Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: Austin FC, Real Salt Lake ascend after Weeks 12 & 13

What a week in MLS. Adam Buksa scored, Colorado and Charlotte won at home, Atlanta United picked up an injury, and Real Salt Lake surprised everyone. It was truly a week unlike any other.

As always, this is not my fault. The Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLSsoccer.com editors, writers and personalities. What I am responsible for is that little space in your car where things fall and are impossible to get at while driving. I suggested that. That was my idea. And I’m proud of it. Hate me for that if you want, but not my Power Rankings. Spare me thy sword for my beloved Power Rankings.

This week's Power Rankings show can be seen below:

NYCFC cruised to two no-nonsense, clean-sheet wins over D.C. United and Chicago this week. They’ll probably get bored sometime soon and beat some team by eight goals, but I guess they’ll be okay with six points this week, even if those wins could be described as “workmanlike” at times.

They’ve done nothing but be the best team in the league over the last couple of months or so and they’ve done it even with injuries piling up. The only real concern right now is whether or not Taty Castellanos is around for the rest of the season. The two sneak previews of life without Taty have been a 0-0 draw with SKC early this month and the 1-0 win over Chicago this weekend. If (when) Taty leaves, there may just be a chance NYCFC go from an unstoppable buzzsaw to a team that’s only very, very, very good. I don’t know how NYCFC fans can sleep at night with that on the horizon…

Previous: 1-0 win vs. CHI | Next: 5/28 at MIN

They got Austin’d by Austin midweek and probably should have had a draw. They responded nicely over the weekend, though, by fighting through a rain delay to get out of Columbus with a 2-0 win to stay atop the Western Conference.

The most encouraging moment of the week for the Black & Gold came with Carlos Vela’s 62nd-minute goal against the Crew. It’s “only” his sixth goal of the year, but it might be a sign he’s about to finally get hot. If that happens, I don’t think I need to tell you what kind of monster LAFC could become. Especially if Brian Rodriguez’s return from injury can add another highly-dangerous element to their attack.

Previous: 2-0 win at CLB | Next: 5/28 vs. SJ

The Union stumbled their way through a 0-0 draw with Inter Miami midweek but totally redeemed themselves with a cross-country win over the Timbers on Sunday. They never felt out of control of a game with a whole handful of chaotic energy. That’s either because they’re an excellent team that knows exactly what they’re about and how to execute it, or because they knew they had muscle on the sidelines.

Anyway, it’s very much time to pay attention to what Daniel Gazdag is doing. We’re 13 games into the year and it’s clear he’s become one of the most effective attackers in the league in his second season. After scoring against Portland this weekend, Gazdag has seven goals and three assists on the season. He sits sixth in the league in non-penalty xG+xA. He’s thrived as the Union have become even more direct and should be in the conversation for the season’s first-half MVP frontrunners.

Previous: 2-0 win at POR | Next: 5/28 at NE

Dallas…Dallas did not have a good week. 

Not that Dallas are suddenly bad or anything. It’s MLS and things like losing to Vancouver and Minnesota back-to-back happen in this wildly unpredictable league. They just probably aren’t top-tier contenders, at least in my view, and I’m personally not convinced they’re at the top of the pile when it comes to the second-to-the-top tier of probable playoff teams. 

That being said, it’s definitely a pile-up in that tier right now. And two bad games don’t dismiss the quality they’ve shown in most cases so far and the fact the underlying numbers have them comfortably in the top 10 when it comes to expected goal differential and expected points. They’ll be fine as long as they never talk about this week ever again. Like ever.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. MIN | Next: 5/28 at ORL

Austin started their week by picking up their first-ever win in the Pacific Time Zone and reinforcing the idea they’re actually pretty good at this whole soccer thing while simultaneously reinforcing the need for more rabona assists.

That’s a really, really good way to start the week. They then tried to squander all of that in about 22 minutes against Orlando at home.

Los Verdes gave up two early goals but, to their credit, fought their way back to earn a point with Moussa Djitte’s stoppage-time equalizer to close out a four-point week against one of the clear best teams in the league and an Orlando team that [static mixed with a high-pitched, pulsing whirring sound that makes your brain feel like it’s trying to escape]. So yeah, a really good win and a yet-to-be-determined point that seems pretty okay given the circumstances.

