Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: Austin FC, Real Salt Lake big movers after Week 15

What a week in MLS. Dejan Joveljic scored as a sub for the LA Galaxy, Vancouver took down FC Dallas and Nashville put in a disappointing performance at home. 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. That group does include me, but I’m only like one-tenth of the problem here. Well, normally. This week Tom Bogert tried to turn in his Power Rankings at 2:02 pm ET when I explicitly stated the deadline was 2:00 pm ET. And we all know that means Tom must bear the entire brunt of the Power Rankings. That’s right, there’s no one else to blame this week. These are Tom’s Power Rankings and no one else’s. His fault.

Quick programming note: Week 15's Power Rankings Show can be seen below.

LAFC earned a point in Seattle. That’s totally acceptable and it keeps them out in front of the early Supporters’ Shield standings.  It would have been a boring week for LAFC if it weren’t for…

“I think we created a really good team, we are doing pretty well. I feel good to be here. I enjoy to play in LA with our fans. And of course I have that thing in mind, to win a trophy with this club. So my head is always focused on that,” Carlos Vela said postgame.

"But in the end, this is business. We are working on that, but I'm open to be here. But if it's not working, and this thing [does] not happen, I'm also open to leave and find another place. Football is like that. Life is like that. It’s nothing to complain, just see if in the end if we can make the deal or not.”

So. Yeah. Doesn’t seem like the Carlos Vela contract situation is quite as wrapped up as it seemed a bit ago. They have until the end of June to sort it out (clock is ticking). And while everything is probably fine, it’s starting to feel like this car is driving just a little too close to the wall for comfort. Just a few inches one way and things could suddenly be very different. 

It’s hard to imagine there will be a bigger story in MLS over the next couple of weeks. So I would say keep an eye on it, but it will probably be inescapable. The best player in the history of the league could be gone in just two weeks.

Previous: 1-1 draw at SEA | Next: 6/26 vs. RBNY

NYCFC nearly got ambushed by the Rapids, but Nick Cushing’s side fought back to earn a point in his first game as interim manager. More importantly, he indicated an understanding that his assignment is maintenance-based.

"We are mid-season and we don't have a lot of time to start implementing new ways of playing and new ideas," Cushing said.

"What we have done has worked for us, we have a methodology in our group and we have worked towards that the last 18 months and it has helped us win MLS Cup and it has helped us with the league position that we have got."

Cushing is sitting in a room full of shiny buttons and has been given the job of making sure no one presses any of the shiny buttons. He just has to make sure the status quo stays the same for NYCFC and they’ll be well-positioned to take a second-straight MLS Cup. It’s tougher than it sounds, but he seems to understand that sometimes there's no reason to tweak what’s working for the sake of making tweaks.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. COL | Next: 6/26 at PHI

Seattle came out and played a sleepy and sloppy-looking 1-1 draw against LAFC this weekend. At least by both of those teams’ standards. Noon starts are a heckuva thing. 

The good news is they’re above the West’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line after that draw and a midweek demolition of the Whitecaps. They could realistically be in a home playoff spot by the end of the month.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. LAFC | Next: 6/25 vs. SKC

The “got that dawg in him” bit is over the hill at this point, but do you have a better way to describe what’s happening in Salt Lake? No? I didn’t think so. 

I’m done trying to sort out the why behind any of this. I have fully suspended any sense of disbelief and I’m totally along for the ride on this movie filled with explosions and cheesy dialogue and Jefferson Savarino. Y’all don’t think too hard and just sit back and enjoy the show. It’s a really fun show.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. SJ | Next: 6/25 vs. CLB

Just gonna let Jim Curtin take this one.

“It’s not lack of effort. These guys put everything into the game,” Curtin said. “But what we are missing right now is that one player to make a play. Maybe it’s beat a guy or change how the defense is playing us.

“Right now we’re a little bit safe and stagnant to play against, or easier to play against. We missed that one piece to really break down the opponent and get in behind them.”

Same old. Same old in Philly.

Seriously, things are a bit stagnant right now.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. CIN | Next: 6/26 vs. NYC

I’m going to go ahead and say a 1-0 win over CF Montréal on the road while down a man is far from a “bonus game.” Los Verdes held out against the odds after Daniel Pereira’s 44th-minute red card, and then flipped them on their head with Maxi Urruti’s 67th-minute goal and pulled out a special result. 

It’s their first outstanding road win since the last one. This team has wins over LAFC and CF Montréal on the road now. Austin FC haven’t been fantastic since their schedule’s difficulty level ramped up, but they haven’t been called out as frauds either. Yeah, they’re still outperforming their expected goals numbers by the highest margin in the league since 2013, per American Soccer Analysis. I’m not saying they’re going to win the Supporters’ Shield. But this is still a serious Year Two Bump. And that’s really all you can hope and ask for as an expansion team.

