My cousin texted me on Saturday night. It was simple, and it cut directly to the heart of what a lot of us are feeling right now: "I don't know if I can make it a month without sports."
I can relate. I'm sure that if you're reading this column, you can relate as well. I can't tell you how many times in the past week my brain has processed the situation as "well, there's no soccer on, so I guess I'll flip on a basketball game" or "let's see what's happening in spring training," and then it hits me that everything in the US and Canada is on hold. It is not normal. It is discomfiting and disorienting.
It is also the right thing to do. Please take the warnings about COVID-19 seriously and do what you can to protect yourself, your friends, your family, co-workers, your pharmacist, your doctor, the people working at the grocery store, complete strangers on the street or in your apartment building... literally everyone. This is a time for shared burden and sacrifice.
And a special thank you to medical professionals all over the world right now.
Now, for those of you needing your MLS fix, here we go:
- We will continue to publish the usual slate of columns, interviews and podcasts on MLSsoccer.com.
- I will be amping up video analysis content in the weeks to come. You can see some of what to expect HERE.
- We will be running replays of select games almost constantly on the MLS YouTube channel. You might even see a familiar face or two in the chat during those games!
And of course there are other outlets, as well as social media platforms where folks are able to gab and stay connected during what's honestly the most bizarre and trying thing most of us have ever lived through.
So with that said, here are some of your Qs that I fielded on Twitter:
What would’ve been your starting lineup for Olympic qualifying?— Kba4life (@Kba4life2) March 16, 2020
Yeah, this hurts in part because it looked like the US had their best group of players for Olympic qualifying since 2008 at least, even with a number of high-profile absences due to club team commitments. I wrote a bunch about it last week just before the shutdown. Here's the whole roster:
- GOALKEEPERS (3): Matt Freese, JT Marcinkowski, David Ochoa
- DEFENDERS (6): Reggie Cannon, Justen Glad, Chris Gloster, Aaron Herrera, Mark McKenzie, Erik Palmer-Brown
- MIDFIELDERS (6): Brenden Aaronson, Hassani Dotson, Richard Ledezma, Djordje Mihailovic, Paxton Pomykal, Jackson Yueill
- FORWARDS (5): Jeremy Ebobisse, Jesus Ferreira, Jonathan Lewis, Ulysses Llanez, Sebastian Saucedo
As I wrote in that piece last week, even without the likes of Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, you could argue (and I would) that this team has more depth and quality than the last two US qualifying teams combined, which is reflected in their first-team experience. Guys like Yueill, Cannon, Pomykal, Herrera and Ebobisse have been essential for their clubs over the past 12-to-18 months, and the guys who only register as prospects are the likes of Ledezma (just signed a new contract with PSV), Llanez (absolutely bossing the youth ranks for Wolfsburg, and looked right at home in his first USMNT cap) and Gloster (progressing well at PSV after a strong U-20 World Cup showing).
It's night-and-day compared to the last two groups.
For the most part I prioritized first-team form over other factors. Bofo Saucedo – who I'm generally not that high on – earned it by winning a starting job and then occasionally winning games for UNAM Pumas, one of the biggest teams in North America. Palmer-Brown has been a starting CB this year for his club, while Glad has not. Gloster's a true LB, but Herrera has 40+ pro games at that spot. Ledezma's upside is way, way up there, but he's never had a game like Aaronson had against an opponent like Aaronson faced in Week 2.
The only exception is obviously Llanez, who's yet to make his first-team debut but would be, I think, more useful than Lewis at breaking down bunkered-in teams (which is what I assume the US would've been facing).
Still, asking just for a first XI misses the point about this team, which is that there's depth and talent everywhere. Everybody's got a good argument for being out on the field.
Oh well. Maybe this tournament and the Olympics will both be rescheduled for a later date. Fingers crossed, because this team would've been fun.
