MLS midseason grades: Austin, LAFC take home top grades and more out West

Quick
Hits
  • Now that we’re over halfway through the 2022 MLS regular season, let’s check in on how each team is doing 
  • We’re handing out report cards to everyone in the Western Conference today relative to preseason expectations
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It’s time to pass out some midseason grades. 

You should note that we’re grading relative to expectations here. When I would get B’s and C’s in school, I always had this thought in my mind that I was being graded harder than other students just because the teacher thought I could do better. What I didn’t realize at the time is that philosophy cuts both ways. Maybe I was the Houston Dynamo of my class. “Oh wow Sam, only 50% of these words are spelled wrong, here’s your C you beautiful idiot.” 

Anyways, that’s the principle we’re operating under in this case. You don’t get rewarded for being better than others, you get rewarded for being the best version of yourself. We’re also going in reverse alphabetical order because it’s fun.

On to the Western Conference. Click here to check out the East.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

Grade: B

The Whitecaps could have totally collapsed at the beginning of the year. Frankly, we kind of teetered on that for a moment. There were injuries and weirdo lineup experiments from Vanni Sartini and more injuries and it all kind of seemed like we were watching a cursed team slowly start to learn its fate. 

But the Caps dug out of that hole, got healthy and have been making their way back up the standings. They’ve made it through the worst of the year and currently sit just two points below the playoff line. That’s despite the fact that they were so bad at the beginning of the year and still struggle in certain games that they have a -9 goal differential. That’s one goal worse than San Jose. That goal differential should improve from here on out, though. Not only are they healthy, but DP midfielder Andres Cubas seems like an immediate impact player and his introduction might be enough to push them over the line in the end. 

All in all, it’s like someone at Vancouver raised their hand in a meeting and said, “Hey, what if we start the second-half comeback earlier this year?”

Sporting Kansas City

Grade: F

Bad. So bad. Just bad. 

Alan Pulido went out for the season before things even got started and it’s all been downhill from there. 2022 just isn’t salvageable for this group, not because they’re bad players or because something is tactically broken or anything like that. They just lost their DP forward for the year and then their older players aged out of being above replacement-level. Just a perfect storm of bad and not good for one of the league’s most successful clubs.

That doesn’t mean they’re not one of the league’s most successful clubs any more though. They’re going to sort it out eventually, but not before a big overhaul.

Seattle Sounders

Grade: A+

You ever see one of those videos where the teacher tells a student something like “If you can throw this ball into the trash can from 50 yards away, everyone will get an A+ on the final” and then the student drains the impossible shot as their classmates go crazy? Winning CCL is the MLS version of that. Seattle hit the shot no one else ever hits and for that they get an A+ no matter what. 

They would have gotten an excellent grade even if they had lost that final though. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but Seattle have recovered from their CCL run to climb all the way to just three points behind the third-place team in the West. They’re going to be in a home playoff spot by the end of the year and well-aligned to pull off the most impressive double in MLS history.

San Jose Earthquakes

Grade: C-

This grade would be higher if they had just done what they were going to do anyway and fired Matias Almeyda in the offseason. This isn’t a bad roster at all: there are legitimate stars in Jeremy Ebobisse and Cristian Espinoza and quality pieces like Cade Cowell and Jamiro Monteiro. This is a fringe-playoff squad. They were being held back at the beginning of the year and after going winless under Almeyda to start the year, they’ve won their last 13 in all competitions.

Things are improving now. They’re still near the bottom of the table and a playoff run feels improbable, but it’s going to take a moment to shake all the Almeyda out of the club’s DNA. It feels like they’re building towards something better, though, and that’s all you can really ask.

Real Salt Lake

Grade: A

Don’t ask questions. Just sit back and watch RSL work. 

They’re in third place in the West with a goal differential of exactly zero. How? What did I just say about asking questions? Will it last? I’d like to refer you once again to my previous statement on whether questions should be asked. 

But I will say, they’ve seemingly done the right thing in bringing Anderson Julio and Jefferson Savarino back. And it’s genuinely impressive that they’ve done all this without Damir Kreilach, who’s been out so long I’ve forgotten how to spell his name without looking it up. They could totally keep this up.

The pessimistic view on them is that they’re just five points from being below the playoff line. The much more fun and cool view is that why are you looking at things like that just be quiet and prepare to laugh really hard at whatever big-time clubs they inevitably knock out of the playoffs.

Portland Timbers

Grade: B+

You may think it’s a bad idea to play bad soccer and just generally be in disarray for the first part of the season. You, my friend, don’t understand the Timbers one bit. They weren’t playing poorly. They were just waiting. They’ve got the league right where they want them. And after spinning their wheels for the first half of the year, they’ve already crept back up to just three points behind the playoff line. They’re coming and there’s nothing you’re going to be able to do to stop them. This will be an A by the end of the year whether you like it or not.

Nashville SC

Grade: C+

WIN. A DANG. HOME GAME. PLEASE. I’M BEGGING YOU.

