Amidst the obligatory schedule of pointless money-grabbing friendlies against touring European teams, the MLS schedule-wizards found time to squeeze in a round of league games, so we’ll squeeze in a look at how the USMNT contenders fared.
While most of fans’ anticipation is on the kickoff of World Cup festivities in Qatar in November, for this set of players, the more critical date will be in mid-September, when Gregg Berhalter decides his roster for the final two warm-up friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Practically speaking, any players who miss the cut for those two games will have an insurmountable climb to make the final 26-man roster less than two months later. Luckily, the packed MLS schedule has most teams still playing around ten games before the September roster is decided, so even the longest shots will have plenty of chances to make their case – if they have one to make.
As usual, this weekend was a mixed bag of ups and downs, however what’s clear is that the players wo many fans might consider to be just outside the bubble made the strongest impressions. In contrast, many of the assumed locks – or likely inclusions – coasted along with typical performances, or in several cases even took a step back.
As always, if you have any tips for excluded players who are making a strong case to earn a spot in the narrowing window of chances before November, leave a note in the comments or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll give them a nod.
We start with the player who many fans would consider to be the longest of long-shots to board the plane to Qatar, FC Cincinnati forward Brandon Vazquez.
The San Diego native took over the top spot for American scorers in the league (and is second overall) with a brace on the road against Inter Miami in the wild 4-4 draw between the struggling Eastern Conference teams. His rapid-fire goals in the 81st and 86th minute were critical as they assured the eventual draw for Cincinnati, although they will be disappointed to have given up a 97th-minute equalizer instead of taking all three points.
The first found him waiting in perfect position inside the six-yard box to redirect a short lay-off from Alvaro Barreal, and the second saw him create just enough space on the run between between the Miami central defense to poke in a cross from Barreal.
On the other side of the ball, USMNT veteran DeAndre Yedlin had an evening to forget. Being a member of a back-line that conceded four goals is never a good sign, however Yedlin was at least partially culpable on the first three Cincinnati scores. The most embarrassing of the three was a brutal nutmegging he received off the foot of Barreal on his way to set up the first Vazquez goal.
Sticking with the more successful performances of the weekend, San Jose Earthquakes’ forward Jeremy Ebobisse stayed on the edge of the conversation by netting his 12th goal of the season and earning a penalty for another in their 2-2 home draw against Real Salt Lake.
The penalty came as he attempted a shot from six-yards out, which was handled by a defender before the ten-minute mark. The spot kick was converted by Cristian Espinoza, however Ebobisse did get on the scoreboard just past the hour, when a keeper error gave him he chance to fire a low shot from just inside the penalty area.
The pair of MLS-based keepers who are fighting against the three European-based USMNT regulars both posted clean sheets in scoreless draws.
Gabriel Slonina made a pair of saves and had decent distribution numbers as Chicago Fire held Atlanta United in Soldier Field. This was likely Slonina’s last game as a Chicago-owned player, however he will finish the season on-loan in the Windy City after signing with FC Chelsea in the coming days, if current rumors are accurate.
New York City FC keeper Sean Johnson made one save as his team managed to steal a point north of the border at CF Montreal. His distribution numbers were generally poor and he somewhat benefitted by Montreal creating very little danger from their 13 total shots, however did what was needed, when it was needed, to keep his team just inside of the Eastern Conference playoff places.
For Montreal, attacking midfielder Djordje Mihailovic had a strong game, even if he was unable to help them break the deadlock. Amidst his 61 touches, he completed 30 or 36 passes, took a pair of shots to force the lone save from Johnson, created a pair of chances, and took seven corners for his team.
Star-studded Los Angeles FC was missing USMNT lock Kellyn Acosta to yellow card suspension when they hosted Seattle Sounders, however the still managed to get the job done in their 2-1 victory.
On the losing side, Jordan Morris was thoroughly unremarkable in his usual left-sided attacking role, completing 74% of his 19 passing attempts over 90 minutes, taking one shot, setting up another, and winning seven of nine duels.
Cristian Roldan continued to be deployed in a more central role behind the front three, and was heavily involved, albeit without any production on the scoreboard. He had 73 total ball contacts, completed 49 of 57 passes, was accurate on three of five long ball attempts, won two tackles, and four of 12 duels.
Walker Zimmerman had his usual rock-solid, even if unspectacular performance for Nashville SC in their 1-1 home draw against Vancouver Whitecaps. Between the whistles, the center back had a total of 102 touches, completed 79% of his 86 pass attempts, hit eight of 18 long balls and took one shot in open play. On the defensive side, he made five clearances, four interceptions, had three recoveries, won six of seven duels and only committed one foul.
New arrival Shaq Moore lined up alongside Zimmerman on the right of the defense, however was pulled just past the hour mark after a largely ineffectual performance. He was heavily involved in the attack with 53 touches, a pair of shots and 30 of 35 passing, however had some issues on defense, in losing eight of nine duels, being dispossessed twice, and committing a pair of fouls.
Finally, the FC Dallas super-duo had a tame night, however the team effort was still enough to defeat Los Angeles Galaxy in a 1-0 home win.
Jesus Ferreira played 86 minutes, deployed just behind the center forward, and did force three saves with his five total shots. Additionally, he took three corners for Dallas and completed 78% of his 18 pass attempts.
Paul Arriola played the full game on the right wing, forced a save with his only shot, however was otherwise nominally involved with only 39 touches across the 90-plus minutes.
Moving up: Brandon Vazquez
Considering the eternally uncertain situation surrounding the #9 position for the USMNT, the only time that a contender scoring a brace won’t be the highlight performance is when another scores a hat-trick. Vazquez is still a long-shot for Qatar, but he’s quickly becoming less of a long-shot for getting a look in the September roster.
Moving down: Shaq Moore
Yes, it’s a bit cruel to put a player in this category so soon after joining the league, but Moore was already a bubble guy before his move to Nashville, and he must immediately have strong run in order to earn a call in September. That certainly didn’t happen over the weekend, and his time is running out.
As an addendum, we’ll take a quick look at some players who are more likely to be aiming for a different World Cup in 2023. While our earlier U-20 watch will likely remain on-hold until the build-up to next summer’s U-20 World Cup in Indonesia, we’ll occasionally point out any particularly notable performances that caught our eye.
Namely, the fleet of U-20 prospects at Philadelphia Union had a strong outing in their 6-0 dismantling of the visiting Houston Dynamo. In particular, Jack McGlynn played the full 90 minutes at left-midfield, scoring one goal and assisting on another. His assist was to set up fellow U-20 prospect Quinn Sullivan, who made the most of his 86th-minute substitute appearance to net his first goal of the season.
Paxten Aaronson, who is perhaps the most highly regarded of Philadelphia’s youngsters and constantly rumored for a move overseas, also played the final 13 minutes of regulation, however didn’t have any direct impact on the blow-out scoreline.