Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: LAFC & Seattle back on top, Toronto soar after Week 7

What a week it was in MLS. Nashville struggled to defend set pieces, Philadelphia struggled to finish chances, Columbus didn’t score, Chicago kept a clean sheet and the Red Bulls struggled to win at home. It was truly a week unlike any other.

Anyway, the Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLSsoccer.com writers, editors and voices. You know the drill by now.

Shameless plug: Each Tuesday, be sure to listen to the Power Rankings show (seen below) on Andrew Wiebe’s Twitter Spaces at 2 pm ET!

They had to worry a little more than they potentially wanted against NYCFC midweek and then they lost to Inter Miami after playing an almost entirely rotated lineup. And the only response to any of that should be: Who cares?

The Sounders are deservedly in the Concacaf Champions League Final and, if we’re being brave and honest here, they’re the favorites against Liga MX’s Pumas. Especially if they’re healthy. Right on the doorstep of this great white whale for MLS teams, now it’s about getting the job done at all costs. Play the academy kids in the regular season if you have to. You’re on the verge of the biggest win for any MLS club in league history. Go out and get it.

Then just coast into a 14th straight Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance, as seems inevitable. You’ll have already had one of the most successful seasons of all time.

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. MIA | Next: 4/23 at SJ

Back to normal. 

After struggling to finish chances in El Trafico, LAFC decided it was time to score a couple of bangers to make up for it.

They went down to SKC early on an own goal, but never looked or felt worried. This is a Supporters’ Shield-quality team and I’m not afraid to say it. Full marks to everyone involved who pulled off what looks like one of the best offseasons we’ve seen in a while in MLS. All of their problems seem fixed, and the limit to what this team can do is defined only by Carlos Vela’s contract. 

Oh, hey, by the way, while we’re here…

LAFC have a DP spot open.

Previous: 3-1 win vs. SKC | Next: 4/24 at CIN

Well, Julian Carranza finished one chance. So I guess we can’t entirely do the whole “Philly need their forwards to step up” bit we normally do. But also, Philly need their forwards to step up. The Union out-created Toronto by a significant margin, but Alejandro Pozuelo and Jesus Jimenez finished and the Union mostly didn’t.

I think for now we can go ahead and chalk up their first loss of the season to some bad luck and we can safely still assume that this is easily one of the best teams in the league. However, it’s another data point that makes you worry about their ability to reach their ceiling. We just want what’s best for you, Philly.

Previous: 2-1 loss at TOR | Next: 4/23 vs. MTL

The Galaxy and Chicago could have just spent the day doing a bunch of "Ferris Bueller" bits around the city and still had the same amount of shots on target and had way more fun pretending Xherdan Shaqiri was Mia Sara.

Not sure we can learn or expect much from games involving Chicago at this point. Just kind of hoping everyone enjoyed the cardio.

Previous: 0-0 draw at CHI | Next: 4/23 vs. NSH

Welcome back to the weekly segment of the Power Rankings where we wonder why Nashville are horribad at defending set pieces for seemingly no reason.

They gave up two goals to Jeremy Ebobisse (free kick, corner kick) this weekend and failed to grab three points from a team that has since parted ways with Matias Almeyda. At this point, they’re only keeping themselves from being a clear contender for best team in the league.

Now, all things considered, they’re still doing phenomenally throughout a brutal, eight-game road trip to start the year. But it could be so much better.

They’re tied for last in the league in goals allowed off restarts with four. They’re sixth-worst in xG allowed off restarts. That’s actually far worse than last year when they were sixth-best in xG allowed off restarts but third-worst in the league in goals allowed off restarts. You would say they’re just getting unlucky if it didn’t keep happening over and over. At what point do you stop everything else and just focus on defending set pieces?

Previous: 2-2 draw at SJ | Next: 4/23 at LA

NYCFC put the fear of God into Seattle in the second leg of the CCL semifinals, but ultimately came up a couple of aggregate goals short despite creating over three goals worth of xG. In their anger, they turned around and saw poor, helpless Real Salt Lake just standing there in the middle of Yankee Stadium with no one around to help them. My goodness, I can’t believe they still allow stuff like this on television.

Taty Castellanos scored four (4!!!!!!) times on Sunday to lead NYCFC in absolute clobbering RSL. There are some times when teams roll into Yankee Stadium and you just know it’s about to be a miserable day. As soon as NYCFC scored early, you could tell RSL were in for it. All in all, it’s a somewhat disappointing, but encouraging week for a team that has had a few issues getting rolling in attack this year.

Oh, and did I mention they did all of this without Maxi Moralez? Considering the fact he’s been in the 98th percentile in expected assists across the league over the last year and the rest of the NYCFC’s young midfield has been decidedly not that, I’d call it a good sign for NYCFC and Santiago Rodriguez.

