Cyle Larin's evolution into a top forward in Orlando | The Breakdown

Welcome back to the Thursday TwitBag. Like far too many media folks, I'm constantly on Twitter, so if you want to shout at me, that's the best place to do so. This column represents my ongoing effort to answer some of the better queries with more than 140 characters.

I'm also going to start recommending column/reporting/takes from other writers as well, and this week we'll give a tip of the cap to ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, who did very well to break down the issues facing the LA Galaxy – starting with the un-snug fit in midfield caused by the insecure partnership between Joao Pedro and Jermaine Jones. If you want to know why LA have won just two of their eight outings, your search for answers starts there.

I expect them to sign another big-name player this summer, but A) I don't know who that player will be (we can all speculate about another Dos Santos tho, right?), and I don't know how that player will fit with the mis-matched group that comprises the current Galaxy roster. It's not easy to point to one spot or another and say "this is a strength for this team."

And obviously that means their front office and manager Curt Onalfo are all under pressure. If the current season continues upon its current trajectory, there will be hard looks at the personnel moves made this past winter, which is natural in sports.

Oh goodness yes. Sporting's defensive record is obviously outstanding, with only three goals conceded and just one of those from open play. Their only loss was on the road at FC Dallas, who are the consensus best team in the league at this point, and they just strangled the life out of Portland's elite attack about a month ago. If you look at their roster, 1-through-15, they're probably as strong as any team in the league.

The problem continues to be twofold: They're not as deep as Dallas, or as last year's MLS Cup finalists (Seattle and Toronto), which can take a toll. In fact we know that it does take a toll – Sporting routinely fade down the stretch of the season as miles run, miles traveled and late-summer heat all claim their pound of flesh. Peter Vermes has done a lot of great things as boss in KC, but figuring out squad rotation is not one of them.

A bit of good news on that front is that Sporting have several trade chips they can use before the close of this current window, or sometime during the summer window to give themselves a boost.

Problem No. 2 is there's still not goalscorer on that team aside from Dom Dwyer, who's struck a rich vein of form. Gerso has two goals off of backline catastrophes, and Benny Feilhaber has two golazos, and Seth Sinovic scored a non-playoffs goal for the first time in his life and... that's it.

We know the bell tolls for that come November. Sporting have been eliminated repeatedly because they haven't had wingers who could score consistently, and they still don't, and that's a problem I think they have to fix.

That said, their defense is so good they might not have to. They could very conceivably 1-0 their way to MLS Cup.

If they're going to do that, they're going to have to keep this guy healthy. Ike Opara has been the best center back in the league thus far in 2017 and is very much living up to his considerable potential that's been repeatedly shrouded by career-threatening injuries.

He's started nine times this year and Sporting have posted six shutouts. He's battled quick, elusive forwards like Sebastian Giovinco and had a heavyweight bout for the ages against Fanendo Adi in that 1-0 win last month. He's done everything.

His personal best for games started in a single season, though, is 16. His 1542 minutes last year were a career high. Projecting out scenarios with Opara central to their functionality has proved to be very difficult over the years.

And that's why it's very hard to say he has a USMNT shot – it's difficult to bring in guys who are so injury prone (something Bruce Arena learned to his detriment when he added John O'Brien to the 2006 World Cup squad). Opara also has the misfortune of playing a position of relative depth (right center back):

  • Geoff Cameron is an EPL starter
  • Omar Gonzalez just won the CCL with Pachuca
  • Walker Zimmerman is four years younger than Opara with relatively similar strengths and weaknesses
  • Steve Birnbaum is two years younger than Opara, has some int'l experience and relatively similar strengths and weaknesses
  • Matt Miazga is six years younger than Opara and just helped lead Vitesse Arnhem to the Dutch Cup, their first title in 125 years as a club
  • Matt Hedges plays LCB for Dallas, but he's just as comfortable on the right and my guess is he'll feature prominently this summer in the Gold Cup
  • Jonathan Spector plays LCB for Orlando City, but he's just as comfortable on the right and my guess is he'll feature prominently this summer in the Gold Cup

That's not to mention the coming crop of U-20s, which includes Opara's club teammate, Erik Palmer-Brown. He could blow up over the next couple of months, as could Cameron Carter-Vickers, or Tommy Redding. The US is entering an era of insane backline depth.

