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How the Revolution Have Improved Under Bruce Arena, and a New York Red Bulls Preview

August 13, 2019

The New England Revolution can be presented as a case study on the effect of coaching in soccer.

Incredibly, they have lost just once since Brad Friedel was fired in early May. They experienced a slight new coach bump, as many teams do, but once Bruce Arena took over full-time in June, they flipped a switch and became legitimately competent. 

Friedel was a demanding manager, and Arena appears to have provided a refreshing break from his predecessor’s intensity. Players look more confident as Arena has played them in the correct positions and in a compact, flexible system. The acquisition of Gustavo Bou, in theory symbolizing a new Revs outlook, helps an attack that looks much more threatening.

Arena’s tactical improvements

Tactically, Arena has simplified things, but also crafted enough of a tactical understanding to allow the Revs to alternate between formations and playing styles without sacrificing familiarity.

New England have used both four-at-the-back and five-at-the-back looks, playing high lines and deep lines, sometimes possessing the ball and other times playing more defensive. Other teams that have tried that sort of approach in MLSVeljko Paunovic’s Chicago, notably, as well as prior versions of Dome Torrent’s NYCFC — and failed, tinkering too much and never establishing an identity. Arena is a good enough coach that he does not fall victim to the flaws of Paunovic and Torrent.

The personnel haven’t improved dramatically. Players are just better. Carles Gil has lived up to his DP status. The defense — while there are legitimate concerns — has stayed afloat. A notably less error-prone Wilfried Zahibo has paired well with Luis Caicedo in a double-pivot midfield. Second-year SuperDraft pick Brandon Bye has proven to be a legitimate contributor on the flank, both in his primary job as a right back and as a wingback.

Arena knew these Revs needed a shake-up, and he’s provided it. Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez, who have long been under-utilized as cogs in a broken Revs system, have played all over the field. Striker Teal Bunbury, known for his streakiness, scored five goals in six games in the middle of New England’s 11-game unbeaten streak. 

All of a sudden, the Revs are sixth in the Eastern Conference and will likely make the playoffs, despite winning just two of their first 12 games. That is a pretty astounding turnaround. Competent coaching goes a long way.

To finish, let’s take a look at some interesting aspects of their upcoming match against the New York Red Bulls.

Revolution vs. Red Bulls Preview

We know what to expect from the Red Bulls by this point. They’ll press out of a 4-2-3-1 and play a high line, trying to coerce turnovers out of their opponents. It will be interesting to see how the Revs respond, and how conservative Arena is willing to get with his game-plan.

In Seattle last weekend, New England put out a three-at-the-back and played a relatively high line. It was an effort to put an extra defender on the field, knowing that the Revs had traveled cross-country to face an elite attacking opponent. At times they appeared stretched in midfield, but they never looked too disorganized, and they succeeded in generating chances on goal.

The Sounders match turned into a wild goal-fest, finishing 3-3 with a few video reviews and end-to-end action. Arena called it a s—show. It actually was a fairly quality game, though many of the pivotal occurrences ended up being products of luck — Arena called it a “game of accidents.” In spite of the craziness of the game, it is a testament to the Revs’ improvement that they were able to hang with Seattle on the road.

Their next task is hanging with the Red Bulls on the road. They will be up for it. NYRB lack the level of attacking firepower to overpower teams, and no longer are able to dominate the middle of the field the way they have been in the past. Bradley Wright-Phillips is a super-sub. Kaku openly wants out. They just sent dynamic young winger Derrick Etienne on loan to Cincinnati. They will continue to need a difference-making winger.

New England can create chances. Arena could set them up in a deeper block with the intent to attack on the counter, to mitigate the effect of the Red Bulls’ pressing. Cristian Penilla, a speedy winger who came off the bench in Seattle, could return to the starting lineup as an option on the counter. We’ve seen the Revs find success in this style (and others), so it’s reasonable to think they can put fear into NYRB on the road.

A Complete List of MLS Players Who Could Play in the Premier League

August 10, 2019

In thinking about the Aaron Long transfer saga, I came upon an interesting question: How many MLS players could step into the Premier League right now and handle themselves? I’m sure Long could. We’ve seen players like Miguel Almiron and DeAndre Yedlin do it. 

But MLS is obviously a few ticks lower in quality than the Premier League. MLS is more physical, focused less on passing and a bit more on athleticism. The primary difference between MLS and top leagues is the speed of play, and how fast the ball moves. Top players think the game at a higher level and possess the ball skills required to execute their ideas.

The key for any player from a lower-level league entering the Premier League is finding a way to hang in with the increased pace. Not every star in MLS would be capable of stepping into the EPL. Houston’s Alberth Elis, for example, has a good scoring record for the Dynamo and can run past players anywhere, but he struggles to stay consistent and isn’t much of a passer. Elis’s abilities off the dribble, while at times effective in MLS, are based less on ball skills and more on pure acceleration.

There are plenty of MLS players who could do well in the Premier League, though. To complete this thought exercise, let’s go position-by-position. 

I’ve listed 22 players who I am fully confident in, plus numerous others who I’m a bit more skeptical about, but who are still worth mentioning.

Goalkeepers

Stefan Frei, Seattle Sounders

Frei will have to play for a lower-table team that doesn’t keep a ton of possession, because his passing skills are not really at PL level. But he rarely makes errors and can make big saves.

A lot of the players on this list are here because they could play well in theory if plopped in England. But only a few might actually be candidates for transfers. Frei is 33. He’s not going to the Premier League any time soon.

Any others? Brad Guzan and Tim Howard used to play in the PL, but they’ve both declined in the years since they left. Tim Melia from 2017 could do it, though he hasn’t been as good in the last couple of years. You could talk me into Luis Robles. Outside of that, I’m not willing to put any other keepers here. Maybe a guy like Maxime Crepeau or Jesse Gonzalez develops.

Zack Steffen, of course, was transferred to Manchester City this summer and is now on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf in the Bundesliga.

Defenders

Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls

Walker Zimmerman, LAFC

Ike Opara, Minnesota United

Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez, Atlanta United

Long and Zimmerman are consistent US national teamers. Zimmerman is the runaway favorite for the Defender of the Year award. 

Opara can pass and is the best in MLS at defending in space. His ranginess would be very useful in the Premier League. Gonzalez-Pirez has a stronger build than Opara and can muscle players off the ball. LGP can dribble and take his space, too — if he were to play in the Premier League, his manager would have to make sure he doesn’t go rogue on dribbling exhibitions too often.

Any others? Philly’s Jack Elliott almost ended up on this list. He’s played every minute for the Union this season and has continued to excel. 

TFC’s Laurent Ciman used to be a Belgian national teamer, so a few years ago he could have played well in the Premier League. (He is worse now.) Graham Zusi and Matt Besler could have in their primes, but Zusi only converted to right back a couple of years ago. Matt Hedges is a borderline pick.

Midfielders

Julian Gressel, Atlanta United

Paxton Pomykal, FC Dallas

Eduard Atuesta, LAFC

Maxi Moralez, NYCFC

Alejandro Bedoya, Philadelphia Union

Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers

Diego Chara, Portland Timbers

Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders

Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC

There are a lot of good players on this list, many of them attackers. Gressel is best as a wingback — that’s the job I’d love to see him do in the Premier League — but can play pretty much anywhere in the midfield. Chara is still the best d-mid in MLS, and Atuesta is elite as a ball-mover and ground-coverer for LAFC.

Bedoya has been very good as a diamond shuttler in Philly. He was the one who required the most thought on this list, but watching him in the Union’s win over D.C. United last weekend convinced me that he deserves to be here. Pomykal is young (19) and will probably be transferred to a top league sooner rather than later. His field vision is his best asset.

Lodeiro, Moralez, and Pozuelo are game-changers as forward-thinking midfielders. Lodeiro — a World Cup vet with Uruguay — and Moralez might be the two most important players in the entire league, based on how much their teams need them. Valeri is a bit older now, but he remains a cerebral player.

Anyone else? Michael Bradley was the biggest snub here. The 2017 version of him would play well in the Premier League, but I found it hard to look at Toronto FC this year and put MB on this list.

Cristian Roldan, Alex Ring, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Latif Blessing, Sebastian Mendez, Sebastian Blanco, Darlington Nagbe, Jamiro Monteiro, and Jackson Yueill were all contenders. I really thought about putting Kaye and Ring on there. They are very close. I’d still be confident in them if they showed up in the starting lineup of Bournemouth.

Pity Martinez and Ezequiel Barco are not there yet.

If we could bring back 2017 Jonathan Osorio, he would be a shoo-in here. (Sensing a theme with TFC players?)