Previous: 6-0 win vs. RSL | Next: 4/24 vs. TOR

A week after Orlando jumped 10 spots in the Power Rankings and leaped to the top of the middle tier of the MLS pile, they went out and actually made that look like a really good call.

For a team that looked dormant in attack to start the year, they’ve taken off the last couple of weeks. They didn’t create quite as many chances this week against Columbus, but who cares when Ercan Kara is doing stuff like that. The new DP forward has two goals and two assists so far. 

Plus, they didn’t even need Alexandre Pato in this one. He’s quietly been one of the most effective attacking players in the league so far this season. A little more than one-fifth of the way through the season, the Lions are fifth in the league in points per game. They look set to add U22 winger Gaston Gonzalez to the mix soon. The progression won’t be linear, but something exciting might be brewing in Orlando.

Previous: 2-0 win at CLB | Next: 4/24 vs. RBNY

Some loser (me) is probably going to point out “D.C. were in control of the game until the red card” (it’s me) and “Austin still didn’t create much of anything after the red card until the 80th minute despite a man advantage” (it’s me, I’m the loser) and “scoring three times past 80 minutes on the road isn’t sustainable.”

The cool and smart and happy people with friends can’t hear any of that because they’re too busy burning it all down after Austin pulled off the kind of comeback that’s only happened four other times in MLS history.

In the end, you don’t care how these things come. You’re just glad they happen at all in this ridiculous league and that you aren’t on the other end of it. And you’re also probably pretty glad that you have Sebastian Driussi to help you do it. He’s now scored five times this year and dished out two assists. Only Djordje Mihailovic has contributed to as many goals so far.

Previous: 3-2 win at DC | Next: 4/23 vs. VAN

The Red Bulls straight up can’t win at home and, frankly, it’s super weird.

Per FBref, they’ve only been out-created once at home this year and would have won that game if it weren’t for Darlington Nagbe’s late box-to-box sprint. One of their best home performances of the year came against Minnesota United when they created nearly two goals more of xG and lost. I don’t know or understand what’s going on, but this is no way to live in MLS. It goes against everything we know about home-field advantage in this league and makes already-hard-to-win away games even more important. Except, ya know, they’ve won all three of their road games this year.

Get it together, Red Bulls. You’re freaking me out.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. DAL | Next: 4/24 at ORL

Maarten Paes is the only notable star from a relatively lackluster road performance by Dallas this weekend. Paes made six saves in a 0-0 draw and has been a consistently solid shot-stopper the entire season. His loan from the Eredivisie’s FC Utrecht is seeming like a smart move from everyone involved.

Previous: 0-0 draw at RBNY | Next: 4/23 vs. HOU

It can be true that they really didn’t create all that much against Philadelphia and it can also be true Jesus Jimenez and Alejandro Pozuelo couldn’t care less about that.

Sometimes you have enough talent to overcome being out-created 2.2 xG to 0.4. And the Reds clearly do. Pozuelo is Pozuelo and Jiménez continues to look like one of the signings of the season. He’s scored four times in his first seven games for TFC. 

As Bob Bradley continues to implement his style and integrate a ton of young pieces, you have to feel great about wins like this when you can get them. They’ve earned more points so far than I think most would have expected after their early-season loss to the Red Bulls, and there’s still a ton of headroom to grow.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. PHI | Next: 4/24 at NYC

I’ll defer to Alistair Johnston.

“I think if he keeps performing at this level, which I have no doubt he will, he should be a frontrunner for MVP and we need to keep pushing that narrative as a collective group,” Johnston said. “From the media up north, [it’s] really pushing that so that it goes mainstream because it is such a narrative-driven award where stats definitely play a part. But at the same time, if you don't have that storyline going with you it's really difficult. So we need to push that right from the get-go because he deserves it. He deserves to be at least in the front-running in that top-five discussion, for sure.”

That’s a man who knows how to work the media and how to pick out the most important player of the season so far. Djordje Mihailovic picked up a goal and an assist in Montréal’s 2-1 win over Vancouver and is tied for the league lead in goal contributions. He is, and absolutely should be, an MVP frontrunner. He’s simply at a different level right now and continues to make what seemed like a relatively inconsequential move at the time move from Chicago seem like one of the most important moves in club history for Montréal. 

Their defense is starting to get it together and Mihailovic is dominating games while getting plenty of help from Romell Quioto, Ismael Kone and Victor Wanyama. If Mihailovic really is about to go on an MVP run, Montréal should cruise to a playoff spot.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. VAN | Next: 4/23 at PHI

You could talk me into believing Chicago are trying their hand at a world record run at this point.

