It’s a mailbag column. I’ve made my jokes about whether or not we can call it a mailbag because most of you reading this have never seen a literal mailbag, but this isn’t a hill I’m going to die on right now. At least until I come up with a better joke/thing to call this.
Whatever. Here we go… wait I can’t say that either, that’s not my thing.
Onto the mailbag!
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On Tuesday, the Columbus Crew officially completed the club-record acquisition of Colombian international Cucho Hernandez from English side Watford. Sources say the transfer fee is just more than $10 million.
The 23-year-old had five goals in the Premier League and has experience in LaLiga. It’s a hugely exciting signing, an ambitious one by the club. Soon, we’ll get to see how he fits into the team.
With very few exceptions, Columbus head coach Caleb Porter has been an ideologue to the 4-2-3-1. So let’s start the bidding there.
Hernandez as the center forward with Lucas Zelarayan as the No. 10, Derrick Etienne/Yaw Yeboah as wingers on either side, and then Artur and Darlington Nagbe underneath. That’s an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs-level team. Simple as.
But we all know how things look on a digital depth chart and how things play out on grass, with injuries and form, doesn’t always align.
Porter played a 3-5-2 this past weekend. Was that just making do with a bunch of players out or a potential wrinkle to come? Look, it’s not breaking news to say Porter knew the Hernandez signing was mostly done by then. Miguel Berry can’t play wide. The wingers have underwhelmed again. Maybe a 3-5-2 is an option. Crew president and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said one of the most valuable aspects of Cucho was his tactical flexibility.
But, again, I stress that my overwhelming assumption is the 4-2-3-1. I'm looking forward to seeing it in action on July 9 against Chicago Fire FC, when Cucho could/should debut.
As for a playoff run? Like I said a couple of scrolls up: They have the talent of a playoff team. They should make the playoffs. If they don't, expect further change.
How many youngsters will be transferred? Well, let’s talk it out. Let’s work with the premise that “young” means 22 Under 22-eligible.
Then there’s the headliner: Gaga Slonina. I haven’t heard anything new since reporting Chelsea were closest to signing Chicago's homegrown goalkeeper, ahead of Real Madrid. Chelsea are dealing with their own priorities, reportedly chasing Raheem Sterling and others, while their sporting director, Marina Granovskaia, leaves the club.
But I still expect a transfer to get done (with a loan back to Chicago). That’d be two. I’m not sure there are any other obvious ones at the moment.
We’d be talking much more about Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty if he didn’t get hurt at the beginning of the season. The Canadian rising talent trained with Liverpool and Arsenal last winter and there are a number of clubs keeping tabs on the Toronto homegrown who just turned 18. Philadelphia's Paxten Aaronson, as I’ve long reported, has a trail of clubs chasing him, including RB Salzburg in Austria. Is it too early for a move to at least be agreed for either? TBD.
There are always surprises, of course. I’d set the over/under at 2.5.
The margins are so thin. It’s wild. D.C. United had what we thought was a Cup-contending core in Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and the boys… then it was gone seemingly in an instant.
Taxi Fountas appears to absolutely be a foundational piece. Take solace in that. Julian Gressel is one of – if not the – best wingbacks in the league. Hernan Losada did some things right before he was dismissed. Interim head coach Chad Ashton has tried to identify the right and strip out the wrong.
Edison Flores has been a flop for a club-record signing. And he’s on his way out. That would open a second DP spot.
Incomings have gotten murkier in the last few days. Hamburg SV attacking midfielder Sonny Kittel was reportedly on his way in... then the German club announced Wednesday he's going nowhere, including a quote from Kittel. Back to square one there. The other DP spot included a link with Venezia forward Thomas Henry, but he's reportedly staying in Europe.
I'm certain those two weren't the only targets for the DP spots. The transfer window hasn't even opened yet, so there's plenty of time.
Change brings optimism. Given how great Fountas has been, it should be an exciting bit of roster change. But I understand the pessimism given the last shrugs shoulders and points to the last decade.
This league is funny. A couple of home runs at the top end of the roster really change things. Immediately. If Fountas keeps this form, then one more positive connection on a DP will make things very interesting. If it’s another flop? Well, I’ll be here writing this same thing in two years talking about what they could/might do to change their negative fortunes.
