Objectively, being a manager for a soccer team is a difficult job. People say mean things about you. There's little patience if results go south. Tactical choices and man management skills are challenging. And sometimes, you have to make difficult lineup decisions that make things a little tense in the locker room the next morning.
As we head into the last third of the 2022 regular season, it’s time for a handful of coaches around the league to start making some of those tough calls.
With so many teams vying for a spot in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, let’s talk about five decisions that five coaches around the league need to make to help enter (or stay in) the top seven places in their conference.
Decision: Should Dejan Joveljic start over Chicharito?
- Coach: Greg Vanney
- Record: 9W-9L-3D (30 points; 7th in West)
- Games remaining: 13
Look, I think you can make an argument the right question to ask here is this: Should Dejan Joveljic and Chicharito start up top together? At this point in the year though, it’s becoming obvious Greg Vanney likes himself a single-striker setup. We got a couple of games with a two-striker setup in early July, but since then it’s been back to the single-striker look at the beginning of games for the LA Galaxy.
Maybe we’ll see Joveljic and Chicharito get more looks up top together over the next few months. Even if that doesn’t happen, Joveljic has a strong case to start more matches going forward; LA's leading scorer has more open-play goals than Chicharito this season and he’s contributing more in other phases of play, too. The 22-year-old makes more off-ball runs per 90 minutes than Chicharito, per Second Spectrum, and adds more value with his dribbling and his receiving, per American Soccer Analysis.
The Serbian U22 Initiative signing has plenty of confidence too, quipping “I am the future of Galaxy" after their win over Atlanta United on Sunday night, with his stoppage-time goal affirming super-sub status.
With Joveljic's play this season, it’s pretty much impossible to argue with that. Now it’s up to Vanney to decide when he wants to start that future.
Decision: Time to bench DP Kamil Jozwiak?
- Coach: Christian Lattanzio
- Record: 8W-12L-2D (26 points; 8th in East)
- Games remaining: 12
Kamal Jozwiak hasn’t been anything close to what Charlotte FC fans hoped he would be in MLS this season. After joining the expansion side in the middle of the year from Derby County, the Polish international winger has exactly 0 goals and 0 assists through 10 games (565 minutes). Now, that’s not a huge sample size, but Charlotte need more out of him.
Jozwiak is a Designated Player who isn’t playing like one right now. According to American Soccer Analysis's goals added metric, he’s been a net-negative passer, shooter and receiver on the field. Looking at FBref, Jozwiak is in the red in every major passing, shooting and shooting creating category. That’s, uh, not good. Charlotte are 26th in the league right now in xG per 90 minutes, according to Second Spectrum. They’re simply not creating enough chances in the attack.
Decision: Josef Martinez or Ronaldo Cisneros up top for Atlanta?
- Coach: Gonzalo Pineda
- Record: 6W-9L-6D (24 points; 12th in East)
- Games remaining: 13
A couple of years and a couple of knee injuries ago, this question would’ve been a ridiculous one to ponder. But now? In 2022? It’s more relevant than ever.
Josef Martinez has been fine in his time on the field for Atlanta United this year. He’s currently in the 92nd percentile for xG per 90 minutes among players with at least 1,000 minutes (all competitions) this year, per Second Spectrum. But he only has five goals. Martinez’s off-ball movement is creating fewer opportunities for his teammates than in any other season of his career (except 2020, shortened by an ACL tear) and the Venezuelan international lacks the speed to break past defenders.
Ronaldo Cisneros, on the other hand, brings real value with his speed and his movement in the attack. He has the 15th-fastest recorded speed in MLS this year and Cisneros actually does create spaces for his teammates with his off-ball movement. Cisneros also has six goals in 2022 and ranks above Martinez in open-play xG per 90 minutes.
Now, Cisneros doesn’t get on the ball as much as Martinez in the middle third, nor does he create as many shots with his passing. But on a team with so many talented attackers where there’s really only room for one striker, the starting No. 9 job might be Cisneros’ to lose going forward – at least in games that don’t require Atlanta to break down a low block.
Decision: Who starts in goal for Vancouver?
- Coach: Vanni Sartini
- Record: 7W-10L-5D (26 points; 10th in West)
- Games remaining: 12
They’re not out of the playoff hunt yet, folks. After 22 games, Vancouver are just four points below the playoff line. With wingback Julian Gressel joining the team and new DP Andres Cubas patrolling central midfield, the Caps have recently received a much-needed influx of talent.
Still, unless they sort out their goalkeeping situation, none of that is going to matter. Per FBref, the Whitecaps have the third-worst shot-stopping numbers in the league right now. They’re allowing 0.33 more goals than expected per 90 based on Statsbomb’s post-shot expected goals model. It’s incredibly hard to win games when your goalkeepers are letting shots slip by them left and right.
Unfortunately for Vancouver, solving their goalkeeping crisis isn’t quite as easy as just elevating the No. 2 into the starting role. Cody Cropper and Thomas Hasal have both played a solid number of minutes this year and both have struggled at times. Isaac Boehmer, a 20-year-old homegrown, has played in each of the Whitecaps’ last three games, but he hasn’t fully claimed that starting spot either. Giving Boehmer another few games looks like the right call for Sartini right now, though, especially given Cropper and Hasal’s issues.
Decision: Back to central midfield for Cristian Roldan?
- Coach: Brian Schmetzer
- Record: 9W-10L-2D (29 points; 9th in West)
- Games remaining: 13
The injury bug has sunk its teeth (or stinger? or bug eat-y things?) pretty deep into the Seattle Sounders. Looking just at central midfield, the Sounders lost Joao Paulo in the Concacaf Champions League final and have been without homegrown standout Obed Vargas, who is dealing with a back injury. Kelyn Rowe has eaten up some minutes next to Albert Rusnak in central midfield and Danny Leyva has played some there, too. But neither Rowe nor Leyva bring as much in that role as Cristian Roldan.
Roldan has been a full-time winger this season in Seattle, but it looks like Brian Schmetzer is toying with moving him back into midfield. We saw Roldan play in central midfield on Saturday in Seattle’s 2-1 comeback win over the Colorado Rapids. Frankly, I think that’s the right call. At least for specific games.
Roldan brings mobility, energy, and off-ball running in a way Rowe and Leyva (and even Vargas) simply don’t. There’s no obvious replacement for Roldan out on the right wing, but until the Sounders start to get healthy again, prioritizing mobility and experience in central midfield should take precedence over the wide areas.
We’ll see how Schmetzer adjusts his lineup going forward.