The numbers tell us you all love these Tiers columns, and I am not one to argue with numbers. Please wear a mask.
Here are all 26 teams set to take the field in the MLS is Back Tournament, ranked by tier. And... away we go:
I don't think there's much question that, when healthy and firing on all cylinders, they're the best team in the league. And after a busy offseason they are among the deepest teams in the league now as well -- they won't have to play a false 9 unless head coach Bob Bradely decides they want to (he shouldn't do that).
Right back is a concern even with the arrival of Andy Najar, and new goalkeeper new goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer seemed a touch too adventuresome in the early going. But still, absolutely no one would be shocked if LAFC were lifting a trophy at the end of this thing.
What needs to happen: They just have to stay healthy and play like they did for most of last year. And obviously, if Carlos Vela doesn't go (ESPN reported that the reigning MVP's availability is a question given that his wife is pregnant) they drop down a level.
Potential breakout player: It's going to click for Brian Rodriguez at some point. And when it does, everybody's in big, big trouble.
But here's the thing: If Vela's not there and it doesn't click for Rodriguez this summer, then LAFC are the ones in big, big trouble.
It's a tournament, so of course the Sounders are among the favorites. They're deep and experienced, have three match-winners in attack and look to have upgraded their central midfield this offseason. Is Jordan Morris of 2020 the same as the Jordan Morris we saw in the second half of 2019? Because that guy was the second-best winger in the league, behind only Vela. That's not even remotely an exaggeration.
The question, of course, is central defense and (weirdly) intensity. Neither were outstanding in a kind of embarrassing CCL ouster back in the winter.
Potential breakout player: Is it finally Handwalla time? With Harry Shipp retiring it's possible that the Homegrown winger eats up those available minutes, though he'd have to beat out veteran Miguel Ibarra. He has the talent to do so.
It's a tournament, so of course the Reds are among the favorites (as long as it doesn't go to penalties). They're deep and experienced, have three match-winners in attack and look to have upgraded their wings this offseason. And they have kids knocking on the door, vying for more playing time at almost every position. Back in Week 2 it was their rookie SuperDraft pick, Achara, who proved to be the hero. TFC have a way of just finding guys who get it done.
Health is always a concern with this group, though – especially with Jozy Altidore. He pretty famously has had injury issues during summer tournaments, and both Michael Bradley and Pablo Piatti are coming off of injuries.
What needs to happen: Beyond the health thing, the Reds have to show they can find defensive balance in a midfield that includes both Bradley and playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo. The third man in that group is going to have to work his socks off.
Potential breakout player: It's Achara. He's already shown a quick adjustment to the MLS level, and he might be the top back-up at three different spots (left wing, right wing, center forward). Hell, he might actually be the starter on one of the wings.
EDIT: And... he just did his ACL:
This sucks. Injuries suck. Get better soon, kid.
Do Sporting really belong here after the season they had in 2019, and after the start they had to this year? Yes, they posted two big wins – 3-1 at Vancouver and 4-0 over Houston – but they still looked open and vulnerable defensively, and perhaps better teams than the 'Caps and Dynamo could have punished them.
But I don't really think that. I think that Sporting's 2019 was equivalent to Toronto's 2018, and that this will be a bounce-back year. And I think that with their added depth and firepower in attack, they are as equipped to win 4-3 as anybody in the league.
What needs to happen:Roberto Puncec has to be a better Ike replacement than the rotating cast of characters next to Matt Besler last year. If he's just 80% of what Opara was, then Sporting belong in this tier.
Potential breakout player: With Felipe Gutierrez going down for the year following knee surgery, Gianluca Busio moves up the pecking order in central midfield. The 18-year-old has looked dangerous in spurts, but if he's going to be an attacking midfielder he needs to complete more meaningful passes more often.
If there's anybody who's got a gripe at not being included amongst the top tier, it's NYCFC. They were a legitimately excellent team last season, brought back pretty much their top 13 players, added depth via their academy and have two answers at center forward – a place where they had only questions at the start of 2019.
