Voices: Andrew Wiebe

MLS is Back mailbag! What I'm watching for on Matchday 1


MLS is Back and you can watch every minute of Matchday 1 for free on Apple TV thanks to MLS Season Pass. There’s no better deal than free!

I’ll see you on the pregame and postgame shows, MLS Countdown and MLS Wrap-Up, on both Saturday and Sunday. Full coverage can be found on MLSsoccer.com.

I have no more words to burn or my editors will hurt me. It’s mailbag time, and we’re covering soccer AND life!

Wiebe mailbag opener

If the teams weren’t meeting three times this season, I think I’d be a little disappointed. You’d like to see rivalry games played when both sides have a feel for who they are and the quality can be at its absolute peak.

But … they play three times this year, so we’ll get two more meetings in April and September. I’m completely fine with it. More than that, I think it’s the ideal game around which to build the opening weekend of 2023 and the opening day of 10 years with Apple. Here’s why…

• Drama. This game always has it. Why not take a big swing with a match that consistently delivers some of the best moments this league has ever seen?

• Imagery. What does a packed Rose Bowl (potential record-setting crowd) say to the rest of the country and the world about the league? Hell, forget that, it’s just a sweet changeup for us MLS fans to tune into in Matchday 1. Supporters from both sides are going to make it an occasion to remember.

• Even if Chicharito can’t play with the hamstring issues he’s been battling this preseason, Dejan Joveljic is an incredibly talented striker who has waited his turn. Maybe now is his turn, for good. If he gets a couple of goals and the glory, can Greg Vanney take him off the field?

LAFC are coming off the MLS Cup-Supporters' Shield double, a double that put the Galaxy squarely in their shadow. The old power would love nothing more than to humble the new power straight out of the gates.

Riqui Puig. The hair. The technical ability. The fiery personality that almost got him sent off in the playoff El Trafico last year. He’s must watch, and he says he wants the Landon Donovan MLS MVP trophy.

Dénis Bouanga is primed to have a massive season. If he finds his finishing boots, he could be an MVP candidate as well.

Carlos Vela. Gastón Brugman. José Cifuentes. Efra Álvarez. I could just name the entire rosters. This game has quality. I want to see as much quality as possible every time I turn on my TV or go to the stadium.

Wiebe mailbag 2

First of all, you’re a good enough fan in my eyes, Brian. Don’t be hard on yourself!

1) Can young players who arrived with big price tags make the leap?

• Can Thiago Almada become the next Miguel Almiron for Atlanta United? Best XI presented by Continental Tire, perhaps a champion and the subject of massive transfer fees from Europe. Watch him against San Jose.

• Can Alan Velasco go from “Oooooo FC Dallas supporters and MLS junkies know how talented this kid is” to “everybody knows that dude is one of the best wingers in the league.” If he does, FC Dallas might win something and he might be on a plane to Europe very soon. Watch him against Minnesota.

• Can Facundo Torres make a very successful Year 1 look pedestrian? Orlando are better. There’s balance on the wings with Martín Ojeda in the fold. Torres could very well become a club legend and blow Daryl Dike’s transfer fee out of the water. Watch him against the Red Bulls.

• Can Brenner do 2022 one better? It seems clear he’d like to leave in the summer and FC Cincinnati would like to sell him. To do that, he needs to keep scoring goals in bunches. Going from presumed bust to big-time boom tells you all you need to know about how the club has changed in the past year. Watch him against Houston.

2) Are new managers an upgrade or more of the same?

Every game will give us a hint, and the slate this weekend is tough on the new faces on the sideline. Five away games! Let’s see what they were able to imprint on their guys in preseason…

3) How will MLS at large perform in Leagues Cup?

I was beating the Leagues Cup drum when they were exhibition games interrupted by cats on the field. The real thing is going to be fascinating, mostly because it’s the full complement of teams from both leagues. We are truly going to be able to measure MLS and Liga MX on quality AND depth.

Wiebe mailbag 3

There is no reasonable way to watch all 90 minutes of every game unless your name is Matt Doyle, and even then I don’t recommend it. Each week, I choose 3-5 games I am going to watch in their entirety, watch every other match’s condensed, 20-minute version, read everything Doyle and other smart soccer people write/tweet and text/DM/call people I trust who I know watched intently if I need additional insight.

The flood of information is real, and the waters are considerably deeper than when I started doing this back in 2010. You just … accept you aren’t going to know everything and do your best to know the things that matter most. Fortunately, I’ve always been an obsessive learner with a good memory for random things. A lot of the details just seem to stick, which means other memories are unknowingly purged in the process. It helps to do 90 minutes twice a week on Extratime. That keeps me game sharp.

Long story short, you just hope you have the right info on hand when you need it.

Wiebe mailbag 4

Great follow-up question, and one we all ponder at some point during the year, I’m sure.

