27. That’s how many days we have left until the 2019 season begins. I am EXCITED. The Colorado Rapids made some big roster moves over the offseason and we have finally signed our needed strikers, but let’s rewind a bit first.
The Rapids did not do well last year, at all. We did not finish last, thanks to the San Jose Earthquakes but we came very close. We did, however, spoil FC Dallas’ postseason aspirations by defeating them 2-1 and making them play in the knock out rounds instead of the first full round. In all, we finished 2018 with an 8-7-19 record – a total of 34 points that included two separate 6+ game losing streaks.
The offseason saw a myriad of changes come in and a retirement announcement from our very own Secretary of Defense. 2019 will see the likes of Deklan Wynne, Kellyn Acosta, Dillon Serna, and Niki Jackson back in Burgundy. Joining the team will be Kei Kamara (Vancouver Whitecaps), Diego Rubio (Sporting KC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), and Benny Feilhaber (LAFC) – just to name a few. The Super Draft saw us pick up University of Denver and Rapids U23 player, Andre Shinyashiki. Unfortunately, we said goodbye to a couple well-known faces in the team when goalkeeper, Zac MacMath headed to Vancouver and midfielder Marlon Hairston was traded to Houston.
Tim Howard took to Twitter earlier this month to let us know that he’s hanging up his boots after 21 years as a goalkeeper. I know that not everyone was a fan of Howard, but I was – and am. While I don’t have personal encounter stories, I have been impressed with how hard he has worked throughout his career and how he seems to be willing to take the time for his fans.
I think one of my favorite moments from the 2018 season was when a friend of mine came to his first MLS game, first soccer game really, and one of the first things he said to me when we met up at half time was, “Is that the guy from the World Cup? The one with the crazy amount of saves in that one game?” So thank you, Tim Howard, for what you’ve done and for choosing us to end your career with. Enjoy your time with your kids!
Rapids open their season on March 2nd against the Portland Timbers.
The Los Angeles Football Club kicked off their six-match preseason with a 3-1 victory against Toronto FC on Sunday evening.
Andre Horta, Diego Rossi, and newcomer, Peter-Lee Vassell scored all three goals for the home side, while Toronto’s Drew Moor pulled one back for the visitors late in the match.
Baggio Husidic, former LA Galaxy midfielder, who is on trial with the club – made his debut for LAFC after entering for Eduard Atuesta before halftime. If given a contract, he can provide some depth in the midfield area.
Although it was only the first match and the results don’t benefit much, it was nice to see a win from the Black and Gold after a string of losses that ended their season early last year.
LAFC will host Columbus Crew, Atlanta United, San Jose Earthquakes and Vancouver in Banc of California stadium for the remainder of preseason.
Supporters and the public are invited to attend the second-ever international friendly and season ticket members will have an opportunity to attend the final preseason match on Saturday, Feb. 23.
USMNT Update: Zimmerman and Ramirez scores in Sunday’s win
The United States Men’s National Team kicked off a new era under new head coachGregg Berhalter on Sunday, opening their 2019 campaign with a 3-0 shutout against Panama at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Following the opening goal from Chicago Fire’s Djordje Mihailovic in the 40th minute, LAFC’s favorite duo Walker Zimmerman and Christian Ramirez scored a pair of goals back-to-back – securing the 3-0 shutout.
January has been a busy month for Zimmerman. After much speculation, Zimmerman and LAFC agreed to a new four-year contract. The center back returns as an elite defender in his prime years – having six years of MLS experience and has been a regular for the U.S. Men’s National Team over the last year.
But Zimmerman wasn’t the only player from the Black and Gold to contribute – Ramirez, 27, earned his first international cap and marked the special occasion with a goal in the 89th minute.
Zimmerman and Ramirez will get another chance to shine on Saturday, Feb. 2, as the USMNT take on Costa Rica in San Jose, California.
