By Tom Sweezy
Bob Bradley (Photo courtesy of MLS)
Bob Bradley OUT at Toronto FC:
On June 26th, Toronto FC announced the departure of Head Coach and Sporting Director Bob Bradley. Bradley, 65, is undoubtedly one of the greatest American managers in history; winning trophies within MLS and Managing the U.S. Men’s National Team. Bradley’s impressive resume includes stints with the Chicago Fire, New York Red Bulls, Chivas USA, Stabæk Football (Norway), Le Havre AC (France), Swansea City (England), LAFC, and Toronto FC. Sprinkled into that club career, Bradley also had stints managing the United States and Egypt men’s national teams. Bradley racked up a Gold Cup title, an MLS Cup title, a Supporters’ Shield, two U.S. Open Cups, one Canadian Championship title, three MLS Coach of the Year awards, and an Eliteserien Manager of the Year award.
However, it’s not all positive as of late for the native of New Jersey. In 2016, Bradley became the first American Manager to take control of an English Premier League club; Swansea City. Things did not last long at Swansea, only lasting about four months in charge. Bradley made his return to coaching with the 2018 MLS expansion club, LAFC. Bradley was in charge of LAFC for over 1,500 days and in that time proved to build one of the most dominant clubs in the league. Bradley left LAFC in late 2021, being named the new manager of Toronto FC heading into the 2022 season.
Year one with Bradley at the helm did not go as planned as Toronto FC finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. Toronto FC did make some interesting moves that held hopes for the 2023 season, signing; Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernardeschi, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Sean Johnson, Matt Hedges, and more.
Unfortunately, even with the big Italian stars and veteran MLSers, Toronto FC’s 2023 has not gone right. Toronto FC currently sits in 14th place with only 19 points through 20 games. Reports of internal strife have come out between the stars of the club and manager Bradley as well. The Athletic sometimes reported “coach's decisions” to sit players who spoke out against Bradley. For a great manager, it was an ugly end to his time at Toronto FC which had endless potential.
Minnesota United FC signs Finnish striker Teemu Pukki:
On June 27th, Minnesota United added a brand new DP striker in Finnish international striker Teemu Pukki after he left English club Norwich City. Pukki arrives after the departure a few weeks ago of Paraguay international striker Luis Amarilla to Liga MX side Mazatlán. The strikers that have been brought in under Adrian Heath haven’t worked out the best. Former number nines such as; Luis Amarilla, Ménder García, Fanendo Adi, Juan Agudelo, Aaron Schoenfeld, Kei Kamara, Ángelo Rodríguez, Mason Toye, Abu Danladi, and Christian Ramírez all never truly worked out underneath Heath and the Loons. However, of all those players listed, Pukki might be the most “guaranteed” goal scorer on the list.
The 33-year-old brings global experience from his time in the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Scottish Premier League, La Liga 2, and elsewhere. He has a combined 522 career games where he has proven his goal-scoring abilities with 198 ending in the back of the net. Pukki can also tack on another 38 goals to his name when you include his 112 caps with the Finland National Team. The two-time Finnish Footballer of the Year brings with him championship experience, winning the Scottish Premier League twice, EFL Championship twice, Veikkausliiga twice, Finnish Cup once, and the Danish Cup once.
How can he fit into the 2023 version of Minnesota? With the return of star attacking midfielder Emmanuel Reynoso from his long-term suspension, Pukki easily slides in right in front of him in Heath’s starting eleven. To me, Pukki would easily become the best option up top beating out fellow DP García as well as U22 Initiative striker Sang Bin Jeong. Pairing Pukki with Reynoso and alongside U22 Initiative winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane seems like a formidable attacking three for the rest of the 2023 season. Will this help the Loons who currently sit in 12th place in the Western Conference and tied third to last on goals scored in MLS this season? Without a doubt yes, I just hope the Minnesota United striker curse doesn’t rear its head.
Chicago Fire brings in a DP midfielder from FC Lugano:
Chicago Fire sister club FC Lugano has loaned 31-year-old defensive midfielder Ousmane Doumbia to the Fire for the remainder of the 2023 season. Doumbia, a one-time Swiss League Champion, joins the 12th-place Chicago Fire in hopes to bolster a defense that has allowed 28 goals in just 19 games this season. With the ability to also play center back, Frank Klopas better hope that Doumbia can come in and make a difference if the Fire want to make a playoff push this second half of 2023.
A majority of the lower midfield block minutes have gone to Gastón Giménez and some other combination of Mauricio Pineda, Federico Navarro, Fabian Herbers, or Jairo Torres. I am intrigued to see how Klopas slots Doumbia into his eleven, as the team does seem a little heavy in traditional defensive midfielders. Does he try to stick with a defensive midfielder paired with someone a little more offensive in that block? Or does he go to a more traditional two “true sixes”?
Tata Martino is back! This time he is taking his talents to South Beach:
The legendary Gerardo “Tata” Martino will take the reigns of his 11th club, and his second in MLS, as he now will join David Beckham, Chris Henderson, and Lionel Messi at Inter Miami. The 2018 MLS Cup Champion and MLS Coach of the Year makes his return only a few weeks after he told reporters at The Athletic:
“MLS is my weakness. I was part of an extraordinary project with Atlanta United that had a clear direction, a lot of communication, and similar objectives that were established very quickly and executed. After coaching in MLS, I became attracted to it”.
Outside of his well-known success in MLS, Martino also was able to grab trophies in the form of four Paraguayan Primera Division titles, an Argentina Primera Division title, and a Supercopa de Espana title. Internationally, Martino also won a Gold Cup with the Mexican National Team in 2019 as well. Now what does all of this mean for Inter Miami which already has globally known commodities of David Beckham and Leo Messi? Well, even more notoriety and even more of a reason for some of the world’s biggest names to want to come to play in Miami.
The list of rumored players has already begun to float their names around MLS circles and I am sure that won’t stop for a while. But outside of that, young talents from across the globe are going to want to come. Looking at similar examples from Martino’s time in Atlanta, could the next Josef Martinez or Miguel Almiron be headed to Inter Miami? Maybe! I reached out to a noted member of the Inter Miami CF front office for a comment about the hiring of Martino and this is what they let me know:
“Once players are back from international duty, players are back from injury (Mota and Gregore), and several new additions, we will have a strong team for Tata to work with.”
This stood out in two ways to me. First, “several new additions” means that more names are coming to Inter Miami. Whether that means this summer or next off-season is something we all must wait for. The second thing that stood out to me was “players are back from injury” and the note of specifically Mota and Gregore, this has me thinking Miami is planning for a big off-season heading into 2024.
Real Salt Lake continues its summer signings, this time with a U22 Initiative Player:
On June 29th Real Salt Lake announced the signing of 22-year-old central midfielder Nelson Palacio from Atlético Nacional in Colombia. Palacio arrives in MLS after 109 career games split between Nacional and his lone loan stint at FCR Valledupar. Palacio accumulated three goals and one assist in roughly 6,900 minutes during these games. He also would win a Categoria Primera A Apertura title, a Copa Colombia title, a Superliga Colombiana title, and get a cap at the international level for Colombia against South Korea.
I don’t foresee Palacio as an immediate starter for this club as the midfield is a little packed at the moment. Young talents like Diego Luna and Braian Ojeda, mixed with their prime players such as Pablo Ruiz and Jasper Loffelsend, as well as Damir Kreilach are eating up a bulk of the midfield minutes for RSL. Where can Palacio provide something different to help bolster an always-hungry Real Salt Lake side? We will have to wait and see.