Two Eastern Conference clubs are generating lots of March chatter around MLS, but for very different reasons.
The Montreal Impact’s impressive 4-0 start has to be the surprise story of the young MLS season. The Impact did well as an expansion team last year, but nothing like this.
The team’s 1-0 victory Saturday over the New York Red Bulls is just the latest evidence. Patrice Bernier (pictured) was exceptional once again, providing a wonderful assist on Marco Di Vaio’s second goal of the young season. Bernier’s early ball out of midfield caught New York’s center backs just a little bit asleep, and it looked like the balls Shalrie Joseph once played with an early menace out of New England’s midfield when he was the league’s top central midfielder.
The Impact shutout, by the way, came without veteran center back Alessando Nesta, who wasn’t quite ready to start after last week’s injury. So the team isn’t even at its best. The fans around Montreal have certainly noticed something going on; the Impact’s two home matches have combined to draw almost 65,000 this year.
Saturday’s draw might have been even better but for Thierry Henry’s injury absence. That was just more bad news for Mike Petke’s side, now winless in four matches of 2013 – hardly the way the Red Bulls’ popular rookie manager wanted to launch his head coaching career.
New York did have opportunities in this one; Henry’s finishing was sorely missed on a couple of instances.
More on Petke around the corner at ProSoccerTalk; for now, here are Saturday’s highlights:
EURO 2024 qualification live! EURO qualifiers schedule, updates, standings
A number of nations have guaranteed themselves no worse than a playoff spot due to their performances in the UEFA Nations League: Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Georgia, Croatia, Turkey, Serbia, Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan 1-2 Slovenia
Slovakia 0-0 Luxembourg
Italy 1-2 England – Video, player ratings as Kane breaks Rooney record
Denmark 3-1 Finland
Portugal 4-0 Liechtenstein
San Marino 0-2 Northern Ireland
North Macedonia 2-1 Malta
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3-0 Iceland
Friday, March 24
Bulgaria 0-1 Montenegro
Gibraltar 0-3 Greece
Moldova 1-1 Faroe Islands
Serbia 2-0 Lithuania
Austria 4-1 Azerbaijan
Sweden 0-3 Belgium
Czech Republic 3-1 Poland
France 4-0 Netherlands
Saturday, March 25
Scotland vs Cyprus — 10am ET
Israel vs Kosovo — 1pm ET
Armenia vs Turkey — 1pm ET
Belarus vs Switzerland — 1pm ET
Spain vs Norway — 3:45pm ET
Croatia vs Wales — 3:45pm ET
Andorra vs Romania — 3:45pm ET
Sunday, March 26
Kazakhstan vs Denmark — 9am ET
England vs Ukraine — Noon ET
Liechtenstein vs Iceland — Noon ET
Slovenia vs San Marino — Noon ET
Slovakia vs Bosnia and Herzegovina — 2:45pm ET
Northern Ireland vs Finland — 2:45pm ET
Luxembourg vs Portugal — 2:45pm ET
Malta vs Italy — 2:45pm ET
Monday, March 27
Montenegro vs Serbia — 2:45pm ET
Netherlands vs Gibraltar — 2:45pm ET
Poland vs Albania — 2:45pm ET
Austria vs Estonia — 2:45pm ET
Sweden vs Azerbaijan — 2:45pm ET
Moldova vs Czech Republic — 2:45pm ET
Hungary vs Bulgaria — 2:45pm ET
Republic of Ireland vs France — 2:45pm ET
Tuesday, March 28
Georgia vs Norway — Noon ET
Wales vs Latvia — 2:45pm ET
Romania vs Belarus — 2:45pm ET
Switzerland vs Israel — 2:45pm ET
Kosovo vs Andorra — 2:45pm ET
Turkey vs Croatia — 2:45pm ET
Scotland vs Spain — 2:45pm ET
EURO 2024 qualifying standings
Republic of Ireland
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The victory puts the USMNT (7 points) atop Group D with one game left to play, against El Salvador (5 points – 2nd place) on Monday.
The Yanks got on the board in the 4th minute, and it was a sensational cross from Christian Pulisic which found Ricardo Pepi atop the six-yard box. Pepi used the considerable pace on Pulisic’s cross to head the ball down and out of goalkeeper Jason Belfon’s reach.
Brenden Aaronson made it 2-0 in the 21st minute, as the Leeds attacker received the ball atop the 18-yard box, turned into open space and cut inside before firing a right-footed finish hard and low to the near post.