Forwards

Josef Martinez, Atlanta United

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy

Carlos Vela, LAFC

Diego Rossi, LAFC

Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC

Wayne Rooney, D.C. United

Out of these players, I waffled only on Rossi. I still want to see him create stuff without Vela doing everything, but if Rossi walked into a team with one or two other very good attackers, he is the perfect complement.

Zlatan and Vela are obvious. Rooney is older, but still very good. Josef is undersized, but he is persistent, and goal-scoring translates. He puts himself in good positions and he finishes his chances. Jozy Altidore is evidently not undersized, and he’s been a stud of late for TFC. I know he had a not great stint for Sunderland in 2013-2014, but I think he’s too good not to be here. In a better situation, he would score goals.

Anyone else? Similar to Josef, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Chris Wondolowski are good enough as scorers and poachers to succeed basically anywhere. BWP and Wondo are getting older, though, so I decided to leave them off.

Mauro Manotas deserves a shout here. He could have a future in a good league. Ignacio Piatti would have been amazing a few years ago in the PL, and even now he could be effective. Portland’s Brian Fernandez was close, though his recent cold spell was enough to exclude him.

Here’s the final XI:

Preview: Atlanta United vs New York City FC

Peter Nolan August 10, 2019

Match: Atlanta United vs. NYCFC
Date and Time: Sunday, Aug 11 at 4:00pm ET
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Line: Atlanta United-136 | Draw +290 | NYCFC +330

Third place NYCFC is coming to town to battle second place Atlanta United, the top deck is open and tickets are going like __ (insert favorite Atlanta or Southern food here). This game is set up so well it could be an MLS regular-season game to excite even Zlatan!

And if not, why not? Both teams are coming off wins and looking to chase down first place Philadelphia Union (42 points) as we head into the business end of the season.

After a slow start to the campaign, 2018 MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martinez is back leading the Atlanta attack. Don’t look now Carlos Vela, but Martinez has scored in nine consecutive matches, tying his MLS record.

That scoring run has Martinez, who set the single season league record last year with 31, on 18 goals, just four behind Vela.

Atlanta is, of course, a different team this year without Miguel Almiron and with Frank de Boer behind the bench in place of Tata Martino.

Gone too is Atlanta’s expansive, easy on the eye style. The switch to de Boer’s more rigid ways took some adjusting to for 2018 MLS Cup Champions, as they seemed to be asking if it’s not broke, why fix it?

The one player that has benefitted from the new way is center back Miles Robinson, a 22-year-old American that finds himself in contention for the U23/Olympic team, having become a regular under de Boer, playing all 24 of United’s games in 2019, starting 23.

Interestingly, Robinson’s situation is a virtual echo of the one James Sands faces with NYCFC. Sands also went from a spare part under Torrent and his successor Partick Vieira in 2018 to a key piece of the puzzle for his club, starting at the center of a three-center back set.

Sands missed some time recently with a broken arm and Torrent rested the 19-year-old for Thursday night’s 3-2 win over Houston but expect the Rye, New York native back in the lineup Sunday against Martinez and company.

Sands is teamed with veterans Maxime Chanot and Alexander Callens with the experienced pair also providing some beef that the 5’11” Sands, listed at 162 pounds lacks, allowing the former midfielder to showcase his ball-playing skills from the center of the defense.

It was a big moment for NYC against Houston when Maxi Moralez checked into the game Thursday night, mere moments after 10 man Houston had taken a 2-1 lead with a Mauro Manotas goal, decidedly against the run of play.

Moralez is the key to New York’s attack, teaming with Alexandru Mitrita and striker’s Heber and Valentin Castellanos who came off the bench to score the tying and winning goals versus Houston.

Atlanta has been extremely reliant on Martinez for goals this season. The Atlanta marksman’s 18 goals are a far cry from the four each tallied by Julian Gressel and Ezequiel Barco, next on Atlanta’s goals list.

Barco has yet to live up to the hype generated by his big money move to Atlanta prior to the 2018 season. Doubts were swirling around Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez earlier this season, but the tide seems to be turning. If Pity is synched up with Josef Martinez come playoff time, then Atlanta could mount a serious defense of its title.

As for Sunday, Atlanta’s home record of 9 wins, 1 loss, and 3 draws makes United a favorite against any team coming into Mercedes Benz, with the possible exception of LAFC. New York should make it tough on United and a draw isn’t out of the question, but with 70,00 plus screaming fans behind them Atlanta should enjoy some home cooking come Sunday.

Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. LAFC

Peter Nolan August 10, 2019

Who: LAFC vs NY Red Bulls
When: SUN AUG 11, 10:00 PM ET on FS1 · TSN 1/4 · FOX Sports GO
Line: LAFC -315 | Draw +440 | +700

Already the best team in MLS by a wide margin, the Los Angeles Football Club has just added highly rated 19-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Brian Hernandez from Penarol as a Young Designated Player.

Diego Rossi also came to LAFC from Penarol, signing with the new LA side in December of 2017. Hernandez starred for Uruguay at the recent U20 World Cup and has experience playing in both the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana.

As L.A.’s Bob Bradley-led juggernaut welcomes the New York Red Bulls to the Banc of California Park for a Sunday night showdown, NYRB has some transfer news of its own. The Red Bulls have just put pen to paper on a loan deal for 22 year-old winger Josh Sims, who comes to New York from Southampton on a Young DP contract for the rest of 2019.

Sims has made 20 Premier League appearances for the Saints, earning important minutes at the end of last season as Southampton successfully fought to secure its Premier League status.

With visa issues still to be resolved neither newcomer will be available on Sunday, although there will be plenty of talent on hand, particularly in the black and gold of the home team.

LAFC vs New York Red Bulls Match Preview

At 9 wins, 0 losses, and 1 draw, Los Angeles has a near-perfect home mark. They are not too bad on the road either, where they are 7-3-3.

The Red Bulls, third now in a tightly packed Eastern Conference, cannot come close to LA’s numbers and are 3-4-3 away from Red Bull Arena. If Chris Armas’ men are to get a result out of their cross country jaunt they will need to take some steps toward re-establishing the defensive chemistry that led New York’s MLS originals to the league’s best defensive record in 2018.

Perhaps the closing of the MLS transfer window on midnight Wednesday, August 7 will do the Red Bulls some good in that respect, now that Aaron Long knows where he will be playing his soccer for the immediate future.

The 2018 MLS Defender of the Year was reportedly close to a move to the Premier League’s West Ham, with other clubs in other league’s also said to be bidding for him. Long is a professional and seems unlikely to go into a funk, but performance levels have been known to drop when players are denied a move.

Long, goalkeeper Luis Robles and all the Red Bulls will need a big performance against L.A. who leads the league with 61 goals, 14 goals better than Philadelphia, second in MLS with 46.

Of course, goalkeeper Tyler Miller, center backs Walker Zimmerman and Eddie Segura have led LAFC to the best defensive record in the league, with LA having surrendered just 23 goals.

Of late, however, that defensive shield has shown a crack or two, with LA conceding twice after having built a 3-0 lead versus Atlanta on July 26. LAFC managed to close out that win, badly needed after Zlatan Ibrahimovich had hung a hattrick on them the previous week in a 3-2 loss to the L.A. Galaxy.

LA got back on track with a 2-0 win Saturday at New England behind goals from Diego Rossi and Latif Blessing. Rossi is second on the team and fourth in the league with 13 goals, with likely MVP Carlos Vela setting the pace with his MLS leading 22 goals and 13 assists, level with NYCFC’s Maxi Moralez for the top spot on the helpers chart.

With a very impressive record of 16 wins, 3 losses, and four draws, LAFC has obviously been consistent all season. From a points dropped standpoint, LA’s worst stretch was when they drew consecutive matches, 1-1 at Seattle on April 28 and 0-0 at home to Chicago on May 4.

As for the Red Bulls, consistently inconsistent might be the best way to describe their 2019 season. Going back to a pair of wins, 4-0 over Real Salt Lake on June 1, and 2-0 versus Cinncinatti on May 25, the Red Bull have alternated wins with losses, with just a 3-3 draw with Atlanta on July 7 breaking the win, lose, win, lose pattern.

NYRB are heavy underdogs at +700. With a +7 goal differential compared to LAFC’s +38, and on the road, they should be. Oddsmakers have the most likely outcome a 3-0 LAFC win (+800), meaning this could be a long night for the Red Bulls.

HPS MLS Podcast Episode 8: Mesut Ozil and Re-Examining the MLS Single-Entity System

August 9, 2019

Another episode of the HPS MLS Pod is up!

Joining host Harrison Hamm this week is site-runner Chops.

