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Previewing Atlanta United-Philadelphia Union Playoff Matchup

Avatar October 22, 2019

Who: Atlanta United vs Philadelphia Union
When: Thursday, October 24th @ 8:00pm ET
LineAtlanta -152 | Draw +310 | Philadelphia +350

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After the first round of the MLS Cup postseason, it’s hard to be very confident in either Atlanta United or the Philadelphia Union. Both teams faced a scare; Atlanta only narrowly escaped extra time at home against feisty underdog New England Revolution, while Philly had to come back from 2-0 down against the Red Bulls to win 4-3 in extra time.

Still, Thursday’s match between the two Eastern Conference elites will be fascinating. Atlanta, as the defending champions with the heaviest money invested in winning now, face the most pressure. The young Union will play what might be the biggest game in club history.

Let’s preview the match.

Atlanta United vs Philadelphia Union preview

— To get right to the point, the best bet here is Atlanta. They have more outright talent, more know-how in crucial games, and significant home-field advantage. The win over the Revs wasn’t super convincing, but this post-Miguel Almiron version of the Five Stripes isn’t built to bulldoze teams. Pity Martinez didn’t even get off the bench against New England. Josef Martinez, the second-best player in MLS, is the elite attacker carrying them.

Atlanta controlled 55 percent of possession against the Revs, but you can bet that figure will go down some against Philly. The best approach for Frank de Boer’s side will be to absorb some pressure and try to attack into space, minimizing whatever press the Union send their way. In the past, Atlanta have struggled against pressing teams. Philly have had success holding a high line.

— I’d assume that Atlanta will start in the 3-6-1-ish formation they like to play, but that’s less of a guarantee after they had success by switching to a four-at-the-back and subbing on Hector Villalba in the second half against the Revs. Franco Escobar, who usually plays as a mobile member of the back-three, switched to full back and promptly scored a 70th-minute winner on the overlap.

Most likely, they’ll start with the three-at-the-back and then use Villalba as a super-sub in the second-half. They look most comfortable in that 3-6-1, though costly injuries at center back could change that calculus.

— Philly went with the 4-4-2 diamond against the Red Bulls, and Jim Curtain might go that route again for the midfield solidity. Without Kacper Przybylko, their top goal-scorer and striker, they have to find ways to put the ball in the net. They managed four against the Red Bulls, thanks in part to set pieces. They may need a repeat performance.

If Andrew Wooten and Sergio Santos play up top again, Curtain will know he has three positive substitutes he can bring off the bench: Fafa Picault, Marco Fabian, and super-sub extraordinaire Ilsinho. All three came on against the Red Bulls and played well.

— Despite the loss of Miles Robinson to a hamstring injury, Atlanta saw little negative impacts on defense against New England. Michael Parkhurst filled in admirably. But Parkhurst’s shoulder injury rules him out, possibly forcing Atlanta to start Florentin Pogba alongside Escobar and Leandro Gonzalez-Pirez. Philly could capitalize on any resulting weakness there.

— Most concerning for the Union: the performance of goalkeeper Andre Blake. He has had a mostly dismal season and did everything in his power to cost Philly the game on Sunday. All three Red Bull goals can be directly blamed on Blake. He looked completely out of his depth in crossing situations and appears to lack all confidence. Costly errors from the Jamaican would be harder to come back from this time.


Atlanta has the advantage in this matchup, with superior attacking skill and more trustworthy defending. They will let Philly control the game some and then pounce in space, the way the LA Galaxy did against Minnesota. Villalba could be a big difference-maker. As interesting as it would be for the Union to score a massive victory, I’m going with the Five Stripes.

Philadelphia Union Top New York Red Bulls 4-3 in a Thriller

Peter Nolan October 20, 2019
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Chester, Pa. – It was a game that had to be seen to be believed, and even then…

It was a game of three halves with the visiting New York Red Bulls winning the first before a Philadelphia Union team chasing its first ever playoff win dominated the second half and the extra time to win 4-3. Union advance to the MLS Eastern Conference Finals and a match with Atlanta United, thrilling the sellout crowd of 18,530.

An up and down game…

It took a moment of pure class from Philadelphia Union substitute Marco Fabian beating Luis Robles with an elegant chip in the first period of extra time to bring Philadelphia all the way back from a 3-1 deficit after 45 minutes.

Philadelphia goalkeeper Andre Blake had put his team in what appeared to be insurmountable hole with a series of first half errors that staked visiting New York to a 3-1 halftime lead.

An aggressive start by the New York Red Bulls was rewarded when Josh Sims sent a rocket past a helpless Blake in the Philadelphia goal after receiving a fine set up pass from New York playmaker Kaku for a sixth minute New York lead.

But with Philadelphia doing their part in a back and forth contest New York was gifted a second goal in the 24th minute when Blake wandered off of his line and whiffed on a Red Bulls corner kick, a mistake that was punished as New York center back Tim Parker fired New York to a 2-0 lead.

Red Bulls attacker Josh Sims went down in a collision with Blake during that scoring play and after being treated on the pitch for an extended period Sims was helped off, replaced by Alex Muyl.

