Category Archives: Blog Post

Blog posts from The Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast, covering MLS, USMNT, and CCL, along with all the headlines from around the American soccer landscape.

American Soccer Headlines and Reactions



Hey, soccer fans! Here are the latest headlines from around the American soccer landscape and my quick reactions. Make sure to follow all our social media content via Linktree and join the conversation: 

Pulisic reveals his new position for Tuchel at Chelsea

As much as I liked Pulisic as an attacking winger, his development as a ‘kind of false striker’ his going to make him more effective: more touches, more time in dangerous positions, and more versatility. This could also ripple to the USMNT.

Philadelphia Union unveil 2021 secondary jersey – designed by fans

Why do clubs even hire graphic designers anymore? Just outsource it to fans. Seems to have worked for Philly with their “electric” secondary jersey, and it would’ve worked for the Chicago Fire.

Will MLS owners lock players out?

No one wants a lockout. The league might not survive a lockout. Both sides are making concessions, a compromise is needed. As a fan, I’m angry this once again comes down to the wire. Deadlines make deals, but both sides have known about this for over six months. Continue reading American Soccer Headlines and Reactions


USMNT Headlines and Reactions



Here are the latest USMNT headlines, and here are my reactions:

1. Julian Green’s USMNT plan: ‘Keep kicking butt’ until he gets another call

Soccer pundits and USMNT Twitter: “Stop calling up MLS players!”
Those same people: “That 2.Bundesliga player needs another chance!”

Irony aside, I’ve always been in favor of adding competition, and bringing back Julian Green would definitely mix things up in the midfield. Call him up and let’s see how he fits in!

2. Inside the mysterious catfishing scandal that shocked the American soccer community

Didn’t know if I should go with “People are the worst” or “Go figure. Twitter.”

3. Transfer news: USMNT’s Yedlin to join Galatasaray

Wish he was going to MLS, but I can understand his desire to stay in Europe and play top flight soccer (even though the Turskish Super League is second tier, at best). I hope Yedlin gets the chance to play in Champions League or Europa League. He is still in the mix for the USMNT roster, though depth at right back has grown.

4. Jozy Altidore is Still Here

We know, alright, we know!

Hopefully this call up is the nice send off Jozy deserves. Thanks for the memories, but for World Cup Qualifying, time to move on. Keep him in the mix for a depth piece on those Gold Cup squads. Still love seeing Jozy bag a few against Concacaf opponents.

5. USMNT keeper’s journey includes an atypical ascent, a ‘SportsCenter’ lowlight — and maybe a 2022 World Cup spot

Go get ‘em, Matt! Great back story and a bright future. With so many people (myself included) penciling in Zack Steffen as the de facto No. 1 GK for the US, I’m excited to see Turner compete for the No. 2 spot and, in a congested schedule for the USMNT in 2021, get his first start for the red, white, and blue.

What do you think about all the headlines and news from around the American soccer landscape?

Nick
Host, Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast


Armas to TFC: A New Era Begins



Chris Armas is the new head coach of Toronto FC. The same coaching carousel that took Greg Vanney to LA has brought another familiar MLS face north of the border. While the MLS Cup still eluded the Red Bulls under Armas, Vanney managed TFC to historic heights. Will Armas be able to meet the expectations Vanney set?

What kind of coach is TFC getting in Armas? First and foremost, Armas knows the MLS. As a player, he spent twelve seasons in the league (‘96-’97, Galaxy; ‘98-’07, Fire), with a lengthy list of accomplishments. As coach of the Red Bulls for three seasons, he put together a resume of 29 wins, 21 losses, and 11 draws – a near .500 record. However, his best season came in his first season (2018), where the Red Bulls went 22-7-5, winning the Eastern Conference, but bowing out in the MLS Cup Semi-Finals.

Tactically, Chris Armas followed the typical Red Bulls style – high press. They relied on turnovers, speed, and counter-attacking. It worked for a time, but the MLS rapidly changed. Defenses have improved in talent and tactics, and the quality of offenses has improved, partly nullifying the press’ reliance on turnovers. Armas tried changing his tactics and adapting, but the Red Bulls just didn’t have the talent to make it work.

Toronto, however, has a much more talented roster, at least on paper. Armas gets to turn loose the potential of Ayo Akinola and Tsubasa Endoh, and help mold the careers of homegrowns Jayden Nelson, Jordan Perruzza, and Jacob Shaffelburg. He can lean on the experience of MLS veterans Michael Bradley, Nick DeLeon, and Jonathan Osario. And he has the playmaking of reigning MVP Alejandro Pozuelo and Auro Jr.

