I put out the call on Twitter for questions. Time for the answers...
One of the great aspects of soccer is that the team is different than the club. The club extends beyond any coach or set of players. The club has its own identity, values and culture. The players and coaching staff are stewards of that identity. The club identity should set the framework for the team.
It means that we should always think of and evaluate the club separately from the team.
At this moment in MLS history, LAFC have had the best single team ever. Toronto set the bar in 2017; Atlanta passed it last year; LAFC passed it this year (If LAFC, who lost at home on Sunday, collapse down the stretch then I may have to re-evaluate this.). This year's LAFC team is unlike anything we've ever seen. I understand the argument that you need to win trophies first, and I'm a member of the "MLS Cup matters more than Supporters' Shield" club, but I belong to the subcommittee, "...except when a team does something this phenomenal in the regular season." I have no problem saying that this year's LAFC team - currently on pace to surpass the single-season points record by four points and the goal-differential record by 15 goals! - is the best team the league has had. Atlanta is chasing again.
That's different than "Who is the best club." Atlanta still have LAFC beat in that category (though I'm not going to wade into the full rankings because I'm not a complete idiot).
Bastian Schweinsteiger was back in the team after missing last week for the birth of his child. The Fire still didn't win, and probably need to win four out of four to have a chance at the playoffs. I think I speak for everyone when I say, "please play Schweinsteiger at center mid in those four games."
Lewis is one of the more interesting players in the league. He has a super polarized skill set. His positive is very positive:
That pace and 1v1 ability!
But... he's not great in possession or defending in a middle block.
So then it's a question of how you utilize the upside and hide the deficiencies. It's not as simple as inserting him into a team and hoping for him to create magic. Lewis could thrive in two situations:
- A counterattacking team. Robin Fraser used Lewis as a striker in the win at Red Bulls, something that makes more sense to me than using him at winger.
- A 1v1 specialist in a possession team. This is a trend that has come back around the world. If you are good enough in possession, you can leave your wingers on the touchlines and move the ball side to side to isolate them 1v1. The wingers rarely come inside; they leave the passing to the center mids and outside backs.
With that said, I would still use him as a supersub. He's so good when the game is stretched that I wouldn't waste his focus or energy on anything else; I'd go all in on his ability to run at players in space -- the type of space that's available in the 80th minute. Given the 80th minute is usually more important than the 10th minute, make sure you can win that stretch of the game. I think teams still undervalue substitutes who can change games. The Philadelphia Union have come close with their use of Ilsinho. I'd love to see the Rapids make a statement with Lewis: "You are a sub, but you are just as important to us as any starter."
He's definitely not Don Nelson with the Dream Team (love that shout, though). One of the things we tend to do in sports is think of a player as they are and not as they were before they became who they are (that makes sense in my head!). If we could rewind to 2017, you would never have included Jordan Harvey, Latif Blessing, Tyler Miller, Steven Beitashour, and Mark-Anthony Kaye (in the USL!) as potential members of a Dream Team. Bob Bradley has both improved almost every individual player on the team AND made the team more than the sum of the parts.
Now, onto the specific question... I'll say Bradley adds about 15 points to LAFC. This LAFC roster would probably still compete near the top of the West, but almost certainly wouldn't run away with it.
Now, my bolder answer is that Bradley (and maybe Matias Almeyda) could get every single team in MLS, including Cincinnati, into the playoffs. Coaching matters that much.
Columbus Crew SC
So, so many. You could build a World Cup-qualifying national team from names you've never heard. I've seen players go from being the worst player on the team to the best player on the field just because of a confidence boost or instructional change.
Yes, and I want to parse what that means. Why has Dallas' academy been more fruitful than others?
- They were one of the first clubs to invest in scouting and recruiting. Their coaches scour the south to find the best players.
- They were one of the first to help academy players with housing.
- They were one of the first to professionalize the academy setup. The academy teams train in the morning; they have locker rooms, gear, weight sessions and a full physio staff.
- They have excellent coaches all the way through the club. Every training session of every team from the little kids through Under-19 looks like it could be a professional session. Dan Hunt worked hard to get Oscar Pareja to stay at the club after retiring; he recruited Luchi Gonzalez from Florida; and they recruited their current U-17 coach.
- They haven't been scared to put young players on the field. At the Generation adidas Cup, Luchi Gonzalez gave a seminar on the club's methodology. Someone asked him how they know when a young player is ready. Gonzalez responded, (roughly) "You don't know. You'll never be sure. If you're waiting to know for sure, you'll never do it. You just have to trust the work you've put in."
Top prospects don't fall from trees. They are the product of an intentional process. Dallas have won almost every part of that process so far.
