Now, do I agree with every spot? Not necessarily, and this is the part where I remind you how subjective this exercise is with just over 11% of the 2022 regular season completed. We’re a ways away from preseason projections and real-world results/form meeting on a vector of some unassailable truth (okay, maybe there’ll still be flexibility and valid arguments at that point).
But then again, Tom Bogert has proposed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs order will be seeded based on the Power Rankings. Could be controversial, but how could we say no? (Spoiler: we said no, it’s still the top seven teams in each conference.)
Listen to the Power Rankings show below or on MLS Today's podcast feed.
Any time Alejandro Bedoya and Daniel Gazdag score to give you the win in what was definitely a revenge game even if the people involved with said revenge denied the revenge even being a thing, even if they did maybe happen to get into a fight on the field while enacting it, \AND\ you jump to the top of the Power Rankings? That’s a weekend to remember.
Anyway, one of the most encouraging things about the Union’s 10 points through the first four games is the fact Gazdag has scored three times in four starts. The de facto Jamiro Monteiro replacement scored just four times in 17 starts last season and looks on track to take a step forward in year two. And before they roast me on Extratime for it, I guess I should mention this does fall in line with the David Gass Theorem.
It helps, of course, that Gazdag is getting service like this from homegrown right back Nathan Harriel.
Harriel has taken the starting job from Cameroon international Oliver Mbaizo and already looks poised to be the next breakout homegrown player for Philly. The 20-year-old has started the last three games and by all accounts has adapted quickly to a starting role. But what else would you expect at this point from the Union?
They look cohesive, mean and altogether set to stay near the top of the standings all year. They’re pretty much everything we expected them to be. That’s bad news for the rest of the East. Especially if new elements like Harriel and a goal-minded Gazdag make them into even more than that.
They got the job done in Concacaf Champions League while up 3-0 after Leg 1, which is apparently harder than it looks, and then earned a point on the road despite a lineup made up of rotation guys and guys who should be pretty tired at this point. It feels dumb to keep telling y’all Seattle are really good, but here we are again.
Let’s also take a moment to appreciate Obed Vargas, the 16-year-old midfielder who’s received significant minutes this year on a stacked roster and done well. That’s at least more interesting than “most consistently excellent team in MLS is consistently excellent,” right? Good work and thanks for your service, Obed. He’s been called up to the United States U-20 national team during this break for good reason.
They get a pass for whatever happened in their MLS life this weekend because they’re heading to the CCL semifinal and 26 other MLS teams aren’t. They were on tired legs going up against an excellent Philadelphia team that seems uniquely suited to handle a road trip to Yankee Stadium. More teams would lose 2-0 in that situation than not.
Honestly, not a ton to take from the entire week for NYCFC other than to maybe reconsider making four substitutions at once next time they find themselves in a CCL quarterfinal.
I’ve really been trying. I promise I have. I’ve been so reluctant to say this because I’m afraid of people being mean to me on Reddit. But…y’all…seems like this might be a team that cruises to a home playoff game.
All of the disasters that made them objectively bad last season despite finishing first in MLS in expected goal differential have disappeared over an offseason that seemed excellent at the time and only looks better when new guys like Ryan Hollingshead bag a brace over the weekend. By the way, it remains crazy to me they just casually added Hollingshead, a top-three fullback in the league last year by goals added and a consistent attacking presence for years, during a random day in the offseason with little to no fanfare. That trade with FC Dallas came out of nowhere. Everything he’s shown since then has confirmed LAFC made an outstanding move.
Hollingshead and Ilie Sanchez, Kellyn Acosta (a fullback now?), Maxime Crepeau and Steve Cherundolo have made quick improvements. The underlying numbers don’t have LAFC pinned at the top of the xG leaderboard yet, but they’re passing the eye test in a way they didn’t at most points over the last two seasons. They aren’t going to be the chaos-driven Death Star of 2019. But they’re going to put up a lot of points.
At least I think so. The only thing that gives me any pause is they’ve beaten a Colorado team on short rest, drew with Portland at home, beat Inter Miami and beat Vancouver. We’re going to find out a lot more over April when they have to face Orlando City, the Galaxy in El Trafico, Sporting KC and Brandon Vazquez.
So, that could have gone better.
To be blunt, Carles Gil seemed like the only member of the Revolution interested in winning anything last week. They should feel some type of way about their collapse midweek, which followed up their collapse last weekend, which preceded their loss to an expansion team. None of it is even worth looking for positives.
