The number of opportunities for MLS players trying to squeeze their way into USMNT contention are shrinking before September’s roster, so we’ll take our weekly look at how the contenders and pretenders are faring in league action.
Even in what might be considered, by the numbers, somewhat of a down week compared to the recent glut of stand-out performances, there were still a handful of noteworthy performances (and absences) that will undoubtedly have major implications on USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter’s upcoming selections.
In addition to the players who helped or hurt their cases on the field, we are beginning to see some impactful no-shows, whether through injury or coach’s decision, which have added importances so close to the September roster selections.
While the next meaningful game for the U-20 USMNT led by Mikey Varas is still close to a year away (not to completely ignore the upcoming Revelations Cup), we will also highlight a couple of performances by players from the youth pool that fully deserve recognition.
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.
Starting with the highlight of the weekend, Cincinnati’s pair of Brandon Vazquez and Matt Miazga both helped their chances with excellent performances in the team’s 2-2 home draw against Columbus Crew.
The two accounted for both goals, with Vazquez netting Cincinnati’s opener with an excellent run behind the defense and perfectly placed low shot, while Miazga’s opportunistic strike from 17 yards was perhaps even more remarkable since it’s rare for a center back to score a goal outside of set piece situations.
Apart from his score, Vazquez was a pest over his 82 minutes, forcing another save earlier in the game amongst his three shots, setting up another chance, drawing a pair of fouls, and hitting both of his long balls. Then again, as long as a striker scores, the other stats are meaningless, and 16 goals for Vazquez so far this season are the most important stat that will almost certainly see him in the USMNT uniform in a few weeks.
Miazga was the best of a three-man back-line that gave up two goals under intense pressure from their hosts, although he had no culpability on either goal. He had only 35 total touches, was on-target with half of his eight long ball attempts, won his lone tackle, one of three duels, and only committed one foul.
The 3-1 win by the New York Red Bulls over Inter Miami also saw strong performances by a pair of players regularly donning the stars and stripes…however I’m not referring to opposing defenders Aaron Long and DeAndre Yedlin.
Long was proficient enough over 68 minutes as the left center back in the NYRB three-man back line, and was not at fault for Miami’s lone goal, a spectacular free kick by Gonzalo Higuain. He had 58 total touches, completed 83% of his 42 passes, and committed four fouls, however a yellow card in the 42nd minute – his fifth this season triggering an automatic suspension – likely played a role in his night ending early.
Yedlin was not influential on the right side of Miami’s defense; despite 75 total touches and an 83% completion rate on his 52 passing attempts, he only created one chance, won only two of 11 duels, committed a pair of fouls, and didn’t beat opposing defenders on any of his three attempted dribbles.
The best performances by national team hopefuls for the night were reserved for NYRB youngsters Daniel Edelman and Caden Clark. Edelman kept his starting role in the Red Bulls’ central midfield, scoring the eventual winning goal in the 53rd minute. Clark made the most of his roughly 20-minute substitute appearance, scoring the team’s third goal in the 74th.
Aside from the performances in these two games, the rest of the weekend featured a parade of mediocrity from the Qatar hopefuls.
Kellyn Acosta was one of Los Angeles FC’s few solid players as the team was on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline at Austin FC. Acosta completed 88% of his 51 passes, had 60 total touches in the midfield, created a pair of chances, won five of seven duels, and was regularly firing balls from the midfield into the final third.
However, Acosta, like the rest of his teammates, simply didn’t have the final product in front of goal to keep up with the Texans.
With Cristian Roldan out for several weeks recovering from groin surgery, Jordan Morris was the lone USMNT representative for Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 road loss at Portland Timbers in the unofficial Cascadia Cup against their Pacific Northwest rivals.
Morris played the full game at forward, but only had 31 touches over 90 minutes, too only one off-target shot, set up a single chance for teammates, and otherwise was neutralized by their southern neighbors.
Roldan is not expected to return until after the September friendlies, likely putting a major damper on his chance to visit Qatar in less than three months.
Jeremy Ebobisse lost ground on Vazquez and generally fell behind in the widening field of #9 hopefuls, with an ineffectual 90 minutes in San Jose Earthquakes’ 1-0 road loss at Sporting Kansas City.
Ebobisse took three shots, one of which forced a save, but otherwise was kept off the ball with only 29 contacts over the full game. His 14 goals are only two behind Vazquez and one back from Ferreira, however his window for getting the call in September is narrowing.
Jesus Ferreira and Paul Arriola both played the full game for FC Dallas in their 1-1 home draw against Real Salt Lake. Neither particularly stood out, with Ferreira missing the target on both of his shots and otherwise having a proficient, albeit below average game compared to his recent lofty standards.
Arriola was more of the set-up man, creating five chances compared to his one shot, while completing 93% of his 27 passes, however he was not involved in the lone score by Dallas.
Chicago Fire’s young keeper Gabriel Slonina was neither particularly good nor bad in their 2-0 shut-out loss at home against CF Montreal. He did make a pair of saves, however was simply beaten on both of Montreal’s goals, each fantastic strikes from distance for which he could hardly bear the blame.
For the Canadians, Djordje Mihailovic celebrated his recent transfer agreement to AZ Alkmaar in a few months by hardly impressing in an attacking midfield role for the team over 68 minutes.
He did take a pair of shots to force one save, and created a pair of chances for teammates, but his 40 total touches and general lack of command in the win is less than one would expect from a Europe-bound player fighting for a World Cup spot.
Keeping with the keepers, Sean Johnson didn’t necessarily help his case in their 2-1 road loss at Orlando City, however with no other probable USMNT keepers standing out across the globe, does stay well within contention.
He was hugging the near post a bit too much on Orlando’s opening goal and was beaten badly on a corner for the eventual Orlando winner deep in second-half injury time.
Finally, Walker Zimmerman and Shaq Moore were both rested in Nashville’s 3-0 road win over Vancouver Whitecaps. For Zimmerman, the rest will have no bearing on his certain spot on the plane in November, however for Moore, any lack of solid playing time in the lead-in to the September games significantly hurts his chances.
Moving up: Brandon Vazquez & Matt Miazga (aka, this is getting repetitive)
Anybody questioning whether Vazquez will get a call from Berhalter in a few weeks might want to make an appointment with a neurologist. His teammate Miazga is making his long-shot chance a bit less long…even if it’s still quite long.
Moving down: Players who don’t play
As mentioned above, Walker Zimmerman is exempt in this case, however Shaq Moore and injured Cristian Roldan were hurt by their no-shows over the weekend. Roldan certainly has a valid excuse as he is recovering from surgery, but reality and roster selections are unforgiving even for the most valid of excuses. For Moore, who has yet to take off since arriving in MLS, his hopes to join the 26-man squad to Qatar might be over.