Herrera’s debut in Houston, Cifuentes is a star, and more from around MLS

Quick
Hits
  • From rants to debuts to massive blowouts, it’s been a wild last few days for Major League Soccer 
  • Let’s get you caught up on some of what you missed over the last few days
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This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

This weekend was wild. Like, one of the craziest MLS weekends that I can remember. Massive blowouts? Check. Big debuts? Check. Insanely late equalizers? Check. Rants? Check. Wayne Rooney coming back to D.C., this time as their manager? Check.

I’m here to help fill you in on what you missed over the last few days. Vamos.

Josef Martinez isn’t happy

To be fair, he shouldn’t be. Atlanta United dropped three points at home to Austin FC on Saturday in a 3-0 loss. Atlanta has only won one MLS game since May 8 and over the last few years, they’ve done a woeful job of winning games against good teams.

After that loss to Austin, Martinez had clearly had enough. He dropped a legendary rant in his postgame media availability that touched on his contract status, the team not working together, and roster construction.

“If you want to bring guys here,” Martinez said on Saturday, “It’s because they want to play here and it’s not because of business, and that’s been happening for a long time.” 

Atlanta has dealt with a bunch of injuries, yes, but their decline from the Tata Martino era to now has been marked by a string of underperforming players and disappointing coaches. Going from Martino to Frank de Boer was a questionable choice by the front office, at best. Stylistically, Gabriel Heinze was also a very different manager than Martino – and he had his own set of issues. Now, there’s Gonzalo Pineda who’s trying to balance an attack-heavy roster that’s conceding too many chances.

Today’s Atlanta United is nearly unrecognizable compared to what it looked like back in 2017 and 2018. We know it. The fans know it. Martinez knows it. And he wanted to make sure that the front office knows it, too.

Debuts! Hector Herrera and Cucho Hernandez get their first MLS minutes

Now that the MLS transfer window is open, we saw two big debuts over the weekend: Hector Herrera came on for Houston in their wild 2-2 draw with Dallas and Cucho Hernandez came on for Columbus in their 3-2 comeback win over Chicago. 

How did those players perform? And what roles were they asked to play?

Paulo Nagamura used Herrera as a No. 8 in front of Matias Vera in something of a 4-4-2. With his strong right foot, Herrera carved up Dallas for stretches of Saturday’s game. He broke lines, played runners in over the top, and generally dictated the game’s tempo (which was choppy, given all of the throwing and chanting that Houston’s fans were doing).

He even showed some great awareness to help Houston take a quick corner kick which led to their first goal of the game. Herrera makes Houston better – and with him involved, the Dynamo have one of the most skillful midfield groups in all of MLS.

Looking at the Crew, Caleb Porter used Hernandez as a No. 9 in his preferred 4-2-3-1 shape for most of the Colombian’s time on the field on Saturday night. 

Hernandez played 30 minutes off the bench and scored the game-winner in the second half off of some, um, interesting defending from the Fire. Hernandez, who played as a winger for Watford in the Premier League last year, hung out between the lines and moved wide to find space against Chicago. His first touch wasn’t always perfect, but he had creative ideas and found some good spots in the box. 

I’m curious to see how Hernandez changes the Crew’s attack during this second half of the season, both in terms of his production and his style of play. He’s much more mobile than any of the other No. 9s in Columbus and his tendency to move all over the field presents different opportunities and challenges for his teammates.

Jose Cifuentes is a problem

Just ask the Galaxy. Or, really, any other team that has played against LAFC this season. Cifuentes scored twice against the LA Galaxy in the latest edition of El Trafico on Friday night, one from a corner kick and one from a run into the box

Cifuentes loves to arrive in the penalty area and create chaos for the opposition. In fact, he crashes the box like few other No. 8s in the league: the 23-year-old is third in MLS among central midfielders with at least 1,000 minutes in runs per 90 minutes that end in the box. 

It’s not just off-ball movement that makes Cifuentes such a threat. It’s his ball progression, too. His FBref passing chart is a whole bunch of green, with 90th percentile or higher ratings in assists, expected assists, passes into the final third, and progressive passes per 90. Cifuentes is a force in Steve Cherundolo’s midfield and at some point in the not-too-distant future, he’s going to be a force in a European team’s midfield. One that’s playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.