I guess this is the part of the week where I mention, yet again, that we’re still talking about a team that’s outpacing their expected goal differential at a historic rate so far. Their win over LAFC is well-earned, but it may not have helped their cause to see that Opta had the single-game xG of that one at 1.9 to 0.7 in favor of LAFC. To be fair, a late penalty bumped that disparity way up and, overall, Austin’s outperformance is starting to decrease a little bit. They’re not going to glide through the rest of their schedule with ease, but they’re clearly good enough to continue picking up points against the league’s best.

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. ORL | Next: 5/29 at LA

They failed to beat Colorado in Colorado. It’s something the 22 teams who have played there before them in the regular season have also failed to do. I don’t think they’re going to cry too many tears into their Concacaf Champions League trophy about it. I’ll waste time worrying about Seattle if they’re in last place in late September. Until then…

Nope. Still not going to worry. They’ve already won the season in my book.

Previous: 1-0 loss at COL | Next: 5/29 vs. CLT

CF Montréal rode the same struggle bus as Dallas this week. But, hey, at least Montréal’s losses came against Western Conference teams over the playoff line?

It’s not a great salve, but in a vacuum, losing to Nashville at GEODIS Park and losing to RSL in a year where they exist solely to defy the common laws that bind the universe together aren’t totally shameful outcomes.

They’ll need to regroup quickly though. Three of their next four come against Cincinnati, Austin and Seattle.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. RSL | Next: 5/28 vs. CIN

You might be noticing very few teams at the top of MLS had enjoyable weeks. The Red Bulls are definitely in that group after allowing three goals in a draw with Chicago midweek and getting straight-up beat at Inter Miami on Sunday. The Inter Miami loss is a good-if-maybe-a-little-unnecessary reminder that road games in MLS come for us all at some point. Probably a good idea to win a home game or two if you can. The Red Bulls would just take the one right now.

I feel obligated to point out real quick that none of that is Omir Fernandez’s fault. He’s tied for second in MLS with six assists on the season.

Previous: 2-0 loss at MIA | Next: 5/28 vs. DC

None of their new (old) signings are getting significant minutes yet, their best player (Damir Kreilach) has started three games, and they have a goal differential of negative three. Yes folks, of course, I’m talking about the team that’s sixth in the Supporters’ Shield standings, Real Salt Lake, a totally normal soccer team. 

Look, why waste time trying to explain any of this when we can sit back and enjoy this. Don’t overthink it. Just take in the fact this team is on a home playoff game pace with wins against Seattle, New England, Nashville, LA, Austin and CF Montréal. American Soccer Analysis has them nestled between D.C. United and Chicago on expected goal differential so far this season, but let’s stop pretending things like math and science are real when it comes to this team. It’s way more fun if you do. And you know what, the math and science may come around on RSL sometime soon as their schedule gets far easier and they get healthier and their new signings come into the team. For now, just enjoy the ride.

Previous: 2-1 win at MTL | Next: 5/28 vs. HOU

It could have been a six-point week for Nashville but, all considered, four points is plenty. The Coyotes will feel like they should have closed out Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Atlanta with a win, but once the rain delay hit two hours or so it probably meant we could throw that result out the window everywhere but the standings.

There’s still plenty of good news to go around either way. I can personally say GEODIS Park is all it’s hyped up to be from a noise and a “giant Soccer Moses picture on the side of the building” and a “Having a very cool intro set to ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down’” perspective. The only thing they were missing Saturday was a roof.

And, of course, they earned all three points against a quality CF Montréal team on Wednesday. Or, to put it another way:

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. ATL | Next: 5/28 at COL

That’s 23 regular-season games in a row without a loss at home. The mile-high advantage is very real and, if I’m a Rapids fan, I’m stuck between celebrating the streak and becoming increasingly disappointed in the team’s home playoff performance last Thanksgiving. In the here and now, they keep piling up points in Commerce City. And we should note the underlying numbers like them a little more than the performances they’ve put up so far.

For a team that’s dealt with key injuries and a whole lot of turnover in the past few months, they’re doing just fine all things considered. Even if things to start this season have felt up and down, to put it lightly. This week, I think going from a miserable performance against SKC to a 1-0 win over the North American champs encapsulated that nicely.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. SEA | Next: 5/28 vs. NSH

Cincy dropped a few spots here for a loss to New England. It feels a bit harsh because New England scored a couple of worldies and only put up 0.8 xG on their way to scoring three times. That’s a bad break and nothing else. Their drop here does kind of illustrate the burden of proof is higher for this team. That’s not unfair considering the last three years. 

