With the 2022 MLS season nearing its halfway mark, and the Secondary Transfer Window opening soon, ‘tis the season of change.

In that spirit, the powers that be at MLSsoccer dot com subbed me in for Matt Doyle to wrap up the weekend. Just needed some fresh legs (and a significantly less bald head) to change things up here.

Just kidding. But Doyle did indeed dare to take a few days off (SMH!)… fear not, he was still texting me random MLS thoughts and opinions throughout the weekend. He can’t turn it off. Never change, Matthew.

Vamos!

LAFC 2-0 RED BULLS

Did something happen around LAFC this weekend? Outside of the match, there might’ve been something. Oh yeah, I remember now – I don’t know if you heard, but LAFC are finalizing a deal to sign superstar free agent Gareth Bale. On a non-Designated Player deal (!!!).

LAFC beat the New York Red Bulls 2-0 on Sunday in Los Angeles, but the focus remained on the Bale news.

Bale would be eligible to debut, next to Giorgio Chiellini (!!!), on July 8 against the LA Galaxy. And Carlos Vela signed his contract extension. Oh, aaaaaand LAFC still have an open DP spot.

To simplify: LAFC are atop the Supporters’ Shield and are awaiting debuts from Chiellini and Gareth bleeping Bale. And neither are DPs.

A quick takedown of “retirement league signings” crap: Chiellini was still starting for the Italian national team this year and about half of Juventus’ Serie A games, limited due to some small injuries. Bale just led Wales to the World Cup for the first time in half a century.

There are injury risks for both, particularly Bale given the last couple of years, but LAFC have a foundation that means Bale/Chiellini are almost luxury players. Chiellini is renowned for his mentality/IQ, so I doubt he’s here for a vacation. Bale needs to stay fit and in form for the World Cup in five months. I wouldn’t doubt motivations here. Both players, surely, could have earned significantly more money than a max-TAM deal somewhere else in the world.

And, again, LAFC are top of the league without them. Just look at this potential XI, starting July 8 in El Trafico:

lafc_xi

Not pictured: Latif Blessing, Jesus David Murillo, Eddie Segura, Franco Escobar, Chicho Arango and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. How many of those six would start for at least 75% of other teams in the league?

The potential is downright scary. The options for head coach Steve Cherundolo are plentiful. As long as he’s able to make difficult decisions to bench underperforming players, even if it is Bale or anyone else, it’s an embarrassment of riches.

Hey! Speaking of that open DP spot, look who’s in town…

Kylian Mbappe Banc of California

Just kidding.

But there’ll be plenty more LAFC/Bale coverage from me to come this week, so we’ll move on here.

As for RBNY, they went on the road against the league’s best team without two elite-level talents at their respective positions – midfielder Luquinhas and center back Aaron Long were in health and safety protocols – as well as not knowing exactly who would or wouldn’t be available as of the morning of the 12 pm local-time kick-off. Don’t think there’s a ton to take away here without those two.

A forward-looking thought: RBNY adding one more high-level talent could make things really interesting in a wide-open Eastern Conference. They have a DP spot open, you know.

CINCINNATI 1-0 ORLANDO

I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep on reiterating: FC Cincinnati have something real here under new leadership. A 1-0 win over Orlando City SC on Friday night to kick off the weekend kept moving them forward.

The rebuild is way ahead of schedule, but the goal has to be a more incremental, long-term improvement this summer rather than chasing a few extra points for an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot at the expense of long-term assets/flexibility. I expect them to continue business as planned this summer, which aligns with the long-term improvement.

General manager Chris Albright and the front office didn’t rush to sign a DP d-mid this offseason, instead waiting on top target Obinna Nwobodo, who arrived in April. The Nigerian very quickly looks like a core piece.

A core starting with Luciano Acosta, Nwobodo and Brandon Vazquez is legit. Again, it’s about adding around this foundation. And they’re working on it.

There are some rumors the club is chasing US international center back Matt Miazga from Chelsea. There is certainly interest there, per sources. But nothing is imminent.

If they can swing it… they already have the top spot in the Allocation Order. This kind of opportunity is why they’ve refused to trade out of the top spot. Miazga is on the list because of his $5 million transfer to Chelsea from the New York Red Bulls in 2016.

That would be another addition to their core foundation.

Would Miazga require a DP spot? Perhaps. Miazga is still under contract, so there would be a transfer fee to add on top of his salary, which certainly wouldn’t be cheap to begin with. If so, focus shifts to Brenner as Cincy have all three DP spots filled (Acosta, Brenner, Nwobodo).

