Kickoff 3.28.23

Major League Soccer joins #StandUptoJewishHate campaign

The MLS community has joined the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism’s #StandUpToJewishHate campaign, a national push designed to raise awareness of antisemitism and hate targeting Jews and to empower all people, especially non-Jews, to stand up against it when it impacts their communities.

Pepi powers USMNT past El Salvador, into Nations League semifinals

A Ricardo Pepi goal was the difference as the US men’s national team booked a berth to the Concacaf Nations League semifinals following a 1-0 win over El Salvador on Monday at Orlando City SC’s Exploria Stadium. Both countries had secured a trip to the 2023 Gold Cup prior to the match by virtue of a guaranteed finish in the top two of Nations League A's Group D.

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.

The biggest surprises of the season so far

Five games isn’t much of a sample size. Even worse, it’s the first five games. Then again, we’re more than 1/7th of the way through the season. I think we can take some time to appreciate the first five matchdays have given us some things to consider that weren’t really even on our radar before the season started. Starting with:

(Almost) literally everything about St. Louis CITY SC

I’m not going to dive too deep into this, but we clearly had to start with this. You probably know most everything to do with the league’s greatest soccer team at this point, but I’ll remind you it’s been a bit surprising to see them use the ball so much when necessary. We thought we were getting a Red Bulls clone when it’s probably something closer to a variation on Philadelphia’s game model. They didn’t invent pressing in MLS or anything, but they’re executing well and resisting the urge to turn each game into nothing but a series of car crashes they may or may not survive.

The Revs solved their biggest problem in an unexpected way

It sure seemed like Latif Blessing might be the answer in midfield. After the Revs sent a decent chunk of General Allocation Money (GAM) to LAFC in exchange for him, you could envision a world in which he got back to his best form under Bruce Arena and in a midfield that needed solidity. Blessing certainly still has a part to play and should continue to be an effective presence in the Revs midfield throughout the season. But the player that seems to have truly kick-started the process of fixing New England’s most glaring weakness is 17-year-old homegrown Noel Buck. Whether it’s next to Blessing or Matt Polster, he’s putting together complete games and the Revs are back to winning one-goal games and feeling like they’ve earned it. It’s not quite 2021 again yet, but Buck is providing a lot of optimism in New England.

Philly’s struggles

We’re going to keep throwing around this stat because it feels like one of the most remarkable things to happen in the league so far by a considerable margin: Philadelphia have lost three games this season, nearly matching last year’s total of five. It hasn’t just been about Concacaf Champions League-induced struggles, it’s also been about bad luck and uncharacteristic play. Those are two things that didn’t really bother them much last year. You have to think they pull out of a brief nose-dive with some immediacy here, but that doesn’t make it all any less weird.

Jordan Morris, MVP candidate

Jordan Morris has had some fantastic seasons in MLS, but he’s on a different level at this point. He’s only scored more than 10 goals one time in his career and he has seven through the first five games. It’s, potentially, a tiny bit of a fluke considering his underlying numbers, but only a tiny bit. He’s finding himself in great positions and looks sharper than ever. It’s not a surprise he’s playing well, but he’s never played this well. And there’s no real reason to believe he’s going to slow down all that much. A little, sure. But we could be talking about Morris as a genuine Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate for a while.

FC Cincinnati don’t need much

It hasn’t been a ruthless, three-headed attack carrying Cincinnati. It’s been defensive solidity and grit. They’re winning close games and grabbing points however they need to. Now everyone is waiting for that attack to come to life. Once they start to put full games together, they’re going to be a force.

The Red Bulls struggle (and stay patient)

Coming into the season, it felt like the Red Bulls were set to have one of their best years in recent memory. They still might be set to do that. But so far, they have just six points through five games and have scored just four times. Normally you’d expect them to start relatively well compared to most teams as the Red Bulls capitalize on the kind of sloppy play inherent to the beginning of the season. I mean, St. Louis are doing that to a decent extent, right? However, the Red Bulls have been stifled so far. It may help once new DP striker Dante Vanzeir gets more involved, but he’s been limited to substitute appearances. In the end it’s just five games, but it’s been a somewhat strange start in Harrison.

SKC, Austin and LA just don’t have it together

Three teams everyone felt varying degrees of confidence in to make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs have, to varying degrees, face-planted out of the gate. We won’t dwell on it too much, but everyone involved will expect better going forward. Will that come through? There seem to be some glaring flaws that may not get fixed through time alone.

A Reynoso-less resurgence

One last surprise. And it happens to be one of the coolest surprises of the season so far. Minnesota United have taken all the worries about not having Emanuel Reynoso on the team and decided to pick up points anyway. They have eight points through four games and even if it won’t kill off all the concerns, it has at least quieted them for a time. If they can keep it going, the Loons will be one of the best stories of 2023.

Other Things

Seattle Sounders FC's Morris named Player of the Matchday: Seattle Sounders FC star Jordan Morris has been voted Player of the Matchday presented by Continental Tire. The US men's national team forward took home top individual honors for MLS Matchday 5 after netting all four Rave Green goals during Saturday's 4-1 win at Sporting Kansas City.

The Reading Rainbow
Full Time

Good luck out there. Hit the underside of the crossbar a few times.