Voices: Joseph Lowery

MLS Matchday 1: Who made the biggest statement?


We all really, really love saying “I told you so.” We can pretend we’re the bigger person. We can pretend we’re above all of that. But deep down, there’s something inside us that loves to prove other people wrong – and then let them know about it.

Throughout Matchday 1 of the 2023 MLS season, plenty of folks around the league proved plenty of other folks wrong. Plenty of people also showed 2023 could be a big, big year for them.

Now, we’ve only seen one game from teams, so sample size beware. But let’s talk about players (and a couple of coaches) who made some big statements on Matchday 1.

We have to start here, don't we?

Thiago Almada went off in second-half stoppage time, giving Atlanta United all three points at home on Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes.

What a start to the season for the 21-year-old Argentine World Cup winner. Almada clearly has talent – you can bet European scouts were watching those two goals. But you can also bet they watched the rest of his decision-making and sometimes unnecessary quick-trigger shooting against the Quakes. Almada averaged just 0.06 xG per shot, which is well below the league average (0.10 xG) figure.

If Almada smooths out his game and makes even a few smarter choices in the attack, he’ll be unplayable in MLS – and one day garner a big transfer fee.

First of all, here’s a fun fact the internet told me: Jordan Morris’ middle name is "Perry." The more you know.

Second of all, Morris had himself a game in Seattle’s 4-0 win over Colorado on Sunday night. The US men's national team forward was incredibly dangerous moving in behind the Rapids’ backline and snagged two goals before the final whistle. Colorado simply couldn’t cope with Morris’ pace and couldn’t figure out how to shut him down once he arrived in the box.

If the Sounders get this version of Morris all year – the fully healthy, goal-dangerous kind – they’ll be a trophy favorite.

He’s back, baby. After missing almost all of 2022 with an injury, Damir Kreilach scored the go-ahead goal for Real Salt Lake in their 2-1 win at Vancouver Whitecaps FC over the weekend.

The Croatian attacker/captain looked rusty, there’s no doubt about it. But he's absolutely still a scoring threat in the box, which is a darn good thing for an RSL team that needs more threats of that variety.

A healthy Kreilach gives Pablo Mastroeni another weapon – and simply makes Real Salt Lake better.

Coming into this season, St. Louis CITY SC sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel made it clear he doesn't care much about DPs. He might feel a little differently after the expansion team’s 3-2 win at Austin FC on Saturday given how well his two DPs, João Klauss and Eduard Löwen, played.

Klauss got a memorable game-winner, but Lowen was the real string-puller for the expansion side. The German midfielder added a ton of value with his passing and used his height and strong frame to glide through Austin’s defensive structure. Löwen looks like the real deal with his Bundesliga experience, and with him connecting the dots, St. Louis might just have a stew going.

The man did this just seconds into his Union debut:

Joaquín Torres might not have been fully valued in Montréal, but he’s absolutely staking his claim as the Union’s new super sub (Ilsinho vibes stand up).

The Argentine attacker gives Philadelphia much-needed depth to deal with all of their competitions this year. Plus, with more moments like the dribble and assist up above, he’s already showing an ability to make one of 2022’s best teams arguably the league’s very best team in 2023.

Christian Benteke struggled in his limited minutes for D.C. United last year… but D.C. United struggled even harder in Benteke’s limited minutes last year.

It’s early days, but against Toronto FC on Saturday evening, pulling out a late 3-2 win to collect three points at home. Benteke was strong and assured up front – a welcome change from last season – and provided his teammates with a safe target in the box for their crosses.

Since D.C.’s attack looks like it’s going to be based on a lot of aerial deliveries into the 18, having the Belgian international and former Premier League standout as a target in that space could be huge for them.

Gary Smith
Nashville SC head coach

I’ll admit I saw Nashville SC’s lineup come out on Saturday without Hany Mukhtar, the reigning Golden Boot presented by Audi winner and Landon Donovan MLS MVP, and thought: "NYCFC’s chances of getting a result on the road just got a whole lot better."

Yet Nashville made life miserable for the visitors from the jump. Even without Mukhtar, you could see the buy-in and collective identity from every single Nashville player on the field. They were quick. They were aggressive. They were compact. And, in the big moments, they were skillful.

Mukhtar still came on in the second half to help put the cherry on top of his team’s 2-0 win with a lovely assist. But head coach Gary Smith deserves a ton of credit for getting his team rowing in the same direction from the jump in 2023. That same thing can’t be said for every coach in the league.

Adrian Heath
Minnesota United FC head coach

Minnesota United FC weren’t nearly as impressive as Nashville SC over the weekend, but Adrian Heath’s team picked up a 1-0 road win without their star playmaker – thanks to Mender Garcia's timely finish.

With Emanuel Reynoso still away from the team, Robin Lod plopped into the No. 10 role in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Lod and Co. collectively limited FC Dallas’ chances and made life miserable for the home team. I still don’t think Minnesota’s ceiling is very high without Reynoso, but their floor just might be higher than we thought thanks to their defensive structure.

Yeah, yeah, Houston Dynamo FC fell 2-1 at FC Cincinnati on Saturday, but they did a bunch of very good things under new head coach Ben Olsen. With Artur, Coco Carrasquilla, and Héctor Herrera in the midfield, Houston controlled much of the game and created a series of quality chances away from home.

Herrera, for his part, looked motivated on and off the ball (we didn't always see that in 2022). The Mexican international also looked comfortable in the Dynamo’s almost triple-pivot midfield setup, where any of the three center-mids can drop deep at almost any time.

If we see more of that Héctor Herrera in 2023, the Dynamo are going to be a problem for pretty much every team they face.

We only saw Juan Mosquera play 188 minutes for the Portland Timbers last year, and he didn't even debut until mid-September. Head coach Giovanni Savarese slowly integrated the Colombian right back after he signed a U22 Initiative deal late in the summer transfer window.

Well, based on Mosquera's performance in Monday night's 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City, the starting spot is firmly his. The 20-year-old's sixth-minute goal was well-taken and he was strong in both directions, showing exactly why Portland scouted him at – and eventually signed him from – Independiente Medellín.

Oh, and also: MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert quietly dropped how Mosquera's already on the radar of European clubs and a lucrative transfer could arrive in the future. A big 2023 is brewing…