So the first four games of the first-ever edition of the Leagues Cup are now in the books. All four Liga MX participants (three of which are considered amongst that league's giants, and the fourth – Club Tijuana – a regular liguilla participant) played something close to first XI squads, while the four MLS teams put out much closer to mix-and-match lineups.
Which is to say that everything was at least a little bit off-kilter and not 100% smooth out of the gate, but those of us who watched the games know this very obvious thing: The soccer was mostly good and fun, and those Liga MX teams didn't come north for friendlies. They came up here to compete, and their reactions (think Gio Dos Santos jumping into Agustin Marchesin's arms after converting the winning penalty in Houston), their gamesmanship (I'm still laughing at Diego Braghieri) and their golazos (take another bow, Roberto Alvarado) all testify as much.
I'm looking forward to the semifinals next month, and am greatly looking forward to next year's Leagues Cup, with an expanded field and concrete criteria for qualification.
Here's a takeaway for each of the MLS teams that participated:
1) The Fire still don't know how to use Bastian Schweinsteiger
My colleague Bobby Warshaw wrote this in his latest weekend wrap:
I get the idea of giving Schweinsteiger the freedom to do what he wants; and if this was the plan from day one, then maybe the Fire could figure out its intricacies. But this is getting out of hand. It’s another game when Schweinsteiger and the Fire tried something new and another loss. Maybe it’s time to realize the two might be correlated.
Schweinsteiger's played at least four different positions this year. After Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Cruz Azul, we can make it five (or maybe six?) since when he came on for the final half-hour, he was more of a second forward (who would occasionally, you know, drop back to sweeper. As one does) than anything else.
For the life of me I can't figure out why the Fire don't just play him as a No. 8 ahead of Dax McCarty and just rip teams up with their passing. They could add Djordje Mihailovic as the other No. 8, and then get playmaking/goalscoring off the wings with Nico Gaitan and Aleksandar Katai so, so naturally and easily.
This group was made for that kind of 4-3-3. I have no idea why they've tried everything but.
2) The Galaxy have something in Emil Cuello
We all know that they're justifiably high on Efra Alvarez and Julian Araujo, and their veteran depth pieces (Dave Romney, Ema Boateng, Servando Carrasco) have all shown their usefulness in recent years, and especially on Tuesday.
But Cuello impressed me. The Argentina-born, US-raised rookie midfielder looked very comfortable and smooth as a facilitating No. 8, and much more decisive both off the ball in possession and in basically all defensive aspects of the game vs. Xolos. There is a hint of "when you run out of ideas, you can just pass the ball to him and he'll figure out how to recycle possession" to his calmness in traffic and footwork, and while his vision doesn't break games open he really does see some good passes.
I'd be very happy with that performance if I was a Galaxy fan.
3) DaMarcus Beasley forever
That really is a banger.
I hope Houston fans appreciated that, and watching DMB, because there were so many other things to be worried about from this performance. Yes, it was solid at the back and in central midfield, but their attack sputtered – as it has since spring – and it's hard to see what Wilmer Cabrera is trying to build toward.
4) RSL's Homegrown backline held firm
Disappointing result for RSL last night but here's the silver lining: They started four Homegrown defenders against the most expensive attack in North America and probably should've pitched a shutout in the process. Bad luck on the deflected goal.
Herrera's had an under-the-radar very good year flipping between RB and LB. On Wednesday night at LB he shut that side down but still got forward to very good effect. The nutmeg on Chaka Rodríguez (who's the starting RB for El Tri) to start this run brought a smile to my face...
It was mostly a good night for these guys going against the likes of Enner Valencia, Edu Vargas, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Javier Aquino, Jurgen Damm... those guys are top-end talent, and have shown it repeatedly by winning title after title in Liga MX. Tigres are the team of the decade in North America, put out their best talent, and RSL's backline of Homegrown 22-year-olds mostly shut them down.
Plenty of promise there, and plenty to look forward to. The Galaxy will have to carry the banner in 2019, but there's more to come in 2020 and beyond...