Weston McKennie made it 3-0 just after the half-hour mark, as he smashed an off-balance, left-footed volley home after his initial header on Pulisic’s free kick was blocked. Two minutes after Myles Hippolyte fired a laser past Matt Turner (a minute after McKennie’s first goal), the recently acquired Leeds midfielder struck again to make it 4-1, applying the final touch after Auston Trusty headed the ball down after another free kick from Pulisic.
The USMNT jumped on Grenada just as quickly when the second half began, with Pulisic putting his name on the scoresheet in the 49th minute. Luca de la Torre found Pulisic cutting in from the left wing, and the ball somehow found its way past Belfon for 5-1.
Four minutes later, De la Torre played a slightly trickier through ball to spring Pepi in behind the Grenadine defense, and Pepi made no mistake with his one-on-one chance against Belfon. Pepi, who is currently on loan to Groningen from Augsburg, waited for the goalkeeper to go down one way and coolly slotted the ball the other way.
Alejandro Zendejas, who recently elected to represent the USMNT internationally, became cap-tied to the USMNT when he came off the bench in the 64th minute. Eight minutes later, the 25-year-old winger got his first senior international goal.
For all intents and purposes, the USMNT kicked off the 2026 World Cup cycle on Friday, with the first team reconvening for the first time since the 2022 tournament in Qatar. A new World Cup cycle means brand new opportunities for new players, and a fresh start for those who didn’t get the starts or appearances that they thought they should have.
The net will be cast far and wide as the rest of 2023 sees the USMNT (likely) head to the finals of the Nations League and then the Gold Cup, with a handful of players seemingly coming from out of nowhere to claim consistent call-ups ahead of Copa America 2024 (on U.S. soil once again). There will be even more opportunities than usual for fringe players to make a case, with the Yanks automatically qualifying for the 2026 tournament as hosts.
1 – With Miles Robinson a healthy scratch, the @USMNT will play a competitive match without using a single MLS player for the first time since the league began in 1996. Global. pic.twitter.com/Pitx2lt41e
The USMNT will host El Salvador in a winner-take-all Group D finale on Monday (7:30 pm ET), at Exploria Stadium in Orlando. The group winner will qualify for the finals (four teams) of the 2022-23 CONCACAF Nations League (June 15-18) as well as the 2023 Gold Cup (June 24-July 16); the group runners-up will also qualify for this summer’s Gold Cup.
Who stood out (for better and for worse) as the USMNT thumped Grenada?
USMNT player ratings vs Grenada
GK – Matt Turner: 6 – Faced just three shots on target (0.36 xG), made two saves and watched helplessly as a screamer from outside the box hit the back of the net.
RB – Bryan Reynolds: 6.5 – The USMNT focused the vast majority of its attacking play down the left side of the field, making Reynolds the target of a handful of cross-field switches as he played the full 90 minutes.
CB – Mark McKenzie: 7 – Teamed up with his former center back partner from his Philadelphia Union days, McKenzie was tasked with being far and away the senior figure and leader of the defense on Friday (his 10 caps were four more than the rest of the back-four combined).
CB – Auston Trusty: 7 – A solid performance in his USMNT debut for the 24-year-old Arsenal defender (on loan to Birmingham City, where he has appeared in 37 games in the Championship thus far). With nearly 70 percent of possession on the night, there aren’t many better opportunities to get your feet wet at the senior international level.
LB – Joe Scally: 7.5 – Do not get overly excited about a 20-year-old’s performance against Grenada. I repeat, do not get overly excited about a 20-year-old’s performance against Grenada. That said, does the USMNT have… two left backs?
🇺🇸 Joe Scally led the U.S. with 64 first-half touches.
DM – Luca de la Torre: 7 – It would be unwise to assign too much value to a game that finished 7-1 against the no. 173-ranked nation in the world, but one thing is for certain and has been proven on a number of occasions: LdlT is a smooth operator as a ball-playing defensive midfielder, and he showed himself quite capable further up the field, in and around the opposing penalty area, on Friday as well.
CM – Weston McKennie: 8 – Two goals (both off of free kicks) for the newly acquired Leeds midfielder, which would be an incredibly welcome development for a side that hasn’t made enough of its set pieces in recent times.
CM – Gio Reyna: 6.5 – This was the solid, if unspectacular, return that Reyna needed after weeks of off-field controversy surround himself, his family and former (but perhaps future) head coach Gregg Berhalter. There were plenty of fireworks elsewhere in the team on Friday, and Reyna managed to come through the game unscathed.
RW – Brenden Aaronson: 7 – It’s been a tough first season in the Premier League for Aaronson, so his first-half goal will hopefully provide a much-needed boost in confidence (his first goal, for club or country, in any competition, since Aug. 21, his third game for Leeds).
