The Pitch - Week 16

Top Things to Watch in MLS This Week

Major League Soccer’s All-Star Voting Opens Today

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As Major League Soccer’s new chart-topping standouts, statistical leaders, and perennial stars push towards the midpoint of the 2022 regular season, they’re making their cases for a spot on the MLS All-Star roster that will take on the best players from LIGA MX in the 2022 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target.

At noon ET today, Tuesday, June 21, MLS opened the voting process that will determine the players named to the 2022 MLS All-Star roster. Voting will be open to MLS players, fans, and media, with fan voting available on MLSSoccer.com/vote or via the MLS App. Fans have the unique opportunity to share their picks on social media, and all ballots for all voting groups must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. PT on Friday, July 1.

Voters will cast their ballots for 11 players in a 4-1-2-3 formation: one goalkeeper, one right back, two center backs, one left back, one defensive midfielder, two attacking midfielders and three forwards/wingers. The top players in each position from the combined vote will be named All-Stars. The 12th player selected will be the one who received the next-highest total of overall votes

What’s the MLS All-Star Roster Breakdown?

Players will be selected in seven specific positions: goalkeeper, right back, center back, left back, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder, and forward/winger. Of the 26 MLS players to be selected for the All-Star Game, the breakdown is as follows:

  • 12 players will be determined by a vote of MLS players, fans, and media. Each of the three voting groups will represent one-third of the combined vote.
  • 12 players will be selected by MLS All-Star head coach Adrian Heath of the host team Minnesota United FC.
  • Two players will be selected by MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

To qualify for the ballot, players must have appeared in at least 50 percent of his club’s matches this season at the time the ballot was created on June 1. Players who did not qualify for the ballot are still eligible for selection by MLS All-Star head coach Adrian Heath or Commissioner Garber.

Every player from each of the 28 MLS clubs will be provided a special link to vote for their peers. Approximately 300 members of the media who regularly cover MLS will also make their picks for the league’s top players.

Seattle’s Jordan Morris Pushes for A World Cup Roster Spot

Steven Bisig

As Seattle Sounders FC winger Jordan Morris is putting in work for both Seattle Sounders FC and the U.S. Men’s National Team, the invaluable contributor is producing in crucial moments for both club and country and could be playing his way back into contention for a USMNT roster spot for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

After his limited time with the national team over the last two years, Morris scored a late equalizing goal for the USMNT against El Salvador in the Concacaf Nations League group stage during the June international window, putting away a much-needed personal comeback goal after last scoring for the U.S. back in 2019 before missing all of 2021 due to injury.

Morris’ three goals and one assist during the Scotiabank Concacaf Champions League action were key to Seattle capturing the title, with his contributions all coming during the round of 16, quarterfinals, and semifinals. Additionally, Morris’ consistency has also been an instrumental piece throughout this MLS regular season, as he scored a crucial equalizer against Charlotte FC and provided the assist to the eventual game-winner over the Houston Dynamo FC to help Seattle regained its footing in the Western Conference.

With just one international window remaining in the calendar year, Morris’ hopes of being World Cup-bound come November will rest on maintained consistency for the Sounders. His three goals and two assists on the season are second only to Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz (six each) in total goal contributions by Sounders players in 2022. Will Morris step even further into the limelight as Seattle looks for its fifth consecutive home game without a loss this Saturday against Sporting Kansas City at Lumen Field (3:00p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN Deportes)?

All-Star Selection within Reach for Midfielders with a Midas Touch 

Joseph Maiorana

When 2022 MLS All-Star voting opens, Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar and D.C. United's Taxi Fountas will be top of mind on the ballot for eligible attacking midfielders after both have been at the center of their club’s scoring efforts this season. Mukhtar has contributed to 58 percent of Nashville’s goals and Fountas to 47 percent of D.C.’s, as the two midfield maestros prepare to square off on Sunday at Audi Field in the nation’s capital (5 p.m. ET, ESPN / ESPN Deportes).

With a combined six goals and five assists this season, Mukhtar has contributed four goals and one assist across his past five MLS matches, with a strong run of form that has the 2021 MLS Best XI selection back in the conversation for Landon Donovan MLS Most Valuable Player.

