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The (One Game) Recap

Just one Sunday game to hit real quick.

T. Almada (35'), Xande Silva (76') | D. Williams (40' OG), L. Abada (56', 68')

Atlanta United took control of the game early and finally found a first-half breakthrough via Thiago Almada. It looked like Atlanta might cruise for a moment, but a deflection off Atlanta center back Derrick Williams’... uh… midsection apparently crossed the line and got Charlotte back in the game. In the second half, Charlotte’s DP winger, Liel Abada, scored from distance and then from much closer to flip the game on its head and leave Atlanta with all three points.

Charlotte are sitting fifth in the East despite scoring just 18 goals and having a goal differential of zero. There’s a new Nashville in town and they’re absolutely going to make the playoffs. They might actually even be really dangerous if they can add two high-caliber DPs to join Abada in attack.

Atlanta… man, I don’t know if there’s a more apt metaphor for this season than Williams’ own goal. As soon as everything starts going right, it finds a way to go wrong. By every underlying metric, this should be going at least well. In most timelines, it’s probably going great. You can only do so much in this sport beyond creating more and better chances than your opponent over and over again. That’s five straight home losses, though. In some seasons, the universe isn’t in your corner.

Don't forget to look to the West in the Shield race

You’re probably well aware by now that things change quickly around here. A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati were prepping to run away from the field in the Supporters’ Shield race. Well, last week, Inter Miami went out and pulled one point from two home games against teams below the playoff line and Cincy went out and got game-stated by Nashville in a 2-0 loss. Suddenly, Cincinnati are the only team above two points per game and the top tier of MLS is looking a lot more crowded.

Before the season, it felt like a fair bet a team like Seattle could have their stuff together so consistently in the much weaker Western Conference they’d be able to pile on points in a way teams in the stronger Eastern Conference couldn’t. Not much in that bet ended up coming good. Seattle bricked it and both the East and West have a handful of interchangeably mediocre teams.

That being said, there’s still a gap between the conferences. It’s not as pronounced as we suspected at the start of the year, but the eye test and underlying numbers are still tilted in favor of the East. Remember, Columbus have been dealing with Concacaf, and teams like Philadelphia, D.C. United and Atlanta are over here putting up outstanding underlying numbers despite doing… whatever it is they’re doing. That’s enough to tilt the scale.

So if you were, say, an elite team in the Western Conference with one of the best players in the league and an ability to win games in multiple ways, you’d probably have a decent chance at racking up points against competition that isn’t quite as strong.

Enter LAFC and RSL

LAFC are fourth in MLS in points per game, they have the best underlying numbers in MLS right now, Denis Bouanga is still the best player on the field in almost every moment of almost every game, they’re set to add key pieces in the summer transfer window that should elevate them even more, and they’ve won five straight by an aggregate score of 9-0.

In their 18 remaining games, they play teams we could classify as possible contenders - I’d put LAFC, RSL, Cincinnati, Inter Miami and Columbus in that category for sure with Minnesota, LA and the New Yorks maybe making a push - five times. Two of those are against the Galaxy.

They play teams currently below seventh in their conference standings eight times. Their schedule is manageable to put it lightly.

RSL are tied for second in MLS in points per game, they generally have top-tier or top-tier adjacent underlying numbers in about every category, Chicho Arango is the most critical player in MLS right now, they have a chance to add a DP or two this summer, and they haven’t lost in MLS since March 9.

In their 17 remaining games, they play teams we could classify as possible contenders three times. They play teams currently below seventh in their conference standings 10 times. Their schedule is kind of hilarious.

You can probably see what I’m getting at. Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati are as good as it gets. But the Herons have a ton of injury issues, can’t defend and are about to lose Lionel Messi to Copa America duty. Cincy probably can’t keep winning one-goal games into eternity (probably) and have a slightly tougher schedule. They’ll face seven contenders over their final 18 games.

There’s an argument that, after this week, the Western Conference teams may actually have the upper hand. In the end, it may still be Inter Miami and Cincinnati battling it out anyway. We needed a reminder that the top of the West isn’t too far behind though.

A couple of weeks ago we thought we might be watching an all-time great two-team race start to develop. Well, what about a four-team race?

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. Be gracious house guests.