Discussed…

  • The potential impact of Mesut Ozil joining D.C. United
  • How many MLS players could step into the Premier League right now?
  • The Aaron Long transfer saga and MLS as a selling league
Listen to “HPS MLS Podcast Episode 8 – Mesut Ozil and Re-examining MLS’ Single Entity System” on Spreaker.

Preview: New York Red Bulls vs Toronto FC

Peter Nolan August 2, 2019

Who: New York Red Bulls vs Toronto FC
When: Saturday, August 3rd @ 6:00pm ET on ESPN+
Where: Red Bull Arena
LineNew York Red Bulls -114 | Draw +285 | Toronto FC +270



Welcome back from the break, now, where were we?

Oh, yeah, on July 27, um last Saturday, the New York Red Bulls dropped a painful 3-2 decision at home to the hugely disappointing Columbus Crew – wasn’t Caleb Porter supposed to be better than this? – that left them sitting in 5th place with 34 points. Not terrible, but not great after 23 games from the defending Supporters Shield winners.

Now the Red Bulls hope to kick off a stretch run with a win against a side in worse shape than themselves, the struggling Toronto Football Club. Despite a 2-1 home win over FC Cincy last Saturday, TFC spent the break below the playoff line. However, a win on Saturday could push them as far up the table as 5th place, ahead of the Red Bulls and level on points with 4th place NYCFC.

New York Red Bulls vs Toronto FC match preview

With the taste of that loss to Columbus and the lingering feeling that they should have done better than a 3-1 loss in Toronto back on July 17, the Red Bulls figure to be a somewhat angry side on Saturday night.

The Red Bulls have done well over the years against Toronto, especially at home, where the Bulls have are an impressive 11-2-2 versus the Reds over the years.

To keep that record climbing, New York will need to contend with Jozy Altidore, who has scored a goal in four consecutive games, some of them quite spectacular, and MLS All-Star Alejandro Puzuelo, who has been a smash hit since coming to the league. Puzuelo has nine goals and nine assists in 19 games. Giovinco-esque, no?

As for Altidore, the man a sizable portion of USMNT supporters love to hate, he has been flashing the combination of power and skill that first excited the American soccer community when he first appeared on the scene way back in 2006.

Altidore has nine goals in 13 games this season, just nine starts. Simply put, when Altidore is healthy, he is still far and away the best American striker and a top MLS star.

TFC has not been sharp defensively and is looking to another controversial USMNT man, Omar Gonzalez, to right that ship. Gonzalez has played three games for Toronto since returning to the league for the first time since 2015, when Gonzalez left the L.A. Galaxy for Mexico.

New York coach Chris Armas has yet to rely on Bradley Wright-Phillips for a full match since the veteran striker’s return. Instead, he is choosing to bring BWP off of the bench to replace or play alongside Reb Bulls joint-leading goal scorer Brian White.

Armas may be inclined to continue that strategy, although a surprise pairing from the start could upset TFC coach Greg Vanney’s plans. In our mid-season Report Card, we pointed out that it may be time for Derrick Etienne to make a jump from bit player to a more prominent role in the Red Bulls attack.

His confidence is on the up after playing an important part in Haiti’s Gold Cup campaign. The Haitian-American is quick, skillful and can be audacious, qualities the Red Bulls offense could surely use.

The Red Bulls finally have their health as they head into the final portion of the 2019 season. If the team is to make a run to the playoffs and perhaps do some damage once they get there, last season’s league leading defense simply must cut down on the mistakes and tighten up in front of Luis Robles.

The Tyler Adams effect has been real but with four international quality defenders in Kemar Lawrence, Michael Murillo, Aaron Long, and Tim Parker, the Red Bulls defense can and should be among the league’s best.

MLS Matchweek 21 Betting Odds: LAFC vs Atlanta United Highlights Stellar Match-Ups

High Press 10 July 23, 2019

Some really big match-ups this week in MLS.

Coming off a Zlatan-depantsing, this year’s presumptive champs LAFC look to rebound against last year’s actual champs, Atlanta United. But that’s not the only major match-up.

Zlatan leads LA Galaxy to Portland as they try keep LAFC within their sights in the Western conference. Seattle takes on Houston in another important match-up for Western conference playoff aspirations. FC Dallas host RSL as both teams try to stay in the playoff race as well.

Lots of intriguing games. Here are the odds.

MLS Matchweek 21 Odds

As always, home team is listed first. Read how to bet MLS for a refresher.

NYCFC -138Draw +275Sporting KC +360
LAFC -205Draw +375Atlanta United +450
New England -167Draw +310Orlando +410
New York Red Bulls -139Draw +255Columbus Crew +400
Chicago Fire -143Draw +300DC United +340
FC Dallas -130Draw +270Real Salt Lake +340
Houston Dynamo +100Draw +270Seattle Sounders +240
Minnesota United -275Draw +400Vancouver +650
Montreal Impact +148Draw +245Philadelphia Union +170
Toronto FC -286Draw +470Cincinnati +650
San Jose -240Draw +400Colorado Rapids +525
Portland Timbers -182Draw +340LA Galaxy +420

Odds & Ends

Let’s focus on where the value is this week:

  • At -205, LAFC might not be your traditional value play. However, it’s hard to imagine they don’t come out on Friday with something to prove against Atlanta.
  • DC United is inconsistent af, but +340 against Chicago? Take a hard look at the draw (+300) or DC outright. They’re the better team and are +6 on Chicago on gd.
  • Montreal may be in 6th place in the Eastern conference, but they have the 3rd worst goal differential (-11). If Philadelphia Union is for real, they’ll handle their business at +170.
  • Yes, Portland looks much improved. But Galaxy at +420 is practically begging you to take them. Lots of value at that price even if you like the Timbers.

Could This LAFC Team Compete in Europe?

Chops July 22, 2019

Watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic go off for a hat trick Friday night as LA Galaxy and LAFC played a thrilling, physical, proper derby, we started thinking:

If one of Europe’s best players this century could single-handedly sink one of MLS’s best teams ever, how well would LAFC compete in European leagues?

To figure this out, we’ll explore:

  • How good is LAFC in MLS?
  • How much talent does LAFC have on their roster?
  • How does MLS compare to European leagues?
  • How does LAFC statistically stack up against European clubs?

How good is this year’s LAFC?

LAFC is a legitimate MLS juggernaut. Even with Friday’s loss, their third of the season, LAFC are still 9 points clear of Galaxy in the Western conference. More impressively, they have an absurd +35 goal differential after 21 games.

For comparison’s sake, last year’s MLS Cup winner and juggernaut themselves, Atlanta United, finished the 34-game season +26.

The best goal differential in MLS history belongs to the 1998 LA Galaxy squad. Propelled by Cobi Jones leading the attack and Kevin Hartman between the sticks, that team finished +41 in a very different looking, quality-deprived league.

LAFC at +35 will likely blow the best goal differential record out of the water.

While goal differential is a much stronger indicator of a team’s quality than wins and losses, LAFC also have the single-season points record in their sights. That currently belongs to last year’s New York Red Bulls at 71. However, that team “only” was +29 for the season.

So it’s reasonable to say that after 21 games, LAFC are on track to record the greatest team season in MLS history.

How much talent is on LAFC’s roster?

LAFC have legitimate top-shelf talent…for MLS.

While Zlatan thinks (and for one night showed) otherwise, Carlos Vela has consistently been the best player in MLS all year. LAFC are dominant, but the real strength is their attack. Looking at WhoScored data, LAFC have four of the best 11 players (statistically) so far this season. All are midfielders / forwards:

How far ahead is Vela compared to the rest of the league?

For comparison’s sake, last year’s best player in MLS, Miguel Almiron, rated 7.7 on WhoScored. As we say, WhoScored isn’t the end all be all, but provides a solid measuring stick. Almiron was sold to Newcastle for $26M USD. Vela would never fetch the same price as Miggy (age being the biggest reason). However, Almiron stepped right in and was a top-half-of-the-roster contributor on a mid-table Premier League team. That would be a reasonable expectations for Vela (he’d even slot in well with a team like Wolverhampton).

After Vela, nobody on LAFC’s roster would likely earn starter minutes on any Prem squad other than recently promoted clubs or an off-team with a glaring positional hole. Domestic talent is there. Top European quality talent is sparse.

To further that point, LAFC’s total roster value is just over $43M. The below graphic is Transfermarkt’s top XI in the MLS in terms of value. These are the ballpark values clubs would expect to receive in transfer offers. It’s worth noting that Aaron Long is not among the four most valued defenders.

Anyway, market value has a startling direct correlation to team performance. Just look at Premier League team market values and where they finished in the table. Top 6 is almost in exact order of finish. Teams 7-10 are too, it’s just missing Wolves.