You’re going to judge me, but I cut out consistent consumption of European club soccer a couple of years back. I’ll watch the occasional big game between great teams, in title races or the Champions League. I’ll watch games featuring Americans if it fits my family schedule, but mostly rely on Scuffed to catch me up there. Those instances are, more and more, quite rare. I’d rather spend time with my family (more on that in a bit).

I found I couldn’t sustain constantly gulping from the fire hydrant of soccer content we get in the United States and still feel like a balanced person with interests outside the game. So I cut down to almost exclusively MLS and North American soccer (hello, Concacaf Champions League, my old friend) as well as major international tournaments and haven’t had a single regret.

Now, given there are more than 600 games on the calendar this year, there’s still a chance of burnout. When the weather gets nice and I have days off during the week, I’ll start golfing. It clears my head and gets me outside. When I’m on vacation, I’ll limit myself to just checking scores and watching highlights off Instagram. I’ll spend as much time as I can with family and friends NOT TALKING OR THINKING ABOUT SOCCER when I’m not working.

And yet, those burnout moments will still inevitably come. It helps I love my job and my coworkers. The Extratime crew and our group chat makes following the league obsessively fun in a social way. The juice I get from being part of MLS Season Pass will make things feel new. I get a kick out of bantering with all of you on Twitter (maybe too much of one). Thankfully, there’s always a moment or a story in MLS to pull me back in and reignite my fire.

Wiebe mailbag 5

Why own one when others will do the laminating for you at no charge?!

Wiebe mailbag 6

TBD, but I will say, among all the awesome things happening this year, a big … BONUS … would be to go to Austin for a game and do a live show/buy adult beverages for the Verde & Black.

I can’t make any promises – there are some bigger priorities, let’s say – but circling the All-Star Game presented by Target in D.C. is as decent a bet as there is for a live Extratime taping…

Wiebe mailbag 7

I moved from Kansas City to New Jersey. We’re still living out of (some) boxes. We still don’t know how to navigate all the parkways and whatnot. It seems nice here, if a complete departure from our comfortable Midwestern life (RIP Central Time Zone superiority).

I have, however, already come to love the old-school Italian deli a couple of blocks from my house AND I got an EZ Pass. Outside of just knowing Tom “Did you know I’m from Jersey” Bogert, that’s going to have to suffice for now.

Wiebe mailbag 8

Yay, in the sense that I will eat it with no complaints. Nay, in the sense I’d never personally order it when there are so many better pizza pies to consume.

(I’m really looking forward to getting Christina’s expert refereeing takes on MLS 360!)

Wiebe mailbag 9

If you weren’t aware, the Rainbow Narwhals are the pre-K soccer team I coached last fall. It was the most fun I had all year, by far. Making the game I love fun for the next generation was rewarding beyond belief.

Sadly, word on the street is the Rainbow Narwhals are unlikely to get back together this year. Goes to show you how important the manager is to the overall project 😉

Wiebe mailbag 10

I’m a big believer that family isn’t only by blood. You can choose family, too. I choose Tom. He is my adult son.

And if I was Tom’s real dad, I’d be proud beyond words of my boy, aside from his terrible taste in jam bands. The young man has a huge future in this game and he’s a wonderful person to boot.

Wiebe mailbag 11

FC Cincinnati are a good bet for the neutrals – entertaining style, awesome home atmosphere, often goals (from both teams) in bunches – but let’s shake it up with an eye toward the 2023 season.

In the Eastern Conference, I’m not going to miss a Columbus Crew game for the first month at least. Wilfried Nancy got my 2022 Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year vote, word is the Crew have looked sharp this preseason and, in Cucho Hernández and Lucas Zelarayán, you’ve got serious star quality. I want to see what Nancy can get out of this team and how quickly his vision is reflected in what we see on the field.

Out West, give me St. Louis CITY SC. I am all-caps EXCITED to see how their high-press, team-is-the-star project comes to life. The stadium is all-caps SICK. The soccer culture in St. Louis has been waiting for this moment for all-caps A LONG TIME. Firsts are fun, and CITY are going to have lots of firsts to celebrate (and grumble about) in the season’s opening few months.

Wiebe mailbag 12

Evander’s home debut for the Timbers against Sporting KC. Who doesn’t love a new, highly rated, record-transfer fee No. 10?

I’m biased by last weekend’s underwhelming preseason loss to CF Montréal (their Matchday 1 opponent as well) and my own skepticism about their ability to create chances for Josef Martínez and Leo Campana, but I’ll say Inter Miami. They’re at home. The Leo Messi rumblings put them under a spotlight they can’t control. Hernan Losada’s CF Montréal are going to be super direct and high energy in the press/counterpress. With offseason change often comes chemistry that’s slow to build. Recipe for falling flat.

El Trafico. Unquestionably.