But I've dinged them here simply because the coaching change from Dome Torrent to Ronny Deila presents such an unknown. And the Cityzens weren't great to start 2020, by the way, going 0-2-0 with zero goals scored. Granted an early red card in Columbus and juggling their CCL duties played a role, but that's a worry.
What needs to happen: The transition from Dome to Deila has to be smoother than the transition from Patrick Vieira to Dome. There's no need to fix something that's not broken.
Potential breakout player: Tayvon Gray. Ok not really – I don't think he'll get on the field for this one. But he's one of my favorite Homegrowns in the entire league, and I'm hoping he gets a chance sooner rather than later at either d-mid or right back.
The actual best team over the first two weeks of the season wasn't Sporting KC: It was the Loons. They went on the road in Week 1 and annihilated Portland on the counter, and then went on the road in Week 2 and annihilated San Jose on set pieces and in transition moments. Ike Opara was absolutely dominant, as we've come to expect – it's at the point where we're going to have to start thinking about this four-year stretch of his in the same stratosphere as peak Chad Marshall, or Eddie Pope from 1996-1999 – but so were Luis Amarilla, Kevin Molino (!!) and Ethan Finlay (!!!).
Those last two guys are finally healthy after years of battling injuries, and both provided myriad reminders of why they were once considered among the very best in the league at their respective positions.
What needs to happen: MLS in 2020 is very different than MLS in 2016, which is the last time Molino and Finlay were among the very best in the league at their respective positions. Is Molino good enough to be the No. 10 for a title-winning team in 2020? Is Finlay a match-winner in the era of Vela, Morris, et al?
And then Amarilla's still a great unknown. Dude can for sure bury open headers, but how many of those will he be getting these days?
EDIT: And... Ike's out:
My initial instinct is to drop Minnesota an entire tier, as I don't think there's any way they can replace Opara effectively. His presence is what allows Roman Metanire to overlap so high and hard, and without that, they're a vastly different team.
It's going to be a huge and fascinating test for the Loons and head coach Adrian Heath.
Potential breakout player: If Molino or Finlay do miss time, then the next man up is likely Young DP Thomas Chacon, the Uruguayan attacker they brought in last summer but who's barely gotten on the field since.
Even without injuries he should play a lot in July given where he is on the depth chart and the necessity of squad rotation in the Florida heat.
Columbus Crew SC
Like Minnesota United they have a very clear identity in that they are completely willing to sit deep and hit you on the counter. I think they want to be more than that – they went out and got Lucas Zelarayan this offseason as the No. 10, and they brought in Darlington Nagbe, one of the very best possession players in the league. But through two games they didn't look particularly comfortable carrying play and turning that into clear-cut chances.
What they did look comfortable doing, both early this season and late last year, was getting out on the break. They've got wingers who can run, midfielders who can spray, fullbacks who can overlap and a center forward who reliably puts the ball into the net. Don't sleep on the Crew.
What needs to happen: Zelarayan needs to live up to his number and his price tag. You know what you're getting from Gyasi Zardes, and we have a pretty good idea of the level of the rest of Columbus's players. Zelarayan needs to be the guy who elevates everyone else by 5%.
Potential breakout player:Sebastian Berhalter – Gregg's kid – was reportedly very good in preseason, and is third on the depth chart at central midfield behind Nagbe and Artur. That means the 19-year-old Homegrown should play at least a little bit.
The Union finally won a playoff game last year, and then went to Atlanta and went toe-to-toe with the Five Stripes before eventually bowing out. Then they came into this season with arguably the toughest schedule of anyone and still fought their way to a tough loss in Dallas and a mind-bending 3-3 draw at LAFC. They are on the cusp.
They also have Ilsinho, which means they can change the game in a way that no one else in the league can. Last year that became a bit of a crutch, but they were different to start 2020, pressing more viciously and effectively out of that 4-4-2 diamond and finding different ways to generate goals.
