Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Columbus Crew chase Concacaf history, Messi goes supernova & more from MLS


April is almost over. Good weather is either here or coming across the continent. The Concacaf Champions Cup final is almost set, and a historic MLS team has one foot in it. Lionel Messi plays (and dominates) every weekend in MLS.

It’s a good time to be a soccer fan in North America (or the world, if you’ve got MLS Season Pass).

Here are a couple of things I’ve been thinking about as the third month of the MLS season winds down…

Juice worth the squeeze for Columbus in Concacaf?

Last six MLS games: L, D, D, D, D, D.

15 pts in 10 games … 5th in the Eastern Conference … zero road wins in four tries … 12 GF, 9 GA

Some teams would dream of that scenario. For the Columbus Crew, those results are the definition of … mid. They’re average by defending MLS Cup champion standards. Well, I’m here to tell you average, when simultaneously balancing and succeeding in Concacaf Champions Cup, is decidedly ABOVE AVERAGE.

It’s elite behavior, really. And that’s what the Crew still are in MLS terms despite what their record says: elite.

Thing is, like so many that came before them, the Crew would like to be elite in regional terms, which is why all the squad rotation and the trickle of dropped points isn’t even close to a concern. Columbus have already taken down one side of the Clásico Regio in Tigres, and on Wednesday night Wilfried Nancy and his group have an opportunity to deal another death blow to the other side of Monterrey (10:15 pm ET | FS1, TUDN). Their prize? Just the seventh ConcaChampions final for MLS.

I’ll be watching Diego Rossi closely. These are the moments the Crew signed him for, and the Tigres series was hopefully a sign of a breakout stretch coming for the Uruguay international. I’ll be watching Patrick Schulte, too. There’s no doubt Schulte has made mistakes during his still-short first team career, but even more impressive is how he’s always bounced back from them quickly. Mental fortitude and self-belief are prerequisites to winning (or just surviving) in Mexico.

Godspeed, Columbus. May Rayados take free space while the Crew take their place in what would be a thrilling MLS vs. Liga MX final.

Messi (and who else?) for MVP

Lionel Messi is the GOAT, and we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s re-writing records. Messi’s insane pace – nine goals and seven assists, both league-leading marks, in 585 minutes … that’s 36 minutes per goal contribution – is normal and it ought to be a sign that all is right in our little soccer universe.

This is just the start, too. Mark my words.

Remember, Messi dragged Inter Miami to the Leagues Cup title with 1) dramatically less familiarity with his teammates and North America in general and 2) now has a better, deeper team around him.

All due respect to Chicho Arango, but Lionel Messi is the MLS MVP favorite now and until/if injury prevents him from playing regularly. He’s the best, most influential and most productive player in the league by miles and miles. I find it hard to believe Messi won’t have earned and deserved that trophy at the end of the year.

Here’s who else is in the conversation…

  1. Chicho Arango (Real Salt Lake) – The earth, moon and stars for Pablo Mastroeni and Real Salt Lake right now. Any other year, he’d be the easy No. 1.
  1. Denis Bouanga (LAFC) – No, I don’t care that he’s missed a ton of chances. Thanks for asking.
  1. Riqui Puig (LA Galaxy) – In LA, it allllllllll runs through Riqui.
  1. Christian Benteke (D.C. United) – Take the big man out of D.C.’s mix, and you might need a new recipe entirely.
Best move of the Primary Transfer Window

The window is closed, long live the Primary Transfer Window.

While we wait for summer business to heat up, we might as well take quick stock of the best moves from the winter and spring. I’m doing this by conference, with a clear-and-obvious choice plus however many under-the-radar selections I so desire.

Eastern Conference: Luis Suárez (Inter Miami)

Suárez on a free seems like good business to me. Nine goals in 14 games, all comps. Seven goals and four assists in MLS so far, in 650 minutes. Inter Miami are your Supporters’ Shield leaders, on both points and points per game. Slam dunk here, all apologies to Emil Forsberg and the New York Red Bulls.

East Under the Radar: Jared Stroud (all of D.C.’s moves?)

D.C. need direct, hardworking attackers who are just as comfortable counter-pressing and playing in tight, chaotic spaces as they are whipping in a cross to Christian Benteke at the back post or making a darting run in between the opposing backline. That’s Stroud (1g/3a), and he’s much more than a “work-rate guy,” too.

What bodes well for D.C. is I could have named a handful of players brought in before the season began – think of Aaron Herrera, Lucas Bartlett, Matti Peltola and Chris McVey, only one of which (Peltola as a Young DP) really got any hype. Stroud, Bartlett and Herrera were acquired before D.C. hired Troy Lesesne, which tells you general manager Ally Mackay had a clear vision for the club and executed on it, even if there have been equal parts triumphs and hiccups so far.

