Carlos Vela, Bob Bradley - LAFC - hug, rear view
Courtesy of LAFC

What every MLS club should be thankful for this Thanksgiving | Andrew Wiebe

This is your yearly reminder that turkey is a mediocre excuse for a holiday main dish. So dry and unremarkable that it’s better used as kindling for the brisket you should smoke instead.

If you must, buy the BBQ from your local joint. Or drop by the butcher and be sure to pull the prime rib out at the perfect temperature. Keep it economical and throw a pork loin in the oven. You can stuff those, too. Make chicken wings, a couple different flavors for variety. Go vegetarian, if that’s your thing. Honestly, just serve all the side dishes and dessert.

There will be those of you who disagree, who believe turkey and Thanksgiving are inseparable. I live with one of you. She is wrong, too. In the words of my wife, who didn’t even attempt to disguise her contempt at my suggestion to ditch the cliché bird entirely, “Why are you ruining Thanksgiving for me? You must have been deprived when you were growing up.”

I’ll be deprived if there aren’t any ribs at Friendsgiving. Turkey is lunch meat, and you won’t catch it on my sandwich, either.

Anyway, as I’ve been saying, we should all be thankful for what we’ve got. Here’s what all 26 MLS clubs – yeah, that’ll take some getting used to, then change again in 12 months – have to be thankful for this year.

Atlanta United should be thankful that…

… a relatively disappointing season is two trophies and a spot in the Concacaf Champions League.

Biggest crowds in the league: Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Best goalscorer in MLS: Josef Martinez (all due respect to Carlos Vela). Best young center back: Miles Robinson. Willing to open the pocketbook: Arthur Blank. If you’re a Five Stripes supporter and you’re NOT thankful, the rest of this column ought to provide a little perspective.

Chicago Fire should be thankful for…

… the move to Soldier Field and a fresh start on the soccer side.

Moving downtown is going to be a huge positive, no matter what you think of the new crest/brand. Whatever you think of it, winning can’t cure all ills, but it cures most.

As far as winning is concerned, after two brief playoff appearances this decade compared to just one DNQ the decade prior, Fire president Nelson Rodriguez says a new technical director, sporting director or general manager is on the way to focus on the first team. There’s also a head coach to hire. And three Designated Player spots to fill.

Lots to do, and the clock is ticking. Got to get those hires right and fill those DP spots with game-changers, on the field and off. The Fire only get to make a splash once.

FC Cincinnati should be thankful for…

… lessons learned the hard way and fans that won’t quit.

There’s no running away from 2019. It is what it is. FC Cincinnati know their first MLS season wasn’t close to good enough. Owner Carl Lindner said as much in his letter to the fans at the end of the year. The roster was deeply flawed from the jump. They fired their head coach 11 games into the season. Learning from mistakes is easier (and faster) than recovering from them. It’s going to take time, another year at least in my opinion, before this team gets back to break-even on the field.

But whenever the wins come, there will be a multitude in the stands supporting the club, whether at Nippert or the stadium going up in the West End. Hat tip to Die Innenstadt, the Pride and anyone else who marched down West Charlton Street, put their butt in a seat and got behind the team.

Colorado Rapids should be thankful for…

… Robin Fraser.

The Rapids will likely go out into the transfer market and spend on DPs. They’ve got all three spots open. But Colorado aren’t going to go Atlanta United and start dropping eight figures like it’s nothing. They need to maximize the talent they have and replicate the form they showed in matches 12 through 34.

As matches one through 11 showed, coaching matters. That’s where Fraser comes in. Last season, piggybacking on the foundation laid by interim boss Conor Casey, Fraser made sure his guys knew what they were doing and believed in themselves. It worked at a playoff clip. In 2020, he gets a preseason (and a bunch of new faces) to put his tactical and emotional imprint on Colorado. They’re firmly an ESPN+ team for me.

Columbus Crew SC should be thankful for…

… a beautiful new home and an Ohio-raised star to play in it.

