Like always, your team's ranking below is not necessarily my fault. The Power Rankings are voted on by a collection of MLSsoccer.com's most talented editors, writers, personalities and also me. Anyway, we're still like 15 weeks from any of these votes stabilizing and finding a modicum of consistent decision-making from voters who are also trying to make sense of three games in the world's most randomized soccer league. Isn't this fun?
NYCFC cruised past Comunicaciones 3-1 midweek to set themselves up nicely for a Concacaf Champions League semifinal meeting with the winner of the Seattle Sounders vs. Club Leon series, then turned around over the weekend and beat up on fellow CCL team, CF Montréal, 4-1.
The Cityzens have officially reached New England and Sounders territory for me. I have nothing else to say other than how talented they are, so I’m just forced to gesture wildly at an incredibly oversized and powerful weapon. I mean, just look at this:
What’s most remarkable about NYCFC’s start to the year is how consistently effective their U22 Initiative and Young DP guys have been. They were already an excellent team, but Santiago Rodriguez, Talles Magno and Thiago Andrade contributing at this kind of level put them in a different stratosphere. In NYCFC’s six games in all competitions this season, the trio have nine total goal contributions. Last year, they combined for 12. Even if they weren’t finding the back of the net, their quality has been readily apparent this year. Magno especially feels like he’s taken a major leap.
After everyone spent a week turning their head at Seattle’s recent record and saying, “Huh, that’s weird,” Seattle did a very Seattle thing by taking that to heart and thumping Club Leon in CCL, then recovering in time to put up three on the Galaxy over the weekend.
Oh, and they did all this without Raul Ruidiaz and Nicolas Lodeiro, and while starting 16-year-old Obed Vargas in midfield. Ruidiaz’s replacement, Fredy Montero, scored three times this week and Vargas has been impossibly good for someone who can only just now legally operate a vehicle by himself. I don’t know what else to say except that if I had to pick a CCL favorite at this point, I’d take the Sounders.
The Union had a bit to worry about before their game with San Jose after Mikael Uhre picked up a quad injury and didn’t make the matchday squad. They still went out and put up three goals worth of xG through a delightfully Union level of passing. Jim Curtin’s 100th MLS regular-season win came on just 31% possession and 56% pass accuracy. How can you not be romantic about this team?
In a weekend full of hilariously awful weather conditions across the country, New England's Gillette Stadium reached another level.
So, yeah, maybe not a whole lot to take from their weekend loss to RSL. However, there’s plenty to take from their midweek CCL demolition of Pumas, a 3-0 win. Adam Buksa put on a show in that one. He bagged a critical brace and remains on course to haul in a major transfer sum for the Revs either this summer or in the offseason. He’s tall, so people will immediately call him a target man, but I think that’s a disservice to his movement.
Couple that with Carles Gil playing inch-perfect passes as Buksa and Gustavo Bou repeatedly time runs, plus the opposing defense still having to worry about the rest of the Revs’ talented roster, and you get the total evisceration we saw midweek. They potentially have a more Liga MX-filled path the rest of the way in CCL, but I’m not sure how much that matters when this team is this good.
Nashville now have one-fourth of the losses they had last season, and we’re only three games into the season. Probably time to panic.
But maybe not too much. They weren’t in control or anything, but a late foul in the box probably handed Dallas three points instead of giving both teams one. They weren’t bad over the weekend, but they weren’t spectacular either.
I do worry about their ability to find the net. Coming into the year you had to wonder if Hany Mukhtar would need to replicate his 2021 season to carry Nashville in attack. There hasn’t been much to convince me I need to stop wondering. Especially since it doesn’t seem like club-record signing Ake Loba is in any of Gary Smith’s plans (at least for now).
So yeah. Just going to keep frantically pointing to the superweapon. Because it’s only getting scarier.
They won ugly. And I really, really do mean ugly. The final expected goals tally on Saturday favored LAFC 0.5 to 0.4. This game eventually ended up being played in a full-on storm as if a higher power were lashing out at what was happening on the field. That being said…I think this is progress??
An LAFC team that can win ugly without some horrific defensive lapse or absurd deflection keeping them from three points is an improvement from most of the last two seasons. It helps that their offseason signings continue to perform. This time it was Ismael Tajouri-Shradi stepping up and scoring a dagger.
The Rapids just needed a nap.
After a miserable start to the year, Colorado got a week off between games and suddenly looked like the Rapids again. They beat Atlanta 3-0 last week and cruised past Sporting KC 2-0 over the weekend. And, for the second week in a row, Diego Rubio convinced a center back to completely forget that Diego Rubio exists:
There’s a lot to applaud Colorado for in this quick turnaround from their CCL Round of 16 exit. Rubio is at the top of the list and so is Robin Fraser. Everyone on the team seems to have goldfish-brain about the first three games of the year. And if Rubio continues to play like this, I may, eventually, have goldfish-brain about the whole lack of DPs thing. I mean, I won’t, but it’s nice to think that I could.