LAFC would have the 19th most expensive roster in the Premier League, and the lion’s share of that value is tied to one player.

MLS’ total league-wide market value is $652.53M USD. There are six teams in the Premier League alone with higher market values than the MLS as a league. MLS’ total value is comparable with Arsenal ($662M), who may not even crack the top 6 this year.

How does MLS compare to other leagues?

Poorly.

This is no besmirchment on MLS. It improves in quality every year. Other global domestic leagues have anywhere from a 40 to 100+ year head start on them.

We’re working on a larger post on this topic for early August. However, looking at Global Soccer Rankings on FiveThirtyEight and transfermarkt values, MLS would rank behind the following domestic leagues without question:

  • English Premier League
  • La Liga
  • Bundesliga
  • Serie A
  • Ligue 1
  • Primiera Liga
  • Premier League (Russia)
  • Süper Lig (Turkey)
  • Eredivisie
  • Liga MX

Other leagues like Super League (Switzerland) or Superliga (Argentina) have better top end teams and weaker bottom end clubs.

The point, LAFC is dominating a deep league… that lacks depth in the upper ranks.

So how would LAFC as a team do in Europe’s top leagues?

Yeah, sooo…

If you go strictly off their Global Club Rank (unfortunately ClubElo doesn’t track MLS, but we’ll approximate them) and transfermarkt values, then you get the following baselines:

  • LAFC has a Global Club Rank of 114.
  • Their transfermarkt total would put them 19th out of 20 Premier League teams and somewhere among the bottom 3 for La Liga, Bundesliga, and Serie A.
  • Their ClubElo rank then would approximate around 1575, which would be a top tier Championship level team.

So how would LAFC do in Europe?

  • Premier League: They’d be a relegation candidate / would not qualify. They’d do well in the Championship.
  • La Liga: Their roster value would put them in the relegation zone. However, their Global Soccer Ranking and ClubElo would have them as a top La Liga 2 squad.
  • Bundesliga: Just copy+paste La Liga here. They likely wouldn’t qualify or would be a relegation candidate if they did. They’d be a top level Bundesliga 2 team.
  • Serie A: Financially, Serie A is a bit stronger on the bottom end than the Bundesliga and La Liga. However, their Global Club Rankings and ClubElo indicate that LAFC would be right around the relegation zone.
  • Ligue 1: I don’t really consider Ligue 1 in the same class as the other four leagues. It’s a big 4, not a big 5. To that point, LAFC would likely be a mid-table Ligue 1 squad. This is the first of the major European domestic leagues where they’d not only qualify, but hang.

After that, you could drop LAFC in the Netherlands or Portugal and while they wouldn’t compete for titles, they’d comfortably survive each year in the top half of the table.

So yes, LAFC is perhaps the greatest MLS squad of all time. But no, they wouldn’t compete with even the bottom teams of the top 4 European leagues just yet.

MLS is a good product that’s come a long ways. There’s still some distance from it’s top end and the rest of the world.

Analyzing Each of the Eastern Conference’s Best Teams

July 19, 2019

At this stage of the MLS season, we can confidently place a group of five teams at the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy:

Other playoff contenders — notably the Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC and the New England Revolution — will hang around, but the existing group of five will be tough to challenge.

To handicap the race, let’s take a look at each of the East elites, including what they do well and poorly and how they’ve played in recent weeks.

D.C. United

DCU sit second in the Eastern Conference, barely a nick ahead of a threatening group of three — Atlanta, NYRB, and NYCFC. D.C. are in danger are falling further behind.

Even as they stick around in the upper tier in the conference, it grows harder and harder to proclaim them as legitimate contenders. They’ve won just twice in their last 10 games.

Luciano Acosta is suspended currently for a red card, and has generally taken a step back from last season’s ascent to stardom. They haven’t scored at the rate most expected despite Wayne Rooney’s continued excellence.

By the time Acosta is transferred elsewhere (which seems like an inevitability, whether this window or next), D.C. will be severely missing attacking creativity. In fact, they’ve been missing attacking creativity even with Acosta in the lineup. D.C. rank in the lower tiers of shots per game and xG per game. They lack difference-makers — players who can find the ball and pick out passes that others don’t see. 

Acosta has been a difference-maker in the past, but this season his productivity has waned. DCU don’t have other players who can both fill in when Acosta’s production dips and, most importantly, help boost the Argentine. They need a secondary creator.

Lucas Rodriguez is a dribbler, but he’s not a passer or an adept connector. Paul Arriola is a workhorse. The deeper midfielders have yet to find ways to impact further up the field the way players like Cristian Roldan in Seattle have.

D.C. have to surround Rodriguez and Arriola with players who can move the ball and keep D.C.’s attack from faltering. Rodriguez, while electric on the ball, has an xGChain/96 figure of 0.96, lower than that of Gyasi Zardes. Arriola is a high-caliber player, but similarly lacks the ability to find difference-making passes. 

Above all else, D.C. need a shake-up. They’ve clearly stagnated. We’ll see what this transfer window brings.

NYCFC

NYC lost twice in MLS in the last couple of weeks, to the Portland Timbers and the Red Bulls. In between those, they sandwiched a penalty-kick defeat in the US Open Cup quarterfinals against Orlando City.

Pigeons fans need not worry too much about these recent setbacks. The Red Bulls loss had a fluky feel to it — NYRB scored their goals on a penalty-kick and a bizarre, controversial referee mismanagement situation. NYC had dominated much of the New York Derby. They had their chances against Portland, losing 1-0 despite dominating the xG battle. Penalty shootouts are basically coin tosses.

In general, City look like one of the league’s better teams, and hold games in hand on most of their Eastern Conference rivals. Their attack is deep. Younger options have emerged in midfield alongside Alex Ring; most notably, Keaton Parks has become an important starter, and James Sands will continue to have a role. Maxi Moralez is a legitimate MVP candidate. 

Dome Torrent has his team spreading opponents out, sending the fullbacks forward, and thriving off of diagonal switches in the attacking third. It is an effective formula, but they have to be careful to prevent the well running dry. 

Atlanta United

Have Atlanta adjusted to Frank de Boer’s system? I’m inclined to say that they have, to a certain extent. They’ve worked their way back up to third in the Eastern Conference, and they have started to improve in midfield. Justin Meram has shown flashes of pre-Orlando City Justin Meram.

But when they win, defending and Josef Martinez make the difference.

Ezequiel Barco and Hector Villalba are still injured. With Brek Shea out for the year and Mikey Amrbose battling thigh problems, they don’t have a left back. Pity Martinez has not yet transformed into a world-beating superstar, and it’s hard to see that happening any time soon. They have a ceiling now that they didn’t have in the past.

The five-game win streak they ripped off at the beginning of May appears to have been a product of a weak schedule; they took four of a possible 15 points in the five games prior to Wednesday’s 5-0 demolition of 10-man Houston.

De Boer should roll with the 3-5-2-ish formation he tested against the Dynamo. Julian Gressel is best used as a wingback, and a three-at-the-back is the only way De Boer can fit the center back trio of Miles Robinson, Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Michael Parkhurst together. Pity’s defensive apathy would be most effectively sheltered in a second striker role.

Atlanta will keep trying to find the best version of themselves.

New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls, contrary to previous NYRB seasons, look set up to succeed in the playoffs instead of the regular season. They took some time to coalesce this year — a process that makes sense, considering the departure of Tyler Adams, injuries on the backline, Champions League congestion, and Kaku’s going off the rails at various times — and now they are motoring along at a reasonable pace.

It’s hard to see them going on a run and challenging for first in the conference, barring some big signing of a winger. Reigning Defender of the Year Aaron Long has been the subject of transfer rumors this summer. If they sell, they make things very difficult for themselves this season.

But aside from Adams’s departure and Bradley Wright-Phillips’s decline to super-sub status, not too much is different about this Red Bulls team from previous iterations. They play a similar style and press the ball well. In the waning BWP years (and first Brian White year!), they’ll want to make a serious run in October.

Philadelphia Union

The current top team, Philly have been better and more consistent than every team in the East except for (arguably) NYCFC. They have the look of a bona fide elite, though the recent injury of Jamiro Monteiro has stunted their recent form.

They may be a bit overrated in some areas. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie haven’t had seasons to write home about, though Jack Elliott has been very good at center back. Andre Blake is perpetually the most overrated keeper in the league. The signing of journeyman American Andrew Wooten at striker is unlikely to be a serious difference-maker.