Tyler Miller Returns to LAFC
Walker Zimmerman, Christian Ramirez, and Tyler Miller recently completed three weeks of USMNT camp in Chula Vista, California. Unfortunately, the team would leave behind four players, including Miller, before departing to Arizona.
The 25-year-old goalkeeper immediately returned to training with LAFC and played a vital role in Sunday’s contest.
LAFC’s friendly against Vissel Kobe
With the re-signing of Walker Zimmerman and the subsequent return of defenders Danilo Silva and Dejan Jakovic a day later, LAFC is bringing back 18 members of its inaugural squad. And in returning that core, a season after setting the standard for first-year teams in MLS, the club and its fans are asking: What can this group of players achieve with a full season under their belts?
The Black and Gold will have a chance to answer that question as they host Vissel Kobe for a preseason friendly this Thursday.
Vassell, Perez, and Mendoza are Black and Gold
LAFC surprised fans when they traded their first-round pick to FC Cincinnati during the 2019 MLS SuperDraft in Chicago.
But head coach Bob Bradley isn’t to be underestimated and the club didn’t leave empty handed as LAFC selected Peter-Lee Vassell, Javi Perez, and Kevin Mendoza.
Here’s what we know about these three draftees:
Peter-Lee Vassell – 40th overall pick
Before hitting the pitch, Vassell is already an interesting case.
The 19-year-old is one the few players who did not get selected out of college. Instead, the midfielder found his route to the SuperDraft via the 2018 Caribbean Combine, being selected MVP and earning an invite to the main MLS Combine. Additionally, he is on the senior international with Jamaica – having recorded eight caps and five goals, thus far.
Javi Perez – 64th overall pick
At just 20-years-old, the Spanish midfielder wanted a change of scenery after playing for Spain’s La Liga club Valencia CF – serving as the team’s captain for twelve years.
Perez spent the last two years at the University of Pittsburgh, having started in all 35 games he played. As a senior in 2018, he ranked second on the team with eleven points, four goals, and three assists.
A junior transfer from Spain, Perez was a two-time captain for the Panthers, earning USC All-South Region Third Team honors in 2018 and Second Team All-ACC in 2017-18.
Kevin Mendoza – 73rd overall pick
Mendoza spent the past four years at Liberty University, earning all-conference honors all four seasons, including first team accolades from 2016-18. A two-year captain for the Flames, Mendoza finished his collegiate career with 32 goals and 15 assists.
The 25-year-old midfielder graduated from Colegio de Bachilleres in his hometown of Mexico City, while also playing for Cruz Azul’s U-17 and U-20 squads.
Beita Time is back! Steven kicked off the second season of his now infamous interest show when he sat down with Latif Blessing.
Is Vela next to leave? It was widely rumored that Barcelona has shown interest in the forward. According to the Angels on Parade, Vela did not appear for his time slot but did give an interview to ESPN Deportes addressing the matter.
The club will play their second match at 11:30 am CT on Wednesday, January 23 when the home side faces a team comprised of USL’s Phoenix Rising FC trialists.
Before Sporting KC set off to Scottsdale for the fifth-straight year, players reported to Pinnacle earlier this month for physicals and welcomed their new teammates: Erik Hurtado, Kelyn Rowe, and Rodney Wallace.
Along with the newest additions to the squad, Sporting KC took a total of 39 players to Arizona. Including four members of the Swope Park Rangers, eight Sporting KC Academy products and five current Academy players, all under the age of 23, and MLS SuperDraft picks Kamar Marriott, Camden Riley, and Franky Martinez. All three players selected in the draft are currently unsigned. Additionally, Daniel Johnson – former midfielder for the Chicago Fire – is the lone trialist this preseason.
Among the thirteen Academy players, ten featured in Sporting KC’s preseason win: the senior team quintet of Daniel Salloi, Gianluca Busio, Jaylin Lindsey, Wan Kuzain, and Tyler Freeman; Rangers trio Felipe Hernandez, Wilson Harris and Will Little; and current Academy standouts Mo Abualnadi and Jake Davis.