Last year, I said the Crew should be thankful for tireless support and left it at that. There wasn’t much more to say. That was after the rumors started flying, but before the Haslam and Edwards families made it official that the club are staying in Columbus. This year, existence isn’t in question, which is good and correct.

A year later, they’ve broken ground on a new downtown stadium – nothing better than stadium renderings – and reunited Caleb Porter with Darlington Nagbe. They missed the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, but there were some encouraging signs down the stretch. The future of soccer in Columbus looks bright. I’ll raise my glass to that.

FC Dallas should be thankful for…

… the continued bounties of the academy.

Paxton Pomykal. Reggie Cannon. Jesse Gonzalez. Jesus Ferreira. Brandon Servania. Edwin Cerrillo. Ricardo Pepi. We could be talking about a handful of US national teamers someday just from that group, which doesn’t include Chris Richards. And there are many more names waiting in the wings that we don’t yet recognize. What a blessing for a club to be able to pull talent like that from their community.

Now, can Luchi Gonzalez marry the academy riches to the TAM era of MLS and win a trophy or two? Can Dallas sell one of those academy stars for big bucks to fund trophy runs and drive up the value of their players? Those would be even bigger blessings.

D.C. United should be thankful for...

... Wayne Rooney didn't drag out his departure.

It could have been awkward. It could have come as a complete surprise. It could have tainted the good times. It could have been ugly. Wayne Rooney to Derby County wasn’t any of those things. We knew he was leaving and why, and we knew Luciano Acosta was on his way out, too.

No point obscuring the obvious: there’s some justifiable uncertainty for D.C. United in the post LuchoRoo era. But we’re looking on the bright side here, and at least the club had some additional time to find replacements, even if it was only a few extra months. Now we get to see what D.C.’s done with the runway. Ola Kamara, Paul Arriola, Yamil Asad, Junior Moreno and Steve Birnbaum is a decent starting point, but it’s just a starting point.

Back to the drawing board. We’ll always have Luchoroo.

Houston Dynamo should be thankful for…

… Tab Ramos.

Everything FC Dallas have to be thankful for, the Dynamo wish they had. There’s no reason Houston shouldn’t be churning out professional players straight into the ranks of their local team. Word is Ramos is already busy watching academy games and getting the lay of the land. There’s plenty of work to do.

That’s a long-term job. In the short term, can the former US U-20 boss coax results out of a talented but inconsistent squad now without DaMarcus Beasley but with Darwin Quintero? Can he do so when/if one of his stars is sold before or during the season? Real questions there, but in Ramos it seems the club has a steward that can, in theory, deliver on both fronts.

LAFC should be thankful for…

… whatever it is that makes Carlos Vela and Bob Bradley so good together.

Respect. Ambition. Determination. Hunger. Worth ethic. Whatever it is that these two legends of the North American game share, it’s working in the best possible way. Bradley asked for Messi-level dominance, and Vela was, for all intents and purposes, the chosen one in MLS this year. LAFC asked Bradley to build a team that could immediately summit the MLS mountaintop. He built it around Vela, and rightly so, and nearly made to the top in Year 2.

We get to watch it all, either close or from afar. Life is good in the 3252.

LA Galaxy should be thankful that…

Zlatan came, he saw and he conquered (all in the past tense).

Nobody is going to match Zlatan’s ability to generate hype and his knack for utter ridiculousness (good and bad) on the field. The dude scored goals that shouldn’t be able to be scored in moments that would make the rest of us collapse in a heap. He did things you probably shouldn’t do, to opponents and teammates. He’s a legend, and he helped the Galaxy match (and often surpass) the soccer buzz that LAFC brought to the city.

But ultimately he didn’t help the club deliver on its self-professed mandate, which is to win trophies #RaceToSeis. The Galaxy got what they needed for two insane years, and now it's time to move on and build a more coherent team rather than rely on one (it must be said, very capable) man.

We'll miss you, Zlatan.

