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MLS Surprise-O-Meter: Puig shines in LA, DC, Houston eliminated from playoff contention, and more

When things are spinning all around me and I’m reeling from simply existing in this new reality where FC Cincinnati are the ones collecting 6-0 wins instead of things being the other way around, I turn to the MLS Surprise-O-Meter.

4 min read
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Hits

  • When things are spinning all around us, we turn to the MLS Surprise-O-Meter to help make sense of the latest MLS action
  • What does it make of DC United and the Houston Dynamo getting eliminated from playoff contention? Or the Shield race? Or Riqui Puig? Let’s talk about that

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

I’m confused. I blinked sometime back in May and now all of a sudden it’s less than a month away until Decision Day in MLS? I really don’t know what happened, but I do know that things are happening fast.

And frankly, when things are spinning all around me and I’m reeling from simply existing in this new reality where FC Cincinnati are the ones collecting 6-0 wins instead of things being the other way around, I turn to the MLS Surprise-O-Meter. It’s our trusty companion that makes sense of the chaos even when we can’t.

It’s a fairly self-explanatory concept, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page: the Surprise-O-Meter is a very fancy and very technologically sophisticated tool that we have here at Backheeled that displays how surprised something should make us. Its readings cannot be questioned.

Here’s how surprised the Surprise-O-Meter was by some of this weekend’s MLS events.


Reading: Paulo Nagamura glances down at his phone and sees a notification about the Dynamo. He nods, knowingly, turns off his phone and goes back to trimming his immaculate beard.

We’ve got a classic reaction within a reaction situation on this one. Nagamura’s response within the Surprise-O-Meter’s response tells us everything we need to know about DC United and the Houston Dynamo’s elimination from playoff contention. Namely, it tells us that we shouldn’t be all that surprised.

The Dynamo are rudderless right now. They don’t have a permanent head coach after Nagamura was fired last week. They don’t have a big group of core players. They don’t have a proven player recruitment approach or an academy that’s funneling players in the first team. And now, they don’t have a chance to make the playoffs, either.

DC United aren’t exactly rudderless, but they’re clearly in the midst of a rebuild. After an active summer transfer window, Wayne Rooney has played with a handful of different shapes and roles for some of his key players. Like Houston, DC need more before they’re going to be relevant in their conference.


Reading: Did you even watch Puig’s garbage-time minutes in Spain?

Okay, despite the Surprise-O-Meter’s sarcasm here, it is understandable that some of you didn’t watch Puig’s garbage-time minutes during his spell at FC Barcelona. But if you had, you would have seen a player capable of controlling the ball and carving up opposing defensive blocks with ease.

That’s exactly what Puig has done in MLS since joining the LA Galaxy over the summer. He scored his first goal in MLS over the weekend to salvage a point for the Galaxy against Nashville and he’s been brilliant on the ball. According to Second Spectrum, Puig leads all MLS players (with at least 300 minutes) in progressive passes per 90 minutes.

He’s breaking lines left and right every. single. weekend.

If you haven’t carved out some time to watch Puig try to carry the Galaxy above the playoff line, consider it over the next couple of weeks.


Reading: Pretty darn surprising, honestly.

If you’d asked me (or the MLS Surprise-O-Meter) back towards the beginning of August about who was going to win the Supporters’ Shield, I would’ve told you that LAFC had it in the bag. On August 2, LAFC had a 64% chance to win the Supporters’ Shield, according to FiveThirtyEight. The Union only had a 14% chance.

But things have flipped.

After Philly’s 5-1 win over Orlando City and LAFC’s 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Saturday, the Union have a 59% chance of winning the regular season title. LAFC have just a 41% chance. I didn’t see this swap happening, to be totally honest with you, but the Union deserve a ton of credit for taking full advantage of LAFC’s dip. They’re scoring goals like scoring goals is going out of style: the Union have 25 goals in their last 5 home games and they lead MLS in goal difference by a mile.

On paper, LAFC might have a deeper squad with some bigger names. But right now, it’s the Philadelphia Union who are playing like Supporters’ Shield winners.