Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: LAFC grab top spot as Chicago, Columbus slide after Week 8

What a week it was in MLS. San Jose went full chaos mode, NYCFC put up an extraordinary amount of goals, Leo Campana scored for Inter Miami and Austin cruised at home while people complained about their strength of schedule. It was truly a week unlike any other.

A quick note on the Power Rankings as a whole: Understandably, people get caught up in the movement of teams from week to week. I think it would help to think of each team as having a point value assigned to it. Sometimes the distance in that point value between the No. 1 team and the No. 5 team could be large, while the difference between the No. 10 team and the No. 20 team could be incredibly small. If a team jumps or falls nine spots, it’s probably not because they were exponentially better or worse all of the sudden. It’s probably because it’s MLS and the gap between the top and bottom isn’t all that large.

What I’m saying is the Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLSsoccer.com writers, editors and voices. And if you’re mad, it’s all Tom Bogert’s fault.

Anyway, each Tuesday, be sure to listen to the Power Rankings show on Andrew Wiebe’s Twitter Spaces at 2 pm ET (and then watch the video portion below).

LAFC. Back on top!

They said it couldn’t happen again. And for a while I believed them. But never doubt this team.

In all seriousness, it really does feel like they’ve earned it. They’re on top of the very early Supporters’ Shield standings after just one loss in eight games and the only team with a better goal differential is Austin FC.

American Soccer Analysis has them third in expected goal differential and FBref has them second. They might be overperforming those numbers by a little bit right now, but frankly they deserve it after last year saw them underperform their underlying numbers by the second-largest amount of any team in ASA’s database going back to 2013. Seriously, last year’s team finished with the sixth-highest expected goal differential since 2013 and missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. All but one other team in spots 1-8 either won the Supporters’ Shield or made it to MLS Cup. I know I’m not going to get a lot of empathy for LAFC, but they earned a little luck.

If you really need a recap on why that happened last year, I guess we can run over that one more time. Simply put, too many catastrophic defensive errors and no quality goalkeeping to make up for when those errors occurred. This LAFC team isn't as suffocating as the 2019 group or even last year’s group, but they’re far steadier.

They went down 1-0 to Cincinnati this weekend before the half and it really didn’t feel like a surprise when they kept Cincy quiet the rest of the way and casually pulled out a 2-1 win. They’re going to keep getting the job done and they’re going to keep hanging around the top of the Power Rankings until that becomes a meme again. It’s probably better for your sanity at this point if you just accept it.

Previous: 2-1 win at CIN | Next: 5/1 vs. MIN

Another weekend of the Union trotting out their first-choice XI with two DP forwards on the field and another weekend of being…slightly less than whelmed by the Union attack. They picked up a penalty and really should have finished a wide-open opportunity early in the first half when Leon Flach’s errant pass killed a 3-v-1 opportunity in the box, but that was it. Then the second half happened, and well…

Some things to work on in Philly. They’re still averaging 2.13 points per game to start the year. Julian Carranza seems like an excellent fit and has three goals and two assists. But some things to work on. 

I went into early Sunday morning on the East Coast fully prepared to chalk off a 0-0 tie for the Galaxy against Nashville as a simple act of Gary Smith and nothing more. Dejan Joveljic had other ideas. And then he had the best idea.

That’s elite presence of mind to know exactly where the striker named “Sixty” is, find him and immediately link up for a brilliant result with an almost telepathic connection. Then to subvert expectations by finishing the entire combo with post-ironic finger guns? That’s a level of performance I didn’t know he had in him and a level that I doubt will see reached the rest of the year. Sometimes analysis isn’t necessary because applause is demanded.

Oh, also, good win for the Galaxy.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. NSH | Next: 4/30 at RSL

The Red Bulls are averaging three points a game on the road. I asked some analytics folks to pull some data for me and I got told “I changed my phone number specifically so you’d stop doing this,” but my sense is that averaging three points per road game would be unprecedented. They’re genuinely a different team on the road right now and if they win their next one they’ll tie an MLS record set in the before times back in 1998. It’s totally fascinating. I mean, look at this…

Power Rankings ORL-RBNY xG

If you didn’t know, you’d almost definitely expect this to be a game where the Lions came out flat at Red Bull Arena and hurried back to Florida after the game. This is a total and complete mollywhopping. The Red Bulls were hilariously in control of this one. It took almost 60 minutes for Orlando to put up a shot! 

