Voices: Joseph Lowery

Double-digit club: What is the superpower for early MLS favorites?


The 2023 MLS season is young, make no mistake about it. Just five matchdays into the year, there are still so, so many things that can change before Decision Day arrives on Oct. 21 and the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs field gets locked in.

However, a few teams from each conference are already separating themselves from the pack. There are six teams – three in the West and three in the East – who have racked up 10 or more points this season.

Today, we’re diving into what makes each of those six teams unique and wondering: Are they legitimately good? Or are they just running hot to start the season?


  • Record: 5W-0L-0D, 15 points, +11 GD
  • Standings: 1st in Western Conference

Superpower: Combining top-end talent with a cohesive style of play

Coming into 2023, we knew St. Louis wanted to press. With a manager (Bradley Carnell) raised in the Red Bull school and a collection of talent built to function in a front-foot scheme, it hasn’t been a surprise to see them blitz teams.

While pressing isn’t unique to St. Louis in MLS, the fact they’ve entered the league with a clear identity and a willingness to play without the ball has helped them jump out to such a fast start. Many teams are either searching for an identity or are sharpening an existing one. St. Louis already have their identity – and it looks plenty sharp, especially compared to MLS’s ball-playing teams.

Add in how both of St. Louis’ Designated Players (João Klauss and Eduard Löwen) look like very good MLS players and you’ve got a system and a pair of stars. That’s a dangerous combination.

Are they legit?

Their opponents really will stop gifting them backpasses – sorry, João Klauss – but they look destined for a home playoff game. That’d be something special at CITYPARK, huh?

  • Record: 4W-1L-0D, 12 points, +2 GD
  • Standings: 1st in Eastern Conference

Superpower: An elite goalkeeper and an MVP-level No. 10

I’ll be honest: I’m not nearly as impressed by the Revs as I am by the other teams on this list. But Bruce Arena’s group does have a handful of powerful things going for them.

First (and most importantly), they have one of the league’s best goalkeepers cleaning things up in the back. Djordje Petrovic nearly broke MLS last year and the Serbian international is off to a strong start this year, too. Per American Soccer Analysis, he’s been the third most valuable goalkeeper in the league in 2023. Second, Carles Gil is still Carles Gil. He’s struggled with injuries so far this year, but when healthy, Gil is an absolute monster of a playmaker. In MLS, if you have a top-tier No. 10 and a top-tier goalkeeper, you can keep yourself in the mix for silverware.

The underlying numbers don’t like New England all that much – they’re 22nd in the league in xG differential per 90 minutes, according to FBref. But they have valuable pieces that could spearhead a strong season.

Are they legit?

Petrovic and Gil? Absolutely. The rest of the team? I’m not there yet.

  • Record: 3W-0L-2D, 11 points, +3 GD
  • Standings: 2nd in Eastern Conference

Superpower: Cincy can beat you in multiple ways

The goal FC Cincinnati scored against Nashville SC on Saturday should scare MLS opponents. Sure, it was a go-ahead goal that eventually landed Pat Noonan's team three road points. But really, it was a goal that illustrates how they can beat you with or without the ball.

It was a lovely piece of buildup that moved the ball from goalkeeper Roman Celentano, down the left wing, and into Zone 14, breaking Nashville’s press and leading to a poacher’s finish from Brandon Vazquez at the other end.

According to Backheeled Insights, FC Cincinnati are top-six in MLS in both xG created from central buildup (0.78 per game) and xG created from transitions starting in the attacking half (0.30 per game). They can slow things down with the ball and create via possession, or they can press high and create via turnovers (like they did to beat Seattle a few weeks ago). Cincinnati’s diversity is a major asset.

Are they legit?

Absolutely. Few teams have more talent or more tactical clarity than Noonan’s squad.

  • Record: 3W-1L-1D, 10 points, +3 GD
  • Standings: 3rd in Eastern Conference

Superpower: Having a $30 million player leading their increasingly balanced attack

Thiago Almada makes Atlanta United tick. He’s scoring crazy goals, pulling defenders around and making the simple passes that set up his teammates for goals. Almada is an absolute star – potentially an MLS record transfer-breaking one – who might not be around for all that much longer.

But the 21-year-old Argentine’s only part of the reason why Atlanta United have found success this year (their 6-1 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday notwithstanding because of the international break). The other is because Atlanta are getting some actual line-stretching runs from Caleb Wiley on the left wing. Wiley gives Atlanta balance, creating space for Almada underneath and for Luiz Araújo to roam on the right side. At the center of it all, DP striker Giorgos Giakoumakis looks like he’ll be a big player for the Five Stripes.

Central midfield is still a concern for Atlanta, but they’ve taken a step in the right direction from last year to this year with their attacking construction.

Are they legit?

Yes, but the summer will have to go almost perfectly (read: they have to keep Almada and sign a very good CM) for them to be a true Supporters' Shield contender.

  • Record: 3W-1L-1D, 10 points, +8 GD
  • Standings: 2nd in Western Conference

Superpower: Punishing your biggest weakness

Is your team’s biggest flaw an unstable defensive shape? Seattle will take advantage of that. Is your team’s biggest flaw the lack of a true hold-up striker? Seattle are all over that, too. Is your team’s biggest flaw a lack of speed in the backline? Whoops, sorry, as I was typing that Jordan Morris already put the ball in the back of the net four times.

With plenty of high-level talent, the Sounders have an almost unrivaled ability to zero in on their opponent’s weaknesses and exploit them. We’ve already seen Seattle frustrate LAFC, run over Sporting KC, and pass their way through Colorado and Real Salt Lake. The Sounders match up well against pretty much everybody in MLS.

Are they legit?

Absolutely. Health is still a question mark up front, but Seattle have been elite through five games this year.

  • Record: 3W-0L-1D, 10 points, +6 GD
  • Standings: 3rd in Western Conference

Superpower: Having 14 high-level starters for 10 outfield positions

Because of the international break, LAFC played without Diego Palacios, José Cifuentes and Dénis Bouanga in their starting lineup against FC Dallas on Saturday. In place of those players was a trio of extremely capable replacements: Sergi Palencia, Tim Tillman and Stipe Biuk. Tillman and Biuk, in particular, already look like elite MLS players after just a month of games. Toss in Aaron Long, who appears to be third in LAFC’s center back pecking order, and you have 14 high-level outfield starters for 10 positions.

The defending MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield champions are deep. They’re crazy talented. They have an open DP spot. And their players just might be more bought-in than any team in the league.

Are they legit?

Next question, please.