Saturday, April 29, 2017

Top 5 MLS Trade Chips

Even though it's still early in the season, there are clearly some valuable guys spending a whole lot of time on the bench. I'm sure their teams aren't exactly eager to deal them away and depth will surely be tested at some point this year, but sometimes these guys can be used to shore up other places in the roster.

Whether a deal will happen or not, they still count as handsome bargaining assets. And there are likely opposing MLS GM's who have eyes for these guys.

#5 - Arturo Álvarez - Chicago
The veteran attacker started the season in the line-up, but has been nudged to the pine for most of the last six weeks. Meanwhile, the Fire offense has clicked fairly well. The 31-year-old put up career bests with five goals and nine helpers upon his return to MLS last year, so he would seem to have plenty left in the tank.

Who might want him: The LA Galaxy would love for somebody, anybody, to run savvy combo play with Gio dos Santos.

#4 - Andrew Wenger - Houston
The Dynamo are silly with forwards these days, a fact that has limited Wenger to 119 minutes so far this term. He's a guy who has notched six goals with at least a few assist in two of the last three seasons, can work from the flank and in an emergency pinch can even play in defense.

Who might want him: Orlando City may be atop the East right now, but they aren't scoring tons of goals and at some point will want someone to A) give Cyle Larin a breather and/or B) provide some sort of wing impact for their brand of direct attack play.

#3 - Marco Bustos - Vancouver
Yeah, I'm quite sure the Whitecaps won't be shopping the 21-year-old Canada playmaker around anytime soon. But sheesh, he is just sitting around (and yes, I know he missed a few games through injury earlier this month). I find it hard to believe a slick passer can't find any time in Vancouver, but then they also recently decided a certain scary winger was loose baggage.

Who might want him: Montreal would love to get their hands on a central midfielder with ideas under the age of Methuselah to allow Patrice Bernier some rest without starving the attack.

#2 - Saad Abdul-Salaam Sporting KC
Some folks, including my MLSS colleague Matt Doyle, felt that Abdul-Salaam was of Best XI-caliber last season. I agree with them. And yet, Peter Vermes has seen fit to shift Graham Zusi back to take his place. I didn't get it then, and even though the defense has shined bright, I still think this move has harmed the team's attack. Meanwhile, a strong 25-year-old two-way right back has received all of one minute in seven games this season.

Who might want him: Chicago is crying out for a top-shelf starter at his position, and his arrival would allow Michael Harrington to become the suitable back-up at both fullback slots.

#1 - Kekuta Manneh - Columbus
Oh, I know he just came over in a trade, but the Crew do not seem in a hurry to get him on the field. Justin Meram is killing it and rookie Niko Hansen is now even getting starts ahead of Ethan Finlay (who could easily hold down this spot instead). Something will need to give in this situation at some point. Manneh is simply to good to be left out of 18's, which happened last weekend.

Who might want him: The NY Red Bulls might just jump at the chance. They haven't been satisfied with Daniel Royer's production, Mike Grella is on the shelf and I'm not convinced they think Alex Muyl is regular starting material. Besides, breakout speed like Manneh's is always welcome when you have BWP waiting for finishes.

- Greg Seltzer

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Not to be outdone...

A couple months back the US Under-20 national team scored their first ever competitive win over arch rivals Mexico. Duly inspired, our U-17 boys followed suit on Wednesday night, outgunning El Tri in a 4-3 victory at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship. As the tournament doubles as qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, the Baby Nats put themselves in  great position to reach the finals in India this October.

Here are the goal highlights...

- Greg Seltzer

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Top 5 MLS Bargain Buys

I was working on a list Sunday night to continue the string of MLS Top 5'ers, but wasn't overly happy with it. I also started up a list Monday night, but didn't love that one either. And then, the league salary list was released on Tuesday and the perfect next topic fell right into my lap.

Everyone loves shopping for value, whether it's on the housing market, at the Albert Cuyp Markt or in the supermarket. Finding a great deal is a distinctly human endeavor, as is relishing the idea that we've allocated financial resources better than others.

I have not included rookies, because that's just too easy - especially in a year when so many newbies are making quick impact. Of course they are cheaper than the rest. But even without them, there are plenty of bargains to go around. So many that I'll top off this list with a bonus 23-man side (starting XI + bench) that would give 'em all a run for their considerably larger stacks of wage money at the low, low labor cost of only $2.55 million.

#5 - Nick Hagglund, Toronto FC

The 24-year-old defender rose to prominence in last year's run to MLS Cup, playing the hero more than once. Hagglund can win aerial battle, emergency defend on the run, move the ball forward efficiently and pose a real threat on attacking set pieces. And with Drew Moor out recently, the Reds also learned that he can marshal their three-man back line, all for just $110,000 in salary.