Previous: 1-0 win at MTL | Next: 6/25 vs. DAL

The Red Bulls didn’t bring the hammer down on Toronto like it seemed they might after Lewis Morgan scored a couple of minutes in, but they still took care of business with ease this weekend. They decidedly did not take care of business the weekend before against Charlotte though. And since we haven’t talked since then, I wanted to briefly touch on some numbers I already briefly touched on in my newsletter for this very site, The Daily Kickoff.

Using Second Spectrum’s tracking data, we can see New York came into their game against Charlotte averaging 330 pressing actions per game while covering 2.45 kilometers per game with those pressing actions. Against Charlotte, those numbers dropped down to 309 presses and 2.02 km. That’s still a high number compared to the rest of the league, but not quite the level New York needs to be at to fully execute on the advantages their system creates. Clearly. They were outplayed by an expansion team that had just parted ways with their manager 14 games into the season.

Obviously, that’s just one game, though. And game states can affect pressing actions as much as the thermometer. However, it feels like the first dip towards a consistent trend for New York. Remember last season when they nearly disappeared from the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs chase entirely during the summer, only to roar back in the final couple of months of the season?

Through June 1 of 2021, the Red Bulls averaged 342 pressing actions/gm while closing down 2.42 km/gm. From June 1 to Aug. 31, those numbers dropped to 283 actions/gm and 1.95 kms. The rest of the way, they jumped back up to 305 actions/gm and 2.2 km/gm. Their record during those stretches indicates the obvious: The more this team can physically execute their pressing strategy, the better they are.

That being said, there are more variables in their favor this summer. Mainly the fact that this group is simply better than last year’s. Aaron Long’s return and the inclusion of both Luquinhas and Morgan alone make them a much more talented and effective team. Talent can survive the heat with a little more ease. We’ll see if it’s enough this year to keep the Red Bulls from dipping.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. TOR | Next: 6/26 at LAFC

Kind of seems like Vancouver have their number this year. I’m not exactly sure why. But I do know an injury to Matt Hedges could be a big deal if he continues to stay out of the lineup. Dallas understandably just doesn’t have the same level of defensive solidity without him. It doesn’t seem like the injury is anything long-term, but it is a reminder depth may be a concern for this team. Over the course of the season, it might end up being what keeps them from earning a spot at the top of the conference. 

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. VAN | Next: 6/25 at ATX

I’m still not going to try and figure out this Orlando team. But I think we’re getting close to answers. It seems like this is a team that can keep grinding out points like they did this week with a draw at New England and a win against Houston. There’s a scenario here where they keep grabbing points at a decent rate, Ercan Kara continues to produce, Facundo Torres keeps growing and they make the playoffs with a chance to knock out a couple of teams that don’t think they’re about to be knocked out by Orlando. 

It’s plausible at least. But it is still going to require some growth. Orlando were always going to need some time to integrate new pieces and may be at the beginning of those pieces really starting to connect with each other. If that’s the case, then we don’t need to worry about some of those scary underlying numbers quite as much.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. HOU | Next: 6/24 at CIN

Ok, now they have to start Dejan Joveljic. He scored this weekend. Again. Off the bench. Again. There’s just no way you can keep this guy out of the starting lin--

“There’s a tradeoff when you play with two forwards,” Greg Vanney said. “And what do you lose, and what do you gain from doing something like that? For us, this was maybe a little bit of a sample of what that might look like.

“I still think that’s something that we can use, but I don’t know that it’s something that I can say is going to be primary for us. But it’s something that we can certainly look at in the right moments or the right scenarios are there for us.”

Look, I’ve said it plenty of times. I get it. I know there are things at play here that my tiny soccer blogger brain can’t handle. There are tactical give and takes that happen with every personnel choice you make. I know Greg Vanney is so far advanced in his knowledge of the sport that if he quit the game entirely right now, at this very moment, I will literally never catch up. But man, sometimes it’s not all that much more complicated than getting your best players on the field and letting them work … right?

For a Galaxy team that’s been remarkably lackluster in attack considering the transfer fees and salaries involved, I don’t know how you can see what Joveljic is doing, see what your wing players are doing and decide you’re better off without him challenging opposing backlines for 90 minutes. LA needed him on the field to squeak out a 1-1 draw at home against a struggling Portland team. Things just aren’t going well enough without him for Joveljic to be considered a luxury piece.

In the West, LA have only scored two more goals than Minnesota and SKC. It can’t hurt all that much to just try out two forwards.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. POR | Next: 6/25 at SJ

Getting outscored and out xG’d by a team that had 10 people on the field while you have 11 is not good. Probably best to just move on.