So what can we expect from Armas’ version of TFC? First, results will be tied to the talent. All indications are that sporting director Ali Curtis will keep the bank account open to bring in the best talent available – and he’s already looking at a new defender to shore up the back-line. Next, given the experience already on the roster, Armas will only need to groom the young players and make a few tactical tweaks to get good results for the club. It’s entirely possible to see Toronto as a top-four club in the East. However given everything the club already has and will be doing from a talent perspective, it’s entirely possible to see Armas without a job if the squad starts the season flat and the organization falls into old habits of quickly kicking coaches to the curb.

On a personal note, having watched Armas for so many seasons in Chicago, I really want to see him succeed. I also caught an autographed soccer ball from him at a bar during a World Cup 2010 watch party…but we’ll save that story for the podcast. So to the fans, organization, and new head coach himself, we at the Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast wish you best of luck.

Nick
Host, The Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast


MLS Cup 2020: The Morning After



What a season, what a finish! The Columbus Crew are the champions of Major League Soccer. In a season marred by Covid-19, the Crew proved themselves worthy champions. Full disclosure: I had predicted the Seattle Sounders would repeat from the pre-season all the way to the MLS Cup Pregame. So how did Caleb Porter and Crew – without stars Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos – dethrone the defending champs? It came down to three things: System, Pressure, and some MAPFRE Magic.

System

Porter and the Crew employ a system where every player knows the responsibility of every other player on the pitch. When they begin to build possession from the back or when they turn over an opponent, the ball can be played to a specific area of the field given the situation. If the opposing team presses, play a ball over the top. If they hang back, take the space in the middle of the field. If they use zonal marking, overload and get a numbers advantage.

The Crew’s system allowed them to more easily overcome the loss of two starters than most other teams. (Imagine Seattle trying to play without Joao Paulo or Nico Lodeiro.) Derrick Etienne, Jr. and Aidan Morris filled in superbly, playing with the confidence that comes from this system. Continue reading MLS Cup 2020: The Morning After


USMNT Expectations vs. El Salvador



Hey, soccer fans, we’ve got USMNT soccer! And we’ve got a young, MLS based roster for Gregg Berhalter and the red, white, and blue. 21 of 23 roster spots are filled by MLS-based players. The USMNT will also showcase young talent. Most of the roster has only a handful of caps, if any at all. Given those factors, the quickly scheduled game, and Covid, what should we expect? I want to see three things from this game:

1. Play the System

We know GGG implemented a very particular system when he took over as manager of the USMNT. He used it to perform better than his talent with the Columbus Crew, and he’s used it to some success at the international level. If the players on the roster want a future with the USMNT, they’ll need to demonstrate their understanding of GGG’s tactics.

What does this mean? On offense, the defenders will need to play with composure out of the back, the midfielders will need to control possession – and find those long, diagonal passes when able – and the strikers will need to link up to break down the El Salvador back line. Defensively: keep shape, disrupt passing lanes, and don’t give up set-piece goals..

2. Build Depth

This roster is not even close to the USMNT best eleven. The only player on it with a chance to start in World Cup Qualifying is Walker Zimmerman. This game is about building depth. I’ll be watching for Paul Arriola and Aaron Long to prove they belong or play themselves off of GGG’s roster.

The most open spot for a young player is striker. Altidore is no longer a viable starter (injury, attitude), so Zardes is the next best option (form, experience, system knowledge). Sargent still has some growing, so the spot is open for emerging MLS stars Ayo Akinola and Daryl Dike. Akinola’s finishing ability and Dike’s size and hold-up play stand out. The USMNT needs a pure striker, and these two could fill that role.

3. Win.

The USMNT needs to re-establish a winning culture, and to do that, they need to win. Despite this roster looking like the USMNT’s “C” team, they still have the talent to beat an El Salvador team ranked 70th by FIFA – the 6th best team in Concacaf as of the November rankings. They also need to consistently beat Concacaf opponents. There should be no doubt the USMNT will walk off the field with a victory when facing other confederation teams. Back-to-back wins vs. Panama and El Salvador would go a long way to re-establishing the USMNT as the premier Concacaf nation, especially with this roster.

Get excited, USMNT fans! We’ve got international soccer and a Concacaf opponent. As you watch, look out for which players fit the system, who can fill senior roster depth, and cheer for the win.

