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Twenty-Three thoughts from Week 9 in MLS

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Major League Soccer is well into its season, and we return to the Twenty-Three as we also try to ease the gut-punching pain of Toronto FC’s loss in the CONCACAF Champions League Final.

[ MORE: Real Madrid-Bayern preview ]

Apparently, they haven’t overcome it, either…

Atlanta United
Beat Montreal, 4-1

Miguel Almiron is a special, special talent; The 24-year-old is building off his incredible debut season by blowing up the league to the tune of six goals and five assists in eight outings. Feel fortunate he’s amongst our time zones for a while.

Chicago Fire
Drew at Toronto, 2-2

Bastian Schweinsteiger had a penalty kick saved by Alex Bono, but a found a way past the Syracuse backstop as the Fire rebounded from a 2-0 deficit at BMO Field to keep their CONCACAF Champions League wounds exposed to the elements.

What’s troubling about Chicago’s inconsistent start is just one clean sheet through seven matches; Yes, scoring is up, but Veljko Paunovic needs to sort out his back line even if Fernando Torres winds up coming to Illinois.

Colorado Rapids
Lost to Orlando City, 2-1

The Rapids have been hurt by having five of their first seven matches on the road, but don’t let that be an excuse for poor passing. Colorado has to do better with the ball, connecting on a paltry 73.8 percent of their passes. That happens when you’re chasing games and goals (and away from home, no doubt), but still… find a way.

No one wants to see the Rapids on their schedule, their 22 yellow cards tied for a league high and 15.1 fouls per game also pacing the field. Colorado only has two players with multiple goals (Dominique Badji has five and Joe Mason two).

Columbus Crew
Beat San Jose, 2-1

Only KC and NYCFC have had more of the ball than Gregg Berhalter’s men, and now they are back to turning that 55 percent possession into goals. The Crew have four goals in two matches after scoring just once on a three-match losing streak.

FC Dallas
Lost at NYCFC, 3-1

Oscar Pareja’s men fall from the rank of the unbeaten in just their second away match of the season. FCD has been remarkably good at winning 50-50 battles, and would’ve fared better than a two-goal loss had they not wasted a handful of very good chances.

DC United
Lost at Philadelphia, 3-2

Only Vancouver is averaging fewer shots per game than DC’s 8.7, and the Black-and-Red was out shot a stunning 23-4. You’re not going to hit that 50 percent success rate too often, and to burn it in a 3-2 loss is almost funny.

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Houston Dynamo
Lost at Minnesota, 2-1

We knew Houston’s attack would go as Romell Quioto, Alberth Elis, and Mauro Manotas went, but we’re positive the trio was expecting a bit more help than its received so far. They’ve combined for nine goals and six assists, the rest of the team has six and four.

[ MORE: MLS Things — The Archive ]

LAFC
Beat Seattle, 1-0

Just three teams are averaging better than two points per game, and Bob Bradley‘s LAFC is among the trio following a stoppage time win at their shiny new home. We should’ve known they’d win…. they never lost at home.

LA Galaxy
Lost to New York Red Bulls, 3-2

Sigi Schmid’s men are woefully inconsistent, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic just may lose his mind soon (and certainly deserves some of the blame this week).

But if he’s going to keep making otherworldly passes like this, we’re going to keep watching. Look closely at how he reacts to hitting this bit of gorgeousness… he knew. He knew.

Minnesota United
Beat Houston, 2-1

Rasmus Schuller. The 26-year-old Finnish midfielder leads the league in tackles per game with six, and rebounded from his worst match of the season to post nine in a 2-1 win over Houston that moved the Loons into seventh. Schuller’s also second in the league in fouls committed (2.9) and has been dribbled past a good amount, but credit plenty of that to activity.

Montreal Impact
Lost at Atlanta, 4-1

The Impact have allowed 16 goals in four-straight losses, quite a change from the vibes after Remi Garde won consecutive 1-0 decisions over Toronto and Seattle (no easy wins!). Despite the score line this weekend, the Impact led late before falling apart. Troubling times. Spare a thought for Victor Cabrera, who has a league-best 5.1 interceptions a game and probably would appreciate not having to make so many.

