What a week in MLS. Concacaf Champions League teams struggled after playing midweek games, a defender let Carlos Vela easily shift the ball onto his left foot for a goal like they totally forgot he was left-footed, and Chicharito scored a dramatic late winner on national TV. It was truly a week unlike any other.
Like always, this is not my fault. The Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLS soccer dot com editors, writers and personalities. Don’t worry though, I’m a part of that group of voters as well. And I promise to make sure my votes reflect the will of the people so when the final tally comes in, no one can complain about a totally infallible process that accurately reflects the definitive standards of “Power” in the MLS hierarchy.
Let’s get to it.
Soccer is hard. CCL is harder. Sometimes it can wear you down.
All four MLS teams that played CCL matches midweek lost over opening weekend. I don’t know how much we can take from those losses when there’s a clear trend here. And not to take anything away from the Galaxy, who played well and deserved to win, but NYCFC began losing steam at the start of the second half and the chances they began to allow only got more likely to end in an LA goal. Sometimes you get gassed and lose late. It happens.
All told, NYCFC would likely trade an opening weekend loss for a CCL quarterfinals appearance. What really matters is they looked ruthless against Costa Rica’s Santos de Gaupiles last Wednesday.
All it took for Nashville SC to earn their highest-ever position in Power Rankings was a move West. In their first-ever Western Conference matchup and against the conference’s most successful team, Nashville changed…basically nothing and played the most Nashville game possible. There’s a beauty in that. No really, there is, I promise.
I wrote this in the Monday edition of the MLSsoccer.com newsletter, The Daily Kickoff, but I think I might just copy and paste it for all Nashville things here on out.
Nashville are hellbent on making your life as miserable as possible to improve theirs. They see soccer as a zero-sum game. The more stagnant you are, the more chances they have to capitalize. There's no sense of empathy. They don’t believe a rising tide can lift all boats. Your boat is taking up some space in the water that they can have. They're gonna try and blow up your boat.
On Sunday, they flustered Seattle until Anibal Godoy could pounce on an opportunity. It wasn't necessarily the end goal for Nashville, more like a little treat for keeping Seattle in check and giving up just 0.4 xG to the preseason conference favorites. Everyone in the West should really start getting used to that kind of thing.
So, yeah. Seattle got Nashville’d about as much as you possibly can. Like NYCFC and Montréal though, they put on a midweek show in CCL and that’s what really matters right now. Besides, when has a slow regular-season start ever done anything to stop Seattle?
A road point at Providence Park despite allowing two top-tier goals isn’t the worst way to start the year. Earl Edwards Jr. did well stepping in for the injured Matt Turner and New England still present multiple layers of problems in attack. If you stop Carles Gil, you still have to stop Adam Buksa; and if you stop Buksa, you still have to stop Gustavo Bou; and if you stop Bou, you still have to stop Sebastian Lletget. The equation hasn’t changed that much with the departure of Tajon Buchanan, plus Lletget is already on the scoresheet. That’s a good sign of things to come.
I thought it might take a few weeks or even months for Atlanta United to fully adapt to Gonzalo Pineda’s system in his first full season in charge. Instead, they started executing at a mid-season level directly from kickoff. The hesitancy that defined this team over the last two seasons never appeared and we got an Atlanta United that finally looked assured of their decision-making and ability to execute those decisions.
With the talent on this team, that’s a reason for extreme optimism for Atlanta United fans and worry for everyone else. This group didn’t even have Thiago Almada, Alan Franco, Marcelino Moreno or Santiago Sosa ready to join the starting lineup. And Luiz Araujo missed most of the game after going out injury.
A rotated group nearly doubled up Sporting KC in expected goals and put together the most cohesive product we’ve seen from them since their 2019 playoff run. Expectations will be higher than ever now. But this is Atlanta. They’ll just be glad to have expectations again.
Have we reached a point yet where LAFC can get voted into sixth place and it doesn’t get dismissed as a meme on MLS Reddit? Because, I don’t know y’all, kind of seems like they might be really good.
Admittedly there’s a bit of confirmation bias here. Before the season even began, it seemed like LAFC’s offseason signings, a change at manager and some time to get Carlos Vela healthy could result in a team that terrorizes MLS again. Well, LAFC started four new signings, the new manager didn’t have to tweak much tactically and I think Vela might be really, really healthy. It’s hard not to point at this win excitedly and yell “SEE!”
Vela’s health alone should be enough to keep the rest of the league on notice. Although, it sure would help if people quit letting him go left. I mean, seems obvious, but people are still letting him go left in really important areas of the pitch. Has anyone tried not letting him go left?