The thing is, it’s not like the Red Bulls have been that bad at home either. Maybe just a little more unlucky. Through eight games (still early, but about when xG starts to become predictive), New York leads the league in expected goal differential, according to American Soccer Analysis. If they can figure out how to make their home results a bit more normal, this team could be challenging for the top spot in the East for the rest of the year.

Previous: 3-0 win at ORL | Next: 4/30 at CHI

Seattle went with their first-choice XI as they prepared to showcase the best of MLS in the Concacaf Champions League Final this week. They’re making a historic and unprecedented march to the league’s first MLS title in the competition’s history that will clearly and definitively mark them as the most successful club in the post-Beckham Rule era, right?

And then they totally blew it against San Jose.

Seattle went up 2-0 and 3-1 at various points, and then watched as the Quakes pulled off one of the comebacks of the season. That’s not exactly a confidence booster heading into the biggest game of the season on Wednesday.

I can’t say I’m “concerned” or anything. Not objectively. Objectively, I think the Seattle we saw this weekend won’t be apparent in any way on Wednesday vs. Pumas. However, after three-straight not-so-stellar performances, the “MLS is doomed to be CCL Sisyphus” part of my brain is kind of panicking.

Previous: 4-3 loss at SJ | Next: 5/7 at DAL

They maybe didn’t put in a gritty defensive performance this weekend. But that’s only because they were too busy winding up to throw HAYMAKERS.

I just closed my eyes and picked one of the five goals they scored in a 5-4 (!) win over Toronto. I could have picked any of them from a performance where they put up 4.3 xG worth of chances compared to Toronto’s 1.2. No one else in the league has the punching power that NYCFC has. When they’re given a chance to get forward, they get forward with maximum force. Especially with a front four of Taty Castellanos, Talles Magno, Santiago Rodriguez and Thiago Andrade. I’m not saying adding Maxi Moralez back into that group makes them worse or anything, but it probably does make them operate a little more precisely rather than swinging duel sledgehammers attached to a rope around and seeing what they hit.

That’s an over-characterization, but my eyes get big every time they get forward with that particular personnel group. Whether that’s in possession or from an increasingly common moment where they’ve regained the ball in the opposing half, they’re getting numbers forward. These are dynamic, technically gifted players all moving for each other and it’s the kind of thing that gets your heart rate going when you watch it.

Per Second Spectrum, NYCFC lead the league in “pass and move” runs. They’re fourth in runs into the box. And they’re first in runs into zone 14. They’re hellbent on doing what’s necessary for positive attacking play and I would bet a good chunk of TAM on this not being the last time we see them put up five goals or more this year.

Previous: 5-4 win vs. TOR | Next: 5/1 vs. SJ

Yeah, I’m not sure anyone has had a much easier schedule to start the season. But, eventually, saying “Austin ain’t played nobody” reaches a point of diminishing returns. Especially when they’re taking care of that weaker schedule with ease and with a style that indicates their attack truly does have the kind of bite worthy of a top spot in the Western Conference standings. They carved open Vancouver over and over on Saturday and created and finished three quality chances. And they’re leading the Western Conference in expected goals scored, per FBref and American Soccer Analysis.

Maxi Urruti, of all folks, has been the striker Austin were missing last year and has four goals and an assist so far. Sebastian Driussi has been even more than that and co-leads the league with six goals on the season. Per Opta, they’ve scored as many goals in these first eight games as they scored through August of last season. Everything seems to be clicking. Even the “Jon Gallagher, left back” experience sparked joy Saturday night. They can’t miss.

They’ll be deservedly confident as their schedule ramps up over the next month. And that confidence may be enough to keep them playing at the same level even as the difficulty level ramps up. That and a home crowd that clearly understands how to support their team down to the finest details.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. VAN | Next: 4/30 at HOU

Don’t matter how it happens, just that it happens against your biggest rival.

FC Dallas stayed undefeated at home with two late goals to steal a win and move one step closer to regaining control of Soccer’s Best Trophy, El Capitán. Seriously, we really don’t talk about the fact the winner of the Texas Derby each year gets an 18th-century death machine to roll around for a year.

Ok, fine, the best trophy that isn’t whatever this is.

Power Rankings trophy

Previous: 2-1 win vs. HOU | Next: 4/30 at SKC

Alright. The road trip didn’t end perfectly. But it did end. All considered, it went well too.