Philadelphia looked set for a thumping by their neighbors but mere moments after play resumed Philly captain Alejandro Bedoya, who played a captain’s part before his late injury substitution, stunned Red Bulls with a beautifully struck goal to halve the home team’s deficit.

Bedoya nearly had a hand in leveling this playoff thriller moments later when his perfect cross set up Sergio Santos for a header that was ticketed for the New York net only for Luis Robles to get a hand to it, keeping the score at 2-1 New York.

Both squads overcoming injuries

Both teams were compromised by the injury bug for this single elimination first round playoff match with the striker position an area of concern for both teams. Philadelphia was perhaps at the bigger disadvantage with goals leader Kacper Przybylko unavailable.

Bradley Wright-Phillips and Brian White both started on the bench, with Tom Barlow getting the start, although both would be called on before the day was out.

In one of the biggest talking points of the match, New York caught a huge break in the 45th minute when the ball looked to have to banged off of Tim Parker’s arm when the defender slid to block a Philadelphia shot.

Matters only got worse for Philadelphia and its fans when Barlow finished into an empty net after Blake, unbelievably, failed to catch or clear a Marc Rzatkowski free kick in the final action of the half.

Union make their comeback

Seeking to avoid becoming the first home team to be eliminated in these 2019 MLS playoffs Philadelphia came roaring out of the blocks on the resumption and quickly cut New York’s lead to the minimum with center back Jack Elliot providing the goal when he headed home after Santos’ header came back off the crossbar from a Union corner kick.

Seeking to explain the shift in fortunes New York coach Chris Armas said afterward that “it becomes a game of randomness and field position,” Armas said. “The wind is blowing hard, it’s raining hard, they’re just dumping it in our end and if they can pin us in there they have guys that come in and bring energy, and bring quality.”

New York sought to hold on under the Union’s unrelenting pressure but the dam inevitably broke when substitute Fa Fa Picault slipped inside Parker and headed past Robles, evening the score at 3-3 in the 79th minute.

Picault would have another chance moments later when a corner kick fell to him about seven or eight yards from goal but Red Bulls Luis Robles keeper came up massive save on Picault’s point blank blast.

Philadelphia kept the heat on and New York was delighted to survive to see extra time.

Any thought that Red Bulls would change the narrative on the restart of extras was quickly debunked when Philadelphia nearly scored off of a corner kick one minute into the first period of extra time only to Robles to deny Kai Wagner.

The Union kept coming and had a penalty shout minutes later when Picault out jumped Robles in the Red Bulls goalmouth and Robles grabbed the speedy winger around his midsection but the referee kept his whistle holstered.

Then came Fabian’s moment of magic and Philadelphia was moving on.


Up next

Philadelphia will play Atlanta United on Thursday.

Decision Day Preview: Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC

Peter Nolan October 5, 2019

Who: Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC
When: Sunday, October 6th @ 4:00pm ET
LinePhiladelphia -127 | Draw +310 | NYCFC +285

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The Philadelphia Union wraps up the most successful regular season in its history when it hosts Eastern Conference champions NYCFC on Sunday, MLS Decision Day.

Philadelphia has more to play for in this division matchup, with the Union coming into Decision Day level on points with Atlanta United for second place but trailing on the tiebreakers for both wins and goal difference.

In other words, Philly needs help from New England if they are to overtake Atlanta and claim second place behind NYC in the East.

There are no such playoff implications on the line for New York, although no team wants to go into the postseason on a down note.

Philadelphia Union vs NYCFC Preview

Despite finishing on top of the eastern heap for the first time since the club’s MLS debut in 2015, New York comes into this season finale in lukewarm form having followed up an impressive 4-1 Yankee Stadium demolition of Atlanta with a less than sparkling effort in Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at New England.

Injuries and yellow card suspensions played a part in New York’s somewhat tepid performance, although coach Dome Torrent will have been pleased to see striker Heber clock a full 90 minutes in his return from injury.

Torrent and NYCFC will welcome 19-year-old James Sands back for the season finale as the defender/midfielder is finally recovered from a dislocated shoulder. Sands should see some time on Sunday with the plan to have the Homegrown talent ready for the playoffs.

Heber didn’t get on the scoresheet (obviously) against New England but 15 goals in 22 games, just 18 starts, tells coach Jim Cutin and his Union players that they will have to be aware of the Brazilian on Sunday.

And while we are on the positives for the Bronx Boys, NYCFC head into the playoffs news that its best player, midfielder Maxi Moralez has extended his contract for seasons, tying the 20 assist man to NYC through 2021.

While Curtin’s troops will be on high alert whenever Heber is in sight of goal, Torrent’s men will have to pay special attention to Philadelphia’s 15 goal man Kacper Przybylko. A former Polish youth international, German born Przybylko will be looking to add New York to his list of recent high profile victims, having rung the bell versus LAFC and Atlanta. He also added a goal against San Jose in a 2-1 Union win on September 25th.

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The Five Most Important MLS Games on Decision Day

Avatar October 3, 2019

MLS’s Decision Day is on Sunday. It is the last regular season game for everybody, and the whole league will play at the same time to decide various playoff matchups and seeding. For many, it is a crucial day.

Let’s run through the five most important matches.

