Kickoff - 9.28.23
What you need to know

Houston win US Open Cup

Houston Dynamo FC are your 2023 US Open Cup champions thanks to last night’s 2-1 win over Inter Miami. The Dynamo had already clinched a spot in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup after Miami secured their participation in the tournament by winning Leagues Cup earlier this year. It’s Houston’s first trophy since 2018’s US Open Cup and their fourth major trophy in club history.

LAFC fall in penalties in Campeones Cup

LAFC fell short against Liga MX powerhouse Tigres UANL as Tigres won in penalties to take the 2023 edition of Campeones Cup.

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The Recap

We’ve got two trophy games and two not-quite-trophy games to get to. Let’s talk it out.

J. Martínez (90+2') | G. Dorsey (24'), A. Bassi (33' PK)

US Open Cup Final

What happened?: Griffin Dorsey put the Dynamo on the board with a furious finish from a tight angle. Houston followed it up by earning a penalty. Amine Bassi kept his perfect penalty kick record this season intact and the Dynamo were up two early. That’s all they needed as they took home their second US Open Cup.

So, did we learn anything?: Folks, I’m starting to think that revamping your organizational infrastructure for the better, putting an increased emphasis on analytics and having ownership willing to spend on players is a really effective way to go about winning trophies. Just give me another thousand or so data points and I’ll know for sure.

The Dynamo’s win last night is the product of major changes in the front office that led to major changes with the roster itself. I’ll let someone in the Houston market go into more detail on those changes, but the short version is they changed ownership, brought in GM Pat Onstad from Columbus, signed a multi-year agreement with a soccer analytics service called SRC FTBL, got a new coach in Ben Olsen and brought in 17 new players this year. Those moves obviously paid off last night.

But it won’t stop at last night. Progress isn’t linear, but it’s fair to expect the Dynamo to keep taking steps forward as they go about MLS roster-building the right way. It won’t be surprising to see Houston in more big games in the future.

Maybe even this season. This team is fun as hell. As we’ve mentioned a lot lately, it’s not just one player finding the back of the net. They seem to draw names out of a hat before each game to decide who’s going to get on the scoresheet. It almost forces them to score a beautiful team goal to score at all but they keep pulling it off over and over. Then at some point, they win a penalty and let Bassi take it to make it 4-0.

I’m still not convinced that’s a great way to go about making a playoff run. But the West is wide open. Houston are two points out of second place with four games to go and LAFC and Seattle are stumbling. They could be dragging teams to Hell in the Shell with their playoff lives on the line and that’s a tough, tough place to be. There’s a chance a deep run is on the table.

And if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year. Or the next. Or the next. The Dynamo seem increasingly set up for long-term success. Last night felt like a proof concept for something bigger than just last night.

LAFC - 0 | TIGRES - 0
TIG win 4:2 on PKs

Campeones Cup

What happened?: Despite going down to 10 men in the 63rd minute, LAFC nearly took a 1-0 lead in the 78th. However, Denis Bouanga’s opener got pulled back by the ref. Tigres picked up a red card of their own in the 85th and the teams hit full-time at 0-0. Tigres took the penalty shootout and the Campeones Cup.

So, did we learn anything?: The vibes are bad. I don’t really know how else to put it with LAFC right now. It’s their third straight 0-0 game and yet another loss to a Liga MX side. Since last year’s MLS Cup, they’ve come up short in every competition. It’s amazing how quickly we’ve gone from potentially considering this group the best MLS team of all time if they could take home a CCL title to wondering if they’re even going to get a home playoff spot in a diluted conference.

I don’t even know what to add. We’ve talked about a lot of the same things since their Leagues Cup loss to Monterrey. They have two wins in the eight games since then. Something needs to change very, very quickly or there won’t be any way to describe their post-championship season as anything else but wholly disappointing.

Q. Sullivan (25') | A. Velasco (36')

What happened?: Quinn Sullivan and Alan Velasco traded goals in the first half. Neither team could break through in the second though. Paul Arriola came close, but had his goal revoked by Video Review due to a handball.

So, did we learn anything?: It’s a great road point for Dallas all considered. Nothing about their recent stretch has been thrilling, but it has set them up for a solid close to the season. They’re undefeated in their last five despite facing Atlanta, Seattle, RSL, Columbus and Philadelphia. They still have one more tough task remaining against Houston, but they’ll catch them this weekend in (potentially) a post-celebration daze. After that, they close the year with Colorado, San Jose and LA. They’re ninth for now but just three points behind fourth-place Houston. There’s still a lot on the table.

Meanwhile, one of the East’s best were happy to see this result come through last night. The Union moved into third, but no longer have a game in hand on Orlando and Columbus. They have one game in hand on Atlanta, but now have one out of hand against New England. The top of the East is a mess and the top-four race is all setting up to come down to the wire.

D. Rubio (47'), C. Bassett (67') | M. Laborda (11'), B. White (78')

What happened?: Brian White needed to come in and save the day late for the Whitecaps. He has 13 goals and five assists on the season now.

So, did we learn anything?: The Whitecaps' road run is over. They might be frustrated to miss out on three points against Colorado, but road points are always good points. They end their seven-game road trip with 11 points out of 21 available. That’s pretty excellent all considered. They’re in sixth place with four games (three at home) to go.

Other Things

MLS NEXT Pro Playoff teams select opponents: MLS NEXT Pro announced the schedule for the first round of the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs, which begin this Friday, September 29. The announcement comes along with the league’s first-ever pick-your-opponent playoff format. MLS NEXT Pro’s new playoff format allows the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each conference to choose their opponent from the No. 4-7 seeds and host that team in the Conference Quarterfinals.

The Reading Rainbow
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Good luck out there. Find a good time to celebrate.