#4 - Axel Sjöberg, Colorado

The Rapids' Defender of the Year finalist earns just $123 grand per season, which would have been a bargain five years ago. Naturally, the beanpole center back is a force in the air, but he's also pretty smooth on the ball. His importance has become frightfully obvious to the locals since Sjöberg went down with an injury last month. Colorado has gone 0-3-1 without him, leaking eight goals in those four matches.

In fact, these sort of stats have been apparent since Sjöberg arrived prior to the 2015 season. In his 47 regular season appearances for the club, the Rapids have conceded .72 times per. In the 24 he's missed, they've allowed 1.5 goals per game. Any other questions?

#3 - Christian Roldan, Seattle

I'd hesitate greatly to call the Sounders midfielder underrated, as most observers now realize how crucial he is to the champs' system. Roldan, however, remains a stupendous value at $137,000. Like Hagglund, he cemented his star credentials during the last fall's playoffs.

He's the guy who bridges the excellence of Ozzie Alonso and the danger of Seattle's big-ticket item attackers. Roldan links positive play, forces turnovers in the opponent's end, acts pressure valve, gets stuck in and pitches in with a bit offense.

#2 - Joevin Jones, Seattle

Is Jones the best left back in MLS? Perhaps. Is he the one most integral to his team's success? Probably so. Is the impending free agent so woefully underpaid at $97,000 that the Sounders best hurry with an appreciative extension offer or he'll shining overseas next year? Most definitely.

The Trindad & Tobago wide man almost seems to get better by the week. Not only has Jones become a terrific one-v-one defender and build hound, but did you know that he has eight assists (plus one forced own goal) in his last 18 MLS games, including the playoffs? That's an absurd helper rate for a wingback in this league. Hell, that's an absurd rate for an Eredivisie wingback. 

#1 - Cyle Larin, Orlando City

The Lions striker is the most pricey player mentioned in this entire post, and he's more than worth it. For just $192,000 in salary cap expense, Jason Kreis gets arguably the best lead striker in the league. Sure, there a handful of others in the debate, but who among them is surrounded by talent as humble as Orlando City's?

This season, the Canada star has six goals in six games, on just 15 shots. There's no Valeri or Kljestan here to create a bushel of chances, no Giovinco or Elis here to distract defenders away, not even a Lodeiro or Finlay to pump an endless supply of crosses into the box.

No, Larin feeds on scraps, yet feasts like a king. And when you think of his incredibly reasonable salary, remember this is not some unproven commodity. He came into the season with 31 goals in 59 league matches. All in all, I'd imagine it won't be long before he's providing value to a strong European side.

And now, on to the bonus value squad...

Here's the starting line-up: Gleeson ($115K); Rosenberry ($110K), Sjöberg ($123K), Hagglund ($110K), Joevin Jones ($97K); Azira ($116K), Roldan ($137K), Fagundez ($180K); Barrios ($100K), Larin ($192K), Asad ($150K).

Here's the bench: Gonzalez ($85K), Duvall ($71K), Zavaleta ($133K), Watts ($75K), Opara ($150K), Kemp ($120K), Artur ($99K), Medranda ($130K), Alex ($170K), Lennon ($53K), Badji ($65K), Jackson-Hamel ($65K).

- Greg Seltzer

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pop A Corona

This slipped past me Friday night, as I was focused on the Toronto FC-Chicago match, but better late then never. Joe Corona nodded home the opener/winner as Tijuana maintained a slim Liga MX lead with a 2-0 win over Toluca.

- Greg Seltzer

Friday, April 21, 2017

Flank Stakes

The regulars here know I favor systems with wingers, and that I prefer to operate as one when playing myself. Obviously, I take this list very seriously.

There is no perfect recipe for a flank attacker. Some prefer to cut in and look for goals, some are more traditional cross-heavy types who aim to reach the touchline and yet others are some blend of those two descriptions. Many work the full length of their sideline, tracking back well and providing a pressure valve, whereas a select few get to shirk such responsibilities to focus on pinning defenses back. You get the idea; a winger can impact the game in so many ways, and that's why I love 'em.

This ranking ran a bit different than how I worked up the spine list, when I focused solely on line-up regulars. This time, I took stock of a team's entire wing stable. First, I ranked the starters separately, with a clear #1 choice shining through. Then, the depth crews served as tiebreakers for the rest of the picks.