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Portland Timbers vs San Jose Earthquakes

This is basically winner-take-all here. Both teams qualify for the postseason with a win. The Timbers, who will play at home (debatable whether that’s even a positive for them), make it through with a tie. San Jose, who trail seventh place by one point, have no chance at the playoffs if they lose, but would qualify if they draw at Portland and both FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids hold up their end of the bargain.

The Timbers will be without ice-cold forward Brian Fernandez, who will be suspended on a red card. San Jose’s current free-fall (five straight losses, though all have been against good teams) would indicate that Portland are the favorites here.

Portland -104 | Draw +300 | San Jose +225

Atlanta United vs New England Revolution

New England are safely in the playoffs, thanks to some epic long-term choking out of the Chicago Fire, but they would love to avoid traveling to a New York baseball stadium for the first round. A win against Atlanta (don’t count on it, but crazier things have happened) plus a Toronto FC loss to Columbus (more plausible) would move the Revs up to sixth.

Atlanta have all the motivation to beat New England, because any win on Sunday guarantees them second in the East and a rubber match with the Revs in the playoffs. Hosting Bruce Arena’s side again is much more favorable than having to deal with Toronto or even the New York Red Bulls in a knockout game.

Atlanta United -195 | Draw +330 | New England +475

Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United

The 2-5 slots in the Western Conference are up for grabs on Sunday. Seattle and Minnesota are locked at 53 points and 15 wins right now, with the Loons holding the goals tiebreaker and thus second place. The winner of this game secures second, while the loser could drop as low as fifth if the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake both win.

They might play to a cagey draw. That result could benefit both teams, but a Galaxy win and a Seattle-Minnesota draw would elevate LA to second and drop the Sounders and Loons. LA play the 11th-place Dynamo. Seattle and Minnesota should both be playing to win.

Seattle -117 | Draw +290 | Minnesota +270

FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC

In addition to being a rivalry match, this will be make or break for FC Dallas. A win over SKC and Dallas are in. A draw or loss, though, and they’d have to root heavily for Portland (and LAFC, to prevent a miracle rise out of Colorado).

Last week, FCD fell flat in a 3-0 loss to the Rapids, which assured that this game would be of interest. They will have to rebound here, and play much better on defense.

FC Dallas -177 | Draw +320 | Sporting +430

NYCFC vs. Philadelphia Union

This is the other end of the battle for second in the East. Atlanta have the wins tiebreaker, so the Philadelphia Union don’t control their destiny here. They’d need to win or draw and have the Five Stripes pick up fewer points against the Revs in order to finish second.

NYCFC have no immediate implications to play for here. But this might be the most interesting game of the week, given that both teams are elite and gearing up for a chance at a deep playoff run. NYC are the better team, and have a much clearer shot at going far in the playoffs. Philly could prove people wrong if they walk into Yankee Stadium and score an important victory.

Philadelphia -120 | Draw +300 | NYCFC +270

Previewing Columbus Crew-Philadelphia Union

Avatar September 27, 2019

Who: Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union
When: Sunday, September 29th @ 05:00pm ET
LineColumbus Crew +114 | Draw +270 | Philadelphia Union +205

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This weekend’s Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union match is one of the most important of the MLS weekend.

With LAFC and NYCFC clinching the top spots in both conferences, the race between Philly and Atlanta United for second place in the East is one of the most compelling storylines of the last two games. Finishing second likely guarantees a first-round playoff game against a weaker New England Revolution team, avoiding Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls.

Philly play NYCFC on the road on Decision Day, arguably the toughest possible matchup in MLS right now, so the Union can’t afford to leave Columbus without three points if they’re going to have any chance of inching out the Five Stripes. Atlanta enter the weekend one point behind Philly, and while ATL will suffer without Josef Martinez, they have the luxury of a soft final two games, against the Revs and Montreal Impact. The Union control their destiny.

Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union match preview

As we did with the crucial Atlanta-NYCFC match earlier this week, let’s take a look at a couple of quick points to prepare:

1. Columbus are purely trying to play spoiler here. They have already been eliminated from playoff contention, and are looking toward a future that may not include many of the players on the roster. As they prepare to reconstruct, they are trying to figure out which players are worth building around.

After a horrendous spring filled with losing, the Crew have generally been competent for the last few months. Pedro Santos, now the No. 10, has been very good, with 10 goals and five assists and a productive role as the centerpiece of the attack. They are a threat to the Union, despite a huge slate of injuries — in addition to Federico Higuain and Milton Valenzuela, who both tore their ACLs months ago, defenders Josh Williams, Waylon Francis, and Hector Jimenez are out this week.

Tactically, don’t expect anything crazy out of Caleb Porter, who has a reputation for pragmatism. Columbus will put out a 4-2-3-1 formation and stay compact in the middle of the field, with Wil Trapp distributing and Gyasi Zardes running around up top.

2. Jim Curtain will likely counter with a 4-2-3-1 of his own. It will be interesting to see anything else out of the Union for the rest of this year, given how much Curtain has begun to rely on the 4-2-3-1. Philly’s tactical versatility has been an asset this year.