Since publications and podcasts are going to get weird with no sports to focus them, who is going to be the best/weirdest follow?— Sean Hardgrove (@shardgrove) March 16, 2020
Definitely looking forward to the boys at Scuffed slowly going insane. And my colleagues Susannah Collins and Jillian Sakovits (and Jill's cat) will, I'm sure, push the envelope on The Call-Up. HERE is a full list of podcasts for you to follow and catch up on over the next however many weeks.
What are the players being assigned as far as "homework" at this point? Is this a unique opportunity to get guys fully fit who were hurt in preseason?— JDB (@JDB_219) March 16, 2020
First, understand that there's a training moratorium in place for all MLS teams right now. The idea is to avoid congregating in groups and spreading this virus faster/more dangerously than what's already happening.
As for homework, I'd imagine every team's coaching staff has given something close to an IEP (Individualized Education Program) to each player in order to keep their fitness up and their skills as sharp as possible, or to continue to rehab the various types of knocks/injuries players almost never get to fully rest. It'll also give certain MLS staffs more time to watch tape of the first two weeks, figure out what's gone wrong and how to fix it when they come back to work and are able to train collectively.
But yeah, I got a lot of questions around "who benefits the most" from this, and I'm reluctant to answer them because I just hate that framing (not to pick on you). Right now, nobody's benefitting.
If you were stuck in a 14-day quarantine with three soccer players, who would it be and what would you do?— Thomas (@flyingtoastrs) March 16, 2020
Any three bilingual Spanish-English speakers. I've been doing a bit of Duolingo En Español every day for the past year, and honestly the next step for me in terms of grasping the language is immersion. I need to just start speaking it hearing it and not worrying about making mistakes or sounding stupid.
But if you're going to force me to choose: Diego Valeri, Nico Lodeiro and Alejandro Pozuelo. Surround me with playmakers and I will shine.
Where does Jakob Glesnes' golazo against LAFC rank in the best goals in MLS history?— Will Brown (@wwbrown19) March 16, 2020
Let's watch it again:
So I don't think this is a top 10 goal in MLS history or anything, but I do think it's one of the very best direct free kick goals I've ever seen in this league. The only ones I can think of that jump out to me as undeniably better are Dwayne De Rosario in 2005 for the Quakes vs. LA, and Ronnie Ekelund, also with the Quakes, against the Columbus Crew in 2004.
Glesnes's banger is right up there. If you wanted to say it was better than either of them, I'm not going to argue.
Do you expect to see Diego Rubio get more first XI minutes with #Rapids96 ? If he doesn’t, do you expect him to get moved or step in for Kei next year?— Ben (@Ber_15) March 16, 2020
Two obvious things would need to happen: Kei Kamara would have to slip in terms of his on-field form and production (no real signs of that despite the guy being 35 years old), and Rubio would have to do the sort of "I'm putting on a hard-hat and will be battling two center backs for the full 90" work that Kamara does. Rubio's a talented player and can play center forward, but he's never really been that kind of center forward.
When play up the spine gets physical Rubio tends to drift away from that and take up spots outside of where you'd usually see a No. 9, which can often be a good thing. But with the way the Rapids usually play, they more often need a No. 9 like Kei who plants himself between the two center backs and anchors them to that spot. They always have to orient themselves toward him because he's always doing the basic, fundamental, functional work of a target man and is still goal-dangerous.
It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it.
Who's the French player with the best legacy in MLS? Collin, Henry, Djorkaeff, Silvestre (lol), Le Toux ?— Antoine Latran (@AntoineLatran) March 16, 2020
One of the only really major personnel mistakes the late, great Sigi Schmid made when he took over the Sounders for their jump to MLS was minimizing the role of Le Toux, and then leaving him exposed in the 2010 Expansion Draft where the Union rightly snapped him up. Le Toux had five excellent seasons with Philly over the first half of last decade, just as the Sounders were constantly finding them one attacking piece short of topping the Galaxy.
Imagine that old 4-4-2 Schmid used to run with Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey underneath, except with Le Toux instead of Lamar Neagle as the third wheel? How many more goals does that team score?
