Anyway, the Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLSsoccer.com writers, editors and voices. So this is largely not my fault, but is also kind of my fault.
To the rankings.
The Union, once again, played a very Union game over the weekend and came out on top. They’re every bit as good as we thought they might be and are trending towards something even better.
New DP forward Julian Carranza has a goal and two assists in four games so far and new DP forward Mikael Uhre made his home debut in Saturday’s win over Charlotte. Carranza already seems like a hit for Philly. If Uhre can eventually slot in full-time and make a similar impact, the Union are going to be straight-up terrifying.
We know their diamond midfield is going to bully you at this point and we know there’s still room for improvement at forward. These are typical Union things. But let’s not forget about the defense. They might have the best center-back pairing in the league in Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes, plus they have an elite left back in Kai Wagner. And when Olivier Mbaizo began to struggle at right back, they just pulled Nathan Harriel, yet another academy kid, into the starting lineup to immediately and meaningfully contribute. Unreal.
While we’re here, I guess now is as good a time as any to praise Daniel Gazdag for the David Gass Theorem (second year) bump he’s having. He got handed the keys to Jamiro Monteiro’s old spot at the top of the diamond over the offseason. He’s thriving.
They’re just casually out here scoring goals like this.
After that, things got maybe a bit too 2020-21 LAFC at times, but they got the job done on a long road trip to Florida. They’re on top of the very early Supporters’ Shield standings and it’s increasingly hard to imagine them straying too far from that spot the rest of the year. Even when they gave into their more chaotic instincts this weekend, things never felt too out of control. It almost felt like they gave up a couple of goals just to feel alive again.
In the end it didn’t matter. And what’s maybe most impressive about this group is that it’s not just the defensive cohesion that’s improved. They’re getting contributions from all over the field in attack. It’s not just Carlos Vela and Chicho Arango. Brian Rodriguez, Jesus David Murillo, Ilie Sanchez and Kwadwo Opoku all scored for LAFC against Orlando. In their recent win over Vancouver, Ryan Hollingshead led the way with a brace. This is a complete team that should, in theory, only improve from here.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how the team’s newest signings have helped turn LAFC into that complete team, but in doing that I’m ignoring the fact that one of their most critical players has been there for a few months now.
Mamadou Fall is a stud. He’s fourth in the league in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric so far this year and was third in the league among starting center backs last year. To go even further…
This is a 19-year-old who’s played less than 2,000 minutes in the league and is a no-doubt top-10, maybe top-five center back. LAFC were able to kind of quietly just plug him in last season. Alrighty then. Must be nice.
Oh, and one more thing: LAFC still have an open DP spot. So, yeah. Keep that in mind. They aren’t even brushing their head against the ceiling yet.
You have to love another opportunity to remind everyone Joao Paulo is the best player in the league at being good at everything.
Having him and a healthy Nico Lodeiro back in the fold just seems unfair.
That being said – and the obvious caveats here are Seattle are juggling a Concacaf Champions League semifinal run and that we can’t take a ton from xG five games into the season – Seattle are second-worst in the league in expected goals allowed per American Soccer Analysis and fourth-worst per FBref. Early, early days, but it’s bizarre to see Seattle hanging around San Jose, Charlotte, and Cincy. They’ve dealt with center back injuries and there’s probably not a ton we can deduce from such a small sample size. It’s just maybe something to keep an eye on.
More importantly, keep an eye on Seattle in CCL this week. They could finish last in xG this season, and no one’s going to care too much as long as they win CCL. For me, they’re the favorite out of this final group.
THERE’S AN OBVIOUS CONSPIRACY FROM MY COLLEAGUES TO PUT THE LA GALAXY IN THE TOP FIVE BEFORE EL TRAFICO…[checking]...ok, nevermind, I had them fifth.
To be fair, the Galaxy really have been playing well so far. Two things of note, in particular, come to mind from their win over Portland last weekend.
First and foremost, Tata can’t ignore Chicharito forever, right?