One of the best things about watching the Union has been the emergence of Brenden Aaronson, a talented 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder who looks comfortable moving the ball and connecting play. He has basically kicked star Designated Player Marco Fabian out of the starting lineup, forming a very solid attacking midfield trio alongside Jamiro Monteiro and Fafa Picault. Fabian isn’t even the first player off the bench; Ilsinho is an absolute weapon as a super-sub, and has staked a legitimate case as the most effective sub in league history.

In the playoffs, the deep midfield duo of Haris Medunjanin and Alejandro Bedoya will be fascinating to watch. Medunjanin has been fantastic this season, fitting perfectly in the aggressive ball-moving system Philly has implemented. But his mobility is always a question, and while Columbus probably won’t threaten him too much, a better team might, especially in an intense winner-take-all playoff game.

Columbus Crew vs Philadelphia Union prediction

As for a prediction: I see the Union getting the job done here, though the Crew will muck things up and make it difficult. The final score will be 1-0, with Ilsinho scoring somewhere around the 80th-minute to secure a huge late win for Philly.

Previewing Philadelphia Union vs. LAFC

Avatar September 14, 2019

Who: Philadelphia Union vs LAFC
When: Saturday, September 14th @ 06:30 pm ET
LinePhiladelphia Union +160 | Draw +300 | LAFC+132

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LAFC and the Philadelphia Union play in Saturday in the most intriguing MLS match of the week.

The Union will have a chance to host LA for the first time ever, after losing 4-1 in southern California in June of 2018, and a win would be huge — Philly are hanging on by a thread in the race for first in the Eastern Conference, trailing NYCFC by three points. First-place gets you a crucial bye in the playoffs.

Philadelphia Union vs LAFC match preview

Against a full-strength LAFC, a Philly win isn’t the most likely outcome. But recent LAFC results give the Union a certain amount of hope. Here are a couple of storylines in the lead-up:

1- This is a very nice opportunity for Philly to go against an elite opponent, and test whether they can win a one-off home game against a very good team. The 3-1 win over Atlanta in their last game before the international break was a positive sign. A draw or loss to LA wouldn’t write the Union off, but a harsh loss would tamper some excitement heading into the playoffs.

The concern with Jim Curtain’s team is a lack of game-breaking talent, specifically attackers. Ilsinho is the league’s most impactful super-sub (possibly of all time), but he isn’t as effective as a starter, and the Union don’t have elite attackers in their XI. It’s hard to compete for trophies in MLS without a reasonable counter to players like Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi.

Philly need Kacper Przybylko to prove he can put the ball in the net at a consistent rate, which he’s shown in the past few weeks — he’s scored four goals in the last five games, scoring 13 on the year and going 90 every game since an April 27 draw in Vancouver. When the Union play Brendan Aaronson, Marco Fabian, and Jamiro Monteiro in midfield (MLSsoccer.com projects them all to start), they lack scorers beyond Przybylko.

2- As ever, the big tactical question in a game involving the Union is whether Curtain plays a diamond formation. Bob Bradley won’t shift from a 4-3-3, but he could adjust his team’s tactical approach to match numbers in the midfield. If Vela plays (and he hasn’t since being removed from the last El Trafico with a minor muscle injury, though he has been removed from the injury report), the Union could attempt to condense his space centrally with the diamond.

One of the more impressive elements of Philly’s rise this season has been their tactical flexibility. Curtain’s Coach of the Year case (which is very real, against Bradley’s and Matias Almeyda’s) is based partly on that flexibility. Playing a diamond against such a dominant and talented team like LA could be a risk. Whatever Curtain puts out, it will be a calculated decision, and Bradley will likely have some counter.

Haris Medunjanin’s mobility will be tested against the fast, ball-moving LA midfield. Medunjanin has been great this season, and his ability to hit exquisite balls out of the back has been huge for Philly, but he isn’t amazing as a ground-covering defensive midfielder. If Latif Blessing and Eduard Atuesta can find a way to isolate him, they could put Philly’s defense on its heels and set Vela up to devour the damage.

3- Rumors this week have had LA as being in contention to sign Mario Mandzukic, the 33-year-old Croatian forward who is out of favor at Juventus. That would certainly be a coup. Mandzukic, as an aerial power and an effective defender from the front, would fit as the head of an LA front three. His arrival would indicate that Rossi is likely to be sold in the summer, to create a front three of Brian Rodriguez, Mandzukic, and Vela. Philly can be glad they’re not going against that on Saturday.

Analyzing Each of the Eastern Conference’s Best Teams

Avatar 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.


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.

Complete MLS Midseason Award Picks

Avatar July 12, 2019
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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.

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

High Press Pod Ep 7: Philadelphia Union, MLS Transfers, NYCFC & NYRB Rising

Chops May 17, 2019

The latest soccer podcast deep dives into the MLS.

Listen to “High Press Pod Ep 07 – MLS Extravaganza” on Spreaker.

MLS Matchday 12 Odds: Can Philly Keep Their Lead?

Katya Gokhman May 15, 2019

Matchday 12 odds are released and with loads of quality games this week. Our two marquee match-ups for the week are: Philadelphia vs Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls vs Atlanta United

MLS Matchweek 12 Game 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 15 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.

