Voices: Andrew Wiebe

Mailbag! FC Cincinnati's next level, Chicho Arango's MVP case & Julián Carranza's future


I’m back (in print).

Did you miss me? Did you even know I was gone? Are mailbags the crutch of lazy columnists? Those, fortunately, aren’t the questions we’re here to answer today (or ever).

ANSWER KEY: No. No. No comment.

Where are we headed today and every week – yes, this is me holding myself publicly accountable – until the end of the 2024 season? Well, that’s entirely up to you…

Off we go!

Wiebe Mailbag 1 - 4.3.24

I’m not sure I can add much that Tommy didn’t already say.

Chicho Arango is on pace to hit a double-double in goals and assists before the All-Star break with plenty of time to spare. He’s played both as an out-and-out No. 9 and withdrawn as a second striker/creator thanks to injuries. He’s a tone-setter physically and emotionally, intense in a way that makes his teammates want to run through brick walls and opponents grimace after smashing into one.

As Pablo Mastroeni put it after the Colombian’s 21-minute hat-trick to take down St. Louis CITY: "There's a locker room there that will do anything for Chicho."

Chicho Arango is everything Real Salt Lake could have hoped for and more from a record signing. Best $6 million the folks in Sandy ever spent. Some way-too-early MVP voters would certainly put him top of the heap, and deservedly so.

I am… not yet one of them, but I’m close. My current MVP finalists, ranked, are as follows:

  1. Lucho Acosta
  2. Chicho Arango
  3. Luis Suárez

I know Acosta’s box-score numbers aren’t yet at the level of Arango or Suárez, but my MVP Venn diagram combines “best overall player” with “player most responsible for positive results on an elite team.” And Lucho sits smack in the middle, while Cincinnati sit at the top of the standings.

Wiebe Mailbag 2 - 4.3.24

Position is just a label. Just get Chicho on the field as much as possible (and as close as possible to goal) with players who recognize and reward his movement, anticipation/vision and ruthlessness in goal-scoring situations.

Ideally, Matt Crooks and Diego Luna play behind the Colombian in the "3-4-3 with the ball/4-4-2 without the ball" shape that Real Salt Lake prefer in 2024. Let Crooks operate in the right channel with Andrés Gómez providing width and depth, while Luna tucks inside to play make as Alexandros Katranis overlaps and hugs the left sideline. Within that structure, Arango is free to find space and opportunity however he sees fit.

To wit…

On the first goal vs. St. Louis, Chicho drops into the space on top of the box opened by Anderson Julio’s run to occupy the center back. One touch to turn and set up the shot, then a laser-beam finish from distance. On the third, Chicho takes a direct ball out of the sky with class to create a 3v3 situation, dishes to Luna, continues his run, rides the offside line perfectly and positions his body and feet for an across-the-body, one-time finish that looks far simpler than it is.

Versatility (or is it productivity?) is the greatest gift you can give a manager, and Chicho is certainly rewarding Mastroeni and the RSL front office right now.

Note: Should Chicho have been sent off in last weekend's match against St. Louis? As discussed on Instant Replay, I think inconclusive video evidence makes it hard to overturn the on-field call. This also prompted a spirited debate on MLS Wrap-Up, where Sacha Kljestan leaned more towards "clear red card."

Wiebe Mailbag 3 - 4.3.24

Something is brewing in the final third in Portland once Evander, Jonathan Rodríguez and the rest of the Timbers’ attacking core get on the same page.

The Brazilian No. 10 makes hard things look so easy so routinely that you’re forgiven for being nonplussed when he bangs a ball upper 90 or puts a dime on his forward’s noggin in the six-yard box. The Timbers’ record signing never looks hurried, thus the wildly impressive things he does can sometimes feel… pretty normal, for him at least.

I’m not just talking about the final flourishes of the technical ability to finish plays at this level, either. I’m talking about the little things that add up to put players in those positions in the first place. Balance. Strength. Composure. Tempo. There’s a reason David Gass started talking about a potential 2024 MVP campaign for Evander last season around Leagues Cup.

The quality is unquestioned. Now, it’s the consistency of that quality that Portland want most from their No. 10.

Wiebe Mailbag 4 - 4.3.24


Time to go from individuals learning the game model to a collective executing it.

Time to add the right piece, a more box-oriented forward who can help create depth, can hold the ball up and combine with Lucho and Aaron Boupendza and, just as importantly, can be the first prong when applying pressure. You know, a Brandon Vazquez-lite type.

Right now, Cincinnati are surviving (the standings say thriving) on the dead-ball prowess and individual brilliance of Acosta. The Garys have scored six goals: Two via Acosta corner kicks, one via an Acosta free kick, one via an Acosta dummy/individual skill, one via a dreadful Chicago Fire giveaway and one via a full-field counterattack after Charlotte FC got too stretched in second-half stoppage time.