In general, though, the Union are legit. Ilsinho is a weapon off the bench that other teams don’t have. Kai Wagner has been one of the league’s best left backs this season. The diamond formation has worked wonders, and continues to produce quality possession. They will face a battle to finish at the top of the conference.

HPS MLS Pod Episode 6 with Evan Weston

July 13, 2019

It’s time for another HPS MLS Pod!

Joining Harrison Hamm this week is Evan Weston, the television voice of Orlando City SC. Topics discussed include:

  • Orlando’s wild win over NYCFC in the US Open Cup quarterfinals (0:30)
  • Orlando’s improvement this season and future direction (10:00)
  • The attack, and Chris Mueller’s potential USMNT contention (30:00)
Listen to “HPS MLS Pod Episode 6 with Evan Weston” on Spreaker.

Complete MLS Midseason Award Picks

July 12, 2019

With the MLS season just past its halfway point, now is as good a time as ever to do some awards. We’ll do the real awards and mix in plenty of other player and team prizes.

Let’s go!

MVP: Carlos Vela, LAFC

This one is as consensus a selection as you’re going to get. Carlos Vela has a ridiculous 19 goals and 12 assists in 19 games, on pace for the best season in MLS history. He is the best player on the best team. He does so much beyond scoring that he has left little debate as to who the best player in the league is.

Finalists: Maxi Moralez (NYCFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy)

Moralez has 6g, 11a as NYCFC’s fulcrum. The Light Blues have two losses all season and are tied for the Eastern Conference lead on points-per-game.

Zlatan is second in the league in goals and dictates everything that makes the Galaxy successful. He also dictates everything that holds them back — he does little defensive work and has an outwardly poor attitude.

Defender of the Year: Walker Zimmerman, LAFC

It’s hard not to give this award to Walker Zimmerman, who has clearly been the best defender in the league. His performance earned him a regular starting job in the USMNT’s Gold Cup backline.

Finalists: Miles Robinson (Atlanta), Larrys Mabiala (Portland)

Coach of the Year: Jim Curtain, Philadelphia

Philly has risen to first-place in the Eastern Conference with a defined style of play, emphasizing the strengths of its players and playing quality possession soccer. Jim Curtain’s trust of guys like Brenden Aaronson has spurred the Union’s surge.

Finalists: Bob Bradley (LAFC), Matias Almeyda (San Jose)

Goalkeeper of the Year: Stefan Ffrei, Seattle Sounders

I had a hard time coming up with a clear top contender for this one. Stefan Frei has continued to be solid in Seattle, so I’ll give it to him.

Finalists: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Maxime Crepeau (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Newcomer of the Year: Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC

Alejandro Pozuelo has easily been TFC’s best player, with seven goals and eight assists so far in his debut season.

It would be a very good bet, though, that Portland forward Brian Fernandez will have this award on lock by the end of the year. The Timbers promise to win a good portion of their home game slate in the second half of the season, and Fernandez has been scoring at a goal-per-game pace.

Finalists: Fernandez, Kacper Przybylko (Philadelphia)

Most Improved Player: Latif Blessing, LAFC

Latif Blessing has been a Best XI-level performer in midfield for LA. He has gone from a super-utility player to one of the league’s best ball-moving and ground-covering midfielders in the league. Fellow LA midfielder Eduard Atuesta would’ve been a reasonable pick here as well.

Honorable mentions: Jackson Yueill (San Jose), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Atuesta, Lamine Sane (Orlando), Memo Rodriguez (Houston)

Best team: LAFC

I mean.

Honorable mention: Philadelphia Union

Worst team: FC Cincinnati

Cincy have lost 13 of their 19 games and are the running favorite for the Wooden Spoon. They went to Minnesota and got annihilated 7-1 on June 29. As they continue to search for a coach, their roster is in a “tear it all down” stage.

Honorable mention: Columbus Crew

With Colorado and New England starting to figure themselves out, it’s been an especially bad year for Ohio teams.

Biggest surprise: The rise of the Union

Watching Philly transition from an interesting young team to a clear MLS elite has been a joy. They’ve done so through a well-crafted style of play, the growth of several players, and smart signings (Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylko, Jamiro Monteiro, Sergio Santos). We await the rise of Marco Fabian.

Honorable mentions: LAFC’s complete dominance, San Jose’s turnaround, Orlando’s new foundation

Biggest disappointment: Columbus’s plummet

The Crew started the season competently and then tumbled harshly to the surface, pushed off the ledge by a rash of injuries (Milton Valenzuela, Federico Higuain, Harrison Afful) and static coaching. As much as Caleb Porter wanted to run it all back, it just wouldn’t work. Big changes are on the horizon in Columbus.

Honorable mentions: Houston’s road stagnation, Toronto’s slow first half

Team that should improve: Portland Timbers

This is the easiest answer: Portland have a few games in hand on most Western Conference teams and will play the vast majority of their remaining matches at home. Sitting ninth in the west now, the Timbers should rise at least a few spots by the end of the year.

Honorable mentions: New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC

Team that might regress: Montreal Impact

Montreal are fourth in the east now, but feel the heat of NYCFC on their back. NYCFC have four games in hand and are just one point behind the Impact. The Red Bulls and possibly Toronto FC (with Omar Gonzalez and one or two TAM attackers arriving) could overtake the Impact as well and toss them out of the playoff race.

HPS MLS Podcast Episode 4

June 26, 2019

New episode of the HPS MLS Podcast is live!

Joining Harrison Hamm today is Dummy Run.Topics include the USMNT’s win over Trinidad, a balance between the present and the future, changes to Gregg Berhalter’s so-called System, and overreactions to preceding friendlies.

  • Our confidence in the US’s ability to win the Gold Cup, and whether that means anything (4:00)
  • Changes to Berhalter’s system (10:50)
  • Christian Pulisic’s role (27:00)
Listen to “The HPS MLS Pod Episode 4” on Spreaker.

MLS All-Star Team: Did the Selection Process Get it Right?

June 25, 2019

MLS unveiled its full All-Star team on Monday.

In total, 26 players will go to Orlando to play Atletico Madrid, 11 of which were selected by fans. Orlando City SC coach James O’Connor picked 13. Commissioner Don Garber added two special picks — young FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal and RSL goalkeeping legend Nick Rimando, who will retire after this season.

All in all, it’s a pretty good team, and most of the players who should have made it made it. There are snubs, per usual, and smaller-market teams will rightfully complain that higher-profile players made it over more deserving guys. Bastian Schweinsteiger should not be on this team if we’re considering pure performance this season.

But it makes sense that fame and fan recognition takes precedence in some cases. This is a showcase for MLS against a high-level European team. MLS has plenty of motivation to let Schweinsteiger into this team ahead of, say, Jack Elliott, even if Elliott has been miles better than Bastian this season.

MLS All-Star game compared to other American pro sports leagues

And MLS’s All-Star Game does not carry the importance and prestige of other American all-star games. It’s not common to discuss an MLS player and say he’s a “three-time All-Star.” That statement in itself would not indicate that the player is very good, the way that it would if you were talking about the NBA or NHL. 

Most importantly, All-Star selections don’t significantly affect a player’s salary and contract like they do in the NBA, at least to public knowledge. In the grand scheme of things, Houston Dynamo fans can deal with a deserving Alberth Elis missing the team.

With that in mind, we’re looking today at the players who should have and shouldn’t have made it.

Attacking Selections and Snub

Elis is the biggest snub that comes to mind. The forward selections from the fan XI were Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Vela. Those three are fair and deserving, though Elis has been a bit better than Rooney this season. Elis has five goals and six assists in 400 fewer minutes than Rooney, who has eight goals and five assists. 

From there, O’Connor added Josef Martinez and Chris Wondolowski as coach selections. Martinez has 10 goals and is arguably the third-best player in the league. Wondo has caught fire in recent weeks. It’s hard to justify Wondo over Elis, Mauro Manotas, and others, but it’s nice to reward Wondo for breaking the scoring record. No quibbles there.

11 players make up the midfield, seven of whom are outright attackers (eight if you include Paxton Pomykal). The fan XI picks were, as expected, big-market stars: Nani, Pity Martinez, Ezequiel Barco and Jonathan dos Santos.

Nani and dos Santos have been very good this season and deserve spots. The same cannot be said for Martinez and Barco. Atlanta’s voting bots are effective.

Deserving players get recognition

It was nice to see James O’Connor add six deserving players with his coach’s picks. Diego Rossi, tied for fourth in the league in goals, made it, as did NYCFC star Maxi Moralez, who is second in assists with nine. O’Connor recognized the efforts of LAFC workhorse and play-driver Mark-Anthony Kaye, and made sure to add the league’s best defensive midfielder: Diego Chara.