Again: They're on the cusp. Maybe this tournament is where they take the next step.
What needs to happen: The Brenden Aaronson who showed up vs. LAFC – the one who pressed the hell out of them, scored and assisted, and was aggressive about ball progression – needs to be out there at the point of the diamond. If you're going to be the No. 10 you have to play like the No. 10.
And yeah, the defense has to be a lot more comfortable defending on the back foot than they've looked against good teams. You can't press 90 minutes a game even in mild conditions.
Potential breakout player: 22-year-old right back Olivier Mbaizo alternated between "promising" and "excellent" last year in the USL, and while Ray Gaddis has been an iron man, Mbaizo just offers more pushing forward. At some point Jim Curtin's going to take that chance.
Portland had a shocking start to the season. In Week 1 they took way too many chances with the positioning of their fullbacks and so Finlay and Molino straight-up lit them on fire and laughed while they burned. In Week 2 the Timbers played in much more conservatively and thus had to hang on for dear life in an eventual 1-0 win over Nashville SC, an expansion team. Nashville outshot the Timbers 14-3, and in the entire second half Portland only touched the ball once in the 18. It was a complete rearguard action.
But guess what? When you've got Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco in attack, and you've got Diego Chara in midfield and Steve Clark (who was massive down the stretch last year and massive vs. Nashville) in goal, you're equipped to win a few games out of the bunker. And sometimes in tournament play, that's the smartest way to go about it.
What needs to happen: All these great/high-potential attacking pieces they have need to come together and actually start making each other better rather than just settling for cross after cross after cross. Portland have the talent to be an elite team in this league, but almost never played like it in 2019.
Potential breakout player:Marco Farfan had strung together a handful of solid performances in a row last summer before a season-ending injury, uh, ended his season. There is a chance he begins taking real minutes away from Jorge Villafaña this summer if Portland play a high line, as Sueño lacks any sort of recovery speed.
Set pieces and counters!
Ok, that's not entirely fair. The Rapids have enough skill to build chances with the ball and, with the arrival of Younes Namli, a DP No. 10 who can conjure something out of nothing. He's already done it once this year and chances are he'll do it again once or twice.
But that's Plan C. Plan A is to be maybe the best team on attacking set pieces MLS has ever seen, and Plan B is to get out and destroy teams on transition opportunities. These aren't "clear it and hope" transitions, by the way, but a very concerted effort on Robin Fraser's part to get his team comfortable with the idea of sucking their opponents in and making them commit to pressing in a certain area, then playing across the field into an area of both numerical and dynamic dominance.
It's wonderful to watch.
What needs to happen: Did I mention the Rapids are completely overpowered on restarts? If they're somehow nerfed, and if everyone they play is somehow prepared for those transition moments, it puts a lot more pressure on Namli and Kellyn Acosta in particular.
And even if the Rapids continue to be what they have been on restarts and counters, those two guys will need to be excellent for this team to win the thing.
You know who hasn't? Jonathan Lewis. He's in his fourth year, has a half-dozen USMNT caps and a couple of assists, and already has a goal this season. He's now got 9g/8a for his MLS career, which isn't a lot over the course of four years. But when you consider he's played fewer than 1700 career minutes...
Yeah, 9g/8a in 1700 minutes is awesome, but he's now on his fourth MLS coach and none of them have trusted him enough to let him play through the mistakes and keep the job. Lewis needs to give them no choice by showing a heretofore missing completeness to his game if he's going to live up to his potential and if he's going to compete for more USMNT caps. It'd be nice to see him do it this summer.
New England Revolution
Here's how close the Revs were to taking four points from the first two games of the season:
The Revs were a playoff team last year, added a DP No. 9 this offseason (Adam Buksa's looked pretty good), seem to have found a jewel of a CB in the SuperDraft (watch that play Henry Kessler makes at the start of the second clip above again), and have a match-winner in goal.