New England Revolution
Beat Sporting KC, 1-0

Brad Friedel is defying all doubters in his first senior managerial gig, with one loss in seven outings following an opening day setback. The latest, a 1-0 win over Sporting KC, is among the more impressive.

New York City FC
Beat FC Dallas, 3-1

Atlanta might be on pace for the East’s top spot, but did the Five Stripes have an international legend score his 400th goal this weekend, huh? David Villa, everybody.

New York Red Bulls
Won at LA Galaxy, 3-2

Of the players who really matter to Jesse Marsch’s unit, only Bradley Wright-Phillips (33) is older than 25. RBNY keeps pumping out solid performances from players who made their names in the academy (Kyle Duncan, now on IR), in college ball (Florian Valot of Rider, then grown in USL), or both (Sean Davis and Alex Muyl). Model.

What’s another fine sign of Marsch’s brilliance? New York has five goals off set piece plays, a league-best figure. Here’s a worrying number though: While the Red Bulls are playing the fourth-fewest long balls per game, and they are connecting on a league-worst 70.4 passing.

Orlando City
Won at Colorado, 2-1

Winners of five-straight, Jason Kreis’ Lions have gotten to know each other. Maybe no one more than Yoshimar Yotun; The Peruvian has a goal or an assist in four of the five wins. Left back Mohamed El-Munir has also been a revelation. The Libyan national teamer is in the mix for a sneaky early season MLS Best XI.

Portland Timbers
BYE

Those ready to heap judgment on Gio Savarese’s tenure as Timbers boss have been dismayed by a pair of wins. We know home cooking matters in MLS, and he’s won both of those so far. Points in four of five, too.

Philadelphia
Beat DC United, 3-2

Ending a run of one goal in five games is good, and the three-goal performance was fit for their second win of the season. Philly isn’t getting star turns from anyone, though Alejandro Bedoya is perhaps quietly having a decent season.

Real Salt Lake
Lost at Vancouver, 2-0

Mike Petke’s men seem a perfectly average MLS side; They’ve won their last three at home, and dropped their last three on the road. But the clean sheet loss means RSL has scored just over a goal per game in a league which is feasting on goalkeepers.

San Jose Earthquakes
Lost at Columbus, 2-1

Consecutive road losses mean Mikael Stahre’s men remain winless since Opening Day. It’s hard to get a read on them, but this stretch against Portland, Minnesota, and Vancouver will tell us a lot.

Seattle Sounders
Lost at LAFC, 1-0

The Sounders have scored in two games despite Nicolas Lodeiro averaging a hardly real 4.2 key passes per game. Those are the only two matches in which they’ve gotten points. They’ve done it without Jordan Morris in the past, but it’s not happening this year. Then again, a lot of Sounders are hurt and there’s a “lost year” vibe coming from much rave green right now.

Sporting KC
Lost at New England, 1-0

The seven-match unbeaten run ends on the road against what is (probably) a pretty decent side, and there’s no shame in that. Our own resident SKC expert says keep an eye on Khiry Shelton. From everything I’ve seen from Urena, this is a lofty and wonderful comparison for the forward.

Toronto FC
Lost CONCACAF Champions League final in PKs
Drew Chicago, 2-2

The MLS Cup Final hangover is a thing, as both TFC and Seattle are worst in the league at .67 points per game. This was a bad week for TFC, who built leads in two very different settings and couldn’t seal the deal. Toronto came back from a quick deficit in the CCL final only to lose in penalty kicks, and then went ahead 2-0 against visiting Chicago before tossing that advantage aside in a draw.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Beat RSL, 2-0

The Caps rebounded from a three-match losing skid punctuated by a 6-0 beatdown against KC to win against the Utah set, but watch this three-match run for a possible hot streak. If Vancouver can topple Minnesota, Houston, and San Jose (only the Loons match is away), it can build some breathing room for the tougher stretches.

Twenty-Three* thoughts for Week 3 in MLS

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Almost half of Major League Soccer’s clubs have two weeks off to either lick wounds, right wrongs, or celebrate fine starts to their season.

There are 23 clubs in MLS, and we’re here to highlight what happened this week with the clubs who took the pitch for league play.’

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Atlanta United and Vancouver Whitecaps — Call this one “V-A-R-you kidding me?”

