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Is Philadelphia trash and what needs to change at Sporting KC? 5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 5

A grain of salt. Perhaps the perfect idiom for MLS Matchweek 5. As teams traversed the FIFA-recognized international break, it became abundantly clear that some squads were better at handling life without their superstars than others. This imbalance made for some surprising results, but overall, a thoroughly entertaining week of games. 

5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 5

#1. The international break impacted some teams more than others

Soccer, much like life itself, is not fair. Sometimes things just happen and teams need to adapt, like we saw this week as MLS played through the FIFA-recognized international break despite a healthy list of players being selected to represent their national teams. We saw several clubs utilize their benches in the absence of their stars, and the results ranged from solid to downright embarrassing. 

In Columbus, Atlanta United took to the field without seven of their normal starters and paid the price, losing 6-1 to Wilfried Nancy’s side. This horrific display comes just a week out from Atlanta’s rout of Portland, made possible by Thiago Almada’s spectacular display. Now, these absences shouldn’t be an excuse to completely write off the loss, but it was a key factor. Even without Lucas Zelarayán, the Crew were in devastating form and appear to have found the right gear under Nancy.

While some other results from this weekend also fit the bill of being heavily affected by these high-profile absences, they truly should not be viewed in isolation. Within the context of the full MLS season, these games are a small part of a very long season, but they still count just the same as any other game. So take it with a grain of salt. 

#2. Teams have to stop wearing their away kits at home

This is a gripe I’ve had since the opening week of the season. I cannot stand when teams play at home and use their away kit unless it’s absolutely imperative. We've seen so many matches where clubs decide to promote their brand-new away shirts by wearing them at home when they could have just as easily worn their traditional home shirt. I’m looking at you Portland and Nashville.

Yeah, most of these new shirts are great, and I want to see them used, but the home shirt should be the standard. When teams abandon these customs, we get the confusing nightmare that inspired this story. When the Galaxy traveled north to face the Timbers, LA decided to wear their green away shirts, forcing Portland to make the switch to their pink and crimson secondary kits as well. Sacrilege. 

What’s wrong with both sides wearing their home kits? I get the commercial aspect of these decisions, but it baffles me that at no point during this process did anyone realize what they were doing. It feels as though the teams were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. Hopefully this was an early-season phenomenon and we get more traditional kit pairings in the future. 

#3. Teams have to stop passing to Klauss in their own halves

This is getting to be a joke at this point. It has now happened on three separate occasions: St. Louis City forward João Klauss has found himself on the end of a pass from an opponent, and in several of these instances, the Brazilian is a fair way closer to the goal than his provider. Against Real Salt Lake, the pass was sloppy, a result of the high press St. Louis employs, but the result was the same. A second goal for Klauss and a third for City en route to a comprehensive 4-0 win on the road. 

As Andrew Weibe pointed out on MLS Wrap-Up, St. Louis now has three wins away from home in 2023, which equals or beats thirteen different clubs’ win totals on the road from the entirety of last season. That stat is staggering and reminds us that City is already a very good team; they don’t need to be gifted goals anymore. 

This monumental stretch will be put to the test next week as St. Louis takes on Minnesota United at CityPark. From there, the examinations only get harder with a trip to Seattle followed by a home match against Cincinnati who has yet to lose a match at the time of writing. 

#4. Is Philadelphia trash?

This is a difficult question to answer. Last season, Philadelphia cruised. There really is no other way to put it. Jim Curtin’s side rolled over opponents scoring five more goals than second-best LAFC and conceding just 26 times. No other team was in the ballpark defensively. They only lost five games in the regular season as they missed out on the Supporters’ Shield to LAFC based on matches won. They were good and deserve some leeway this season solely based on last year’s performances. 

2023 has been less than ideal for the Union. Their three losses have marred the campaign and put Philadelphia in a rather unusual position. This is the same starting 11 from last season, plus some added help from the bench, so they should've gotten better, right? Well, when looking at stats Philly is still great, but for some reason they’re not being rewarded. 

Curtin’s men rank fourth in MLS for Expected Goals, and their +0.53 Expected Goal Difference per 90 is only behind Seattle and LAFC. So they should be winning games, and with only five matches behind them, we owe it to Philly to not rule out a turnaround as they hope to reclaim their long-lost form. With the international break, Julián Carranza’s suspension and Andre Blake’s injury, the Union were facing an uphill battle against Orlando on Saturday. Now, they must get the season back on track against Sporting KC next week. 

#5. What needs to change at Sporting KC?

This could genuinely be its own article. A club that has spent so much of its life competing for titles and cups spent 2022 among the league’s cellar dwellers and this season looks to have only gotten worse. 

It took Sporting four games and a wicked deflection to find the back of the net in MLS but their attacking impotence has only continued. Yes, Willy Agada did open the scoring against Seattle, but his goal proved to be little more than a flash in the pan on a night when Jordan Morris and his four goals reigned supreme. 

After five matches, Kansas City leads MLS in shots with 75,  but critically, also has the highest average shot distance at 20.2 yards. Taking this distance and other factors into account, Sporting rank dead last in Non-Penalty Expected Goals per shot with 0.06. Having seen them play in person, the data doesn’t lie. This is a team that struggles to create clear goal-scoring chances and instead takes low-percentage shots because that’s all they have to work with. They say you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Isn’t that right Michael Scott?

So something needs to change. It likely won’t be manager Peter Vermes, who’s been with the club since 2009. In February, the 56-year-old inked a new deal that will keep him in his seat until 2028, so the financial ramifications of his hypothetical termination would be immense. More likely, the club will be forced to clean house over the summer, replacing their aging veterans with younger players who can make a difference and get the club back to where it wants to be. 

It might be time to say goodbye to players like Roger Espinoza, Graham Zusi, Johnny Russell, Alan Pulido and Tim Melia. They’ve had their day and seen great success at Children’s Mercy Park, but it’s time to bring in new talent to help Agada, Dániel Sallói, Erik Thommy and John Pulskamp bring them back. 

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