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Know Thy Enemy: All-Star Game Suspension Edition at NYCFC

Suspending players for already being injured is dumb, but suspending them for being talented enough to join a Champions League side this winter is unfathomable.

SOCCER: MAY 11 MLS - San Jose Earthquakes at New England Revolution Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the MLS disciplinary report this week, you’re going to see a very odd designation for a handful of players, including New England Revolution winger Tajon Buchanan and attacking midfielder Carles Gil.

SUSPENDED - All Star Game Participation. No really, I took a screenshot and everything:

I understand that Major League Soccer wants it’s All-Stars - a combination of players voted in by fans, selected by the appointed head coach (in this year’s edition vs LigaMX Bob Bradley as the game was hosted by LAFC), and two commissioner’s picks - to play in one of, if not the league’s marquee non-playoff events. But it’s just honestly not feasible to vote on a roster several weeks ahead of time and predict injuries and the like and you’re going to have to deal with a handful of All-Stars that are just not able to represent the league for the game. Players shouldn’t be punished for missing an exhibition game with a suspension in a league game for failing to help promote the league or whatever the poor thought process was on this concept.

Apparently Tajon Buchanan securing a Revolution club record transfer to Club Brugge this week, which the league will get a cut of, isn’t a good enough reason to miss the All-Star Game... which by the way was won by MLS over LigaMX in a penalty shootout thanks to ASG MVP Matt Turner. A former Generation Adidas SuperDraft pick, Canadian Young Player of the Year last year, and breakout star for the Revs last playoffs and Canada this year at both the Olympic U23 and senior international level is everything the league could want from a player including said player securing a prime European transfer to a UEFA Champions League side and reigning Belgium league champions. Understandably the timing of such a deal which was long rumored just happened to fall on the week of the MLS All-Star Game, an unfortunate coincidence I’m sure, for which Buchanan must now sit out a game for no other reason than he’s an emerging talent off to Europe this MLS offseason.

As far as I can tell, and I did not research this all that much because quite frankly it’s dumb, the only other newsworthy non-injury related “suspension” for non-participation in the ASG came in 2018 when Zlatan Imbrahimovich basically said no, Zlatan is not playing three games in seven days. And, not only is it completely on brand for the Swedish international to turn one day off into over a week, Zlatan is right. Would you rather have Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela for one exhibition game or a dozen regular season games and the playoffs? Would you rather have Carles Gil at less than 100% for an exhibition game or a Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup run? It’s not even a legitimate question.

You know what would increase player participation in the All-Star Game? Having it during a scheduled bye week, perhaps the skills challenge on a Thursday and the actual ASG on Friday, and no MLS games scheduled for the weekend. Allow players to opt-out from the voting/selection process and forego any contract bonuses they might receive from being selected and playing in the game. That way no one has to deal with the temptation of sitting out with a knock and being suspended, because it makes complete sense to play against LigaMX on Wednesday and schedule three games on Friday including two on ESPN. Players should not have to put their individual well being ahead of an exhibition game and if they the incentive of being selected and/or playing in the game isn’t worth it, then perhaps the league should have a bigger financial incentive or other bonuses for the players.

But no, we can’t have all our Designated Players and international stars and homegrowns opting out of the All-Star Game, it would be bad for the league’s reputation. Certainly not as bad as playing weekend games with a plethora of international absences during a THREE-game international window to make up lost time for qualifying due to the COVID pandemic. That’s right, there’s 9 games on next week’s MLS docket, including a Revs-Union matchup that will feature neither starting goalkeeper in Matt Turner (USA) or Andre Blake (Jamaica) because reasons. But we’re going to play the match anyway because FIFA, CONCACAF, and the domestic leagues are all trying to play catch up and cram as many games as possible into a shorter and odd calendar year and deserve this collective mess, particularly European clubs not wanting to release players for international travel during a pandemic.

This stretch of the MLS All-Star Game through the first round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying is embarrassingly against the well being of the players and especially the All-Stars. All of the US professional leagues should have built in extra bye weeks to accomodate for cancellations due to the pandemic (and international breaks for that matter in MLS), or played reduced schedules but instead the focus to play as many games in a short a time as possible for obvious reasons. Perhaps if such foresight existed Buchanan might have been able to secure his transfer during that more convenient time in the calendar. Since the league failed to schedule such breaks so I have no problem with any player taking the needed time when it is less convenient to the league to settle his business and the fact that this is not the stance of Commissioner Garber, who seleceted Buchanan in the first place as a Commissioner Pick, is disheartening but at the same time not unsurprising.