I had no clue Atlanta United had the space to bring in multiple senior players, so kudos to them for flipping over the couch cushions and finding a little allocation money here and a couple of roster spots there to make it work amid their injury crisis.
Atlanta just signed Mexican defender Juan Jose Purata on loan from Tigres UANL, while Mexican goalkeeper Raul Gudino arrives on a free transfer after his contract with Chivas expired. Both deals are only guaranteed through 2022, though each have options to extend for the future.
That’s a strong starting point. Like adding Ronaldo Cisneros on a loan earlier this year, Purata and Gudino are hugely important short-term pieces amid a rash of injuries. Being able to get them without committing/compromising future planning/assets is key. That makes these moves relatively low-risk, all things considered.
Both players were in need of a change of scenery. Purata didn’t have a place in Tigres’ first-team plans and Gudino was out of contract. Good timing for a club that needed fresh faces.
Purata, 24, has played a grand total of 1,742 minutes in his senior career (!!). He’ll have chances to earn minutes with Atlanta following Miles Robinson’s season-ending Achilles injury.
Gudino, 26, has five caps with Mexico and was once a highly-rated rising goalkeeper playing in Europe. He was with Porto, though never made a first-team appearance, and played in Cyprus before returning to Mexico. He’ll have a shot at being ATL's first-choice goalkeeper with Brad Guzan hurt (Achilles).
If either or both excel, they’ll be back. If not, options won’t be exercised and the space is freed back up. So, TBD on if it'll be short-term or not.
Atlanta still have an open U22 Initiative slot. They aimed to sign US men's national team forward Matthew Hoppe just before the close of the Primary Transfer Window in May.
Six questions in one! A little greedy, Mr. MLSGoneWild!!! Rapid-fire:
• Gotta hope for one goal involvement per game, right? Hopefully he gets the service that’s been lacking. Columbus are bottom-third in MLS in big chances created and shots from inside the box (where Cucho will live), and about midtable in expected goals.
• Externally? Don’t think that’ll happen without players leaving first. Think the pieces are all there, they have two new DP strikers and a DP-ish No. 10 in Gazdag. Adding someone else blocks those investments (plus the academy kids).
• The Red Bulls' press has been sustainable since Jesse Marsch took over in 2015. All coaches have worked to solve how to optimize it for playoff soccer when teams try to take away the press, though.
• Dylan Borrero this weekend for me. He’s been exactly what the Revs were missing. Talles Magno was also very good. Can’t go wrong with either guy there.
I’ve half-jokingly been campaigning for David Luiz to literally any MLS team for the #content for years. So, David Luiz to… anyone?
Jokes aside, I would point out he’d probably be a solid DM for someone (provided there’s a ball-winning, stay-at-home DM next to him in a double-pivot). A non-DP deal would make sense, of course, which would be difficult to sway given his stature. I do know he’s been offered around the league, you know, so this isn’t completely unrealistic.
I don’t know. Christian Benteke in MLS would be cool if he stays fit. I’ve been hoping for years Olivier Giroud would make a move to MLS but he’s in a great spot at AC Milan.
My editor extraordinaire Jonathan Sigal, always editing. This feels like insider trading but the prompt is too attractive for me to turn down.
There are a lot of strong defenders to choose from in terms of MLS coaches. I don’t know if there’s a larger think-piece here (there is, like how a lot of MLB managers were former catchers) but we don’t have time for the serious debates. I wanna talk about a hypothetical 3v3 winner-stays-on session featuring MLS managers.
First team: Steve Cherundolo (LAFC), Pablo Mastroeni (RSL), Adrian Heath (MIN)
Second team: Phil Neville (MIA), Oscar Pareja (ORL), Josh Wolff (ATX)
Third team: Robin Fraser (COL), Peter Vermes (SKC), Gio Savarese (POR)
I don’t think you guys realize how good Heath was in his day. Pareja made about a dozen caps with the Colombian national team. How miserable would it be to play against Vermes and Gio in a 3v3 game where the winner stays on? If this was lacrosse, Bruce Arena (NE) is the No. 1 pick.
Joe “Flow” Lowery has jokes. Do you know what else he could have? If he grows a mustache, he’s going to have a cease and desist from me* for brand infringement.
*If someone teaches me how to file a cease and desist.