Their CCL performance is especially disappointing. There’s no way around it, they played scared. Both in their tactical setup and in their on-field mentality. For a team whose offseason moves seemed geared towards competing in CCL, they didn’t treat their matchup with Pumas like they had the ability to keep up with a team they beat 3-0 a week earlier. Why? I have no idea. But it certainly doesn’t make Bruce Arena’s pre-match quote – “Common sense would tell you our approach is certainly different. We don’t need to score goals. They do.” – look all that great. And when the time came for them to look for a tactical plan B, they didn’t find it. The same issues that made the best regular-season team in MLS history vulnerable in last year’s playoffs were amplified.
The Rapids were on track toward another very Rapids win. They scored on a set piece and looked to be in control. Then William Yarbrough took perhaps the worst goal kick of the weekend and Houston pounced on a choice opportunity in stoppage time to equalize. Avoidable for sure, but not the end of the world.
Multiple things can be true.
It can be true that it probably isn’t realistic to expect Real Salt Lake to keep getting over on the league’s best teams. It can also be true they deserve all the praise possible after taking nine (!!!) points from Seattle, New England and Nashville. It can also also be true the first two wins came with slight asterisks. But at some point, you have to just tip your cap.
I know folks like me joke a lot about Pablo Mastroeni’s whole “human spirit’s Dad can beat up analytics nerd’s Dad in a fight” mentality, and I don’t think that’s unfair. But we have to concede that mentality does matter. Especially when the analytics aren’t truly in your favor. That mentality + Tate Schmitt is going to take them further we were willing to give them credit for.
Ok, maybe actually mostly just Tate Schmitt.
As soon as Nashville figures out opposing teams are still allowed to score from a restart, then they’re going to be a force. Until they learn they’re supposed to stop that from happening, I guess they’re just going to keep giving up set-piece goals?
Anyway, if you’ve been on Ake Loba watch with me, you’ll know Teal Bunbury got the start instead of Nashville’s club-record signing this week. I remain fascinated by that signing and slightly worried about Nashville’s attack. To their credit, NSC did create 2.6 expected goals worth of chances.
On a long enough timeline, that finishing should sort itself out on a team-wide level as long as they keep creating chances. And the Crew have definitely created plenty of chances so far this year. The biggest concern right now is that Lucas Zelarayan left the game with what appeared to be an issue with his right knee. It’s going to take a herculean effort to make up for his absence if he’s out for any amount of time.
Although I am kind of waiting for their attack to be a bit more ruthless. So far Dayne St. Clair and some luck have kept them undefeated. It’s early days, but their underlying numbers in the league have them grouped with a couple of CCL teams and Charlotte, Vancouver and San Jose. It probably needs to be better long term. Short term, any points at all would have been better than last year’s performance through four games. Eight points to start the year is still eight points.
Last week, they lost after creating nearly a goal-and-a-half more worth of expected goals than their opponent. This week, they probably should have won after creating nearly a goal-and-a-half less xG than their opponent. Instead, they drew after allowing a late goal.
New York have had about as good a start as anyone else in the league this year and their new pieces seem to fit really well, but sometimes strange things happen in soccer. Even when both of those games are at Red Bull Arena.
Jesus Ferreira put on an absolute show. Even better, he did it in front of a sold-out crowd.
He’s notably struggled with his finishing over the last few months, but it’s like he progressed to the mean in one fell swoop on Saturday. Portland had no idea how to handle an effective False No. 9 and Ferreira made the most of his opportunities in an unexpectedly ruthless way. He’s the deserving Week 4 Player of the Week presented by Continental Tire.
FC Dallas look like a playoff contender. Nico Estevez seems to have immediately found the most effective setup for this team, and Dallas have the talent to make life difficult for every opponent they’ll face this year. Paul Arriola has fit in wonderfully, Alan Velasco looks terrifying and the midfield seems wholly revamped with a healthy Paxton Pomykal and increasing steadiness from Brandon Servania and Edwin Cerrillo.
On top of that, I just want to point out this team is runnin’ running. Per Second Spectrum, the only team with more runs that’s sprinted more often is D.C. However, FC Dallas have sprinted 600 more meters. They’re getting after it in transition moments and it shows. High effort + high functionality is a way to pile up points in this league, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are extended stretches this year where they do just that.
