Just four matchdays into the 2023 season, some MLS clubs are already feeling urgency for results. The panic meter is detecting varying degrees of apprehension.
The good news? There’s plenty of time for all slow starters to recover. The bad news? Points are points. Every year, a handful of teams finish one or two results short of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
On to the clubs already feeling some heat down at the bottom of the Supporters’ Shield standings: Here’s a ranking of who should be hitting the panic button hardest out of the teams with three points or less.
I’m leaving out the LA Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake as they’ve only played three games instead of four.
1 point (0W-3L-1D), -6 GD
After three losses and a draw, Colorado Rapids may soon be in panic mode.
Not just because of the results or the underlying performances, but because injuries are mounting again. Perhaps their most irreplaceable player is out for the season. Key midfielder Jack Price suffered a torn Achilles last weekend.
Since Price was signed in 2018, these have been the Colorado Rapids' with/without splits, per Opta:
- With Price: 1.49 PPG, 1.5 goals per game
- Without Price: 0.91 PPG, 1.1 goals per game
Colorado are struggling to score goals, tied for last in the league (1) despite being tied for third in MLS in big chances created (7).
Right before the season, star forward Diego Rubio got injured and only returned juuuuust in time to leave for international duty with Chile. He’s played 29 MLS minutes and will miss Saturday's game at Austin FC (8:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
2 points (0W-1L-2D), -1 GD
Our only three-game team on the panic meter. The macro view? Two draws and a stoppage-time loss isn’t an awful start, particularly considering the opponents (NYCFC, Philly and Cincy).
But the context here makes it worse. Chicago were widely expected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and have little recent history of success, meaning they can’t be missing out on opportunities for points.
- Chicago had a 3-1 lead over Cincy at home in the 84th minute; That game ended 3-3.
- The 1-1 draw against NYCFC came in Chicago’s season opener (also at home). The Cityzens, still a team in transition, had been thoroughly beaten by Nashville only a week before.
- The loss at Philly had shaped up to be a hugely encouraging performance… then a second-half red card changed the game. They still nearly held on for a point… but a goalkeeping error gave Philly all three points. And then Kei Kamara also got a red card.
The injury list has grown, with Xherdan Shaqiri missing the club’s last game. Fellow DP Jairo Torres is out again this weekend. Key U22 Initiative midfielder Federico Navarro is out as well.
Ezra Hendrickson sounded exasperated on Saturday night: "You need to fight for the badge. The mentality needs to be better.”
2 points (0W-2D-2L), -2 GD
The Vancouver Whitecaps bemoaned a slow start in 2022 that ultimately created a hole too deep to climb out of. They prioritized ways to change that for 2023.
Now, after four games, the Whitecaps are still searching for their first league win. Another slow start is underway. Adding injury to insult, DP forward Sergio Córdova is out for 6-8 weeks with a hamstring injury.
The positive view is to point to a commanding performance in the Concacaf Champions League in the Round of 16, setting up a quarterfinal series against LAFC. That adds more minutes and complicates their ability to focus on MLS games, though.
3 points (1W-3L-0D), -4 GD
CF Montréal lost each of their first three games of the season, failing to score in the process. Preseason fears about attacking talent were heightened.
Djordje Mihailovic, Kei Kamara and Joaquín Torres have proved difficult to replace.
On Matchday 4, Montréal broke through for a much-needed win and a much-needed three goals scored against the Philadelphia Union, the best defense in MLS last season.
Another silver lining is their first three games of the season were on the road. It’s hard to win on the road in this league.
3 points (1W-3L-0D), -5 GD
The feeling today is much better than a week ago, which shows how quickly vibes can change for anyone down the bottom of the table.
Charlotte beat Orlando 2-1 and, more importantly, simplified the positional structure. Brandt Bronico returned to the midfield after playing as an inverted left back to start the season. Two natural wingers were on each wing.
DPs Karol Swiderski and Kamil Jozwiak were benched in that win. Swiderski is now off on international duty with Poland, but that’s one to watch when he returns. I imagine he’ll slot back into the lineup pretty quickly.
2 points (0W-2L-2D), -2 GD
Tied with the Rapids for fewest goals in MLS are Sporting KC. The club have put one goal away after four matches.
DP winger Johnny Russell is nearing his 2023 debut after a preseason hamstring injury. DP forward Alan Pulido is also nearing his season debut, which will be his first MLS action since 2021, so attacking help is on the way.
Erik Thommy has looked lively in the run of play as well as with his set-piece delivery. Willy Agada is in a bit of a slump. The goals should start coming soon.
The good news? SKC’s defense is holding up, with just three goals conceded. Questions around this team entering the season were all focused on the defense. The attack should be fine, so they should recover pretty easily as long as the defense holds up.
3 points (1W, 3L, 0D), -5 GD
A mountain of injuries has nuked the first month of the Portland Timbers' season.
Club-record signing Evander joined fellow DP Yimmi Chara on the injured list, alongside Sebastián Blanco, Dairon Asprilla, David Ayala, Felipe Mora and Cristhian Paredes. Seven key players, including two DPs!
Evander should be back very soon, as should Chara. New forward Franck Boli should debut soon and the club are hopeful to add a central defender over the next month as well. With Eryk Williamson, Juan David Mosquera, Claudio Bravo, Santi Moreno and more, there’s too much talent in this group to be too worried at the moment.