Doug McIntyre’s weekly MLS column, 23 Thoughts, parses through the latest insights and inside info from around American soccer.
ATLANTA — We’ll get to Jason Kreis in a minute. First, MLS Cup is finally here, with Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers set to do battle in front of more than 73,000 fans on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, FS1_ at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Timbers defender Zarek Valentin summed up the feelings of players on both teams on Friday, a sentiment that is shared by fans of both clubs and supporters across the league.
“It’s like Christmas,” he said. “The days leading up to it are long, they kind of blend together, but eventually, when you get to Christmas day, hopefully you get a good present.”
For league execs, this final is already a gift. The excitement in Georgia’s capital is palpable. And while the match won’t be the best-attended in the world this weekend — Manchester United drew 74,523 to Old Trafford for Saturday’s 4-1 win over Fulham — it will smash the high-water mark for any previous MLS finale. We’ll talk more about the big game in a moment. Now, the news.
1. I’m hearing from multiple sources that new LA Galaxy general manager Dennis Te Kloese has honed in on former Real Salt Lake, New York City FC and Orlando City manager Jason Kreis as the club’s next coach. I’ve previously reported in this space that the club interviewed ex-Timbers boss Caleb Porter and contacted Boca Juniors manager (and onetime Columbus Crew maestro) Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has also made it clear to team president Chris Klein that he would like Dom Kinnear to return. One source said that Kinnear would stay on as Kreis’s assistant if the hiring is finalized.
[UPDATE: After the original version of this story posted, several other sources reached out to say that Kreis would be an assistant on Kinnear’s staff if Kinnear gets the top job, not the other way around. Nothing has been finalized yet, though.]
2. Te Kloese was formally announced as the Galaxy GM on Friday, but I’ve been told he’s been working for the club “for weeks already.”
3. I’ve said before that former U.S. interim head coach Dave Sarachan deserves some consideration for open MLS jobs based on the calm and classy way he handled himself and the national team during his year in charge of the program. It’s not an MLS job, but word is he’s being considered for USL side North Carolina FC’s vacant position. However, another source with knowledge of the search stressed that no decision is imminent, and that there are about 10 candidates still in the running. They could do a lot worse than Sarachan.
4. I believe that U.S. under-20 coach Tab Ramos interviewed with FC Dallas over the last two weeks. I also believe that he was offered the job. I don’t think the sides are close to a deal, however, with compensation the main sticking point.
5. Back to MLS Cup. There was a cool moment Friday during Portland’s pre-training media availability, when Valentin spotted TVA’s Nicolas Martineau, who covered Valentin when he played in Montreal. Valentin noted that the Timbers have three French-speaking players — Larrys Mabiala, Bill Tuiloma and Jeremy Ebobisse — and proceeded to summon them over for Martineau to interview. Lauren Hayes, the league’s senior director of communications, joked that Valentin was going to go into public relations when his playing days were over. Or at least I think she was joking. The gift of gab runs in the Valentin family: His older brother, Julian, a former LA Galaxy defender, now heads up digital media and publications for baseball’s Colorado Rockies.
6. Few active players can speak to the league’s growth better than Valentin. He broke into the league in 2011 with now-defunct Chivas USA, who often played games in a near empty stadium in Carson, California. On Friday, he was talking about the Timbers’ June visit to Atlanta, when the Five Stripes drew “only” 45,116 to The Benz. “It’s special,” Valentin said of playing the biggest MLS game in the league’s biggest venue. “Kudos to MLS how much it’s grown.”
7. Said hello to outspoken Timbers owner Merritt Paulson before training. He’s clearly embracing the underdog role. “Why even play the game?,” he teased, noting Atlanta’s status as favorites. I told him I actually liked his team’s chances. “Me too, although I can’t say that.” He replied. He then jumped into a scrum with reporters and said exactly that.
8. Atlanta United defender Michael Parkhurst doesn’t buy the favorites talk. He’s taking nothing for granted having played in, and lost, four previous MLS Cup finals. “I know a lot of people said whoever wins our matchup with the Red Bulls is going to win MLS Cup. That’s crazy,” Parkhurst said. “Each team comes in with a 50-50 chance to win the game and we have to be on top of our game.”
9. Portland is a dangerous and experienced foe, and the Timbers have been road warriors this postseason, dispatching Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City away from Providence Park. In 2015, they beat Columbus (and Parkhurst) at Crew Stadium. “A lot of those guys are still on the team. They’ve got the experience. They’re not going to be in awe of the environment.”
10. When Parkhurst limped off the field late in the second leg against New York, he looked to be in a race against time to be ready for Saturday. This week, he said he’s 100-percent. How did he recover so quickly? “I haven’t done much the last seven days,” he said. “It’s been a lot of elevation and ice. I’ve been off my feet a lot and fortunately for me we had nine days in between games. That really helps. Had it been a shorter turnaround it would’ve been really difficult. It’s MLS Cup. A bum ankle isn’t going to hold me back.”
11. Parkhurst raised some eyebrows when he said that United teammate Miguel Almiron “might be the best player I’ve ever played with,” along with former New England Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph. It’s a shame that guys like Joseph and Dwayne De Rosario never got the chance to show what they could do in Europe. Scottish titan Celtic tried to buy both players way back when, but that was a different era, when MLS flat-out refused to sell its stars. How times have changed.
