Brad Friedel Talks MLS Playoffs In Exclusive Interview
The MLS Playoffs kick off this weekend with games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. We spoke to Brad Friedel, who gave his opinions on the MLS, the lead up to the World Cup for USA, and the Premier League, focusing on Liverpool and Tottenham.
Brad tells us:
Montreal is playing the best heading into their MLS Playoff match with Orlando City Sunday, but the Eastern Conference will be tough
No team is better prepared to win the title than LAFC, and Steve Cherundulo has the team to FINALLY bring the MLS Cup to Los Angeles
Jim Curtin and Philadelphia will have neutrals rooting for him to break this Union trophy hex
USA can absolutely compete with England and Wales in World Cup Group B
Christian Pulisic will benefit from Chelsea fixture congestion, and could play his way into Graham Potter’s best XI
Tottenham is in the title race, while you STILL can’t count out Liverpool despite Reds sitting 10th in Premier League table and injuries piling up quickly
Erling Håland makes Manchester City nearly impossible to defend, and has made Cityzens impervious to slumps
Who is Brad Friedel?
Brad Friedel is one of the biggest names in the history of American soccer. Having played as goalkeeper at club level for the likes of the Columbus Crew in the MLS, Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig, and multiple clubs in the English Premier League (Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers), he’s competed against some of the best players in the world.
Friedel also represented the US National team at various World Cups before becoming a manager in the MLS with the New England Revolution, and is widely respected around the game for his opinions on all manner of subjects.
With MLS Playoffs set to kick off Saturday, can any team beat champions in waiting LAFC?
Steve Cherundulo’s side eased to the Western Conference crown, but have never made a MLS Cup Final, let alone won a title
Before the MLS Playoffs start this week, who do you see as the teams that are the favorites in each conference, and which teams could surprise?
The Eastern Conference is a lot tighter and closer than the Western one for me, and I like three teams. I think the best team in the East is Montreal, I think the most difficult to play against is Philadelphia, and I think the dark horse, on the outside chance–and the reason I am saying this is because they are so big and strong, and can have a bad game but score on set pieces–is Cincinnati. That might surprise you, but they have got some creativity in Luciano Acosta, they have got two strikers that are on fire with Brenner and Brandon Vasquez, and they have 6-2 to 6-6 guys on set pieces with Haglund and Miazga. If you look, since Miazga has come in, they have only lost once.
But look, it is MLS and it is the playoffs. I think Montreal is playing the best football, and right now, the most pleasing to the eye. Philadelphia has been the most consistent, but they tend to grind out results. They have some high score lines, though: they have banged five or six past a couple teams. I think both New York teams will be hard to beat. The great thing about the East is that the teams are pretty close.
Montreal is beating teams, and beating them well. They have been the best team for the last two months. They have been controlling games, even when they did not get the result they wanted. But I think they might have trouble beating LAFC.
When you get to the Western Conference, and I would assume that Steve Cherundulo is going to put the best guys on the field now because it is the playoffs, I think it will be really difficult to beat LAFC. They have so many match winners in their team, and so many top players.
The only team in the bracket that is best suited to beat LAFC is Nashville. They have the leading goal scorer, and they are hard to break down. It is different in the West this year because you have some new teams in the bracket. But if LAFC puts all their players on the field, I think there is too much there for anyone to beat them.
Philadelphia has never won a trophy. Does that weigh on teams, and could that title drought end this year?
It could end. But yes, I think it does weigh on teams. Look at the American sports: the Buffalo Bills, how many times have they been to the Super Bowl with great teams? I think the more seasons you are up there fighting for the Supporter’s Shield, going deep in the playoffs, and you don’t win, yes, it can weigh on you. It becomes the history of your club: the really good, solid club that never wins.
I know Jim Curtin and those guys don’t want that to be their club, so they are going to try to find the pieces to the puzzle to get them over the line. A lot of times the thing that separates the MLS teams are the designated players, the world class ones that come in. It might be difficult for Philadelphia to win the MLS Cup. But I hope for Jim they can. He is a really good coach, and it would be awesome to see him lift the MLS Cup.
How good is Austin FC, and can they compete with LAFC?
Josh and Claudio have done a really good job. They came in as a new team last year and had not a great season, they saw what they needed to rebuild, and they did it. They finished second, but they were 11 points behind LAFC, and LAFC took their foot off the pedal. If LAFC put their strongest team out all year, you probably would have seen as much as a 20-point gap between them. So as good as Austin has done–and they have been good–I think it will be really hard for them to beat the likes of LAFC in a must-win game.
When did you start getting excited about the World Cup?
You qualify, and you kind of forget about it: obviously, not fully. But then the draw comes out and you think about it a little bit because you know who you are playing. Then, You don’t think about it until you get called in.
The difference between this World Cup and others is that we would have had a mini preseason with the national team before a World Cup. We would go away a little more secluded and have at least two weeks of training, and sometimes three, and have some farewell matches before we left. Then, we would have another week. This one is completely different. For the guys in Europe, you fly in, and a few days later, you are playing a World Cup game. There is no real preseason. If I was playing in Europe, and got called in, I probably wouldn’t get excited about it until I got on the plane to Qatar.
What have you thought about Cameron Carter-Vickers at Celtic this year, and how can he help the USA squad?
I played with Cam and coached him as well. He is a solid defender. He is a really, really good player. If you were to stand next to him, what stands out is that he is so strong and powerful, but he is not tall. I think a lot of teams in Europe, especially when he was at Tottenham, didn't think he was big enough as a center back. But he is, his timing is impeccable. The way he can put his body on players and get them not to jump is impeccable.
He will be integral to this Celtic team with any type of success they have. He is a great teammate, but no nonsense: he won’t let players slack off. He is a very good communicator.
