Who is Building a Dynasty in MLS as of 2018?

A little over a year ago, I asked Extra Time Radio : “What past MLS teams constituted dynasties?” (56th minute of the linked podcast if you want to hear their discussion). The consensus was that the 1996 – 1999 DC United (3 MLS Cups, 2 Supporter’s Shields and 1 US Open Cup) and the 2010 – 2014 LA Galxy teams (3 MLS Cups, and 2 Supporter’s Shield) were definitely dynasties. Teams that come close were 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield and 4 US Open Cups), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire (1 MLS Cup, 2 US Open Cups), and the 2012 – 2017 Sporting Kansas City (1 MLS Cup, 3 US Open Cups).

Since then, whether a team is building a dynasty or not has been a recurrent discussion on the show. Here I am going to look at what teams have won trophies over the last few years and rank how close each team is to becoming an MLS Dynasty. My *loose* definition for an MLS Dynasty, based on the two examples given above, has six qualifications:

1. It spans 5 seasons (You could talk me into 4 being enough)

2. The team wins 1 trophy or more per year on average.

3. At least one of those trophies has to be MLS Cup.

4. The team has to win a trophy in a majority of their dynasty years.

5. The dynasty has to begin and end in years where the team won a trophy.

6. The team has a core set of key players that are present for most of the dynasty

This definition excludes the teams above that were close: 2009-2016 Seattle Sounders had 6 trophies over 8 years (Less than 1 trophy per year), 1998-2000 Chicago Fire had 3 trophies over 3 years (not long enough), and the 2012-2017 Sporting Kansas City had 4 trophies over 6 years (Less than 1 trophy per year). You’ll see below why I included the fourth and fifth criteria.

The sixth criteria comes from the ExtraTime Radio discussion. When one thinks of a dynasty, one usually thinks of certain figures who lead said dynasty. These can be a coach and/or a few players. If a team, somehow, met every other requirement while shipping big players in and out every year without a semblance of continuity, then perhaps they could still be considered a dynasty. But I highly doubt that would be possible. For example, the New England Patriots of the NFL, a league with massive year-to-year turnover, have had Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the center of their success.

A few more ground rules for the sake of this discussion:

  • Due to the 4/5 year requirement, I will only be looking as far back as 2015.
  • Only teams that have won trophies will even be mentioned.
  • Only MLS Cup, US Open Cup, Supporter’s Shield and the Canadian Championship are being considered as relevant trophies. If an MLS team were to win CONCACAF Champions League, that would also be considered. I am not counting what I’ll refer to as “Rivalry Trophies” such as The Cascadia Cup, the Atlantic Cup, etc. Some teams have more rivalries with trophies on the line than others and so it doesn’t seem fair to count those towards these rankings. Plus rivalries games tend to be a coin flip even if one team is having a bad year, so they aren’t a great indication of success. If someone can convince me otherwise I am open to listening to your argument.

Honorable Mentions

Vancouver Whitecaps (1 Canadian Championship in 2015), Portland Timbers (1 MLS Cup in 2015), Seattle Sounders (1 MLS Cup in 2016), FC Dallas (1 Supporter’s Shield and 1 US Open Cup both in 2016)

These teams have all won a trophy in the last four years, but their opportunities to add to the trophy case and create an argument for a dynasty have come and gone. I realize Seattle or Dallas could still win trophies next year and their 2016 trophies would still be within a four/five year times span. So let’s imagine either team were to win the 2019 treble (2019 MLS Cup, Supporter’s Shield, and US Open Cup). Then they would technically have 4 years where they won 4+ trophies, and at least one of the trophies would be MLS Cup, meeting my first three criteria set above. However, for a team to win 2 sets of trophies with a two year gap in the middle doesn’t feel like a dynasty. This is why I added the fourth criterion that a team has to win trophies in a majority of the years during their dynasty. Of course If they won any trophy in 2020 after getting the treble in 2019 then that’s a new discussion. However, if they did win 3 trophies in 2019 and 1 trophy in 2020, then the 2016 trophy probably shouldn’t be included in their years as a dynasty. That is, it seems deceptive to include the 2016 trophy and say “they won 5 trophies over the course of 5 years” when there were two trophy-less years. Dallas are in the same boat as Seattle here.

