my own failure. You'll recall, of course, that I bought a lot of stock in "Orlando City will make a run at the playoffs in 2018!" It went up in smoke in many of the most flagrantly tragic ways known to man.

I won't make the same mistake twice, and by that I mean that I don't think Orlando City have a realistic path to the playoffs. They shipped 74 goals last year and their defense doesn't look appreciably better, for one. And for two, James O'Connor had plenty of time last year to put together a team that could put together a run. Yeah, coming in a mid-season is tough on anyone, but he went 2-13-3. That's worse than the guy he replaced, and worse than the guy who was replaced by the guy he replaced.

But 1) they can't possibly be worse, and 2) Sebastian Mendez, Nani and Danny Acosta are all legitimate talent upgrades. This team now has more guys at more spots who can play the game at a pretty high level, and that matters enough for me to feel they can approach 45 points.

If they do that while getting meaningful growth out of a few kids – looking your way, Josue Colman – that'd be a nice step forward and something to build upon.

My Worry: Or maybe none of that will happen. If the vision at the top isn't clear and the chemistry on the ground is bad (it's an open secret around the league that the Orlando locker room was not a fun place last year), nothing much matters. The team will fight each other more often than they fight for results.

And a reminder that even when things were going good last year, the underlying stuff was pretty bad. They were giving up a million breakaways and living off of last-minute comebacks. You can't do that if you want to be a playoff team.

First-choice XI*

5-3-1-1: Brian Rowe; Danny Acosta, Lamine Sane, Carlos Ascues, Shane O'Neill, Kyle Smith; Uri Rosell, Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Mendez; Nani; Dom Dwyer

(*) It'll maybe end up being more of a 5-2-2-1 with Kljestan and Nani together underneath Dwyer, I think? At this point it all remains to be seen, but regardless they haven't looked in preseason like a team that plans to give up two goals per game.

San Jose Earthquakes

The Quakes had the worst season in franchise history, and one of the worst in league history by bringing home 21 points. Everyone assumed that would mean complete overhaul mode, but here we are about to kick off 2019 and we're looking at a team that's brought back about 90 percent of the minutes they played last year, and seem like they'll have just four new starters.

Of course they're on their fifth new coach in the past 20 months, and that might be enough. Matias Almeyda's teams play physical, often brutish and aesthetically less-than-pleasing soccer, but…

That's a guy you hire. The reason is right there in the tweet.

So what to expect from Almeyda's Quakes? More 50/50 challenges than any team we've seen in MLS in a long time because their whole system is predicated on man marking. Let's let veteran CB Guram Kashia explain:

"That man-marking, to follow everybody, is something new for me and I’m trying to really pay attention on the right people," Kashia told Goal.com's Jon Arnold. "With two central defenders, one follows the striker and one is a type of libero. That’s something we need to be working on. We’ll make mistakes, but every training, we’re working on it. It’s a matter of time about how fast we’re going to learn and adjust to the system."

That's all. If the team takes to it quickly, they'll unleash 90 minutes of hell every week. If they don't, they'll get carved up by good ball movement again and again and again.

My Worry: Even if everything goes right, they probably don't have the necessary talent to push up the table. How many guys do they have who would start on more than half of MLS teams?

Which opens the door for the worst-case scenario… imagine if everything goes wrong. We saw a 90-minute snippet of that in the preseason when they got trucked 3-0 by their own USL affiliate a few weeks back.

I don't think that'll happen though. They'll be better than last year – perhaps even much better. But a 25-point improvement still probably leaves them short of the postseason.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Daniel Vega; Marcos Lopez, Harold Cummings, Guram Kashia, Nick Lima; Judson, Anibal Godoy; Magnus Eriksson, Vako Qazaishvili, Cristian Espinoza; Chris Wondolowski

(*) In Lopez they have an actual, factual left back on the roster this year. Baby steps!

Colorado Rapids

Everybody zigged last offseason, and so the Rapids zagged. Right into oncoming traffic.

It's probably accurate to say their recruitment plan from the 2017/18 offseason – in which they through TAM contracts at a half-dozen Europeans of dubious pedigrees – was not a good one. Many of them are gone and most of the others are no longer starters. Only CB Tommy Smith is a very good bet to be in the first kick XI, and that's at least in part because Kortne Ford is hurt.

And so Colorado have zagged again. They had to shop at home this winter, combing through MLS to bring in the likes of Kei Kamara, Diego Rubio, Keegan Rosenberry and Benny Feilhaber. Those four guys (and a bunch of other MLS vets) will start in what will almost certainly be a 4-4-2 diamond with an emphasis on both possession through midfield and attack via overlapping fullbacks.

Look! It's an overlapping fullback feeding one of those guys for a preseason goal!

I think they'll be fun, and I like a lot of their young(ish) talent. Rubio, Rosenberry, Kellyn Acosta, Cole Bassett, Ford, Dillon Serna, Matt Hundley… that's a team to build around and through for five years or more.

But they're I don't see a playoff path for them in 2019.