Wednesday, May 15

Toronto FC -150Draw +310D.C. United +380
Houston Dynamo -150Draw +320Portland Timbers +350
Vancouver Whitecaps +220Draw +250Atlanta United +120
Seattle Sounders -220Draw +360Orlando City +550
Thursday, May 16Draw +260Southampton +195
Los Angeles FC -310
Draw +440FC Dallas +750
Saturday, May 18Liverpool -310
Montreal Impact -135Draw +280New England +350
Real Salt Lake +130Draw +270Toronto FC +185
San Jose Earthquakes +105Draw +280Chicago Fire +220
Philadelphia -120Draw +280Seattle Sounders +300
Minnesota United +115Draw +250Columbus +230
Houston Dynamo -130Draw +290D.C. United +320
Kansas City -250Draw +390Vancouver Whitecaps +600
Sunday, May 19
Orlando City -135Draw +280FC Cincinnati +370
New York Red Bulls +140Draw +250Atlanta United +185
FC Dallas +190Draw +260Los Angeles FC +130
LA Galaxy -270Draw +440Colorado +650

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

Odds and Ends

  • In our first marquee match of the week, Philadelphia Union (-120) take on Seattle Sounders (+300). Not only does Philadelphia have the advantage of playing at home, but they are also sitting 1st in the Eastern Conference and have a 5 game unbeaten streak. Seattle Sounders are not in a bad position either – sitting 3rd in the Western Conference. However, they have only won 1 out of 4 away games and have not beat Philly since 2016.
  • In our other marquee match up, New York Red Bulls (+140) take on Atlanta United (+185). Last week, we had high hopes for NYRB who seemed to be getting back in their groove with two back-to-back wins…until Montreal brought them back to reality beating them 2-1 in New York. They did, however, redeem themselves against Dallas this past Saturday. Meanwhile, Atlanta has been on a roll with four back to back wins. Atlanta does, however, have a difficult week ahead of them as they travel all the way to Vancouver on Wednesday after just playing this past Sunday and then heading to New York on Sunday. While Atlanta is doing that, Red Bulls get to recover and prepare the whole week for Sunday’s match up. Regardless, this will be a good indicator as to which team’s improved form is for real.

The Philadelphia Union Look Like MLS’s Most Promising Emerging Elite

Avatar May 15, 2019

When Ernst Tanner took over as Philadelphia Union sporting director this winter, there was reasonable concern over new changes he might implement. The Union were coming off a season in which they showed real promise, with a squadron of young players and a playoff berth. Given the history of this franchise, taking any steps to change a move in the right direction comes with a certain apprehension.

But even the most optimistic of Union fans (a rare breed, mind you) could not have anticipated the success their team has enjoyed to start this season. Philly is verging on elite, winning four of its past five games and sitting atop of the Eastern Conference, ahead of D.C. United on goal differential. They play with confidence and skill.

Tanner’s original vision of a pressing, 4-4-2 diamond team hasn’t quite come to fruition. The Union want to play on the ball, first and foremost, an ideology that most effectively capitalizes on their personnel. Jim Curtain cultivated a willingness to play with possession last year, as Philly figured itself out and nurtured an identity.

Creating a model for success

They will continue to develop and coalesce. The process, so to speak, is still in the early stages. But seeing the Union successfully combine its own younger talent and newer transfer pieces is a beacon of hope for MLS teams that want to take this kind of approach. (Looking at you, RSL.) It is possible to win while processing in this league.

Philly have certainly been fun to watch. A willingness to play actual good soccer drives their success — they move with and without the ball, they play on the attack, and they pass and combine to create their chances. The diamond formation they play (that part of Tanner’s vision they stuck with) can be fairly complicated to use with a system like the Union’s, but Philly accomplish it without muddling things too much.

How Philly is doing it

Last weekend against Toronto FC is a perfect example. The Union won 2-1, a quality victory against a likely playoff team, and proved versatile enough to successfully implement a game-plan counter to Toronto’s strengths.

Philly watched Toronto’s midweek loss in Atlanta and took notes on the Five Stripes’ approach. Atlanta United had focused entirely on surrounding TFC’s midfield and cutting off central outlets, sacrificing space on the wings in order to restrict Toronto’s outlets in the middle.

TFC, hampered by a rested midweek lineup, struggled to respond on that Wednesday. They tried to play through wingback Ashtone Morgan in possession as a response to Atlanta’s central focus, but Morgan lacks the ability on the ball to play such an important role.

Seeing this, the Union implemented similar principles. Their diamond formation is perfect for what they intended to do — invert midfield shuttlers Alejandro Bedoya and Jamiro Monteiro even more than usual and restrict TFC’s overloaded midfield, forcing the Reds to hit difficult switches and play through the flanks more than they wished.

It was a risk, but a calculated one; the changes of direction and ball movement required to break down the Union are tough to accomplish. With Jozy Altidore starting on the bench, TFC couldn’t do it.

Figuring out how to complicate things for opposing teams is part of Philly’s evolution. Once they accomplish that, they’re able to play the way they want to play. They can pass with a purpose, swimming around the area occupied by the forwards (particularly Kacper Przybylko) and dribbling right at the spine of the defense. Watching for more dual-creator minutes, with both Marco Fabian and Hype Train American youngster Brenden Aaronson on the field, will be fascinating.

