As we approach the halfway point in the season, destinies become clear. Moments become more important as every point carries increased weight in the race for the postseason. Hosting in the playoffs is great, but winning is better, and many teams have set themselves up for both outcomes after Matchday 17.
5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 17
#1. Inter Miami’s tumultuous week
It's not completely fair to judge the success of a new head coach based on the result of his first game when there are other factors, completely outside his control, that drastically change the state of affairs within the match. However, you can judge Javier Morales and his Inter Miami side for how they handled the adversity.
Inter Miami interim manager Javier Morales:"This is the opportunity of my life. I've been waiting for this, (it came) not in the way I expect."
Said earlier: "It was a tough day. Phil gave me the opportunity. Jason (Kreis) brought me to this country as a player. It's tough." pic.twitter.com/n7oMmj6ehs
— Tom Bogert (@tombogert) June 2, 2023
Inter Miami removed Phil Neville from his head coaching role on June 1 following a dismal run of form and replaced him with Morales, who had previously served as assistant coach. Unfortunately for Morales, the poor form continued and his side fell 2-1 to D.C. United at DRV PNK Stadium.
After an early red card sent Inter down to 10 men, Wayne Rooney’s side broke the deadlock and then doubled their advantage in added time. Miami brought one back in the dying moments, but as they say, it was too little, too late. This is the 12th time that Inter has had a game decided by a single goal already this season and the club’s 11th loss, the most in MLS.
— Inter Miami CF (@InterMiamiCF) June 4, 2023
Miami has the worst expected goals against (xGA) in the league and struggles to put the ball in the net with any semblance of consistency, and that continued as D.C. registered over two expected goals (xG) while Inter amassed just 0.5 xG. There were some steps taken in the right direction, but it feels as though you have to strain your neck to see them.
Among the positives was the team’s work ethic under its new coach, though it must be said that is a fairly common narrative and does not tell the full story. When stepping back this is still a club in freefall, it just hit a branch on its way down.
#2. Can Philadelphia challenge Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference?
After a slow start to the season, Philadelphia is back up and running. Jim Curtin and his side attempted to prioritize all three competitions this season and paid the price in the league, despite not advancing past the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League and the Round of 32 in the US Open Cup. The club’s MLS play looked unrecognizable and they struggled to get the results that seemed a formality last season.
+50 - @PhilaUnion have outscored opponents by 50 goals (61-11) in its last 20 MLS home matches (incl. playoffs), the largest goal difference in a span of 20 home matches in league history. Dominance. pic.twitter.com/kOXsz0GNPF— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) June 4, 2023
Now, the Union is back in motion. Free-flowing, creative, gritty and beautiful soccer has returned to Subaru Park in Philadelphia. The most recent result tells the same story as the ones that proceeded it as the Union dominated Montréal. Philly has earned seven wins and two draws in its last nine matches. This moves the club back up to third in the table and just nine points behind the unstoppable FC Cincinnati.
Julián Carranza wants a say in the Golden Boot race.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 3, 2023
Doop, doop, doop, indeed.
#3. Always watch the Crew
If you're a casual fan looking for an MLS team to support or you just watch the league from afar and need a team to follow, you may have just found it.
— The Crew (@ColumbusCrew) June 4, 2023
The Crew won their seventh match of the season with a comprehensive 4-2 dispatching of Charlotte FC. Christian Ramirez bagged a brace while Maximilian Arfsten and Cucho Hernández each found the net once.
Led by Wilfried Nancy, Columbus has committed to playing its way, no matter the result, the consequences or anything else. They thrive on possession and drawing opponents out of a low block, exploiting the gaps this creates to hit on an artificial counter-attack to generate opportunities. It’s worked great but it hasn’t worked perfectly.
— Charlotte FC (@CharlotteFC) June 4, 2023
Some teams have been able to counter Columbus or hold them goalless, but Nancy knows these momentary lapses happen in a game that's more random than most fans like to give it credit for. Losses happen. Mistakes happen. That doesn’t mean that your plan was bad, more, it didn’t work that time, but patience is a virtue, and looking at the clock doesn’t count. Trust the math and the results will follow.
#4. Emanuel Reynoso’s return
The Argentine midfielder created quite a stir back at the beginning of the season by doing nothing. That is to say, he was nowhere to be found. He didn’t inform the club that he was not coming and almost immediately was suspended by the league. After missing 15 games, Minnesota’s star finally reappeared to a roar of applause against Toronto on Saturday night.
A message from Emanuel Reynoso regarding his return to Minnesota United. pic.twitter.com/uWNIG29ijo— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) May 19, 2023
Though he only came on as a substitute and did not register any goal contributions, there's no debate, his return was welcomed. Minnesota’s season has been painfully average and it will no doubt be good to get the club’s top scorer from last season back into the fold. Without him, Adrian Heath’s side still sits seventh in the table, equidistant between St. Louis in first and the Galaxy in last.
As we approach the halfway point in the season, the points begin to seriously matter and playoff spots become tangible. Reynoso will be hoping to help his side earn as much as it can, especially down the stretch.
#5. St. Louis City is back atop the Western Conference
So what else is there to say about St. Louis? I could throw statistics at you, or show you all the goals and accompanying fan videos, but at this point, it’s all just noise. What St. Louis is doing is genuinely incredible and deserves all the recognition it is getting, which is still not enough.
1 - @stlCITYsc has 28 points, 9 wins, 32 goals and a +18 goal difference in their first 14 regular season matches. All are MLS records for an expansion team at this stage of a season. Unprecedented. pic.twitter.com/wxjAoYb2Zw— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) June 4, 2023
People who advocate for promotion and relegation within the United States soccer pyramid love to post clips of second or third-division teams celebrating relegation, accompanied with the phrase, this isn’t possible in the United States. To an extent, they're right, but they’re ignoring the remarkable stories that MLS provides. New expansion teams have the opportunity to show their passion and culture to the world immediately, and while they are rarely competitive at the start, St. Louis has been.
Saturday nights at home ☺️ pic.twitter.com/ZJKlrPIWBN— St Louis CITY SC (@stlCITYsc) June 4, 2023
It’s been hard not falling in love with the story, the fans and the stadium, all without even mentioning the team which is scoring an average of over two goals per game. City has won 64% of its games, the second-best tally in MLS, and despite injuries and various other setbacks, they’re still there fighting the big boys and consistently winning.