By Ian Lamberson (@ahandleforian)
It’s always fun to see what happens in MLS when the player store is about to close for the season. Some teams, having resolved all of their player needs early, get to relax and stand in judgment of those teams forced to scamper about on deadline day looking for oh god just ANY decent midfielder please. There’s a parable about an ant and a grasshopper you’ve no doubt heard. The ant stores up all the food they need for winter, while the grasshopper spends its time, I don’t know, hopping on grass I suppose. When winter comes the grasshopper begs the ant for some food but the ant is like lol, and there’s a lesson to be learned in that. Anyway, LAFC are the ant, Colorado are the grasshopper, and New England is the heretofore unseen third character - a drunk shirtless carpet beetle rolling around the snow screaming how they’re going to live forever.
Deadline days in MLS aren’t usually as exciting as their counterparts across the ocean are, but even though we don’t get a 24 news day filled with reporters breathlessly trying to pass off football manager attributes as player analysis or desperate long zoom shots of tinted SUVs, we can still have some fun.
Colorado sent Benny Feilhaber back to SKC who are so desperate for a healthy midfielder, that they’re willing to part with a decent young defender that has some upside in exchange for a guy that even Colorado thought was surplus to requirements. Colorado for their part seem to have dispensed with all manner of pretense about being competitive this season, and have gone about acquiring a few intriguing youthful prospects as they look to build for the future thus providing the genesis of the third new era in like maybe five years for the struggling side.
Justin Meram’s big adventure took another surprising turn, as he now finds himself an Atlanta player, completing his third move in the last sixteen months. This makes sense for both teams as Caleb Porter seemed to have little interest in the Iraqi international, and Atlanta need some cover from Barco when he goes off the youth World Cup. Atlanta fans reacted as Atlanta fans do, with a mixture of arrogance and disdain towards the acquisition of a player who once spent a couple of months with their league appointed rivals. The prevailing narrative on Meram is that he just hasn’t been the same since moving to Orlando last year, and yeah… there’s some wood in that stove to be sure:
So, I think deep down what Meram really wants is a new home. He seemed to want to leave Columbus, and Orlando was such a toxic situation that going back to the place he wanted to leave was preferable. Cometh Atlanta, certainly a good team but one where fans possess all of the patience one would expect of a three year old. Hopefully this isn’t Orlando part two for Justin and he hits the ground running. A good Justin Meram is a fun thing to have kicking around your league.
Probably the most interesting move of the day, and one that we here at ASA are going to be keeping our eye on is Jonathan Lewis finally being freed of NYCFC and sent to Colorado. Now, I’m not a huge fan of how the Colorado Rapids go about the business of being an MLS team, but there’s a good chance that we see this kid finally get some minutes. I’ve heard completely unsubstantiated rumors that Lewis was relegated to the bench in New York due to attitude problems, and IF (and again, I don’t know, I only give it credence because it would explain why he wouldn’t be utilized more), that’s true this sort of thing can be exactly the wake up call a young player needs. Lewis has been sort of a curiosity to us due to his productivity despite barely playing. In 912 minutes, he’s averaging 0.46 xG+xA per 96 minutes. To put that in some sort of perspective that puts him on par with guys like Barco, Meram, Blanco, and Latif Blessing. Obviously, there is no guarantee that he would be able to keep up this pace if given a heavier load of minutes, but I certainly want to find out. Colorado may very well not be good for a few years, but collecting young players like Lewis, Acosta, Rubio, Rosenberry, and Abubakar (loan) has at the very least made them somewhat interesting. We can only hope that they don’t mess this up by signing five or six players from the championship that are a mix and match of the names Tom, Jones, Brown, Bob, Richard, James, Smith, Tim, Wilson, and Johnson but history doesn’t have me super optimistic.
Ah, and how could we forget King David. It seems like just yesterday David Accam was having his best MLS season, indeed he was a borderline MVP candidate in the first half of 2017 (in my opinion). He and Nemanja Nikolic struck up a fruitful partnership that vaulted Chicago to their best league finish since a time when people were asking if you’d seen that brand new television show Glee. Come 2018 he found himself in Philadelphia and that did not exactly go to plan.
