What a week in MLS. Chicago failed to hold onto a second-half lead, Federico Bernardeschi scored a stunning goal in a loss, NYCFC and Seattle failed to score at all, St. Louis routed Austin, and Lionel Messi won a trophy. It was truly a week unlike any other.
The Power Rankings are voted on by ~15 people and the author would really like you to know the order is not entirely his fault, although he totally vetoed one ranking this week out of a misplaced sense of justice and authority. Know his heart was in the right place and it leaned towards not punishing a team for being unable to defend the greatest soccer player of all time.
Cincy didn’t begin their stretch-run chase for the MLS single-season points record with style and grace, instead taking a beating in Hell Is Real over the weekend. Let’s do some math.
With 10 games left, Cincy have to earn 23 points to beat 2021 New England’s mark of 73 points. A 2.3 points-per-game-pace when you already kind of feel like you have the Supporters’ Shield wrapped up is going to be a tough pace to maintain. Even more so when the underlying numbers suggest you were already outperforming your 1.67 expected points per game pace by a significant amount.
That being said, can you imagine any sane Cincy fan crying for one second about just winning the Supporters’ Shield? It would be the MLS version of a broke man turned rich man complaining two years after living off the value menu who asked for silver spinning rims on his Porsche instead of gold. They’re going to be fine. Even better than fine if they can take down Inter Miami on Wednesday in the US Open Cup semifinals. A double is very much in play. Maybe even a treble.
No movement from Nashville this week despite barely missing out on a Leagues Cup title. Yeah, they didn’t win it in the end, but most would agree they were the better side for the majority of the final and they looked excellent with new DP Sam Surridge on the field. Now we have to see whether their performance in Leauges Cup means they built up a head of steam going into their final 10 games in MLS or wore themselves out.
No game last weekend for LAFC due to a weather postponement. When they return to play, they’ll be chasing a St. Louis CITY side that pushed the gap between LAFC and first place in the West to seven points. LAFC have a game in hand, but that’s a tough margin to close over 11 games.
[making explosion noises to myself every time Aidan Morris hits the ball]
The Crew opened the final stretch of the season with a warning shot to the rest of the Eastern Conference. They didn’t even need Diego Rossi to start this one for them to absolutely roll over first-place FC Cincinnati. They’re a blast to watch and, with the addition of Rossi and Julian Gressel over the transfer window, somehow became even more frightening in attack. This is an MLS Cup-caliber team and the rest of the conference should be on high alert against the Crew. Gaze into the face of terror in the East if you dare.
Even before everything went completely off the rails in the final nine minutes or so of St. Louis’ 6-3 win over Austin, St. Louis were whomping on the Verde & Black in typical St. Louis fashion. They held a 4-1 lead heading into the 87th minute thanks in large part to Nicholas Gioacchini’s brace and looked totally in control of the game before no one was. They have a seven-point lead on LAFC and RSL atop the West now and they should be getting DP forward João Klauss back soon from injury. Although, it’s important to note St. Louis are doing just fine with Gioacchini leading the charge in attack. He has 10 goals now in 20 starts.
The Union got the job done against CF Monterrey in the Leagues Cup Third-Place Match to earn a spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup. They’ll almost certainly be set to make another deep run. Now they just have to figure out what moves they need to make to get over the hump in tournaments. It’s not entirely clear if there’s anything more to it other than “be luckier.”
You have to be better than perfect or you’re not going to stop him. You have to do everything right and then you have to do everything right at an elite level and then, maybe then, you might stop him, but it’s not a guarantee.
Inter Miami already have their first major trophy thanks to Lionel Messi and Co., and it took about a month to do it. There’s not much more I can say there beyond what everyone else has already said a million times, so let’s take a moment to double down on how ridiculous it’s going to be if he leads Miami to an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot over the final 12 games.
During Leagues Cup, they won four games in regulation against MLS teams and drew two for a points-per-game rate of 2.33. 2021 New England set the points record with 2.15 points per game. 2.33 is incredible. But, even still, if Miami keep that pace over the final 12 games, they’ll end up with 46 points. That should be enough to at least make the Wild Card game between the eight and nine seeds, but it’s not a given. Both eighth-place Montréal and ninth-place Chicago are currently on pace for 45 points this season. There’s a good argument here that making the playoffs in this situation would be even more impressive than winning Leagues Cup.
Anyway, I doubt Inter Miami fans are going to complain about missing the playoffs too much if it means they have to settle for only Leagues Cup and a shot at the US Open Cup. The Herons can advance to the USOC final with a win over Cincy on Wednesday.
The Revs didn’t play last weekend, but they weren’t short on news.
It’s an incredible return and a remarkable achievement for the Revs to reportedly earn about $25 million in transfer fees from their last two goalkeepers. But that doesn’t help them in the short term. It’s hard to overstate how important Petrovic is to their success. He’s been the best goalkeeper in the league by a significant margin since he arrived and has helped the New England defense consistently outperform their expected goals allowed numbers.
Maybe they have a high-quality, ready-made replacement waiting in the wings?
RSL took the weekend off and got a few extra days of rest to prepare for Houston in the US Open Cup semifinals. It’s kind of wild to think what looked like a lesser semifinal grouping has turned into three of the best teams in the league and a totally capable giant-killer in Houston. RSL are going to have their hands full.
It kind of felt like Orlando needed a wake-up punch last weekend. Once they snapped to attention after Chicago’s opening goal, they were off and running. The Lions cruised to a 3-1 win on the road and kept pace in a comically stacked race for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference.
Man, y’all need to learn who Tristan Muyumba is immediately.