My Worry: The defense isn't going to be that much better – if at all – than the group that coughed up 63 last year. That means things will go wrong, and there are some volatile personalities in that locker room for if/when that happens.

It's a short-term thing, of course, and it should be lost on no one that another rebuild's coming (a lot of these veteran contracts come off the books next winter). But there will be long, long stretches of the season that feel like the most uncomfortable part of Thanksgiving dinner when nobody talks to anybody else without snapping.

First-choice XI*

4-4-2 diamond: Tim Howard; Dillon Serna, Axel Sjoberg, Tommy Smith, Keegan Rosenberry; Jack Price; Benny Feilhaber, Kellyn Acosta; Nico Mezquida; Diego Rubio, Kei Kamara

(*) Jack Price is going to be a starter, I think, even though he wasn't around for the final preseason game, apparently due to injury. He's questionable for Week 1 for Portland, and if he can't go, then Bassett likely gets the nod as the d-mid.

New England Revolution

The Revs have had a lot of turnover in the past two winters. A quick look shows only three likely starters (Diego Fagundez, who seems to have interest in playing elsewhere, as well as Scott Caldwell and Matt Turner, who may not be "likely" starters) who've been around since 2016. It's essentially a new team from the one that just missed the playoffs in 2017, and missed badly in 2018.

That's what the front office wants and what the coach wants, and it's what the fans should want. Clearly it wasn't going to work for Brad Friedel with his previous personnel, and if it's not going to work with the talent on hand, and if you believe in the coach, you have to bring in new talent.

They've done that. Carles Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo are the big bright names, along with a bunch of guys who arrived at various points in the 2018 season. Some of them – Cristian Penilla, really – adjusted quickly. Others looked a step or two off.

The idea is that they'll be ready (or at least readier) with some time in the league under their belts. With the added reinforcements, the idea is that they can start trending upward after five years of steady decline.

My Worry: Once everyone cracked the code for Plan A last season, there was no Plan B:

That is another thing the new faces are supposed to help with. You don't get a playmaker from Spain if he can't make plays, right? Gil needs to be good for this team to have a path.

Even so, it may not be enough. The defense did not look good for most of last season, and Gil's not going to help with that.

First-choice XI*

4-2-3-1: Matt Turner; Edgar Castillo, Antonio Delamea, Michael Mancienne, Brandon Bye; Scott Caldwell, Luis Caicedo; Cristian Penilla, Carles Gil, Diego Fagundez; Juan Fernando Caicedo

(*) Brad Knighton might start in goal, Andrew Farrell might start at right back and Wilfried Zahibo might start at d-mid. But this is probably pretty close to what we should expect to see.

FC Cincinnati

Cincy brought back a large chunk of their USL squad, and I mostly got it. They had a winning team down there, and while there's a large and growing talent gap between MLS and USL, chemistry is chemistry. Guys who buy in are guys who buy in. If you're populating roster slots 18 through 30 with those types of guys – players who you know will carry the water and be good soldiers – it's not a bad plan.

But things didn't really get much better from there, and days from FC Cincinnati's first-ever MLS game, the roster seems to be filled with a lot of piano movers and not too many piano players. They have paid a lot of xAM for part-time or former MLS starters, and have a surfeit of both center backs and defensive central midfielders.

There's some talent here, but not much balance. The players have noticed.

“I have a lot of concerns. I want to score goals, and I need every support I can get in order to do that,” center forward Fanendo Adi said at Media Day this week. “When you’re a center forward and you don’t score goals, you get worried about the whole situation. But this is something that the coaches are working on. We still believe that the club can bring in a No. 10 for us, someone that is very experienced and can push us (forward).”

The silver lining is that hey, at least they've got an identity! Cincy look the part of a team that'll put 11 guys behind the ball and try to either 1) hit you on the break, or 2) kill you on set pieces.

Teams have climbed to 40 points on that blueprint.

My Worry: A lot more teams haven't. I don't think it's enough to be even on the fringes of playoff contention in MLS in 2019, especially since they won't be able to score their way out of jams.

To be clear, I absolutely share Adi's concerns. But I've got some concerns that even with a fully functional attacking midfield out there, Adi himself might not be up to the job of leading an MLS line anymore – as I wrote last month, he's got just 9 goals in his last 39 games across all competitions over nearly two years. That's a significant and prolonged dry spell.

Roland Lamah's gonna have to do a lot of this:

First-choice XI*

5-4-1: Przemyslaw Tyton; Greg Garza, Nick Hagglund, Mathieu Deplagne, Kendall Waston, Alvas Powell; Roland Lamah, Allan Cruz, Leonardo Bertone, Emmanuel Ledesma; Fanendo Adi

(*) This is a stab-in-the-dark guess. One thing I'll guarantee is that the XI changes a bunch during the year, as does the roster – Cincy have a lot of players at a few different spots who have real trade value. If things get ugly they have the pieces to pull off their version of Minnesota's 2017 Sam Cronin deal, which saved the Loons from a legendarily bad first year.

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