But I’m inclined to defend them after this weekend. Yeah, there are reasons to worry about them defensively. I just don’t think this weekend is illustrative of any of them. The Knifey Lions are still fifth in the league in expected goal differential, per ASA, and are incredibly unlucky right now. They’re underperforming their expected goal differential by more than nine goals, three more than the next closest team.

Previous: 3-2 loss vs. NE | Next: 5/28 at MTL

Last week, I wrote this about Orlando:

Congrats to Orlando on officially being this year’s team none of us will ever figure out and should really just give up on trying to assess. In the last four weeks, they’ve put up two of the single worst performances of the season in miserable losses and won the week after. I don't know what to make of it. But I do know American Soccer Analysis’ expected points model has them as the 20th-best team in the league while the actual points model (aka the standings) has them on 20 points and tied for first in the East.

I think we should just let Orlando exist for a few weeks without making any more assumptions and circle back a couple of months from now to see if anyone’s figured out what’s actually going on.

They subsequently went out and did this.

ATX-ORL boxscore 05/22/22

So. Yeah. Still gonna hold off on making too many assumptions about Orlando. Especially while they're busy speedrunning the entire concept I laid out last week throughout one game. Give it like…four months and let’s circle back for any definitive conclusions.  

Previous: 2-2 draw at ATX | Next: 5/28 vs. DAL

The Revs are back! Kinda! 

One-goal wins and riding Adam Buksa, Carles Gil and Matt Turner to glory is at least part of the formula that earned them a record point total last year. And now Gustavo Bou is finding his way back onto the field as well. 

I don’t know how long this is going to last considering Turner is heading to Arsenal in a month and Buksa is probably gone soon (whole lotta smoke here). But for now, it seems like they’re going to rack up some points based on firepower and Turner alone. They kind of have to because the defense still isn’t all that great, but they’ll pile up enough points that way. When Buksa is out here scoring nine times in seven games, you’ll pile up more than enough points.

Anyway, enough of that. I know why you’re here.

Previous: 3-2 win at CIN | Next: 5/28 vs. PHI

Club-record signing Sebastian Ferreira picked up MLS Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire honors after guiding Houston to a 3-0 beatdown of the Galaxy. The Dynamo just took six points from three games against Nashville, Seattle and LA. After a tough stretch of three straight losses, they’ve bounced back nicely. They’re tied for seventh in the West and just four points out of third place 13 games into the season, all while Ferreira is increasingly proving his worth.

I feel like I say it almost every week, but things are going well in Houston. Being far ahead of schedule on a rebuild has to feel good.

Previous: 3-0 win at LA | Next: 5/28 at RSL

In the span of three games, the Galaxy have gone from first in the league in open-play defense to not really close to first place in open-play defense. That’s by actual and expected goals. 

So if they aren’t an elite defensive team like we thought they could potentially be and if they aren’t getting production at all from their highly-paid wingers and if Chicharito hasn’t scored in his last eight games, then what are they? I’m worried the answer might be a pretty mid team with a not-so-mid payroll.

It’s too early to bail entirely on the Galaxy’s contender hopes of course, but it’s not like we have proof of concept for this group being one that excels as we get deeper into the season.

Previous: 3-0 loss vs. HOU | Next: 5/29 vs. ATX

Robin Lod is trying to singlehandedly keep the Loons flying right now. He’s scored in each of his last three games and Minnesota have picked up four points, including this weekend’s road win over Dallas.

The underlying numbers are still low on this team, though, despite Lod’s best efforts. Lod exists in a strange space right now where his success is simultaneously the best thing about this team and a signifier of one of its most notable deficiencies. It’s great he’s playing so well, but the fact he’s your leading scorer by four goals and the next closest guys are Luis Amarilla and Emanuel Reynoso with two apiece probably isn’t a great sign that your attack and the pieces you brought in to improve it are thriving.

Although, to be fair, the attack isn’t the biggest issue. The Loons have the third-worst defense in the league by expected goals allowed, per ASA. Shoutout to Dayne St. Clair, goalkeeper extraordinaire.

Previous: 2-1 win at DAL | Next: 5/28 vs. NYC

I’m not sure how much you can take away from a game against Nashville that stalled for three hours due to rain and lightning. But in the end, Atlanta can’t be too upset about taking a point on the road at Nashville. They did give us two goals that explain what direction they’re heading on both sides of the ball.

The bad news is that, defensively, they’re undersized, slow to react in the box and altogether going to keep hurting without Miles Robinson, Ozzie Alonso and Brad Guzan.