A match we’d been anticipating all week gets a straight-shot to the gut from a trio of bad decisions.

First, Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pires works himself into position on a Five Stripes free kick, clearly and purposely aiming to find a way to hit the deck against Vancouver center back Kendall Waston.

Then Waston, who is known for his physical play, gets his elbow up against Gonzalez Pires, allowing the theatrical center back to go down like he’d been de-spined Sub-Zero/Mortal Kombat-style (Yes we made up a word there).

Finally, and probably most egregiously, referee Ismail Elfath goes to the Video Assistant Referee and somehow thinks he has a conclusive angle to send Waston off.

Can Waston have a red for that? Sure, but it was built and aided by embarrassing acting from LGP and it’s just not the sort of play we think should be reviewed and go from zero to red.

Chicago Fire — Veljko Paunovic’s men are a disappointing 0-2 start, but will feel pleased to see second-round pick Elliott Collier get off the mark. They’ll also know they lost to Minnesota with Bastian Schweinsteiger tending to more important matters:

Columbus Crew — The Twenty-Three would like to issue a too-soon apology to Columbus in case they “do a Burnley” and make our miserable preseason predictions even worse. The Crew could easily be 3-0 with a bit better finish from Gyasi Zardes.

DC United — Seemingly serial disappointment Darren Mattocks has two goals and 10 shots in two matches. Maybe Ben Olsen is what the Jamaican needed all along. Now both men would like a win, and soon.

FC Dallas — Granted Oscar Pareja’s men earned their 3-0 win on the back of Clint Dempsey‘s red card, but FCD now has a win and a draw in rebounding from a calamitous performance against Tauro in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Philadelphia Union — Threats were few for the hosts at Talen Energy Stadium, with David Accam taking a pair of shots and CJ Sapong held without an attempt. Still, the Union are unbeaten in two matches and showed good mettle in keeping Columbus off the board.

Houston Dynamo — There’s good Houston and there’s bad Houston. The first half saw electric attackers Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis scored one minute apart in cooking up a 2-0 lead. But the Dynamo didn’t threaten much in the second half as the hosts found a way to a point in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Minnesota United — Rebounded from the season-ending loss of Kevin Molino to pick up a second win of the season, something it took the Loons eight matches to do in their MLS debut last season. Seven combined shots from Sam Nicholson and Ibson helped do the trick.

Montreal Impact — Remi Garde is going to be exhaling after his Impact scooped the first win of his tenure, and in home derby style. Montreal has won its last two regular season 401 Derbies, which is not too shabby even if this one needed a huge deflection and perhaps some quite tired TFC legs to get the job done.

New York City FC — No David Villa meant NYC had a little more work to do in breaking down Orland this weekend, but it’s 2-0 win was very positive in taking a 3-0 record atop the Supporters’ Shield table. NYC has allowed just one goal through three matches, and winger Jesus Medina has been very, very good.

New York Red Bulls — Given that CCL sides went 0-3 this week in league play and the fact that Major League Soccer doesn’t have every team going every week, perhaps scheduling a bye here would’ve made more sense? RBNY’s 1-0 loss in Utah featured eight total shot attempts from the visitors.

Orlando City — The Lions are still waiting on their lineup to find its flow with one point through three matches, but “How long will Jason Kreis be allowed to run a losing team?” is starting to feel like a real question. Yes, it’s only three matches. No, this isn’t very good.

For more on Orlando’s plight, head here.

Real Salt Lake — Mike Petke will be feeling a lot better after his reading of the riot act inspired a win over his former team at Rio Tinto. This save is making the rounds, understandably so, and what we like best about this from RSL elder Nick Rimando is the wisdom to figure the show was coming low and the quickness to get there.

San Jose Earthquakes — Valeri Qazaishvili felt underused last season, or at-best poorly deployed. Not this go round, as Mikael Stahre is proving he’s going to fire at will with his weapons. To allow three goals on four shots on target, however, is an issue.

Seattle Sounders — Deuce has a reputation. Whether it was for his right-handed slap to Jacori Hayes’ private parts or the left-handed follow-through, we still really don’t have a read on Seattle thanks to travel congestion and a red card. Dallas went on to win 3-0.

