Voices: Sam Jones

Power Rankings: NYCFC move into top three, LA Galaxy fall after Week 9

What a week in MLS. Nashville earned a draw, NYCFC scored a whole handful of goals and RSL pulled out a gutsy, upset win. 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 (of which I may or may not be a part of, you can’t prove anything).

Still on top of the Power Rankings. Still on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings. Still first in the league in expected goal differential, per FBref. Still the best at having Ryan Hollingshead on their team. Still the best in the league by set pieces and still the best in the league at getting production from their bench. Still really, really good and looking for a player to fill an open DP spot. 

May just start copying and pasting this each week at this point.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. MIN | Next: 5/7 vs. PHI

It’s extremely Philadelphia Union of the Philadelphia Union to go to a team’s stadium celebration and do their best to ruin it. They didn’t quite take all three points and spoil the entire thing, but Andre Blake stood on his head, DP forward Mikael Uhre found the net for the first goal in GEODIS Park history and the Union stayed on top of the East.

It’s probably important to note they’re doing it by out-Red Bullsing Red Bulls to some extent. The Union lead the league in average shot quality, but are completing passes at the lowest rate in the league. They’ve shifted their direct attacking philosophy to about the furthest extreme they can and it’s working so far. Of course, just about any philosophy would be effective when you have the second-best open-play defense in the league by expected goals allowed.

Previous: 1-1 draw at NSH | Next: 5/7 at LAFC

Alright, so that’s 14 goals in three games if you’re keeping track. Maxi Moralez, one of the best creators in the league, played 25 minutes in those three games. NYCFC’s front four, whose average age is somewhere around 21 years old, is as ruthless and effective as any group in the league and they didn’t even need any of them to score this weekend to put up three goals on San Jose

To put it simply, this team is a buzzsaw that capitalizes on other teams’ worst moments. In counter-attacking and high regain phases (basically, transition phases) they’ve created 10 goals this season. The next closest team is LAFC with six. A large part of that comes down to the fact that when they force turnovers, they lead the league in the average number of opposing players who are immediately behind the ball. They’re forcing teams into bad giveaways and then punishing them for it. Quickly. The average time of opponents’ possessions from start to end is the shortest in the league by nearly a second. Part of that is Yankee Stadium, part of that is NYCFC executing when there’s blood in the water.

To add to all that, NYCFC are putting up two more open play shots per game than the next closest team and American Soccer Analysis has them third in the league in expected goal differential. Let’s put it this way, their biggest issue in attack right now is deciding whether or not they should start Maxi Moralez. MAXI. MORALEZ. Things are going more than fine for NYCFC.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. SJ | Next: 5/7 vs. SKC

We could probably do this every week, but the week the Red Bulls tied the MLS record for away wins to start the season is probably as good a week as ever to see just how Red Bulls the Red Bulls have been so far this year. 

They’re, of course, in the top three in nearly every pressing statistic. Most importantly, they’re at the top of every effective pressing category. They lead the league in the number of possessions in which the opposing team gives up the ball within 10 seconds and within five seconds. None of that is necessarily surprising, but it’s always frightening for an opposing team to see Energy Drink Soccer operating at full capacity. 

The good news is that if you break that press, you have a decent chance of scoring. The Red Bulls are surrendering the highest average shot quality in the league. When teams get a chance against New York, that chance has a higher xG on average than against any other team in MLS. The thing is though, you probably aren’t going to get a chance. This version of the Red Bulls has been particularly suffocating. They’ve allowed a league-best 41 shots on the season so far. That’s an average of 5.125 shots per game. In the last two seasons, 2020 Seattle allowed the fewest shots at 6.391 shots per game. 

They’re smothering teams, they’re leading the league in expected goal differential, Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas both seem like good (maybe great) offseason buys and Patryk Klimala began progressing to his solid underlying numbers this week with two goals in a win against Chicago. Now they just have to figure out how to make it all work at home the way it’s been working on the road.

Previous: 2-1 win at CHI | Next: 5/7 vs. POR

No MLS for Seattle this week. But they did spend the week setting up a winner-take-all Concacaf Champions League Final in Seattle this Wednesday at 10 pm ET on FS1 and TUDN. The Sounders somehow found the Concacaf version of an Uno reverse card against Pumas last Wednesday, earning two late penalties that flipped the series on its head out of nowhere. It felt like the same old story for an MLS team until it wasn’t. Now, thanks to some persistence and classic Sounders Devil Magic, they’re a step away from history.

