MLS

Martinez on the move, CCL goal for LAFC – five most interesting MLS teams in 2023

By Sports Desk February 24, 2023

MLS returns this weekend less than four months on from one of the most exciting MLS Cup finals in league history.

Plenty has changed since Los Angeles FC beat the Philadelphia Union on penalties in early November.

Gareth Bale, who scored the dramatic LAFC leveller in a 3-3 draw, has retired, the Seattle Sounders made an underwhelming MLS bow in the Club World Cup, and Josef Martinez has left Atlanta United.

That is even before considering the arrival of expansion side St Louis City for the new season.

Those factors all contribute to Stats Perform's preview of the most interesting MLS teams to watch this year.

Inter Miami

There were finally signs of progress from Miami last year as they finished sixth in the East, only to be routed by New York City FC in the first round of the playoffs.

That was Gonzalo Higuain's final match before retiring, but the club looked to have already recruited his replacement in Leonardo Campana, who averaged a goal every 145 minutes in his debut season.

Miami have not settled for that solution, however, instead trading for Martinez from Atlanta.

While Martinez was the Golden Boot winner, MVP, All-Star MVP and MLS Cup MVP in the same season back in 2018, more recent campaigns have been slightly tougher.

Quite how Miami fit Campana and Martinez together remains to be seen, but they will hope to be a real force – at least in attack – in 2023.

Atlanta United

With Martinez gone, Atlanta no longer resemble anything close to the team who dominated in 2018, yet that does not mean they could not also be in for a big year.

Giorgos Giakoumakis has been signed to supply the goals up front, having led the Eredivisie and the Scottish Premiership in scoring in his past two seasons.

Giakoumakis should get plenty of opportunities to hit the ground running, with Atlanta ranking fifth in expected goals last season (57.5) but no team underperforming their xG by a wider margin (9.5).

Atlanta, like Miami, may have issues elsewhere on the pitch, but there will be understandable optimism about the prospect of the new forward linking up with Thiago Almada.

Almada was the Newcomer of the Year in 2022 and ended the year by winning the World Cup with Argentina.

 

Los Angeles FC

The last season could scarcely have gone better for LAFC, who pipped the Union to the Supporters' Shield and again to MLS Cup.

But as Philly no doubt prepare to fight back in 2023, this could be a trickier year for the reigning champions.

Far more damaging than Bale's exit was the sale of top scorer Cristian Arango, who could now be an opponent in the CONCACAF Champions League with Pachuca.

LAFC are on a collision course with the Union again in that competition, but last year's hard-luck story might prefer to focus on ending their wait for an MLS Cup title.

If LAFC do go all out for Champions League glory, they will risk derailing their league campaign – as has happened so many times in the past.

Seattle Sounders

No team can provide a better example for LAFC than the Sounders – both in how to do it and how not to do it.

Seattle won the CCL last year, completing their trophy cabinet, but it came at the cost of an awful MLS season.

So consistent in reaching the playoffs in each of their first 13 years in MLS, the Sounders fell well short in 2022, hurt by Joao Paulo's ACL tear in the second leg of the Champions League final.

The midfielder returned in the Club World Cup earlier this month, but Seattle fell at the first hurdle against Al Ahly.

Joao Paulo rejoins a highly talented squad, yet the wonder will be if largely the same group can run it back after following four MLS Cup final appearances in five seasons with two down years.

St Louis City

St Louis arrive in MLS in 2023 with a squad that looks every bit as short as one might expect from an expansion franchise reluctant to spend big.

Led by sporting director Lutz Pfannenstiel, St Louis have shopped the German market with some fairly underwhelming results.

Neither of their two Designated Player signings, forward Klauss and midfielder Eduard Lowen, look especially likely to tear up the league, while their biggest name recruit is former Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki.

That perhaps hints at a realistic approach, knowing a top-class keeper is required to stay competitive in their debut season, but Burki was hardly that by the end of his team at BVB.

He lost his place in the team in the 2020-21 season, having had the third-lowest save percentage in the Bundesliga (59.2) the previous year among goalkeepers with 10 or more appearances.

 

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    Tuchel has been unable to arrest a downturn in form, and speculation over his position came to a head this week when the club announced he would be leaving at the end of the current campaign.

    Saturday’s game against RB Leipzig will be his first in charge since the news became public, with Bayern looking to end a three-game losing streak following losses to title rivals Bayer Leverkusen, Lazio and Bochum.

    And while there is a possibility Tuchel could be seen as a lame duck coach over the coming months, he thinks the removal of uncertainty over his role could spark an upturn.

    “I view it professionally and unemotionally. It’s a professional sport at the highest level,” he said of his shortened reign.

    “There aren’t guilty individuals. I don’t think I’m the only problem, but I have responsibility. Now we have a new situation, it’s resolved, which hopefully makes it clear and brings freedom.

    “This job only works if I give 100 per cent of myself. I have a very high professional expectation of myself and that’s completely dedicated to Bayern Munich until the end of the season. We have aims: we’re going for the maximum in the league and won’t give up until it’s over. In the Champions League we still have a second leg (against Lazio), so we are playing for maximum success.”

    Tuchel resisted the temptation to divert blame away from himself and on to his players, but accepted the performance levels on matchday had been falling consistently short of expectations.

    “The management know my analysis, which is also very self-critical. But it’s definitely not an analysis for the public,” he said.

    “I’m not personally disappointed in the players. We have high standards, that won’t change. I’ve never had the feeling that there’s a big problem but there is a glaring discrepancy between the way we’re training and the way we’re playing. We’ve trained at a good level but that’s no guarantee that we’ll produce a good performance.”

    Injuries have upset Bayern’s rhythm this term and they continue to be stretched, with Dayot Upamecano suspended and an injury list that contains Kingsley Coman, Sacha Boey, Noussair Mazraoui, Bouna Sarr, Serge Gnabry and Alphonso Davies.

    Leipzig have proved tricky opponents in recent times, taking two draws and two wins from their last four games against Bayern.

    Dani Olmo bagged a hat-trick when his side romped to a 3-0 win in the Super Cup final last August, a memory that still burns bright with the Spaniard.

    “I would say it was a perfect game from all of us and for me individually to score three goals in Munich, in the Allianz, and to be able to win a trophy,” he said.

    “It was for sure one of my best performances but we have to keep going because football never stops and now we have another chance. Bayern is always the opponent that motivates us. It’s always special.”

  • Premier League’s auditor awarded key contract related to independent regulator Premier League’s auditor awarded key contract related to independent regulator

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    Sources have expressed concern over a potential conflict of interest for financial services firm Deloitte, which signed off the Premier League’s most recent set of annual accounts.

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    (NB): You can catch the exciting action of the Carabao Cup on Sportsmax.

    Virgil van Dijk has warned Chelsea it would not be wise to underestimate a Liverpool team without Mohamed Salah and Darwin Nunez.

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    “I think the players coming in then have to step up and show they’re wrong. I think that’s the only way to do it.

    “I think we have enough quality to read the opponents. Players who come in have to show that.

    “Everyone has to step up and the ones that play have to deliver to get results.
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    “It’ll be a very difficult game, an interesting game as well. We have to be very good to do that, but let’s go for it.”

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