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USMNT three-peat as Nations League champions

The US men’s national team made it three straight Nations League titles, beating Mexico, 2-0, at AT&T Stadium Sunday night. Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna scored in each half for the USMNT, who also defeated Mexico in the 2021 final before knocking off Canada in 2023.

Assorted thoughts from the weekend that was

A lot of players were missing on the weekend, which makes it hard to draw conclusions about the on-field action. But the best takesmiths put in the work even when they don’t have all the data points they need. In fact, some would say that’s where they actually thrive. We’re not going to stop confidently putting our thoughts out there because “the information is actually pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.”

A reminder about the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup

The total number of players missing due to international duty or injury this weekend came out to more than 100. We saw facsimiles of teams throughout the league come out and try to treat this like any other weekend. To be fair, it was. The points still count the same, right?

It’s the kind of weekend that makes you grateful for the playoffs at the end of the road. A reminder that the Supporters’ Shield sometimes feels less like a Medal of Honor and more like a certificate that says “YOU SURVIVED!”

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, these Mario Kart power-up weekends that keep the pack from getting too separated make MLS great. Your team’s ability to navigate them can show how deep you’ve made your roster in a salary cap league or can show you how lucky you are.

Both are valuable traits measured by the Supporters’ Shield, along with your high-end talent. If you win it, you haven’t necessarily proven you’re the “best” team, but you have proven you know how to navigate the league’s unique quirks.

That’s something to be celebrated. It’s a noble goal to try and achieve a measure of decorum in a nine-month-long endurance test. The viewing experience gets even better when you embrace the idea that your favorite team isn’t just competing in a 29-member royal rumble, but a 29-member royal rumble happening while all 29 members also fight a wizard that throws injuries, international breaks and continental tournaments their way.

If you can make it through that, you get rewarded with participation in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs – aka the standardized version of the product that tells us who the “best” team actually is.

There’s nothing else like it in the world and, frankly, we’re all better for it.

Dejan Joveljic is putting together something special

We’ve been so distracted by DP winger Joseph Paintsil’s first few appearances in LA that we haven’t given due time to what LA’s starting No. 9, Dejan Joveljic, is putting together.

You might remember Joveljic as the guy who came off the bench behind Chicharito and scored so often in that role that it seemed wild to keep bringing him off the bench instead of just starting him. You might remember Joveljic as the guy who finally got his chance to start the following season and looked way less impressive than he did when he came off the bench.

Well, something is changing. Through five starts, Joveljic has five goals. One in each game. He’s matched an MLS record for goals in consecutive games to start the season. Brian McBride set that record in 1998, a year before Joveljic had even been born.

That’s wild on its own, but what’s made Joveljic’s start truly impressive is that he’s not on a heater where he seems to find the net from unlikely angles with every other touch. He’s actually underperforming his underlying numbers through the first five games. Joveljic is averaging a league-best 1.3 xG per 90 minutes. The lone penalty he’s taken (he missed) helps with that, but he’s still averaging 1.06 non-penalty xG per 90 without it. That’s the second-best mark in the league behind Christian Benteke, who’s played about 110 fewer minutes of soccer.

With the additional help of Paintsil and an increasingly active Gabriel Pec on the wing, Joveljic is coming into his own as a starting striker. And if that’s the case, the Galaxy could pull off something special this season.

Toronto have no interest in a second Spoon

Look, personally, I don’t think this Toronto team is suddenly elite. They aren’t going to make their way into a home playoff spot. Their wins so far this year have been a 1-0 win over a CCC-sleepy (and maybe bad?) Revs side thanks to a Lorenzo Insigne banger, a 1-0 home win over Charlotte thanks to a Lorenzo Insigne banger, and a 2-0 home win over Atlanta United this weekend, with the Five Stripes missing the majority of their starting lineup. It’s not suddenly 2017 all over again, and things could be set to get very difficult if Insigne’s non-contact injury this weekend is as bad as it seemed.

BUT – and this is a really big BUT – lookit all those zeros! Toronto have four clean sheets through five games. They had six all of last season. None of those came after a 0-0 draw on May 31 against Chicago. Last year’s group gave up a conference-high 59 goals. Through five games, this year’s group is tied for a league-best mark of two goals allowed. There’s a stark and noticeable difference in how they’re approaching and executing defensively so far. That doesn’t make them a surefire playoff team. But it does mean there’s no chance we’ll see them lift (?) a second-straight Wooden Spoon.

In a year where progress is the key word, they’ve already taken a step forward.

Bulls on parade

We don’t need to spend too much time here because I’m guessing that you, a Daily Kickoff reader, are probably pretty aware of the situation the Red Bulls are in. Last year, they had great underlying numbers and no end product. This year, they have longtime DKO favorite Lewis Morgan back and healthy, plus Emil Forsberg, plus an increasingly effective Dante Vanzeir. They’re not just good, I think they might be a contender. At least in as much as a Red Bulls team can actually be in contention for a trophy.

Look, as long as they don’t have to play Columbus each week, they’re going to earn a ton of points. They gave us a taste of that this weekend when they rolled over Inter Miami in a 4-0 win. Miami were missing pieces of course, but I don’t think we should shrug off that performance as a fluke. This is a quality team that’s using the ball a little more these days. So far, it’s working pretty well.

Nashville? Seattle? New England? New York City FC?

We’re just going to have a seat rigggghtttt next to this panic button. No reason. See y’all next week.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. Get out of the gate fast.