They’re on pace for 24 goals scored, 10 goals allowed and 48 points. Aduana Stars in the Ghanaian Premier League finished with 19, 10 and 53 respectively. They’ll have to slow down on all the goals, fit a few more wins in there and get a lot more luck in the standings, but they’re not too far off course from matching Aduana.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. LA | Next: 4/23 at MIN

Hey! They finally scored multiple times! 

It took a second for the Loons’ attack (see: Reynoso, Emanuel) to get going, but they found the net three times against the Rapids. Including back-to-back goals in the 77th and 79th minute from Robin Lod and Abu Danladi. Reynoso had two assists in this one and if Minnesota can start getting similar performances from him and Lod, they’ll be just fine. Especially if Dayne St. Clair continues to be the best shot-stopper in the league. Per American Soccer Analysis, he’s kept out nearly four goals more than expected in just five starts.

Fafa Picault would really like a couple of chances back, but overall they put in a totally acceptable performance against the Timbers. It’s getting old already to keep saying this team is heading in the right direction even if the results aren’t perfect, but they keep providing reasons to say it each week. The Dynamo are undefeated in their last five.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. POR | Next: 4/23 at DAL

It’s hard not to feel conflicted about the Crew right now. Their game-by-game goalscoring record so far this season has been a countdown from four to zero. It’s been stuck at zero for the last three weeks. Their expected goals numbers aren’t quite as linear, but are still following a similar pattern. They put in their worst attacking performance of the season against Orlando.

Meanwhile, their defense has stayed steady. They’ve yet to allow more than two goals worth of xG in any game and overall they’re fourth in the league when looking at (the very early but still somewhat notable) expected goals allowed. And they’re fourth overall in expected goal differential. Some part of a pretty ok start seems sustainable.

But they haven’t won consistently on the road or really at all under Caleb Porter and it still feels like there aren’t many contingency plans available to them if Lucas Zelarayan isn’t scoring from outside the box. That’s concerning. I definitely don’t think they’re as bad as this three-game stretch has shown, but I’m still not convinced that they’re all that improved from last season. Not yet.

Previous: 2-0 loss vs. ORL | Next: 4/23 at SKC

This was a Timbers Game Type 1. 

To recap, my 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.
  • 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. 

Although I have to admit, my work-in-progress theory showed some flaws this weekend. The xG actually finished 1.2-1.1 and neither team scored a goal. Plus they played a team from Texas and there were no signs of mollywhopping anywhere. Back to the drawing board, I guess.

Previous: 0-0 draw at HOU | Next: 4/23 vs. RSL

The Rapids’ totally kind of mid, maybe actually kind of bad start continued this weekend with a 3-1 loss to Minnesota where the Loons put in their best-attacking performance of the season. If a team comes into the game having not scored more than one goal in a game all season and you allow three, something went poorly. The Rapids have lost 3-1 in back-to-back weeks now and are winless in their last four.

Even still, it’s not like they’re playing all that badly. They’re just probably not as good as they were last season. That’s honestly exactly where most folks were expecting them to be. It’s nothing to panic about. It’s not anything to get too excited over either.

They’re a good team that didn’t improve over the offseason and likely isn’t going to be able to replicate the performance of last year consistently. And it’s not even the whole “we need a No. 9!” thing right now. Diego Rubio is putting up numbers. It’s just that the team isn’t controlling games in the same way or slamming in set-piece goals in the same way.

They’re going to be fine. But they’ll probably just be fine without veering towards something more than that this season. I do think they’re better than eight points in seven games, though.

Previous: 3-1 loss at MIN | Next: 4/23 vs. CLT

Adam Buksa returned to the lineup and looked a little more like himself. Buksa finally scored his first goal of the season and Matt Polster got rewarded for his defensive work with the easiest goal he’ll ever score, all as New England finally figured out how to keep Charlotte’s attack in check. Maybe this is the beginning of the end for their CCL hangover?

This at least seems like a good sign…even if it’s only relevant for the next couple of months.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. CLT | Next: 4/23 at DC

To quickly recap what a mixed bag Saturday was for Atlanta:

  • Most expected goals created of any Atlanta game this year.
  • No actual goals.
  • Caleb Wiley looked like, and I don’t think I’m kidding here, the most exciting Atlanta homegrown ever by a comfortable margin.
  • Brad Guzan Achilles’ tendon injury.
  • The return of Luiz Araujo and Emerson “My ACL injury finally let me do chest day seven days a week like I’ve always wanted” Hyndman.
  • Home draw, 0-0, against Cincinnati.
  • George Lopez was there. 

That’s just a few of the good, bad and somewhere in between things that happened on Saturday in a season where it feels like there’s been a ton of good, bad and somewhere in between. It’s starting to feel like Atlanta are trying to cram an entire season’s worth of events into the first 10 games. It might just be one of those years. And with Ozzie Alonso and Brad Guzan out for an extended period, someone in the locker room is going to have to step up and lead them through it.

