What you need to know

FC Cincinnati's Miazga named 2023 MLS Defender of the Year

Matt Miazga has been named MLS Defender of the Year. In his first full season back in MLS after nearly a decade in Europe, the 28-year-old anchored the league's fifth-best defense (39 goals against) as the Orange & Blue clinched the Supporters' Shield with a 20W-5L-9D record (69 points).

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Before the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs started, we set up a Major League Soccer soccer dot com bracket challenge with a twist. Your goal, dear readers, was not to pick every game correctly. Your goal was to pick every game wrong. Some of you were spectacularly bad at this. JoshuaS748, DanM366 and SherryS724 missed every single pick. And by missed, I mean totally got all of them right. Either they misunderstood the assignment or were so convinced by this newsletter’s daily (and true!) propaganda that MLS is the wackiest league in the world they decided every higher seed but St. Louis would lose. If the latter is the case, they have my undying respect.

We did have a few folks who didn’t get a single pick right. But that appears to be because they never actually made a pick in the first place. They’re either geniuses or lazy, or both. Again, undying respect. But as far as people who actually made picks, no one, not a single person, incorrectly picked every series. I missed two when I decided to make my one upset pick Vancouver over LAFC instead of SKC over St. Louis. I regret it, but I think a large part of me feared the reaction from the internet’s St. Louis fans if I picked against them and they advanced. If they can do that to bagels they’re capable of anything.

Anyway, a special shoutout to JoshB344, JohnK720, NathanP801 and AlanJ178 for getting all but one series incorrect. All four picked Sporting KC. It’s a four-way tie at the bottom. Thank you all for your service, undying respect, etc. etc. Email my manager and I’ll send you a signed (by me) picture of Carlos Valderrama squinting into the sun on the 1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny media guide.

That competition is over, but we will keep a special eye on our folks who have potentially accidentally set themselves up to pick a perfect bracket. Someone failing so badly at failing would be cause for a week’s worth of newsletter-based celebrations. Until they fully reverse-Icarus though, let’s imagine a world where we started our picks now and reassess who’s most and least likely to win a title.

Now, at this point, every team is very much capable of getting this done. It’s just that some teams are more capable than others.

Ok, before anyone freaks out, I want to clarify again that all of these teams are excellent and all of them are good enough to win MLS Cup presented by Audi on Dec. 9. But Houston barely escaped against RSL and will have to win two more road games, including MLS Cup, to get this done. In all three games, their opponent will have an advantage when it comes to match-winning attacking talent. That’s not typically a great formula for winning a title.

Remember the whole match-winning attacking talent thing? Having Alan Pulido, Johnny Russell and Dániel Sallói is what we’re talking about. Plus, we can’t ignore the fact SKC might be the hottest team in the league right now. Maybe that momentum fizzles out with this long break and a road trip to Houston, but it’s tough to count them out at this point. That being said, they have to win three straight road games. That’s usually not how MLS works. And, honestly, they’ll be going up against three straight opponents that are probably better than St. Louis.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see the Union in MLS Cup. They’re the Union. They’ve been incredibly successful for a while now. They know how to win. But winning is tough when you’re stacked up against the Supporters’ Shield winners on the road in the Conference Semifinals and then have to go back on the road for the Conference Final while missing a key starter to suspension. There’s also a decent chance if they make it to MLS Cup, LAFC will be waiting for them. We kind of know how that goes at this point. They’d have to get over a big narrative hill to get it done.

The Crew are outstanding. Just an excellent team who play beautiful soccer. But they’ve gotta go on the road to Orlando and then, potentially, head on the road to FC Cincinnati. I think if they were at home for both games I’d have them at the top of this list. They’re not, though. So they aren’t. 

But hey, if they do make it to MLS Cup, they’ll be hosting. At that point, they’d be definite favorites.

Is there such a thing as vicious pragmatism? It feels like Orlando are something close to that right now. They aren’t particularly great at any one thing, but they’re very, very good at everything. It makes them an absolute bear to go up against. They would have at least two home games left, including MLS Cup, if they keep winning. Maybe a third home game if the Union beat Cincy. That’s all enough to give them a slight edge over most of the East.

Ok, the caveat with the West teams is they likely wouldn’t be favored on the road against the East teams. It’s just a gentler road to MLS Cup makes them more likely to get there, which makes them more likely to win the whole thing. If LAFC get past Seattle they’ll be heavy, heavy favorites at home in the Conference Final. But that’s the thing. They have to get past Seattle first. And it all kind of feels Dénis Bouanga-dependent. That’s not a bad player to depend on, but it does narrow the margin for error.

They have two home games left against Western Conference teams. They’re playing well enough right now to be favored in both. This isn’t a perfect Sounders team, but they’re mostly healthy and doing a lot of things that have made them successful in tournaments in the past. The Sounders are in full horror movie villain mode at this point and until I see total and complete confirmation they’re dead, I’m not considering them dead. And even then…

Don’t overthink it. I know, I know. There might be some complications on the way. But until something is official, we’ll just vaguely hint at the possibility. Either way, I don’t think I’m going to waver much from picking the Supporters’ Shield winners with three guaranteed home games as the most likely MLS Cup champion.

Other Things

New York Red Bulls eye move for Leipzig midfielder Forsberg: German outlet Bild has reported the Red Bulls are looking to add RB Leipzig midfielder Emil Forsberg as soon as this winter. The Swedish international, 32, would stay within the Red Bull family after competing for the organization's Bundesliga arm since the 2015 campaign. A two-time DFB-Pokal winner at Leipzig, Forsberg has tallied 69 goals and 67 assists in 318 appearances for the UEFA Champions League regulars.

12 MLS players at 2024 Summer Olympics training camp: The US U-23 men's national team reconvenes this month for a Spain-based camp that includes friendlies against Iraq (Nov. 18) and Morocco (Nov. 21), with 12 MLSers on head coach Marko Mitrović's 20-player roster that's fine-tuning before the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

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Good luck out there. Find a good security blanket.