SAN JOSE, Calif. – The MLS Homegrown team lost 2-0 to the Mexico U-20 national team on Wednesday night in the 2016 Chipotle MLS Homegrown match. Read into that however much you see fit – I’ll neither stop you, nor argue with you.
Rather than the result, I was more interested in getting a feel for some of the Homegrown players, since many of them are on the verge of becoming regular contributors in MLS. And a few of them already are, of course, so I was interested in seeing those guys as the focal point of a team rather than as role players.
We start up north…
Chapman only played the first half, and he was the most interesting player on the field to watch for either team because he was the best passer out there. Early on he hit the pass of the game, a precision, 60-yard through ball that split the Mexico defense and sent Dallas winger Coy Craft in for a shot on goal.
Based upon limited viewings, I didn’t know Chapman had that kind of passing range. What had always struck me about him instead was his comfort on the ball in traffic – his ability to hesitate, shape his body and use small changes in direction to throw defenders off. You get some sense of that from this clip:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDKNca4hQFA]
You also get, from that clip, a sense of where Chapman struggled. His first touch betrayed him pretty consistently, which is death for a deep-lying midfielder. On this particular one he wasn’t punished, and actually turned it into a chance to spread the field. But several others turned into dangerous break-outs going in the other direction.
His set-piece delivery, meanwhile, was uniformly poor.
Verdict: Chapman’s clearly ready to play a big role for TFC, which is what he’s been doing for the last two months already. The thought of him as a deep-lying orchestrator is intriguing, but if I was an opposing MLS coach who saw him line up against me in that role I’d pressure him relentlessly and try to force some sloppiness.
Best Comparison: Dillon Powers, though less rugged defensively
Mendiola turned 22 just a couple of months ago but it feels like he’s already been around forever, and on a less-stacked team than the Galaxy he probably would have made a permanent breakthrough to the MLS level. Alas, that’s difficult when buried behind the likes of Gio Dos Santos, Gyasi Zardes, Mike Magee, Sebastian Lletget et al.
A few years back a prominent MLS assistant described Mendiola as a “small-sided player,” meaning that he wasn’t always super aware of stuff that was happening more than 15 yards away from the space he occupied. His technique, balance and strength on the ball were always there, but an understanding of how to shape the game was not.
Clearly that’s not the case any longer. Mendiola finished tied for the fourth-most assists in USL in 2015, and while he hasn’t been as productive this season, he’s still a force at that level. He also read the game early pretty consistently – watch how soon he understands where this chance is going to be:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=40xBbeJ1JLI]
It’s a shame he didn’t do more with it. If you’re going to displace the likes of Dos Santos or Zardes, you’ve got to bury those chances.
What’s really changed, though is Mendiola’s defensive awareness and willingness to track. Unlike most attackers, he wasn’t pulled toward the ball, nor was he flummoxed by some of the clever off-the-ball movement Mexico threw at him.
Verdict: Mendiola’s definitely more of a playmaking winger than a pure No. 10. I’d say “he’s gonna be good,” but I think he already is.
Best Comp: Matias Perez-Garcia. Not quite as natural a chance creator, but a much better defender
From two of the oldest players on the roster to the very youngest. Adams came in at right back just over an hour into the game and immediately settled things down along that side, first with his on-the-ball skill (some nifty footwork when receiving a pass in traffic) and then some smart, front-foot defending.
There’s been debate in the ranks at RBNY over whether he projects best long-term as a fullback or a defensive midfielder, but it’s safe to say he won’t suffer from a skill deficit at either spot. He also was purposeful and direct when he did get the chance to push into the attack, which the other MLS fullbacks struggled with:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbrLLxLRF6s]
It wasn’t a perfect outing – Adams got ole‘d by Mexico’s David Avalos just before full time – but this kid’s for real. I would be shocked if he doesn’t get significant playing time in RBNY’s upcoming CONCACAF Champions League effort, and will probably break into the gameday rotation next year.
Verdict: “He’s good at a lot of spots” can end up being a curse, especially for a team as deep as the Red Bulls. Keep an eye on where he lines up for RBNY II for the rest of the USL season.
Best Comp: For this game, at least, he looked a lot like Tony Beltran. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he’s very balanced and clever.