He’s only played two games, but it’s hard to exaggerate 1) how desperately Atlanta United needed help in multiple areas of midfield and 2) how clearly Muyumba checks every box.
Muyumba has instantly improved this team and played a critical role in Atlanta’s 2-0 win at Seattle last weekend. The Five Stripes looked like a totally different side with him and new winger Xande Silva in the lineup. Now, new DP winger Saba Lobjanidze is set to arrive this week and should play against Nashville. I’m not entirely sure what the ceiling is yet for 2023 Atlanta, but the floor is higher than it's been in a long, long time.
A strange year for Seattle continued over the weekend with a loss to former Seattle assistant Gonzalo Pineda’s Atlanta United. They still have some of the best underlying numbers in the league, they’re still fourth in the West and it still doesn’t feel like any of that is coming together in a way that’s enjoyable to watch.
The Sounders now have fewer points per game than fifth-place San Jose and haven’t looked like the best version of themselves in a long time. It’s unclear when and how that changes or even really what needs to change. Maybe that means a refresh is coming in the offseason?
The Loons beat NYCFC over the weekend and jumped above the West’s playoff line. Normally, this would be the point where I talk about how they’re a lock to stay above the line now they’ve gotten back above it, but star winger Bongokuhle Hlongwane left early with an apparent injury. There hasn’t been an update yet, but I know folks are holding their breath in Minnesota. The season could be riding on whether or not he’s good to go the rest of the way.
Nothing for FC Dallas last weekend, which means they got a few extra days to prepare for Austin on Saturday. Some rest is always good, but Dallas did fall below the playoff line at the worst possible time thanks to Minnesota’s win over NYCFC. After Austin, they’ll face St. Louis, Atlanta, Seattle, RSL, Columbus and Philadelphia. They might have the most difficult stretch run of any team in the West.
In one of the year’s first true six-pointers, the Quakes earned a huge road win over Vancouver thanks to a goal from Cristian Espinoza. They’re now ahead of fourth-place Seattle on points per game and five points ahead of 10th-place Dallas with 10 games to go. Any matches between spots 4-10 in the West will be critical from here on out and the Quakes already took an early advantage.
That’s fullback Franco Escobar gliding through Portland’s defense to make it 4-0 in the first half. The Dynamo steamrolled the Timbers on Sunday in one of the most one-sided games of the season. They looked outstanding and jumped to sixth place in the West because of it. Now, we’ll see if they can carry that momentum into a US Open Cup semifinal against RSL and if midfielder Coco Carrasquilla is around for the final 10 games of the season. Rumors are swirling about interest from Europe. The next week could be very, very interesting for Houston.
Losing a six-pointer to San Jose at home to start the final third of the season is less than ideal. The ‘Caps are still above the playoff line for now though. Even if it’s becoming more difficult by the week to be confident in the current group.
Have we reached the point of the year where the Red Bulls win every game by one goal until they end up in the playoffs? Kind of seems like we might be there after their 1-0 win over D.C. United.
There’s still a long, long way to go before their playoff streak reaches 14 years, but the underlying numbers have suggested all season RBNY will come good eventually. If that means they have to rely on a John Tolkin stunner every week to do it, well, I’m more than ok with that timeline. In fact, it’s kind of all I’ve ever wanted.
Montréal looked lively and like the far better team against Toronto before Federico Bernardeschi tried to single-handedly drag Toronto back into the game. Even still, they saw out the result and generally looked sharp doing it. Now, they’re eighth in the East with 10 games to go.
They didn’t generate much against New York, but, then again, few teams have this year. Still, it will be interesting to see how D.C. United’s attack functions from here on out without three DPs on the field. The Black-and-Red are now below the playoff line with just nine games left.
I’m guessing Austin would really just rather not play St. Louis again. Plenty of possession-based teams in the East have fallen into the same trap against New York’s press over the years. It seems like Austin may have the same issues here with St. Louis. Even still, there has to be some anxiety about the team crashing out Leagues Cup just to put together that performance after a few weeks off.
Chicago took a second-half lead against Orlando and I’m willing to bet seasoned Fire watchers could feel deep in their bones that the lead wouldn’t last. Three minutes later, Orlando equalized and four minutes after that Orlando took the lead.
The Fire are still above the playoff line for now, but it’s still not clear whether they’re potatoes or eggs.
NYCFC are the “If they were going to do it, they would have done it already” team of the year. On paper, it feels like they have the talent to make this work. In practice, they haven’t made it work at all and it shouldn’t have really surprised anyone to see them go scoreless against Minnesota United last weekend – even with a few new additions and the return of Maxi Moralez.
Maybe it gets better soon, but they’re running out of time for it to happen this season.
Nothing for SKC this weekend. They’re now five points behind ninth-place Minnesota and have played more games. It’s going to take some work over their final nine matches.
The Galaxy had their match postponed. They’re 13th in the West with 12 (slightly more compressed) games remaining.
Charlotte took the week off. They probably needed a little extra rest. LAFC, Orlando, Nashville, D.C., Philadelphia, Cincy and New England are waiting for them over the next seven games.
By the time a classic Timbers Game Type #2 (“Mollywhopped by a team from Texas”) ended, so too had Gio Savarese’s time with the Timbers.
It’s not clear what’s next in the long term for Portland, but in the short term it’s hard to imagine this team making the playoffs. The last two years have been a disappointment for one of the league’s best fanbases though. Hopefully, things get back on track soon.
The Rapids will be welcomed back into the final stretch of the season with a Wednesday evening game at a well-rested LAFC. Godspeed to all involved.
At least Federico Bernardeschi is still fun.