Looking at the roster – it appears the squad’s main core – whom most signed new contracts before the 2018 season ended – is back. However, we can still potentially lose players – as seen with the three-team trade in early December which sent Diego Rubio to the Colorado Rapids and saw Sporting KC gain Kelyn Rowe and $300,000 in allocation money.
Sporting KC is set to play seven friendlies in Arizona before returning to Kansas City to host Club Deportivo Toluca in the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League on Thursday, February 21.
On February 13, Cameroonian international Frantz Pangop donned full Minnesota United FC kit for the first time and took part in the Loons’ production day. On the same day, the identity of his long-awaited countryman was revealed.
Bertrand Owundi Eko’o, a 24-year-old defender, joins United from Rainbow FC. Unlike with Pangop, I did not learn much about Owundi from the little footage I could find of him online. But Rainbow has been a popular talent pool for MLS scouts so I trust we will soon see what talent made him stand out.
While it is unclear how the newest left winger will fit into a roster heavy with left wingers, the intentions of the scouting team are becoming more clear: Potential over payout. Coach Adrian Heath stated for the press release that, “We felt it wasn’t a gamble, but an opportunity to bring in two young pieces for not a lot of financial output that we think have got huge upside.”
MNUFC’s latest signing is 22 year old Brazilian, Luiz Fernando, on a one-year loan from Fluminese FC with a buyout option in 2019. Fernando is expected to grow alongside Ibson and, in fact, shows similarities to his fellow Brazilian in respect to strong challenges and the ability to finesse the ball through tight spaces and out of the defensive third.
Speaking of thirds…
MNUFC went to the Carolina Challenge Cup to test out some new faces in new places. The Loons came home winless, having scored just one goal (earned on a penalty kick) in the preseason competition.
Their opening match against the USL’s Charleston Battery started off well with good possession and some strong challenges. But despite testing a 4-4-2 formation instead of Heath’s usual 4-2-3-1, the squad still managed to leave Abu Danladi isolated up front through the first half with little opportunity to score. The second half featured a fresh eleven, still in a 4-4-2. Ramirez and Pangop each got one decent look at goal, but the match ended in a stale 1-0 loss.
The second match, against expansion rival Atlanta United, looked a bit better, with newcomer Matt Lampson making some huge saves to put him in contention for the starting spot in goal and Kevin Molino hammered home (from the penalty spot) the first goal of the season. But an Ezequial Barco volley beat Lampson to tie the game and, despite some quick runs, the Loons just could not create chances in the final third to pull ahead.
Against Columbus Crew, a couple of errors by keeper Bobby Shuttleworth proved costly and the rest of the squad gave little effort to regain control of the ball after giving it away. Despite 2017’s leading scorer, Christian Ramirez, making his first start of the season, two goals from Columbus went unanswered.
Heath’s post-tournament assessment cited the squad’s failures in the final third. My first thought on the tactical change to a 4-4-2, from Heath’s favored 4-2-3-1, was that it would remedy the team’s 2017 problems in this area. Despite Rasmus Schuller and Jerome Thiesson each playing midfield conductor at times through the tournament, the guys just could not pull it together on the approach to the net.
Sure, it’s preseason. These games meant nothing. Despite two losses and a draw, the stat line remains 0-0-0. Maybe they were conserving their energy for the weeks ahead, the matches that matter.
The Loons’ season opener in San Jose on March 3 matters. And against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team whose tactics are built around the defense, any mistakes by the Loons in the final third will be magnified.
But, again, preseason performances mean nothing. It’s not the time to panic yet. First days are meant to be full of promise.
I have been eternally BORED since the season ended for Orlando City SC back in October after we missed out on playoffs for the third season running. But luckily, time flies and we are officially BACK! Preseason starts next week and I can’t wait. How about you?
