Kickoff 5.29.23

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What you need to know

Sporting KC roll over Portland

The Timbers took an early 1-0 lead and it pretty much only got worse from there. SKC equalized in the 33rd minute thanks to Erik Thommy and proceeded to put three more past Portland for a 4-1 win.

Nashville power past Columbus

Assorted thoughts and questions from the weekend that was

Nearly halfway through the year now. We’ve got a pretty good idea of who teams are at this point. There are still a few things to take away from this weekend though. Let’s talk it out.

Can the Union catch FC Cincinnati?

Philadelphia went down a goal to NYCFC and, in classic Union fashion, ambushed them moments later for two consecutive goals in first-half stoppage time. They padded a one-goal lead with a penalty early in the second half and cruised to a 3-1 win. They’re now undefeated in their last seven MLS games and have taken 17 points over that span. They’ve taken 13 points from their last five games since bowing out of CCL. They’ve only allowed two goals in that span while scoring nine.

Maybe the only team that’s been hotter in that stretch is FC Cincinnati. They won yet another game by one goal this weekend and, like the Union, have taken 13 points over their last five. They’re comfortably on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings and, through 14 games, are on a record-setting pace of 2.36 points per game. Even if there are questions about their ability to continue pulling out close games, there’s no denying Cincy have been outstanding. It’s going to be an uphill battle for anyone to catch them at the top of the Eastern Conference. Even if the underlying numbers suggest Cincy will drop back to Earth a little bit.

The Union have shown no signs of a CCL hangover. They’re through any forced lineup rotation and load management that caused them to drop points early in the year. They can just be themselves at this point. That’s a terrifying prospect for the rest of the East. We’re not even at the part of the season where this team took off and started demolishing opponents by six goals every other game.

There’s a long way to go before Philly can close a nine-point gap at the top of the East. But would you really be surprised?

Well, maybe. They need to sort some things out defensively. They’ve given up a surprising amount of chances over this stretch. There’s a lot of proof of concept here though. They’re probably just going to keep grabbing points and the rest will follow later.

On the other side of that result…

NYCFC have run into a wall

I’m not sure where to put the Panic Meter at yet, but it’s definitely time to at least turn it on and get it warmed up. NYCFC have taken one whole point from their last five games. One. All of the things we said about a new day for the Pigeons after blowing out FC Dallas six games ago feel really dumb right about now.

Nothing they’re trying is working. They’ve somehow reached a point where they’re not creating chances consistently. That’s shocking for a team that, on paper, seems to be extremely talented going forward. Even with a rotating cast at striker, you have to feel they should be better than this. Since their 3-1 win against FC Dallas in late April, only Houston, Miami and Chicago have created fewer chances per game. The pieces aren’t fitting together right now and I’m not sure if that changes before the Secondary Transfer Window.

Toronto winning is pure MLS

Perfect. No notes. I only wanted to mention it to go out of the way to mention how few notes I actually have. 

Does this win over D.C. mean they’ve sorted everything out? Almost definitely not. But they got the win anyway. And there’s something beautifully MLS about that.

Will St. Louis be the best expansion team ever?

They’re on pace for it! Per MLS Communications, St. Louis became the fastest expansion team in MLS history to reach 25 points. They need 33 points the rest of the way to beat 2018 LAFC’s total of 57. It seems plausible.

That being saiiiidddddddddd… they’re currently outperforming their underlying numbers on a per-game basis more than any team in American Soccer Analysis’ database, which goes back to 2013. It’s… it’s not even close. Not even last year’s Austin team over-performed their expected goal differential at that level across the entire season. It’s going to take some sustained luck to match LAFC in the end and everything in me wants to tell you that’s not going to happen.

Then again, some teams just have something special about them. St. Louis have it. Can incredibly good vibes get you 33 more points? It feels like they might be able to. And if you’re a St. Louis fan, who cares how it comes or what the nerds say?

Is the East the deepest conference ever?

Still a long way to go, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Miami, Toronto and New York are all tied for the lowest points-per-game average in the East with 1.07 ppg. If whoever finishes last in the East is at 1.07 ppg it will be a record for a last-place team. The last time every team in a conference finished above 1 ppg was… well, it was last year’s Western Conference. But it would be 15 teams above 1 ppg instead of 14. And it would still be an extreme rarity in MLS. Even in the days of single-digit teams in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

There are no off weeks right now in the East. Either that or the parity has become so extreme that very few teams are actually any good.

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Good luck out there. Be elite at whatever you do.