Fountas has been the immediate spark that D.C. United so desperately needed, making an instant impact since they accelerated his move to the club in March. In his first five starts, the Greek international recorded a combined five goals and three assists, with four of those goals coming at home at Audi Field. Additionally, his 0.8 goals per 90 minutes is the best mark in the league among qualifying players.

When these two midfielders meet this weekend, which will make the most compelling case for an MLS All-Star selection?

Second in the East Meets First in the West in Red Bulls vs. LAFC

Brad Penner

In a coast-to-coast matchup featuring two of the top-five teams in Supporters’ Shield standings, the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 New York Red Bulls face off against the league’s No. 1 Los Angeles Football Club on Sunday afternoon (3:00 p.m. ET, ABC / ESPN Deportes).

LAFC is off to one of the strongest starts in club history, with first-year head coach Steve Cherundolo leading a balanced attack of widely distributed goalscoring that features 2021 MLS Newcomer of the Year Cristian “Chicho” Arango and Ryan Hollingshead stepping into the forefront with four goals each behind only Carlos Vela’s six goals on the season.

For the Red Bulls, newcomer Luquinhas continues to prove his worth after scoring a masterful 18-yard chip shot last week over Toronto FC. The Brazilian forward has hit the ground running since coming into the league with five goals and two assists, adding a new threat and improved fluidity to a Red Bulls offense that struggled at times in 2021. Along with Lewis Morgan’s team-leading seven goals on the season, the Red Bulls seemed to have turned a corner offensively with new key personnel to drive the offense forward.

Can Luquinhas produce another moment of magic against top-of-the-table LAFC, or will the Western Conference giants prove to be too much for the Red Bulls to overcome?

Union Host NYCFC in Eastern Conference Battle of Unbeaten Streaks

Mitchell Leff

In a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Final, New York City FC (nine games) and the Philadelphia Union (eight games) put their unbeaten runs on the line when they meet at Subaru Park on Sunday (6:00 p.m. ET, FS1 / FOX Deportes). History will be made as the matchup marks the first time since 2011 that two teams play each other on eight-plus game unbeaten runs, with a battle between the two best defenses in MLS and brilliant goalkeeping taking center stage. One team could emerge at the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of this 90 minutes.

In goal for NYCFC, Sean Johnson helped reigning MLS Cup champions hold a sensational shutout streak – not conceding a goal for 607 minutes over a six-game stretch this season that ranked third-longest in league history, making NYCFC the first to accomplish that feat since the 2007 Houston Dynamo FC. As Johnson continues to climb MLS record books, he recently made his mark on the U.S. Men’s National Team by holding Uruguay scoreless in a friendly on June 5, with the reigning MLS Cup MVP setting sights on making his first-ever World Cup roster.

Johnson’s shot-stopping could make him the first goalkeeper to finish in the top-five of Landon Donovan MLS MVP voting since the goalkeeper on the opposing side, Philadelphia’s Andre Blake, accomplished the feat in 2020. Blake, a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, is again at the top of his game for a Union side that has allowed two goals in a game only twice this year.

In an Eastern Conference battle of the unbeatens, and with the league’s best netminders going head-to-head, the enticing end-to-end action will have everyone on the edge of their seats.

Philadelphia Goalkeeper Matt Freese Graduates from Harvard

Occupying his mind outside of soccer is what Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Matt Freese credits to keeping him sharper, well-rounded, and more focused all around. It also led to him graduating from Harvard University with an economics degree this year after initially leaving his higher-education pathway after one year to sign a professional contract with the Philadelphia Union.

Freese followed in the Harvard footsteps of his father, who graduated from Harvard Medical School, and according to Freese, the goalkeeper found that he was playing better than he ever had when he started taking classes again. With most of his professors, Freese was able to work out completing assignments away from campus. However, he was still required be on site for exams.

Attributing the valuable impact of something off the field making him better on the field, Freese continues to emphasize that balance while also being a role model and example for what can be accomplished even while being a professional player.

Once his playing career comes to an end, Freese hopes to become the first Homegrown signing to become a club president or equivalent in an MLS front office. In the meantime, while ultimately keeping his primary focus on a long-term playing career, he is also interested in securing internships, networking, and even potentially earning another degree as he continues playing to build his resume and best prepare himself for the future.