This question wasn't submitted but I wanted to get something about Russell Canouse playing right back into here because players moving to outside back and doing well is good for my brand.
This, from Charlie Boehm via our Slack channel, is the only relevant question around Houston right now:
Diego Rossi is an excellent player in specific ways. He has fantastic movement, to go with his pace, and he's great around the goal. He's not as good in possession or 1v1s. Bob Bradley has found ways to accentuate the former and hide the latter. Brian Rodriguez is a different player; he seems to be a more dynamic, well-round attacker. At that point, it comes down to the preference of the coach.
I'd be surprised (shocked) if Bradley takes Rossi out of the LAFC XI; Rossi reads LAFC's actions well and can start his diagonal runs to goal at just the right times. Don't be surprised, though, to see Bradley play Carlos Vela at center striker more often and use Rodriguez on the wing opposite Rossi. Bradley will need another player to beat defenders 1v1 -- the inability to create chances from the wide areas has hurt LAFC at times, including in the loss to Minnesota on Sunday. Rodriguez could be the option.
There weren't submissions that do the Galaxy's situation justice, so we are just going to copy and paste from Matt Doyle's column:
The Galaxy are in actual trouble. They've gone just 6-11-2 with a -11 goal differential since the beginning of May. Everyone (including me) keeps looking for reasons that other teams in the Western Conference playoff race will drop below the line, but based on form, nobody in the hunt has been worse, or worse for longer, than LA. They finished the weekend in 7th place, just two points above the Timbers – who have a game in hand, and six of their seven left at home.
Minnesota United FC
This is in reference to the U.S. Open Cup loss on Tuesday, to which I don't have an answer. I knew it was possible that Adrian Heath wouldn't start Darwin Quintero, but I didn't really think it was possible.
But I'll give Heath credit for his decisions in the win against LAFC. The 5-3-2, with three defensive midfielders clogging up the middle, was smart.
While the Impact hired Wilmer Cabrera to finish the season, it sounds like the job will be open again if Montreal fail to make the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs. As a team in coaching limbo...
Any team with a head coaching position open should consider a two-time world champion.
The pro to Ellis: She's a winner. She knows how to manage big names and personalities. Her teams always compete and play with confidence.
The con to Ellis: She's never needed to flex her tactical muscles. She's always had a talent advantage with the USWNT (and UCLA before that). Given she's always had stars, she's always kept her tactics simple.
I don't know what Ellis has planned for her future, but if she's interested, I would expect MLS teams to pick up the phone for a conversation in the offseason.
New England Revolution
The measuring stick for this is about as high as it gets.
The 2014 Revs were 9-12-3 before Jermaine Jones showed up. They finished the regular season 8-1-1 after he joined and made MLS Cup.
To put Gustavo Bou in the same conversation as Jones, the Revs would need to get to MLS Cup.
This is 100% fair from Mike. I'll own it.
In full disclosure, I don't regret the prediction, either. NYCFC were broken last year -- and even into the second month of this year. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Dome Torrent was holding the hammer. And that was frustrating to watch. There's something antagonizing about watching someone tear a project down that didn't need fixing. Torrent is validated in the end, though. He rebuilt NYCFC in his image and they are excellent. They are both functionally sturdy and fun to watch.
As an added point, and what makes me feel particularly petty about it, is that I would do the same thing if I were Torrent (and I think we are seeing something similar from Caleb Porter in Columbus). If you want to lead something as complicated as a soccer team, you need to be fully invested and educated on all the details. It's worth taking the time to rebuild everything in your vision for long term rather than trying to hold up pillars that aren't yours. Torrent took the gamble and came out on top.
New York Red Bulls
I'm interested to see how much teams will fear Red Bulls in the playoffs. Last year, Atlanta wanted to no part of the Red Bulls' press. Does anyone fear the Red Bulls like that at this point? The answer is no, and that should work in Red Bulls' favor. If teams decide they can pass against Red Bulls, then Chris Armas and co. actually have a decent shot of getting to MLS Cup. If they don't, and Red Bulls are forced to drop deeper and either counter or build from their own half, they need to get more pace on the field.
Red Bulls often get stuck in their own half because they can't cause problems in open-field transition. Josh Sims has shown moments in his first two games. If he's not the answer, I'd play the 3-3-3-1 and get Kemar Lawrence farther up the field (I'd play the 3-3-3-1 anyway).