Second, let’s take a second to appreciate Raheem Edwards and Rayan Raveloson. Edwards is leading the league in assists so far this season (4) and it’s probably important to note Edwards is a left back. He’s quietly been one of the most effective players in the league after even more quietly signing with the Galaxy this offseason. Meanwhile, Raveloson has been (mostly) steady from the jump during his time in LA. Since arriving last year, he’s in the top half of the league among midfielders in goals, xG, pass completion and dribbles completed among other things. Basically, there’s a whole lot of green on his FBref chart and it only seems like he’s improving while paired up with Mark Delgado.
Judging on this year so far, it seems like the Galaxy could be anywhere from first to 18th in the Power Rankings by the end of next week. But it feels more likely they’ll float around the top of these things for most of the year. For now, let’s just assume so and bank on this weekend providing the most well-played El Trafico yet.
Last year, the Red Bulls kind of one-goal winned their way to the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in an improbable run from deep down the Eastern Conference standings. It felt equal parts impressive and totally not impressive. This isn’t that. Even if they did happen to pick up a one-goal win this weekend. They’re second in the league in expected goal differential so far and, of course, first in the league in nearly every available team pressing metric by a significant margin.
But the Red Bulls have always led the league there. What feels different early on is that this team seems to be solidified in a way they weren’t last season. That could be guys like Dru Yearwood, Frankie Amaya, Omir Fernandez and John Tolkin seemingly taking a step forward. It could be Lewis Morgan being the model Red Bull signing. Perhaps it’s that Carlos Coronel is an underappreciated goalkeeper. Or it could just be the fact Aaron Long is back and healthy. It all seems to be clicking for now.
Now we just have to sit back and see how this team and striker Patryk Klimala develop over the season. I imagine that might end up being a pretty one-to-one correlation.
They rotated their starting lineup a little bit this weekend due to international play and a red card, but that didn’t stop them from being as Nashville as they could possibly be. They picked up a goal within the first 30 minutes and were more than happy to let Columbus pile up low-quality chances the rest of the way. The Coyotes put up just six shots to Columbus’ 19 and still walked out with a 1-0 road win.
Speaking of, it’s almost hard to keep in mind that they’ve been on the road this entire time in a league that’s wildly unpredictable. They’ve taken seven points from five games anyway, and it probably should have been more. If they keep surviving until they can finally open up GEODIS Park on May 1, then it’s not hard to imagine them piling up points the rest of the season.
They shouldn’t feel great about getting just a point against RSL at home despite controlling most of the game. They still shouldn’t feel all that great about their DP situation but I can only complain about that for so long. They \should\ feel great about the fact they signed Robin Fraser to a multi-year contract extension over the international break. He got my Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year vote last season and has continued to take a good roster and make it better than the sum of its parts this year.
It’s hard to take away much at all from their 0-0 draw against Dallas in about the worst weather possible. Of course, there are worries about Xherdan Shaqiri after he came off in the 18th minute, but Chicago’s defense didn’t seem bothered by much at all. And when they were, Gaga Slonina dealt with the issue without much effort.
It’s worth noting again the Fire defense has been remarkably good, with one goal allowed through five games. And I’m hoping someone smarter than me and with more time than me can help me dig into why.
Per Second Spectrum, the Fire defense leads the league in the percentage of opposing possessions that end within five seconds. Basically, almost half of their opponents' possessions end very, very quickly.
You would think the Red Bulls or D.C. would be all over that, but nope it’s Chicago. They aren’t pressing that way though. Chicago are 17th in the league in total pressures, 16th in distance closed when pressing and 11th in counter pressures.
The Fire are third in the number of opposing possessions that end within five seconds per 90, well behind RBNY and just behind Philadelphia. And the Fire are third in the number of opposing possessions per 90 that end within 10 seconds, well behind RBNY and just behind Toronto. However, Chicago are 13th in pressures per 90 while RBNY sit first, the Union sit third and Toronto are sixth.