5. Sporting Kansas City (2 US Open Cups one in 2015 and one in 2017)

SKC were close to boosting their Dynasty status with an MLS Cup victory this year. Their 2015 US Open Cup victory will become more or less irrelevant come the start of next season. If SKC want their 2017 US Open Cup to be included in a dynasty they’ll need some silverware next year. Kansas City are usually in contention for a trophy or two so I think they have a chance to do so.

4. Houston Dynamo (1 US Open Cup in 2018)

At least Houston have the potential for consecutive trophy years. However, considering that Houston is currently the lowest spending team in the league, and this was their first trophy since 2007, I won’t be holding my breath. They only edge out SKC by winning a trophy this year rather than last year

3. New York Red Bulls (2 Supporter’s Shields one in 2018, one in 2015)

The Red Bulls are in a similar place to SKC, two recent non-MLS Cup trophies and just missing MLS Cup this year. They get the edge over SKC due to winning a trophy this year as opposed to last year. Of recent, the red side of New York have been Would-Be-Kings: losing in the US Open Cup Final in 2017 to Sporting Kansas City, losing in the playoffs last year on away goals to eventual champions Toronto FC, losing in the semi-final of CONCACAF Champions League against Chivas earlier in 2018, and losing the Eastern Conference Championship not long ago to Atlanta United. If the Red Bulls caught a few more lucky breaks they would be sitting on 4 more trophies over the last 2 years. Alas, the same could be said for many of these teams. Since the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since 2007, I suspect they have a decent chance to add to their trophy case next year.

2. Atlanta United (1 MLS Cup in 2018)

There’s definitely something special going on in Atlanta. The Five Stripes place higher than the previous teams ranked because they already have MLS Cup in their possession and that is the one essential trophy. While Atlanta’s spending suggests that they could have a dynasty in the making, Head Coach Tata Martino is leaving and it seems talisman Almiron may also leave this winter. Assuming the rumors of their respective departures are true, I am interested to see how the team replaces those two. If they nail those replacements, which seems likely, then they may have a dynasty-in-the-making. Atlanta are the only team that could really challenge this 6th criteria I added above. But even after losing Tata, Almiron, and Garza, the team still has key players like Martinez, (likely) Parkhurst, Nagbe, and Pirez on the books for next year. So they still have some level of continuity, and still meet the 6th criteria.

1. Tornto FC (1 MLS Cup, 1 Supporter’s Shield, 3 Canadian Championships since 2016)

As of 2018, Toronto are easily the closest team to a building an MLS Dynasty. Currently, Toronto have 5 trophies over the course of 3 years. While it is tempting to extend their dynasty backward/forward 2 years in order to meet the 5 year requirement it would violate the 5th criteria I included. It doesn’t really make sense to count a year at the beginning and/or end where a trophy was not won. Therefore, I would not call them a dynasty right now. Any trophy won in 2019 and/or 2020 would change that. I’m also not totally against a dynasty that lasts only 4 years. Toronto definitely meet the 6th criteria as Bradley, Jozy, and Giovinco were centerpieces of this team for the last 3 years.

There are those who would devalue the Canadian Championship because it is “easier to win” than the US Open Cup. I don’t like this argument but I have to admit there is some logic to it. In 2018, there were 20 MLS teams and 22 USL teams that competed for the US Open Cup. Meanwhile there were 3 MLS teams and 1 USL team that competed for the Canadian Championship. That’s a 1/42 chance of any team winning US Open Cup vs. a 1/4 chance of any team winning the Canadian Championship. That being said, a trophy is a trophy is a trophy. For now I weigh the Canadian Championship as much as the US Open Cup.