So I don't think Opara's going to get a call-up any time soon, even for January camp. This coming January will not be the typical "camp cupcake" in which Arena adds a few more pieces to get a feel for how they fit. Rather, this camp will be about trimming a few fringe regulars and solidifying the core group.

Opara, if he stays healthy, will probably get a few caps – he's too good not to. But his age and the timing and extent of his injuries have made his a very difficult path to the national team.

I don't, but I think he'll be on the Gold Cup squad. He's been excellent for Orlando City, and is in the running for Defender of the Year along with Opara, Zimmerman, Hedges and Matt Besler.

May 4, 2017

Results-wise, getting out of the group would be a manageable goal, as would giving a good account of themselves in the knockout rounds. More important in my opinion, though, is player ID.

1. Sort out the defense

So many of Canada's problems over the past decade have come from constantly shuffling backlines that A) couldn't defend wide, and B) could do anything in terms of building possession. They need to begin to figure that out this summer.

2. Who's the midfield creator?

Marco Bustos, who does good work as a No. 10 in USL, hasn't been able to break through on the MLS level, but he's got a half-dozen Canada caps. Maybe it's him? Maybe it's Jay Chapman? Maybe it's someone else?

Regardless, Canada are in dire need of someone in midfield who can hit the last pass.

3. Commit to the 3-man frontline

Plop Cyle Larin in the middle and have guys like Junior Hoilett, Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, Michael Petrasso and Simeon Jackson running off him.

I think that could be his eventual spot, but the issue is that's really the only place Johan Venegas is effective – he's shown repeatedly that he's not dangerous coming in off the wing in MLS. If Minnesota United had another top-tier winger, you could move Molino inside and put Venegas on the bench, but right now they just don't.

So for the time being I think it makes sense to go with this sort-of 4-4-2 with Molino on the wing and Venegas underneath Christian Ramirez. It's not ideal, but it's not bad, either. Especially by expansion franchise standards.

Ramirez, for one. He has a knack for getting into great spots and scoring the kinds of scrappy goals that don't just disappear, and Adrian Heath's teams always attack well. Same goes for Ola Kamara and Gregg Berhalter teams.

Bradley Wright-Phillips, David Villa and Giovinco are all going to be in the mix but obviously aren't darkhorses. Guys like Jozy Altidore, Dwyer and Nemanja Nikolic are, I think, a slightly lower tier as goalscorers. We haven't seen enough of Josef Martinez to properly categorize him and it's a fair bet he won't come back from injury and continue to average two goals per game, but it's also a fair bet that he'll be an elite scorer in this league.

Those are probably the "smart money" bets. If you want an outlier... Juan Agudelo. In his last 17 games across all competitions (which includes the US Open Cup final in Dallas), he has 13 goals and 3 assists. That's despite playing a bunch of those games in midfield, and despite hitting the woodwork more times than anyone else in the league last year.

Agudelo is like Opara, though: Always undone by injuries. He's also not been as productive when playing as a co-center forward alongside Kei Kamara, which is something Jay Heaps still has to sort out.

Empire, of course. But in reality it's Lawrence of Arabia.

Here, let me explain: Banish the prequel trilogy from your memory entirely. Then watch Lawrence and pretend that Lawrence is Anakin Skywalker, Sherif Ali is Obi-Wan, and the British command is, essentially, the Emperor/Empire.

  • Lawrence is, like Anakin, a preternaturally gifted warrior and commander
  • Lawrence is, like Anakin, somewhat obsessed with mystic forces
  • Lawrence is, like Anakin, a man who wants to do "good"

But Lawrence is seduced and corrupted by war itself. It becomes who and what he is, and because of that he begins to believe his power is limitless, that he's close to immortal, that normal rules that apply to normal people don't apply to him. It darkens his soul and leads him to acts that are twisted and evil.

When he leads his troops to slaughter the Turkish column after Tafas?

Armchair Analyst: Pressure's on in LA & more from the Week 10 TwitBag -

That man has fallen to the dark side more completely and more compellingly than anything George Lucas ever dreamed of. That's my own belief about Anakin Skywalker's narrative, and thus Lawrence of Arabia is my favorite Star Wars movie. The prequels don't exist.

May the Fourth Be With You, fellow nerds.