Nick
The Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast

And be sure to tune in to The Sons of a Pitch YouTube channel for our USMNT vs. El Salvador watch-along, featuring live commentary and love chat. Coverage of USMNT vs. El Salvador begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN News, UniMás and TUDN.


The Polarizing Play of Darlington Nagbe



In a recent outing, Darlington Nagbe banged home an absolute beauty of a goal to help elevate the Columbus Crew over the Chicago Fire. Immediately social media sang his praise and searched for reasons why Nagbe never starred for the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) or made it big in Europe. The common refrain is he was played out of position, especially given his 2017 Gold Cup performance! Not too long after, the Nagbe detractors added their comments, which came down to the fact he just was not good enough.

While our regular listeners know I tend to fall in the second of those categories, I thought I owed it to the player and the fans to dive a little deeper than just my eye test and personal feelings. Let’s start with his Major League Soccer (MLS) career:

Nagbe is in his tenth season in the MLS. He is currently with the Columbus Crew after spending the last two seasons with Atlanta United, and the prior seven with the Portland Timbers. Per MLSsoccer.com, Nagbe’s career totals include 276 games played, 264 games started, 30 goals, and 38 assists. He’s never reached double digits in goals or assists in a single season, so from a points perspective, he hasn’t done much. For the USMNT, his point totals are even less appealing: 25 appearances, 1 goal, 2 assists.

In that 2017 Gold Cup, Nagbe did not play in the group stage, but was brought in for the knockout rounds. He played nearly every minute in the three knockout games. His stat lines were unimpressive, but he did draw the most fouls in the tournament (15). You can’t draw fouls if you don’t have the ball!

So what is the appeal for Darlington Nagbe?

The USMNT website describes him as a “confident and pacey midfielder,” and his fans point to his passion on the pitch, confidence on the ball, and ability to run at defenders. He is excellent with the ball at his feet and has a knack for getting his teammates involved in the attack. Critics point to the absence of these in international play and the lack of his stats. However, I haven’t been able to find measurable data in the areas in which Nagbe excels – passes and dribbles completed, progressive play, and other possession related categories.

So what can we conclude about Darlington Nagbe? Is anybody “right”?

Nagbe never lit up the score sheet, but no one ever quantitively measured how good he was on the ball. If you rely on “the eye test,” you can find great games and sub-par performances. Nagbe may be one of the best to ever play for Portland and was a solid USMNT call up. He seems pretty content with his career, and we as fans of the game in America should continue to enjoy him for as long as he laces up in MLS. Just don’t try to convince me he’s an American soccer legend that just never got his shot.

Nick Poteres
Host, Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast
@SOPSoccer


SOP Soccer goes to Indy



Hello soccer fans! Nick wanted to share with you a few memories from his recent road-trip to Indianapolis to watch the Indy Eleven take on the Memphis 901 FC. He’ll tell you more during the next podcast, and the official recap is online, but here are his quick thoughts:

  1. Indy is a great city, and Lucas Oil Stadium is a great venue.
  2. The Brickyard Battalion supporters group is fantastic.
  3. Indy Eleven played very well – executed their game plan, converted set pieces, and never let up the pressure.
  4. Memphis played a mid-block, but Indy was able to get into the channels and play balls over the top to create chances.
  5. Shout out to the family of Memphis 901 Defender Josh Morton. I got to meet his family, and they were great to talk to.

And we have to mention that Indy is in the middle of a 24 game, home unbeaten streak, dating back to last season. Best of luck to the Indy Eleven and their supporters as the team looks towards the playoffs!

Current home of the Indy Eleven.
A great venue for a great club.
Kick off! Indy Eleven vs. Memphis 901 FC
Nick greets Ilija Ilic post-game.
Nick congratulates Karl Ouimette post-game.

Fire Sale! and their New, Old Stadium



The Chicago Fire have been purchased by a new ownership group and have announced a deal to play at Soldier Filed in (actual) Chicago. Below are all the articles describing the news and its impact on the league, the club, and most importantly, on the fans. The Sons of a Pitch will have their thoughts on the matter in our next podcast episode.

Happy reading, fans! Be sure to follow along on social media for all our content.


Arguments Against Pro/Rel for MLS



There are still people that want Promotion and Relegation for Major League Soccer. They walk among us, they sit beside us at games, and they interact with us on social media. I fell victim to one of their ridiculous tweets while enjoying LAFC’s recent dominance over San Jose. This particular tweet argued that there would be more fan interest if there was Pro/Rel in MLS. I immediately flew into a rage. So much so, I’m taking it to the internet!

If you’ve followed this issue, you’re familiar with the basic arguments against Pro/Rel.

