Welcome to the first podcast in our expanding network: The HPS MLS Pod.
Hosted by contributing writer Harrison Hamm, the HPS MLS Pod will cover a wide range of topics from America’s top domestic league.
This week, Harrison Crow from American Soccer Analysis joins to talk a wide range of MLS topics:
- The two Harrisons discuss the most underrated teams in MLS, including RSL, Houston, and Columbus (1:00)
- Then, they ponder the active soccer players most likely to eventually break Chris Wondolowski’s scoring record (37:15)
- To finish, they each bring up their favorite players to watch in MLS, and discuss what exactly makes a fun player (56:30)
Continuing their up and down season, the Red Bulls were admittedly disappointed with last night’s 2-2 draw at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
A draw draws no positives
Sitting in front of his locker long after the rest of his teammates had scattered, Red Bulls captain Luis Robles didn’t even try to pull any punches. “No, absolutely not,” was the New York netminders reply when asked if his team took this draw as a positive.
After struggling for a moment to convince himself that a tie wasn’t so bad, “at least we got a point, right?” Robles reconsidered.
“So, a midweek game against a West Coast team to get a point is really one of the only positives that we can take away from the game. But yeah, it’s it’s really disappointing. If we’re being honest, it’s disappointing against a team that; they’re okay. A team that traveled a very long way to play midweek and (we) felt like we had an opportunity to get three points tonight.”
With the matches coming hard and fast, although primarily at home, the Red Bulls can’t help but look at last night’s match against a team that Robles described as “okay”, as two points dropped, especially coming on the heels of Sunday’s feel-good win over red hot Atlanta United.
Heightening the Red Bulls disappointment was the home teams utter domination of the first half, a first 45 minutes that rarely saw visiting Vancouver get into New York’s defensive half of the field. While possession can be a misleading stat, New York’s 69.4% to 30.6% advantage would normally result in better than a 1-1 halftime score.
In fact, New York spotted Vancouver a one goal lead with fullback Scott Sutter punishing the Red Bulls on a blistering counterattack in the 29th minute. Sean Nealis was turned inside out by Whitecaps striker Joaquin Ardaiz before he set up Sutter, who finished well from a tight angle.
That vulnerability to the counter would be a problem all night for Chris Armas’ Killer B’s, with the Red Bulls playing a largely reserve side after Sunday’s hard-fought win over Atlanta. Armas was without his first choice center back pairing, Aaron Long, injured, and Tim Parker, red card suspension.
Of the Red Bulls starting 11 versus Vancouver only goalkeeper Luis Robles, midfielder Kaku, Alex Muyl, and recently, center back Amro Tarek, would be considered first 11 on this Red Bulls side, and most of the B’s are learning on the job.
Robles rued that inexperience post-game, calling games like last night “part of the learning process.” Robles continued, “if you look at in the field, Brian White, second-year pro, Omir Fernandez first-year pro, Sean Nealis, his first-year pro, Kyle Duncan second-year pro. I could go through and for the most part, outside of Sean Davis, who came on late, Alex Muyl, Derek (Etienne), there’s not a ton of guys, even Kaku, second year in this league, there’s not a ton of guys who really understand what’s required to get results midweek.”
It was one of those young players, Brian White, who found the net for the Red Bulls equalizer when he flicked on Tarek’s header to beat Zach McMath in the Vancouver goal in the 37th minute.
White was briefly credited with the Red Bulls second goal, but his deflected cross was eventually ruled an own goal, with Andy Rose getting the “credit.”
The Caps picked up their play in the second half but it was the Red Bulls that went ahead through that o.g. But the lead wouldn’t last long. Just six minutes, in fact, with Fredy Montero burying a VAR aided penalty kick in the 61st minute.
The call was for a handball on Sean Nealis, who had a tough night, although Armas had his back. “We say that defenders get judged for their bad plays, right?” Armas began. “So we can put out 20,30, 40, fires tonight. He plays, he does well. Maybe a couple slip. But he’s such a he’s a young player, but he gives a lot. So we’ll always look and try to learn from the (mistakes), that’s why he’s out there. He’s got courage, and he’s growing quickly.”
Armas will have to keep faith with Nealis and his other youngsters, especially with the Gold Cup/COPA America disruptions, with 3/4 of his back four likely traveling, if Long recovers from his injury.
That’s not to say there will not continue to be some growing pains for the young Red Bulls. Here is Robles again, on that topic.