The good news is the final form of their attack involves Luiz Araujo, Thiago Almada and Marcelino Moreno functioning as a cohesive attacking unit while the fullbacks provide width and quick, dangerous decision-making in the Primary Assist Zones.*

*I wrote that part about the fullbacks a few minutes before Atlanta announced Andrew Gutman will be out for 8-12 weeks with a quadriceps tendon injury. Isn’t this fun? Aren’t we having fun? I’m having fun hahaha see I’m laughing hahahahhaha so fun.

Previous: 2-2 draw at NSH | Next: 5/28 vs. CLB

Hello, hi. Welcome to the latest edition of “Which Teams Have Fewer Home Wins Than Charlotte FC, An MLS Expansion Team?”. If you guessed NYCFC, you’d be wrong (they have six). If you guessed Colorado or Dallas, we’ll call it a tie (they, like Charlotte, have five). Then there’s everyone else in this wacky 28-team league. 

This has been “Which Teams Have Fewer Home Wins Than Charlotte FC, An MLS Expansion Team?”. Now sit back and enjoy this art piece.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. VAN | Next: 5/29 at SEA

A four-point week against Philadelphia and the Red Bulls is an excellent week for any team. The schedule-makers lining those teams up back-to-back felt kind of mean at first glance, but the Herons took the league’s two best pressing teams head-on. They did enough to survive against Philly and then handled New York in a 2-0 win. 

Miami are just one point below the playoff line and far and away from the Wooden Spoon contender status they seemed to have at the beginning of the year. Any forward progress in a rebuild as tough as this one is great progress, and they’re making more strides than most expected.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. RBNY | Next: 5/28 vs. POR

They played a Timbers Game Type Three midweek in a 3-2 loss to San Jose and then they just kind of got worked by the Union. That’s another not-so-great week for the Timbers, especially with Eryk Williamson leaving their loss to the Union early with an injury. The Timbers are now 23rd in the league on points per game and third-to-last in the West, just ahead of SKC and Vancouver. The underlying numbers don’t like them much more than that.

Then again, it’s Portland and what has any of that mattered over the last couple of years? We can’t count them out. There have been injuries and guys like Felipe Mora will be back later in the season. But it feels like there’s increased reason for pessimism with this group.

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. PHI | Next: 5/28 at MIA

  • With Matias Almeyda: 0-4-3, -6 goal differential.
  • Without Matias Almeyda: 4-1-3, +5 goal differential.

I’ll go one step further.

  • With Almeyda: -0.68 xGD/game, last in the league in that time span
  • Without Almeyda: 0.01 xGD/game, 14th in the league in that time span

They’re putting together decent results and considering the underlying numbers and their personnel, it seems sustainable. They took down Portland this week before drawing with SKC to move a little further out of the basement in the West. Big tests are coming for Alex Covelo’s group though. LAFC, Nashville, RSL and LA are up next.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs SKC | Next: 5/28 at LAFC

The Crew have won just once in their last nine MLS games. It is not going well. Let’s leave it there for now.

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. LAFC | Next: 5/28 at ATL

D.C. gave up a lead twice to Toronto this weekend and lost to NYCFC midweek. They’ve won just once in their last five, including a loss to Columbus, who we just established aren’t doing so hot right now. The “new manager bounce” that showed up for San Jose hasn’t shown up with the same fervor at Chad Ashton’s D.C. United.

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. TOR | Next: 5/28 at RBNY

Four points in a week is certainly an improvement on things. The bar was low after a 7-2 loss at Portland and they soared over it. Although, things got a tad testy midweek against Colorado. Yes, that’s underselling it.

Previous: 1-1 draw at SJ | Next: 5/28 vs. VAN

The Whitecaps put up a fight and lost in Charlotte despite being down to 17-year-old academy goalkeeper Max Anchor due to health and safety protocol/injury absences. The good news at least is they stunned FC Dallas last Wednesday in a 2-1 win. There’s a good team buried in here somewhere, I just know it. They just have to get healthy soon enough for it to matter. At this point, who knows how long that will take.

Previous: 2-1 loss at CLT | Next: 5/28 at SKC

Three goals! In one game! I mean they didn’t win that game against RBNY and were shut out a few days later against NYCFC, but they scored three times! Self-improvements are incremental and should be appreciated.

Previous: 1-0 loss at NYC | Next: 5/28 at TOR

Responding from being down a goal to equalize twice against D.C. has to feel good, even if the rest of the landscape for Toronto looks a little worrisome right now. 

Previous: 2-2 draw at DC | Next: 5/28 vs. CHI