Daily Kickoff - 2.8.24
What you need to know

Whitecaps draw Champions Cup Leg 1 vs. Tigres

Damir Kreilach gave Vancouver Whitecaps FC a first-half lead, but André-Pierre Gignac leveled late for Tigres UANL to secure a 1-1 draw in Round One of the Concacaf Champions Cup Wednesday night at Starlight Stadium. The second leg of the only MLS-Liga MX showdown in Round One is set for Tigres' Estadio Universitario on Feb. 14, with the winner facing either Orlando City SC or Cavalry SC in the Round of 16.

Cincinnati sign Czech midfielder Bucha

FC Cincinnati have completed another offseason move, landing midfielder Pavel Bucha from Czech first-division side Viktoria Plzeň. Bucha, 25, is under contract through the 2026 MLS season with an option for 2027. He joins center back Miles Robinson and forward Corey Baird as newcomers for the reigning Supporters’ Shield champions.

San Jose sign defender Costa

The San Jose Earthquakes have acquired left back Vítor Costa from Portuguese second-division side CS Marítimo. The 29-year-old Brazilian defender, who is under contract through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026, arrives after San Jose didn't retain Peruvian international left back Miguel Trauco.

Sign up for The Daily Kickoff in your inbox! The Daily Kickoff is more than an article – it can be delivered to your email account as well.


We’re previewing all 29 teams over 10 days in as Daily Kickoff a style as we can.

Yesterday we checked in on Chicago Fire FC, Orlando City SC and LAFC. Today, Columbus Crew, Sporting Kansas City and San Jose Earthquakes.

Yes, we know the rosters aren’t finalized yet. The rosters are never finalized.

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

The only number that matters is one (1) MLS Cup. But the rest were really good, too. The Crew finished second in MLS in expected points, third in expected goal differential and second in expected goals scored. Only their friends over in Cincinnati outperformed them throughout the season. Cincy then outperformed them for about 85 minutes in the Eastern Conference Final. But only 85. You couldn’t have written a better script for Wilfried Nancy’s first year in charge. 

Which, hey, speaking of, we can’t measure this in any objective way, but it’s become clear Nancy might be one of the very few managers who matters in a significantly positive way. There are like 15 of these folks around the world. 

Anyway, back to the stats. You knew about the one MLS Cup. That’s gotten plenty of hype. However, we didn’t give enough hype to Cucho Hernández’s performance last season. The 24-year-old scored 16 times and delivered 11 assists in 27 starts. He finished… (deep breath here, this is about to get overwhelming)... in the 95th percentile among forwards in xG per 90, 99th percentile in shots per 90, 95th percentile in expected assists, 92nd percentile in progressive passes, 98th percentile in progressive carries, 93rd percentile in successful take-ons, 65th percentile in tackles and 78th percentile in interceptions. His statistical radar is close to looking like one big circle. There’s an argument that Cucho deserved your MVP votes last year and, somehow, it went relatively unheralded. I’d expect that to change in 2024.

2024 Final Standing Range

Between first and fifth in the Eastern Conference. 

You may have heard us mention it, but the East is a bear this year. There’s a collection of teams at the top that are all capable of winning the Supporters’ Shield if they can survive a few extra games in Concacaf Champions Cup and against each other. 

In any other year, the Crew’s range would be first to first and we would call it a day. They bring nearly everyone back from their title-winning side sans Julian Gressel, added U22 Initiative wingback Marino Hinestroza and signed an intriguing depth piece in midfielder Derrick Jones. There’s a chance they take a year-two jump under Nancy and cruise to a Shield win regardless of their CCC performance. 

But we’ve seen time and time again how it’s hard to navigate multiple competitions, especially if you make a deep run. And we’ve seen time and time again across sports how it’s difficult to match the same level of intensity and purpose the year after winning a title. Remember the 2021 Crew? Columbus are going to be a monster when they’re at their best. They just may not feel the need to be at their best until it really matters. 

Player of the People

Alexandru Mățan represents all of us who just needed the right environment to thrive in. The story goes that Mățan nearly got shipped out of Columbus last offseason. Instead, Nancy plugged him into the starting lineup and Matan collected 11 assists over 27 starts.

This could all go pretty well if…

The only thing that could derail this is some combination of an injury crisis, intense apathy toward the regular season, and a Cucho outbound transfer.