Sporting KC — We thought SKC-SJ would be a good one, and it again delivered. Peter Vermes is opening up the attack, and now has seen seven Sporting goals in a pair of wins.

Alas…

Toronto FC — Given the Reds’ CONCACAF Champions League success/travel and a playoff structure as forgiving as Major League Soccer’s means TFC’s 0-2 start to the season is only cause for alarm in terms of:

A) Retaining the Supporters’ Shield

B) Losing a 401 Derby

Part B happened this weekend. Chances were even, as were battles, and Montreal’s game plan to foul TFC to death helped hamper flow. Jeisson Vargas’ goal took a massive deflection after the Reds’ back line gave Ignacio Piatti significant room to set up his teammate (Not a great idea). It’ll be fine.

Twenty-three* thoughts from MLS Week 2

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We here at the Twenty-Three are both capable of admitting our errors and stubborn enough to stick with ’em.

Major League Soccer has 23 teams, meaning at least one will be absent from the schedule most weeks.

Hence, calling a weekly status report the “Twenty-Three” is inaccurate.

[ MORE: West Ham fallout ]

So we move on with weekly thoughts on almost every team, on average, and still titled Twenty-Three, because we like the title and there are most certainly 23 franchises in the Majorest of Soccering Leagues.

Off this weekend: FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders, Toronto FC, Philadelphia Union, San Jose Earthquakes. Of the bunch, spare a thought or two for Seattle and Toronto, who are off to Mexico for midweek CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal second legs and have a very good chance of dancing to semifinal berths this week.

Atlanta United: For all of what Major League Soccer is, isn’t, and won’t be for some time, there’s no debate that having a boss with the tactical acumen of Tata Martino is important. Don’t know what it says about last week’s 4-0 drubbing in Texas, but our own Andy Edwards has a solid take on why Tata and tactics matter.

Columbus Crew: I’m not ready to anoint Gyasi Zardes as the Comeback Player of the Year, but he’s finishing his chances early this season. The extra g in Gregg Berhalter may stand for genius, as the Crew man continues to spin successful game plans with a changing roster.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

And, oh yeah, #SaveTheCrew.

Chicago Fire: Was down 2-0 and came back to lead 3-2 by scoring thrice in under 15 minutes, which is nice. Lost 4-3, which was not at all nice.

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids, to no one’s surprise, lost after a long trip across the country, but can take some pride in the debut of 22-year-old Grand Canyon product Niki Jackson.

DC United: The Black-and-Red regressed against a step up in competition from Week 1, getting just six shots off in a 3-1 loss at Atlanta. But Darren Mattocks is being allowed to fire at will, now with eight shots over two matches. The mercurial underachiever is apparently going to get every chance to meet his potential in Washington.

Houston Dynamo: No one was expecting a repeat of Houston 4-0 Atlanta, but the Dynamo didn’t much resemble their opening week form aside from the continued dynamite skill set of Alberth Elis, who scored their lone goal. Lots to consider for Wilmer Cabrera with a trip to DC and a road match they’d like to count as result-worthy.

LAFC: Now, it may just turn out that the recipe for expansion success in MLS is the same as putting any sort of decent team together: a tactically-wise, experienced manager with creative attacking talents who can perform at a much higher level than MLS. Bob Bradley, Carlos Vela, and Diego Rossi, take a bow and then get back to work.

LA Galaxy: It’s hard to win on the road, especially adjusting for the tiny pitch at Yankee Stadium, so L.A. gets a bit of a pass for this week.

Minnesota United: As the kids on the social media say, “I am here for” Ethan Finlay finding his stride closer to home. The Duluth-born winger, 27, has five goals in 14 total appearances, two in two this season, for the Loons after scoring just seven times in his last 53 for Columbus.

The Loons showed supreme resolve in blocking 10 of Orlando’s 20 attempts on goal. And considering the criticism Minnesota boss Adrian Heath has faced, it’s solid for him to get a win against his former club.

Montreal Impact: Another loss, and it seems like we’ll see a bunch of those from the Quebecois side, but what a goal from Raheem Edwards. The cross getting to him is an argument against Columbus’ back line, but quite a hit:

New England Revolution: Brad Friedel did what he was supposed to do in picking up his first win — punish a cross-country traveling non-conference power. Still it’s not worth sleeping on the fact that Colorado won a load of 50/50 battles against a midfield which shouldn’t lose that many.