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. ATX | Next: 6/25 vs. CLT

Matt Turner didn’t quite get the send-off game we were expecting, but the Revs still picked up four points in two games this week, in part due to Dylan Borrero. The U22 Initiative winger picked up a goal in New England’s win against Minnesota and has just generally looked like a perfect fit for the Revs. It’s exciting to see a player with the kind of ability on the ball, direct mindset and dynamism the Revs have been lacking since Tajon Buchanan left.

He’s perhaps the biggest reason for optimism for New England right now, but it seems like there are more than a few for this team. Even with Adam Buksa and Turner heading out. Borrero can ball, Djordje Petrovic seems like a really solid goalkeeper, Gustavo Bou has three goals over the last four games and, in general, the Revs are playing attractive and effective soccer again. Couple that with some roster flexibility and an influx of cash from a few transfers and the Secondary Transfer Window could bring a major piece or two to New England.

The Revs have 23 points on the season and are sixth in the East after a rough start. It seems like there’s reason to be bullish on them the rest of the way.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. MIN | Next: 6/26 at VAN

Dear reader, I can’t explain the heaviness of the exasperated sigh that came out of me watching Nashville go down to Sporting KC at home. It honestly probably burnt more calories than the entire Nashville defense spent closing down Graham Zusi on SKC’s first goal.

The loss ended a 25-game unbeaten streak at home that included a few too many draws and not enough wins. I know it’s absurd to complain about a 25-game unbeaten streak of any kind, but I think everyone involved knows Nashville can be better. It didn’t really come as a surprise they came out totally flat against SKC. That’s not good enough for a team whose projected year-three progression put them somewhere amongst the top tier of teams in the league. 

At least Ake Loba put in maybe his best performance since arriving in Nashville. Maybe, just maybe, he’s finally turned a corner. If he has, it might mean Nashville will too.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. SKC | Next: 6/25 at DC

It feels kind of strange to be talking about an Atlanta United game where everything went relatively smoothly, no one got hurt and there’s a genuine reason for optimism. It’s been a strange year in Atlanta, y’all.

The Five Stripes jumped on Inter Miami early and then cruised the rest of the way after going up a man. Luiz Araujo and Josef Martinez both scored and played well, but the brightest and most intriguing performance came from 17-year-old left back Caleb Wiley. He’s only made a few appearances for Atlanta, but he looks far beyond his years when it comes to his ability to process the game at speed, his on-ball skills and his physical makeup. 

Progress isn’t linear and everything won’t be smooth for Wiley from here on out. But Atlanta have a serious talent on their hands.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. MIA | Next: 6/25 at TOR

They nearly had it. They nearly had a resplendent smash-and-grab result at Yankee Stadium. I mean, just gorgeous.

Michael Barrios’ 68th-minute goal put them up 1-0. It also happened to be the Rapids' first and only shot on target of the day and 0.11 of Colorado’s 0.3 total xG. The dream died four minutes later though and the Rapids settled for a tie. On the road at Yankee Stadium this year, you take that in a heartbeat. Even if nearly all the results for the Rapids this year seem to come with a feeling that they could have and maybe should have been something more.

Previous: 1-1 draw at NYC | Next: 6/25 at POR

We’re still in a year of progress for Cincy. A draw against Philadelphia and yet another goal for Brandon Vazquez is a good result. The underlying numbers still think they’re among the better teams in the league. And that’s all great. It just kind of makes it a bummer to see them sitting on the fringes of the East’s playoff line right now. 

If FC Cincinnati can’t get some kind of cosmic reward this year after what they’ve been through the last three years, I don’t know if any of us will ever catch a break. I choose to believe Cincy will start getting a lucky result here and there soon, but, for now, they’re underperforming their expected goals numbers by a larger margin than any team in the league. They’re the anti-Austin. And that just doesn’t seem fair.

Anyway, the arrival of DP defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo may help them pick up a few more points with or without luck. Early reviews have seemed almost exclusively positive.

Previous: 1-1 draw at PHI | Next: 6/24 vs. ORL

They were a terrible Kristijan Kahlina touch away from a chance at a 1-0 win over the Crew. Instead, they had to settle for a 1-1 draw in interim manager Christian Lattanzio’s second game in charge.

Andre Shinyashiki scored again though and continues to look like an excellent mid-season pickup. He’s scored three times and picked up an assist in his 413 minutes since joining Charlotte in May. For an attack that’s lacked spark this season, he’s doing well to provide some much-needed production.

Charlotte should be able to start plugging DPs Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak into the starting lineup again next week against CF Montréal. We could start to get our first look at what this team can look like with an extended run of Swkiderski, Jozwiak and Shinyashiki in the starting XI. In theory, that might lead to a version of this team that starts to resemble something dynamic.