When your biggest signing in club history scores for the first time in the league and your biggest trade of the offseason scores twice, you’ve had a pretty good weekend. When you pick up your second straight win, stay undefeated and defensive mishaps of Chicago Fire FC past continue to fade away, you’ve had a great weekend. Ezra Hendrickson already seems to have this team set to build on a foundation that’s as steady as it’s been in a long time in Chicago. Points-wise, this is the Fire’s best start to a season since 2009.
Whoooo boy did they get dragged all over the place by Dallas this weekend. They did this every now and then in Texas last year, although normally Austin did the dragging.
Josecarlos Van Rankin rode the struggle bus in this one and no one else on the backline covered themselves in glory while trying to deal with Jesus Ferreira. This one was over before halftime. Just a bad night all around.
It’s Portland, though. And the opponent should be worried when Sebastian Blanco starts getting significant minutes again. If they keep struggling at that point, then we’ll talk. And even then, I’m probably going to tell you to throw all of that out because they’ll just be there at the end of the year as one of the best teams in the league anyway.
Alright, we’ve made it through two not-so-difficult games and two very difficult games. I feel comfortable enough saying this team can challenge for a playoff spot now. They’re not perfect and could really use a consistent striker, but I feel I can say that about like 80% of teams around MLS. They play wonderful soccer at times. And even if it came against a tired Seattle side, they still created a ton of chances in the second half this weekend and would have earned a win if not for Stefan Cleveland. I don’t know how you can watch last weekend and their performance at Providence Park the weekend before and worry too much about their ability to go head-to-head with the West’s best teams.
The whole team forgot how to finish on Saturday. But Kevin Cabral…
All three of LA’s major jumps (chances with an xG higher than 0.2) in this graph are from Cabral, including that big 0.63 jump at 14 minutes. He’s not to blame for this loss entirely, but he definitely had moments where he could have changed the outcome. He simply hasn’t been effective enough and when you come to the Galaxy on a $6 million transfer as a Young Designated Player, you’re expected to be effective.
We keep waiting for his progression to the mean to come, but there’s only so long you can wait before the outcomes are what they are. Since joining the Galaxy, Cabral is in the 90th percentile for expected goals among attacking mids and wingers, and in the 51st percentile for goals scored. That’s 2,276 minutes worth of data at this point. In theory it should get better, but we’ve been waiting for a while now.
Cabral’s finishing ability may not be the biggest issue to highlight from this game though. New DP winger Douglas Costa left the game with an apparent hamstring problem. Apparently it’s not too serious, but he’s had a history of hamstring injuries before. Just something to keep an eye on going forward.
Facundo Torres scored! And that’s great and hopefully kickstarts an excellent season for their club-record signing.
That being said, we’re still waiting for this attack to wake up even a little bit. Just go one spot up to the team Orlando beat this weekend and you’ll see the xG chart from their win. Generating 0.5 xG worth of chances normally won’t get the job done.
But hey, it’s their second ever win in the Pacific time zone. You take that no matter what.
Plus, I’m not necessarily sure what this means in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like it may be critical down the line.
I’ve never seen a team so totally broken by exactly one play. To be fair…dear God, what happened here?
Atlanta put together a few chances off well-designed set-pieces last weekend, but as soon as this one broke down they had absolutely no idea how to handle it. Everyone involved did every possible thing wrong. From there, the Five Stripes completely shut off. They were getting bullied. Wilfried Nancy’s side pummeled them despite playing on tired legs. And then Atlanta did something no one in MLS had done since, well, Atlanta did it against the artist formerly known as the Impact.
I can’t say I’m overly assured by a game where Atlanta United needed a goal from distance and a free kick that should have been saved to earn a point, even with CF Montréal creating 2.9 expected goals worth of chances to Atlanta’s 0.7. However, I guess it’s okay to be somewhat encouraged by the fact Atlanta are the only team I’ve ever seen be so totally broken by one play and come back despite that.
At the very least, you couldn’t help but enjoy watching the Mercedes-Benz Stadium crowd go bonkers after the Brooks Lennon goal. In the end, though, the only real winner from this one was Maurice Edu.
Man, does Montréal have the yips?
They legitimately might have been better off punting the ball into the other team’s half over the past week rather than trying to execute any kind of buildup play. After getting destroyed on bad turnovers against NYCFC last weekend, a bad giveaway and worse transition defense against Cruz Azul all but ended their hopes of a Cinderella run to the CCL semifinals. Then, they kicked off their trip to Atlanta by doing this…
But Atlanta followed that by somehow making an even more horrific error that led to a Montréal goal, and it seemed like all of the bad vibes went away. Especially for Ismael Kone. After his assist to Josef Martinez, he became the most effective player on the field. He scored, grabbed an assist and earned a penalty kick – all building toward a Canada call-up for World Cup qualifiers. He’s been one of my favorite young players of the early season and his post-WPIOOTBGW performance should have been more than enough to put away a wholly out-of-sorts Atlanta side.
