This bit is pretty self-explanatory. We’ve all read mailbags, even on this very website. So I’m stepping on turf that typically belongs to Matt Doyle. Nobody tell him.
Also, “mailbag” feels antiquated here on the internet. When was the last time you saw a physical mailbag? I also think the rate of mail I actually need to open versus junk mail is extremely inefficient, anyway. Sorry for the strays, United States Postal Service.
But “Ask Me Anything” doesn’t fit well in a headline. You’ll see if my concerns were dealt with by my editors or they got spiked into the next dimension by whatever they made the headline for this.
Editor’s note: Tom, we've talked about this already. Nobody wants to read your rants about mail (JS).
Onto the questions!
I honestly, genuinely do not know. And that’s a good thing for the state of the roster.
Teams mostly use them on attackers. They're the most valuable and expensive positions on the field. Generally speaking, it’s wise to focus resources there. LAFC co-president and general manager John Thorrington has largely done that, only using a DP spot on a non-forward once (Andre Horta)... which didn’t go great.
Thorrington said as much in the winter, noting it was going to be an attacking player. But in an interview with MLSSoccer.com before El Trafico (and he struck a similar tune on ESPN before Sunday’s win over Sporting Kansas City), he wasn’t necessarily married to that anymore.
The thing is: Two DP spots are already used in the attack on Carlos Vela and Brian Rodriguez. Non-DP Cristian Arango is ostensibly the third starter and fits perfectly between those two, but Kwadwo Opoku had been keeping him out of the lineup, while Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has brought a livewire presence off the bench. They are well-stocked in attack, plus Arango was acquired for a $3 million transfer fee last summer from Colombia's Millonarios and Tajouri-Shradi for $400,000 in General Allocation Money via an Expansion Draft trade (NYCFC to Charlotte to LAFC).
A lot of resources have already been focused there. Would it make sense to diversify and use a DP spot elsewhere?
The next place to look would be in midfield, though that group is so competitive and strong, too. If Jose Cifuentes leaves in the summer, that’s definitely an area to target. The Ecuador international has plenty of eyes on him from Europe and seems ready for a move. We’ll see.
This is to say nothing of Vela’s future – his contract is up on June 30 with no extension yet – or Rodriguez’s future. He has been linked with a move away since returning from a failed loan to Almeria in Spain's second division. If either player leaves, a new DP attacker will come in.
UPDATE: After writing this, FOX Sports' Doug McIntyre reported Carlos Vela and LAFC have agreed on a contract extension. So, that's settled.
But either leaving would open another DP spot, obviously, and that creates a whole different set of possibilities.
Let’s start with the positive side of 0-0 draws: Chicago are defensively legit. Head coach Ezra Hendrickson completely revamped that side of the game for this team and it was of the utmost importance.
Rafael Czichos has been a really strong addition and can anchor a defense in this league, but they’ve been fine at center back in the games he’s missed with Wyatt Omsberg and Mauricio Pineda. Defensive midfielder Federico Navarro, one of the more underrated players in this league, didn’t start the Fire's first few games, but is firmly back to fitness and form. That defensive spine is strong.
Gaga Slonina, as has been tweeted extensively by a lot of people, is a rising star. The 17-year-old homegrown goalkeeper will have offers this summer from major clubs in Europe, but I strongly expect the Fire to make it clear no deal will take place unless Slonina stays in MLS until the winter, at least.
Chicago have conceded just twice in seven games. That’s elite. Obviously they are overperforming expected goals against, but their xGA (7.96) is fourth-best in MLS. To boot: 3.52 of that xGA came against Orlando City, a game they played with 10 men for more than 45 minutes.
As for the attack, I think it’ll be fine.
Xherdan Shaqiri has been fine, not spectacular. He’ll be spectacular at least a few times this season, he’s too talented not to be. Even as the Swiss star is finding form right now, he's seventh in MLS in chances created per 90 minutes and 17th in expected assists. The only worry for him is injuries, after missing the last two and a half games with a calf knock.
The supporting cast will improve, too. Chicago will soon see Young DP Jairo Torres debut after a $6 million transfer from Liga MX's Atlas. He arrives on May 1. The 21-year-old winger should fill a big hole as a goal-dangerous, dynamic attacker to complement Shaqiri as the No. 10, Kacper Przybylko up top and Fabian Herbers on the other flank. That has the makings of a balanced, complementary first-choice attack.
Perhaps Hendrickson will become less conservative with lineup decisions, too. It’s admirable how well he has improved the defense in short order – that was clearly priority No. 1, as it should have been. Start with the structure and foundation, hope to get some Shaqiri magic, then build from there.
There’s a lot to like about this team right now. I’m firmly in the glass-half-full camp.
Minnesota have two starting-caliber goalkeepers in Dayne St. Clair and Tyler Miller. Both are being paid like starters and both want to start, of course. The Loons seem to have prepared for an eventual departure by adding 27-year-old Eric Dick this winter, ostensibly someone who could move up from No. 3 to No. 2 on the depth chart if either Miller or DSC left.
The Loons have said all season they’re not just going to give away one of them, of course. While moving either would give Minnesota more cap flexibility, they’re clearly fine on that front as they entered the season roster compliant and were able to add left back Kemar Lawrence in a trade after the season started.
Still, though, I would assume a move happens eventually.