This preseason, we’ll be facing off against Jacksonville University, Minnesota United FC (Hey Heath and Little Heath, miss you guys!), Philadelphia Union, Real Salt Lake, and Chicago Fire.Unfortunately, it looks like these matches will not be open to the public.
The following matches will get us warmed up for our home opener against D.C. United on March 3rd. See you there!
Saturday, Feb. 3 – Preseason scrimmage vs. Jacksonville University at Southern Oak Stadium, 12 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 10 – Preseason scrimmage vs. Minnesota United FC at Sylvan Lake Park, Time TBD
Wednesday, Feb. 14 – Preseason scrimmage vs. Philadelphia Union at Sylvan Lake Park, Time TBD
Saturday, Feb. 17 – Preseason scrimmage vs. Real Salt Lake at Sylvan Lake Park, Time TBD
Saturday, Feb. 24 – Preseason scrimmage vs. Chicago Fire at Orlando City Stadium, 11:30 a.m.
Be sure to check back next week for a full update on the Orlando City roster. I’m breaking down who’s in and who’s out. By the way, Larin’s still in.
When it’s mind-numbing and skull-crushingly cold, I always look to the prospect of spring to give me hope. I can easily conjure up the smell of thawing soil and the sight of our New York City FC players slipping on the overwatered turf in just about every second half of every home match at the Stadium, especially on the grass that covers the Yankee stadium infield.
These thoughts of greenery keep me going through the white, grey and black of January and February. As NYCFC fans we have roughly two months until our season opener in Kansas City on March 4th.
Things are far from frozen with our club, especially with our new DP Jesus Medina arriving in New York last week. The young Paraguayan with the wicked left foot checked out his new home and future NYCFC training facilities, although they were covered in snow. I am sure he had to use some of the imagination and creativity we hope to see on the pitch. It will be interesting to see how his offensive strengths, he scored 17 goals in 74 appearances for Club Libertad, will gel with Villa, Harrison, Wallace, and Moralez.
We also recently acquired Anton Tinnerholm and Saad Abdul-Salam to firm up our defensive line. We still seem to be lacking a definitive Center Back outside of Chanot but it seems Coach Vieira will have plenty of options and combinations to try albeit with a lot of new faces. Rumors of the addition of Yaya Touré have been quashed, at least for now, with the addition of Medina. Many are still hoping that some creativity can bring Yaya here as a non-DP – I guess we will have to wait and see. Personally, I am not sure how that would work.
While there isn’t any actual soccer until NYCFC’s first preseason friendly in Mexico on February 13th versus Club Atlético de San Luis, closer on the horizon is the MLS SuperDraft, which starts on Friday 1/19. Remember 2016, when Jack Harrison was the #1 pick in the SuperDraft? I am happy to announce that I will be reporting to you from Philly at this year’s SuperDraft on 1/19. Follow me on instagram @keirams
Excitement seems to be building for the new secondary kit. The players were traveling to Abu Dhabi this week for an “exciting Etihad NYCFC video project”. Perhaps this project is tied to the release and marketing of the new kit. I loved the inaugural all black secondary kit, let’s say I didn’t hate the more recent “swirly jersey” – but I am still looking forward to its replacement.
So until next time when we talk even more about SuperDraft,- adiós!
Peace, love, soccer.
Without the use of Google, who can tell me the name of the team who drafted Jack Harrison in 2016? Be the first one to tweet me the correct answer and I will send you an NYCFC prize/tchotchke. (This is the honor system, I trust you!)
Way back in October 2016, it was announced that Atlanta United would participate in the 2017 Carolina Challenge Cup hosted by the USL side (and ATLUTD affiliate) Charleston Battery. Minutes after the announcement, I booked two hotel rooms in Mt. Pleasant, SC for each weekend of the tournament for me and my friends. At that point, the team had fewer than 10 players signed, I believe, but that didn’t matter. Any excuse to go see our team play as early as possible!