Nicolas Lodeiro is in the team. He is consistently one of the league’s most valuable players and the Sounders are third in the west, so his spot is safe. O’Connor also included Toronto FC’s Alejandro Pozuelo, who looks like an instant superstar. Pozuelo has 5g and 8a already.

Credit to Don Garber for making Pomykal a commissioner’s pick — Pomykal was deserving regardless as one of the league’s best No. 10-ish players. A few guys, like Diego Valeri, Alejandro Bedoya, Latif Blessing, and Eduard Atuesta were unlucky miss out. 

Fans whiff on two backline selections

The seven players who will make up the defense were primarily deserving selections, except for two: Schweinsteiger, based on his performance this year, and fan XI pick Graham Zusi. But, as mentioned before, it’s hard to argue against the draw of Schweinsteiger as a superstar. 

Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez and Walker Zimmerman were the other two fan XI selections. Zimmerman is the running favorite for Defensive Player of the Year, and Gonzalez-Pirez remains an elite center back in this league. In addition to those four, O’Connor added Red Bulls right back Kemar Lawrence, Minnesota left back Romain Metanire and FC Dallas center back Matt Hedges. Quality picks.

It was disappointing to see that DaMarcus Beasley did not receive a selection in his final season. Elliott, Kelvin Leerdam, and Nick Lima were other contenders.

The retiring Rimando will be the third goalkeeper, added as a career honor. Brad Guzan and Andre Blake are the other two keepers — neither would have been my selections, but the goalkeeper pool is crowded, and there haven’t been many that have set themselves apart. 

Top to Bottom Ranking of MLS Players Who Earn $2M or More

June 15, 2019

With MLS salaries now public, we again have the pleasure of knowing how much each player makes, and how much each team spends. Much can be done with this information, even with the knowledge that it might not be quite perfect.

We’ve already looked at underpaid and overpaid MLS players. Today, we’re ranking the 19 players who earn $2,000,000 or more in guaranteed compensation. The list excludes Giovani dos Santos and Yura Movsisyan, who no longer play in MLS, and Gyasi Zardes, who due to a clerical error was originally reported as earning more than $2M.

For the most part, these are good, top-tier players who are important for their teams. Considering they are paid vastly more than the rest of the league, they should be.

1. Carlos Vela, LAFC, $6,300,000

Shouldn’t be much surprise here — Vela is the league’s best player and plays for its best team. He’s on pace to set a record for most combined goals and assists in a single season.

2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy, $7,200,000

Zlatan is the league’s second best player, scoring the second-most goals on the season (11) despite playing fewer minutes than the others in his vicinity. He is everything for the Galaxy. Not many surprises here, either.

3. Josef Martinez, Atlanta United, $3,058,333

These first three were easy — they are the best three players in MLS, and are a tier ahead of everyone else. Martinez is third in goals.

4. Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle Sounders, $2,502,500

Lodeiro runs everything for the Sounders. He consistently leads the league in various statistics that show he is active in basically every attacking possession. If MLS had publically-available tracking statistics, Lodeiro would probably lead in distance run by a wide margin.

5. Alejandro Pozuelo, Toronto FC, $3,800,000

Pozuelo has been a revelation for TFC in his first 12 games, with five goals and eight assists. He looks like a centerpiece.

6. Wayne Rooney, D.C. United, $3,507,500

He doesn’t outright dominate games like some others on this list, but Rooney is fourth in the league in goals and is clearly pretty important for D.C. United.

7. Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact, $4,443,333

Piatti is aging — Montreal have to start planning for their post-Piatti future — but he is productive when he plays, and has been one of the league’s best wingers for almost a half-decade.

8. Nani, Orlando City SC, $2,486,250

Some (read: me) were skeptical of Nani when Orlando first shelled out big bucks for him. But for now, he is proving people wrong. He has a cool eight goals and four assists in 979 minutes for a mediocre Lions team. Orlando will need at least a couple more years of that sort of production to extract full value from the 32-year-old.

9. Jonathan dos Santos, LA Galaxy, $2,000,000

I had compiled most of my list when I realized I forgot dos Santos, a game-controlling d-mid who rivals Lodeiro in touch percentage leaderboards. The Mexican international has proven a crucial piece for the Galaxy.

10. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC, $6,332,250

Altidore guarantees goals when he is on the field. He remains inexplicably underrated by too many fans outside of Toronto.

11. Maxi Moralez, NYCFC, $2,000,000

NYCFC have played eight games with both Moralez and Heber in the starting lineup. In those games, Moralez has three goals and eight assists and Heber has six goals and three assists. The Pigeons have five wins, three draws, and zero losses. Those also happen to be their last eight games.

12. Diego Valeri, Portland Timbers, $2,420,000

Valeri hasn’t had a crazy statistical season — partially due to the Timbers’ huge run of home games to start the year — but it’s hard to rank him much lower than this.

13. Nicolas Gaitan, Chicago Fire, $2,197,504

Perhaps this is underrating Gaitan, who has a very nice reputation, but he hasn’t blown opponents out of the water just yet. Two goals and five assists in 763 minutes is a pretty nice haul, though.

14. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago Fire, $5,600,000

The Schweinsteiger-is-a-center-back experiment is not my favorite thing. Bastian isn’t what he used to be.

15. Albert Rusnak, Real Salt Lake, $2,001,667

Rusnak is a highly-coveted attacking midfielder who is early into his prime (at 24 years of age) and starts for the Slovakian national team. He has maintained relatively consistent production in 71 starts for RSL since arriving before 2017.

16. Carles Gil, New England Revolution, $2,337,500

There haven’t been many bright spots for the Revs, but Gil is one. His left foot can be magic.

17. Marco Fabian, Philadelphia Union, $2,274,087

We haven’t seen much of Fabian this year — he’s under 500 minutes due to injuries, a suspension, and Mexico duty. Brendan Aaronson is making a credible run at his job.

Fabian, though, will be an interesting card for the Union to play in the second half of the season.

18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC, $6,428,571

Bradley would have been higher on this list a couple of years ago. He isn’t quite the d-mid he once was, but he is still a workhorse and can do the job at a high level for TFC.

19. Tim Howard, Colorado Rapids, $2,475,000

We covered Howard in the overpaid/underpaid article. The gist: he is MLS’s most overpaid player, by a wide margin.

Ranking MLS’s Most Overpaid and Underpaid Players

June 14, 2019

The MLS Players’ Association released salary cap data on Wednesday.

It is one of two times a year that fans are allowed to see how much their teams’ players make, and thus judge how well clubs spend money.

The release can spark some discontent in locker rooms given the disparities in salary between superstars and role players. Top-tier players earn millions, while younger guys on minimum contracts make $56,250 per year. It can be an awkward dichotomy.

Based on the newest salary release, here are the players who are the most egregiously overpaid and underpaid, judged based on their production as compared to their compensation. There are no metrics that go into deciding this, outside of data to help show whether a player is good or not.

MOST OVERPAID

1. Tim Howard, GK, Colorado Rapids ($2,475,000)

Howard is paid vastly more than any other goalkeeper in the league — Brad Guzan is behind him at $740,000 — for production that does not come close to equalling his exorbitant salary.

The Rapids’ decision to vastly overpay Howard handcuffs them elsewhere. Damaging contracts to below-average players are a primary culprit for the current state of the team.

Goalkeepers, by nature of the position, are much easier to find at lower costs than other positions, like NFL running backs. There is no reason to pay one millions of dollars.

(Note: I did not include players like Shkelzen Gashi and Yura Movsisyan in the “overpaid” section because they do not technically play for Colorado and Real Salt Lake anymore, even though Gashi and Movsisyan most certainly are overpaid.)

2. Gyasi Zardes, FW, Columbus Crew ($1,471,667)

The Players’ Association has lowered the initial estimate of Zardes’s contract by about a million since they first posted the salaries, but the amount the Crew are paying Zardes remains noticeably high. It is hard to justify the striker’s status as a Designated Player.

The scoring was there last year, at 19 goals, but there is reason to believe that he will struggle to reach that mark again. Gregg Berhalter’s system assured that he would receive sufficient goal-scoring opportunities. Zardes’s xG+xA/96 has declined from 0.73 in 2018 to 0.47 in 2019. He touches the ball less than any player in the league, with the lowest touch percentage in MLS among field players two years running. Only goalkeeper Tyler Miller gets more touches this year.

Other forwards have similarly low possession numbers, but Zardes is unlikely to compensate with consistently high on-goal production. The decision from Crew president Tim Bezbatchenko to invest so heavily in Zardes was surprising.