  • Honorable Mention Under the Radar: Raheem Edwards and Ruan (CF Montreal)

Western Conference: Joseph Paintsil (LA Galaxy)

Four goals, four assists and a new wrinkle added to the Galaxy’s game? Paintsil (and perhaps with some more time, Gabriel Pec) takes the top spot out West.

The pace in behind and poise in the final third, whether shooting or passing, is obvious. It’s how well he still fits when the Galaxy want to keep the ball and play in combination that makes him such an ideal fit for Greg Vanney’s game model. Paintsil just has a feel for what the game needs, and his vision, awareness and feel for the timing to execute on both is top-class.

Speaking of, Miki Yamane should really get a shout here as well.

West Under the Radar: Diego Rubio/Jáder Obrian (Austin FC) and Fafà Picault (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Both Rubio (3g/0a) and Picault (3g/2a) were among the most high-profile free agents in MLS this offseason, but I don’t remember tremendous fanfare for either signing. More, "Yeah, that could work, I guess" rather than "Oh, he’s going to truly elevate this team." Maybe I remember incorrectly. Obrian (2g/2a) was a Re-Entry Draft pick. Enough said.

Well, all three have truly elevated their respective sides. Rubio brings much-needed personality to this Austin team. He’s goal-dangerous enough, but just as happy to combine and sets a tone with his physicality. Obrian is the threat in behind that Austin lacked last year. Picault has been wildly productive when healthy and gives the Whitecaps a different, higher profile from the winger position. He’s an ideal weak-side attacker for Vanni Sartini's system.

Best MLS No. 6s of All-Time


That’s how many games Diego Chara has pulled on a Portland Timbers uniform, a new MLS record for a not-so-new MLS legend. Chara arrived in MLS almost exactly 13 years ago, the Timbers’ first-ever, couldn’t-have-fit-better Designated Player, and there’s still no telling when he’ll hang them up. Even at 38 years young, the Colombian can’t resist breaking up a promising attack, which is fittingly what got him sent off against LAFC on his record-setting night.


That’s how many games Dax McCarty has now played in MLS after Saturday’s bummer of a draw in Chicago. The 37-year-old joins Nick Rimando and Kyle Beckerman as the only other players to hit that milestone. It’s the ultimate sign of longevity, in terms of durability, of course, but also straight-up quality. Think of the eras that McCarty’s not just seen but been a main protagonist during (for now six different teams, basically all of them good to great plus a couple of all-timers, too).

Ballers, both of them, but where do they stand in the annals of MLS? At the very top.

It didn’t take long for Matt Doyle and me to come up with the (probably still incomplete) short list of all-time defensive midfielders in league history on Monday’s Extratime: Chris Armas, Kyle Beckerman, Shalrie Joseph, Ozzie Alonso, Michael Bradley, Pablo Mastroeni and, of course, Chara and McCarty.

All eight are all-timers. If I was making an MLS D-Mid Mount Rushmore, Armas, Joseph and Beckerman would be shoo-ins for the final bust, and I’d have a real mental battle between Ozzie Alonso and Michael Bradley for my fourth spot. That said, only two of these guys are still playing. There are more numbers to chase and more trophies to win for Chara and McCarty.

Let’s appreciate them while we have them.

Pressure is here

Pressure is starting to build in Major League Soccer, especially on teams at the bottom of the table. After 11 matchdays – and nine or 10 matches played for most teams – reality starts to set in.

Truth is, most all bad teams have legitimate excuses. Injuries. Repeatedly unlucky, opponents who are frequently lucky or both. Untimely and frequent red cards. Transfers that fell through (or went through and didn’t pan out). Underperforming stars. Coaching decisions. The Revs even had a stomach bug gut the squad last weekend, just in time for Messi’s visit to Gillette.

The problem with excuses, even legitimate ones, is people stop caring after a while. Results aren’t the only thing that matters, but they’re the first thing on the list. If the results are consistently bad, well, we all know what that means.

Where it gets really interesting is when expectations are high, but the results don’t match up. That’s what Seattle, Orlando and Nashville are going through at the moment, each wrestling with the very distinct possibility that the season they dreamed about is already slipping from reach.

We talked through the pressure on Brian Schmetzer, Oscar Pareja and Gary Smith on Saturday night’s MLS Wrap-Up. I took Schmetzer and the Sounders precisely because I was sure this team had the quality to be a true trophy contender this year. Nine games in, a veteran group has repeatedly shot themselves in the foot with individual errors, picked up a league-high four red cards (with varying degrees of controversy) and fell victim to poor finishing.

Those are the excuses. These are the results: third-worst points per game (0.67) in the league with just one win, against a knackered CF Montréal side concluding a six-game road trip away.

The underlying numbers say the situation isn’t as dire as the results say it is. It’s Schmetzer’s job to make the two more closely match, and fast. May will be very interesting, indeed.