“It really is about the mentality. It really is about how you approach the game and how you’re able to regroup under 72 hours and do it again. And the teams that have done very well and won Supporters Shields for this organization, they figured that out. And that’s part of playing in this league. And if you look at the schedule, it’s not getting any easier, right, because of the scheduling change in the season being done at the beginning of October, you look at the congestion in the summer. And we’re going to have a lot of these. But as I said, those are younger guys, and they’re going to learn and they have very high ceiling. So I am very optimistic with that.”
The Red Bulls next travel for an away match on Saturday against FC Cincinnati.
FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the Red Bulls as the slightest of favorites at +160. FC Cincinnati are +160. The draw is priced at +240.
Patience is not a virtue when it comes to European soccer.
As the top teams in Europe wrapped up their regular seasons the last few weeks, rumors of coaching changes are rampant. Consider:
- We heard speculation about a possible coaching change at Chelsea, where Maurizio Sarri’s future appears unclear.
- Many also wonder if Barcelona’s Ernesto Valverde will survive his team’s second Champions League meltdown in as many years, especially if the Catalans lose to Valencia in Saturday’s Copa del Rey final.
- There have even been questions about Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac despite his team winning the German league again. His critics seem to think the club’s seventh straight league title was just a result of a late-season meltdown by Borussia Dortmund. (Here’s where I should acknowledge that every fanbase contains segments that make noise that should be ignored, but I digress…)
Among European powers, Juventus appeared as unlikely to make a coaching change as anyone. Yes, the addition of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer made it Champions League or bust for Massimiliano Allegri and Co.
Despite that, it didn’t feel like the loss to Ajax in the UCL quarters was the type of outcome that would spark significant personnel changes. Yet there we were last Friday, reading a statement saying Allegri and the club were going their separate ways, despite one year remaining on his contract.
In five years with the Italians, Allegri led the team to five Serie A titles and no shortage of Champions League success. Juve finished as the UCL runner-up in both ’15 and ’17.
So why make a change now?
I could rattle off a long list of Allegri accomplishments with Juventus. But simply put, Allegri won just about everything possible domestically since the ’14-15 season. After five very successful years, I can only think of two reasons why this relationship is ending.
- The Dreaded Plateau. The first possibility is that both parties believe they’ve plateaued. This seems somewhat plausible, but I doubt a team that has come this close to winning the Champions League believes European glory is out of reach under the current setup. The age of Juve’s best players, though, does make you wonder how bright the immediate future is. Ronaldo is 34, Mario Mandzukic is 33, Blaise Matuidi is 32, Giorgio Chiellini is 34 and Leonardo Bonucci is 32. Maybe Allegri reached the conclusion that there was nothing more he could do with this roster. There were enough young contributors on this team, though, that I struggle to buy that it was entirely a matter of feeling like this roster’s best days are behind it.
- Not a matter of “if,” a matter of “what.” The matter of what changes to make to finally bring home a UCL trophy — and disagreement between Allegri and Juve execs over how to do so — strikes me as the more likely reason for the split.
At what point do Mandzukic, Chiellini, Bonucci, etc. – the team’s veteran leaders — take on smaller roles to make way for fresher legs? How do you build an attack around this vintage of Ronaldo, who remains arguably the best in the world at finishing, but is far less versatile than he used to be? On a related note, can Paulo Dybala ever blossom into the star he’s shown flashes of being while playing alongside CR7? The Argentine’s production fell off a cliff in his first year with Ronaldo — from 22 goals and five assists in Serie A last year to five goals and four assists this year.
Those are just a few of the questions whose answers are unclear. If Allegri and club execs differ on the way forward, going their separate ways makes plenty of sense.
Perhaps the true reason for his exit will emerge later this summer or further down the road, but those currently seem like the best possible explanations for this puzzling move.
Who takes over?
The Juventus job is the most prominent one available right now, and how it is filled is sure to spark a carousel effect. Everyone from Pep Guardiola (that can’t possibly be a legitimate possibility, can it??) to Sarri has already been mentioned.
Someone like Antonio Conte, who played for Old Lady for more than a decade and coached the club from ’11-14, would seem like a decent bet. That obviously only happens if the speculation he’s set to take over at Inter Milan proves false.
Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi has also been mentioned, and would make sense — if for no other reason than the fact that this club has been managed exclusively by Italians, with Didier Deschamps from ’06-07 one of the few exceptions — since the ‘70s.
One closing thought: instead of joining the rest of the internet in coming up with a list of 10 or 20 possible Allegri replacements, let’s get back to Juve’s thought process here. They must have had a replacement in mind – and one they felt confident they could sign – before ending things with Allegri, right? This team has been too good, and stable, for too long, for it to say goodbye to a proven commodity without a defined succession plan. With that in mind, expect a new Juve coach to be introduced some time this month. If not, an already head-scratching move will quickly make even less sense than it currently does.