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

To be clear up top, I’m still team “Austin are good and we can’t just keep saying ‘Ain’t played nobody’ over and over again when it’s MLS and every win is some mix of a lucky day out and a remarkable achievement of the collective against impossible odds.” But let’s just, for a moment, take some stock of what Austin’s schedule has been up until this point.

So far they’ve taken 20 points out of a possible 27 against the 10th, 24th, 18th, 25th, 28th, 21st, 19th, 22nd and 15th best teams by expected goal differential, per American Soccer Analysis. We’re at the point in the season where xG starts to be predictive and where we can pretty definitively say Austin could have picked an easier schedule if they were given the power too, but only barely. Their best win so far, if we’re going by the underlying numbers, is over FC Cincinnati.

On top of that, they’re overperforming their expected goal differential by 11 goals just nine games into the season. Portland, the team that’s led the league the last two seasons in outperforming their underlying numbers, outperformed their xGD by 15 in 2020 and 12 in 2021. The fact Austin are already just an extra lucky goal away from 2021 Portland at this point in the season is remarkable. 

We’re about to find out a lot about this team. Three of their next six games come against the LA teams and the three others are against Orlando and RSL, teams that keep finding ways to win and a CF Montréal team that’s been on a tear as of late. And you know what, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn they’re good enough to compete with, and take points off, some of the best teams in the league. They play beautiful soccer at times, Alexander Ring with a little cover from Dani Pereira, and Sebastian Driussi is a legitimate MVP candidate so far.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it went the other way too. Either way, what they’ve put together so far shows the kind of progress in year two a whole lot of expansion teams only dream about. Don’t lose sight of the growth from a team that could barely score last season into a team bullying the lower half of the league. Even if the next few results bring folks on the internet pointing and saying “SEE! TOLD YOU SO!” if they don’t quite go Austin’s way.

Previous: 2-1 win at HOU | Next: 5/8 vs. LA

The Galaxy just missed out on another critical late goal from Dejan Joveljic this weekend in their 1-0 loss to RSL. They’re still third in the West though and playing some of the best defense in the league. They’re first in the league in goals allowed (2) in open play and first in the league in expected goals allowed in open play. That’s not quite the MO I think a lot of us were expecting with this team, but it can take them a long way. And, well, with their wingers playing the way they are right now, they may have to heavily rely on that defense.

Kevin Cabral and Douglas Costa have 0.5 goals and assists per 2022 season right now. You would probably hope for more than one goal and zero assists from that pair over almost 1000 minutes of play, but I guess it could be zero goals and zero assists. So they’ve got that going for them. 

Even with their struggles, the Galaxy are 12th in the league in open-play xG this year per Second Spectrum. If they can start creating at a slightly higher level, it seems like they already have the defensive side of the ball figured out.

Previous: 1-0 loss at RSL | Next: 5/8 at ATX

CF Montréal scored early, let Atlanta tucker itself out, and then did what they always do: Let…let Kamal Miller cook?

Anyway, CF Montréal are now fourth in the East and have taken 14 points since losing their first three MLS games. They have an ethos and tactical understanding and players like Djordje Mihailovic pulling the strings with Ismael Kone and Victor Wanyama doing work behind him while Romell Quioto and Joaquin Torres make runs. The biggest concern they have at this point is at goalkeeper – Sebastian Breza is 36th in shot-stopping of the 39 goalkeepers who have played 90 minutes this year – but even with that issue you have to feel really good about this team’s future. If the East’s top tier right now is the New Yorks and Philly, then Montréal are right below that tier and knocking on the door. They may get through sometime soon.

If you don’t believe me, keep in mind since their CCL run ended March 16, they’ve scored the second-most goals in the league, right in between NYCFC and LAFC. They’ve been ninth in expected goals in that time. In that same time span, they’ve allowed just five goals and are fifth in the league in expected goals allowed. As soon as they shook off the Concacaf, they became one of the best teams in the league.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. ATL | Next: 5/7 vs. ORL

Another week, another moment of being a little more confused about exactly how good Dallas actually are. Alan Velasco and Jesus Ferreira score stunners? I start thinking they’re really good. They give up two goals and draw with an SKC team weathering a less-than-ideal start? I start thinking and my brain breaks a bit before I go back to watching Ferreira’s goal again.