I don’t know exactly what to make of this yet. All I can really do is point and say “lookit the thing, isn’t the thing weird.” Or it’s just a weird, fluky, early-season thing that I shouldn’t have looked too closely at in the first place. What’s not a fluke is the fact Chicago’s defensive play has carried them to an undefeated start. That’s what’s important and what’s, most likely, sustainable.
FC Dallas also played in that miserable 0-0 game in Chicago. And since I didn’t do a deep dive on a totally random statistic that might actually be totally meaningless for Dallas, I don’t have a whole lot to say. Especially when they didn’t even have Paul Arriola and Jesus Ferreira available to start. I still think they’re good to very good at soccer though.
American Soccer Analysis has them third in both expected goals for and expected goal differential right now. The other underlying numbers sites seem to largely think the same of the Crew so far. They ran into a tough one against Nashville and didn’t make it out on the other side this weekend. They’ll be fine.
At least I think. I dunno, still not entirely convinced Lucas Zelarayan can stay steady for an entire season yet. That could be big.
They came out of the gate against Toronto at full force and, man, did I think the Reds were about to get run out of their own building. Then…nothing happened. NYCFC couldn’t capitalize on all the chaos they were causing and then they forgot about Jesus Jimenez. A few moments later, Thiago Martins put a ball into his own net and everyone started openly wondering what’s wrong with NYCFC.
To be honest, I’m still finding it hard to really care about the poor performances of CCL teams. Ask me if I’m worried a few weeks after the competition’s over or ask anyone with NYCFC if they’ll be worried about a few games in March and April if they end up with a CCL title.
But let’s say we’re considering their MLS play in a vacuum. As Matt Doyle points out, NYCFC are 27th in xG allowed when defending in an organized state, per Second Spectrum. They’re also the worst team in the league on set pieces so far by xG allowed, which doesn’t even take into account Martins slipping the ball into his own net. It’s too early to declare any of that a trend, but it’s probably a decent indication of why the results haven’t gone quite as planned.
Keep the main thing in mind though: their CCL semifinal series starts on Wednesday at Seattle.
Man, where to even begin. I guess we’ll start with the positives and work our way down?
- The Five Stripes picked up three points after a horrific game in D.C. You take those kinds of road points in this league when you can get it.
- Marcelino Moreno continues to infuriate the Atlanta fan base by how much everyone is forced to love him despite relatively consistently giving the ball away. Dude just has a knack for saving the day right when annoyance with him is at its peak.
- In his first start, Thiago Almada looked consistently threatening in a way Ezequiel Barco never really showed. Barco always looked so timid in his decision-making that he’d end up trying to make five decisions at one time and eventually just get fouled. Almada is constantly Trying Things and making the decision to do so instantly. And when you’re Trying Things, good things can happen. He seems to be a more progressive and direct player than Barco and that’s a decent sign for Atlanta. Even if I’m still not convinced “more progressive Barco” is the piece this team needed to shell out $16 million for.
- Because there’s still a lot of disconnect between the midfield and attack. And still a whole lot of folks coming to the ball and attempting to dribble without moving off of it. To be fair, I wouldn’t put that on Almada right now. But something still seems off with the balance of this group. But Gonzalo Pineda seems aware of that and said after the win over D.C. that it will simply take time. I tend to trust that he’ll get this team sorted as much as he can in the final third. Especially when Luiz Araujo returns.
- However, remember that lack of movement thing? Josef Martinez is a prime culprit right now. He’s not making runs into the box or runs that challenge backlines at the same level as the best or even most average strikers in the league right now. Now, Atlanta United have officially stated he’s traveling to get his knee examined again. Two years since his ACL tear, it’s clear he’s still far away from 100% without a clear path to returning there.