Anyway, they dismantled Colorado despite Chicho Arango coming off the bench and it felt like the kind of demolition that would have happened with or without Colorado’s CCL loss midweek. LAFC created 2.6 chances worth of xG to Colorado’s 0.3. They didn’t give up a shot from the 18th minute to the 73rd minute. There is no Catastrophic LAFC Defensive Moment of the Week for the first time in a very long time. It may not be the final step in LAFC’s return to contender status, but it’s the kind of step they haven’t even taken in a long time.
With all the talk of Philadelphia's new DP strikers elevating them this season, Cory Burke scoring the Union’s lone goal this weekend is kind of funny. I should note one of those strikers, Mikael Uhre, wasn’t even available for this one, but still. Like a little funny.
There’s not much to say other than that. The Union played like the Union — a first game of the season version — against a good Minnesota team and nearly came out with a win.
Ok, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can talk about Santiago Moreno. I’m not saying he could be the difference between Portland being a good regular-season team and a great regular-season team, but I am going to take credit for saying that later if he carries them to a home playoff spot. I mean, look at this freaking pass.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt compelled to put two goals in one team’s section before, but this feels worth it.
I guess we could be a bummer and say this was a home draw to start the season that needed an AT&T Goal of the Year candidate to happen. It’s not a perfect start. But Moreno’s dynamism and the fact he could be one of the best players on this team despite being just 21 seems like a genuine reason for optimism. Overall, Portland looked impressive against one of the best teams in the league.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but Caleb Porter’s deal with a supernatural force to have his teams be good every other season had to be put together by an intern in the Monkey’s Paw Wish Fulfillment department. He probably said something like “I sure wish I could consistently make the playoffs” and instead of being fired and forced to lead a U-9 team at the Akron YMCA to an opening-round loss each year, he ended up with whatever this is. Just to recap, we’re on year eight of his MLS coaching career. He made the playoffs in 2013, missed in 2014, made them in 2015, missed in 2016, made them in 2017, took a gap year to try and throw the curse off, still missed in 2019, made them in 2020 and missed in 2021.
All that to say, if you couple that pattern with Columbus’s absolute whomping of Vancouver over the weekend, it’s hard not to feel good about the Crew. Porter’s decision to start Miguel Berry over Gyasi Zardes immediately paid off and it feels like Berry could genuinely be the real deal. He put up numbers over the course of a relatively small sample size last year and, well, the sample size keeps getting bigger and he keeps putting up numbers.
Ok, fine, maybe we’ll look back and Miguel Berry and Columbus will both win the “Week One Overreaction” award, but did I mention that Columbus had two wingers score? That has to mean something, right?
We’ve reached a point where even diehard USMNT stan accounts are openly admitting their adoration for Chicharito on the internet.
His enthusiasm, his candidness, his sense of the moment – it’s all so infectious. It makes you believe that when he scores a late opening day goal to beat the reigning MLS champs, absolutely no one on the planet deserved it more. It’s remarkable to watch and I’m desperately hoping we get a full season of it.
The Galaxy wouldn’t mind it either of course, but this wasn’t a win where Chicharito saved them out of nothing. They took it to NYCFC in the second half and capitalized on tired legs to earn three points. It’s a solid start. And it might be a good thing that the Galaxy will be more aware than anyone of how little that means.
Young DP winger Facundo Torres, DP forward Ercan Kara and U22 Initiative midfielder Cesar Araujo all made their debut for the Lions, but Alexandre Pato stole the spotlight with his first MLS goal. It’s going to take a while for all the new pieces to gel, but if Pato is about to put together consistent performances, it will be far easier for Orlando to be patient with that process.
I’m not sure we can expect that necessarily, but I think we can expect manager Oscar Pareja to have this team up and running at full speed relatively soon. When that happens, the Lions should be a legitimate problem for opponents. They have talent at every spot on the field and something already feels more cohesive about this group after last year’s pieces struggled to mesh together. I had them higher than 11th, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them continue to climb a few spots throughout the year.
The most notable part of this game for the Loons I think is that new (old?) DP Luis Amarilla got the start at striker ahead of DP Adrien Hunou and new U22 Initiative signing Bongokuhle Hlongwane. Both eventually made an appearance, but it seems like they’re expecting Amarilla to be The Guy. We’ll have to wait and see if his second tenure with the Loons is more productive than his first. For now, he still owes Adrian Heath 23 more goals.
Heyyyyyyyyy y’all. Soooooo…you ok?
Let’s not sugarcoat it. This has started about as poorly as anyone could have reasonably expected. At least no one’s injured?
Fortunately, it’s hard to imagine this team bottoming out with so much ability at each position. I don’t think they’ve been selected by the MLS powers above for a post-CCL-heartbreak death spiral like other teams of the past. A full week between games should do them well. But an on-field reason for optimism would be nice. After putting up an xG of just 0.3 against LAFC, it’s hard to see that reason coming against Atlanta next weekend.