I would love to see him in the World Cup squad. I would love to see Matt Miazga in the squad as well. I think those two, as far as center backs, are arguably our two best. But that is for Gregg to decide. I can’t speak highly enough about Cam.
Is it more important for the USA to have its defense strong or attack heading into the World Cup?
Both (laughs). We have some players with the national team that are really important. I think in any game, if you can control the midfield, you are 60 percent of the way there. So, first and foremost, whatever midfield group Gregg uses is really important to control a game.
Then, you have to see who you are playing against, so with Wales and England, no matter who plays, are you necessarily going to control the midfield? You have to think about that, so then what becomes more important? So for Wales, are they better attacking or defensively, and I think you have to put your teams out accordingly. We have some match winners in our side: Christian Pulisic of course. The last friendly matches didn’t go so well defensively. The two center backs did not look comfortable in either of the games. Matt Turner, although he is not getting a game at Arsenal, looked good, so that will be pleasing to Gregg.
You can’t give teams like England and Wales lots of opportunities to score, because they will. So I think, right now, it is pretty important to shore up the two center backs. That is probably a bit more important now than worrying about the attacking players.
Can the USA take some confidence into the England game with the way they have been playing, and can they compete with a team as talented as England?
Can they compete with them? Yes, we can compete with them. Is England going to continue to struggle to score goals like they have recently? No. The English players are good. Harry Kane does not stay off the scoresheet for long. I wouldn't take any confidence into a game based on England’s results against other opponents. I think you have to go out and earn the right to beat England, and a lot of things have to go well for you in the game in order to do it.
Can we compete with them though? Absolutely we can, and Wales.
Will Christian Pulisic benefit from the Chelsea fixture congestion to pick up more minutes ahead of the World Cup, and can he play himself into Graham Potter’s starting XI with some good matches?
The teams in Europe like Chelsea are going to play something like 13 matches before the World Cup, so the good news is, he is going to get some games and minutes because they are going to have to rotate the squad. I think with any player, yeah, if they are not playing, they could be rusty. But the good news is that because Chelsea is such a big club, and they play so many games, even if he got three or four games over the next three or four weeks, he would have some match fitness.
When new coaches come into clubs, when you see players day to day, you can change opinions. Of course, you have some players that you know, they are probably going to stay in the lineup. Christian wasn’t getting a lot of minutes under Tuchel, so hopefully he can impress Potter and get more minutes.
Tottenham picked up a big win last weekend over a good Brighton team. Do you think Tottenham is in the discussion to be title contenders?
I think they are in the discussion, especially with this kind of season. I don’t know what is going to happen with teams’ form after the World Cup. All the top teams are going to miss players, and one or two players picking up injuries, or that are mentally tired, or wanting a break after the World Cup could change it.
This season is a bit of an anomaly: you don’t know what is going to transpire after the World Cup. With Conte in charge, with that front four and rotation that is one of the best strike forces in Europe, you always have a chance. Arsenal looks very good right now, and Manchester City looks phenomenal. A team like Arsenal could struggle with this break, though, which could take this momentum from them. I don’t think it matters at all for Man. City. Man City could put their 30th player out there: they are just awesome to watch, they really are. Adding Erling Håland to that team is just really not fair to teams. Things can change, but we will see.
If you switched Håland and Kane, would there be much of a difference to either team?
I don’t know if Kane would score 60, but he would score a ton. Yeah, they are pretty similar. Kane would score a ton of goals with Man City the way they play, and Håland is obviously a goal-scoring machine. His movement in the box is superb. He is fast. Right now, with the way they play, all the things you are taught as a defender get thrown out the window a little bit. If Kyle Walker, for instance, is bombing down the right wing and is getting ready to get a cross in the box, you would want to position yourself in relation to the near post, the striker, the space, and the goalkeeper, and keep your back line intact. With Håland, you have to just go and man mark him. If you go into space, he finds the space between center backs. If you are marking the near post, he just does a little move and drops back.
This is dangerous though, because City has an array of other players that can score goals. But if you don’t man mark him, he is going to score goals. But you can’t man mark all the time: it is not how you are taught to defend. It is going to be really interesting to see what teams will do to stop him. He is definitely in the right team.
Is Liverpool still in the title race, and is Jürgen Klopp still the man to lead this team?
I would never count out Liverpool in the title race, just with the squad that they have. I think two of their players look mentally tired to me–Salah and Van Dijk–which are two of their huge players. I actually don’t worry about Liverpool. I grew up as a Liverpool supporter. Jürgen Klopp and his staff are fantastic. The squad he has put together is fantastic. For me, they are going to finish in the top four no matter what.
If they don’t challenge for the title, I think he will get it right and challenge for the title next year. I don’t think there is any room for error from now until the end of the season: they can’t drop more points. But I still think they have the right guy in charge, so I don't think there should be any added pressure heaped on him. They are obviously not getting results right now, but I agree I do not think they played poorly against Arsenal.
If they do struggle this year and don’t finish top four, will it affect their signings?
Liverpool has done a really good job off the field with their marketing. It wasn’t always the way: Manchester United went way ahead of them at one stage a couple of decades ago. If they don’t qualify for the Champions League, yes, it will dent their revenues, because they won’t get the television and some sponsorship revenues, nor will they be getting the match day revenues. Would it be catastrophic to miss out one year? I don’t think so.
The people that they have behind the scenes are pretty astute. If you look at the way they run Liverpool, you don’t really see or hear about them, and they run the business impeccably well. They have one of the world’s greatest managers and one of the greatest squads, and off the field they are becoming a marketing machine. It is a blow to any of these top teams if they don’t finish in the Champions League. If they miss out three, four, five years in a row, then yeah, it will become an issue.
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