Everything was not seamless in the Toronto game — Alejandro Pozuelo was as active as ever, and perhaps the result would have been different had it not been for TFC’s defensive ineptitude — but nothing is designed to be seamless. The Union will continue to put themselves together at the back, where they play plenty of younger studs.

With quality moves in the transfer market — Przybylko, Fabian, Monteiro, left back Kai Wagner — and a willingness to develop their own talent, Philly have assembled a deep depth chart. They play with a real identity. It looks like we can safely say that the Union will be sticking around.

Four Big Takeaways from MLS’s April

Avatar May 2, 2019

With April ending, the contrast between MLS’s Eastern and Western Conferences is as apparent as it’s been in a while. LAFC leads an upper tier of teams out West that looks much more solidified than a rocky East, which has not produced a clear favorite.

Today we’ll look at what happened in April in MLS, starting with the Colorado Rapids, who became the first team to fire their manager this year.

What now for the Rapids?

It seems like we’re asking this question every year. Colorado have been a disaster through nine games, picking up just 0.22 points per game and shipping goals — they’ve conceded a monstrous 24 in nine games, on pace for 90 over the entire season. Yet again, the roster lacks talent, the backline has no one capable of stopping the ball, and the coaching staff failed to do anything close to maximizing the group.

Anthony Hudson, perhaps exasperated with his job, eviscerated his players after another loss on the weekend to Atlanta United. He said there was a “massive gap in class” between his players and the rest of the league.

“The only way it’s going to be a quick fix is if you wave a magic wand at it and throw lots of money at it. Clearly we’re not doing that.”

He’s not wrong that the Rapids lack talent. He would go on to point out the Rapids disastrous DP situation — in which they are paying a huge contract to an average, aging goalkeeper who spends a lot of his time commentating Champions League games miles from Colorado — and how Colorado are paying players who aren’t with the team, like the sunk cost of Shkelzen Gashi, once seen as a franchise player.

But Hudson’s comments primarily served to excuse his poor job managing this team. He tried to get them to play with the ball and on the front foot, but his pet 4-4-2 diamond formation never coalesced, and the shape did little to help the backline. It’s possible to make up for subpar personnel as a manager. Hudson couldn’t do it.

Now, the Rapids have to scour the market and make a real, aggressive signing. It can’t be a 31-year-old European or a goalkeeper.

Columbus need something else

The Crew, who at one point sat at the top of the Eastern Conference, have lost four straight games, the worst ongoing stretch for any team outside of Commerce City. In those games, they’ve scored just one goal.

It’s not a secret that Columbus desperately needs a DP winger. Justin Meram fell off a cliff last year in Orlando and hasn’t climbed out. Robinho is fine, nothing more. Pedro Santos has actually looked a bit better this year, but his decision-making in consequential areas remains pretty terrible. Federico Higuain, now 34, is declining.

The Crew defend well and have a manager who knows what he’s doing. They would be definite contenders with a real piece in attack.

It’s getting harder to doubt the LA Galaxy

Galaxy have won seven of their nine games this season, including six of their last seven. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is obviously the focal point. He’s scoring in most of their games and looks, uh, motivated — judging by his belligerence toward RSL center-back Nedum Onuoha last Sunday — which is probably a good sign, as long as he doesn’t get suspended.

It’s reasonable to look at the Galaxy and not see a world-beating, wound-together team. Romain Alessandrini is out until September. Relying on Rolf Feltscher (who did not have a great game against RSL) to whip crosses to Zlatan is not a wonderful bet. Their game-plan is to get the ball to Zlatan, period.

That is, evidently, not a terrible game-plan. Guillermo Barros Schelotto seems to recognize the process he’s looking at here, and he’s trusting younger players like Uriel Antuna and Diedie Traore (more Traore at left back, please!). They don’t fall over themselves every time they try to defend, which means they’re winning games now.

Philadelphia might quietly be the best team in the Eastern Conference

I write this the day after the Union beat a hapless FC Cincinnati midweek to go top of the Eastern Conference. Philly have figured out how to effectively use their new 4-4-2 diamond formation, playing high up the field and pinning opponents deep with central ball movement and dribbly wingers. There is finally attacking depth. With Brenden Aaronson and Marco Fabian they have to players who can competently play at the top of the diamond. Both Aaronson and Fabian on the field means dual creators.

Since a loss-loss-draw start to the season, Philly have won five of seven games and taken 16 of a possible 21 points. Their options in attack are impressively versatile considering the nature of the formation; in addition to Aaronson and Fabian, they have thrown Fafa Picault, Cory Burke, Jamiro Monteiro, David Accam, Ilsinho and Kacper Przybylko out there for significant attacking minutes. The Union have not had this in the past.

Somebody has to win the East, and Philadelphia has as good a shot as anyone as of now.

MLS Matchday 6 Betting Odds: Red Bulls, NYCFC Home Favorites; DC United vs LAFC Game of the Week

High Press 10 April 3, 2019

MLS Matchday 6 lines are out.