A number of MLS teams called Minnesota about St. Clair this offseason when Miller was set to be the starter, but the Loons rejected all advances. Now DSC has taken over as the starter and further advances for the Canadian international have been rejected after the season started, too.
Using basic deductive reasoning, it’s likely teams will (or have already) shift focus to Miller, a proven starter in this league who's in his prime at 29 years old. Things can change, I suppose, but that seems like the likeliest outcome.
Charlotte have been solid. I particularly like that manager Miguel Angel Ramirez has shown tactical flexibility to be pragmatic; that’s not a club I knew he had, given how often he spoke about his game model after being hired. Flexibility is key. If he tried to play his game model to the full extent out of a 4-3-3 at the beginning of the season, they would have gotten steamrolled in a few games.
At the end of preseason, when it became en vogue to expect an FC Cincinnati-level expansion season, I didn’t understand it. That seemed like too much of an overcorrection. The roster wasn’t among the best, but not signing Darwin Machis didn’t change my opinion from “solid” to “historically bad”. That’s still where I stand.
Ben Bender has been a revelation. I’m not sure anyone expected the No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick to play so many minutes so early and produce (1g/3a in eight games). It’s a good story. DP winger Kamil Jozwiak will soon debut, giving another expected high-level contributor to the attack alongside fellow Polish international Karol Swiderski. Expected starters Sergio Ruiz (two starts) and Anton Walkes (one start) haven’t been in the team a ton yet. Plus with a DP spot and two U22 Initiative spots open, there is room for further additions.
Still, the reasonable expectation is to remain in the playoff picture for as long as possible and identify building blocks/foundations to keep improving. I’m not sure if playoffs are a reasonable expectation – expansion seasons are still hard! – but remaining competitive is. And if you stick around in the race long enough, hey, who knows what can happen.
There are a lot of mitigating factors on every transfer.
Is this offer good enough? What is the player’s contract situation? What does the player want, and how badly does he want it? What is the team’s situation, both on and off the field?
Being in a World Cup year is definitely another factor, but I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact (this goes for international players who could be going to the World Cup, too, like Cifuentes, Diego Palacios, Adam Buksa, Julian Araujo, etc.).
For instance, FC Dallas wanted to keep Ricardo Pepi through the year. They wanted him contributing to the first team for one more season, and they thought his value would go up with Qatar 2022 looming. But Augsburg offered upwards of $20 million and Pepi wanted to go to the Bundesliga. What are you going to do?
It’s a case-by-case basis, so I’ll drive by a few of the specific guys you asked about.
- Jesus Ferreira: I’d be shocked if Ferreira went anywhere soon. He just signed a new Young DP contract this offseason and is the unquestioned starting No. 9 in a system very similar to the USMNT’s. It could end up being super smart for Dallas financially, too. If they wanted to sell him this winter, he could have gone for maybe around $3-5 million. His early-season form plus time with national team, just four months later… that certainly wouldn’t be enough to get him. So, not expecting him to move this summer isn’t really impacted by the World Cup.
- Djordje Mihailvoic: CF Montréal's early MVP candidate wasn’t with the national team in World Cup qualifiers, but he’ll get his chance this summer. I don’t think the World Cup impacts his future. Depends on what offers and opportunities come, though.
- Miles Robinson: Atlanta United have seemed intent upon hanging onto Robinson. He’s one of the best defenders in MLS and has developed nicely at the club. This is probably the situation that most makes sense in terms of waiting until after the World Cup re: hoping for bigger offers.
Let’s take two from Craig on Leeds here.
First one: They are looking good for Premier League safety. Leeds are eight points ahead of Burnley and might need all of that cushion, as their run-in isn’t the easiest. The way Jesse Marsch steadied a sinking ship and got points has been admirable. With some last-minute winners, it’s clear this team is fighting for him.
Sacha Kljestan put it best in our interview for my feature on Marsch: “I think most of us in the states are all Leeds fans.”
On the second: It definitely stands to reason another American comes into the team, not least of which because I’ve been reporting since the winter USMNT midfielder Brenden Aaronson is expected to sign with Leeds this summer, so that predates Marsch. But Marsch and Aaronson have a good relationship from their six months together at Salzburg. The Philadelphia Union product fits the system perfectly. The club already desperately wanted to sign him in the winter. Keep an eye there.
As for others? Tyler Adams would make a ton of sense.
Adams hasn’t carved out a regular starting role in Germany and Leipzig continue to invest in further additions. He fits Marsch's system and his style perfectly fits the Premier League. Marsch gave Adams his debut in MLS with the New York Red Bulls, and the No. 6 was an integral piece from a young age. All of these signs point to a deal being within reason.
I guess one issue would be what other clubs are interested in Adams. If an English team playing in European competitions came calling, that might be first choice for a player who was playing in the Champions League this year.
As for MLS connections… hey, why not Taty Castellanos?
I appreciate the lob here for an ally-oop (on an eight-foot rim for me to be able to dunk, obviously.) YES and I WILL NOT hear any dissenting opinions on the matter. Next question.
I’m so glad you asked. I have a lot of thoughts on this, probably 2k words. In this essay, I will demonstrate the following arguments backed by data, starting with––
Editor's note: Y'all know the worrisome part? Tom actually would go 2k words on that if we let him. (JS)