The Timbers did a Timbers thing in a game where they looked a lot like the Timbers, and the only shot on target all night went in for the Timbers.
But, alas, not a win. The Galaxy will be fine, though. They’re playing well and the Sounders are the Sounders.
I said it last week and it stayed true this week: Lucas Zelarayan is in one of his moods.
He scored again this week and, once again, he did it from outside the box. As Tom “The Scoopshio State University” Bogert points out, that makes 14 of his 22 MLS goals from beyond the 18-yard box now. He’s scored four goals and bagged two assists in three games this year and might just be a lock to be atop the first MVP Power Rankings of the year.
His teammate, Derrick Etienne Jr., might be on that first list too. Etienne has two goals and two assists this season and it all might be thanks to Big Soccer Media.
You’re welcome, Columbus.
Anyway, I'm still not sure what to think of the Crew overall this year, but Zelarayan and Etienne may make up my mind if they keep playing like this. They certainly seem like a team that’s eager to make up for last year’s title defense, which is a good place to start.
Dayne St. Clair still seems good at this. You can see a decent illustration of just how well he played on Sunday in the Red Bulls’ section, but overall it just felt good to see him back out there making life extremely difficult for the opposing team. I’m still a bit baffled by whatever happened to him between his excellent 2020 season and this weekend, but the 450 minutes he played in 2021 were miserable. Now we’re back to wondering if Tyler Miller should be the starter or not. Just something to keep an eye on for the Loons.
Although to be clear, Matt Turner and Andre Blake and maybe even a combination of Matt Turner and Andre Blake aren’t going to keep you in every game where you get out-xG’d by 2.5 expected goals worth of chances. Maybe don’t test that out again.
They looked mid to completely fine against Charlotte. It’s still hard to judge what this team is and can be until we see something closer to their actual best XI play 90 minutes. That being said, it’s once again time to appreciate what Marcelino Moreno can bring to this team, even if he’s just getting subbed on for 35 minutes at a time.
I wrote this in the daily newsletter I write for this very site and which you can subscribe to by going to mlssoccer.com/newsletters. I’m plagiarizing myself by copying and pasting it here, but I wanted to say it again:
I sat there watching Atlanta pretend like they had something effective building in the final third for the better part of an hour Sunday. Like they had a truly great idea on the tip of their tongue but just couldn’t find the words to say it. In my head and in various places on the internet and in group chats, I kept begging for Marcelino Moreno to come in and change that. He’s been dealing with a foot injury this year and for parts of last year as well and hasn’t been 90 minutes fit.
But Gonzalo Pineda recognized the need too and subbed him on early in the second half. It took a moment, but the change finally paid off. Moreno played one of the best passes in Atlanta United history (I’m not even remotely joking) and found Jake Mulraney on the wing for the eventual game-winner over a team that’s geographically close.
Moreno gets stick for being a ball stopper at times and not picking out the proper pass, but he’s like the striker that gets criticized excessively for finishing without people recognizing the fact that he’s getting in position to have a ton of chances. Eventually, those chances go in. Moreno gets in so many excellent positions and has so much ability that even if he doesn’t see the right pass a quarter of the time, the other 75% is more than enough to make him the most effective creative force on the team.
He led Atlanta in American Soccer Analysis’ goals added metric last year and finished fourth overall in the league right in between Carles Gil and Walker Zimmerman. I think that’s just because he’s good at soccer. Let’s stop sleeping on Marcie.
New York are playing well to start the season. Like, really well. And they still haven’t gotten a chance to start their new DP, Luquinhas. Soccer is hard sometimes, though.
They didn’t score five goals this time. Or any goals. But they aren’t the first or last team to lose 1-0 at Providence Park after largely outperforming the home team. They might be the first team to put up 14 shots and not put a single one on target, but shots on target is a statistic full of lies and deceit more than most statistics. At least the shots they had were semi-ok chances and at least Cecilio Dominguez and Sebastian Driussi continue to put in impressive performances.
They went toe-to-toe with the Timbers, and now we’ll get to see if they can do the same with Seattle this weekend. If Austin can do that, it will go a long way towards dismissing the narrative that they were only able to beat up on the league's not-so-good teams.
Someone’s going to look back at the end of the year at RSL beating Seattle and the Revs back-to-back, and it’s going to seem like the most remarkable two-game stretch of the year. And, you know what, RSL have earned at least that. It’s not their fault the Sounders rotated heavily and they caught New England in a blizzard.