As could be expected in the improved world of MLS, several clubs narrowly missed out on the list. Seattle and Portland were very close, but have little depth to speak of. Houston has plenty of that, but still fell a shade short, while the LA Galaxy's depth is largely unproven at this juncture. To boot, Chicago and Real Salt Lake weren't too terribly far off.

#5 - Montreal (Oduro, Piatti, Tabla)

Frankly, Nacho Piatti is nearly enough by himself to put the Impact in the list. He's the most goal-dangerous player not named Seba who is mentioned in this bit, and yet is enough of a playmaker to notch 23 assists in just over two campaigns worth of work. He's so vital to Montreal, that they've won just two of the 16 MLS matches he's sat out since joining up.

Of course, he's not alone, as book end Dominic Oduro is a speedy field-stretcher. Yeah, he's streaky as hell with production, but does have a flair for important goals. They also have teenager Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla, who's already proven to be quite useful this season.

#4 - Colorado (Badji, Gashi, Gatt, Hairston)

This Rapids group hasn't accomplished much yet this term, but be patient. It's a talented stable with an excellent balance of skills, and Pablo Mastroeni would do well to have his team force-feed these guys. Veteran left-sider Shkelzen Gashi is steady in the build and capable of the big moment. Of all their options, he's easily the best long-range shooter. Dominique Badji, the speed threat on that side, is coming into his own. The 24-year-old has six goals and three helpers in Colorado's last 13 league games.

The Rapids have as much strength over on the right. Like Badji, Marlon Hairston is quickly growing in influence; he's been good for four goals and six helpers in his last 16 regular season matches. They also now have speed demon Josh Gatt, who could turn out to be a real steal. He has the wheels and moves to terrify any defender, and finishes well.

#3 - New York City FC (Harrison, McNamara, Shelton, Wallace)

Patrick Vieira's wing terrors are off to a great start this season. Not only have regulars Jack Harrison and Rodney Wallace already bagged four goals, but each is a force on the build and responsible defensively. The 20-year-old Harrison has what it takes to end up on a Best XI honor roll in the not-so-distant future.

Meanwhile, after starting most of last year's games, bench ace Tommy McNamara proved a couple weeks ago that he can also come to the rescue with a late winner. The Bronx boys also have Khiry Shelton coming off a strong 2016 campaign, but he's currently on the shelf until June. All in all, this stable has enough quality and potential to make plenty of European teams envious.

#2 - Toronto FC (Beitashour, Edwards, Giovinco, Morrow)

Okay, this one requires some explanation. The Reds are a rare exception due to their formation; they don't use stereotypical wingers, but definitely make offensive bank off their flank mechanations.

In yesterday's post, I stated that Sebastian Giovinco (otherwise known as the nest player in MLS) shouldn't really qualify as a spine member. He's also clearly not an out-an-out winger, but he does spend enough time operating wide, that I'll include him here. That decided... well, what else do I need to say? Dude is a stone cold killer.

As with Giovinco, wingbacks Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow earn a slightly inappropriate nod here. Sure, they do defensive work, but their main purpose on most days is to push the team forward down the sidelines and help create offense in the final third. Morrow is among the most productive wide backs in the league and his opposite is no slouch, either.

On top of all that, Toronto FC has an exciting young buck in Raheem Edwards. He's been pretty terrific in his three appearances this season and looks to be a real keeper with upside.

#1 - Columbus (Finlay, Hansen, Manneh, Meram)

And so we've arrived at the gold standard for flank squadrons. The Crew are the only team in the league with three pure wingers of All-Star caliber. And each of them is very different.

Early MVP candidate Justin Meram is a hybrid gem who likes to turn up in a variety of places in the final third. He's scores, he sets up chances for teammates, he is cool in the build and can make plays from every angle. Right-sider Ethan Finley is the pacy cross-master that can also find his own shot. The guy had six goals and nine assists on a bad team last term - and that qualified as a letdown season for him.

New addition Kekuta Manneh has yet to appear for the Crew, but he has a world of talent. He's a 21-year-old thrill-ride of a player that still has tons of room to grow. Columbus also picked up Niko Hansen in this year's SuperDraft. He's already proved me wrong, as I had him tabbed as a reach at #8. After hopping off the bench to strike a big late winner a few weeks back, the kid done well in starting ahead of Finlay and Manneh the last two games.

- Greg Seltzer

How does one say "Well, that's not right!" in German?

As the Chicago were were flying out for Friday night's big game at Toronto FC, a lady spotted the players and asked if she could take a photo with them. Then, umm, she asked a nice young man standing nearby to snap the picture for her... oops! 

- Greg Seltzer