Brenner, who scored the winner against Orlando, is the subject of interest in Brazil and Europe still. Cincy rejected an offer from Internacional in the winter. The feeling is they’d be more open to a move this summer if the right valuation is offered.

One to watch.

PORTLAND 3-0 COLORADO

Portland hosted Colorado and ran rampant to a 3-0 win, snapping a four-game winless run that capped off a disappointing first half of the season. Perhaps this is the spark for another second-half run by Gio Savarese’s side?

Sebastian Blanco looked like himself and Yimmi Chara was busy, if not translating good moments into goal contributions. Santiago Moreno is a really nice third element in their trio of attacking midfielders. They’ve certainly got something there.

More importantly, Jaroslaw Niezgoda scored a brace. He’s got three goals in his last four games while Felipe Mora is back from injury. Though they had been looking at defensive additions, center forward is the biggest question mark for this team. If Niezgoda/Mora/Nathan Fogaca perform, this is a dangerous team again, even with defensive issues.

The Timbers still have a U22 Initiative spot open, one they looked into filling in the spring before opting to wait for the summer. The plan in the winter was a defense-minded signing, then they cycled through some attacking options, but promoted Fogaca from their MLS NEXT Pro team instead. TBD on the plan now, but I’d caution that U22 Initiative signings haven’t typically been day one difference-makers given the age/profile for this mechanism.

Also, the fact the Timbers have never had a player score a hat trick in MLS is mind-boggling to me. They’ve been good for most of their 12 seasons in MLS! This is the club of Diego Valeri, Sebastian Blanco and prime Fanendo Adi! The Timbers have 51 braces and zero hat tricks.

Meanwhile, back to semi-serious points: take a look at Colorado’s passing network.

image (2)

The idea was to have runners, Jonathan Lewis (No. 7) and Michael Barrios (No. 12), get beyond Gyasi Zardes (No. 29) and be goal dangerous. Natural center forward Diego Rubio (No. 11) was as deep as Mark-Anthony Kaye (No. 14), which is not where you want a natural center forward to be. The result was a lot of low-quality shots.

The pieces from last year’s top-place Western Conference team are still there with the addition of Zardes, a more reliable goal-scorer than what they had last year. He’s also more of a traditional forward. Having runners play off him as he drops deeper isn’t how he’s found his best success in Columbus.

Zardes lives in the box. He (and everyone else) also isn't getting a ton of quality chances.

Since his debut (April 23), the Rapids have played nine games. They are second-worst in big chances created (nine) and just below average in total expected goals. Last year, the Rapids were ninth in big chances created, around average in total expected goals and generated the sixth-most shots from inside the box.

Zardes’ xG per 90 minutes is just 0.29 (tied with box-to-box midfielders Bryce Duke and Jose Cifuentes) and he's averaging 1.24 shots inside the box per 90 minutes. Even in 2021, which was a down year for him and the Crew, he had 0.33 xG and 1.67 shots in the box per 90. In their MLS Cup-winning 2020 season, Zardes had 0.61 xG and 2.4 shots in the box per 90.

The Rapids need 2020 Gyasi Zardes, while Gyasi Zardes needs the chance creation of the 2021 Rapids. They have the pieces, they have the coaching staff and they have a transfer window to resurrect some of that 2021 form.

TORONTO 2-1 ATLANTA

Don’t look now… but Toronto are starting to figure some stuff out. A couple of the “revelations” weren’t particularly unknown – yes, this team looks infinitely better with Canadian internationals Jonathan Osorio and Ayo Akinola back from injuries – but we’re starting to see a foundation forming in Bob Bradley’s first year at the helm.

It’s easy to see Lorenzo Insigne slotting in on the left wing. I prefer Ayo Akinola as a center forward more than a right winger, but I really like the idea of Insigne’s gravitational pull on the left, leaving Akinola to play much more like an inside forward and feast at the back post.

There are still midfield and defensive issues. A trio of Michael Bradley-Osorio-Alejandro Pozuelo isn’t exactly a defensive powerhouse. The defending and goalkeeping leave much to be wanting.

But… there’s something forming. They close the weekend six points below the East's playoff line and have two more games before Insigne debuts. They absolutely would have taken that future amid their five-game losing streak in May. And maybe Domenico Criscito can solve some problems. While it doesn’t appear Toronto have a ton of flexibility for further additions this summer, The Parleh’s Michael Singh reports Canadian internationals Richie Laryea and Junior Hoilett are names they’re considering. We’ll see how it plays out.