That’s all I have for now! Let me know if you have any questions about my definition/ranking. I am more than willing to have a nice, level-headed discussion about it 🙂

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Gregg Berhalter, USMNT Head Coach and a USMNT November Review

This is a bit of a “USMNT November Grab-Bag” as I missed some opportunities to write about a few things while traveling for Thanksgiving and being sick for the following week. So I hope you enjoy me playing catch-up and trying to be concise.

Gregg Beralter, USMNT Head Coach 

As of today, December 2nd 2018, the US Soccer Federation has finally, officially named Gregg Berhalter as the new US Men’s National Team head coach. I’ve already written about why I think Berhalter deserves the job here. If you are new to Gregg Berhalter I suggest you read that and check out this video MLS just released on YouTube. While I do applaud the end product of the USMNT head coach search, I am not sure that I approve of the process by which he was hired. It has been widely reported that no other likely candidates (Tata Martino, Jesse Marsch, Peter Vermes, Oscar Pareja, et al.) were interviewed for the job. That being said Earnie Stewart has stayed quiet on what his exact process was for picking the new manager. Until he sheds some light on that process I will withhold final judgement.

In looking forward to Berhalter’s tenure, it’s worth noting something The Total Soccer Show brought up in a recent podcast: due to the prolonged period where there was no head coach, Gregg Berhalter may not be provided the same patience that many new managers are usually provided. People have been waiting for this announcement since October of 2017. As such they wish a system, a plan, and/or a structure were already in place at this point. If Berhalter falters early, many won’t be inclined to give him a second chance.

However, in all reality, Berhalter still has some time to establish that system:

  • The USMNT’s annual January camp is where Berhalter will get an extended look at the MLS-based player pool. Those few weeks will be a great time to build a system and find a core group of players.
  • Then there will be a handful of friendlies before the summer which will likely be used to incorporate the Europe-based player pool.
  • Next there’s the 2019 Gold Cup where the US will likely have 6 games against a wide variation of competition (From minnows such as Haiti and Cuba to the juggernauts like Costa Rica and Mexico). I’ll probably say more about this when the time comes, but I think this tournament should be about process goals for the US. It will be a great chance for the team to gel as a cohesive unit. I don’t much care if we win the tournament as long as the on-field product is coming together.
  • Lastly, the CONCACAF Nationas League starts in September of 2019. These are legitimately important games that count towards 2022 World Cup Qualifying. As I’ve listed above, Berhalter will have a decent chunk of time and a decent number of games to prepare. Thus, September 2019 is when I’ll start giving harsh judgments if necessary.

USMNT November Friendlies

Let’s just get this out of the way: these games were ugly and tough to watch.

If you’re reading this I’m guessing that you’ve watched the games and feel similarly to me: frustrated, impatient, and unenthusiastic. In order to counteract that, I am going to try and highlight the few positives that were there:

  • The return of Sebastian Lletget was solid. his first minutes since tearing his ACL against Honduras in 2017 and he looked pretty good. I definitely want to see him get more minutes as I believe he can play the No. 10 role better than Julian Green.
  • Tyler Adams looked good in his second half sub against England and in his start against Italy. He bossed a few players off the ball and had pretty clean passes.
  • Weston McKennie played well, after being pushed higher up the field. McKennie was being asked to cover for Wil Trapp’s defensive liabilities earlier on which dragged him deeper into the midfield than he prefers to be. So when I say he moved further upfield I think he moved from a No. 6 position to a No. 8 position. It’s unfortunate he had to leave the camp early.
  • Josh Sargent did some tough running against Italy. It’s too bad he and Pulisic were practically on an island the whole game.
  • Offensively, Pulisic had some flashes of brilliance despite none of them panning out. Its nice to see him back on the field for the US in any capacity.
  • We got to see Ethan Horvath in goal, rewarding him for his good run of form for Club Brugge. The scoreline vs. Italy would have looked a lot worse if it were not for him. I think he has locked down the third goalkeeper spot behind Steffen and Guzan, if not challenged for the starting role. If he continue’s to start for Brugge I wouldn’t be shocked if he moves into the USMNT starting XI.