Inter Miami should be thankful that…

… it’s possible to build a stadium in less than a year.

That Galaxy game is going to be here before we know it. Lots of headlines to make in the meantime…

(Come on, just announce that head coach. Taylor Twellman says Patrick Vieira is the front-runner. And a big-name DP.)

Minnesota United should be thankful for…

Ike Opara.

And Allianz Field, which is absolutely breathtaking. Thing is, Allianz Field would have been decidedly less cool if the team that played in it had been more 2017 and 2018 Loons than the much-improved 2019 edition. It wasn’t just Opara that made the difference, but between his play on the field and his personality off it, Minnesota bought themselves a gift that’s going to keep on giving. He’s the foundation they’ll build on in 2020 and beyond.

Montreal Impact should be thankful that…

… Thierry Henry placed a call.

Henry and the Impact might be the perfect match, a marriage for the next five years. They might be divorced in six months. I expect it to be somewhere in between. Every second of his time in Montreal will interesting, and there’s nothing worse than being boring. On this Thanksgiving, I'm wishing Henry nothing but the best!

Nashville SC should be thankful for…

… MLS experience.

Nashville’s first season is being built on it. Mike Jacobs has it from his days in the Sporting Kansas City front office, and he’s making damn sure his first MLS squad has the chops to deal with an expansion season by picking up players who’ve been there and done that. I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it, either.

New England Revolution should be thankful that…

Bruce Arena | USA Today Sports Images

… Bruce Arena helped usher in a new era at the club.

Eight months ago, Brad Friedel was laying into his lifeless Revs for lack of effort. New England looked like they were kaput. They were, until Friedel’s firing gave the squad a brief boost and then Bruce Arena showed up to help usher them into the playoffs.

Now, it feels like a new Revs. Carles Gil turned out to be a hit. They went out and signed a big-money DP who backed up the price tag in Gustavo Bou. The new training complex looks gorgeous. Who knows, maybe that stadium deal will finally get done this year, too. We can dream.

New York City FC should be thankful that…

… there’s always a big-time coaching prospect waiting in the wings.

Patrick Vieira. Dome Torrent. Now, per the rumor mill, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who only delivered Feyenoord their first Eredivisie title in 18 years before joining up with City Football Group for an as-yet-unnamed job. That’s a pretty decent threesome to come out of CFG and onto the Yankee Stadium bench, should it all go down that way.

New York Red Bulls should be thankful for…

… all the good times.

The Red Bulls have jettisoned some beloved figures in the last three years. Dax McCarty. Sacha Kljestan. Tyler Adams and Jesse Marsch off to Leipzig (then Salzburg). And now Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips’ time to say goodbye has come and gone. It’s sad, but you can never take those three Supporters’ Shields away.

Robles was considering a real-estate career, then became a New York iron man. BWP was a trialist who became one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the league. They had stories. They had families. They made good on their talent. They did it at Red Bull Arena. Nobody can ever take that away. They still have more to give, just not in New York.

So yeah, this isn’t exactly a pick-me-up, but sometimes you’ve got to properly appreciate the past before you can turn to the future. Remember all the Red Bulls legends, even if their careers don’t end in Harrison.

Orlando City SC should be thankful that…

… Club Tijuana cycles through coaches like MLS does expansion teams.

I’m not saying Oscar Pareja is going to be the next head coach of the Lions, but I’m not not saying that. Here’s what ESPN’s Taylor Twellman is saying.

Orlando would “get their guy,” as Taylor said, because of his connections to former FC Dallas executive Luiz Muzzi, now head of soccer operations in central Florida, and because the Colombian manager has a track record of delivering exactly what the club needs. He can build a culture from the academy up and create a first-team environment that yields playoff appearances. Hire Pareja and give him time. Nothing else has worked so far.

Philadelphia Union should be thankful that…

… Ernst Tanner isn’t happy to sit on his laurels.

