Goals were on the menu for the MLS-based players fighting for a spot in Gregg Berhalter’s World Cup squad, so we’ll take our regular look at all of the USMNT-relevant action that happened over the weekend.
Perhaps the overly apocalyptic tone of the recent midweek edition of this feature reverberated through the airwaves, maybe the pressure of the soon approaching September window is giving some players the impetus to up their game, or maybe we just got a bit lucky.
Whatever the case, the weekend’s MLS action for USMNT hopefuls was filled with goals, the majority coming from players that would be considered on the bubble, and even a hat-trick from a player that most fans would prefer to be far outside of consideration.
To make up for the perhaps overly-dire tone of last week’s article, we’ll start with the good, and there was plenty of it to go around.
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 email@example.com, and we’ll give them a nod.
We’ll begin with a player who is quickly putting himself into unassailable position for a look by Berhalter in September friendlies, FC Cincinnati’s Brandon Vazquez, who scored his 14th goal of the season in his team’s impressive 3-1 home win over Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union.
His score in the 50th minute to put Cincinnati in the lead was the sort of opportunistic, clinical strike that is every coach’s dream, with the Californian streaking into the Philly area at just the right moment to put a way a cross from Álvaro Barreal with his first touch.
Apart from the goal, he took a total of three shots forcing one additional save, completed 19 of 28 passes amidst his 45 total touches, was dispossessed on five occasions, and beat opposing defenders on one of two dribble attempts.
Philadelphia’s U-20 star Paxten Aaronson provided the lone bright spot for the visitors, netting their consolation goal late in the game. However, as with fellow teammates Jack McGlynn and Quinn Sullivan, Aaronson’s time in the spotlight will come in next summer’s U-20 World Cup in Indonesia.
Not to be outdone and left too far behind, Jeremy Ebobisse also found his way onto the scoreboard, netting his 13th of the season in San Jose Earthquakes’ 3-3 road draw at Austin FC. While his path to a September call-up will still require many more fireworks in the coming weeks, his knack for staying near the top of the MLS scoring charts keeps him in the picture, even if only barely.
In addition to the goal, he forced one further save from the Austin keeper, beat defenders on both his dribble attempts, was caught offside three times, and drew one foul.
Seattle’s Cristian Roldan provided the sole bright spot for the Sounders in their 2-1 road loss at Atlanta United, scoring the 68th-minute goal that temporarily pulled them even with their hosts before they conceded the winner in the final seconds.
Having once again lined up on the right side of Seattle’s central midfield where he played the full game, Roldan’s goal was a strong display of maintaining possession under pressure just long enough to find a clear line on goal.
Overall, he had 66 total touches, took five shots, completed 77% of his 48 passing attempts, hit half of his eight long-ball attempts, and won six of 11 duels.
Jordan Morris was less effective than his USMNT compatriot. Lining up on the right wing, he did take a pair of shots forcing one save and created a pair of chances for teammates, but was otherwise limited in his ability to put any sustained pressure on Atlanta.
Kellyn Acosta also found his way onto the scoreboard for Los Angeles FC, after missing their last game due to suspension. His 17th minute score against hosts Real Salt Lake was the eventual winner in the 4-1 blow-out, and was an adept, heads-up strike from the edge of the area after a loose ball landed at his feet.
Overall, he was solid in the LAFC midfield, completing nearly 90% of his 35 passing attempts, creating one chance, firing two accurate long-balls in four attempts, and making three clearances. He did, however, pick up yet another yellow card.
The final USMNT goalscorer was none other than Walker “master of the man-bun” Zimmerman, whose 84th-minute header from a corner brought Nashville SC within reach of visiting Toronto FC in their eventual 4-3 loss on home soil.
The goal was nothing unexpected from Zimmerman, who out-jumped his marking defender on Hany Mukhtar’s corner for a picture-perfect header.
Otherwise, Zimmerman put in his usually influential performance in Nashville’s central defense, making 72 total touches, completing 85% of his 65 passes, hitting seven of 11 long balls, and winning seven of nine duels.