What needs to happen: I remain concerned about New England's central midfield, especially now that Luis Caicedo is out. Do the remaining options provide enough field coverage, ball-winning ability and defensive awareness to go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the league?
I have my doubts.
Potential breakout player: Kessler. He might be a little bit lacking in the quickness department, but he's already made what should've been one match-winning play in his very brief MLS career, and all the other physical attributes necessary to be a top CB in the league seem to be on display.
Anything Could Happen
I totally understand if Impact fans are upset that they're a tier below the Revs (a team they've beaten) and FC Dallas (a team they went on the road to and got a draw). It seems at least a little bit unfair, especially because I've been singing the praises of other sit-and-counter teams this year, and man have Montreal committed to that identity.
But each of those other teams have either proven or big-money match-winners and/or a level of set-piece dominance to rely upon, as well as a lock-down defense. Montreal don't really have any of that at a "yeah, I'd happily bet upon this" level.
The defense could get there, especially if Thierry Henry keeps them in a back five, and they seem to have the personnel necessary to be an effective counterattacking team. But what's on paper doesn't always translate to what happens on the field.
What needs to happen: The center backs need to be awesome, the goalkeeper needs to be mistake-free, and Maxi Urruti has to have his annual hot month (though he might already have spent that in March).
Potential breakout player:Zachary Brault-Guillard was unstoppable in the CCL and early-season MLS play. The 21-year-old right wingback was masterful at timing his runs to get in behind, and has the speed to run away from anybody in the league.
The final ball still needs some work, but such is often the case with young players.
I straight-up don't believe in Atlanta United's ability to compete with the best teams in the league without Josef Martinez. Fans will point to their 2-0-0 start in the league, but I'll point to the fact that those wins came against Nashville and Cincinnati, and neither was anything close to dominant. I'd more readily file them both under "fortunate."
The Five Stripes do have $30 million worth of attacking midfielders, and both Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez looked like they were closer to living up to their price tags early in 2020 than they had in 2019. They have new weapons at wingback and central midfield, and Miles Robinson is healthy again in central defense.
What needs to happen: They're going to have to pitch some shutouts. Robinson will need to be back to his very best and Brad Guzan will have to hold off Father Time another year. And at that point, maybe one of their attackers can find enough individual magic in their boots to push the team deep into the knockout rounds.
Potential breakout player: Is George Bello finally going to get healthy and take his chance? The 18-year-old is made for the left wingback spot in Frank de Boer's 3-4-2-1, but injuries and a lack of defensive attentiveness have derailed him for the past year-and-a-half.
Maybe now is the time.
They had the league's second-best defense last year by the numbers and bring back basically the whole thing, including the two deep-lying midfielders who shielded that central defense. And in attack they should in theory be better than last year with Edison Flores, Ola Kamara, Yamil Asad and Julian Gressel in from the start. Losing Paul Arriola hurts, of course, but Arriola is a fine player. He's not an irreplaceable one.
And yet D.C. lost their first game of the year, at home vs. Colorado, and then were largely outplayed in their second game of the year home to expansion side Inter Miami before a red card (deserved) gave them the front foot.
So they didn't look great. But on paper this is an uncomplicated team whose pieces should all fit nicely together once they're all in the right spots. And it could happen quickly.
What needs to happen: The pieces need to all fit nicely together in the right spots, quickly. Specifically and particularly those four attackers I mentioned, each of whom has the ability to be a Best XI-caliber player.
Potential breakout player: None of the kids are really in line for big minutes this year, save perhaps for center back Donovan Pines. If Frederic Brillant melts in the summer heat or starts feeling his age, Pines is the one who's going to get those minutes.
It might be worth it to just give him those minutes from the start given that D.C. are such long-shots here. Just throw him into the blender and hope that by the end of it he's ready to play a bigger role in what comes next.