The marquee match-up is easily Eastern leaders DC United against Western leaders LAFC. That’s required viewing if you’re a MLS fan.

MLS Matchweek 6 Game 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 April 03 on FanDuel Sportsbook NJ.

Friday, April 05
Vancouver Whitecaps +170Draw +260 LA Galaxy+145
Saturday, April 06
NYCFC -140Draw +310Montreal Impact +340
Toronto FC -180Draw +350Chicago Fire +430
DC United +130Draw +270LAFC +190
New York Red Bulls -175Draw +330Minnesota United +450
Orlando City -130Draw +300Colorado Rapids +310
Philadelphia Union -110Draw +260FC Dallas +290
Columbus Crew -180Draw +320New England +480
San Jose +175Draw +260Portland Timbers +135
Seattle Sounders -230Draw +360Real Salt Lake +600
Sunday, April 07
FC Cincinnati +125Draw +250Sporting KC +210

Odds and Ends

  • So, yeah, we said it looks like oddsmakers have adjusted. Yet, the New York Red Bulls are heavy favorites against Minnesota United despite ‘Sota having a better goal differential (by 1, but still). How can this be? In part, the Red Bulls have been unlucky. Their xGF is less than their actual tally. Minnesota, on the other hand, have been lucky. Golden opportunity for the Red Bulls to regress to the mean and earn a W.
  • Bottom-dwelling NYCFC, albeit at home, find themselves heavy favorites against mid-table Montreal. How can this be? Again, look at their goal differential. Both are -4 after four games. Montreal in particular is a sieve on defense, conceding 11 goals. This could be a high-scoring affair. Look at high tally goal props on this one.
  • Looking for some value underdogs? Sporting KC at +210, a superior team to a still surprisingly solid FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas at +290 against Philadelphia Union are both worth a longer look.
  • A value favorite is Orlando City at home. At only -130 against a middling Colorado team, those are some short odds for a clearly superior team.

MLS Matchweek 4 Betting Odds: New York Red Bulls Heavy Favorites on Slim Slate of Games

High Press 10 March 20, 2019

With the international break upon us, the MLS has a light matchweek of fixtures. Early contenders like New York Red Bulls, LAFC, and the Columbus Crew at least give this scaled back schedule some headliners.

MLS Matchweek 4 Game 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 March 20 on FanDuel NJ Sportsbook.

FC Dallas -170 Draw +310  Colorado +460
Philadelphia Union +165 Draw +240 Columbus Crew +160
New York Red Bulls -310 Draw +440 Orlando City +750
LAFC -170 Draw +310 Real Salt Lake +440
New England Revolution -105 Draw +280 FC Cincinnati +250 

Odds and Ends

  • NYRB are by far the heaviest favorite this week against a not-great-but-not-that-bad Orlando City. NYRB have a game in hand and if they paste Orlando by 4, would move into an early tie with DC United for top of the table.
  • Columbus Crew is an ever-so-slight road favorite against a Philadelphia Union team that just tied Atlanta United. Any points here would move the Crew top of table.
  • Should New England Revolution really be an odds-on home favorite? They play a mid-table FC Cincinnati team who also tied ATLUTD on the road. The +280 draw or +250 on Cincinnati outright my have some value.

MLS Matchweek 2 Odds: NYCFC Home Favorites Over DC United, Philadelphia Union Heavy Underdog to Sporting KC

High Press 10 March 8, 2019

The 2019 MLS season got underway last week. We learned some things, some things stayed the same.

The New York Red Bulls played their B team to save legs for the CONCACAF Champions League; NYCFC stumbled to a 2-2 draw; Atlanta United looked poor with Frank de Boer, losing 2-0 to a might-be-a-contender DC United; and Zlatan did Zlatan things (read 5 more things learned during Matchweek 1 here).

How does 2019 MLS Matchweek 2 look? Let’s examine the lines and some things to watch.

2019 MLS Matchweek 2 Game Odds

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

All listed odds from FanDuel NJ Sportsbook.

Chicago Fire -130 Draw +290 Orlando City +320
New England Revolution +135 Draw +250 Columbus Crew +190
FC Dallas -145 Draw +320 LA Galaxy +340
Houston Dynamo +105 Draw +260 Montreal Impact +230
Real Salt Lake -150 Draw +310 Vancouver Whitecaps +380
San Jose Earthquakes +135 Draw +250 Minnesota United +190
Seattle Sounders -210 Draw +360 Colorado +500
NYCFC -125 Draw +280 DC United +320
Sporting KC -135 Draw +300 Philadelphia Union +330
Atlanta United -240 Draw +390 Cincinnati +550
LAFC -140 Draw +300 Portland Timbers +340

MLS Matchweek 2 Odds and Ins

Week 1 surprisingly saw only three odds on favorites. Matchweek 2 doubles that total to six. Some notes:

  • NYCFC finds themselves at -125 (so bet $125 to win $100) at home against a potentially strong DC United (+320, so bet $100 to win $320) squad. With Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta picking up right where they left off from last year, there may be some value there with DCU. It’ll be interesting to see if NYCFC’s Alexandru Mitrita builds on a promising debut in front of the home crowd.
  • Maybe it’s more of a hunch, but we think LA Galaxy is going to have a strong, playoff-caliber year. Priced at +340, even on the road against FC Dallas, are longer odds than they may deserve. Plus, you know, Zlatan.
  • Oddly, we may know a lot about Atlanta United (this week’s biggest favorite at -240) after this weekend’s match against expansion FC Cincinatti (biggest dog at +550). Another poor de Boer showing and the #DeBoerOut movement will grow exponentially. Perhaps giving the team some run back in Tata Martino’s successful 3-5-2 system (instead of the 3-4-3 that’s definitely not working) will snap United out of its early funk. If de Boer has learned anything from his previous two wildly unsuccessful stops at Inter and Palace, it might be to not stubbornly stick with something that’s not working–especially when you know something will work with the personnel you have.


Zlatan Ibrahimovic Scores LA Galaxy Winner in 2019 MLS Opener

High Press 10 March 3, 2019

Zlatan did Zlatan things again, and the MLS and LA Galaxy are better off for it.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, our pick for MLS Golden Boot winner and MVP this year, got the LA Galaxy off to the right start today, heading in the 2-1 game winner in the 80th minute against the Chicago Fire.

We’ll deeper dive into the MLS action come Monday, but other highlights from Saturday include:

  • FC Cincinatti lose their opener to the Seattle Sounders 3-1
  • Michael Bradley nets a brace (!!) as Toronto FC beats Philadelphia Union 3-1
  • NYCFC draw Orlando City (!!) 2-2
  • And the New York Red Bulls a 1-1 draw against a Columbus Crew team not skipping a beat despite the loss of Gregg Berhalter

2019 MLS Preview: A Look at the Eastern Conference’s Top Contenders

Avatar February 19, 2019

The biggest question in the MLS Eastern Conference this season is whether anyone can challenge Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls for the top two playoff spots. Right now, I wouldn’t put money on it.

But, since we’ve looked at Atlanta, the Red Bulls and NYCFC already, let’s take a look at the rest of the conference, starting with those who could mount serious challenges.

Toronto FC

TFC sold Sebastian Giovinco, marking a new era for the team that fell so far last season. This is a contract season for Jozy Altidore, and one has to wonder if this is his last go in Canada. New GM Ali Curtis brought in Laurent Ciman to anchor the central defense and Terrence Boyd to likely be the backup forward. Rumors abound as to who their third DP will be. It’s an important season for TFC, and they still have the talent and infrastructure to win a lot of games.

D.C. United

Keeping up last year’s second-half Wayne Rooney magic could be a difficult task for DCU. But they kept Luciano Acosta (though one has to wonder if he is fully motivated after nearly being transferred to PSG) and they brought in Boca Juniors right back Leonardo Jara on loan.

Philadelphia Union

Ernst Tanner, brought in this off-season as Sporting Director, will have Philly playing a 4-4-2 diamond formation and pressing, big changes after they kept the ball and played a 4-2-3-1 in a resurgent 2018. The Union’s ability to contend depends upon their ability to execute Tanner’s ethos.

Chicago Fire

I’m inclined to believe the Fire are more likely to finish last than first. They finished 10th last year, after all, and unless Grant Lillard emerges at center back, they haven’t helped their leaky defense. But a midfield three of Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Djordje Mihailovic could feast, if Veljko Paunovic lets it.

Columbus Crew

Caleb Porter is in charge. It will be odd watching the Crew managed by anyone other than new USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. But Porter will be pragmatic, and he has capable pieces across the roster. Left back Milton Valenzuela’s torn ACL hurts pretty badly, though, and they still won’t have scoring from the wing until Justin Meram snaps out of his funk or Pedro Santos figures it out. I wouldn’t bet on the latter.

Montreal Impact

Maximizing what could be Ignacio Piatti’s final MLS season is Montreal’s most important task — they will have a hard time replacing arguably MLS’s best winger when it comes to it. It will be interesting to see whether Remi Garde maintains counter-attacking tactics, or if he emphasizes more pressing with Maxi Urruti leading the line as one of the league’s top defensive forwards.

New England Revolution

The Revs couldn’t figure out how to do anything more than press last season, so once teams solved them, New England started losing games and never stopped. There is a lot of uncertainty with how Brad Friedel will put together his attack with new transfers Carlos Gil and Juan Fernando Caicedo in the fold. Their biggest weakness could still be passing out of midfield, as well as central defense.

Orlando City SC

One would have a difficult time arguing that Orlando upgraded their roster after last year’s tire fire of a season, especially considering the transfer of Yoshi Yotun to Cruz Azul. But there are a number of younger Homegrowns and USL transfers on the roster, and they jettisoned the entire defensive core. If James O’Connor can put the pieces together, OCSC could at least do some good things.

FC Cincinnati

The newest expansion club spent most of their time buying defenders and defensive midfielders. Their numerous overpays in trades (notably spending nearly $600,000 in value on Nick Hagglund, a brutal blunder from the front office) does not inspire confidence that FCC signed any of the right players. They could prove people wrong, but I doubt it — Cincy are most likely going to be pretty terrible this year.

Also Read: 2019 MLS Preview – Western Conference Contenders 

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