New York City FC: It’s improbable for me to describe the feeling in my soccer soul when I’m tuning the TV to an NYC game against a skilled opponent (or any time, really) only to see my mind made me forget they are playing on postage stamp which will only serve to produce a game of glorified Buffalo Blizzard vs. Cleveland Crunch. #WelcomeHomeOttoOrf.

New York Red Bulls: TFW you’re already going to lavish praise on Jesse Marsch and then get this email from intrepid RBNY PR man Gordon Stevenson: “Per Elias, 17-year-old (Ben) Mines is the fifth-youngest player to earn an MLS start in club history, and the third youngest to score, behind Eddie Gaven and Jozy Altidore.”

Red Bulls won 4-0 with Kyle Duncan, Derrick Etienne, and Mines in the Starting XI. Full marks if you know two of three (and that’s giving you a relative gimme in Etienne).

New York continues to churn out effective players many have never heard of until they impress on an MLS weekend. Mines doesn’t even have a blue check.

Orlando City: The Lions will be dismayed to take just one point from two matches, but remember we haven’t seen a minute from each of Sacha Kljestan and Dom Dwyer.

Portland Timbers: Gio Savarese is a good manager, but consider “losing to a bunch of kids in a match RBNY was willing to risk throwing away” a proper warning sign.

Real Salt Lake: Losing 5-1 at home to an expansion club would make any fan base want an apology. RSL’s boss is the kinda fella who’s not tone deaf and willing to proffer one. Back to the drawing board in Utah.

Sporting KC: We’ve long felt Peter Vermes in a potential USMNT coach, and his side put in a “Crazy Jurgen friendly win” performance in what Andy Edwards rightly called an “early game of the year contender.” Now can they find their reliable striker, or is this going to be a component scoring team?

Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s men continued to make a case for West Coast bias, heading into a building that witnessed a 4-0 defeat of Atlanta United and improving to 2-0 through Kei Kamara‘s 100th goal and a Break Shea winner.

Robinson was a bulldog of a player and his teams frequently do what it takes to get the job done, through any number of roster iterations. An inspired if “settling” hire from the ‘Caps  continues to pay off, as you don’t often see the assistant of a departed boss take over in trying times and go on to become a mainstay.

Twenty-three* thoughts from MLS Week 1

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At regular intervals during the 2018 Major League Soccer season, we’ll provide one thought for every MLS team.

[ MORE: MLS teams in CCL quarters ]

An asterisk is needed this week, with three sides yet to debut (Chicago, New York Red Bulls, Colorado). Here’s what we picked up from the 20 debuts.

Atlanta United: Just. Throw. The. Game. Tape. Out. The. Window.

Columbus Crew: Winning on the road is tough, and winning at BMO Field has been darn near impossible for teams not named Toronto FC. Columbus made it two teams in two years by getting stuck into 50/50 challenges and getting the ball the heck out of dodge as often as possible. While Toronto (See below) whiffed on several chance to pick up a point, the Crew sent a message that whatever’s happening off the field, there are a number of players left who danced this team deep into the playoffs.

[ MORE: All #SaveTheCrew news ]

Wil Trapp was special for Columbus, completing almost 96 percent of his passes over 90 minutes. That includes three key passes and six successful long balls.

And, oh yeah, #SaveTheCrew.

DC United: Yamil Asad got his debut goal for DC, who was better defensively than expected. There’s a lot of men with motors in the Black-and-Red, and Ben Olsen’s unit is going to be a tough out every week. The biggest difference maker? Probably defender Frederic Brillant.

FC Dallas: Eighteen shots, and FCD’s only goal in a 1-1 home draw was courtesy the other team. Max Urruti and Michael Barrios combined for nine shots. Throw in Mauro Diaz and it climbs to 12. It could’ve been worse.

Houston Dynamo: Wilmer Cabrera might still be grinning ear-to-ear after hanging a 4-0 on Tata freaking Martino’s Atlanta United. Alberth Elis was everywhere and he’ll need to continue that presence. Also, DYK Philippe Senderos scored a goal? Yes, that Philippe Senderos from Fulham and Arsenal who’s played 31 total times for four teams since the start of 2014-15.

