Major League Soccer’s 2023 campaign is approaching a quarter of its completion. Amidst a relatively slow week of Philadelphia Union news, I have outlined a handful of clubs I feel confident or nervous about moving forward. With over half of the league’s teams falling into mid-table purgatory, I pulled a few of the more interesting cases to study here. I have broken these teams into four tiers, creatively named in my eyes.
Best of the Best, and Here to Stay
It is no surprise to see the reigning champions atop the Western Conference, and they have shown no signs of slowing down. The roster in Los Angeles is utterly flawless, with Best XI players struggling to sniff the field. Steve Cherlundolo has perfected the management of multiple competitons, and with a Champions League semifinal approaching, LAFC is flying. The Black and Gold are undefeated through 7 matches, and they can stretch that number as far as they would like.
Last week’s 4-1 Loss to bitter Cascadian rivals, Portland, might not scream dominance, but Seattle is built to succeed this season. Their roster displays an outstanding balance of seasoned veterans and young talents. Between coaching, experience, and everything else, Seattle is built to survive the dreaded MLS summer months. Despite multiple losses, Seattle looks set to host a playoff match, and when that’s the case, they are always a favorite.
Good Teams That I’m Uneasy About
St. Louis City SC
Regarding a team whose tempting stock I would still avoid, the expansion franchise is atop the list. I have been blown away by the team that I swore would finish bottom of the Western Conference, although I am still very skeptical. Experience can make all the difference throughout the long and grueling MLS season, and tough away fixtures and inexperienced players make a recipe for a considerable decline. The newcomers will likely stumble into a playoff spot in a weak and confusing conference, but I need more confidence in their ability to maintain their current form.
Cincinnati is undoubtedly an Eastern Conference favorite this season. This past weekend, a genuinely baffling 5-1 defeat in St. Louis was just the Orange and Blue’s first defeat of the year. Cincinnati has finally discovered the art of defending and looks like one of the toughest sides to break down. My issue with Pat Noonan’s team is simple; I do not trust them to score. This may
sound crazy for one of the highest-scoring teams last season, but they have managed just ten goals in eight games, and the nearly-completed sale of Brazilian forward Brenner certainly will not help. As a long-time Philadelphia Union fan, I simply can not endorse a team that is set to rely on Sergio Santos for goal production every week.
New York City rounds out the category of teams I am just not sold on. I had little faith in Nick Cushing to make anything out of this skeleton of a roster; however, they have impressed me thus far. Why I am skeptical is a few simple reasons. First, they just haven’t played anyone of note. Wins have come against D.C. United and Nashville, and a fluke own goal narrowly saw them beat Miami. Like Cincinnati, NYCFC concerns me in the final third. They have no proper striker, which has never worked well in MLS history. Finally, getting over the hump of a long season with three home stadiums and little continuity has plagued them every season. I will be shocked if that changes now.
Buy Now and Sell High
It was about time I mentioned my beloved Union side. If one team is built to succeed in MLS, it is undoubtedly Curtin’s roster. We have repeatedly seen how Concacaf Champions League stunts MLS teams in the front half of a season, and a hugely successful continental run is a massive feat for the Blue and Gold. Philadelphia has immense experience in the back, something that has proven to win them games in a tough conference. The star-studded attack of Daniel Gazdag, Mikael Uhre, and Julián Carranza has begun to show glimpses of their record-breaking 2022 form. The Union struggled to score in the first half of 2022 and answered
that by breaking numerous scoring records in the back half of the year. If any team in MLS is destined to improve drastically, it is Philadelphia, and there is no debate. Get in on this stock while you still can. I expect Jim Curtin’s side to be back fighting for the top spot in the conference by late summer.
Orlando City SC
I originally picked Orlando to finish second in the Eastern Conference this season. Despite a lackluster start, I am still high on Orlando this year. Teams require an experienced goalkeeper and young, exciting attackers to succeed in modern MLS. Orlando has this exact setup nailed down. As I have repeated again and again, the difference in many MLS matches is one creative moment or the experience of a defensive player, and Orlando has shown in recent seasons that they can execute this style. I am highly impressed by Martin Ojeda, and linking up with Facundo Torres should spell trouble for the rest of the East. They may not finish second, but a home playoff game would be fitting for the Lions.
This may be the most chaotic pick of them all so far, but my inkling for Portland to succeed is simple: they always find a way. Last weekend’s massive win over Seattle was a prime example of the Portland way, which is simply code for they get outplayed and scored four. My pick for Newcomer of the Year was Evander during pre-season, and I have yet to relinquish hope. If Portland can stay healthy (outside of Eryk Williamson, who is out for the season), I see no reason they won’t find a way to make a run late in the year. Cascadia is always tough to predict, but a second consecutive year without Portland in the playoffs seems impossible.
It’s Looking Grim
Sporting Kansas City
Peter Vermes’ side is simply a trainwreck. Not only is Kansas City winless through eight matches, but they have scored just two times. That is not a joke or a typo. They have scored two times in as many months. Despite a roster that shows promise and MLS’s most extended serving manager, nothing looks bright for Sporting. Unless they somehow learn how to attack, the two-time MLS Cup Champions will be lucky if they can avoid the Wooden Spoon.
Los Angeles Galaxy
Speaking of teams without a win, the LA Galaxy accompanies SKC as the only other. Nothing is going right in LA, as the supporters are boycotting, the front office is running the club into the ground, and cross-town rivals, LAFC, are setting records by the week. The Galaxy got Chicharito back from injury two weeks ago, and if Riqui Puig can find form, there may be some hope. But with a looming transfer ban, immense turmoil within the club, and just five goals in seven games, the legendary Galaxy are in a lot of trouble.
I debated giving Montréal its own tier below the last two teams. The best chance the Canadian side has of winning is the Wooden Spoon and in record time. Montréal has played seven matches this season and scored in one of them. Montréal’s lone win came against a Joe Bendik-led 10-man Philadelphia side that had played just three days prior. Outside of that utterly absurd game, riddled with controversy, Montréal has not scored a goal. Yes, that needed to be stated twice in a row. There is no silver lining in Québec, and last week’s trade of Kamal Miller may be one of the worst the league has ever seen. There is no amount of money I would not place on Montréal finishing bottom of the league.