Looking forward, Osorio and Pozuelo are out of contract after the season. TFC have been painfully non-committal on Pozuelo, so he’s playing for his next contract here while publicly saying he wants to stay. Even so, the Reds might want to take another Insigne-type swing with that third DP spot… or use it on a Young DP so they can add two more U22 Initiative signings.

As for Atlanta, the loss hurts less than another potential injury.

In warmups, constant right-back starter Brooks Lennon had to withdraw from the lineup because of a knee injury, for which he had to be carried off the field.

Lennon has been one of the most durable players in the league since returning to Real Salt Lake from Liverpool U23s in 2017. With Atlanta, he’s appeared in 69 of their 71 MLS games in the last two-and-a-half years. Just brutal.

No update yet on the severity of Lennon’s injury. Hopefully there’ll be good news.

Atlanta United 2022 just might be cursed.

PHILADELPHIA 2-1 NYCFC

Jose Martinez flicked a pass to himself to do a bicycle kick clearance/attempted through ball while under pressure at the top of his own 18 in the first half, and that was like the ninth-wildest thing to happen in this game.

In the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time, when Philly were up 1-0:

MLS, man.

Even though the Union haven’t been at their best in the last month or two, these two teams are probably the two best in the Eastern Conference. It’s a fun, budding rivalry, and this game ended with some real playoff feel. That’s always welcome in June.

AUSTIN 2-2 DALLAS

Saturday night brought a Texas showdown between Austin FC and FC Dallas. The second half was extremely fun, with four goals split evenly over the final 45 minutes.

FC Dallas might not be feeling like that was much fun, fumbling a 2-0 lead in the final 20 minutes for a 2-2 draw, but that’s how it goes sometimes.

Face of the Week to Paul Arriola’s frustration at the end of this wayward Franco Jara shot.

A disappointing performance for most of the game by Austin was offset by an inspiring comeback. Sebastian Driussi is a legitimate MVP-level talent.

SEATTLE 3-0 KANSAS CITY

It probably wasn’t the “best” pass of the week, but Doyle left this space to me in full autonomy, so I’m making this Jackson Ragen pass the Pass of the Week. This is beautiful.

Will Bruin playing center forward when Raul Ruidiaz isn’t available makes a lot of sense for Seattle. Just watch that clip. It’s exactly what they need with the midfielders they have underneath.

Reinforcements are on the way for Sporting KC, who are also in the Open Cup semifinals. It’s been a tough season, but it’s more than salvageable.

D.C. UNITED 1-3 NASHVILLE

I think it’s safe to say the new-manager bump is officially long gone from D.C. United, who are winless in their last six matches.

D.C. have two DP spots open this summer. They’re working to fill them. A note of optimism: This league is funny. The right DPs around Taxi Fountas can change the mood quickly, but they have a lot of holes to fill.

Nashville filled a hole that wasn’t clear until recently. Randall Leal returned from injury, and to steal from NSC analyst extraordinaire Jamie Watson, the Costa Rican international does so many things that make the game easier for those around him and is a strong fit between Hany Mukhtar and the midfield. He was very good in his first start back.

Off the field, though, the team came together for one of their own. A fan well-known in the community lost a child shortly after birth. Dax McCarty and the squad organized a custom jersey to sign and send his way.

MONTRÉAL 2-1 CHARLOTTE

It’s not deep #analysis, but CF Montréal are a vastly different team without Djordje Mihailovic. He’s been their only consistent high-level talent (Romell Quioto can be a match-winner, but he's not consistent enough). That’s a big problem they need to address this summer, to take the burden off Mihailovic and prepare for a future possibility (probability?) in which Djordje transfers to Europe.

Charlotte were without 13 players due to injury, but mostly health and safety protocols. If not for an egregious double-miss by Karol Swiderski, they could have walked out of Montréal with a result.

And we would have been able to say maybe interim manager Christian Lattanzio was Harry Potter, unlike his predecessor’s infamous quote. But Lattanzio worked with what he had and he didn’t perform magic, apparently.

HOUSTON 2-0 CHICAGO

An important three points for Houston to pick up against Chicago, winning 2-0 at home. It’s an unspectacular result, but these are the games that keep you around the West's playoff line. Hector Herrera will debut in two weeks.