CF – Ricardo Pepi: 8 – Aside from scoring the opening goal, Pepi was active and involved in much of what the USMNT tried to do going forward in the first half. Given how deep Grenada sat defensively to begin the game, the Yanks could have taken the easy way out — staying wide and crossing the ball repeatedly — every time down the field, but there appeared to be a concerted effort to combine through the middle of the field, which meant Pepi had to be sharp and quick with his movement to create space for Reyna, Aaronson and Christian Pulisic. Speaking of building confidence, how about the finish for his second goal…
LW – Christian Pulisic: 8 – Ho hum. Just a one-goal, two-assist performance from Pulisic. As previously discussed, the USMNT found infinite joy down the left side of attack and Pulisic was at the center of most of it (for 64 minutes, at least).
The Premier League relegation scrap needs some serious paring down, as a remarkably-high nine teams sit within four points of 20th place on the 2022-23 Premier League table.
That means we’re set, at least for now, for more relegation six-pointers than at any time in recent memory — many of them, you’ll see below, will involve Bournemouth — and the odds are in favor of a relatively surprising team heading down to the Championship.
Leicester City: Palace (A), Villa (H), Bournemouth (H), Man City (A), Wolves (H), Leeds (A), Everton (H), Fulham (A), Liverpool (H), Newcastle (A), West Ham (H)
West Ham: Southampton (H), Newcastle (H), Fulham (A), Arsenal (H), Bournemouth (A), Liverpool (H), Palace (A), Man Utd (H), Brentford (A), Leeds (H), Leicester (A)
Nottingham Forest: Wolves (H), Leeds (A), Villa (A), Man Utd (H), Liverpool (A), Brighton (H), Brentford (A), Southampton (H), Chelsea (A), Arsenal (H), Palace (A)
Leeds: Arsenal (A), Forest (H), Palace (H), Liverpool (H), Fulham (A), Leicester (H), Bournemouth (A), Man City (A), Newcastle (H), West Ham (A), Spurs (H)
Everton: Spurs (H), Man Utd (A), Fulham (H), Palace (A), Newcastle (H), Leicester (A), Brighton (A), Man City (H), Wolves (A), Bournemouth (H)
Southampton: West Ham (A), Man City (H), Palace (H), Arsenal (A), Bournemouth (H), Newcastle (A), Forest (A), Fulham (H), Brighton (A), Liverpool (H)
Bournemouth: Fulham (H), Brighton (H), Leicester (A), Spurs (A), West Ham (H), Southampton (A), Leeds (H), Chelsea (H), Palace (A), Man Utd (H), Everton (A)
Key fixtures that will decide the Premier League relegation scrap
Saturday, March 18: Wolves 2-4 Leeds – RECAP/HIGHLIGHTS
Saturday, April 1: AFC Bournemouth vs Fulham — 10am ET
Saturday, April 1: Crystal Palace vs Leicester — 10am ET
Saturday, April 1: Nottingham Forest vs Wolves — 10am ET
Sunday, April 2: West Ham vs Southampton — 9am ET
Tuesday, April 4: Leeds vs Nottingham Forest — 2:45pm ET
Saturday, April 8: Leicester vs AFC Bournemouth — 10am ET
Saturday, April 8: Leeds vs Crystal Palace — 12:30pm ET
Saturday, April 15: Southampton vs Crystal Palace — 10am ET
Saturday, April 22: Crystal Palace vs Everton — 10am ET
Saturday, April 22: Leicester vs Wolves — 10am ET
Sunday, April 23: AFC Bournemouth vs West Ham — 9am ET
Tuesday, April 25: Wolves vs Crystal Palace — 2:30pm ET
Tuesday, April 25: Leeds vs Leicester — 2:45pm ET
Thursday, April 27: Southampton vs AFC Bournemouth — 2:45pm ET
Saturday, April 29: Crystal Palace vs West Ham — 7:30am ET
Sunday, April 30: AFC Bournemouth vs Leeds — 9am ET
Monday, May 1: Leicester vs Everton — 3pm ET
Saturday, May 6: Nottingham Forest vs Southampton — Time TBD
Saturday, May 13: Crystal Palace vs Bournemouth — Time TBD
Saturday, May 20: West Ham vs Leeds — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Crystal Palace vs Nottingham Forest — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Everton vs AFC Bournemouth — Time TBD
Sunday, May 28: Leicester vs West Ham — Time TBD
Premier League title odds (As of March 24, 2023)
(Our betting partner is BetMGM) BetMGM is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on BetMGM for the first time after clicking our links.