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

You might remember that the 2023 team waited 11 games to grab their first win. That victory came on May 7 against Seattle. From there on out, SKC were the best team in the Western Conference. They rode that momentum to a Wild Card win over San Jose and a Round One beatdown of their newest rivals in St. Louis. However, their underlying numbers in that span raise a pretty important question regarding 2024: Was it a mirage? 

SKC’s expected points per game over that stretch came out to 1.4 xPPG. That’s a big difference from their conference-best pace; 1.4 xPPG came in as the eighth-best mark in the conference over that stretch. They clearly caught a few breaks. Maybe those breaks were deserved after the first 10 games, but if you were basing your preseason projection on SKC’s performance over the latter half of the season, you should probably tap the brakes. Just a little anyway.

2024 Final Standing Range

Between third and ninth in the Western Conference. 

I think this is a playoff-caliber team in some capacity, but right now it’s tough to envision a high-level performance throughout the season. Now, all of that could change in a hurry if and when they fill Gadi Kinda’s vacant DP spot. If they bring in a high-level No. 10, they’ll have plenty of juice in attack. But it’s been quiet on that front so far. The move might not happen until the summer.

In the West, that’s probably not that big of an issue. SKC should definitely keep up with the rest of the pack throughout the season barring an injury to a key player. That’s a serious worry with Alan Pulido’s injury history, but we’ll assume and hope for the best there. The question is really if they’ll bring in the caliber of DP that can eventually separate them from the pack. 

Player of the People

Johnny Russell. I don’t really have an explanation here other than it seems like he’d back you up in a fight and then win that fight single-handedly after you get laid out. He’s the kind of guy you want in your corner. 

This could all go pretty well if…

Pulido stays healthy, Russell doesn’t slow down and they hit on that eventual DP signing. None of that seems far-fetched, does it?

2023 By The Numbers (per American Soccer Analysis)

I’ll say it again: The Quakes were bizarro SKC in 2023. They started the year looking like a genuine playoff-caliber team ready to improve as the year went on, then faceplanted down the stretch. They didn’t run across the finish line so much as they tripped about 100 yards out and somehow skidded across it on their face. In that same stretch where SKC became the best team in the West, San Jose outperformed Colorado and no one else. The Quakes averaged 1.13 points per game in that span before bowing out of the playoffs in the Wild Card round.

There is some good news number-wise, though. They have an elite shot-stopper in goal. Daniel only started 22 games last year, but he put up league-best numbers when he played. His post-shot xG differential per 90 outpaced Roman Bürki and Djordje Petrović by a relatively significant margin last year. If he had played a full season, he might have had a strong case for Allstate MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. 

Daniel needs some help in front of him, though. The Quakes’ attack seemed to devolve into “I dunno, Cristian Espinoza is down there somewhere, right?” That meant a career-best 13 goals and 13 assists for Espinoza, but the third-worst expected goals total in the West last season for the Quakes. 

2024 Final Standing Range

Between fifth and 13th in the Western Conference. 

Again, anything could happen in the West. Right now, this seems like a roster set to be near the bottom of the pileup. They lost DP No. 10 Jamiro Monteiro, winger Cade Cowell, center backs Jonathan Mensah and Nathan, and left back Miguel Trauco this offseason. That wouldn’t be horrible news if they had gone out and found exciting replacements for each. That… hasn’t happened. At least not yet. Give it a day or so. 

Reports indicate that Bodø/Glimt attacker Amahl Pellegrino is on the way. The Quakes need him to be a star and probably need some depth to truly compete, but it doesn’t seem implausible, right? A year-two jump under Luchi Gonzalez is in play. Even if it isn’t a probability. 

Player of the People

We really don’t talk about Cristian Espinoza enough. He represents all of us who are underappreciated at work.

This could all go pretty well if…

Pellegrino is a dude, Espinoza is elite again, Daniel is elite again, Jeremy Ebobisse thrives with some additional help in attack and the Quakes recapture some of the tenacity they showed at the start of 2023 before everything cratered.

Other Things

Nashville sign homegrown midfielder Jones: Nashville SC have signed homegrown midfielder Isaiah Jones through the 2027 MLS season with an option for 2028. Jones, 17, is Nashville’s second homegrown player after forward Adem Sipić signed last June.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. Express yourself.