This week saw some big games in Major League Soccer, teams in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup and a few notable summer signings. Let’s all dive in.
Internazionale and MLS
Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer ever, chose Miami over a huge salary in Saudi Arabia or a reunion in Barcelona.
The news briefly froze the futsal world completely and caused a frenzy around the world. Miami and MLS being the center of attention is huge. The magnitude of this movement really cannot be quantified. Not in the unreal boost in social media followers Inter Miami saw when the announcement was made, nor in the spike in ticket sales across the country. Messi mania, the Messi effect, whatever you want to call it.
The team, the league and football in the US will benefit at an unforeseen level. Less than a year after winning the World Cup, Messi is playing in MLS. Even in your wildest dreams, that phrase wouldn’t even have crossed your mind. Well, maybe unless you’re David Beckham.
The days when Josef Martinez ran amok and won trophies in Atlanta are a distant memory, but Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis is trying to rekindle the flame. The Five Stripes’ designated player is the most lethal threat in the league right now, as he is tied for the Golden Boot with 10 goals. At this rate, he’s going to outrun the competition.
After scoring in the 3–1 victory over D.C. United, he became the second player in MLS history to reach 10 career goals in less than 800 minutes of the regular season. Many players from other countries often need time to adapt; Giakoumakis is not of that kind.
Remember when a month ago people were worried about Peter Vermes and talking about him possibly getting fired? Things certainly change quickly, especially in MLS. Getting a completely healthy Alan Pulido back on the field helps a lot, but SKC’s turnaround has been remarkable.
They went winless in their first 10 games of the season, losing seven of them. However, they have only lost one game since the beginning of May. Pulido ended the weekend with a brace and assist in the 4-1 victory over Austin FC, and that’s how they are now above the playoff line. The atmosphere is just really good now and teams are starting to realize that playing in Children’s Mercy Park is quite a task.
“We fell short at times, but we knew it was coming,” said Vermes. “We still have a lot of work to do. We’re not even close to where I think we can be.”
Everyone knows Nancy is a great coach and his work in Montreal last season just helped remind people. His taking over in Columbus this year was nothing short of spectacular as the Crew are tied for an MLS-best 35 goals. Nancy clearly walked into a comfortable role as the new guy in charge of the crew and he made the most of it.
Defensively we still have to work. But if your attack shoots in a certain way and makes great goals, you have more time and freedom to work. The three-headed monster of Juan Camilo “Cucho” Hernández, Lucas Zelarayán and Christian Ramirez is untamable. That was on full display against Chicago Fire on Saturday when Cucho ripped a shot from range and it was thankfully deflected past the keeper for the opening goal – the kind of luck you get when your team is rolling.
Unfortunately, they got the equalizer against Xherdan Shaqiri in the 88th minute. 1-1 as the clock ticked, and then Zelarayán did it by submitting his Goal of the Year bid:
Life is good for Columbus right now.
RSL missed a real No. 9 to bolster their attack, but along the way they pieced it together. Damir Kreilach, Andrés Gómez and Jefferson Savarino did a good job to stay afloat, including a 3-2 Open Cup quarterfinal victory over the Galaxy.
Things are about to get a whole lot better as they announce the club record signing of Cristian “Chicho” Arango, who played a key role in LAFC’s MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield 2022 season. In 2021, he won Newcomer of the Year after setting the league on fire with 14 goals in 17 games. The Colombian is a licensed hitman on the field and after a brief, low-key stint in Mexico with Pachuca, he’s back in the States to build on what he did with LAFC. He got the contract he wanted and deserved all along, became a designated player and now has the chance to boost this RSL squad immensely. The goals will flow and it will certainly make life a lot easier for the rest of the attack, giving them more chances to score and create.
General manager Elliot Fall called Arango a “transformative piece” for the franchise. LAFC knows this is nothing but the truth. Now they, along with the rest of MLS, can see the transformation take place in Utah.
Messi hype aside, this is a very bad team. They have lost six consecutive league games, shot their heads and are in last place in the East. Is there a sense of direction besides Messi landing? Doesn’t look like it. And you’d have to be a little naive to think that one player, albeit of Messi’s caliber, could comfortably come and fix this dumpster fire. It would be a very different story if midfielders Gregore and Jean Mota were not both dealing with long-term injuries.
There are too many conspicuous holes in this squad, which seems to have been a problem since the club was founded. The first order of business should be a new coach, and reports have Gerardo “Tata” Martino as the front runner. Maybe he’s just waiting for Messi to officially put ink on paper and seal the deal. But Messi is currently in China with the Argentina national team, Tata doing who knows what and Miami just letting points slip away. By the time Martino (or another new coach) and Messi finally get to South Florida, the hole may be too deep to dig.
The sun hasn’t been shining in LA lately and that’s the perfect metaphor. The Galaxy’s struggles this season have already been documented, but when one thing goes right, more disorder follows.
Firing President Chris Klein and following up with a comeback victory again fooled us into thinking they might have turned a corner. Then they moved to RSL, were knocked out of the Open Cup and lost star striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez for the season to a torn ACL. It’s literally one thing after another for Greg Vanney. Saving a tie in St. Louis on Sunday almost felt like a win for them. That
‘s how low the bar is right now. And their next opponent is a sweltering SKC.
On the road, things spiral a bit for the Black and Gold. LAFC has spoiled us all so much that when they lose a few games the overreaction is a bit absurd but the facts are that in the last five games they have been winless with only one goal. The attack, which is a little too dependent on Denis Bouanga, has disappeared.
Losing to León in the CONCACAF Champions League final certainly took a toll on this team mentally and physically. They tried to lick their wounds with a midweek game against Atlanta, where goaltender Brad Guzan put in an epic performance to hold LAFC scoreless on a night they racked up 22 shots. If only one had gone in, the conversation would have been very different. That’s the same excuse we can use for the CCL Finale.
Losing 4-0 in Houston on Saturday is what worries people. Fatigue plays a part, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier for a confused Steve Cherundolo and co. Teams that make deep CCL runs usually deal with this kind of slump. Add a few crucial injuries and an ineffective Carlos Vela to the equation and now there’s a complicated problem. Cherundolo has been good at solving those problems for LAFC, but he hasn’t been through a stretch like this either.
How long does the hangover last?
It could officially be a wood spoon watch in Colorado. Nothing is going right, as evidenced by this weekend’s 2-0 loss in Orlando, where the Rapids finished nine-man due to a pair of red cards. They have won just two games this season and their uninspiring roster gives little cause for hope. Frustrations mount for head coach Robin Fraser and the Rapids, who are just two seasons away from winning the Western Conference.
“We are where we are and we have to dig ourselves out,” he said.
Easier said than done.