Obviously, there was a precipitous drop off in his first year with the Union, but so far, 2019 has been very kind (albeit in very limited minutes), to Mr. Accam. Columbus are in an interesting situation in their first year under Caleb “I’m not mad my face just looks like this when I’m thinking about soccer” Porter (quote fabricated). At times, they’ve looked very sound defensively (and indeed have the league’s best xGA per game from open play in an even game state), but they really are lacking an offensive spark. With Meram off to Atlanta, Accam has a chance to continue his good 2019 form with a lot more playing time. Will this be the catalyst to vault Columbus to Eastern Conference glory? I don’t see why not, no other team seems to want it.
Just How Bad Are New England?
I’m not sure. Their underlying numbers are bad obviously, but not like as historically terrible as you’d expect if you’d watch them give up 11 goals in their last two matches. Going into last night’s action, they actually had a better xGA per game than San Jose, Colorado, Portland, and Seattle. I expect that number to be significantly worse after Chicago went all ham on them last night, but we’ll have to wait and see just how bad the damage was.
Regardless of everything numerical and statistic related, it does not take a particularly insightful person to see that New England is a mess right now. I’m just going to say it, Brad Friedel sucks. The team is completely lacking in cohesion, identity, and if you find yourself in a place where you could make a credible argument that Jalil Anibaba is your best defender, well, you’re not in a great place. They’ve tried a number of things this year and really nothing has stuck. I don’t know what Matt Turner did to upset Mr. Friedel so, but if you aren’t going to use him at least have the decency to give him to somebody that will. Yes I know, he gave up five goals last night against Chicago but I DON’T CARE. I believe in him. Tim Howard needs to be benched like two years ago, and he’d be a perfect GK for Colorado’s youth movement. Things aren’t all terrible. Carles Gil seems like an actually decent player, and I also like Caicedo even though he’s had a couple of rough outings. I’m not saying this team is good or should even be competitive but you’re looking at challenging records for goal difference and not on the good side. I’m not sure what Brad Friedel wants from this team other than to press aggressively and hate each other, but here we are. New England have always been slow to pull the trigger on their problems, and I don’t expect this to get fixed before the end of the season. This could be a rough one for the Revs.
UPDATE: Great analysis Ian! The New England Revolution fired Brad Friedel today. BAD Friedel. Brad FIREDel. Nailed it. Seriously though, good for them. I don’t think this team becomes great this year or anything, but it’s a step in the right direction. Now about that front office...
Orlando have the second best xGA per game in the league, wait what?
I really don’t know. Orlando haven’t yet been getting all of the results they probably should be, but I think it’s fair to say that for the first time, they’re… not bad. I know right? If you caught my season preview this year, you’ll know that I was somewhat unimpressed with their efforts last campaign, but this year they look like a team that could very plausibly make the playoffs. Robin Jansson is apparently the best defender in the world? Orlando are down from 1.76 xGA per game to 1.03 xGA per game and they’re allowing 1.3 goals per game instead of over two like 2018. Orlando were historically bad at defending last season, and I’ve got to give credit to what they’ve done to really sure up that backline. Brian Rowe has been not great but not terrible, and Ruan and Joao Moutinho have been definite upgrades over last year. I actually think their results are a little bit misleading and with some better luck they could and should be in a better place in the standings than they currently are. Keep one eye on Florida ya’ll.
Taking it to the Corner
Ah yes. US Open Cup time. Let’s power rank our favorite lower level club names competing in the tournament shall we?
Florida Soccer Soldiers - There is only one word that could come before “Soccer Soldiers” and check out.
FC Golden State Force - Oh hell yeah. Up the Golden State Forces.
FC Chattanooga Red Wolves - I’m from Chattanooga, and I don’t even know what a red wolf is. Sounds dope though.
Midland-Odessa Sockers - R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Brazos Valley Calvary FC - We need more soccer teams named “calvary”
El Farolito - Apparently this is named after a chain of restaurants and that makes me like it even more.
FC Motown - Hard to be cooler than FC Motown.
West Chester Predators - If it bleeds we can kill i- wait are you bleeding? You need to leave the pitch.
Black Rock FC - This is like a Game of Thrones team I think.
Lakeland Tropics - I like how this doesn’t even sound like a soccer team so much as just like a weather region.
Ok, that’s all I’ve got for this week. Enjoy your weekend of MLS and I’ll be back next week to talk about what we’re talking about.