NYCFC wins, a point for everyone else
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Hopefully, you enjoyed a weekend full of soccer. I wouldn’t call it the most exciting Matchday of the year, but we’ve only got three weekend Matchdays left. Take it all in while you can.
Anyway, before we get ahead of ourselves, we still have a few things to discuss from this weekend. Let’s talk it out.
We don’t have to spend too much time saying “Cincy good! Lucho good!” but it’s worth repeating that Cincy are good and so is Lucho Acosta. They rolled over Charlotte in a 3-0 win on Saturday, and Acosta capped it off with the solo effort of the year when he picked the ball up at midfield and tortured Charlotte’s defenders for 50 yards or so before putting the ball in the back of the net.
Acosta is now tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race with 15 goals on the season. That’s in addition to his 12 assists, the fourth-highest mark in the league. Cincinnati have scored 50 times on the season and Acosta has directly contributed to 54% of those goals. That’s not quite as high a percentage as Hany Mukhtar’s (hilarious) count of 69.4%, but Acosta is contributing to more than half the goals on a Supporters’ Shield side instead of a good-but-not-great side with only 36 goals on the year. Basically what I’m saying is you didn’t need another reminder the MVP race is over, but you got one anyway.
More importantly, though, it seems like we should note the Garys have had the Shield basically wrapped for a while now but haven’t shown many signs of complacency. They could have started to look bored at any point over the last few weeks, and it would have been somewhat understandable. Maybe you can count the three-game winless streak that ended this weekend as something close to that, but they still showed up late in games to steal points from Philadelphia and CF Montréal in that stretch. And they seem to have gotten new DP striker Aaron Boupendza looking a little more comfortable. He’s scored twice over his last three appearances.
That’s bad news for anyone in the East who hoped Cincy might step off the gas with the Shield firmly in hand. Other runaway Shield winners will know sometimes it can be tough to get your foot back on the pedal when the playoffs come around. And yeah, maybe they won’t be at full blast for Toronto and New York over the next couple of weeks. But the good news is they have a matchup with Inter Miami waiting for them afterward.
They should be eager to take the opportunity to push the Herons’ heads a bit further underwater as they chase a Wild Card spot and a potential first-round playoff matchup with Cincinnati.
The most impressive performance of the weekend belongs to Atlanta United. The opening whistle blew, and they immediately started bludgeoning CF Montréal to death. Thirty minutes in, they finally broke through for an opening goal from Xande Silva. Three minutes later, Silva assisted on a Thiago Almada goal. Atlanta slipped up defensively moments later as Ahmed Hamdi found a net, but then the second half began and the bludgeoning resumed. Giorgos Giakoumakis scored a minute in and Atlanta added a goal from Edwin Mosquera at the end of the half for good measure.
In the end, you had a 4-1 beatdown that didn’t really feel that close. The Five Stripes had the best summer transfer window of any team in the league (outside of possibly Miami), and it turned them from a listless side into a genuine contender to make it through the gauntlet in the East. There are still flaws of course, but they absolutely have a chance. We saw them put out their clear best XI this weekend for the first time since the summer window and it looked like a title-capable team.
That said, a top-four spot feels unlikely. There were too many missteps in the first part of the season. The Five Stripes are potentially going to miss out on hosting the biggest games of the playoffs. That could spoil things in the end. But they may have enough attacking firepower for it not to matter.
I need to genuinely apologize. I told you, the good readers of The Daily Kickoff, Philadelphia-LAFC would be a game worth paying attention to. A game worth dropping other Saturday obligations for. A game worth telling your friends about if they weren’t the kind of people who enjoyed The Daily Kickoff about.
Instead, we got, legitimately, the single worst game of the year. At least relative to expectations. LAFC didn’t register a shot until the 73rd minute and the total xG ended up at 0.4. I know, I know, it was windy and the rain got worse as the game went on. That doesn’t make the aesthetics any better.
Don’t try to give me some speech about defensive tenacity in rough conditions being fun to watch or whatever. Go back to watching Iowa football and leave me alone.
Anyway, hand up. My bad. Instead of this game bringing both teams to life, we got a reminder of how normal these teams feel this season. Both are running out of time to start looking like the best versions of themselves. It’s fair to wonder if we’re going to see it by the time the playoffs come around.
So. Uh. NYCFC are in a play-in game spot, and Portland are a couple of spots clear of one. How can you not be romantic about MLS?
In NYCFC’s case, I’m not sure how much to buy in. They’ve been better (and better than expected after Maxi Moralez’s injury), but their current place in the standings feels more like a product of everyone else around them self-immolating rather than a drastic change in form. The Pigeons took care of business against Toronto this weekend, but everyone does.
That said, they’re actually scoring a bit now. Over the course of their current five-game stretch without a loss, they’ve scored more than one goal three times. They’d done that just five times in the previous 26 games. Throw in an impressive win over Orlando, and the fact they’ve only given up one goal in five games, and maybe we should at least consider putting some confidence in NYCFC’s ability to hold onto one of the East’s final spots.
In Portland’s case, I’m sold. They’re not perfect, but they’re playing a prettier and more effective brand of soccer now. We were pretty open here about our thoughts on Gio Savarese’s game model and its tendency to produce games with a 1.1 to 0.8 xG tally over and over and over again.
They’ve mercifully changed that up under interim manager Miles Joseph. They’re scoring, they’re letting Evander do Evander things, and they’ve stopped pretending they have the defensive chops to see out every game 1-0. The Timbers are going to be a playoff team, and in this parity-laden version of the Western Conference, that means they’ll have a chance at a run.
Minnesota Nice is when you let every team that comes to your stadium win the game because it would be rude not to.
(I’m not mad, I’m disappointed.)
St. Louis were the beneficiaries of Minnesota Niceties this weekend. They came back from a 1-0 deficit to earn three points and tie the record for wins by an expansion team. I don’t really have anything to add to that, it just seemed good to remind folks we’re witnessing one of the most remarkable seasons in MLS history.
Throw out the underlying numbers and concerns about their ability to make it through the playoffs and just sit back and appreciate it for a second. Teams in far bigger markets and with far bigger budgets haven’t been able to enter the league with this much immediate success. It’s been a season-long magic act, and that’s worth ditching some cynicism for. This year’s St. Louis team is special, and, considering the limited number of expansion teams on the way in the future, it’s likely they’ll hold the record for first-year wins for…maybe ever.
Good luck out there. Make it worth the wait.