Velasco and Ferreira are absolutely the genuine product at least, and things probably turn out much better for Dallas if Brandon Servania doesn’t come on at the 60th minute, get a yellow in the 63rd and get sent off in the 67th. They were potentially a second yellow away from sitting on 18 points in nine games. Even if the underlying numbers suggest they’re outperforming their xGD by the second-largest margin in the league, I still think they’re probably…well they’re definitely not bad. Hold on, give me a few more minutes to think about it…

Previous: 2-2 draw at SKC | Next: 5/7 vs. SEA

There’s no better way for Nashville SC to open their brand-new home than by making themselves comfortable as quickly as possible and getting their first draw at GEODIS Park. Nashville have drawn 29 of their 66 total MLS matches since entering the league and 15 of their 28 home games. 

The other spin here is they didn’t lose. They either draw or win at home, but they don’t lose. Per Opta, it’s now been 545 days since Nashville lost at home. That’s a good recipe for success and a good sign for a team that has 16 of their 25 games remaining at home. 

They might even win a little more often with the kinds of crowds that should come out to GEODIS Park the rest of the way. It’s a gorgeous stadium with steep stands that feel right on top of the action on all sides. Add it to the long list of things Nashville have gotten right since they came into the league.

Previous: 1-1 draw vs. PHI | Next: 5/8 vs, RSL

Anytime Ruan gets to celebrate one goal by putting on a superhero mask and the next goal by putting on a cowboy hat, you have to imagine things are going well for Orlando. They took care of business against Charlotte thanks to a bounce-back performance (and quick-change artistry demonstration) from Ruan and sit third in the East with 17 points. For a team everyone assumed would have some growing pains this year, they’ve racked up an impressive points total through 10 games. The underlying numbers suggest they might have gotten a little lucky so far, but with so many new pieces and a long-term injury to Antonio Carlos, you’ll take what you can get.

Previous: 2-1 win vs. CLT | Next: 5/7 at MTL

We got our first full look at Gyasi Zardes as a Rapid, then Diego Rubio and Mark-Anthony Kaye went and stole the show from him and snapped a five-game winless streak for the Rapids. Rubio banged home an excellent free kick and earned a red card in this one, while Kaye ruined Portland’s attacking movements all night and netted a dagger late in the game to seal a win for his now 10-man side. 

Even with the red card, I wanted to take a moment to give a quick shoutout to Rubio, who’s been excellent so far this year. He’s second in the league in non-penalty xG+xA per FBref and has five goals and an assist on the year. Despite Colorado’s up and down start, he’s been a consistent positive.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. POR | Next: 5/7 at SJ

A lot of the narrative focus for the Loons this year has been on the attack. That’s not wrong, the attack has been less than stellar at times. The Loons are the fourth-worst in the West in attack per expected goals and have been extremely reliant on Emanuel Reynoso.

The thing is, they haven’t been spectacular defensively either. They’re also fourth-worst in the West defensively and only better than SKC and San Jose when it comes to expected goal differential. They haven’t just been bad in attack, the numbers suggest they’ve just kind of been bad. 

Except, of course, when it comes to points. Even with their 2-0 loss to LAFC this weekend, they still have 14 points on the year and sit sixth in the West. Maybe they’re due to regress eventually, but they’re in a good position. 

Anyways Adrian, thanks for reading. All of the above has been converted into an NFT and can be yours to put on your locker room bulletin board for a signed copy of “Fargo” or tickets to the All-Star Game. Get at me.

Previous: 2-0 loss at LAFC | Next: 5/7 vs. CIN

The Crew hadn’t scored in about 360 minutes and, once again, attention turned in part to the lack of production on the wings. Then Derrick Etienne Jr. and Josh Williams did this.

That’s one way to break an open-play scoring drought. Couple that with Pedro Santos’ laser beam of a free kick earlier in the game and Darlington Nagbe’s Annual Banger From Outside the Box (DNABFOB) and the Crew got back on track in a 3-0 win over D.C. United. They remain a bit of a mystery still though. 

The underlying numbers suggest they’re among the league’s best teams. Their expected goal differential is fifth-best in the league, per FBref. But a majority of those chances came in their first four games. They’ve won the xG battle just twice in their last five games and have failed to create more than 1.5 xG worth of chances in those five games, something they did in all four games to start the year. 

I don’t quite know what to make of it all, but the defense has been consistently good. That can keep you afloat long enough to figure it out in attack. Maybe the DP striker who replaces Gyasi Zardes will be the piece the Crew have been missing over the last month.