3. Jorgen Skjelvik, CB, LA Galaxy ($1,066,667)

Skjelvik, a lumbering left-sided defender, is less damaging at left back than he is at center back. WhoScored rates him as having played left back in all 12 of his starts this season, a welcome departure from his frequent shifts in the middle last year.  

Still, Skjelvik is the second-highest paid defender in MLS, behind only the Dynamo’s Kiki Struna, who has been perfectly competent in his first MLS season. The Galaxy would probably be okay with ditching that deal.

4. Roland Lamah, MF, FC Cincinnati ($806,250)

Cincinnati selected Lamah in the expansion draft, a curious decision considering their reluctance to spend on high-caliber attackers (Kenny Saeif already appears to be gone, and Fanendo Adi has been predictably unproductive).

Lamah managed a cool 19 goals and nine assists in two seasons at FC Dallas, but provided little in the way of creativity or attacking production. He has a goal and two assists in 1,097 minutes this season for a dry FCC team.

5. Zoltan Stieber, MF, D.C. United ($787, 500)

Stieber, a 30-year-old Hungarian, has lost virtually all of his playing time this season. He’s appeared in eight of DCU’s games, but only started two of them, and has only played 235 minutes.

MOST UNDERPAID

1. Latif Blessing, MF, LAFC ($103,125)

Few could have foreseen Blessing’s sudden development into a top-tier MLS midfielder. Blessing covers ground and teleports to various spots on the field, combining with skillful attackers and hitting incisive passes.

Midfield partner Mark-Anthony Kaye ($177,811) could just as easily have taken this spot; it was a toss-up between Blessing and Kaye here. They both will find themselves discussing a big-money at some point in the near future.

2. Paxton Pomykal, MF, FC Dallas ($105,000)

As you’ll see, many of the underpaid players on this list (and in general) are American or American-developed. The best ones will be sold to Europe for big bucks eventually — Pomykal is on that pace — and other elite players will receive lucrative contract extensions, a la Aaron Long.

Pomykal’s breakout season as FC Dallas’s orchestrator comes on a salary similar those of backup goalkeepers Brad Stuver and Alec Kann. FCD have declined in the games since Pomykal left for the U-20 World Cup; they’ve missed Pomykal’s ball-movement and calm distribution. The 19-year-old looks as comfortable on the ball as any other American in the national team pool.

3. Julian Gressel, MF, Atlanta United ($133,000)

Gressel wears the armband for Atlanta and continues to do everything for them, playing every position and acting as an offensive and defensive fulcrum. He is among MLS’s best crossers of the ball. He could step into a top-tier European league and hold his own right now. That chance may very well come.

Pretty incredible value for a SuperDraft pick from Providence.

4. Reggie Cannon, RB, FC Dallas ($80,250)

It is hard to comprehend that Cannon, a high-level MLS right back who plays every week, is paid as low as $80,000 while players like Francisco Calvo are in the hundreds of thousands. The success of Cannon and Pomykal and all of the Homegrowns like them should inspire teams to focus on cultivating that level of low-cost talent.

5. Jackson Yueill, MF, San Jose Earthquakes ($190,000)

Yueill has taken responsibility as the Quakes’ midfield orchestrator and tempo-setter; he has an impressive understanding of how to move the ball effectively, and covers sufficient ground. It is no coincidence that the Quakes’ improvement this season coincided with Yueill’s insertion into the lineup.

MLS Title Odds: Who Will Win the 2019 MLS Cup? (UPDATED)

High Press 10 June 10, 2019

Updated: June 10th, 2019

With the MLS on a Gold Cup sabbatical, now is a good time to re-examine 2019 MLS Cup futures.

Despite a recent resurgence, reigning champs Atlanta United have fallen from pre-season favorites of +500 to +900. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner for best regular-season record, New York Red Bulls, dropped even further, going from +550 to +1600.

LAFC, who started the year at +700, are no prohibitive favorites at +200. They’re followed by Zlatan-led LA Galaxy (+750), the aforementioned ATL UTD, and NYCFC (+900). Eastern conference table-toppers Philadelphia Union have climbed from a pre-season +3300 to +1600.

The biggest risers from pre-season are San Jose. They’ve climbed from the cellar (+25000) to a respectable +6000.

See the below table for full 2019 MLS Cup futures. Also view MLS Cup odds at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ and DraftKings Sportsbook.

(Odds as of June 10th, 2019)

LAFC +200  LA Galaxy – +750 Atlanta United +900 NYCFC +900
DC United +1400  New York Red Bulls +1600 Seattle Sounders +1600  Philadelphia Union +1600 
Montreal Impact +1600 Columbus Crew +2400  Houston Dynamo +2400 FC Dallas +3100 
Sporting KC +3100 Toronto FC +3100 Portland Timbers +3400 Minnesota United +5000  
Orlando City +5000  San Jose Earthquakes +6000 Chicago Fire +9500 Real Salt Lake +9500
Vancouver Whitecaps +11000 Colorado Rapids +12000 New England Revolution +12000 FC Cincinnati +20000

The HPS MLS Podcast Episode 3

June 6, 2019

New HPS MLS Podcast is up.

This week, Harrison Hamm is joined by Will Conwell of Stumptown Footy, who is on to talk about the Portland Timbers, their home opener, and how they project for the rest of the season.

  • (0:00): What the atmosphere was like at the Timbers’ home opener, and how the additions to Providence Park looked.
  • (5:00): The Timbers’ rocky start and how they’ve stabilized.
  • (11:15): How new DP attacker Bryan Fernandez will continue to be utilized, and how Giovani Savarese may assemble his attack.
  • (19:50): The pros and cons of a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
  • (25:30): Where might the Timbers look in the summer transfer window?
Listen to “The HPS MLS Podcast Episode 03” on Spreaker.

Picking a 2019 MLS All-Star Starting XI

May 29, 2019

Voting for the 2019 MLS All-Star game has already started, and will continue until June 13. Fans pick 10 players — an 11th will be determined by FIFA19 — and the rest of the roster is selected by Orlando City coach James O’Connor.

Given the recent history of All-Star voting, it is unlikely that the fan XI will actually produce the best players at each position. Atlanta United players will dominate. MLSsoccer.com gives fans an unrealistic 3-4-3 formation as the base, tilting votes toward attackers. Fan voting is inherently fraught.

Regardless, it’s fun to pick the most deserving players, even if most of them probably won’t earn fan XI spots. We’ll go through today and do exactly that, including tons of honorable mentions, just for fun. Let’s go.

Goalkeeper: Stefan Frei (Seattle Sounders)

Similar to much of last year, there isn’t a goalkeeper who jumps out as an obvious pick here. Stefan Frei earns this spot by virtue of being the best in the league.

Zack Steffen hasn’t been out of this world and his team has lost seven of its last eight games (two of which came without Steffen). We’ll give this spot to the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year champ.

Honorable mentions: Tyler Miller (LAFC), Evan Bush (Montreal Impact), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Daniel Vega (San Jose Earthquakes)

Defenders: Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Jack Elliott (Philadelphia Union), Kelvin Leerdam (Sounders)

Only selecting three defenders (and thus possibly excluding a defensive position or two) is not an ideal set-up, but I was at least spared from having to mine out a left-back, often the toughest task in these debates.

Walker Zimmerman seems to be the frontrunner for Defender of the Year, leading the backline of the best team in the league. He is more disciplined stepping out of the back this year and has partnered effectively with Eddie Segura, an All-Star contender in his own right. Elliott has played every minute for the Union.

Kelvin Leerdam is a clean, solid right-back who knows how to connect play on the ball and defend in space. He steps into midfield when needed for the Sounders, and he understands his role.

A few of the usual center back names nearly made it on here: Ike Opara in Minnesota, Matt Hedges in Dallas, and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez in Atlanta, namely. In addition, I gave serious consideration to Montreal stalwart Zakaria Diallo, Vancouver’s Doneil Henry, and Seattle’s Kim Kee-Hee.

FCD youngling Reggie Cannon, Whitecaps golazo-scorer Ali Adnan, LAFC vet Steven Beitashour, Minnesota newcomer Romain Metanire, Orlando wing-back Ruan, and versatile San Jose defender Nick Lima deserve a mention at right back.

And, for the record, if I had to include a left-back, I’d throw in the Impact’s Daniel Lovitz, the Red Bulls’ Kemar Lawrence, or D.C. United’s Leonardo Jara.

Midfielders: Latif Blessing (LAFC), Mark-Anthony Kaye (LAFC), Nicolas Lodeiro (Sounders), Alejandro Bedoya (Union)

I included two LAFC midfielders in this spot, and yet Eduard Atuesta remains one of my biggest snubs here. LA’s midfield is fantastic. I mentioned Blessing in this article a month ago, and Kaye is an engine alongside Blessing and Atuesta.