They're 0-2-0 and their big signing (for the time being), Leandro Gonzalez Pirez, is not going to be eligible for the tournament. Neither will any other big signings, presumably, and so that makes this feel like a bit of a reach. There is a good argument that they should be dropped down a tier.
But that first loss came at LAFC, a game in which they were outclassed but not annihilated, and that second loss came at D.C., a game in which Miami were clearly the better team until Roman Torres's red card. They had answers in terms of raw talent and Diego Alonso's switch to the 3-4-2-1 gave them a level of solidity that seemed to augur well for future performances.
Also, it's Diego Alonso in a tournament setting. That alone is worth a one-tier bump.
What needs to happen: One of the young No. 9s (Robbie Robinson and Julian Carranza) needs to be the No. 9, and Mexican international attacker Rodolfo Pizarro needs to live up to his price tag and expectations. Pizarro has always had talent, but has rarely brought it to bear as an elite-level attacking weapon week after week.
Well, this team's kind of build for him, so if it doesn't happen here and now, maybe it's not going to.
Potential breakout player: If it's not Robinson or Carranza then Miami are in a touch of trouble.
New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls are unbeaten with four points through two games, but they struggled to put away Cincinnati and they held on for dear life at RSL before conceding a late (and deserved) equalizer. In other words it all looked the same as last year, when RBNY time after time fell apart in the second half after strong first-half performances. It is a bizarre face-turn for the 2018 Supporters' Shield winners, who generally stuck teams into the woodchipper after the break that year.
But that's a long time ago now, and this appears to be who the Red Bulls are. They are going to step on your throat in the first 30, but for the final 60 if you are smart you are going to get more than just your fair share of chances. No RBNY lead has been safe.
What needs to happen: Five subs. Use four of 'em early and make the first 30 minutes of the second half feel like the first 30 minutes of the game. There can be no sacred cows on a team with such an egalitarian approach to roster building, and beyond that, RBNY's main advantage comes from their clearly defined identity (press everything always) and ability to impose it upon whoever they're playing against.
Use those subs. Run the whole team into the ground.
Potential breakout player: If Brian White or Tom Barlow prove they can be starting-caliber No. 9s in this league, that'll save the Red Bulls a lot of money and put them in a position to upgrade other spots of the roster in a big way. And to be clear, White and especially Barlow scored at eye-opening rates in USL play, so it's not entirely out of the question that it translates up to MLS on a permanent basis.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Is this a tier too high? I think it might be. Vancouver got stomped 3-1 in their opener at home to Sporting KC, and then while they went on the road to get a win at the Galaxy in Week 2... it's the Galaxy. They were a mess defensively and they're easy to defend against, which obviously makes the win less impressive than some others.
But still, they went out and got themselves an in-his-prime No. 9 who can win a game, and they added other key pieces everywhere, and Inbeom Hwang's adjustment season is in the books. I think there's a chance that the 'Caps could be much better than they were last year, and much, much better than people think they are.
Ok yeah, this is a tier too high. But I've got to take a flier on someone, so it's Vancouver.
What needs to happen: Find a way to replace a trio of forwards — Lucas Cavallini, Tosaint Ricketts and Fredy Montero — who will not be at the tournament in Orlando.
Potential breakout player: First-round SuperDraft pick Ryan Raposo came on in Week 2 and made a huge difference in attacking midfield, finding gaps and generally being composed and clever.
I initially had them in the "anything can happen group" simply because you can't rule out a team with Chicharito, Cristian Pavon, Jonathan dos Santos and Sebastian Lletget. That is a very, very solid group of four, and if your four best players are better than the other team's four best players, you're going to win some games even if you're kind of a mess.
Except now it's three as Dos Santos has pulled out of the tournament following hernia surgery. He was the lynchpin, and now that gang of four is down to a group of three, and even with a full roster back in March they had no idea how to get the ball to Chicharito other than to try to cross it 30 times a game. There has been little indication that they've had other ideas besides that over the past two years.