  1. Financials
  2. Media
  3. Popularity

Financials
Owners won’t invest in a team that could get relegated. Fans won’t invest in a team that gets relegated. Also with Pro/Rel, teams/franchises with more money are will stay at the top of the table. You end up with a Tampa Bay Rays situation or an EPL situation where only five or six teams have a legitimate shot at the title. That is no way to grow the sport of soccer in America.

Media
The market isn’t there to cover 60 teams, assuming three divisions of 20 teams each. Baseball is arguably the most popular sport in America, and there isn’t great coverage of Double-A ball. We could have Pro/Rel, but who would know about it? The USL currently gets minimal coverage, so good luck finding your MLS team that just got knocked down a league. Unless you like paying for extra cable packages or online subscriptions, you won’t see your team. When was the last time you watched an Indy Eleven game?

Popularity
Simply put, soccer is not popular enough to support Pro/Rel. I think that the Pro/Rel argument comes from fans of European leagues. They want a copy of those leagues in the USA, but it’s apples to oranges. In Europe, soccer is literally the only game in town. Also, those leagues have 100+ years of development, both in on-the-field talent and off-the-field marketing. You want brand loyalty, go to an English Championship or even League One supporters.

In addition to those three arguments, I’d like to put forth two more:

  1. There’s already de facto promotion
  2. Pro/Rel for MLS would scare away talent

De Facto Promotion
There is already de facto promotion in the MLS. Put another way, who are your expansion teams and what are their origins? Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Orlando, Minnesota, and Nashville are all clubs that had origins in lower divisions of American soccer, but were awarded MLS franchises. These clubs had both success in their leagues and financially sound business plans. They were essentially promoted by MLS. Many in favor of Pro/Rel argue that owners would be encouraged to spend more. The ownership of the clubs named above did and were rewarded for it.

Pro/Rel Scares Away Talent
No top level talent would sign for the MLS if they could get relegated. If they do, there will be clauses in their contracts forcing transfer or sale. That means the top talent in the league will be sold off cheaply, the teams would lose on their investment and lose on their marketability. Imagine if Colorado, DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy, Orlando City, and San Jose were relegated over the last two seasons. Assuming their DPs had some sort of relegation sale clause, we’d lose the following players from MLS: Tim Howard, Paul Arriola, Wayne Rooney, Romain Alessandrini, Gio and Jona dos Santos, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Nani, Dom Dwyer, Josue Colman, Valeri Qazaishvili, and Chris Wondolowski. And that doesn’t even contemplate players that wouldn’t sign with the MLS.

To be clear, I’m not against the idea of Pro/Rel for MLS. I’m just against it right now and for the short-to-middle term future. Give it another 20 years, where there are two viable, marketable, and competitive leagues, and I’ll reconsider. I’d rather see energy put into developing academies, soccer specific stadiums, USL affiliates, and training facilities. Pro/Rel isn’t feasible in today’s MLS or the current American sports culture, and those in favor need to understand that.

 

Thanks for reading!
-Nick


Transfer News, Roster Impact, and Nick addresses Atlanta Haters



Happy Holidays everyone, and welcome back to the Sons of a Pitch: An American Soccer Podcast. Even though the MLS is in the middle of its off-season, there has been no shortage of action. Teams are addressing their needs and a flurry of signings has taken place:

  • Laurent Ciman to Toronto FC
  • Yoshi Yotun to Cruz Azul
  • Alvas Powell to FC Cincinnati
  • Marcelo to Chicago Fire
  • Joe Bendik to Columbus Crew
  • Schelotto to manage the LA Galaxy

How do these signings affect their respective teams? Orlando City may have admitted it’s time for a rebuild. FC Cincinnati is looking to continue the success of expansion teams. Chicago and Toronto finally have center-backs, and Schweinsteiger and Bradley can return to their midfield roles. The hosts break down the rosters in greater detail and examine the potential playing style of each team as a result of these signings.

In a special segment, Nick addresses an issue that has been on his mind for some time: Atlanta haters. They hate on Atlanta for being good but never winning a trophy, then they hate on Atlanta for winning a trophy too soon. What are your thoughts on all the hate?

Finally, Sons of a Pitch recognizes the passing of an American soccer icon: Sigi Schmid. His imprint on the MLS and US Soccer will forever be felt, and we send our condolences to his family, friends, and all who are affected.

Thanks for listening, and stay tuned next week for our review of the USMNT January camp roster and what it means for the next four years of American soccer. Happy New Year to all!