Previous: 3-0 win vs. DC | Next: 5/7 at NE

The underlying numbers aren’t great, but they aren’t terrible either. Especially for a team that’s still a few games away from finishing the hardest stretch of any team not on an eight-game road trip to open the season. Just…just Nashville, Austin and CF Montréal to go, y’all. You’re almost there. And then you get a little bit of a break. 

All considered this is going phenomenally. RSL have 16 points from a 10-game gauntlet and are adding pieces. They’ve brought back forward Anderson Julio and are close to bringing back Jefferson Savarino from Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro to help out in attack. Damir Kreilach should be good to go again soon. This is as good a start as you could have asked for as an RSL fan and, once the schedule eases up and the new (old?) players are integrated, it might get even better.

Previous: 1-0 win vs. LA | Next: 5/8 at NSH

Well, they got Matt Turner back, they got Henry Kessler back and they finally stopped overworking Matt Polster and, what do you know, things turned out pretty well. Tommy McNamara kept Polster from being stuck on one of the loneliest islands in the league for a long time and 19-year-old Damian Rivera scored about a minute into his first-ever MLS start. The Revs cruised to a 2-0 win over Inter Miami and looked a lot more like the team we all expected them to be. Basically, a slightly diminished, but still highly effective version of last year’s group.

They don’t have too much longer with Turner, but added control in midfield should go a long way toward making the upcoming transition a little easier.

Previous: 2-0 win vs. MIA | Next: 5/7 vs. CLB

Maybe that is back-to-back 2-1 losses to in-state rivals after going up 1-0. But not having Matias Vera against Austin gives you a little bit of grace on any defensive lapses, and this alone is worth celebrating…

Nothing better than ironically screaming “SHOOT” at a bunch of folks on a screen who can’t hear you and then watching them pull up from distance for an AT&T 5G Goal of the Year contender. It actually made me kind of sad when it happened. The weekend had already peaked just a few minutes in.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. ATX | Next: 5/7 at DC

Atlanta United’s roster has somehow been constructed to the point where Marcelino Moreno, the team’s most effective player by a considerable margin for a while now and the lone goalscorer for Atlanta in their 2-1 loss to CF Montréal, might need to go the bench or even become a trade piece or transfer this summer. Not because he’s bad or because people in Atlanta have become so unaccustomed to seeing players actually try to make things happen that they get mad when he turns the ball over – Atlanta’s two most effective players this season, Moreno and Andrew Gutman, lead the team in turnovers – but because Thiago Almada is more of a pure 10 (and you just spent $16 million on him) and Atlanta looked toothless in the final third to the point of nearing Heinzean levels without a more traditional wing player on the left this week.

“Atlanta is one of the better teams in possession. They are usually on top of the game. To beat this team, you have to defend well for 90 minutes,” Miller explained, before adding “their possession doesn’t matter too much."

I’m not saying it’s a definite need, but Atlanta have to try something at this point. We’re moving past two years (at least) of ineffective possession for this team. It might be worth subbing Marcie off for Caleb Wiley and bringing Moreno on as a game-changing sub. Or maybe even trying this?

Previous: 2-1 loss at MTL | Next: 5/7 vs. CHI

Hey, what if I told you FC Cincinnati were 10th in the league in expected goal differential (American Soccer Analysis), underperforming their underlying numbers by the second-largest amount in the league and have won three (3!) whole games so far this year and it probably should have been at least one more? 

The biggest problem right now is they’ve allowed the second-highest open-play xG of any team in the league. That could be better. But they’ve clearly made improvements under Pat Noonan already and that’s all anyone could have reasonably asked for at this point. They’re nearly halfway to last year’s points total already and are throwing in a little performance art while getting the job done.

How can you not love what’s happening in Cincy?

Previous: 2-1 win at TOR | Next: 5/4 vs. TOR

After 385 minutes of soccer, Chicago’s nightmare is over. They finally scored. It’s technically still been over 450 minutes since they scored from open play, but at least they scored. Fortunately for the Fire and their fans, new Young DP Jairo Torres arrives from Liga MX’s Atlas this week. The winger should hopefully help kick start the second-worst attack in the league this season.*

That being said, they’re finally beginning to show some cracks defensively. They’ve given up five goals over the last two games and can’t seem to stop getting red cards. They’ve picked up four in the last four games. Four of their last six goals allowed have come down a man. Sure seems like it’d be easier to keep the whole ‘86 Bears thing they had going for a while if they played with 11 players instead of 10, but what do I know?