Shaq Moore continued to be simply adequate on the right side of Nashville’s defense, this time playing 79 minutes, winning five of six dribble attempts and seven of nine duels, however failing to send in any accurate crosses in six attempts.
Nevertheless, Nashville lost due to a leaky defense that allowed four goals. While Zimmerman’s spot is as safe as can be, this game did no favors for Moore, who could be faulted with allowing Lorenzo Insigne too much space on Toronto’s fourth goal.
One of the subjects of growing criticism lately, Aaron Long, did show improvement, along with the entire New York Red Bulls defense, in their scoreless draw at their fierce rivals DC United.
While shutting out DC United in its current wretched incarnation is not quite the feat as it used to be in their long-gone glory days, the NYRB defense held strong despite their hosts holding nearly two-thirds of possession, and effectively took out any bite from their attack.
Long lined up as the left center back in the three-man back line, had 36 total touches, completed 25 of 31 passes, hit four of seven long balls, made a pair of clearances and only committed one foul. The true test of whether Long is turning a corner will come on Sunday when the Red Bulls host Orlando, who recently beat them by a 5-1 scoreline in Open Cup play.
The FC Dallas duo of Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira were solid on the attack, even if they didn’t directly contribute to the scoreline in the team’s 1-1 draw at Portland Timbers.
Ferreira lined up at his usual center forward for the duration, took one shot from distance that forced a save, created three chances, completed 87% of his 38 passes, took three corners, and was caught offside on three occasions.
Arriola nearly gave Dallas the lead just inside of the half-hour, however his breakaway shot bounced off the left upright. Otherwise, he had one additional shot that forced a save from the Portland keeper, created one chance, and won half of his eight duels.
Completing the run-down of the outfield players, Djordje Mihailovic and DeAndre Yedlin faced off as Inter Miami went on the road to CF Montreal, with the teams fighting to a 2-2 draw.
Mihailovic played the full game on the right side of Montreal’s central midfield, forcing a save with his only shot, creating four chances for teammates, taking six corners, hitting five of seven crosses and thee of four long balls.
Yedlin lined up as the right-sided wing-back, and was proficient in his defense duties, although contributed little to their forward push.
Finally, we end with the pair of MLS-based keepers looking to fight their way onto the plane to Qatar, neither of whom helped their case in weekend play.
Gabriel Slonina was on the winning side in Chicago’s 3-2 road win over Charlotte FC, however didn’t look at his best on either Charlotte goal. On their first, just 25 seconds into the game, he was caught by surprise by Yordy Reyna’s strike, while on Karol Swiderski’s score just before the half, he was unable to correct position himself as a trio of Chicago defenders bumbled round in front of goal.
In New York City FC’s 3-2 road loss at Columbus Crew, Sean Johnson and the rest of the defense were simply beaten on the Crew’s first and third goal, while their second was a self-inflicted wound by the keeper.
His distribution was generally poor in this game, but no poorer than in the 27th minute, where he gifted the ball to Crew attacker Luis Diaz at the edge of the area, which eventually led to him picking the ball out of his own net.
Apart from the three goals conceded, he did make three saves, so the bad night could have been worse.
Moving up: Brandon Vazquez
Vazquez has become the flavor of the month in unquestionably perfect time to earn a shot at what will be the final try-out for a possible World Cup spot. He’s still probably a long-shot for Qatar when the many European competitors are taken into account, but it’s looking increasingly likely that he’ll have his day in Berhalter’s court of opinion in September. What’s that? You’re tired to constantly hearing about Vazquez? Fine, then bow at the altar of Cristian Roldan…at least until he inevitably goes on a cold spell.
Moving down: The USMNT keeper position
Did any of the likely competitors for USMNT keeper – including the European based candidates – have a half-decent game over the weekend? Maybe it’s time to start advocating for Josh Cohen after all…
As a footnote, we should mention that Gyasi Zardes scored a hat-trick for Colorado Rapids in their 4-3 home win over Minnesota. While this won’t move Zardes into contention – he’s been ineffective for most of the season – he is a Berhalter favorite, so prepare to be disappointed again.