GEODIS Park rules. It’s loud, it’s large and it has deserved a better welcome from its tenants. Nashville SC survived their long-term road trip to start the season and looked primed to cruise through a schedule flush with home games. Instead, they’ve won just twice at home in seven games. 

That’s just not good enough. The Coyotes aren’t living up to their deservedly high standards and haven’t built on year two in the same way they built on year one of their existence. It’s disappointing. And they need to wake up sooner rather than later, because they’re just three points above the playoff line. That lead can evaporate quickly if you aren’t taking advantage of playing in the most home field advantage-prone league in the world.

Minnesota United

Grade: C+

I legitimately had to change my grade by almost an entire letter of the course of a week. The Loons were struggling. Hard. And suddenly, out of nowhere, they put up three goals in back-to-back games, earned a six-point week and are just below the line.

Add in the fact that in the same week they shipped off Adrien Hunou and opened up a DP spot and you have to give them some credit. Sure they crammed for the midterm, but they did alright in the end. 

Now we’ll have to sit back and see if they get this DP signing right and if they can build on their most successful attacking spell in months.

LAFC

Grade: A+

LAFC just casually hauled off and put together maybe the best primary/secondary window combo in MLS history over the last few months. Their offseason moves for MLS veterans like Ilie Sanchez, Ryan Hollingshead, Kellyn Acosta, and Franco Escobar steadied the ship and now their midseason moves for Gareth Bale and Giorgio Chiellini are attaching a planet exploding laser beams to that same ship. 

They’re near an MLS record points pace right now and may just be on track for a record by the end of the year. That said, I doubt they’ll push for it if given the chance. The moves they’ve made are all about lifting MLS Cup at the end of the year. And, of course, we all know they’re going to lose to RSL in the playoffs so we’ll need to reassess this grade a few months from now, but for now it’s good.

LA Galaxy

Grade: B-

I bumped them up for finally starting Dejan Joveljic the other night against Montreal. Now that they’ve realized starting Joveljic with Chicharito is a good way to earn a 4-0 win against one of the best teams in the league, I can start to finally feel comfortable that we won’t see the same kind of second-half collapse we saw last season. 

But there’s still work to do for the Galaxy. The West is crowded from spots three to 10 right now and it won’t be hard for a team to slip for a few weeks and find themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the season. Working Joveljic into the mix more regularly will help, but the midfield will need to hold up over the course of the season and the wing players will have to finally produce…literally anything. This is a team that can’t get comfortable. If you’re the Galaxy, that reality isn’t up to your standards relative to your payroll.

Houston Dynamo FC

Grade: C

It’s been totally fine. I don’t know what else to say beyond that. They weren’t expected to take a massive leap forward but they do seem to have taken an incremental step in the right direction. The team as a whole is slightly better than below average and that seems okay. 

Sebastian Ferreira is finding his way as a DP, Coco Carrasquilla can ball, and Hector Herrera has arrived. There are reasons for positivity about the future of the club. Just maybe not reasons for overwhelming optimism about the 2022 season.

Overwhelming optimism would be ahead of schedule though, so it’s understandable and expected for them to be where they are. It’s the kind of “meh” worthy of a C.

FC Dallas

Grade: B+

They absolutely nailed the Paul Arriola transfer and they seem to have gotten the Marco Farfan trade right, too. Both of those additions have been enough to carry them to a pretty stellar first half of the season. But, for some reason, they can’t seem to string together a truly excellent run of form and they routinely have results that don’t quite line up with their talent level.

It would be harsh to be too critical. It just seems like they have an extra gear locked away in there somewhere. Maybe getting Alan Velasco going somewhere near Jesus Ferreira and Arriola’s level is the secret to it all?

Colorado Rapids

Grade: F

They choked in CCL and it hasn’t really gotten all that much better. 

They’ve shown flashes of improvement at times. For example, they recently beat LAFC and Seattle. It’s just that those are their only two wins in the last seven games. They’ve dropped all the way to 12th in the West, just one point better than San Jose, and I’m struggling to see how they make up the ground they’ve already lost on the rest of the conference.

It all comes back to an offseason where quality players left the club and there was no real effort made to replace them or to build on a season where they finished first in the West. They *finally* got around to adding a DP midseason and it was an out-of-form Gyasi Zardes.

That’s not good enough. And I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for Rapids fans. It’s not even worth discussing how there might be reason for optimism due to their two open DP spots because we know they aren’t going to be filled.

Austin FC

Grade: A+

Yeah, I wanted to drop it to just an A and do my normal thing where I complain about the underlying numbers etc, etc… But I realized that was lame. And I should just shut up and tell y’all that Sebastian Driussi is a worldbeater, Maxi Urruti is having the best season of his career, Daniel Perreira is a force in midfield, Alex Ring is exactly who they hoped he be and a little more, and somehow Jon Gallagher is turning into a factor at left back. Things are going as close to perfect as they could possibly be. 

Los Verdes are just two points behind LAFC and, barring a surprising turn for the worse, are on track to host a playoff game in just their second season in the league.