Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: Minnesota, Red Bulls make giant leaps after Weeks 17 & 18

What a week in MLS. Austin made an impressive comeback, Nashville struggled at home and NYCFC allowed four goals in a game. 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. Although I may be 10/10ths this week. I tried a new thing in Excel when I calculated the votes. And my Excel skills aren’t great.

Anyway, onto the rankings.

LAFC cruised to a win over FC Dallas midweek, but a rotated lineup came up short at the Whitecaps. It’s a big blow for a team that’s now on just a two-points-per-game pace and whose only reinforcements on the way are Giorgio Chiellini and Gareth Bale. Oh, and they still have an open Designated Player spot.

The New York Red Bulls are top of the Eastern Conference table! For now! It’s literally changing every game! But it’s an earned perch either way.

Last week, New York took care of business with a 1-0 win over SKC on Sunday and a 2-1 win over Atlanta United on Thursday that came in the most Red Bulls way possible.

If I had to come up with the platonic ideal of a Red Bulls goal, it would look something like 16-year-old Serge Ngoma coming off the bench to force a brutal error from the backline via pressing to beat Atlanta United. Just impressive commitment to brand awareness there. And the continuation of an impressive run of form for one of the league’s best teams.

Which means it’s once again time to say…

I told y’all last week: Austin FC are the protagonists in 2022. If you’re counting them out of any game for any reason, you’re failing to remember that we’re in the middle of the movie montage that takes us from when the team rallies together to the point where it looks like it’s going to fall apart for a second before they come back together for one last glory-filled moment. They’re not going to stop winning until it’s time for their arc to have mild conflict.

So you really shouldn’t be surprised when they go down 2-0 on the road to Colorado and win 3-2 anyway. That’s just how this works. It’s plot armor. Plot armor and Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate Sebastian Driussi + a revitalized Maxi Urruti + standout performances from a delightful ensemble cast that each takes their turn having a compelling b-plot like when converted left back Jon Gallagher delivered two assists this weekend.

On a related note, Austin are just two points behind LAFC in the Supporters’ Shield race and five points ahead of RSL for the second spot in the Western Conference as we inch past the midway point of the season. We’re looking at a team that’s careening towards a home Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot. And, if the writers want the storybook ending, maybe something more.

Do y’all ever feel like Brian Schmetzer gets bored? Like some days he just wakes up and decides his lineup by using a 20-sided die just to see if he can win with it? I know, I know, he wanted to rotate some players who needed rest and some extra time to recover from injury. But, c’mon, you know he got a little thrill out of trying to figure out how to get three points from the lineup he put out against Toronto on Sunday.

In typical fashion, he did just that. Dylan Teves scored in his first career start, Fredy Montero found the net in not his first career start and Seattle Sounders FC went on the road and picked up three points to bounce back from a less impressive performance from the A-team lineup against CF Montréal. Now that same lineup is rested and Seattle can continue climbing up the Western Conference table with a potentially refreshed group. Must be nice to have that kind of confidence in your system and culture that you can rotate so heavily and still get results.

On a very related note: Seattle are seventh in the West, just three points behind third-place RSL and inching closer to their inevitable home playoff spot by the week.

Ok, we’re far from officially hitting the panic button but we are going to officially hit the button that lets folks know that things are kind of weird right now.

Since Ronny Deila left, New York City FC have lacked a certain sharpness. Especially at the back. It just so happens they’re still far and above most teams in the league when it comes to talent, which means that things like this happen.

There aren’t many teams in the league that could pull off going down 3-0 and equalizing at 3-3 in the same half. But then they took the lead in the second half before surrendering it for a 4-4 draw at FC Cincinnati. Then they dropped points from a winning position at home against Atlanta. That’s five games under Nick Cushing and zero wins. That’s not the standard in the Bronx.

There’s no way that’s all on Cushing, of course. And teams do just have moments throughout the MLS season where they dip. But an NYCFC team that once looked like a surefire bet to take the first seed in the East doesn’t look so sure anymore.

The Philadelphia Union jumped to the top of the East and then produced a scoreless week that included a 0-0 draw with Columbus, a Jose Martinez red card (plus a little extra) and a 1-0 loss at Chicago. The only response anyone should have when looking at their performance from the last week is judgmental aggressive frowning.