Orlando City SC
It's a good question and I don't have an answer to it. The easy, obvious answer would be, "sign an elite striker." Orlando have scored fewer goals than any team in the playoffs. But I'll say that selfishly I hope they stand pat. I'm fascinated by teams that overperform their perceived talent. We've seen it from San Jose and New England this year. It adds a fun dimension to the league. It feels like James O'Connor has the ability to do the same in Orlando. They have a crop of 20-25 year olds who could all take a step forward, plus the addition of Mauricio Pereyra into the team. Strangely, Orlando fans should not feel too stressed heading into the offseason.
Every team that doesn't have a player like Miguel Almiron, Carlos Vela, Nico Lodeiro, Sebastian Giovinco, etc. will have trouble compete for a top-four seed on a regular basis. I think of international signings — and you always need at least a couple international signings — like investing in the stock market. The more money you spend, the safer you can feel about the investment. That doesn't mean, however, that more affordable options can't perform like large cap options.
The Union have hit on growth investments recently, including Jamiro Monteiro, Kai Wagner, Kacper Przybylkoand Haris Medunjanin. Is that replicable? Yes, but it's riskier. I wouldn't necessarily call it a steady, long-term plan. It would make the Union feel much better if they had a more diversified portfolio. And it looks to me like that's what they are trying to do. They seem to have a plan to develop their homegrown assets, help move them to the next phase in their career, and then re-invest the earnings in more reliable assets.
David Beckham and the LA Galaxy started the Designated Player era; Toronto and Giovinco set the precedent for stars to join MLS in their prime; Atlanta United started a new era of investment. The Union have a chance to blaze the next path.
They need to develop more patience in their possession phase. When you attack, you need to distinguish whether you're in a transition moment or the possession phase. If you're in a transition moment, you need to go quickly; Portland are excellent in those moments. When the opponent is set in front of you, though, you need to switch to a possession mindset. Use the ball to pull to pull the opponent around, wear them down, and wait for an opening. Portland rarely slow down and make sideways passes to drag players out of position. They are always looking straight for goal. If they made a collective effort to slow down in the possession phase, it would help them align the pieces to create chances.
Real Salt Lake
- He's made them more committed to their defensive duties. They went from being a team that tried to control the ball to a team that focuses on controlling the space. In being more intentional about controlling the space, they've given their attackers more room to attack.
- They refined the details of their defensive shape. They start from a compact position, don't step out of shape unnecessary, and move as a unit. Lots of teams have dropped their line of confrontation as the playoffs have gotten closer; RSL have the best shape of all of them.
I would hire Juarez right now. I understand the urge to hire someone like Matias Almeyda, but I like that RSL has always hired from within. It's an endearing trait to attempt to develop coaches in the same way you develop players. From the attention to detail that RSL have shown under Juarez, he seems like a worthy candidate.
San Jose Earthquakes
We haven't mentioned 19-year-old Peruvian international Marcos Lopez much this year. He's currently in a positional battle with Nick Lima at left back. Lopez began the year as the starting left back, with Lima over on the right. Then they both got benched. Then Lima won the left back spot after Tommy Thompson locked down the right side. Then Lima went away to Gold Cup and Lopez started again and the Quakes went 4-1-1. Then Lima won the spot back. Then Lima missed the game against the Whitecaps two weeks ago, Lopez played, and the Quakes have won both games that Lopez has started since.
My guess is that Lima would still get the nod if they had a playoff game tomorrow, but it will be Lopez's job until the Quakes lose again. Lopez isn't as a reliable defensively but he's more dynamic going forward.
We've seen it in the last two games. Deeper line of confrontation + Jordan Morris on the break + set pieces. The key player for the Sounders moving forward will be the player next to Gustav Svensson in the double pivot. Jordy Delem was the right guy for the spot because he likes to stay tight to the center backs. His natural tendencies kept the Sounders protected both in and out of possession. If he's set for a layoff, it will be important that Emanuel Cecchini acts as a true defensive midfielder rather than a box-to-box player.
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting are five back with six games left. They play Colorado at home in a couple weeks. They have to win that game. If they win that game, their playoff fate is probably in their own control. Their other five games are all against the teams they need to —- and can — leap. It's a tough schedule, but that's exactly what Sporting need. After the season they've had, they will be perfectly fine with controlling their own destiny, regardless of the difficulty.
I won't claim to know anything about Greg Vanney's job status. From a general perspective, though, every coach at certain clubs is on the hot seat at all times now. Toronto is one of those clubs. It's one of the evolutions of the league. If you're not immediately competing for trophies, your job is in question. I don't necessary believe the trope that more pressure is always good, but I like that some clubs see themselves as titans and feel threatened when they are anything but.
Because Marc Dos Santos has been successful pretty much everywhere he's been so far in his career. And because he worked under two of the most successful managers in MLS history, Peter Vermes and Bob Bradley.