By my count, that’s 66% of goals directly attributable to the work of Acosta this season.

And that makes sense given 1) his aforementioned ability to affect games and 2) the huge turnover Cincinnati underwent this offseason. Remember, this is a team with five new starters, many in attacking positions: Luca Orellano, Pavel Bucha, Corey Baird, DeAndre Yedlin and Miles Robinson. Obinna Nwobodo has played only 241 of 450 available league minutes. Boupendza still hasn’t hit the heights his transfer fee and pedigree suggested he would.

It will take time for Orellano and Bucha, in particular, to understand their roles in Pat Noonan’s soccer orchestra, both with and without the ball. Orellano is a new profile on the left wing, more of a vertical, one-v-one threat than Álvaro Barreal, who liked to come inside and combine with Lucho. Bucha is still learning to embrace the aggressive mindset required of Noonan’s central midfielders.

I’d argue it’s actually the off-the-ball work that will lead to more attacks from FC Cincinnati. The press and field position that created so many scoring opportunities in recent years comes from collective effort. The collective changed, and for now, the new faces are still learning the steps to the dance that took last year’s group to the Supporters’ Shield.

Wiebe Mailbag 5 - 4.3.24

This is how Cincy can score six goals in six games and still sit atop the Eastern Conference. They’re among the best in MLS at limiting chances, and Roman Celentano has been in spectacular form.

Right now, they’re on pace to allow 17 goals in 34 games, which would be a new MLS record.


My prediction? Cincinnati won’t hold this pace all season, but there’s a strong chance one of the teams above will be replaced in the top 10.

(Also, how good was that 2010 Real Salt Lake group? Twenty goals allowed in 30 games is absurd.)

Wiebe Mailbag 6 - 4.2.24

Lesesne has a reputation for being able to 1) quickly communicate his ideas and 2) quickly inspire buy-in from players. We saw it with the Red Bulls last year, and D.C. United have roared out of the gates with Lesesne at the helm down the Atlantic seaboard.

D.C. are generating boatloads of xG by tilting the field toward their opponents, playing at a high intensity that’s difficult to match and emphasizing their attacking strengths (go to goal quickly and cross to Christian Benteke, if possible). It helps to get the best out of your best players. Benteke naturally gets the headlines, but Mateusz Klich is not-so-quietly playing at the highest level we’ve seen from him in MLS.

One position to upgrade in the summer is a better fit at striker to partner Benteke. I would argue the ability to press from the front is just as important as any attacking attribute.

Wiebe Mailbag 7 - 4.3.24

Credit to the folks at This Is MLS, who said everything that needed to be said on this topic last week.

The Union should do everything they can to sign Carranza to an extension through 2026, at minimum. Facundo Torres just signed a similar deal in Orlando. Model it on that one.

Carranza is 23 years old. He is a proven volume goalscorer in MLS and Concacaf. He fits the Union's system perfectly thanks to his tenacity and ability to play off Mikael Uhre and Dániel Gazdag. He was acquired for a relative pittance in allocation money and, thanks to his age, will still hold significant sell-on value with a new contract.

Most importantly, Carranza helps the Union win. Now and in the future. He is the difference between good and potentially great, likely between great and a championship.

Jim Curtin said recently that winning comes first in Philly and player development is a powerful tool to help get there. Well, it’s time for the Union to win off the field so they can keep their window on it open for a few more seasons. Sign Carranza. Make him a pillar around which Jack McGlynn, Quinn Sullivan (soon Cavan Sullivan???), and others thrive. Win. Sell. Reinvest. Repeat.

Worst-case scenario? Carranza becomes a free agent in the offseason, tests the MLS market and gets a better offer than the Union can or are willing to muster. Carranza is the reason someone else wins. What a nightmare that would be.

Wiebe Mailbag 8 - 4.3.24

You need three things from your cut of meat in this scenario.

First, the ability to get a good grip. You can’t mash someone/something with vigor unless you can get a hold of your instrument of pain first. Second, we’ll need something with structure, that stands up to repeat strikes. Third, we’re going to need some heft behind the blow. Payload, if you will.

Because of the first two points, all non-bone-in cuts are immediately out. I can’t hit someone with a slippery chicken breast and expect to keep hold of it or survive. Pork belly isn’t putting the fear of God in anyone but pigs.

I’ll take a tomahawk steak. Ten pounds sounds about right for dexterity, but also pain upon impact. Grip the bone, strike with the steak and hope it holds up long enough to bring honor to us in life or death.