Monday at LA didn’t go as planned, but last Wednesday they picked up three points in Seattle with a heckuva comeback appearance from Mason Toye. Toye’s brace led CF Montreal past the Sounders and although he’s still working his way back into the lineup full time, he could be a catalyst for Montréal’s best moments without Djordje Mihailovic and a key figure in whatever run they make once Mihailovic returns. All considered, three points from a road trip to Seattle and LA, with a confidence-boosting moment for one of your most exciting young players on his way back from an injury, is a solid week.

RSL Magic didn’t come in time this weekend. Real Salt Lake nearly turned around a three-goal deficit in Minnesota but came up just short. The good news is Jefferson Savarino and Anderson Julio both got on the board. Savarino has two goals and two assists in three starts and Julio has a goal and an assist in just 89 minutes. Those are decent ways to welcome yourself back to the team.

Previous: 3-2 loss at MIN | Next: 7/9 vs. COL

Well, well, well. The LA Galaxy started Dejan Joveljic and look what happened.

This was preceded by a midweek game in which they did not start Joveljic and lost 3-2 to Minnesota. And the scoreline was only that close because Joveljic scored off the bench. I’m no tactical genius, but seems like it might be a good idea to start Joveljic.

Seriously, they finally paired him with Chicharito in a 4-4-2 formation, relinquished possession a bit and thrived against one of the league’s best teams this season. It’s the kind of adjustment to LA’s best personnel that everyone had been begging for. It just made so much sense. And now maybe the Galaxy will start to build towards a second half that’s far more successful than last season’s.

I’d really like FC Dallas to pick a lane. Just go on a streak of any kind. After losing midweek to LAFC and drawing over the long weekend with Inter Miami, this team’s longest winning streak in MLS this year is two games and they’ve done it twice. Once in early March and once in early May. Their longest losing streak is two games and they’ve done it once, in back-to-back losses after that two-game winning streak in May. They haven’t drawn in back-to-back games this season. Their record is 7W-5L-6D.

It doesn’t feel like things are going particularly well lately but they are still in fifth place in the West. At the same time, they’re just three points above the playoff line. It’s tough to decide how much to worry about that though. This is a good team. It just seems like they can and should be getting better results.


Or…uh…maybe just now arriving? “Brenner is back” just sounded better.

FC Cincinnati’s reported $13 million transfer has scored five goals in his last three games. Suddenly, their two-headed attacking monster is a hydra growing a third head. If the Brazilian striker really has crossed a threshold, adapted to life in MLS and is set to stay through the season, then there won’t be many trios more dangerous in the league than Brenner, Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez. That’s a lot of ifs, but there’s a chance we’re watching the beginnings of Cincy take another leap forward in attack. Acosta and Vazquez were enough to torment defenses on their own.

However … you may have noticed I’m talking a lot about Brenner scoring but not so much about Brenner leading Cincinnati to wins. Despite Brenner’s stellar output this week, the Knifey Lions’ defense allowed six goals, including three goals in one half to NYCFC after going up 3-0. New DP defensive midfielder Obinna Nwobodo has helped solidify Cincy’s defense some, but there are still deep issues at the back that are keeping this team from competing for a home playoff spot.

Let’s not get it twisted, Nashville SC are still solid and still sixth in the West. There are far worse fates. But their performance at home is driving me insane. I can’t imagine what it’s doing to their own fans.

In addition to a disappointing exit midweek from the US Open Cup on (you guessed it) a lost penalty shootout, the Coyotes were up 2-0 on Portland in the second half at GEODIS Park before letting Portland earn a penalty and then an equalizer five minutes later. Nashville have just two wins at their new home in seven tries. Compare that to their road record, where they’ve won five times in 11 games. That’s not how this is supposed to work, Nashville.

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. POR | Next: 7/9 at CLT

I feel like I talk about him every week now but Dylan Borrero is a dang star.

On Sunday, the 20-year-old scored his second goal in his first five starts for the New England Revolution. He’s looked electric every time he’s been on the ball. Just an unreal find by New England.

