Daily Kickoff - 3.20.23

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Five things to think about from Matchday 4

Another Matchday gone, and we still know pretty much nothing. If we were an AI asked to write the script for the 2023 MLS season, we’d start by talking about St. Louis and end by talking about great real estate listings on the Multiple Listing Service. We need more data to form anything truly coherent. Until then though, here are a few questions from this weekend to consider.

How scared should you be of Atlanta?

Two things can be true at the same time. No, Atlanta haven’t played the stiffest competition. Yes, they’ve looked far better than most other teams have looked against that same level of competition. Let’s review.

They opened the year with a miracle comeback win at home against (a pretty good!) San Jose (team in their first game under Luchi Gonzalez). Then they outplayed Toronto (missing Lorenzo Insigne and dealing with injury issues at striker) at home. Then they finally went on the road and thumped a not-good (like really not-good) Charlotte team. And then they did what they did this weekend at home against Portland (who were missing upwards of six players).

So, yeah, that’s three home games against decent-but-not-great teams and one road test against a Charlotte side that looked lost until this weekend. That’s all true. However, it’s also probably important to consider how we didn’t see Atlanta roll out their best XI, complete with DP striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, until this weekend. And it’s also even more important to consider few teams have looked as effective against bad teams, and even fewer teams have Thiago Almada.

There are bigger tests on the way. They travel to Columbus, host Red Bulls and go to Yankee Stadium over the next three games. And even bigger tests after that. But for now, this doesn’t feel like sleight of hand or overperformance or deep magic or anything else you might use to convince yourself they’re bad actually. Atlanta are up for a fight for the first time in a while.

Will St. Louis CITY SC ever lose?

Just considering their first few games and their upcoming schedule, I think you have to start wondering openly if they might be the first team to go undefeated in MLS history. They only have to keep this same pace for just 30 games. Seems easy when they’re beating teams 3-0 even when they’re missing key pieces like the three center backs they went without this weekend.

Per Tom Bogert’s Sunday column, only four other teams since 2000 have started with four consecutive wins. Kind of feels like the only thing that might stop them at this point is boredom. Sometimes you have to let yourself get punched in the face to remember you’re alive, ya know? I mean, it’s too early to really look at xG (do that about 10 games in usually), but if you’re trying to find a hole in the armor here by pointing to the underlying numbers, you should know they’re third in the league in expected goal differential, per American Soccer Analysis.

In conclusion, Webster’s Dictionary defines perfection as St. Louis CITY SC. Just consider it, ok?

Are Austin going to spiral?

It’s odd to be at what feels like an inflection point this early in the season, but Austin have reached something close to that.

It seems like one of two things will happen here:

  1. They’ll get some distance from CCL and get back on a normal schedule and grab enough points from here on out to keep everyone from panicking and end up in a decent Audi MLS Cup Playoffs spot. That is absolutely the most likely scenario.
  2. Crashing out of CCL and losing to an in-state rival in the same week becomes a catalyst for things to get increasingly weird and frustrating, and we look back at Austin as a team that just couldn’t measure up to the success they had last season.

It’s in play. Remember what happened to New England after bombing out of CCL last year? It took just two games and a miserable blown lead against Pumas to push them towards a disappointing and not-very-fun season. Part of that, of course, came down to a couple key pieces heading out during the middle of the season, but the momentum shift felt real. Even after they pretty successfully replaced those key pieces.

Austin will at least have more continuity. In theory, there shouldn’t be any more heavy waves crashing against them to keep rocking the boat. But I don’t think it’s unfair to point out that, at the very least, the vibes are weird right now. Not unfixable. Just weird.

What if Inter Miami don’t find an answer in midfield?

The Herons started well with wins over CF Montréal and Philadelphia, but a loss to NYCFC last week that saw them lose Gregore for six months and a loss to Toronto this week has kind of ruined all the positivity.

Basically, it’s fair to worry about Gregore potentially being a load-bearing midfielder. If Inter Miami were going to outperform what this roster looked like on paper this year, they absolutely could not lose Gregore. Now, they’re stuck with questions in midfield and not much firepower anywhere else. It’s hard to be optimistic about the next few months for this team. The last great accomplishment of Lionel Messi’s career might end up being dragging the Herons to a playoff spot.

Which team is the most disappointing/most impressive so far?

You have to look West for the first part. The Rapids have one goal and one point. Sporting KC have one goal and two points. And the Galaxy have two goals and two points. So, yeah, you can probably just pick one from there. I’d lean towards the team with the much larger collection of transfer fees, but that’s just me. To be fair, the Galaxy have played one less game than SKC, and to be fair to SKC, they’ve been unlucky. And to be fair to everyone, we’ve only had four weeks of MLS. This will all look very different in a few weeks.

The answer to the second part is clearly St. Louis. I just didn’t want to end on something mean. Chalk up yet another win for CITY SC.

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Good luck out there. Make brilliant art.