- Even worse for Atlanta and just a total bummer in general, Ozzie Alonso is likely out for the season with an ACL tear. At age 36, that’s a hard road back to playing time. Alonzo had been a critical piece of an already-injured Atlanta midfield this season. It seemed like he could at least plug holes in the weakest position on the field for the Five Stripes. Now that he’s gone, it’s up to Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra and eventually Emerson Hyndman to step up big.
- The Trainy McTrainface video was fun and good though, right? C’mon, I can’t end on that negative of a note.
RSL are that one kid with the power of “heart” on Captain Planet, except not entirely useless. Everyone else is out there moving rocks and shooting fire and RSL are just focused on making sure everyone feels appreciated for the hard work they’re doing. It’s clearly working.
They got a road point against their biggest rival this weekend despite being outshot 16-5 and losing out on non-penalty xG like 1.7 to 0.3. Score another big win for vibes.
Emanuel Reynoso hasn’t been spectacular and they kind of need him to be. The defense hasn’t been spectacular either and they’ve actually allowed more expected goals than Inter Miami. There’s some work to do here. But in the end, it’s not like anyone was expecting \that\ much from the Loons against Seattle.
So we can’t give the Revs the same benefit of the doubt we’re extending to Seattle and NYCFC. You don’t get that when you blow three-goal leads in CCL. Thems the rules. But even if we were, we might be expressing a decent amount of concern. Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa have forgotten how to score. Tajon Buchanan isn’t walking through the door anytime soon. Matt Turner may eventually return from a weird injury saga? And last weekend Matt Polster scored an incredibly unfortunate own goal.
This may just be one of those years for New England. They put a lot of chips in for CCL and came up spectacularly short. Now they may end up slogging their way through the rest of the season hoping the playoffs bring a little more luck. It’s New England…so…probably not a great bet there. After picking up just four points in five games, this team just kind of bums me out right now.
Well hello, Maxi.
That’s a gorgeous goal and Urruti, Texas’ most favored son, should be proud. He should also be furious Austin let that goal go to waste. Sometimes upstart teams have to learn how to win. I’d call blowing a two-goal lead to San Jose with a pair of goals in rapid succession a decent indication that Austin are one of those teams. For a team that will probably sit on the edge of the playoff race for most of the year, hopefully they don’t regret a few dropped points here and there.
Per Second Spectrum, Orlando City are third in the league in progressive passes and 24th in the league in expected goals. This team has been running into a wall Wile E. Coyote style every time they get into the final third.
They were better this weekend though! They scored a pair of nice goals thanks to assists from Mauricio Pereyra. Of course, that doesn’t help much when you give up four goals at home. There are problems for this team defensively that are about to get even worse with center back Antonio Carlos all but out long-term with a torn hamstring. Those progressive passes are going to need to turn into far more chances and soon.
It hasn’t quite gone that far (and even I’ll admit it probably shouldn’t) but Quintero is on one right now and Paulo Nagamara has this team playing effectively enough for it to matter. We’re another week into Nagamura’s tenure and we have another data point that suggests Houston are heading in the right direction. Houston’s goal this season is to simply make their way back up from being deep underwater and they seem to be heading that way.
The Reds trotted out even more teenagers this week and still found a way to get a win against NYCFC. It helps when those kids can look to Jesus Jimenez to repeatedly put himself in great positions (and when NYCFC kind of just lets him get there.) Jimenez is third in the league so far in average shot quality and seventh in expected goals. He might end up being one of the signings of the season.
They seemed overwhelmed at first in this one, but survived an initial wave, had a penalty originally given to NYCFC taken away (mistakingly, PRO admitted) by Video Review and then found a critical opportunity and made the most of it. From there they settled in and controlled the game, especially after they picked up a 2-0 lead. That’s a good sign. It’s also a good sign to see how they’re adapting to Bradley Ball. Toronto are first in the league in counter-pressures per 90 according to Second Spectrum and are forcing the second-most turnovers per game in the league.
It’s going to be fun to watch this somewhat mixed and matched group of veterans and young players thrive and fail under Bradley this year. It would be a lot more fun to watch them do it with Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty though.