LAFC: Bob Bradley knows how to coach, but we’re thinking LAFC supporters would do well to relish the good vibes of Diego Rossi’s 11th minute opener (from Carlos Vela) and a quality win over Seattle. Who knows what’s next, but this looks nice.

LA Galaxy: Carson, California, saw a home win and an attack which feels like it could cue Ola Kamara up for a goal or more per game. It’s just one game, but amazing what a solid defensive midfielder can do to shore up a back line. Perry Kitchen’s back, team.

Minnesota United: 

End of last season: “Hey Minnesota, fix your leaky defense.”

Minnesota: “Okay. We’ll try the backup goalkeeper.”

Start of this season, after a 3-2 loss to San Jose: “See our end of last season thoughts, please.”

Montreal Impact: Remi Garde has to press the reset button on an ugly debut against Vancouver. And, yes, it’s early, but maybe do the same on the idea of a 4-1-4-1.

New England Revolution: Brad Freidel may turn out to be a heck of a manager, but if he does it with this group he’s a hero of the highest order and we’ll all be working on our unique accents. It’s just one match, on the road, with a red card, but New England’s best hope is its steady vets playing steely ball.

New York City FC: David Villa turned 36 in December, and he didn’t look it on Sunday. The Spaniard managed six shots and an assist in the 2-0 win over Sporting KC. The five-man midfield was especially fun to watch. Not like-for-like but Jesus Medina and Yangel Herrera are among the players who could ease the worries of Jack Harrison’s exit.

Orlando City: It feels a little like that first gift you get at Christmas, watching Justin Meram and Orlando play without suspended Sacha Kljestan. Santa Mustache is coming soon, though, and the 1-1 draw with DC United is acceptable enough given 49 minutes down a man.

Philadelphia Union: How will David Accam and CJ Sapong co-exist? Just fine if Opening Day is any indication. Not a bad night for Haris Medunjanin in the middle of the park, either, as Philly takes advantage of New England on their schedule.

Portland Timbers: Gio Savarese’s baptism by fire came at the hands of LA’s talented attack, but don’t sleep on the Timbers’ response to going down 2-0. Away from home is a beast in MLS — even despite LA’s 2017 in Carson — and the Timbers finished the game with more attempts than the Galaxy and put seven on target to LA’s three. Sometimes it’s just about bounces.

Real Salt Lake: Outshot by double, the Utah-based visitors still came within five minutes and an own goal of getting Mike Petke a quality road win in Texas. Real also won 80 of 128 duels with FCD. There’s enough to like from a 1-1 draw.

San Jose Earthquakes: I was one to say Valeri “Vako” Qazaishvili was being used poorly by last year’s coaches. One goal and two assists later, even against defensively-challenged Minnesota, I’m feeling good about that opinion being closer to fact. Mikael Stahre was an intriguing hire as coach, and is off to a winning start.

Seattle Sounders: Outshot LAFC 22-5 in a 1-0 loss. If there was ever a time to relax, it’s now. Things will be fine in Washington, especially once Magnus Wolff Eikrem becomes more than a sub. Nicolas Lodeiro led the league in passes with 106, seven more than his closest competitor. He also paced MLS in key passes with eight and crosses delivered with five.

Sporting KC: A match to forget against a very talented team, we learned that playmaking spots are up for grabs in Kansas City. Diego Rubio and Yohan Croizet both came off with around a half hour to play, with Daniel Salloi and Gerso Fernandes entering the fray. Young Salloi made a couple of chances, and gives a little hope to an otherwise moribund home loss.

Toronto FC: Losing at home is a rarity for TFC, and maybe they needed a dose of humility after waltzing past Colorado in the CONCACAF Champions League and winning everything in sight last season. The Reds now turn to a tricky tie with UANL Tigres in the CCL quarters, and Greg Vanney’s tactics will be important as ever. Lineup selection will be something to monitor moving forward, as newcomer Ager Aketke is an intoxicating talent but there are only so many ways to organize him with Michael Bradley, Victor Vazquez, Marky Delgado, Jonathan Osorio…

Vancouver Whitecaps: Alphonso Davies won’t be here for long, so let’s enjoy him. No player in MLS had a better rating from WhoScored this weekend.