I drove the four and a half ours out to Charleston on Friday, February 17th, and met up that night with some friends who had also driven in from ATL and surrounding areas. The next morning, after brunch with my soccer besties, we drove out to Daniel Island for the tailgate and game. By the time we got there around noon, the tailgate was just about in full swing. All of the Charleston and Atlanta supporters groups were next to each other, sharing beer and food and getting hyped for the game.
ATLUTD vs Columbus Crew was the first game of the tournament. Fresh off that 4-0 win in Chattanooga, the fans were feeling really optimistic about our chances in the tournament. Atlanta went up 1-0 on a diving header by Josef Martinez in the 6th minute and kept the lead going into the half. A lot of the talk at halftime was that the ATL side was looking really tired towards the end of the half. There was concern about them being match ready for the rest of the week and for the season opener. In the second half,Columbus’ Federico Higuain scored a brace, to hand ATLUTD their first (and only) loss of the preseason.
I won’t lie, it was a huge bummer, but we knew it was going to happen eventually. Fortunately, it was only preseason. And we stuck around for the second game to watch the Battery take on the Seattle Sounders. I ended up going to the pub in the stadium for some food and missed the Seattle goal, but went back out for the second half and watched the Battery score a goal at the death to get a draw against the reigning MLS champs, which was pretty amazing.
The second round of games were on Wednesday, so I wasn’t able to attend in person, but I went to a watch party at Fado Buckhead to cheer on our boys with 50 or 60 other fans in the corner of the bar. We had no sound, but as long as the game was on, we were good. ATLUTD put out their starters and Seattle fielded their B team and trialists. By the half, the score was 3-0 in Atlanta’s favor; Martinez got his third goal of the preseason, Miguel Almiron scored on a PK after Julian Gressel was pulled down in the box, and Hector “Tito” Villalba scored a lovely goal that flew right through the Seattle goalie’s legs. In the second half, Martinez scored again to bring the score to 4-0 and the fans watching from ATL were freaking out. Not long after that last goal, Seattle brought in some of their starters and scored 2 goals, bringing the final score to 4-2 in favor of Atlanta.
The following Saturday, I was back on the road to Charleston to catch the last two games of the tournament. The current standings had Columbus in the lead with 4 points (they had tied with Charleston in the early game on Wednesday), Atlanta in second place with 3 points, Charleston in third with 2 points, and Seattle in last with 1 point. If Seattle managed to win or draw with Columbus and ATL beat Charleston, our boys would take home their first trophy. Unfortunately for ATL, Columbus beat Seattle 1-0 and took home the CCC17 trophy. Still, we had second place to fight for!
ATL started a very different line up for this final game. Mostly the B team, with Yamil Asad up top and Andrew Carleton in midfield. Asad scored on a header just over three minutes into the game with an assist from Mikey Ambrose. Just before the end of the half, Romario Williams (an ATLUTD player playing for Charleston) scored a stunner from about 20 yards out and tied the game. The second half was pretty well dominated by ATL – Carleton was a force to be reckoned with – but it wasn’t until subs Almiron, Parkhurst, Larentowicz, and Villalba came on in the last ten minutes of the game that we saw another goal. In the 90th minute, Villalba nabbed a cross from Andrew Wheeler-Oniunu and fired it past Charleston’s keeper, earning Atlanta second place in the tournament.
The best part of the weekend was just after the game when the players came over to our section to say thanks, sign autographs, and take pictures with the fans. I finally got my selfie with Tito and he signed my jersey (which already has his name and number on it). He also asked me where I was from, which confused me until I realized he was pointing to the Argentinean flag I was holding. I told him in my not-so-great Spanish that my father is from Argentina. I also got selfies with Parkhurst and Asad and later one with Coach Tata Martino in the parking lot when we kind of ambushed him. We also briefly saw club president Darren Eales and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra as they were leaving. I didn’t even have words for how excited I was that we were eight days away from our first season opener.
And now it’s less than a week. I am still at a loss for words. Hopefully I’ll find some soon for my next article! See y’all then!