Q&A: MLS MVP picks, expansion, and the USMNT’s midfield

Quick Hits
  • We asked for your American soccer questions on Twitter earlier this week – and you delivered!
  • Who should win this year’s MLS MVP award? And what’s up with the USMNT’s midfield shape? Let’s talk about all of that and more.
Aug 13, 2022; Austin, Texas, USA; Austin FC forward Sebastian Driussi (7) gestures after scoring a goal against Sporting Kansas City during the second half at Q2 Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
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Hey everyone, Joe Lowery here. You know what day it is. You know what time it is. It’s Wednesday, which means we’re back with another midweek mailbag!

I asked for your American soccer questions on Twitter – and you delivered. I’ll answer a number of them down below, but if there’s something you desperately want answered that didn’t make it into this mailbag, submit it here and we’ll do our best to answer it on the site.

Alright, let’s do this thing.

@dr_pgb

Should (or would) Berhalter adapt his USMNT midfield structure to be more similar to Leeds, given the success of Adams and Aaronson in that team? I’m thinking a Musah-Adams pivot with Aaronson centrally.

He already has!

Remember back in June when we saw Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah play as a double pivot in possession with Aaronson hanging out in the right halfspace? That’s exactly how Jesse Marsch uses both Adams and Aaronson. And if I squint just a bit, I can even pretend that Adams’ partner in the double pivot at Leeds, Marc Roca, is Yunus Musah.

Pushing Musah deeper and getting another attacker on the field makes a ton of sense for the USMNT. It likely won’t make sense for every game – there will be times when having three dedicated central midfielders covering ground is more valuable than squeezing an extra attacker on the field. But the fact that the United States can flip back and forth between midfield shapes is a good thing.

Now, I don’t think Gregg Berhalter is copying March’s homework here (especially given that Berhalter made this shift before Adams and Aaronson had played a game in the Premier League). But hey, maybe those two managers text each other little tactical tidbits.

Berhalter: Hey Jesse, was just thinking about using Adams and Musah in a double pivot against Morocco lol could be fun

Marsch: I like it GGG. Might as well toss BA in the halfspace while you’re at it tbh

Berhalter: *sends gif of one of his own behind the back bounces passes*

I’m just saying, I can see it.

@WendellGee5

Are y'all gonna do a "USMNT for Idiots" guide for us to send our not-really-soccer-fan friends, who will suddenly take an interest when the WC starts?

We’ve got all sorts of World Cup content in the works over the next few months, including some introductory guides to the USMNT. Is there a better time to get people interested in soccer than during the World Cup? I certainly don’t think so.

At Backheeled, we’re excited to bring new fans into the fold.

And don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of fun and interesting things for those of you who know your stuff. You deserve some sort of reward for living through and experiencing the Never To Be Spoken Of Again Dave Sarachan Era.

@MicheleG3

If Minnesota ends up ahead of Austin in the standings, would the Golden Boot be enough for Driussi to win MVP over Reynoso? Or is Minnesota over Austin a wrap for Reynoso?

Michele coming in with the MLS MVP hypotheticals. I’m here for it. Before I get to Emanuel Reynoso vs. Sebastian Driussi, I want to get my 2022 MLS MVP pick out there: Jose Cifuentes.

I know you’re rolling your eyes right now, but hear me out on this. Cifuentes has been the midfield glue for this year’s best team (who would not be this year’s best team without that midfield glue). He’s an active presser, he moves the ball forward, he crashes the box, he creates chances. and he scores goals. Cifuentes has been the best player on the best team in MLS this year and, unless something crazy happens between now and Decision Day, he’s my pick for MVP.

Now, setting my love for Cifuentes aside, I think Driussi has a stranglehold on this year’s MVP award. He leads the league in goals, he’s in the top 20 in MLS for assists, and he’s been the most impactful attacker on an Austin FC team that has defied all expectations in 2022. Even if Austin fall below Minnesota United in the Western Conference standings, that won’t change the fact that the voters love goals.