*Out of nowhere, but I guess this should also help? Depends on which version of Chris Mueller they get, but the 2020 version did serious damage. Maybe returning home can spark that version again.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. RBNY | Next: 5/7 at ATL

The Timbers went up a man, down one goal against Colorado with a chance to equalize and maybe more…then subsequently gave up 0.75 xG worth of chances while creating just 0.38 xG of their own in a 2-0 loss. If you’re wondering what Timbers Game Type (TGT) that is, I don’t think it is one. I think it’s just bad. 

Portland have won just one of their last seven games and have already decided reinforcements are needed.

Maybe a new forward will help get the Timbers back on track, although the biggest need seems to be on defense. Portland are 24th in the league in expected goals allowed. 

Previous: 2-0 loss at COL | Next: 5/7 at RBNY

So it seems like it was a bad idea to put everyone up for a corner kick against Orlando

If they only there was some way to know that you were facing a team with one of the fastest players in the lea--

Ok, yeah, probably should have kept track of the guy who put the Flash mask on earlier in the game after he scored on you. These are just the kinds of things you have to learn in an expansion year.

Anyway, Charlotte lost 2-1 to Orlando. Not a great night overall for The Crown, who generated about 0.4 xG worth of chances from open play. New DP Kamil Jozwiak made his MLS debut at least.

Previous: 2-1 loss at ORL | Next: 5/7 vs. MIA

Good things have to come to an end eventually. Some of them are just a bit more of a bummer than others. Inter Miami’s winning streak ended against New England and Leo Campana left the game in the 10th minute with what Phil Neville called “muscle tightness.” Hopefully he’s good to go and Inter Miami can continue one of the surprise stretches of the season.

Previous: 2-0 loss at NE | Next: 5/7 at CLT

Toronto’s now lost back-to-back games. I guess we’ll start with a “good” stat though? It’s at least a fascinating stat. 

In Saturday’s Daily Kickoff, I pointed out that Jesus Jimenez led the league in converting shots into goals. Jimenez came into the weekend turning 46.15% of his shots into goals. “Surely,” I wrote, “this cannot continue.” He then went out and scored on his first shot of the game to stay tied for the league’s Golden Boot presented by Audi lead.

Unfortunately, he then took three more shots after that. Shockingly, none of them went in. He’s still converting at a league-best 41.18% conversion rate and is outperforming his xG by more than anyone else in the league. In his defense, he is second in open-play xG and his chance quality per shot is among the best in the league. It’s not entirely a fluke. It is kind of the best thing Toronto have going for them right now. 

They’re leaky on defense right now. They’re the worst team by open-play xG allowed by almost two goals, and the numbers suggest it’s in part due to a counter-press that allows huge chances when bypassed. They’re first in the league in counter-pressing actions per 90 and second behind the Red Bulls in the number of opposing possessions that end within the first 10 seconds. The problem is there’s a big gap between them and what the Red Bulls are doing. New York have allowed a league-low 41 shots from open play. Toronto have allowed 90 shots from open play, which is sixth-worst in the league. And the Reds are second-worst in average chance quality allowed. Again, behind the Red Bulls. It could totally work if they weren’t giving up more than double the chances.

Previous: 2-1 loss vs. CIN | Next: 5/4 at CIN

Let’s take a few moments to praise Daniel Salloi’s cardio guy. Salloi makes about 37 runs per game (the most in the league by about six runs per game) and covers 120 meters more per game on attacking runs than anyone else in the league. None of SKC’s struggles can be pinned on a lack of effort from Salloi.

He got rewarded for that effort this weekend, finding a late equalizer for SKC against 10-man Dallas. It’s not the shiniest silver lining you’d hope to find in a tough year, but it’s still a silver lining.

Previous: 2-2 draw vs. DAL | Next: 5/7 at NYC

D.C.’s new manager/new DP bounce ended quickly. They should feel honored to be a part of one of Darlington Nagbe’s yearly bangers from outside the box though.

Previous: 3-0 loss at CLB | Next: 5/7 vs. HOU

To be honest, I thought they were going to lose by way more than three to NYCFC. They were in it late against the Pigeons in New York. Progress?

Previous: 3-0 loss at NYC | Next: 5/7 vs. COL

Vancouver took a week off, which was just long enough for me to figure out that they’re kind of hilariously first in a lot of “total pressure” statistics. I think it’s much more them perpetually chasing the ball than playing a Red Bullsian brand of soccer. Opponents’ possessions last longer against Vancouver than against any other team in the league. Maybe Andres Cubas will help?

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