By the way, something to bookmark: Kei Kamara looked okay.

Twenty-Three: Each team on the eve of a new MLS season

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Major League Soccer begins its league season Saturday, though we’ve spent some time watching its CONCACAF Champions League contenders continue their chases for a spot in the Club World Cup.

[ MORE: MLS Roundtable | Predictions ]

In honor of that, here’s one observation, thought, or quip for each of the 23 teams in the top flight for Canada and these United States.

Atlanta United — In some sort of Malkovich way, there’s only one way to talk about the Five Stripes season and it’s only use the surname of hyped acquisition Ezequiel Barco.

Barco? Barco Barco. Barco!

Chicago Fire — All eyes on goalkeeper Richard Sanchez, the Mexican youth national teamer who came up through the academies of Atletico Madrid and FC Dallas. The well-traveled 23-year-old is going to be asked to do a lot at a young age.

Colorado Rapids — Head coach Anthony Hudson is a top prospect when it comes to coaching, and how he sorts the Rapids will tell us a lot about his intention. A 3-5-2 with Marlon Hairston as a wing back, though, could very well have American national team implications. We’re watching with wide eyes.

Bonus: If Senegal isn’t going to use Dominique Badji, at some point can the U.S. get a look at the Boston University product. He arrived here two years before debuting at BU in 2011, and is the type of exciting player we wouldn’t mind seeing in a January or Gold Cup camp.

Columbus Crew — I promise to use more than three words in future “Twenty Three” posts, but I only need a trio for this debut post: Save the Crew.

FC Dallas — Is this a mess? I mean, this really could be a mess. FCD somehow imploded last season despite dreams of a treble, and center back Walker Zimmerman was sent packing this offseason. Given their talent and acumen, part of me wants to predict a run at the Supporters’ Shield. A bigger part thinks FCD is going to miss the playoffs and possibly cost Oscar Pareja his job.

DC United — Ben Olsen feels untouchable, and he’s getting a new stadium bump this season in addition to a full season of USMNT sparkplug Paul Arriola. Yamil Asad and Frederic Brillant are inspired intraleague acquisitions, and the Black-and-Red are a prime candidate to surprise a la the 2017 Chicago Fire.

Houston Dynamo — Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto are pound-for-pound as powerful and entertaining as any other international duo on the same club in Major League Soccer, and “Random Dynamo Game” remains the hidden gem of any viewing weekend. Welcome back, gens.

LA Galaxy — The worst year in club history featured a lot of bad luck, so at the minimum it’s fair to expect a bounce back in terms of bounces. Beyond that, this team is very deep in attack and replaced mixed-up striker Gyasi Zardes with in-form Norwegian attacker Ola Kamara. He just may lead the league in chances, if not goals altogether.

Los Angeles Football Club — Bob Bradley knows the league and the first XI looks very decent, but LAFC looks like they’ll need an incredible run of health to contend as a first year club. Beyond that, it’s betting that Benny Feilhaber’s decline was greatly exaggerated and we’re not sure if he’ll reclaim prime SKC form.

Minnesota United — Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth likely left last season with confidence Minnesota would address the sad defending in front of him. Heck, we all did. But Minnesota still has more questions than answers when it comes to keeping balls out of their goal. The good news? The names are there to score plenty of goals.

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Montreal Impact — Last season was a major letdown considering the potent combination of Blerim Dzemaili and Ignacio Piatti, and that cost a man his job. Enter Remi Garde, who will attempt to find similar magic between Piatti and new DP wizard Saphir Taider. For all of that, it’s going to be the defense which needs to solidify Montreal’s postseason hopes. Looking at the roster, it’s going to take a workmanlike performance from a star-free bunch.

New England Revolution — Brad Friedel has his hands full. Already saddled with the Lee Nguyen saga, the Revs roster is steady but not spectacular. Maybe Diego Fagundez can find another gear and Friedel can organize the unit through Kelyn Rowe and captain Chris Tierney, but it feels like 2018 could feel like a long one.