Unfortunately, though, he came off early on Sunday after an injury. We don’t know the extent of it yet, but hopefully, for everyone’s sake, he’s alright. New England have thrived going forward with Borrero providing an extra spark, and neutrals have been able to turn on Revs games with a good feeling they might see something special.

Oh, and they just signed DP striker Giacomo Vrioni from Juventus. He should help too.

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. CIN | Next: 7/9 at NYC

What got into the Loons???

After sputtering in attack for the entire season, Minnesota United FC hauled off this week and put up three goals in back-to-back games. They jumped to eighth in the West. They created an average of 1.82 xG across those two wins, more than half a goal better than their season average – and simply seemed more energetic across the board.

I don’t know what it all means or if it’s sustainable, but for a brief moment, the Loons have shown a rare flash of attacking potential. With former forward Adrien Hunou shipped out last week to Ligue 1’s Angers and a DP spot now open, it feels like Minnesota have a chance to get a signing right this window and truly start living up to expectations.

Ercan Kara scored once but couldn’t keep pace with his former Rapid Vienna teammate Taxi Fountas on Monday night as D.C. United overran Orlando City SC in their own building, winning 5-3. Orlando have now dropped to sixth place in the East and there isn’t much difference separating them from the teams chasing the playoff line. It may be that their underlying numbers are starting to catch up to them just a little bit.

It could be worse though. The Lions are just two wins away from a 2023 Concacaf Champions League spot after taking down Nashville in the US Open Cup quarterfinals.

Previous: 5-3 loss vs. DC | Next: 7/9 vs. MIA

If you’re keeping track (and you should be), Vancouver Whitecaps FC faced RSL, Seattle, Dallas, New England and LAFC over their last five league games. They took 10 points. Can we go ahead and say the Caps are back? I think we can go ahead and say the Caps are back. Especially when their new DP midfielder, brought in to play a destroyer role, can still deliver moments like this:

The underlying numbers don’t suggest they’ve turned into a juggernaut or anything, but there’s been a clear improvement by Vancouver. And for a team that seemed hexed at the beginning of the year, they’ve already produced one of the better turnarounds of the season.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. LAFC | Next: 7/8 vs. MIN

The Portland Timbers have taken eight points from their last four games. That’s a two-point per-game pace. And after their 2-2 comeback draw on the road at Nashville, I’m convinced that’s the pace they’ll maintain for the rest of the season. Not because of the numbers or Jaroslaw Niezgoda or their roster in general. But because this is just what the Timbers do. And the quicker we all accept that, the better off we’ll all be. Trust me, you don’t want to be the person who’s shocked when they earn a home playoff spot by the end of the season. You will be the only one. And we will laugh at you.

Charlotte FC are finally getting to trot out the attacking trio of Karol Swiderski, Kamil Jozwiak and Andre Shinyashiki on the field with some consistency. Their first start together didn’t lead to much against Austin, but those three created more than a goal worth of xG against Houston as Shinyashiki scored the winner in Charlotte’s first-ever road win.

That trio isn’t going to suddenly turn Charlotte’s attack into a supernova, but any improvement should be enough to keep Charlotte hovering around the East’s playoff line the rest of the season. Because Charlotte are quietly turning in one of the best defensive seasons by an expansion team in recent history. Through 19 games, Charlotte are allowing 1.15 xG/96, the second-best mark among expansion teams since 2017. The only expansion team better was 2020 Nashville at 1.09 xGA/96.

They aren’t setting the world on fire, but that 2020 Nashville team didn’t need to either to finish seventh in the East and win a couple of playoff games.

The Columbus Crew celebrated the official arrival of new DP striker Cucho Hernandez by spending Sunday playing their second 0-0 game in three matches. Hopefully Hernandez’s likely debut this weekend means they’ve officially gotten that out of their system.

That being said, Columbus have a little momentum heading into Cucho’s first appearance. The Crew have taken nine points out of their last 15. They’re sitting just three points below the East’s playoff line with a game in hand. If Hernandez is the real deal, then they’ve set themselves in a decent position to make a second-half run.

Atlanta United’s entire season can be summed up by three goals from the past week.

