What you need to know

Bedoya receives 2023 Audi Goals Drive Progress Impact Award

Philadelphia Union midfielder Alejandro Bedoya has received the 2023 Audi Goals Drive Progress Impact Award – an honor given to players for charitable and social impact work that creates sustainable communities, fosters equity and inclusion, and enriches the lives of those in need across the U.S. and Canada. During MLS Cup presented by Audi, Audi will present Bedoya with a $100,000 contribution to his chosen nonprofit organization – The Philadelphia Equity Alliance. In partnership with the Philadelphia Foundation, Bedoya works hand in hand with the Philadelphia Equity Alliance to work towards reducing poverty and promoting inclusive and resilient economic growth by advancing collaborative solutions around educational equity, community safety, and growing Black and Brown jobs and businesses.

Onalfo named New England Revolution sporting director

The New England Revolution have made a significant hire for their post-Bruce Arena era, announcing Thursday that Curt Onalfo has been elevated to sporting director. Onalfo spent the last four-plus seasons as New England’s technical director and served as interim sporting director after Arena resigned in early September.

Portland, Dallas, Nashville announce end-of-year moves

Portland legend Sebastián Blanco will not be returning after his contract expired. The club has opened a Designated Player spot by declining oft-injured striker Jaroslaw Niezgoda's contract option. 

FC Dallas have picked up contract options on central midfielders Asier Illarramendi and Liam Fraser. And in Nashville, central midfielder Dax McCarty and winger Fafà Picault are both out of contract. 

Sign up for The Daily Kickoff in your inbox! The Daily Kickoff is more than an article – it can be delivered to your email account as well.

The formula for a road upset

As always, we can talk all we want about who the better team is heading into a big game. But, in the end, all that really seems to matter in MLS is who’s at home. FC Cincinnati and LAFC have the advantage heading into tomorrow’s Conference Finals. But both Columbus and Houston can pull off the upset here. Just a few things need to break their way. All they need to do to make that happen is find a winning formula. Let’s do some math.

Movement (Cucho + Rossi + Matan) - Cincinnati Starters = Space

“Columbus and Wilfried Nancy play some of the prettiest soccer in the league.” We say that a lot without really qualifying it. When we talk about the Crew’s aesthetics, we’re largely talking about a team that understands how to create space for itself and take advantage of it. 

In particular, the Crew’s front three love to drag defenders out of position and create space for their fellow forwards or for the wingbacks as they push up the field. Having a midfield pairing of Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris allows them to take risks with that movement. The Columbus attackers can be confident that someone has their back if they decide to take a risk and make a run. 

It’s a lot to deal with even if you have all your starters. FC Cincinnati won’t have all their starters in this one. Defender of the Year Matt Miazga is suspended and Cincy will have to take on the Crew with a more makeshift approach than they hoped. There’s going to be a major burden on Yerson Mosquera in the center of their back three. He, along with Ian Murphy and Álvaro Barreal, will have to be effective in communication and understanding of the pockets of space the Crew are attempting to open up. That task gets even harder if starting No. 6 Obinna Nwobodo can’t go for Cincy. He’s been battling injuries recently. 

If the Crew can exploit those weaknesses and find opportunities in behind, then they have an excellent chance to do what they’ve done all season: Make life hell for opposing back lines.

Perfect Possession - Transition opportunities + (Bouanga-10) - Set piece disasters = Limited Chances

The fact of the matter is Dénis Bouanga is going to get his. Unless we throw in some luck to this formula, he’s going to find opportunities to make a difference, especially in transition. That’s not ideal news for a team like Houston that thrives off quick passing in midfield and pinging the ball around. It looks beautiful when it works, but even slight mistakes can turn into transition moments heading the other way. That’s where Bouanga is at his best.

Houston have to be something close to perfect in possession tomorrow night. They won’t stay perfect the entire night, but when LAFC start heading goalward at speed, they need to make sure they’re doing everything in their power to keep Bouanga in check. If they can limit him just enough to keep his chances at a minimum and catch a break or two, then it doesn’t really seem like the rest of LAFC has the kind of juice in attack we’ve come to expect. They just don’t scare you like they used to.

At least not in open play. LAFC have been one of the best teams in the league this year on set pieces. Houston will have to be sharp on corners and free kicks. If they can do that and slow down Bouanga just enough, they’ll just have to pray the rest of LAFC’s supporting cast doesn’t suddenly come good. And that some Dynamo player will have the ability to turn that aesthetically pleasing possession into a high-quality chance.

Other things

MLS fines & suspends Whitecaps head coach Sartini: Major League Soccer has fined and suspended Vancouver Whitecaps FC head coach Vanni Sartini for multiple violations of league policy on November 5 during, and following, Vancouver’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs exit against LAFC. In the 95th minute, Sartini was shown a red card and dismissed from the game by match officials. Along with the automatic one-match suspension that accompanies a red card, MLS has issued an additional five-match suspension for his violation of league policies, including entering the field of play in a confrontational manner and public criticism following the match – totaling six matches overall.

New York Red Bulls sign defender Nealis to new contract: The New York Red Bulls have signed defender Dylan Nealis to a new contract through the 2024 MLS season. “We are very excited to keep Dylan with the club,” said head of sport Jochen Schneider. “We have seen a lot from Dylan over the last two seasons. He made a big step forward in his development over the last year – on and off the pitch. We are happy to keep consistency within our backline.”

Inter Miami announce preseason friendly vs. El Salvador: Inter Miami CF will play their first exhibition match of the 2024 preseason against the El Salvador national team. The match will take place at Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador on Friday, January 19, 2024 at 8 pm ET. Additional information, including ticketing and broadcast details, will be announced at a later date.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. Stop and appreciate greatness.