Previous: 0-0 draw vs. CIN | Next: 4/24 at MIA

You ever play basketball against someone who can dunk and you, being you, know you have no prayer of stopping them as they charge down the lane at full speed and prepare for liftoff, so you just get out of the way before you break your face by trying to salvage a couple of points? Probably just a good idea for RSL to step out of the lane this weekend and move on to other things. Some things you just aren’t stopping.

Also, beware of poking the bear.

Previous: 6-0 loss at NYC | Next: 4/23 at POR

They lost a revenge game this weekend against the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners. I dunno though, I figure they should probably just be happy it was a revenge game in the first place. Although, that particular bit of pain management would probably feel better if they had created more than 0.3 xG off of 60% possession. 

In summation…

Previous: 2-1 loss at NE | Next: 4/23 at COL

They’ve taken down the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners and a CCL Final-bound team in back-to-back weeks, and the details of how that happened or the lineups involved in that game are absolutely not important. Why are you even asking about it? Are you a fed? 

Previous: 1-0 win at SEA | Next: 4/24 vs. ATL

Finally, all of the positive things Atlanta media and fans said about Alec Kann came to fruition. They probably would have rathered that not have come against Atlanta though. Kann saved a penalty and helped Cincy survive a red card and more than three goals worth of xG from Atlanta to escape with a point. And there were opportunities for three. If Brandon Vazquez had continued his hot streak and finished off a couple of key chances, this easily could have been a different ballgame.

Nothing has been perfect for Cincy so far this year, but they at least seem to have found a few folks who can win (or at least keep them from losing) a match on a given day.

Previous: 0-0 draw at ATL | Next: 4/24 vs. LAFC

Goodness, y’all.

I don’t know how much of SKC’s story is going to change that much this year and what will make it change. Hopefully, they’re already planning some moves for the summer.

Previous: 3-1 loss at LAFC | Next: 4/23 vs. CLB

Ola Kamara scored twice, earned a yellow card for taking off his jersey (dumb rule) and then earned a second yellow card (bad choice) to put D.C. down a man. All this happened in the first half after a 30-minute lightning delay. Somehow it got weirder from there. And far, far worse for D.C. 

The Black-and-Red collapsed after the 80th minute, allowing three goals and blowing a 2-0 lead in spectacular fashion. Oh, and did I mention Andy Najar left with an injury? And DP Edison Flores didn’t start and 17-year-old Jackson Hopkins did? Also, this is the fourth-straight loss for D.C. and it kind of feels like they’re angling for the new “Hey they lost, but they lost in a totally ridiculous way, isn’t this wacky and fun but also the fourth-straight loss?” spot on the MLS roster now that Matias Almeyda is out. 

But hey, new DP Taxi Fountas made his debut. And D.C. fans can always choose to live in the world where Kamara stays on and D.C. wins going away. That’s what I’d do if I were them anyway.

Previous: 3-2 loss vs. ATX | Next: 4/23 vs. NE

Alright. I think I’m officially all the way out on Vancouver. Too many players regressing, too little Maxime Crepeau, too many injuries, not enough of the right kind of change in the offseason and a whole lot of the second-half spark from last season missing. They have just one win in seven games and it came against SKC, the only team besides Inter Miami to have an equally terrible goal differential. We’re a little more than one-fifth into the season and it already feels like the hole is too deep. 

Then again, I probably said that last year too.

Previous: 2-1 loss at MTL | Next: 4/23 at ATX

Goodnight, you beautiful, possibly delusional king.

Most of the answers you gave us were wrong. But at least they were answers we had never considered before. I’m only kind of kidding when I earnestly say there’s some value in that. I had fun watching it, anyway. And generally, the point of sports is to have fun.

In a sports world that can feel homogenous at times in its ideas and schools of thought, it always felt important to see someone doing something different. Or at least refreshing. I’ll be honest and say I watched far more Quakes than I would have otherwise than if they just had a middle-of-the-road coach whose name I’d forget each time a relatively middling roster finished ninth in the West.

But, to state the obvious, the insanity became too rigid. It’s almost like doing weirdo stuff became the purpose rather than the weirdo stuff having a purpose. He managed expressly for the sake of his own ideas instead of making adjustments and catering to the roster and league and, uh, the current era of soccer.

Like most folks, I think the Quakes have some good pieces to build on. Jeremy Ebobisse and Cade Cowell in particular seem like they’re set to take leaps forward. A steady defense behind them and a little less extra running may do them and the team as a whole a ton of good. I’m maybe not excited to see what’s next, but I’m at least interested. They should be improved under interim boss Alex Covelo. Even if they won’t quite be must-watch TV for the most broken of us anymore.

One last time and into infinity...

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. NSH | Next: 4/23 vs. SEA