Through eight away games, Nashville picked up 1.38 points per game. Last year, they averaged 1.24 points per game on the road. 1.38 points per road game throughout last season would have been the fourth-best mark in the league, just behind New England, Seattle, Colorado and SKC, and just ahead of, well, Nashville. The Coyotes averaged 1.24 points per game on the road last year. None of those road games came eight at a time.

We’re about to learn a lot more about this Nashville team over the next few weeks as they settle into GEODIS Park, and I’d imagine a lot of it’s going to be positive. Don’t be surprised to see them shoot up the standings and stay there. They averaged 1.94 points per game at home last year. If they’re anywhere near that mark the rest of the way, they’re going to cruise to a playoff spot. Probably one that will involve a home game or two.

Previous: 1-0 loss at LA | Next: 5/1 vs. PHI

Chicago looked determined to turn in another clean sheet and escape Minnesota with a 0-0 draw. Then Emanuel Reynoso scored with the Loons’ first shot on target, Federico Navarro got sent off and the Loons took off late for the second-straight week and added two more goals to earn their second-straight win.

I don’t necessarily think this means all of their attacking woes are gone forever, but back-to-back games with three goals probably means something positive. Especially when three of those came against the Fire on their quest to figure out if getting 10 0-0 draws in a season gets them a free playoff spot. You know, like an MLS punch card.

Anyway, it’s been a successful couple of weeks on paper for the Loons. But, unfortunately, they lost Hassani Dotson long-term to an ACL injury. Just as they were starting to get things going, another roadblock got thrown in front of them.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. CHI | Next: 5/1 at LAFC

They didn’t exactly put on an entertainment extravaganza, but a road point in Philly is something you take any way you can get it. Since losing to NYCFC 4-1 and then bowing out of CCL to Cruz Azul, Montréal are undefeated with 11 points over their last five games. And it would have been 13 with a little more luck in Atlanta. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to fighting through multiple rounds of CCL, six of their first eight games were on the road? Wilfried Nancy and company are going to keep climbing up the standings.

Previous: 1-1 draw at PHI | Next: 4/30 vs. ATL

After wondering if the last two weeks had marked a turning point for Orlando’s attack, they went out and didn’t put up a shot until the 60th minute of their 3-0 home loss to the Red Bulls. It…it happens? There might still be some growing pains to get through for the Lions.

Previous: 3-0 loss vs. RBNY | Next: 4/30 vs. CTL

Ok, so maybe not the ideal ending.

Power Rankings DAL-HOU xG

But this is clean from new DP Sebastian Ferreira.

Another week, and another handful of reasons to be encouraged the Dynamo are at least heading in the right direction. Houston were better, were largely in control and largely had the better chances until…well, you know…


Previous: 2-1 loss at DAL | Next: 4/30 vs. ATX

New DP forward Gyasi Zardes came on as a sub in the 60th minute but Colorado still failed to put a shot on target at home against Charlotte in a 0-0 draw. As Burgundy Wave pointed out, that’s 20 games undefeated at home for the Rapids but also five-straight games without a win. 

But they did (finally) add a DP No. 9 this week. It may take some time for Zardes to click, but they undoubtedly have more firepower now than they did last weekend. And new center back Gustavo Vallecilla did just fine in his first start. They’ve added some depth late into the Primary Transfer Window. 

However, there are still questions about how much these additions will elevate them in the long term. Zardes fell out of Caleb Porter’s plans in Columbus and it will be interesting to see if and how he revitalizes himself in Colorado. It’s been an objectively disappointing start for the Rapids so far, and while adding Zardes is exciting and seemingly a perfect fit for the Colorado School For Wayward Soccer Players Who Are Actually Really Good When Utilized Correctly, it won’t be an immediate fix. And with Jack Price leaving early on Saturday with a hamstring issue, things may get even more difficult.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. CLT | Next: 4/30 vs. POR

RSL are falling back to Earth. They’re winless in their last five MLS games and lost midweek in the US Open Cup to a team Google just has listed as “Hailstorm.” I’m going to choose to believe they lost to a weather event and not look any further into it. 

Despite all that, they did pick up a point at Providence Park this weekend and they’re still sixth in the West (with nine games played instead of eight, but still). This could all be going much worse.

Previous: 0-0 draw at POR | Next: 4/30 vs. LA

To recap, my working theory on the three kinds of Timbers games is:

  • Timbers Game Type (TGT) 1: Final xG finishes like 1.1-0.8 and the game ends 1-0 or 1-1 or no one scores.
  • 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.

