What does Peter Vermes’ run in Kansas City mean? What will Papi do up top?
Sporting KC vs. Orlando City - Fri., 7:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, Fox Deportes in US; TSN 5 in Canada
Peter Vermes is Sporting Kansas City. Sporting Kansas City are Peter Vermes. Hell, Peter Vermes is MLS. MLS is Peter Vermes.
Friday will mark Vermes’ 600th game as a player or head coach in the league. Only Jason Kreis can say he’s got more. This is year 13 for Vermes as Sporting head coach. He’s made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in nine of his 11 full seasons at the helm. There are eighth graders in Kansas City who only know Vermes as the manager of their (consistently successful) team. Pretty incredible stuff.
It’s even more incredible to me that there are, per Sporting PR, seven managers around the world who’ve been in their jobs longer. Seven feels like a lot in this change-addicted industry! My expectation, however, is that Vermes is going to be in position to climb that list. Other than the US national team job or a can’t-miss European opportunity, I just don’t see Vermes walking away from everything he’s built.
As for Friday’s intraconference clash, the big questions ought to be answered by the lineups that drop about an hour before gametime.
For Sporting, will Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell be in the starting lineup? If they are, how does that change the composition of the midfield? Will Gianluca Busio push one of Gadi Kinda, Roger Espinoza or Remi Walter out of the starting lineup? Or will the 18-year-old head to the bench? Could Kinda play on the wing instead of Khiry Shelton? Is the centerback partnership of Andreu Fontas and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin the beginning of something beautiful? Or will Vermes spend the year tinkering once again?
Oh, about Busio…
For Orlando City and Oscar Pareja, it’s all about who plays forward and whether or not the Lions can consistently create chances out of buildup without Mauricio Pereyra, who will finish up his suspension from that horror tackle in the playoffs this weekend.
It certainly won’t be Alexandre Pato up top, may he recover quickly and completely from whatever “lower body injury” he suffered against Atlanta United. My guess is Tesho Akindele gets the nod to make the right runs, defend ably from the front and, hopefully, pick up an opportunistic goal or put Nani/Chris Mueller in a position to do the same. My hope is we get to see Matheus Aias from the jump. That’s no knock on Tesho, it’s just that we’ve seen a grand total of 21 minutes from the Brazilian in MLS.
Will we get to see LAFC with Carlos Vela? Did we doubt the Sounders too soon?
LAFC vs. Seattle Sounders - Sat., 6 pm ET
WATCH ON: ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US; TSN 2 in Canada
How good are LAFC with Carlos Vela? We don’t actually know yet. I hope I didn’t jump the gun on those Golden Boot, MVP, Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup predictions…
I don’t think I did. But last weekend’s confusing situation is not yet water under the bridge with Bob Bradley saying in his Thursday availability that the 2019 MVP has not trained fully this week after being taken off early on against Austin FC. His status for Saturday is questionable.
I’ve been saying for a year now that LAFC’s best bet is to treat their star with kid gloves when it comes to his health and fitness. Why rush things? What’s the point of pushing Vela in April? Yeah, the whole thing against Austin FC was weird, but I’m looking at is as 70 fewer minutes on his legs early in the year and three points.
Of my quad-LAFC-centric predictions, the one I am least confident about is the Shield. It feels to me like there are a lot of questions to be answered from now until the end of the summer transfer window that will define how much this team accomplishes.
First, will an offer too good to refuse come in for Rossi? Second, what's the deal with Brian Rodriguez? Replacing the first two, even with a pair of DP spots open, won’t be easy, period, but if LAFC don’t sell, then they won’t have precedent in the transfer market for future deals. Does that even matter if they keep both and win MLS Cup? Do they need a DP No. 9 to get there?
They won’t have to answer those questions against the Sounders, though the statuses of Vela and Rossi are up in the air.
I really hope Vela plays, for many reasons, not least for the chance to see him go head-to-head with Nouhou. Nouhou has a reputation as a loose cannon, and there is some truth in that thanks to swashbuckling runs of seasons past. What many haven’t seemed to figure out is that he is as good a 1v1 defender as there is in the entire league. For opposing attackers, he is an imposing combination of physicality, well-timed aggression and sound defensive instincts.
As for the Sounders, there are so many reasons to watch them, especially against LAFC and even without, I would guess, Nico Lodeiro. Cristian Roldan is a big one. He remains, somehow, underappreciated. Raul Ruidiaz is another. He remains one of the best goalscorers this league has ever seen. Throw in Josh Atencio for some #22U22 love, the evolution of the 3-5-2 formation that Brian Schmetzer is rolling out and this game is can’t miss.
Did we doubt the Sounders too soon? The early signs are yes. We’ll learn more Saturday at Banc of California Stadium.
CHICHARITO IS BACK! But really, is Chicharito back? And who are the Red Bulls?
LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls - Sun., 5:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN 2 in Canada
Fairytales are uncomplicated. Protagonist goes through life-changing adversity, but preservers to get the happy ending they deserve in the end.
For Chicharito and the Galaxy, Week 1 was Cinderella stuff: two goals on two shots, a dramatic team win and much-needed catharsis for everyone involved. The performance, the result and the postgame emotions were inspirational. It was a dream.
I expect things to get more complicated for both star and club as the season goes along, and the true test for Chicharito and LA is how they weather the inevitable low points. Two goals speak for themselves, but it’s also pretty clear the Galaxy are still figuring out how to best feed their star striker while also waiting for the full complement of personnel to arrive.
