Tuesday’s soccer news starts with MLS teams roster building in early January, specifically what’s happening with the Chicago Fire and LAFC. Why these two out of the 29 teams in the league? For Chicago, it’s a question of what might’ve worked last season and for LAFC it’s maintaining what did work in 2022.
Chicago’s situation starts with the defense. Gaga Slonina’s move to Chelsea leaves them without a clear #1 goalkeeper after Slonina played in 32 games last season. It’s not just filling the goalkeeper slot, it’s also figuring out what kind of defenders to put in front of that keeper. MLS has a lot of teams trying to fill a lot of roles, and with that comes tailoring tactics for those players. A defense in theory requires the players to make it work, something that the Fire will be doing without Boris Sekulic, who played in 33 games last season, and the MLS experience of Jonathan Bornstein who played in 22 games.
The Fire have added Ligue 1 right back Arnaud Souquet, with sporting director Georg Heitz saying “We went into the offseason with a focus on strengthening the outside back position and improving our defending in transition. Arnaud is a very experienced player who has been playing regularly in a top-five league and his addition will help to immediately solidify our back line.”
Chicago’s defensive rebuild can only do so much without goals. The team finishing 2nd to last in Eastern Conference goals scored in 2022 also needs addressing. Expecting more from what might have worked a year ago is a reasonable response in this league. It’s also a risk, but one that teams manage season-to-season. The fluctuations in form is almost a hallmark of MLS, something that is impossible to fully plan for but has to be under consideration when making decisions within the MLS squad restrictions.
Meanwhile, LAFC is once again building across its roster. They won a significant free agent competition with other league clubs to be the ones signing Aaron Long. The USMNT player joined last Wednesday, adding more to a defense that finished with the second-lowest goals against in the Western Conference. LA lost Sebastien Ibeagha to free agency, but retains the rest of the back line that saw them through the playoffs.
Then there’s LAFC’s pragmatic move. Their #1 goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau’s MLS Cup injury means needing a bridge for his return. LA added Eldin Jakupovic, a backup goalkeeper with Everton. “It became apparent from our first conversation that Eldin will be a great asset to what is already a strong group of goalkeepers at LAFC.” LAFC GM John Thorrington said in a press statement. “He is a goalkeeper with vast experience and tremendous leadership qualities….”
While the focus quickly shifts to LAFC without Gareth Bale, retiring on Monday, we’re still talking about an offense that scored the second-highest number of goals in the regular season. Bale’s uniqueness is without question, but LA has built a comprehensive attack. If anything, that second-lowest goals against and second-highest goals for stand as objectives for the 2023 version of LAFC.
Moving to the FA Cup, Matt Turner’s Arsenal beat Oxford United 3-0 away on Monday. Mohamed Elneny put Arsenal up in the 63rd with Edward Nketiah adding goals in the 70th and 76th minutes. Turner made three saves to keep the clean sheet.
“I think we had to adjust (at half-time) and show more purpose,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “We needed more threat and a bit more rhythm in both possession and it worked. “In the second- half, we had a little bit more control of the game and attcked some of the spaces better, and we were really dangerous.”
WEDNESDAY’S SOCCER TV
Ligue 1 on beIN Sport: Brest vs Lille at 1pm and PSG vs Angers at 3pm. Supercopa de Espana on ESPN2: Real Madrid vs Valencia at 2pm. Coppa Italia on CBS Sports: AC Milan vs Torino at 3pm. KNVB Beker on GolTV: Den Bosch vs Ajax at 3pm ET.
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Photo by Gareth Evans – News Images via ZUMA Press Wire – ISIPhotos.com