Hopefully Tajon will be well rested and won’t have to worry that much about long flights as Canada plays two home games at Toronto and the USMNT in Nashville, TN during their qualifying tripleheader. Buchanan likely will not feature for the Revs until Sept 11, when New York City returns to Gillette Stadium.

Which is a great segue into today’s match up where the Boston Red Sox try to end the New York Yankees 13-game winning streak, which should’ve ended days ago cause Freddie Freeman was safe at the plate and my Braves got hosed...

Oh, wait, sorry, I’ve done this wrong. I mean, the currently unbeaten in nine games New England Revolution travel to Yankee Stadium to play the recently unbeaten in six games New York City FC, who are coming off a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.

As always, we chat with our friend Christian Smith of Hudson River Blue about all things NYCFC including Valentin Castellanos and Expected Goals, MLS schedules, and the positional nuances of the brilliant, yes, I concur, the brilliant James Sands. We don’t have return questions from Christian this week, but check out their site for their Revs-NYC previews as well and also Sam Minton talked with NYCFC dot com about today’s game in their “Away End” feature.

If you’re a Revs fan going to Yankee Stadium today, feel free to say hello, I’ll be the guy in the awesome baseball jersey. Today’s match kicks off at 738pm on TV38, myRITV, YES Network and ESPN+.

TBM: There’s been a lot of debate on the Revs hashtag about power rankings and analytics of late, mostly because NYCFC have been ahead of the Revs in say 538’s model for most of the year. I think this boils down to NYC underperforming on say goals scored and Valentin Castellanos in particular but I’d like your take on Castellanos’ season individually and if NYC should be closer to the Revs in the standings.

CS: Here’s the thing about Taty Castellanos. When it comes to virtually everything a forward should be, Taty has a case for being one of, if not the, best striker in the entire league — his xG and xA are astronomical! The only thing he isn’t is a consistent finisher. If NYCFC had a forward that could do everything Taty does and score consistently, I have little doubt that NYCFC would be fighting tooth and nail with the Revs, if not surpass them completely. New England has had a great season and are a great team without question. Anyone who doesn’t rank them among the top two MLS Cup contenders are living in a fantasy land. But I’d say if there’s any reason that NYCFC has been ranked No. 1 on the power rankings, it’s because of the raw talent they possess and the fact that they are performing beneath what they should.

TBM: The Revs have a tough road trip this week with NYC and Philly on deck in short order, and NYC has a tough week of their own with back-to-back away dates at Nashville and the final game at Gillette. How important is this three week stretch for the team in their race for the East?

CS: These next few games are imperative. If they wish to have a shot at touching the Revs in this second half of the season, they need to win this stretch of games and take advantage of both the games they have in hand as well as the extended rest they’ve been given after the rainout in New Jersey. Unfortunately for them, City will be missing stars/starters James Sands, Maxime Chanot, Alexander Callens, and Gudi Thorarinsson due to World Cup Qualifying. So they’ve got the deck stacked against them.

TBM: James Sands is back on the USMNT roster and handled himself pretty well at the Gold Cup though he was not at his best position as a centerback in a four man backline. So what is his best position in your mind?

CS: It’s really hard to say what James Sands’ best position is considering that he is elite (yes, elite) in both the defensive midfield and as the anchor in a three/five-back formation. But those two spots are occupied by Tyler Adams and John Brooks respectively, and supplanting either one of them is essentially a fool’s errand. What I’d like to see happen is Sands adjust to playing the wide center back position in a three-CB setup just so we never have to see Tim Ream ever again. Sands does have experience as a center back in a back four and that could help any such adjustment.

Long story short: James Sands is the GOAT and NYCFC needs to appreciate him while he’s here. Because it’s only a matter of time before Europe cashes in.

Lineup:

GK: Sean Johnson

RB: Anton Tinnerholm

RCB: Maxime Chanot

LCB: Alex Callens

LB: Gudi Thorarinsson

RDM: James Sands

LDM: Keaton Parks

CAM: Maxi Moralez

RW: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi

LW: Thiago

ST: Taty Castellanos

Injuries: Héber was recently cleared for full training. But I doubt we will see him any time soon if Ronny Deila’s words are anything to go by.

Prediction: The Revolution have earned their spot at the top of the table. But being a good team and being a good team on the road at Yankee Stadium are two completely different things. With fresher legs after an unplanned rest, including a near full-strength at their disposal, I think this is City’s game to lose.

2-0, Boys in Blue