You can argue whether Tanner is getting all these deals right, but the Union aren’t afraid to move on from key contributors if needed, ideally for a large amount of allocation money. Haris Medunjanin played basically every minute for the team that did more than any Union squad before it. Gone. Auston Trusty, promising Homegrown center back. Gimme your GAM and TAM, Rapids. Marco Fabian. Adios. Fafa Picault. Flipped for yet more allocation money.

All good, but now Tanner has to seal Jamiro Monteiro’s return and continue reinforcing the squad. Philly supporters will be truly thankful if those moves come to fruition.

Portland Timbers should be thankful that…

Diego Valeri doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

It just wouldn’t have been right, Valeri wearing another MLS team’s colors and crest. The Athletic’s Sam Stejskal reported a week ago that a deal was close to being done. Nothing official since. That pumpkin pie would taste a little better knowing the club legend’s future was secured.

Real Salt Lake should be thankful that…

… promoting from within seems to work out pretty well in Utah.

Jason Kreis was a player turned manager. Jeff Cassar was a long-time assistant coach before he got the head job. Craig Waibel was an assistant coach who rose up through the front office to general manager. Mike Petke was Real Monarchs boss before replacing Cassar. Jamison Olave was a legend as a RSL player and a Monarchs assistant before winning USL Cup as an interim and getting the full-time job.

Freddy Juarez was the academy director in Arizona, then Monarchs coach, then first-team assistant, then RSL interim boss and now, per a report from KSL Sports, he’ll likely get the job full-time. Elliot Fall, who worked his way up from team administrator to assistant general manager, looks like he’ll get the GM job, too.

Through all the promotions, RSL have always punched above their weight. We’ll see if that continues.

San Jose Earthquakes should be thankful for…

Matias Almeyda | USA Today Sports Images

… Matias Almeyda (again).

Last year I was comparing San Jose to Thanksgiving turkey: “Turkey is the most overrated, consistently underwhelming, least deserving centerpiece of any holiday meal. The 2018 San Jose Earthquakes of Thanksgiving. For some reason, high expectations, but worst food on the table.”

My thoughts on turkey clearly haven’t changed, but my thoughts on the Earthquakes have and that’s almost entirely thanks to the Almeyda effect. He made a historically bad team believe in themselves. He got results. He made the league more interesting, tactically and from a media perspective.

He’s got an opportunity to go a couple steps farther in 2020, perhaps with a $10 million striker in tow. We shall see.

Seattle Sounders should be thankful that…

… they won MLS Cup.

Sporting KC should be thankful that…

… a mediocre playoff season didn’t cover up the cracks.

That sounds dumb. Everyone in Kansas City would take making the playoffs over missing the playoffs. And yet, I think missing the postseason the way they did helped crystalize in Peter Vermes’ mind the need for substantive change. It sure looks like Sporting will try to get a good bit younger this offseason. Vermes says he’ll add at least one player on every line. Will one of those additions be a proven goalscorer? Let’s hope so!

Toronto FC should be thankful for…

Alejandro Pozuelo.

What would this TFC team have been without Pozuelo? With Jozy hurt, average at best. Toronto FC took a big swing to replace Sebastian Giovinco. It took time and effort. It took a boatload of money. Ali Curtis and team knocked it out of the park. Getting those decisions right and deals done gives you a chance to play for trophies. MLS Cup didn’t go their way, but when you’ve got a Best XI talent like Pozuelo, you always believe hardware is within reach.

Vancouver Whitecaps should be thankful for…

… FC Cincinnati.

I wouldn’t want the Wooden Spoon. Would you?

Somewhat more seriously, the Axel Schuster hire is interesting. The veteran German executive arrives from Schalke with years of Bundesliga experience. He has his UEFA A coaching license. He’s fluent in German, English, and Spanish. He’s worked with Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel. On paper, Schuster seems like a wonderful fit as the Whitecaps’ first-ever sporting director. Time to see how “on paper” translates to the vagaries of MLS.

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