We got a Diet TGT 1 this weekend. RSL got 0.9 xG but Portland didn’t keep up their end of the bargain. Instead of posting 1.1 xG, they put up just 0.5 xG. It feels a bit concerning that we’ve had back-to-back variations of a TGT 1 even with Sebastian Blanco in the starting lineup, but for now, I’ll chalk it up to a couple of rough games.

That being said, the Timbers have just one win in their last six games and they’re actually underperforming their expected goal differential instead of the normal “laughing in the face of stats and also God” thing they’ve done over the past couple of years when they finished first (2020) and second (2021) in actual differential minus expected goal differential. It’s far too early to say that their luck has run out though or that they can’t put it together. I’m not making that mistake again. Give it a couple of games…or months. They’ll start scoring and inexplicably keeping other teams from doing the same despite the chances they allow and it won’t be me looking dumb this time.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. RSL | Next: 4/30 vs. COL

Here are some things you could have accomplished in the 370 minutes or so since Chicago have scored an MLS goal:

  • Watch six episodes of the TV show “Chicago Fire”
  • Listen to last Thursday’s episode of Extratime four times
  • Complete the portion of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” where he arrives and parks in Chicago to when they leave the Cubs game to arrive at the Art Institute of Chicago
  • Listen to Wilco’s seminal album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” (featuring Chicago’s Marina City towers on the cover) seven times.
  • Watch this commercial approximately 120 times.

So yeah, I have some questions about their attack. And, against all odds, they might not actually be able to keep a clean sheet every single game.

Previous: 3-0 loss at MIN | Next: 4/30 vs. RBNY

My…my goodness. Leo Campana might just be for real, y’all.

The 21-year-old has scored five times and delivered two assists in just 500 minutes played for the Herons. He’s been so good that Inter Miami fans were audibly frustrated to see him leave the field in exchange for Gonzalo Higuain in Miami’s 2-1 win over Atlanta.

To be fair to the fans, Campana’s inclusion (and the addition by subtraction in the subtext of that choice) has been the single biggest factor in Miami’s three-game league winning streak that includes wins over New England, Seattle and Atlanta. There are still some concerns, but if you can build an identity around ruthless and speedy punishment in transition moments with a striker like Campana leading the way and turning half-chances into goals, then you can ride that pretty far in MLS. I mean, maybe not to a playoff spot. But well clear of the Wooden Spoon race Miami initially seemed destined to be a part of.

It will be fascinating to see how Phil Neville and Co. build on this stretch with the reality in mind that this team is on a very long-term track to getting to the level most had initially hoped with this team before their initial roster build.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. ATL | Next: 4/30 at NE

Atlanta created a little more than five expected goals worth of chances over two games against Cincy and Inter Miami and got one point. Woof.

But I genuinely mean this: Over the last two weeks they’ve looked more fun, more effective and more prone to do the basics like passing and moving than they have since 2019. The team is making conscious decisions to move off the ball. These are movements they seemed paralyzed to make even last season as they piled up points late in the year. It’s a large part of why they only beat one team above the playoff line last year. Now they’re rotating, they’re attacking the backline and, because of that improved movement, there are more opportunities for Marcelino Moreno and Thiago Almada to make quick decisions and show just how effective players of their talent level can be.

In the last three games, per Second Spectrum, their runs into the box are up, their runs attacking the backline are up and their runs off the ball are up. Now they just need to put the ball into the back of the net. I think it will come. Especially with Luiz Araujo working his way back into the starting lineup.

Previous: 2-1 loss at MIA | Next: 4/30 at MTL

Jesus Jimenez doesn’t miss.

Unfortunately, these two body blows to NYCFC just made them mad. TFC looked overwhelmed for much of their 5-4 loss in Queens despite a couple of late goals that made this one look closer than it actually was. It just kind of feels like this is going to be a team that relies on Jimenez and maybe Alejandro Pozuelo and eventually Lorenzo Insigne to win matches while they struggle to not get sliced up in midfield. They just don’t have the ball-winners. Seems like a bad thing to not have in Bob Bradley’s system. 

Previous: 5-4 loss at NYC | Next: 4/30 vs. CIN

Here are some things you could have accomplished in the 360 minutes or so since Columbus have scored an MLS goal:

  • Watched the extended highlights of MLS Cup 2020 27 times
  • Listened to “Can’t Help Falling In Love” 120 times
  • Watched 16 commercial-free episodes of Columbus native Guy Fieri’s hit TV show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”
  • Ran from Historic Crew Stadium to Lower.com Field at an eight-minute mile pace 7.5 times
  • Come up with at least five more relevant Columbus things for this bit

They’re lucky it’s only 360, to be honest. Without Darlington Nagbe’s stoppage-time goal against the Red Bulls, they would have gone five MLS games without a goal. They did score in the US Open Cup this week at least, but they lost 2-1 to the USL Championship’s Detroit City. That’s two points from their last five for the Crew if you’re keeping track. But, to be fair, I’m hearing from a source there’s still a ways to go this year.

