Voices: Sacha Kljestan

Stock Up, Stock Down: LAFC look refreshed, Austin show concerns


Welcome to my weekly column where I take stock of the good and not-so-good in Major League Soccer over the past week.

Opening weekend is always exciting whether you are a coach, player, executive or fan. There is hope, belief and optimism abound, and trust me there is enough for everyone to go around. I entered every season as a player with the hope and belief that we had a chance to win a trophy that season. That is the beauty of MLS.

So let's get straight into it!


When you open up the season with a hat trick, you're going to end up at the top of this list.

Benteke powered D.C. United to a 3-1 win against the New England Revolution with a couple of powerful and well-timed headers, plus a scrappy finish at the back post as well. Credit to D.C. United for setting up their aerial threat with good service and the big Belgian striker made no mistake.

After a respectable 14 goals last season, Benteke must take the next step this season to being a more consistent finisher and a contender for the Golden Boot if D.C. United want to push for playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

A tall, skinny, skillful attacking midfielder who can set up plays in the final third? No wonder I love this kid, I see myself in him!

Gutiérrez started the year with a bang, a smashing goal from outside the box that had some venom in it. This is something I had not seen from him before and it was a welcome sight, not only to me but to Chicago Fire head coach Frank Klopas as well. Klopas has been challenging Gutiérrez to get on the scoresheet more and this weekend we saw his full potential.

But that goal was not my favorite play of the evening – it was his assist on the second goal to Fabian Herbers, because you know I love a good assist more than anything. A bouncing ball in the box from close range, and everyone expects Gutiérrez to try to smash it home, but he has the calmness to slot a simple pass to Herbers a few yards away. Now in his fifth year as a pro, I expect the 20-year-old to push himself to make these plays on a more consistent basis.

Williamson, in his first game back after tearing his ACL early in the 2023 season, had one goal and one assist in a 4-1 win over Colorado. What a way to get back into the Portland Timbers midfield.

I played against Williamson on several occasions during my final seasons with LA Galaxy and saw up close just how talented of a player he is. He is among the best midfielders in MLS at using his skill and power to dribble out of pressure and start driving the ball forward.

Getting a goal and an assist in your first game back from a major injury should give Williamson a lot of confidence to keep pushing himself forward under new head coach Phil Neville. Here's to hoping that he can finally stay healthy for an entire year and show what he can do week in and week out.

Columbus Crew and LAFC met in MLS Cup just a few months ago, and sometimes we expect the top teams to have a slight drop off or "hangover." But that was certainly not the case on opening weekend.

The Crew opened with a relatively dominant 1-0 win over Atlanta, getting their goal from Cucho Hernández. It was exactly what we have come to expect from Columbus, but I was most impressed with their counter-pressing when the ball turned over and how quickly they were able to swarm and stifle a very talented Atlanta midfield and attack.

Could the champs take an ever bigger step in year two under manager Wilfried Nancy?

On the west coast, LAFC reloaded with new signings Hugo Lloris, Omar Campos and Eduard Atuesta and beat rivals Seattle Sounders 2-1 on opening weekend.

Campos looked lively down the left side and set up a beautiful goal for Timothy Tillman. Lloris was solid in goal and Atuesta was steady in midfield, but Mateusz Bogusz stole the show with his absolute banger into the top corner for what turned out to be the game-winning goal. All that for LAFC and I didn't even mention the reigning Golden Boot winner Dénis Bouanga, who was dangerous all game with getting his shots off but couldn't find the back of the net.

LAFC looked reloaded and ready to contend for trophies again this season, and they still have a couple of open DP spots... scary!


Vrioni comes into his third season with New England Revolution with big expectations. And after only six goals last year for the DP striker, he's given a fresh start under new head coach Caleb Porter.

But 12 minutes into the 2024 season he picks up a silly yellow card for stopping a quick restart. You can not leave your feet for a tackle when you are already on a yellow card; you run the risk of picking up a second yellow. That is exactly what Vrioni did 13 minutes later and was sent off, leaving his Revolution teammates to fight and claw for 65 more minutes down a man. They ended up losing 3-1 at D.C. United.

That is how you end up in the coach's doghouse and piss off your teammates. Vrioni will have a lot to prove to everyone in Foxborough when he returns from suspension.

The only home team to lose on opening weekend was Austin FC... not good. They lost 2-1 to a Minnesota United team that did not have their best attacking players in Bongi Hlongwane and Emanuel Reynoso, and oh yeah, they only just hired a permanent head coach in former Manchester United assistant Eric Ramsay.

Austin were dominated in shots and shots on target by the visiting Loons. Their fans will also surely be frustrated by the lack of defensive signings in the winter transfer window thus far after shipping 55 goals last season.

Q2 Stadium is one of the best and most exciting home venues in MLS. But it's in danger of going to waste again this season if the defense can't step up.