It has been the longest offseason in years but we are finally, this week, turning the page. That’s right, preseason is beginning!
In accordance with past tradition, it’s time to start rolling out my usual slate of preseason preview content. The first of these, as usual, will be “one big question for each team as preseason begins.”
Note that this is just A big question, not necessarily THE big question. Though in some cases it can, in fact, be THE big question, even if we didn’t know it at the time.
The Western Conference list of Qs was published on Monday. The East is below.
Away we go…
A Big Question: How much does Michael Bradley have left in the tank?
Age eventually comes for everyone. Age + injury + an ungodly amount of minutes over the course of a 17-year-career? That takes a toll, which has become more and more apparent over the past two years for Bradley. Things got ugly at times in 2020:
Lappalainen juked Bradley out of the damn frame… pic.twitter.com/rNIZL16EHY
— Matthew Doyle (@MattDoyle76) September 2, 2020
That was before he missed six weeks with an injury, mind you. When he came back for the stretch run he was even less mobile.
Bradley can still ping a pass as well as almost anybody in the league and his game-reading is still exceptional, but he needs 1) real defensive help when he does play, and 2) to not be a 90-minute player every week. Maybe not even to be a starter every week, to be honest, because the dude is just wearing a target at this point.
One thing I keep kicking around in my head: does it make more sense to move Bradley upfield as a box-arriving free 8 these days? You don’t need to be fast or athletic to do that job well, you just need to be smart, and Bradley is still that. It could be a way of leveraging his strengths while minimizing his age-inflicted weaknesses.
A Big Question: Can Anthony Fontana fill Brenden Aaronson’s shoes?
- Anthony Fontana with Philly Union II: 1 goal in 3,425 minutes across 49 games
- Anthony Fontana with Philly Union: 10 goals in 836 minutes across 34 games
There are a lot of “plays better when surrounded by better players” out there, but I can’t think of anyone who’s a better example of that than the 21-year-old Fontana. The kid was a non-factor in the box over thousands of minutes in the USL, but any time he’s out there surrounded by MLS players, he becomes a weapon. His goalscoring played a major hand in getting the Union last year’s Supporters’ Shield, and he showed a Wondo-esque ability to make defenders forget he exists. That, in turn, made him big in big moments.
He has, I’m assuming, a chance to ear a bigger role and more minutes now that Aaronson has moved on, and likely at the spot — the No. 10 — that Aaronson vacated.
But understand that, Fontana plays the position in a different way. While Aaronson was always pushing the opposing backline off the ball and trying to make penetrating runs, Fontana has been much more about finding soft spots in between the lines and away from the defense. While Aaronson could be visionary with his passing, Fontana has always been much more functional and rudimentary (he has a grand total of two assists in 4,300 career professional minutes). Neither guy is what I’d consider a typical No. 10, but Fontana really, really pushes it to the extreme. He’s almost more of a pure poacher than a 10.
I’m genuinely unsure of what that means for his future. But I suspect as long as he presses well and keeps putting the ball in the net, he will continue to get into the lineup.
Orlando City SC
A Big Question: Can they get back to using the ball?
It kind of went unnoticed, or at least unremarked, that by the end of the summer Orlando City had evolved from an attractive,…