Still, they should probably sort this out sooner rather than later. I’d imagine their open DP spot (after the Gyasi Zardes trade) will play a major part in when and how and if that happens.

Previous: 0-0 draw at SKC | Next: 4/30 vs. DC

So, yeah. Things are going great.

The Revs took an early lead on a team that fired their manager midweek and then got run out of the building by Taxi Fountas. New England looked shockingly disorganized defensively, especially without Henry Kessler for the first half, and you can’t help but wonder how different this might have looked with Matt Turner. They now have as many losses (5) this year as they had all of last season.

At the very least, it looks like Gustavo Bou may be back in the near future. That can’t hurt. But they’ve got a long road in front of them. You don’t need to check the underlying numbers or grind hours of tape to see that.

Previous: 3-2 loss at DC | Next: 4/30 vs. MIA

We’re eight games in and the underlying numbers keep telling us that FC Cincinnati are actually doing pretty ok. Definitely not “fourth-straight” Wooden Spoon bad. American Soccer Analysis has them eighth in the league in expected goal differential.

I’m not asking for optimism here, I’m just saying there’s reason for hope. They put a scare into LAFC this weekend before folding a bit, but they certainly weren’t outplayed by any significant measure. I know where they are in the standings right now, but I’m convinced they’ll be comfortably away from the bottom by the end of the year.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. LAFC | Next: 4/30 at TOR

I love Karol Swiderski. But sometimes it feels like Charlotte FC don’t love him in the same way. And that makes me sad. In Charlotte’s 0-0 draw with Colorado, Swiderski put himself in good positions and put his teammates in good positions, but the final ball for Swiderski either came errantly or late and the final ball from Swiderski didn’t find its way to anyone who seemed like they were up for finding the back of the net. He even started to look frustrated at times Saturday night.

Someone’s gotta help Karol out. Ben Bender can only do so much. They did pitch a clean sheet on the road at Colorado, earning them their first road point. That’s enough to be positive about.

Previous: 0-0 draw at COL | Next: 4/30 at ORL


Taxi Fountas is here and he’s beautiful.

In his first start for the Black-and-Red, D.C.’s new DP scored twice and delivered a delicious assist as D.C. bounced back from their collapse against Austin last week to pick up a 3-2 win of their own against New England. I’m really excited to watch Fountas play under an exciting manager with a direct tactical philosophy like Hern…

Well, at the very least, it doesn’t seem like interim D.C. manager Chad Ashton is going to tweak too much too quickly in the post-Losada era. And if that comes with friendlier relationships between the coaching staff and the D.C. players, I guess that’s not a bad thing. However, there are still plenty of questions about whether ditching Losada early into the season is the correct move. There are legitimate arguments for and against it. It’s hard not to watch Fountas introduce himself like that and not wonder what kind of player he would become under Losada. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if he’ll provide enough to help put D.C. in the hunt for a playoff spot under an interim manager for the foreseeable future.

Previous: 3-2 win vs. NE | Next: 4/30 at CLB

They’ve won twice in nine games to start the season. 

At least Kortne Ford put in a solid performance at center back in place of Andreu Fontas? They’ll likely need more of that from him after Nicolas Isimat-Mirin left Saturday’s game with a potential concussion.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. CLB | Next: 4/30 vs. DAL

Well, I guess that wraps it up for the Matias Almeyda era. Time to settle in and check out the new, vanilla, boring San Jose Earthqu– OH GOD WHAT IS THAT

Power Rankings SJ-SEA xG

Ok, so it might take a second to break a few old habits. I’m not complaining. 

Previous: 4-3 win vs. SEA | Next: 5/1 at NYC

Things are not good right now for Vancouver. Here’s a useful thread as to why:

They aren’t performing as a unit greater than the sum of their parts. The parts weren’t really improved in the offseason. And the Caps are running out of time to improve things during this Primary Transfer Window. Second-half turnarounds are fun, but you can’t bank on them. 

Previous: 3-0 loss at ATX | Next: 5/8 vs. TOR