It was totally understandable to enter the year concerned about SKC’s ability to replace Alan Pulido. But it might be fair to put Pulido’s absence as worry 1A and whatever is going on with SKC’s midfield at 1B.
New signing Uri Rosell started as SKC’s single-pivot defensive midfielder against Atlanta, then got subbed off in the 50th minute for 2021 summer signing Jose Mauri, who then got subbed off himself 27 minutes later. Uh-oh.
SKC should be fine against weaker teams. It’s SKC after all. But there’s a clear weakness here. It might be fair to worry if it can be corrected with the current personnel.
The Red Bulls did Red Bulls things against San Jose, who kind of looked like a whole entire mess. A 3-1 win to open the season, though, is a great start no matter what – and it's made even better by how center back Aaron Long played 90 minutes for the first time since May 2021.
Who knows how much you can take stock of a home win over Cincinnati, but anytime you score one-eighth of the goals in your team’s history in one game in front of a packed crowd, you probably did something right.
I’m genuinely unsure what CF Montréal did to my colleagues, but it must have been deeply personal and stuffed to the brim with spite. 17th??????
I triple-checked this one just to make sure I tallied the votes correctly and here we are. Every other CCL team that played midweek lost this weekend, and here goes Wilfried Nancy’s into the bottom 40% of teams.
Sure they wilted a bit in the Orlando sun on short rest, but my goodness did they thump Liga MX’s Santos Laguna the other night. They beat them so bad Santos Laguna fired their manager. If you get a Liga MX manager fired, you deserve to be at least in the top 10 the week after. Just as a general rule. I had them ninth, if it makes anyone in Montréal feel better. I’m gonna go walk this off and maybe watch Romell Quioto and Djordje Mihailovic torch Santos again.
Well, this is certainly one way to start the year.
That’s a stunner created by two of the people Dallas fans most wanted to see creating moments exactly like that. The hockey assist from Paxton Pomykal is excellent and Paul Arriola’s final ball is inch-perfect. It’s the most encouraging moment of the game for a team that had a good number of encouraging moments. They finished with 2.6 xG on the day and gave up a goal on the only shot Toronto put on frame. That’s usually worth three points.
D.C. United did D.C. United things and beat up on the league’s newest team. Things will get a lot tougher going forward though for the Black-and-Red as they face…[checking]...Cincinnati, Chicago and Toronto?
Uhh, so, we might be about to end up with D.C. United on top of the league heading into April. Maybe don’t overreact if that happens.
At the very least, the kids are playing. Jayden Nelson, Deandre Kerr and Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty started this weekend in Texas. It wasn’t a perfect start to Bob Bradley’s tenure, but it definitely wasn’t a bad one either. This was always going to be a slow build back up for the Reds.
Chicago absolutely played a soccer game this week. I watched it too. And…I’m sure something happened, but whatever it was I can’t really remember it. I think mostly just missed chances. A road point is a road point though. And at the very least, Gaga Slonina is a stud and Xherdan Shaqiri got a chance to get his MLS legs under him. Shaq dished out five key passes in his debut.
I can confirm they played a game of soccer against Houston.
Goodness. I’m not quite as fired up about it as Montréal, but this is a steep, steep drop after one game for a team that made the playoffs last year. To be fair to the voters though, Vancouver came out like this…
They did not start strong.
I would imagine this as low as they go this year though. They’re too good to look like that every week. Although, I’m increasingly worried about Maxime Crepeau being the duct tape that held everything together. They should be fine. And I doubt they’ll slip below this spot … right? Guys???
Gonzalo Higuain had seven key passes! That led the league this week. And it’s two more than Xherdan Shaqiri had. That’s basically a win, hang the banner.
I can confirm they played a game of soccer against Real Salt Lake.
It could have been worse! An early Video Review decision left them waiting for their first goal in team history and a few other breaks that went D.C. United’s way doomed them in game one. They didn’t deserve to win, but they didn’t deserve a 3-0 scoreline either. Anyway, it’s probably better that they saved their first goal for a home-debut crowd of around 75,000 fans...
They’re gonna score this weekend, right?
A lot of Big Soccer Media (and me) spent time this offseason praising FC Cincinnati for signing goalkeeper Alec Kann. Kann’s underlying numbers when he got his chances to play for Atlanta United were among the best in the league. Even with a small sample size, that’s encouraging.
Yeah, so, pretty much all of that is gone now after Cincy gave up five goals (including a Kann own goal) in their first game of the season.
I want to believe so badly this will be the year they go spoonless. But last weekend reinforced just how challenging the job is ahead of general manager Chris Albright and head coach Pat Noonan. This has strong vibes of a multi-year rebuild.