Previous: 1-1 draw at CLB | Next: 6/25 at MTL

The Whitecaps got crushed by Seattle midweek and then turned around and headed to Texas to beat Dallas. That’s a weird week, but a week that’s good enough to have the Caps genuinely back in contention. Despite a miserable start that led to their current goal differential of negative-10, they’ve been putting together results. They’re currently in eighth place, they’re getting healthy and DP midfielder Andrés Cubas is beginning to integrate into the team.

They may not even need to make a second-half turnaround this season. They might just end up being a key part of the race. We’re heading towards the timeline that seemed much more plausible in preseason where the Caps are pretty good and pretty fun. Amazing what getting healthy can do.

Previous: 2-0 win at DAL | Next: 6/26 vs. NE

Houston are strange. At times it seems like they’re putting it together, other times they seem disinterested, other times it seems like they’re interested but incapable, and a lot of times it seems like all of this is happening over the course of one game. They picked up a loss at Orlando this weekend and continue to feel like they could be a solid team if they put together consistent performances.

It feels like the team is in limbo, waiting around for Hector Herrera to arrive and solve all of their problems. And he probably will solve a few. But the rest will require some work.

Previous: 2-1 loss at ORL | Next: 6/25 vs. CHI

Inter Miami were missing Gregore in Atlanta while he worked on his visa. That meant Inter Miami needed a standout performance from the rest of their midfield to make up for his absence. And in a way, they got that memorable performance. It’s just that it involved Robert Taylor playing a horrific back pass to Josef Martinez that led to Atlanta’s first goal four minutes in, followed by Jean Mota getting red-carded 29 minutes in. So. Yeah. Getting Gregore back soon should help.

Previous: 2-0 loss at ATL | Next: 6/25 vs. MIN

Dayne St. Clair finally had a human moment this weekend. I think we’ll give him a pass for not finishing this last 450-pound rep on the bench. He’d been doing so much work to keep this team afloat that it was impossible to ask him to be practically perfect forever. On a related note, Minnesota have just 10 open-play goals this season, which is third-worst in the league. They’re technically just two points below the West’s playoff line, but some serious tweaks are needed to keep them from sliding further.

Previous: 2-1 loss at NE | Next: 6/25 at MIA

They got a point on the road against the Galaxy this weekend and Felipe Mora, Eryk Williamson, Jaroslaw Niezgoda and Claudio Bravo were all available after missing time with injuries. It’s a little bit of encouraging news in a pretty bleak year so far. Maybe the Timbers getting healthier is a signal that a typical second-half surge is on the way?

Anyway, if you were wondering, yes this was an almost-perfect Timbers Game Type (TGT) 1*.

*Timbers Game Type (TGT) 1: Final xG finishes like 1.1-0.8 and the game ends 1-0 or 1-1.

Previous: 1-1 draw at LA | Next: 6/25 vs. COL

I’m not going to pretend like a 1-1 draw at home against an expansion team where your only goal came on a howler inspires confidence. The silver lining is Columbus were without Lucas Zelarayan and more help is on the way. They just completed a club record-breaking transfer for 23-year-old Watford and Colombia forward Cucho Hernandez. He just might be the answer at a position where the Crew sorely need one.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. CLT | Next: 6/25 at RSL

The result of the season for SKC! Just look at Graham Zusi!

I’m not sure it’s a sign of bigger and better things on the way, but the win is still an oasis in a desert of a season. On top of that, it seems like reinforcements are on the way as well.

It would take something special to salvage this year entirely for SKC. But it’s been a good week. You take those when you can get them.

Previous: 2-1 win at NSH | Next: 6/25 at SEA

I was kind of surprised to look at the standings at the end of the weekend and see the Quakes at the bottom of the West. It really does feel like they’ve been playing better. I mean, not this week, but who has played well against RSL lately? I say we just give them some time and see if they can’t sort this out a little more.

Previous: 2-0 loss at RSL | Next: 6/25 vs. LA

A win! Chicago got a win, their first in 10 games! And on top of that, a clean sheet! After starting the year with a whole handful of them, it’s their first clean sheet since April 16. It’s a result that has to feel good for a team that’s been far more unlucky than bad as of late. It may not be a precursor to a second-half playoff run. But it might be enough to kickstart a deserved run away from the horrors of a Wooden Spoon-level season.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. DC | Next: 6/25 at HOU

Their Taxi Fountas-inspired bump has cooled off a bit and they’re firmly in Wooden Spoon contention right now. With some DP space to work with, D.C. are trying to avoid a long summer and turn things around – fast.

Previous: 1-0 loss at CHI | Next: 6/25 vs. NSH

Things most definitely could be better for Toronto. Keep this in mind: We all knew it wasn’t going to be a rapid turnaround by Bob Bradley & Co.

Previous: 2-0 loss at RBNY | Next: 6/25 vs. ATL