Ayo Akinola
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This Week in MLS - November 13, 2018

  • Behind young MLS stars, U.S. on brink of FIFA U-20 World Cup
  • SKC’s Salloi turning heads from Midwest to Budapest
  • Martinez on cusp of breaking another goalscoring record
  • Timbers, Red Bulls closing in on securing final Champions League slot
  • Back to full strength, Atlanta’s Almiron adds to attacking arsenal
  • FC Cincinnati unveil new crest as club prepares for MLS era
 
Behind young MLS stars, U.S. on brink of FIFA U-20 World Cup
Major League Soccer academy products have powered the United States to a perfect start at the Concacaf U-20 Championships and have the squad on the brink of qualification to the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup. With five consecutive blowout victories to open the tournament, MLS academy products have scored 32 of the team’s 39 goals.
 
After winning its first ever Concacaf U-20 championship in 2017, the U.S. looks for its second consecutive title behind a 23-man player pool consisting of 17 MLS academy products. The U.S. can clinch a spot at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup as soon as Nov. 16 with a top-two finish in its three-team group also including Costa Rica and Honduras, with its next match coming against Los Ticos in Bradenton, Fla., this Friday. Among the standout performers for the U.S. include Toronto FC forward Ayo Akinola (six goals), Philadelphia Union defender Mark McKenzie (three goals) and FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal (three goals).
 
The United States showed well at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup, finishing with a quarterfinals appearance thanks to strong performances by current MLS stars including Tyler Adams (New York Red Bulls) and Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake). They were one of only two nations in the world to finish with a quarterfinals appearance or better in both the U-20 and U-17 World Cups that year.
 
SKC’s Sallói turning heads from the Midwest to Budapest
At only 22 years old, forward Dániel Sallói just became Sporting Kansas City’s postseason hero. The former exchange student from Budapest, Hungary, developed in Sporting KC’s academy before leading the first team in scoring with 11 goals this season. Sallói notched two goals last Sunday to send SKC into the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Western Conference Championship, and with stellar production in his second MLS campaign, he also earned his first call-up to Hungarian National Team during the September FIFA International Window. Sallói has good history against the impending Western Conference competition, as his 2-0-2 record when facing the Portland Timbers includes his first-ever MLS goal, which he finished against the Cascadia club on July 1, 2017.
 
Martínez on cusp of breaking another goalscoring record
Atlanta United forward Josef Martínez had seemingly broken every MLS single-season goalscoring record imaginable, but there is one more rung in the ladder when factoring in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs. Martínez’s combined 33 goals (31 regular season, 2 playoff) is tied for a single-season MLS record with former striker Roy Lassiter who accomplished the feat in the league’s first season in 1996.
 
The 25-year-old Martínez is coming off a brace against New York City FC in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and will be vying for goal No. 34 when second-seeded Atlanta hosts the Supporters’ Shield-winning New York Red Bulls on Sunday, Nov. 25, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (5 p.m. ET / ESPN, ESPN Deportes, TSN, TVA Sports). The victor of the two-leg series hosts MLS Cup.
 
Will Martínez’s heralded goalscoring prowess pave the way for Atlanta?
 
Timbers, Red Bulls closing in on final Champions League slot
The final spot in the 2019 Concacaf Champions League (CCL) comes down to two teams as either the New York Red Bulls or Portland Timbers will clinch the final spot in the tournament for a chance to represent the federation at the Club World Cup. Portland will clinch a spot should the Timbers win the 2018 MLS Cup, while the Red Bulls would clinch with an MLS Cup title, or if either Atlanta United or Sporting Kansas City win MLS Cup. With both SKC and Atlanta already securing a berth in the tournament, should either team win MLS Cup, the designated slot would go to the next U.S.-based team with the most aggregate points over the 2017-2018 MLS regular seasons (New York Red Bulls with 121 points).
 
In addition to competing against the top teams in the region at CCL, the champion of MLS Cup will also win the right to host the 2020 Campeones Cup in what will be the second inaugural match between the champions of MLS and the champions of Mexico’s Liga MX.
 
2019 CCL Qualification Scenarios
  • Portland Timbers clinch a spot in 2019 CCL by winning 2018 MLS Cup
  • New York Red Bulls clinch a spot in 2019 CCL by winning 2018 MLS Cup
  • New York Red Bulls clinch a spot in 2019 CCL if either Sporting Kansas City or Atlanta United win 2018 MLS Cup*
*As SKC and Atlanta have already secured a tournament slot, RBNY would replace them by virtue of having the most aggregate points of any U.S.-based team over the 2017-2018 seasons not already qualified for the tournament
 
MLS Qualified Teams – 2019 CCL
  • Sporting Kansas City (2017 U.S. Open Cup winner)
  • Houston Dynamo (2018 U.S. Open Cup winner)
  • Toronto FC (2018 Canadian Championship winner)
  • Atlanta United*
  • 2018 MLS Cup winner TBD
*Replace 2017 MLS Cup winner Toronto FC by virtue of having the most aggregate points over the 2017 and 2018 MLS regular seasons with 124 points.
 
Back to full strength, Atlanta’s Almirón adds to attacking arsenal
The creative genius orchestrating Atlanta United’s offense is back to full strength, and this ridiculous set-piece goal is further proof that the playmaker in Miguel Almirón has even more to offer. After a late, regular-season injury sidelined the midfielder in early October, the 24-year-old Uruguayan with 12 regular season goals and 14 assists, returned to action almost a month later to become a force in the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals.
 
In his first full 90-minute game in weeks, Almirón sealed the win on his first professional free-kick goal, proving that this two-time MLS Best XI selection and two-time Landon Donovan Most Valuable Player finalist has elements of his game that even he is still discovering.
 
With another two-leg series ahead in the Eastern Conference Championships, will Almirón again prove clutch using tools the opposition has yet to see?
 
FC Cincinnati unveil new crest as club prepares for MLS era
Major League Soccer’s 2019 expansion side, FC Cincinnati, unveiled its new crest Monday night at a packed Woodward Theater on Monday night. The club will continue to don their patented orange and blue colors next year. Cincinnati just completed its third and final season in the United Soccer League, setting a league attendance record with an average of 25,717 fans during its 2018 campaign. FC Cincinnati will begin building its roster during the 2018 MLS Expansion Draft on Dec. 11.
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