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Sporting KC’s nightmare season continues and Earth Day kit confusion: 5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 9

The league table is finally taking shape as the top teams separate themselves from the pack while the league's cellar dwellers cling to every point that will hopefully save their seasons. There were several struggling teams that earned massive wins while some top teams slipped up, making for another thoroughly entertaining matchweek. 

5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 9

#1. Earth Day kit confusion

MLS has a history of using one-off kits or training tops to celebrate important holidays, typically with a single template or a pair of jerseys for the entire league to use in a certain matchweek. This season, the league celebrated Earth Day by giving teams teal and black jerseys that featured the message “End Plastic Waste” across the shirt along with a design inspired by the ocean floor. 

While extremely commendable, the two kits rendered Apple TV’s whip-around show thoroughly baffling. With so many games being played at the same time and quick cuts between them happening rapidly, it became a nightmare to follow along with what was happening. Too often, viewers were forced to rely on close-up shots of players to know exactly which game they were watching and crucially, which team was in which kit. 

Again, the idea to promote Earth Day is great. No complaints on that end, but maybe the execution could be tweaked a bit. For instance, what if every team had its own special kit for Earth Day so there are still new jerseys that remind fans about the occasion but not one kit combo for the entire league? 

Teams could also change the names on the backs of jerseys to phrases that bring awareness to climate change, or they could put a special sponsor on each kit for one week. Another idea could be to space games out across the weekend so they’re not all happening at the same time. There’s an answer in here somewhere, MLS just has to find it and stick to it. 

#2. Sporting KC’s nightmare season continues

A few weeks back, we took a look at Kansas City’s poor start in 2023 and wondered what needed to change. After a heavy 4-1 loss to Seattle in Matchweek 5, it became abundantly clear that Sporting has more than a few problems to address if Peter Vermes and his side want to have any hope of scraping together any sort of successful campaign.

At present, it's difficult to imagine what could possibly constitute success at this point in the campaign, but that may be another deep run in the U.S. Open Cup or, if fortune is on their side, KC could yet dream of securing a playoff spot. If those dreams are to be realized, however, massive changes need to be made. 

In attack, Sporting actually leads MLS in progressive carries per 90 but ranks second to last when it comes to expected goals. Despite ranking among the best in the league when it comes to shots per 90 (13.67), KC is dead last in goals per shot with 0.02. Vermes’s side is great at creating shots but struggles to create good shots. This discrepancy is reflected when looking at shot distances on average. Sporting is shooting from an average of 20.4 yards out, comfortably the farthest in the league. 

Scoring hasn’t been the only issue for KC, with defensive woes and red cards making life for fans at Children’s Mercy Park infuriating. A league-high third red cards on the season and one against New England put an end to Sporting's hope of earning a draw on the road just minutes after Johnny Russell pulled one back from a set piece. These disciplinary issues, combined with pre-existing defensive woes, ensure Kansas City has been exposed consistently throughout the season. They win 8.11 tackles per 90 and attempt just five in their own defensive third, good enough for dead last in both categories. 

Much of what was considered after matchweek five still holds true. Sporting is a team that creates bad chances, continues to shoot itself in the foot with needless red cards, and is incapable of defending consistently or effectively. 

The writing is on the wall. Something needs to change and with an aging roster and poor coaching, it may take a complete overhaul to put this once-dominant side back in contention.  

#3. NYCFC’s home record is genuinely absurd

It’s not abnormal for MLS teams to pick up the majority of their points on their own turf. Home-field advantage is extremely powerful in the league but NYCFC is taking that to another level.

In four away matches, City has picked up just two points with draws against Chicago and New England, but at home, Nick Cushing’s side is virtually unstoppable. Four wins and a draw from five matches at home puts NYCFC among the best sides in MLS when looking at home matches and creates one of the more lopsided point disparities in the league. Whether they play at Citi Field or Yankee Stadium, Cushing has his side play a brand of soccer that exploits mistakes and forces opponents into more by using the fields’ unique dimensions to his side’s advantage. 

New York presses opponents in the midfield and due to the short length of the field, mistakes that would normally allow for compensation and correction are punished rapidly. In addition, set pieces are taken advantage of with the narrow field playing a massive role. 

Since their poor showing in Nashville on opening day, NYCFC’s play has improved dramatically, proving they could become a genuine force to be reckoned with in the East, especially if they make the playoffs.

#4. Is Philadelphia finally back to winning ways?

There’s no way around it, Philadelphia has been awful this season. Last year’s team came tantalizingly close to success but was unable to take home any silverware, instead playing runners-up to LAFC in both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. Many expected this Union side, which kept its entire starting lineup and added a few substitutions for depth’s sake, would remain the team to beat in MLS. That assumption has, at least up to this point, been incorrect. 

Jim Curtin’s side has been poor. With four losses already in 2023, Philadelphia is just one shy of its entire tally from last season when the club tasted defeat on just five occasions. The Union entered Matchweek 9 with a negative goal differential and faced a Toronto side that hadn’t lost since opening day. Thanks to a fortunate own goal and a hat trick from Mikael Uhre, Philly ran out 4-2 winners in a performance that would not have looked out of place last season. 

It’s just in time too — the Union prepares to face LAFC in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals midweek. This win could be the confidence boost that Curtin and his side need to advance as they aim to become only the second MLS club to win the coveted continental cup.

#5. Colorado’s unbeaten run is more impressive than meets the eye

Despite sitting 12th in the Western Conference and only five points above hapless Sporting KC, the Rapids have not added a loss to their record in well over a month. Since falling 2-1 to Minnesota United on Mar. 18, Colorado has earned impressive draws against Austin, LAFC, Charlotte and most recently St. Louis City. Add in their gritty 1-0 win against Kansas City, and their difficult run of games has turned out to be fairly successful. 

Make no mistake, the Rapids are not a top team. This is just a great run from a decent team that deserves recognition. A second win would have been ideal, especially against either Austin or Charlotte given their struggles this campaign, but the importance of a draw should not be understated. Runs like this will be helpful at the end of the season when everyone is pushing for the final playoff spots and every point matters. 

The tests continue with matches against Vancouver and Philadelphia that bookend a bottom-of-the-table clash against the LA Galaxy. Colorado will be hoping for at least four points from these matches as dropped points against another struggling side would confirm that they themselves are just another struggling side. 

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