This team needs to show something this summer, but I'm not betting on that.
What needs to happen: At some point they have to keep the ball on the floor and build chances via synchronized and purposeful team-wide movements instead of just settling for yet another cross from Rolf Feltscher. No one seemed to feel this more than Chicharito, whose frustration was evident after just two weeks.
Potential breakout player: There is some hope that the time is here for 18-year-old attacker Efra Alvarez, who is reportedly finally taking care of himself off the field. I still have concerns about his overall athleticism – he might not be built for the modern game – but there's zero question he sees passes others don't and can create something out of nothing.
Chicago Fire FC
Chicago are almost an expansion team, and not just because of the new branding: they could have as many as seven new starters. We know that one of them will be up top (DP center forward Robert Beric, who looked pretty good back in March), at least two will be in central midfield (DP d-mid Gaston Gimenez and TAM CM Alvaro Medran), and one will probably be on the wing (Young DP Ignacio Aliseda).
Based upon the small sample size earlier this year, most of these guys looked pretty good, as did Homegrown d-mid/CB Mauricio Pineda (who I think will end up at CB). There is hope and what seems to be a clear and consistent vision from head coach Raphael Wicky as well.
But after the past decade, it feels like quite a reach to predict anything approaching silverware. I think Fire fans would settle for some good performances and proof of concept with regard to Wicky's approach and the talent level of the new guys.
What needs to happen: Proof of concept with regard to Wicky's approach and the talent level of the new guys. It's been rebuild after rebuild for the past decade, and all of his has come without a clear foundation. Hopefully that sets this summer.
Potential breakout player: Aliseda's a Young DP who's been on the fringes of Argentina's youth national teams, cost a pretty penny and plays a spot (left wing) from whence Chicago's already done damage this season.
First thing he'll have to do is win the job, obviously. If he does that, though, then maybe good things start happening.
How many $20 million strikers are there in MLS? Ok, so the answer is technically zero, but two years ago Jurgen Locadia was valued at just about that number by Brighton & Hove Albion of the English Premier League. He didn't work out there, but he's in his prime at 26 years old and has other proven attackers – Yuya Kubo and Siem de Jong – around to help him with the lift in MLS.
They also have two energetic, ball-winning young central midfielders in Allan Cruz and Frankie Amaya, and a maestro of a regista in Haris Medunjanin. I don't know how, exactly, all those players are supposed to fit on the field together, but this'll be the first time in their brief MLS history that FC Cincy can write down their lineup and just out-talent some teams.
What needs to happen: Jaap Stam has to get that midfield balance right, even if it means benching one of the veterans. I don't see how De Jong and Medunjanin can operate in the same central midfield without turning things into a sieve, and that's a scary proposition when you consider it'd be happening in front of an old and slow central defense that shipped a league-record 75 goals last season.
Potential breakout player: Amaya. I've been banging this drum for a while now, but the kid wins the ball and then knows what to do with it. This is so good:
Orlando City SC
It's all a work in progress for Orlando, but Sebastian Mendez and Junior Urso in central midfield behind Mauricio Pereyrashould work. Nani on one wing and the combo of Chris Mueller and Benji Michel on the other should work. Dom Dwyer up top...
Ok, that's one of the big questions. Dwyer was in all the right spots last year but his finishing touch almost entirely deserted him, and the options behind him either aren't center forwards or are super duper young.
The other questions are about the central defense and fullbacks and yeah, that's a lot of questions and so yeah, that's why they're in this tier. Oscar Pareja's got some work to do.
What needs to happen: If Dwyer starts putting the ball into the net then everything changes, obviously. But I'll go in a less obvious direction: Mendez needs to level up this year. There were flashes last season of what had made him an Ecuador international, but it certainly wasn't on display game-after-game.
It needs to be in this tournament.
Potential breakout player: Mueller is super quick and athletic and makes good, smart runs. The one goal Orlando City's scored this year was his, and it was lovely.