Does Ethan Zubak need to be on the field? Before he played all-action foil to Chicharito, there wasn’t much in terms of chance creation, other than build-up down the left resulting in a cross without enough runners or unpredictability to cause real danger. That’s what we saw in 2020, and we know how it worked out. How might things change when Kevin Cabral is available?
That’s all to be determined, week by week. That Chicha brace was nice, but it definitely ramped up expectations, too.
This weekend, Vanney has to get his team ready to deal with the high press. Can they break it and find ways to get Chicharito the ball at his feet in front of goal? That’s where his goals are going to come from – in MLS, he’s never shown the same pace in behind defenses from his glory years – and I’m not sure the win in Miami showed us that they’re able to provide that service with any consistently just yet, even if I’m rooting for the comeback tour to keep rolling.
As for the Red Bulls, it was a big week. First, the Frankie Amaya trade finally got done, then they signed Celtic forward Patryk Klimala as a Young DP. I count 12 additions this offseason for Kevin Thelwell and Gerhard Struber. They turned the team over, and now they’re building around youth, energy, positive vibes and suffocating pressure.
We chatted with Struber about it on Thursday’s Extratime. He’s focused on the tactics, yes, but also on the aforementioned vibes. He wants his young team to identify with each other and their new identity. He wants to create an environment that prioritizes growth and togetherness. He wants his boys to have fun! He sounds a lot like Jesse Marsch, with a slightly different accent.
Struber also knows it is going to take time to lay more soccer building blocks and engrain muscle memory before he can reasonably talk about the big goals – MLS Cup was specifically mentioned – and improve upon the 2-1 loss Sporting KC handed New York in Week 1.
A couple notes I thought were interesting from the interview…
First, Struber is very high on 17-year-old Caden Clark. No surprise there. He emphasized patience and consistency. Patience from everyone expecting Clark to just walk into the RB Leipzig squad (UCL quarterfinalists, lest we forget) after a single season, and consistency in Clark’s performances so that, one day, perhaps that is exactly what happens. Sunday is another game for the young midfielder to show he has what it takes.
Second, Frankie Amaya ought to be happy to hear his new manager say that he sees him as more of an attacking player rather than the destroyer he often was for FC Cincinnati. Struber wants to see more goals, more assists and more time in the attacking third from the Red Bulls addition, who cost nearly $1 million in allocation to acquire. To do that, however, Amaya is going to have to adapt to the physical demands of Struber’s system. We’ll see how fast he gets up to speed.
#PlayYourKids 22 under 22 Game of the Week
San Jose vs. FC Dallas - Sat., 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN
Eight teenagers earned a place in a Week 1 starting lineup. Can you name them?
(Think. You can do this.)
(Fine, here’s the list, from oldest to youngest.)
- SKC – John Pulskamp, 19 (turned 20 on Monday)
- COL – Cole Bassett, 19
- ATL – George Bello, 19
- SEA – Josh Atencio, 19
- LA — Adam Saldana
- SKC – Gianluca Busio, 18
- TOR – Ralph Priso, 18
- RBNY – Caden Clark, 17
- SJ – Cade Cowell, 17
I repeat, the Quakes started a 17-year-old Homegrown No. 9 on opening day. Hell yes. Every minute (he played 66 against the Dynamo) is another chance to see what kind of player Cowell, now 600 or so minutes into his first-team career, is right now and what kind of player he might become.
Against Houston, he was mostly isolated in possession – 12 touches, just seven passes attempted, one to kick off the second half and another after a Dynamo goal, and one shot attempted, a heater of a cross he lifted a leg to and deflected out for a goal kick – but it wasn’t exactly a vintage Quakes performance by any means. Cowell ran hard and attempted to put the Houston backline under pressure, to varying degrees of effectiveness as Matt Doyle wrote midweek. It’s a process!
Not only do you get to watch Cowell in this one – start him again, Matias, you know you want to – you’ll get FC Dallas’ parade of homegrown 22 Under 22 presented by BODYARMOR candidates. Somewhat strangely, none of them started in Week 1 against Colorado (left wingback John Nelson, 22, was the only homegrown in the starting lineup). Ricardo Pepi was a substitute and so was Paxton Pomykal, the first time we’ve seen him on the field since last August.
I'm putting zero pressure on Pomykal. It’s time to just let his recovery happen at whatever pace allows him to stay healthy and progress, but he is still eligible for 22 Under 22 (turns 22 in December) and that’s kind of incredible given how long he’s been around. Tanner Tessmann figures to have a bigger role this year for Luchi Gonzalez, though he didn’t play against the Rapids, and Dante Sealy is an interesting weapon off the bench.
Check the lineups when they drop. We could have multiple teenage starters in this one.
MLS LIVE on ESPN+ Game of the Weekend
Philadelphia Union vs. Inter Miami - Sat., 8 pm ET
Remember Gonzalo Higuain’s MLS debut? You better believe Higuain does, and I’m willing to bet he’s itching for some payback against Jakob “hell yes, I am going to fist pump in your face when you miss a PK” Glesnes, Jose Martinez and, let’s be honest, the whole damn Union squad.
Mmmmm … that’s the good stuff, plenty of bull manure to seed the beginnings of an on-the-field rivalry that could jump another level on Saturday in Chester. Higuain and Miami come to Philadelphia frustrated by a loss on national TV, meanwhile Philly are tuning up for a Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal and stacking results, even a bit short handed, yet again.
The baggage from last year is enough reason to watch. Add in that both sides have something to prove and plenty of quality, and this should be a competitive, and perhaps dramatic, match to settle in for on Saturday night with a drink of your choice.