Assuming Driussi wins the Golden Boot (and that my #Cifuentes4MVP campaign doesn’t go viral), the MVP award is his to lose.

@alfvebe

Are Minnesota United good, great, or elite?

They’re good.

They’re not great and they’re certainly not elite. But Minnesota United are a dangerous team right now. Adrian Heath and Co. have won seven of their last 10 games and are basically locks for the postseason at this point in the year.

The reason why I say that Minnesota United aren’t more than good is because they’re still not creating a crazy amount of chances and they’re still not denying a crazy amount of chances. Even looking back at just their last 10 games, Minnesota’s expected goal difference is barely positive (+0.03, according to American Soccer Analysis).

Don’t get me wrong: no one in the West is going to be excited about coming up against Minnesota United in the playoffs. With Reynoso as the No. 10 and some actually functional attacking pieces around him, this team can do some damage. But I need to see a little more from Minnesota before the end of the regular season if they’re going to get upgraded from good to great.

@PrimeRoyce

Hypothetically if Joe Lowery is in this USMNT pool, what position does he play and what club does he play for?

This is self-indulgent, but I love it.

In high school, I played as right back and as a center back. I could read the game from those two spots, organize things in the back, and direct traffic without needing to be on the ball too much. Believe me, me not being on the ball too much was a good thing for everyone.

I think we can connect those positions to today’s USMNT, don’t you? Berhalter’s center backs get on the ball a bit more than the central defensive contingent on my very average high school team did. But hey, I’m not about to apologize for the fact that we didn’t play free-flowing soccer on some random half dirt/half grass field out here in Phoenix in the middle of August.

I see myself in the ‘fullback in defense, auxiliary center back in possession’ role that Berhalter has used a number of times during his U.S. tenure. Daniel Lovitz/Tim Ream played it back in 2019 on the left and Reggie Cannon played it for the U.S. earlier this year. In that role, I’m not getting too far up into the attack, which is good, but I am coordinating things from deeper areas and pulling some of the team’s strings.

I think it works well. Whether Berhalter would agree with me is a different story…

As far as a club goes, I think I’m following Richy Ledezma’s path. Ledezma, who’s from Phoenix just like me, went from playing club soccer in Arizona to playing in the Real Salt Lake academy. From RSL, he moved over to the Netherlands.

Would the Dutch approve of my first touch? Not a chance. Would they appreciate my detailed knowledge of Frank de Boer’s time coaching Atlanta United? I sincerely hope so. Because that’s pretty much all I have to offer.

@dbeffert

If MLS wanted you to plan for 30-32 teams, how would you go about it? MLS I and II with internal pro/rel? East and West have their own Supporters’ Shields and only meet in playoffs?

As much as I’d love to see internal promotion/relegation in MLS, I just can’t see it happening. Maybe I’m wrong and three decades from now it becomes a reality. But pro/rel in MLS seems so unlikely, even with limited consequences in a still-closed system.

If we set pro/rel aside, the best way I can think to create a schedule for a 30-32 team league would be to cut out inter-conference play, as the question proposes.

Why? Well, if you cut out inter-conference play, you have a chance of creating balanced schedules for teams within the same conference. The schedules for, say, the Colorado Rapids and the New York Red Bulls would be completely different. But balancing the schedules between conference opponents could help create a level regular season playing field.

Right now, we don’t get the clearest picture of who the best team in the league is because the schedules are wildly imbalanced. If you cut out cross-conference play, you still don’t know who the best team in the league really is, but you do know who the best team in each conference really is.

And maybe that’s an improvement? I think the whole idea behind dividing MLS into two somethings really starts to get interesting when you’re closer to 36 teams. Then you can split things right down the middle and put 18 teams in the East and 18 in the West and balance the 34-game schedules.

But do we really want 36 MLS teams?