New York City FC — How long is Patrick Vieira going to stick around Stateside? One of the biggest names in football, his having found his footing in MLS is a great thing for the league. Is he holding out for Cup glory? The Arsenal job? Either way, while I was confident he’d succeed in the gig, I’m surprise he’s still around for Year Three. How special can NYCFC make this third voyage?

New York Red Bulls — The Red Bulls Academy is a monster, and has produced a verifiably threatening batch of players. While the city is big enough for two MLS clubs to develop youth, let’s take a minute to honor RBNY for remarkable production at a tricky and growing time for U.S. Soccer: Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Matt Miazga, Juan Agudelo, Amando Moreno, Timothy Weah, and on and on. Cheers to one of the best.

Orlando City SC — Jason Kreis thinks he has a contender in Central Florida, but putting a bunch of new and wonderful pieces together quickly is a challenge for a club in any league. Kaka is gone, and was better than many expected. Sacha Kljestan has been dynamite in New York, but has to take up the boots of a legend (albeit at a nascent club). How fast will the Lions find their collective roar? Better put: Can they fake it long enough to find it?

Philadelphia Union — There are a lot of pieces in Philadelphia, but so much of this season hinges on the interplay between CJ Sapong and David Accam. Looking at the roster, the Union have what it takes to become a playoff team under the direction of Jim Curtin but could be a legit contender if the attack is firing on all cylinders. Is the chemistry there for these two?

Portland Timbers — Look: I recognize that to fly in the face of seemingly everyone’s conceptions of a coach reeks of a contrarian nature, something I don’t deny. But Portland’s inconsistency during Caleb Porter’s time in charge — some of it injury-driven, some not — feels like it had a lot to do with the nature of the coach. Giovani Savarese will have no problem at the helm of a favorite, and the departure of Darlington Nagbe opens the door to a number of tactical worlds for the new boss. The Timbers Army has every reason to be excited for a new campaign.

Real Salt Lake — I’m unsure whether Real Salt Lake has what it takes to make a charge to the top of the West, but I do know that the hiring of Mike Petke was an inspired move by the Utah club. More than anything, the idea of his lifting a major trophy with Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando would feel like a fitting moment for their careers and the league.

San Jose Earthquakes — Mikael Stahre is a very interesting hire, one of those names who feels feast or famine enough to lay claim to the Coach of the Year crown or wash out by the Fourth of July. How his new DP and countryman Magnus Eriksson mingles with Chris Wondolowski matters, as does his skill in deploying Tommy Thompson, Nick Lima, and Vako Qazaishvili others.

Seattle Sounders — The Jordan Morris injury stinks because he’s a fine U.S. prospect, a relentless worker, and gives Seattle a different dynamic from Will Bruin and others. While I think his injury hampers Seattle’s chances of being a Top Two seed in the West, I don’t think it’s as big a loss as many have said. Seattle’s midfield is going to cue up any number of players for goals, and Morris is a couple of years removed from inevitable superstar status (which tells you something about the use of words like inevitable). He’s good, but this is not the end of the world.

Seattle Sounders midfielder Magnus Wolff Eikrem (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sporting KC — In an alternate universe, Peter Vermes is handed the keys to the United States men’s national team instead of Bruce Arena. He’s guiding the Yanks’ preparation for a Group G with Belgium, Tunisia, and England. What does this have to do with Sporting KC? The U.S. will hire a new general manager soon, and if that GM wants an MLS-experienced and USMNT-passionate boss, he could take Vermes away in the middle of a season (or at least hire him and allow double duty through October).

Toronto FC — The treble-winning Reds are going to do just fine in the Eastern Conference pending a horrific run of injuries, but I cannot help but view their entire 2018 through the lens of their status as MLS’ best possibility to win the CONCACAF Champions League in some time. They are two-deep in nearly every spot, and general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has proven adept at scouting both big and small.

Vancouver Whitecaps — There so much mystery in British Columbia this season, and a club which flirted with the Western Conference’s top spot for most of the season. Perhaps no player is more enigmatic and emblematic of the 2018 ‘Caps fortunes than Kei Kamara. Three seasons removed from his 22-goal season, he’ll have to prove he’s more than an (approximately) 10-goal mainstay.