If he can put it together and become an above-average, full-time MLS winger – and I honestly think he has the skillset to do that – it'll be huge for this team.
Real Salt Lake
As I covered earlier this week, there are all kinds of questions about who's going to be the center forward for this team, and that has knock-on effects to the wings, to central midfield and all the way back potentially to central defense (can you play Nedum Onuoha and Marcelo Silva together if you have Damir Kreilach and Kyle Beckerman together ahead of them in central midfield? I don't think so).
Which is to say that everything is questionable and nothing is settled and nothing is certain. RSL took two points from two games this winter – an unwatchable scoreless draw at Orlando to open the season, then a 1-1 home draw vs. an RBNY team they battered in the second half – which is fine, and not necessarily indicative of what's to come. But things sure were pretty confused and, well, when things are confused it's hard to string together consistent results.
What needs to happen: Maybe it's time to just make Kreilach the full-time No. 9. It'd be weird as hell, but 2020 is full of weirdness.
DPs are supposed to produce. My guess is he'll get that chance.
Houston opened the season well with that 1-1 draw vs. the Galaxy – a game in which they did a solid job of denying service to Chicharito – but then they went to Kansas and got drilled 4-0 by Sporting KC. And it turns out that denying service to Chicharito might not be that difficult, as Vancouver did an even better job of doing so than the Dynamo had.
What I'm saying is that I think the Week 2 result is more emblematic of who the Dynamo are than the Week 1 result, and I think the fragility we saw in last year's defense is still there, and still probably season-defining. I am particularly concerned about that left side, especially if Darwin Quintero is lined up at left wing. That would ask a lot of Adam Lundkvist (LB) and Maynor Figueroa (LCB), defenders who aren't actually out there for their defensive ability.
What needs to happen: Maybe they're just going to go out there and win everything 4-3. A front-line of Quintero, Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis should be pure fire, and could allow Tomas Martinez to make delayed runs out of midfield as the fourth man in attack. And then just release the fullbacks to overlap high and hard and attack with seven guys.
It would be fun!
Potential breakout player:Memo Rodriguez is 24, has already played 2500 MLS minutes, including 1400 last year, so he's probably past "breakout stage." But I guess this is his chance to go from "oh, yeah, that guy – I forgot about him" to "oh, yeah, he's the starter at left wing or central midfield and is super smart about winning the ball in good spots and feasting on the chances Elis and Quintero create."
San Jose Earthquakes
It's not smart to bet against Matias Almeyda in a tournament setting. The man made his name in Argentina and then especially in Mexico with his ability to get trophies out of short-form competitions. It's apparently in his DNA.
Part of it, I'm sure, has to do with the distinct man-marking defensive system he prefers to use, which is so different from almost everything else you see in the modern game that it's bound to take teams by surprise, throw them off their collective rhythm and get them out of their comfort zones. We've seen it time and again.
Over the course of 34 games last year the above seemed to take too much out of his individual players while providing too much film for opponents to watch, dissect, and then prep for. There were diminishing returns.
But over the course of a tournament? Over the course of a tournament "different" and "weird" and "rhythm-breaking" are built-in advantages.
That's the narrative I'd hang onto if I was a Quakes fan, anyway.
What needs to happen: The gaps and individual errors in Weeks 1 and 2 were myriad and sundry, and when you make an individual error in a man-marking scheme, it precipitates a devastating cascade effect that ends with one (very fortunate) point from two home games.
What I'm saying is that the Quakes have to stop screwing up, have to start doing a better job of winning the ball, and have to find someone besides Chris Wondolowski who can put the ball into the net.
Potential breakout player: It's probably too early for Cade Cowell, the 16-year-old forward/winger who actually made his MLS debut in Week 2 with 45 promising minutes against Minnesota. I don't really think he'll be a factor until 2021 at the earliest.
But still, kid's got loads of potential.