Juneteenth-Inspired Jersey Auction to Benefit Black Communities 

When MLS’ 28 clubs took the field last weekend (June 18-19), all players wore jerseys featuring Juneteenth-inspired numbers designed by Judah, a Black queer artist from Childersburg, Alabama, who now resides in Brooklyn, N.Y. Middleton created the numbers – a vibrant yellow, green, and red color palette, to represent the blood, soil and prosperity of Africa and its people.

Presented in commemorative boxes, 20 game-worn jerseys will be available for fans to acquire via an online auction lasting from Monday, June 20 – Tuesday, July 5. The jerseys are packaged in a commemorative box including a space, where MLS players wrote their proclamations of what they are “Free To Be.”

Proceeds from the auction will benefit organizations supporting and uplifting Black communities in the markets of MLS clubs. A complete list of auction beneficiaries can be found on MLSsoccer.com.

Additional auction information, including how to place a bid, is available on MLSauctions.com.

MLS Clubs Vie for Coveted Places in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup & Canadian Championship

Five MLS clubs remain in action in the quarterfinals of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which kicks off tonight, Tuesday, June 21. Three matches this week will produce three-quarters of the final four, while Orlando City SC and Nashville SC look to earn the final berth on Wednesday, June 29 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+). 

On this week’s slate are two matches featuring MLS clubs against upstarts from lower division leagues, as the LA Galaxy host in-state foe Sacramento Republic FC tonight (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+) and Sporting Kansas City welcomes Union Omaha to Children’s Mercy Park on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+). The first of two MLS vs. MLS matches in the quarterfinals is a U.S. Open Cup edition of the Hudson River Derby, as the top two squads in the Eastern Conference, NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls, battle at Red Bull Arena (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN+). When Orlando City SC and Nashville SC meet on June 29 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+), both clubs will be looking to take one step closer to their first U.S. Open Cup title. 

North of the border, the Canadian Championship, Canada’s highest domestic pro soccer competition, enters the semifinals with all three of MLS’ Canadian squads still in contention for the championship. On Wednesday, Toronto FC will play host to CF Montréal at BMO Field (7 p.m. ET). Toronto FC (2016, 2017, 2018, 2020) and CF Montréal (2019, 2021) have combined to win each of the past six Canadian Championships and are the two winningest clubs in the history of the competition. Later that evening, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will welcome York United of the Canadian Premier League to BC Place with a spot in the finals on the line (10 p.m. ET).

All Canadian Championship matches will air live and exclusively on OneSoccer, available as a linear channel on Telus’s Optik TV (Channel 980) as well as online at OneSoccer.ca, through the OneSoccer app and on the fuboTV Canada platform.

St Louis CITY2 Commemorates Juneteenth by Supporting Black Dreams

St Louis CITY2

When St Louis CITY2 players walked onto the field at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday night, their message was read loud and clear: Support Black Dreams. The team launched its Juneteenth efforts by wearing warm-up shirts emblazoned with “Support Black Dreams” on the front before their away match against Sporting KC II. Prior to the MLS NEXT Pro match beginning, the Black National Anthem was played to commemorate the occasion. 

The shirts were intended to serve as a call to action not only for Black dreamers but for their allies as well, and the message behind the shirts didn’t just end when the match started. CITY2 involved the local St. Louis community by highlighting places where Black dreams come true, delivering the “Support Black Dreams” shirts to relevant organizations, businesses, and individuals in the area.

To support the efforts, St Louis CITY2 also posted videos on their social media of players speaking about their own dreams and what it means to have the encouragement of fans as they strive to accomplish them.

Through their Juneteenth initiative, St Louis CITY2 aimed to honor the original intent of the holiday: celebrating Black freedom; with the ultimate goal of fostering a more inclusive and equitable community. CITY2 hopes that its efforts will help deliver concrete ways for all of St. Louis and the region to celebrate the historic day, including encouraging citizens to shop at Black-owned businesses, listen to Black artists, and generally celebrate the local Black community.

Week 16 - English