All that said, it's Thierry Henry who left the biggest impact. I'm still hoping someone writes the longform of how Henry changed the culture at RBNY, because from everything I've heard over the years he was as instrumental behind the scenes as he was on the field. And let's not forget that on the field, it was his Decision Day performance in 2013 that led the Red Bulls to their first-ever piece of MLS silverware in winning the Supporters' Shield.
I'm excited to see what kind of legacy he can carve out for himself in Montreal. Let's hope he's the Impact's Arsene Wenger.
When sporting kc hit the field again, it's likely that Felipe Gutierrez will be 100% healthy. As a dp and for sure one of the teams top 2-3 players, who do you think he replaces in their very productive midfield?— HoffmanFC (@FcHoffman) March 16, 2020
I think it'll vary game by game. Peter Vermes has the luxury of depth for the first time in a long, long time, and the way to put that luxury to use is to make sure none of your players are out of gas by the end of the year.
As for who the first-choice trio will eventually be ... I still think that Roger Espinoza is irreplaceable and Gadi Kinda has been awesome. That puts Ilie Sanchez on something of a hot seat, but it's not a like-for-like switch with Ilie and Felipe.
What has been the best MLS final to date?— Jonathan Torrence (@JonathanTorren9) March 16, 2020
The "best" in terms of one team's gameplan is 2017, when TFC just absolutely smoked Seattle. I know the scoreline was only 2-0 but my goodness was that a dominant performance. (FULL HIGHLIGHTS)
The "best" in terms of the quality both teams brought out onto the pitch that day, and in terms of feeling like the game could go either way at any moment was in 2014 when the Galaxy beat the Revs 2-1 in extra time. That New England team gets forgotten because of how steadily they fell apart over the next half-decade, and everybody justifiably remembers that Galaxy team as one of the extraordinary MLS teams in league history, but at no point did it feel like LA were in full control of that game. (FULL HIGHLIGHTS)
The "best" in terms of being the most iconic is still 1996. (FULL HIGHLIGHTS)
Hey Matt, not sure if you're taking non-MLS questions, but I'm curious which European team(s) you support and why?— Christian Manoukian (@cvmanouk) March 16, 2020
I do not really support any European, South American, African, Asian or other teams, really. My rooting interests are entirely determined by:
- Do they have a USMNT player?
- Do they have a former MLS player?
- Do I like the way they play?
Regarding No. 3 on that list, that's made me – like all people of good taste – very sympathetic to Barcelona as a whole since Cruyff took over, though I am not about to call myself a "supporter." If they start playing ugly soccer (and you could definitely argue they're on their way), I am out.
I also watch a ton of the Bundesliga for obvious reasons. In terms of pure beauty in that league ... well, if you can't enjoy the way Bayern Munich play the game, I'm not sure I'm a gifted enough writer to change your mind.
But yeah, getting this job freed me from the shackles of fandom, and I'm grateful for it. Fandom causes pain.
What's the long term thinking behind this current #cf97 HGP spending spree? Is there that much talent bubbling out of the academy, or is this cheap roster stuffing? Wishful thinking, or an actual commitment to a development model?— Jay Eychaner (@jeychaner) March 16, 2020
I haven't spoken with the new brain trust in Chicago yet, but it seems obvious that they realize they're sitting on a gold mine and it's time to dig. Literally every MLS team has enough of a player catchment area to start cranking out professional-level players at the very least, and if you can build that it means you're saving money by not buying it.
The added benefit is obviously the potential profit available if you can create an Alphonso Davies or a Tyler Adams and then sell those guys. The entire world is now aware of the talent that's available in MLS markets, and it seems like the Fire have finally woken up to that themselves.
That's it from me for now. There will be more columns, more Q&As, more videos and more podcasts to come from me and everyone else at MLSsoccer.com. Stay safe, stay healthy and remember even as times get very, very hard, that this too shall pass.