I still think Montréal are a team that can make a playoff push. But I also think the margins are thin. And games that are decided on giveaways and blown leads push them deeper below the line than teams that can afford mistakes early in the year.
No Daniel Salloi, no Johnny Russell and no Khiry Shelton this weekend for SKC. They aren’t going to win many games with all three of those guys missing from the lineup. I would say that their absence means we shouldn’t worry about SKC, but none of their performances with those guys were spectacular either. It seems like it’s going to be a moment before things come together for Sporting. Maybe when Gadi Kinda comes back things will be better? But even that doesn’t seem like it’s coming anytime soon.
Toronto got DP center back Carlos Salcedo back from suspension and the Reds looked at least a little more assured defensively. That was enough to get three points after 5-foot-7 Alejandro Pozuelo somehow scored on a set piece and Jonathan Osorio scored his 50th career goal in Toronto. Nothing spectacular, but definitely nothing stagnant either. In the early days of a whole collection of changes in Toronto, you take that. Especially considering that Salcedo and fellow new signing Jesus Jimenez have both made excellent first impressions.
Also: Quick note that Toronto wunderkind Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty is good to go after an apparent non-contact injury last week and even made a substitute appearance over the weekend. Thank goodness.
They didn’t play well in a loss at Toronto and Edison Flores has been a total non-factor. The good news is new DP forward Taxi Fountas is joining D.C. United sooner than expected and should pair nicely with Michael Estrada.
After Brandon Vazquez’s assist to Ronald Matarrita opened the scoring for Cincy against Inter Miami, I joked that the Vazquez-for-MVP crowd would be out in full force again after his brace against Orlando last weekend. Two goals and a penalty won later, I became genuinely unsure of how much of a joke that actually was.
Not that Vazquez has ever been terrible, but he’s never been this.
In his last 750ish minutes for Cincy, he has seven goals and two assists. In 2022, he’s already tied his career high for goals. And it hasn’t been a fluke! He’s leading the league in expected goals and has guided Cincy to two straight wins.
If he can keep it up even remotely, Vazquez’s performance may just be what drags Cincy out of the cellar this year. If he keeps it up in a way that looks a lot like the last two weeks, he may even work himself into national team talks. No kidding.
Yes, there’s the caveat of “oh, they just beat Miami.” But you’ll take every win you can after three straight Wooden Spoons.
Charlotte weren’t exactly in total control, but they went toe-to-toe with last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners and certainly made the most of their chances. In large part, that comes down to the fact Karol Swiderski looks very much worth the DP tag through three appearances. Even without phenomenal service, his movement and ability to unsettle center backs make him a problem. He nearly had a couple against Atlanta last weekend and came good this weekend with a brace.
It really does seem like Charlotte have things figured out at striker and at goalkeeper with Kristijan Kahlina. That can keep you above water as an expansion team. Now they just have to figure out everything in between. The good news is Miguel Angel Ramirez seems more than capable of setting the team up in a way that will get the most out of the group. And Ben Bender might be on his way to joining the list of highly effective SuperDraft picks in MLS.
They can worry about sorting out the rest later. This weekend is just about enjoying a win in front of a wild crowd.
They could have wasted this opportunity.
They didn’t and they earned a draw against one of the Western Conference’s best teams. It’s not a steep incline by any means, but things keep trending upward in Houston.
At least they have a point?
I’m not ready to slam the panic button, but that’s only because I haven’t stretched yet. Give me a few minutes and I might be good to go. The hole is getting deep, quickly. It seems like they have decent moments each game, but they’ve yet to put together a complete performance. It might be an understatement to say they haven’t been totally healthy, but that’s true for a few teams so far.
It needs to get better. Without last year’s boost of a new interim manager and a new DP carrying them, I’m really wondering if it will improve to the point that this team can be back above the line at the end of the year. Maybe the international break will do them a lot of good?
It seems bad that each week I keep writing one-sentence statements like “It seems like San Jose would benefit from not making life so hard for themselves” and there’s not really a need to elaborate further?
I mean, what are you supposed to do when you go up against the inevitability of Brandon Vazquez?