Larrys Mabiala has been out, but I’m not sure we can go ahead and pinpoint that as the cause for Portland blowing up defensively in two of their last three games. They’ve been dragged all over the place by a couple of good teams and have had no answer for two of the league’s best strikers. The Timbers have scored seven goals this season. Chicharito and Jesus Ferreira have combined for five goals against them.
And yes, Sebastian Blanco started in this one so I can’t go back to the analytical crutch of telling everyone to wait for the Blanco Master Key to unlock the good version of the Timbers once he’s back in the lineup. At least not for this week.
So, yeah, if you’re keeping track, Sunday brought us Timbers Game Type 3. My working theory that there are exactly three kinds of Timbers games held pretty true against a stress test this weekend.
- Timbers Game Type (TGT) 1: Final xG finishes like 1.1-0.8 and the game ends 1-0 or 1-1.
- TGT 2: Mollywhopped by a team from Texas.
- TGT 3: Roman candles lit and attached to a spinning ceiling fan in a crowded but dark room.
I’d consider a 3-1 game where both teams played 30 minutes with 10 men and one player scored both an own goal and a stunning free kick a pretty decent example of TGT 3. Even if the xG did in fact end up relatively close to 1.1 to 0.8 and there were some controversial referee decisions. I’m gonna keep workshopping this one and get back to y’all throughout the year.
Kristijan. Buddy. After all the nice things we’ve been saying about you…
This weekend went a bit more like the Charlotte we expected. They ran into one of the best teams in the league and got worked a bit. It’s all gonna be fine though. The expectation should be and will continue to be somewhere well beyond expansion strugglefest and a few steps short of serious seven-seed contender. Plus, they still have another DP to add come summertime.
Brian White came back! That’s a good sign! And they didn’t lose the Panic Button Derby! So that’s good too! There’s…not a whole lot else good, but that just means there’s room for improvement. Think of it more as an opportunity. No, I don’t know what it means exactly that Vancouver scored after White and Ryan Gauld came off, but I’ll worry about that later.
They certainly made the game as ugly as possible against Atlanta. That’s generally a good sign for them. Unfortunately, Marcelino Moreno found an open spot in the armor and clumsily exploited it. And, unfortunately, it kind of feels like that’s how a lot of the season will go for D.C. They're going to drag people down to their level at times by running, but I don’t think they’re going to rise above their opponents' level because of it. I just don’t think the roster has enough gas right now. Maybe Taxi Fountas will help change that?
They’re still trying to play like SKC, but as you see with athletes that age out in general, they just can’t execute the way their body is telling them to. Per Second Spectrum, they’re third in the league in entries into the final third. That’s normally a good SKC thing. In this case, I think it just means that teams are more than happy to sit back a torch Sporting in transition. They lead the league in total turnovers so far and are sixth in turnovers per 90. Leading the league in turnovers, having the team be regularly in the final third and being bad at transition defense seems like a bad combo.
We’re well past ironic with Brandon Vazquez at this point. He scored again and forced an own goal while doing other things well throughout the game. He’s seriously about to get genuine consideration with the USMNT. They’d be crazy not to, right?
Meanwhile, Luciano Acosta is leading the league in chances created and expected assists. Acosta is third in expected goals plus expected assists, while Vazquez is fifth. That’s in addition to Vazquez being second in goals added, by the way. They’re already having, far and away, the two best seasons in Cincinnati history.
But that doesn’t fix the defense. Not that they’ve really been all that terrible defensively. It’s just hard not to see what happened against Djordje Mihailovic and go, “Yep. Same old Cincy.” Hopefully, they can work their way out of it.
The underlying numbers are bad enough at this point that it almost feels mean to list them out. I think for San Jose it’s more just about enjoying little moments like the 2-2 comeback draw vs. Austin.
They’ve got one goal from open play this year, a league-low negative-10 differential and have lost four straight. We’ll leave it there for now.