Nicolas Lodeiro is the same Lodeiro — he gets on the ball a ton, dictates everything, and creates on-goal chances. This time, the Sounders are actually good early in the season, so Lodeiro deserves a starting spot. Some other attacking midfielders in contention here: Darwin Quintero (Minnesota), Alejandro Pozuelo (Toronto FC), Paxton Pomykal (FCD), and Luciano Acosta (D.C. United).

Alejandro Bedoya is not as obvious a selection as Lodeiro, but he deserves to at least be in the mix. He is an important part of Philly’s success with the 4-4-2 diamond, playing as a shuttler and helping transport the ball to the attackers. Cristian Roldan, Darlington Nagbe, and Jonathan dos Santos deserve shouts as No. 8s.

It feels weird not having a true No. 6 here, but Kaye can very capably fill that role, and one could argue that he is a 6 anyway. Diego Chara is always in contention.

Forwards: Carlos Vela (LAFC), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (LA Galaxy), Alberth Elis (Houston Dynamo)

Carlos Vela is the best player in MLS and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is right behind him. Those two are pretty secure in their spots here.

Alberth Elis is secure as well, with four goals and six assists in 854 minutes and a role as the best player on one of MLS’s best early teams. His talent and performance this year in spite of the fewer games he’s played than others elevate him over productive attackers like Orlando’s Nani, Sporting KC’s Johnny Russell, and D.C.’s Wayne Rooney.

Dynamo teammate Mauro Manotas comes second to Zlatan among center-forwards — he has six goals and four assists this season as Elis’s partner in crime.

Honorable mentions: Josef Martinez (Atlanta), Jozy Altidore (TFC), Diego Rossi (LAFC)

MLS Matchday 13 Odds

High Press 10 May 21, 2019

MLS Matchday 13 odds are released.

This week doesn’t match many top table teams against each other. It’s more about seeing if trends are sustainable. For example:

  • How much better is the West than the East? LAFC (1st in West) hosting Montreal Impact (3rd in East despite a -4 goal differential) will showcase the potential chasm in quality.
  • Is Philadelphia Union for real? They’ll have another chance to prove it as they host a struggling Portland Timbers.
  • As discussed on our High Press Pod last week, is the improved play of New York Red Bulls and NYCFC a mirage, or a sign that the ship has been righted?
  • And same goes for road warriors Atlanta United. They fly across country again (seriously, MLS schedulers?) to face an improved Real Salt Lake squad. Will they be weary from all of the travel, or show resilience by gutting out some points?

MLS Matchweek 13 Odds

As always, home team is listed first. If you need a refresher, visit how to bet MLS or how to bet soccer.

All listed odds from May 21 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.

Wednesday, May 22


New York Red Bulls -200Draw +330Vancouver +550
Friday, May 24Draw +320Portland Timbers +350
Orlando City -120Draw +290LA Galaxy +280
Real Salt Lake +185Draw +250Atlanta United +140
LAFC -350Draw +480Montreal Impact +800
Saturday, May 25
Draw +440
Chicago Fire +130Draw +250NYCFC +195
Vancouver +130Draw +250FC Dallas +200
New England +115Draw +250DC United +230
FC Cincinnati +165Draw +240New York Red Bulls +160
Philadelphia -160Draw +310Portland Timbers +410
Minnesota United +115Draw +260Houston Dynamo+220
Colorado Rapids +145Draw +240Columbus Crew +185
Sunday, May 26
Toronto FC -170Draw +330San Jose Earthquakes +430
Sporting KC -125Draw +290Seattle Sounders +300

Visit FanDuel Sportsbook NJ as games near for updated odds and, for NJ residents, to place your wagers.

Odds and Ends

  • Orlando City is slumping. LA Galaxy are a better team. Yet Orlando is the odds on favorite (-120). Lots to like about Galaxy at +280.
  • Vancouver plays away against New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, then flies cross-continent for a home game on Saturday against FC Dallas. Vancouver is favored (+130). Take a good hard look at FC Dallas at +200 there. Dallas is the better team and not as road-weary.
  • New England is putrid with the worst goal differential in MLS. The Bruce Arena hire can’t turn them around that quickly, can it? Oddsmakers seem to think so, as New England is favored (+115) over DC United (+230). You have to like United at +230 or the draw at +250 there.
  • Finally, while Sporting KC is better than their bottom-dweller standing currently suggests, they shouldn’t be odds-on favorites against a much better Seattle team. Seattle at +300 would be hard to pass up.

Three MLS Teams with Difficult Transfer Decisions Looming

May 21, 2019

The spring trade window ended a couple of weeks ago, halting most major MLS transactions until the summer. That window, in which out-of-season European players also become available, has grown in importance in recent years.

For some teams, this summer and the following winter window could prove crucial, with possible major acquisitions on the horizon. Holes in their rosters need filled, and tough decisions need made. Without successful windows, their futures could get murky.

Let’s take a look at some of those clubs and how they might navigate their path forward.

Toronto FC

TFC has taken four points from their last six MLS games. It’s becoming an open question in Toronto: Is this simply a case of a talented team with a couple of missing pieces, or is this a fatally flawed roster that should take bigger steps to revamp?

That question will dictate how TFC approach the next couple of transfer windows. It’s likely that general manager Ali Curtis falls somewhere in between the two angles, though I’d bet that he tilts toward the former viewpoint. Toronto still has high-level talent and a fair amount of depth. Tearing it down, amid the prosperous early weeks of Alejandro Pozuelo and the closing years of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, would be an unnecessary step.

But Curtis has to fill big holes, and given the general emptiness in the Eastern Conference, he can act fast this summer with playoff contention as a possible prize. He should put at least one defender on the intra-league trade market (Eriq Zavaleta being the clearest candidate) and spend Targeted Allocation Money on an upper-tier center back. Then, he should seek out a difference-making attacker who fits with Pozuelo and Altidore.

If he has any cash left after that, he should look for full back depth, a defensive-minded midfielder to play the Benoit Cheyrou substitute role, and a striker to back up Altidore (Jordan Hamilton ain’t it).

Easier said than done. But all we can do is speculate, because we have no way of knowing how much money Curtis has at his disposal. All we know is that he has no Designated Player slots available.

It could prove a damning indictment of TFC’s core Curtis fills those spots this summer or winter and Toronto still can’t quite put it together the way they could two years ago. That would be a troubling situation. But the Reds might also be on the verge of legitimate trophy contention, only one or two starting-caliber pieces from a deep playoff run. The next couple of windows could be as important for TFC as any other MLS team.

Houston Dynamo

As an Alberth Elis transfer looms, the Dynamo are winning soccer games. They’re second in the Western Conference on points-per-game, and while they’ve enjoyed a heavy concentration of home matches to start the year, they have showed a promising competence three road games.

Elis could be transferred for a heavy profit as early as this summer — a standout Gold Cup performance for Honduras could fast-track the process. When he leaves, the Dynamo will have to replace him.

Memo Rodriguez dampens some post-Elis concerns. He has been a revelation this season.

With Mauro Manotas and Romell Quioto still around, the Dynamo could toss out a Memo-Manotas-Quioto front three, which doesn’t sound too bad. But Memo isn’t a chance-creator himself, and Quioto is off and on, ruffling some feathers with his attitude. Tomas Martinez, still not much of a No. 10, won’t make up for attacking deficiencies. With a system built heavily on the front three, they need Elis, or a player like him, to stick around.

The process of finding an Elis replacement could start this summer. It will be a big step for a Dynamo organization tasting the potential of sustainable success for the first time in years.

Columbus Crew

The Crew’s solid start to the Caleb Porter era proved fleeting. Columbus have lost seven of their past eight games after winning four of their first six, dropping to seventh in the Eastern Conference.

They don’t have the attacking abilities to stick around the elite, and now they might play themselves into a battle for a playoff spot. Their trade for David Accam at the spring trade deadline will help some, but the Crew know Accam isn’t the long-term answer — they subsequently traded him to 2020 expansion club Nashville SC, so they essentially rented him for the rest of the season.

That shrewd piece of business indicates that club president Tim Bezbatchenko has a bigger bit of maneuvering up his sleeve. The Crew have a DP slot open, so it’s reasonable to assume that it will be filled at some point by a high-caliber winger. A player at the level of, say, Minnesota’s Darwin Quintero would significantly elevate this Crew team. The question is whether they will shell out.

Federico Higuain’s age and decline (he’s 34 and taking steps back) only furthers the need for reinforcements. It seems that the Crew will have a hard time finding much success in the Eastern Conference until they bring in a new talent or two.

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