As MLS teams do battle each week, the storylines we all religiously follow continue to evolve.
As we near the 2021 season's halfway point and July turns to August, here are my picks for the players and teams whose stocks are trending up and trending down.
The Argentine forward has been en fuego in the last month, scoring five goals from six games. Those numbers are impressive, but it’s the quality of his goals that’s gained plaudits from MLS fans everywhere. Formations bring out certain strengths in players, and Bruce Arena’s shift from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-1-2 has seen Bou slot into his more favored second striker role.
As my broadcast partner Adrian Healey put it, “The B-Team” of Adam Buksa and Bou play in close proximity to each other and has become a formidable forward partnership. Buksa’s big frame, hold up play and ability to stretch opposing defenses with splitting runs between the two center backs opens up Bou to operate in the space underneath the backline.
When the ball is wide, Bou often waits for Buksa to make the initial run to the near post or far post before arriving at the top of the box or PK spot to shoot from a cut-back pass from an overlapping outside back. Did I mention he can shoot from distance? The New York Red Bulls and CF Montréal found out the hard way, with the Designated Player laser beaming two AT&T Goal of the Week nominations that almost shattered the crossbar on both occasions.
New York City FC have brimmed with potential this season. Their ability to be a serious Eastern Conference contender is starting to be realized after three solid wins and back-to-back blowouts of Columbus and Orlando, two other top sides.
The catalyst for the recent resurgence is a simple tactical switch. Maxi Moralez has spent most of his NYCFC career as an attacking midfielder, but with Jesus Medina enjoying a breakout season, Ronny Delia’s decision to play Moralez as a winger and Medina as the No. 10 has paid big dividends. Medina and Taty Castellanos are becoming the two bash brothers up top; Castellanos has been the goal poacher they need in big moments, while Medina uses his agility to make intelligent runs off of Castellanos. And then you throw into the mix Brazilian winger Thiago Andrade, who looks to be settling into MLS just fine since his move from Bahia, and the danger only increases. His delicately chipped goal against Columbus was “butta baby”!
With three willing runners now in front of him in Castellanos, Medina and Andrade, look for Moralez to drop deeper and become the playmaker for NYCFC with lobbed passes over the top or diagonal passes that spring counter-attacks for attack-minded fullbacks like Anton Tinnerholm. If the Cityzens are to challenge league leaders New England, then consistency against the likes of upcoming opponents Chicago and Toronto will be key.
The midfielder from Madagascar has steadied the Galaxy midfield, and his offensive contributions have caught my eye – four goals from six games is impressive considering he wasn't known for goals while helping ES Tours AC win the Ligue 2 title. What makes Raveloson effective is his ability to time late runs into the box for headed finishes, and there's the audacity to try the unexpected like last week's bicycle kick goal that would make any striker proud. At 6-feet and with long galloping legs, this man can seriously jump!
Dos Santos and Victor Vazquez like to sit deep and drift wide, respectively, so having a goal-scoring midfielder like Raveloson gives LA more balance going forward. Look for the Malagasy international to be crucial as the Galaxy push for the West's top spots.
It’s been a lackluster 2021 season for Atlanta United. They're again left searching for a head coach after parting ways with Gabriel Heinze, and now their winless streak is at 11 matches. Then there's a steady stream of silly-season transfer rumors, which present a slew of questions around how the pieces will fit within MLS' salary cap.
Josef Martinez and Marcelino Moreno are a two-man show in attack, but they're isolated figures going forward. They lack a midfield composer and Moreno hasn't consistently deliver deft passes in the final third, so Martinez has to drop deeper to find the ball, leaving nobody to occupy the opposing center backs. The performance of DP midfielder Ezequiel Barco leaves more to be desired, too.
However, if the golazos that both Martinez and Moreno scored last week against Orlando are anything to go by, then there may finally be something in the works for Atlanta, especially with Gold Cup hero Miles Robinson and George Bello back defensively for interim coach Rob Valentino. Their winning experience with the US men's national team from last Sunday's final vs. Mexico will bring major confidence to Atlanta.
The city of Austin is Verde, but the team’s offense has been anything but Listos this summer. Since the 4-1 demolition of Portland back in early July, the attack has struggled to rediscover its spark. Josh Wolff's team has a clear possession-oriented playing style with overlapping outside backs. They do well for about two-thirds of the field, but when it gets into the final third, things have gone awry. Injury woes have hindered their depth, but the most glaring issue has been not having an available striker … until now.
The signings of Senegalese striker Moussa Djitte and Argentine attacker Sebastian Driussi are more than welcome additions. Just having Djitte’s physical presence in the box will force defenders to focus on him, creating more space and freedom for Cecilio Dominguez. Dominguez has been impressive at times while playing as a false No. 9, but he will be more effective going back to his natural position as a winger.
What excites me about Driussi is not only his winning pedigree from River Plate and Zenit St. Petersburg, but also that he has a nose for goal. Austin FC fans have been the heartbeat of Q2 Stadium, but for the expansion club to get back on track they’ll have to start shooting from distance to draw out their upcoming opponents, who tend to sit deep atop their own 18-yard box.