The big question now comes for head coach Paulo Nagamura to figure out their best XI with Herrera in town.

  • Nagamura came expecting to play a 4-3-3. They were inept at creating chances, so he quickly scrapped it for a 4-2-3-1.
  • That system allowed attacking dynamo (but defensive liability) Darwin Quintero into the lineup. It worked.
  • Quintero is third in MLS in expected goals + expected assists per 90 minutes, averaging 0.74 xG + xA.
  • Now what? A midfield trio of Matias Vera holding underneath Coco Carrasquilla and Hector Herrera fits well… but that drops Quintero. Unless he can effectively play as an inverted, free-roaming left winger?

This is what it looked like against Chicago:

Houston Dynamo passing combinations

Houston are amidst their own roster evolution, so expect more incomings/outgoings this summer anyway. Like Cincy, it’s about building blocks for now and the future.

I don’t know what is going on with Chicago. There are so many individual pieces I like on this team… yet they’ve been really bad for a couple of months.

The Fire are underperforming their expected goals by 7.98 (!), easily the worst in the league. Kacper Przybylko has underperformed, scoring one time since March in 10 appearances across all competitions. Jhon Duran, who one European scout told me is one of his most intriguing young talents in the league, might be getting more opportunities.

Chicago have most (if not all) of their roster resources committed at this point. There isn’t a clear path to big changes this summer.

This is what they've got. And they’ve got to figure it out – ASAP, before the nine-point separation to the East's playoff line gets bigger.

MIAMI 2-1 MINNESOTA

Bryce Duke has lowkey been one of the best value additions of the offseason, joining Inter Miami from LAFC for $100k GAM. Before long he was inserted into the starting lineup.

Duke’s first appearance for Miami was off the bench in the club’s first win. He now has eight starts and he’s given the midfield a much better balance, with the 21-year-old ranking highly in attacking measures from midfield, per FBref, as he’s in the 88th percentile in shot-creating actions and the 89th percentile in progressive passes per 90 minutes. He also is in the 90th percentile in pressures and the 69th percentile in interceptions.

He was at it again on Saturday, setting up Indiana Vassilev for an 87th-minute equalizer against Minnesota United, before Vassilev scored a 90th-minute winner. Really good win by Miami.

For both teams, it’s about more summer moves. Miami have a DP spot open. Mario Gotze was among their targets, but wasn’t the top target. There’s also the possibility they try to spread funds around for a few signings rather than one DP.

Minnesota are reportedly in the process of moving on extremely disappointing DP forward Adrien Hunou, which would give them back that DP spot to improve the attack. They need a reliable, consistent goal-scorer. Luis Amarilla is on a DP spot, too.

RSL 0-0 COLUMBUS

Speaking of reliable, consistent goal-scorers: The Columbus Crew signed Cucho Hernandez to a club-record deal this week. I’ve covered it at length, as have others, but the Crew desperately need more chance creation or Cucho is going to find it difficult when he debuts.

The 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake – a fine result on its own away from home against a good team, I should point out – showed it yet again. Second Spectrum shows their xG was under 0.4, with just six attempts at goal. Since April 15, Columbus are last in MLS in goals, last in expected goals and second-worst in big chances created.

Real Salt Lake remain an incredibly fun story… but this was not a fun game. They can sign up to two DPs this summer if they want (Damir Kreilach and Sergio Cordova can be bought down). Vibes are extremely high in Utah, with an eighth consecutive sellout crowd this weekend. Another big addition would be great.

VANCOUVER 0-0 REVOLUTION

Both Vancouver and New England made key signings before the end of the Primary Transfer Window. Both clubs are looking like they made very, very good decisions – and both players were on display Sunday in the final game of the weekend that ended in a 0-0 draw.

For the Whitecaps, Andres Cubas was worth the wait. The DP defensive midfielder is an anchor to the midfield, a tenacious ball-winner and disruptor. The Paraguayan international will be so valuable in transition defense and make life easier for both the back three and Ryan Gauld ahead of him.

Dylan Borrero has been exactly what the Revs needed, in terms of a natural winger with dynamic technical ability and pace. He took Tajon Buchanan’s role from their record-setting 2021 team and gives the Revs something they haven’t had since the Canadian international left this winter.

Borrero is a U22 Initiative signing. If New England use their open DP spot on a Young DP, they could add another two U22 Initiative players. Lots of possibilities for the Revs this summer.