There you’ve got:

  1. A goal that shows off the individual talent of this team in attack when actually healthy.
  2. A goal allowed immediately after goal No. 1 that showcases their tendency to turn off defensively at inopportune times.
  3. A goal that showcases that tendency to turn off, a backup making a critical error in place of a player lost to a season-ending injury, and a general feeling around the team that they simply don’t have the muscle memory and mentality in place that lets them see out wins.

This is salvageable and, in theory, the Secondary Transfer Window could be an active and critical one where a few moves help change the DNA of the team for the better. Or they just wait it out and see if they can start putting results together with the current group. I know which way I’m leaning. But I also know how hard that way can be to execute.

I’m just going to keep saying it: Where would this team be without Leonardo Campana?

His eighth goal of the season gave Inter Miami CF a road point against FC Dallas and kept them just three points behind the Revs for seventh place in the East with a game in hand. Campana has eight goals and two assists on the season, which means he’s directly contributed to 10 of Miami’s 18 total goals this season. Campana is almost single-handedly powering a team through a rebuilding year and giving them a reason to believe that their long-term recovery diagnosis might be accelerated.

Previous: 1-1 draw at DAL | Next: 7/9 at ORL

Hector Herrera is not stepping into a team on an upswing. Houston Dynamo FC have won just three times since April 10, and just once in their last five games. And that came against Chicago.

This week they lost to a Portland team that hasn’t been up to their normal standards and then followed that by allowing Charlotte FC to pick up their first road win in club history. It’s objectively not going well lately.

But Herrera’s task isn’t monumental. Houston’s underlying numbers aren’t excellent, but they’re far from the worst in the league. Herrera’s added solidity in midfield should help them improve in both directions. And that should be enough to start earning a few more points.

The Colorado Rapids have won twice in their last eight games. Those two wins are over LAFC and Seattle. That’s cool and all, but the larger sample size points to a team that can’t executive effectively or consistently when it comes to 2021-level performances.

The Rapids are now 12th in the West at the midway point of the season and are far closer to the Wooden Spoon than a playoff spot. There’s a seven-point gap between them and seventh place in the West.

Previous: 3-2 loss vs. ATX | Next: 7/9 at RSL

I’ll let Doyle take it.

Oh, and I’ll also let him add…

So yeah, things are going pretty well for the San Jose Earthquakes. Their place in the standings (13th) still isn’t all that flattering and it’s going to be hard to claw their way up a parity-filled Western Conference, but this is a solid team that’s still finding its way. Would you really be that surprised if things clicked and they made a second-half run that puts them in contention for a playoff spot deep into the season?

Previous: 2-1 win vs. CHI | Next: 7/9 at TOR

Folks, it is very much time to start paying attention to Taxi Fountas if you weren’t already. After this weekend’s hat trick against Orlando, Fountas now has nine goals and three assists in 10 games (eight starts). He’s firmly in the Golden Boot presented by Audi race. His production level is absurd. And on par with the most explosive introductions in MLS history.

Now, there’s still a lot to sort out. To their credit, they appear to be attempting to do just that. Old DP Edison Flores is gone, TAM winger Martin Rodriguez is in and a whole handful of moves appear to be on the way. If they can get things steadied with Fountas at the helm, things could become very exciting for D.C. United very quickly.

(Especially if Fountas keeps outperforming his xG by literally double…)

((Look, I don’t have to be fun but I do have to say these things.))

Previous: 5-3 win at ORL | Next: 7/8 at PHI

Things look better! They do. Jonathan Osorio has played a big part in that and Toronto FC as a whole looks more comfortable in Bob Bradley’s system by the week. But there are still some critical issues.

Lorenzo Insigne is going to help the overall product, but losses to Columbus and a heavily-rotated Seattle side this week are a not-so-gentle reminder that he’s not going to fix their defense.

There are plenty of more moves in the works, it seems, so we’re not in the roster’s final phase by any means.

On Wednesday, Chicago Fire FC beat the first-place team in the East. On Sunday, they lost to the last-place team in the West.

I…I don’t know what to think of Chicago.

They lost 1-0 to the Red Bulls. It happens. But Sporting Kansas City are one of two teams below 1.0 points per game (on league-worst 0.84).

Previous: 1-0 loss vs. RBNY | Next: 7/9 at MTL