Daily Kickoff 3.21.23
MLS All-Stars to face Arsenal

The 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target will return to a familiar format, as Major League Soccer today announced English Premier League side Arsenal FC as the MLS All-Stars’ opponent for the marquee showdown on July 19 at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

In addition, on July 18, the night before the All-Star Game, the best of MLS face off against Arsenal FC in the 2023 MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G at Audi Field.

Tickets for the 2023 MLS All-Star Game presented by Target will go on sale to the public on Wednesday, March 28 at 10 am ET. In the meantime, fans can register now to receive information about an exclusive presale.

Tickets for the MLS All-Star Skills Challenge presented by AT&T 5G are now available ($15).

What you need to know

Colorado Rapids captain Jack Price out for 2023 with Achilles tendon injury: Colorado Rapids captain Jack Price will miss the remainder of the 2023 MLS season, the club announced Monday, after he ruptured his right Achilles tendon in Matchday 4. The English central midfielder, who will undergo surgery later this week, got injured in the second half of Colorado’s 2-1 defeat to Minnesota United FC on Saturday evening. That brief second-half substitute run-out was just his second appearance of the year – ending his 2023 ledger at 37 minutes played.

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What's real and what's fake through Matchday 4?

As always, we don’t know much about MLS yet. You never truly know much about MLS. However, you especially don’t know much about MLS four games in. We’re at least six games away from underlying numbers, like expected goals, becoming somewhat predictive and at least 30 games away from having a good grasp on where teams will actually finish in the standings. Basically, everything you’ve seen so far could totally end up being just a big old lie. 

So, how do you know what’s real and what’s fake? Well, you can’t. Which is exactly why we here at The Daily Kickoff are going to try and confidently explain what’s real and what’s fake. It’s just what we do.

Theory: St. Louis CITY SC are a playoff team

Verdict: Real

[deep breath] CITY have won four out of four in their existence and they’ve done it against teams that range from ok to pretty ok. In MLS, that’s sprinting through a gauntlet and coming out unscathed on the other side. It’s also, of course, the best start by an expansion team ever. Which is also, of course, a really, really strong indication of an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs team.

The general cut-off for a playoff spot, back when there were seven playoff teams, hovered around 45-ish points. Now that there are technically nine teams getting into this thing, you’re probably looking at a threshold of 42-ish points. Quick math here: St. Louis are already a little over a quarter of the way there with 30 games to go. It’s going to be very hard for [deep breath] CITY to mess this up. Seriously, they probably need about 30 points over 30 games. Most MLS teams kind of just luck into a point per game anyway.

[deep breath] CITY are actually good! And they play a style that has clearly been shown time and time again in this league to raise your floor. For like the millionth time, I’d like to point out that the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since 2009. There’s no reason to believe St. Louis will have the bottom drop out from under them in a way that keeps them from earning a point per game. Four games in and you can almost comfortably call them a surefire playoff team, barring something just truly spectacularly bad.

The next question then is “are they a contender?” Well, we need a few more data points there. Personally, I want to believe. However, if we’re using the Red Bulls as a barometer here for teams with high-pressing setups getting to the playoffs, we also have to use them as a barometer for playoff success. That’s not to say [deep breath] CITY can’t do it. I mean, they’re definitely not quite as Energy Drink Soccer as we thought they might be. It’s just that we need to get to know them a little better before we get too far ahead of ourselves.

Theory: Sporting KC are set for another bad season

Verdict: I dunno, seems pretty fake so far

SKC are all the way down there at the bottom of the West. Right there in 13th place after four games. Just barely above a Colorado team that’s actually set for another bad season. Yep, that’s right, a verdict within a verdict… you never know what you’re gonna get around here. Anyway, as much as it’s probably fair to say the Rapids have a long road ahead of them, especially after Jack Price’s season-ending injury, it’s probably equally fair to say Sporting KC have had some bad luck and a bad schedule so far.

SKC closed out last season playing some of the best ball in the league. They were so good down the stretch they nearly pulled themselves out of the massive crater they fell into at the beginning of the season and challenged for a playoff spot. It was totally reasonable to expect them to be a little sharper coming into 2023. Instead, they’ve come out and taken just two points from four games.

However, first and foremost, winning road games in MLS is hard. They’ve been on the road for three games, more than any other team in the West. Second, they’ve been unlucky. Yes, it’s too early to really dive into underlying numbers. You have to wait until game 10 to do it with confidence. However, SKC are already underperforming their xG by more than any other team and would have at least picked up one more win on most other timelines.

It’s not perfect right now, but they’re creating chances, they’re forcing turnovers in their attacking half and they’re generally doing things that indicate future success. They may not be trophy contenders. But they’re almost definitely not ending the year worrying about a Wooden Spoon.

Theory: Atlanta United are back

Verdict: Yeah, that’s happening and it’s happening ahead of schedule

Coming into the year, it seemed like the schedule for Atlanta United’s return to fighting at the top of the MLS mountain would look something like a team that grew into itself as time went on and new starters got plugged in. Then, by the end of the year, thanks to time and potentially another addition or two, we could look at this team as a possible threat heading into the playoffs and a definite threat for long-term success as Garth Lagerwey began maximizing the club’s resources.

Instead, they didn’t waste any time with a slow burn. They’ve come out from the jump and improved game by game to the point where, even against relatively weak competition by and large, you kind of just have to concede they’re playing better ball than 95% of the league at least. They look like a genuine threat to challenge at the top of MLS this year. And, on most reasonable timelines, that feels like a few months to a whole season ahead of schedule.

This may still end up being the team before the team that makes them a true contender again. But I wouldn’t spend much time doubting this current group. Not after the way they’ve played through four games and still have room to grow. The thing is, with Lagerwey helping to make everything that happens internally a little more efficient and effective, Atlanta should, in theory, only improve from here.

Other things

CF Montréal bring back defender Corbo from Italy's Bologna FC: CF Montréal have secured the return of a player from their record-breaking 2022 MLS season, announcing Monday the signing of Italian defender Gabriele Corbo on a transfer from Italian side Bologna FC. The 23-year-old center back, who made 14 regular-season appearances last season while on loan from the Serie A club, joins on a two-year deal through 2024 with an option for 2025.

D.C. United sign O'Brien on loan from Nottingham Forest: D.C. United have acquired midfielder Lewis O’Brien on a short-term loan from English Premier League side Nottingham Forest. The 24-year-old’s deal extends only through July 16 and contains a purchase option. O’Brien is expected to compete for a starting role in D.C.’s midfield alongside Polish international Mateusz Klich and domestic mainstays Chris Durkin and Russell Canouse.

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Good luck out there. Find a place to stick around.