12. In addition to saying that MLS must become a selling league, commissioner Don Garber also mentioned a potential new stadium in Boston a few times during Friday’s State of the League address. My understanding is that if and when the Kraft family get a new home built for the Revolution in Beantown, the club will be rebranded. I get why, but also think that’s a shame. The Revs are the last original MLS club still using their original logo, and it’s a nod to the 1994 World Cup that birthed the league.
12. Atlanta United keeper Brad Guzan has been on the bench for a bunch of championship matches for club and country: The 2015 FA Cup final between his Aston Villa and Arsenal. The 2007 Gold Cup and 2009 Confederation Cup finals. I asked him when the last time he actually was on the field for one. “I don’t know, to be honest,” he said after a pause. “I don’t know if I’ve ever played in a final.”
As such, the 34-year-old knows not to take it for granted, and has told his less experienced teammates as much. “Sometimes as a young player, you think that this is almost the normal, that you get to play in these every year and it’s automatic. And that’s certainly not the case. You try to emphasize that you never know when you’ll have an opportunity like this again. You have to seize the moment.”
14. Honestly, the buzz in Atlanta has been off the charts this week, as it was in the lead-up to August’s All-Star game. During Friday’s address, Garber mentioned that former deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates approached him at a conference last year and told him she and her husband are Atlanta United season ticket holders. “[For] just about anybody who cares about this city, these games are must-see television. They are ultimately the place that you want to be.”
15. Made me think of a brief chat I had with Montreal Impact defender Chris Duvall earlier this season. Duvall hails from Duluth, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. I asked him why he thinks Atlanta United was such an instant hit. “I don’t know that I can tell you the reason, but I’m 27 and all my friends from back home have season tickets, so they probably tapped into the right crowd.” Were his friends already soccer fans? “Some were, some weren’t,” he said. “It’s a mix. But it’s the hot ticket.”
16. Here’s another bit of news: Fresh off helping U.S. national team general manager Earnie Stewart with the coaching search that culminated earlier this week with the hiring of former Crew boss Gregg Berhalter, Ryan Mooney, the federation’s chief soccer officer, is leaving for a job with the Philadelphia Union, per multiple sources.
17. I’ve thought about this a lot: if Atlanta United technical director Carlos Bocanegra thought that Tata Martino was the right guy for the U.S. job, surely he would’ve told Stewart that, as Bocanegra is also the co-chair of U.S. Soccer’s technical committee. On the other hand, Atlanta president Darren Eales wanted Martino to return and said so right up until the point that it was announced that the 56-year-old would not be returning next season. That’s a weird spot for Bocanegra to be in.
18. I can understand why many people believe Stewart should’ve spoken to Martino, even informally. Then again, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Stewart didn’t do his due diligence on the former Argentina and Barcelona man. Anything he wanted to know about Martino, Bocanegra was only a phone call away.
19. On the same day that Berhalter was named USMNT coach, the Red Bulls announced that Tyler Adams will head to German Bundesliga side RB Leipzig when the transfer window opens next month. No surprise there. Goal’s Ives Galarcep reported that Leipzig paid its sister club $3 million for Adams rights, which is more than some expected but still a steep discount on the 19-year-old central midfielder, who would’ve probably gone for twice that if the clubs didn’t share the same owner.
20. Bundesliga clubs continue to snap up young Americans like hot cakes. That wasn’t always the case. Back in October, I had a long conversation with Germany and Bayern Munich legend (and onetime MLS defender) Lothar Matthaus. Matthaus said that he raved to his contacts back home about a young backup goalkeeper named Tim Howard, to no avail. Three years later, Howard was sold to Manchester United.
21. “I told my friend Andy Brehme, who was coaching Kaiserslautern, don’t even look, just buy him,” Matthaus said. “He needed a goalkeeper, and Howard was fantastic. Brave, filled with passion, talented. But he wasn’t playing for the MetroStars (Tony Meola was the starter at the time) so they didn’t want him. There’s a much more respect for MLS players now.”
22. The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio reported that Manchester City-bound keeper Zack Steffen could return to the Crew on loan next season. I think that would be a good move for all parties. Who will coach Columbus next season, though? The smart money is on either Caleb Porter or current Crew assistant Josh Wolff, but I’m not sure any decision is imminent. I can confirm Jeff Carlisle’s report that Bruce Arena interviewed for the GM job in Columbus. It would make sense for the club to wait until that position is filled before hiring a new bench boss.
Arena might well prefer Wolff, the former striker he took to two World Cups as U.S. coach. On the other hand, Porter and Arena could have ended up working together the Galaxy, but the club never called either back after interviewing them for the coach and GM roles, respectively.
23. This is the final 23 Thoughts. The next time you read this column, it will be called 24 Thoughts; FC Cincinnati will become the 24th MLS club as soon as the final whistle sounds on Saturday. I hope that one day it will be called 30 or 32 Thoughts, with Garber all but confirming that the league will continue to expand beyond 28 clubs in the years to come.
I’m not sure when 24 Thoughts will make its debut. There should be plenty of hot stove stuff to discuss this offseason, hopefully enough to continue putting this out every week. If not, I might move it a bi-weekly or monthly schedule until the 2019 campaign kicks off. Whenever the next column drops, thanks so much for reading this season.
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