Proud of y’all and I hope you cherish these two weeks. I hope one day you get to confront whoever gave you a run of Seattle, New England, Nashville, SKC, Colorado, Toronto, NYCFC, Portland, LA and Nashville to start the season and laugh in their face as you tell them about your total defiance of the death they marked you for.
They’ve been playing well through their first three games, so it was about time they got three points. It’s even better those points came like in this fashion:
Alan Velasco could very well make an already decent team pretty good. Maybe really good. To the point where a lot of higher spending teams around the league might be asked exactly why they weren’t the ones to bring the 19-year-old to North America instead of whoever else they brought in.
The Fire became the eighth team in MLS history to start the year with three straight clean sheets. That’s even with this happening:
17-year-old 'keeper Gaga Slonina is the genuine star, and Ezra Hendrickson has this team looking steady already. We’ve been tricked before by periods of defensive stability by this team, but not giving up any horrifyingly Fire-esque goals in the first three games is a real accomplishment.
They even scored a couple of goals themselves this weekend. It’s hard not to keep being optimistic about this team being a solid dark horse pick to make a playoff run.
Uhhh, y’all ok down there?
I know no one expected this group to be firing on all cylinders immediately, but the last two weeks have been something. I don’t think anyone is mad at y’all, just disappointed.
It’s maybe not great that it feels like we’ve been saying something like that since 2021. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, but the frustration is understandable. I think everyone in Orlando just wants this group to live up to its potential sooner rather than never.
We could talk about the issues with SKC’s midfield and their attack and the weird moments where it seemed like they just shut off entirely in their game against Colorado. Or I can pass this off to more eloquent minds:
Montréal gifted NYCFC multiple chances in their defensive third in this one. Surprisingly, Montréal actually ended up with better expected goals numbers, but the Pigeons ended up with five shots and three goals kickstarted by regaining the ball in Montréal’s half of the field. And when Montréal weren’t getting hammered for mistakes in the buildup, they were just kind of chilling.
They aren’t the first team to struggle with effort levels after a trip to Estadio Azteca. Things could have been better this week, but they certainly could have been a whole lot worse. No one will remember much of anything this week if next week comes and they’ve knocked off Cruz Azul the same way they took down Santos Laguna. If Djordje Mihailovic keeps playing the way he has been, they have a chance.
Oh, I guess I have to say more than that. Well, from an outside perspective, Quintero only making nine starts last season feels like a questionable decision at best. Quintero can still absolutely ball. This team is so much better when he’s in the lineup and when Adalberto Carrasquilla is playing passes like this.
I want to believe in Vanni and Co., but there hasn’t been much to be encouraged by through these three games. This might be harsh on my end, but they look like the same team we saw last year without the same new manager, playoff push energy. It’s fair to worry that the Caps’ offseason simply wasn’t good enough. Or even good. Hopefully, Caio Alexandre will be back soon and those worries will go away.
They had their moments and, even without Carlos Salcedo, they weren’t completely torn apart like last week. On top of that, Jesus Jimenez is quietly beginning to look like one of the better signings of the offseason. He’s scored twice already this year.
But they couldn’t get the job done against Columbus despite going up 1-0 early and, most distressingly, Jakheele Marshall-Rutty left the field with a non-contact injury (he looks to be okay now). I’m not sure we’re anywhere near worst-case scenario levels for Toronto but it’s been a less than ideal start.
Vazquez scored twice and continues to grow into a role as a capable MLS striker. Kann finally made all of us who talked about his analytics look like we weren’t liars. What an excellent night for Cincy and I hope they can do the same at home some time in front of their great fanbase.
Pain. A familar feeling.
The Charlotte fans were seated right below my spot in the Atlanta United press box. I saw a cup fly up in front of me before I looked down and saw the swarm of bodies, limbs, shirts and other assorted projectiles go up in the air. I felt joy for them in that moment.
But then Jake Mulraney scored in stoppage and the group of high schoolers seated in the section next to them started a loud “We can’t hear you” chant and there was nothing for them to do but sit there and let the youth of America amplify their disappointment. It’s rough out here in this league.
At least their team continued to look competent enough to nearly take a road point from Atlanta in just their third game of existence. Gonzalo Pineda praised Miguel Angel Ramirez before and after the game for good reason. Even if the pieces aren’t in place yet for this team to be an LAFC or even a Nashville kind of expansion team, Ramirez is going to do enough to make them effective. There’s a long way to go, but I think we’ll see this team eventually trend upward.
To be blunt: People are going to pick on “Brek Shea, center back,” but the rest of the team has several question marks too. It’s a tough start to the year in south Florida, with some juicy quotes already coming out of postgame press conferences.