I’m going to say 37. MLS averaged a shade under three goals per game last year (2.96). It takes time to get timing and sharpness in the final third.

a Wiebe mailbag 13

I’m going to use the MLSsoccer.com Season Preview Guide rankings in each conference to help determine which teams are actually dark-horses. For the sake of this exercise, the pundits must have picked them to finish 10th or worse. In other words, outside the new playoff structure.

In the East, I’ll take Charlotte FC. I had them finishing fifth while the overall panel average came out to 11th (!!!). In Christian Lattanzio and Enzo Copetti, I trust (even if the wings are a little concerning). I could have chosen Atlanta United (picked to finish 10th), but I knew every non-Atlanta supporter would groan reading this.

In the West, with one fewer option to choose from, I’m going with Vancouver. This is supposed to be the year the ‘Caps put it together from the start. Matt Doyle is super high on the Sergio Córdova signing, and the spine in central midfield and on the backline looks above average on paper. Join me on the Andrés Cubas hype train!

Wiebe mailbag NYCFC

We’ll find out Saturday afternoon, when Nashville and NYCFC meet in the first MLS match of 2023! I’d start Talles Magno, let him drop in as a false nine and have Thiago Andrade and Gabby Pereira, both of whom are goal-dangerous wingers, run off of him. Andrade’s speed is going to force backlines to drop off, and Pereira is a killer when he cuts inside on that left foot. Magno can arrive in and around the 18 for the cross/cutback. I think NYCFC have one of the most fun attacking trios in the league!

Wiebe mailbag 14

Deserved and unsurprising. The ownership group in Kansas City trusts him implicitly, and that trust is the foundation on which the club is built from a soccer perspective. Vermes has been their guy from the start, and the reward has been consistent excellence. His vision is reflected in everything they have, from best-in-class facilities to the academy and MLS NEXT Pro to the scouting network in place. Kansas City is his city. Sporting is his club.
Have there been some bumps? Yes, but far fewer than nearly every other club in the league, including those who spend far more on transfers. I’ve never understood why you’d push a legend aside, let alone one as obsessive about learning and bettering his practice as Vermes, for the unknown of a new face and a new vision. Staying put long-term makes perfect sense for the club and Vermes, thus they’ve signed the paperwork to make it so!

Wiebe mailbag 15

Easiest question of the entire mailbag. No hesitation: mustard. Pick your preferred variety. I love it all. I generally have between eight and 12 different options in the doors of my fridge, a condiment legacy I carry on from my father. Not every sandwich/burger/entrée is a nail, so you need more tools than a standard yellow hammer (to be used only on hot dogs and hamburgers in an outdoor/grilling scenario).

Why mustard? It elevates a sandwich without overpowering the other flavors. It’s distinct but complementary. It plays well with the meat, but also the lettuce, red onion, pickles and whatever else you’re piling on for added flavor and texture.

For your standard deli meat sandwich – ham, turkey, roast beef etc. – I’m going with a deli mustard. Seeds, gotta have them. A little horseradish, I won’t say no! If you’re feeling fancy, get one with a hint of white wine.

Wiebe mailbag final question

For the sake of a column on the website of Major League Soccer, let’s say this particular Sunday falls in season. How about this weekend? Alright, here we go!

First and foremost, my two boys (did I ever mention I was a father? 😉) graciously decide to either 1) sleep until 8:30 am OR 2) wake up but quietly play with toys in their rooms until 8:30 am. No bed invaders, no matter how cute. No fighting over said toys/personal space/anything else an irrational actor takes unnecessary offense to at an ungodly hour. No, just a serene and rested start to my day.

Next, coffee. I anticipated this perfect Sunday, so the grocery shopping is done. I pull a loaf of challah bread out of the cupboard, cut the slices thick and make French toast (a family favorite; add a healthy dash of vanilla to the egg mixture, don’t skimp on the butter in the pan and top with sliced strawberries) and scrambled eggs.

While the “Sing 2” soundtrack plays in the background – look, peaceful family breakfasts come with compromise … and my sons compromise by demanding only the “Johnny songs” – we eat and plan the rest of our day. A kid-friendly activity outside the house is always the best bet for sanity. This Sunday we’re headed to the Museum of Natural History on New York City’s Upper West Side. Dinosaurs. Space. Sharks. Three for three on core little boy interests.

We have lunch in the city, and the kids fall asleep on the ride home. A quiet, uninterrupted conversation with my wife? That’s a luxury I don’t take for granted. After the nap, we’re headed to the playground to run some energy off and spare my wife the chaos that comes with well-rested kids, then I’ve got to say goodbye to commute into the city and the MLS Season Pass studios.

Shep Messing and I bring you the pregame show for Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids. I watch the game with people who love the league as much as I do. I get in an Uber and head home, watching highlights from the weekend on my phone while texting Producent Anders about the Monday Extratime rundown.

I poke my head in my sons’ rooms before going to bed. I pinch myself. Talking about MLS on TV is my job, and I have a family I could have only dreamed about a little more than five years ago.

Perfect Sunday.