As for any negatives to take away from these games there are myriad. However, plenty of other people have written about them and they may not matter once Berhalter gets these same players back in camp. For now I’ll say that our backline needs to work better as a unit, our midfield needs to create meaningful possession after winning the ball, and our attack has to be more than Pulisic trying to pull-off a miracle. Plenty of room for improvement across the board. Now we just have to wait and see what Berhalter does.

US U20 Team are CONCACAF U20 Champions 

I wrote about the U20 team’s first round of U20 World Cup Qualifying but did not follow up on their three subsequent games that 1. Qualified them for the U20 World Cup and 2. Crowned them CONCACAF U20 Champions for the second straight cycle. Success at the U20 level is decently correlated with future success at the senior national team level. For example, Serbia won the U20 World Cup back in 2015. After their senior team failed to qualify for the 2012 Euros, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, Serbia qualified for the 2018 World Cup with a relatively young roster. Those 18/19 years-old’s who won the U20 World Cup were just entering their primes at 21/22 year-old’s in 2018. Similarly, our 18/19 year-old’s playing in next summer’s U20 World Cup will be around 21/22 come the 2022 World Cup.

Not to mention, we have players who played in the 2017 U20 World Cup already contributing to the national team ala Tyler Adams, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Josh Sargent. There are also some players from the 2017 U20 World Cup who look poised to crack the senior roster in 2019 such Justen Glad, Erik Palmer-Brown, Jeremy Ebobisse, Brooks Lennon, and maybe more. So don’t be surprised if the names from this year’s roster pop up in the coming years.

My previous article gave some quick hits about the roster mentioning every player and how they performed. I think all of those assessments hold true for the final three games which were against Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico. That is, the best players were still Mendez, Pomykal, Llanez, Servania, Gloster, Rennicks, and Scott. There were three players added to the roster for the final three games: (CB) Chris Richards, (RB) Serginio Dest, and (ST) Sebastian Soto.

  • Richards was clean on the ball and helped to solidify a defense that was barely tested in the first round of games. There’s a reason why the US had clean sheets in their final 3 games against better competition. Richards recently moved up from Bayern’s U19 team to their U23 team as a 18 year-old, which is a fairly big deal, especially in Bayern’s system.
  • Dest was a marked improvement over Jaylin Lindsay at RB as he had fewer errors and provided more going forward in possession. There’s a reason Dest is in Ajax’s system and Lindsay is in Sporting KC’s system (not to knock SKC’s academy but Ajax has one of the best academies in the world). He also completely owned Mexico’s Diego Lainez who was ripping up the US’s senior team back in October.
  • Soto had good hold-up play but lacked many threatening shots on goal. After he was subbed off against Costa Rica I thought that his replacement, college student Justin Rennicks, was more goal dangerous. That’s not to say that Rennicks is a better player. A striker can do many good things other than score goals and Soto may have had an off night. Still I think it’s worth remembering this going forward.

Again, I’ll remind everyone that this US U20 roster was a B+ roster at best since they were missing the likes of Chris Durkin, Andrew Carleton, Richie Ledezma, CJ dos Santos and maybe some others. Fingers crossed that we get to see those players at the U20 World Cup in 2019.

US U17’s Play Friendlies

I honestly don’t have much to say about the U17’s playing a few games over the last week. Suffice it to say that Reyna looked good-to-great but I’m still not sure what his best position is, Joe Scally of NYCFC looked good at RB, I wish I got to see George Bello play LB in these games and I wish I got to see Konrad de la Fuente play anywhere with this team. For those of you that don’t know, Bello score his first professional goal for Atlanta United earlier this year and de la Fuente got his first appearance for Barcelona B earlier this week. Not too shabby for a couple of teenagers.

P.S. Later this month I’m going to write about who I would call-up to the USMNT January Camp if I were Gregg Berhalter. Additionally, I’m going to release a few articles about MLS, something I haven’t done before. Get excited!