We’re in that part of the MLS season where things start happening. Things you didn’t expect. Things that make you stop your Twitter scroll right in its tracks. I had a few of those moments this weekend and in response, I’m debuting the MLS Surprise-O-Meter.
It’s fairly self-explanatory, but just to lay it all out there quickly: 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.
GARETH BALE IS HEADED TO LAFC
Reading: Close Twitter, take a lap, and then check Tommy Scoops’ feed again to make sure you actually saw that
The Surprise-O-Meter, understandably, says that we should be quite surprised about this one. On Saturday morning, Tom Bogert reported that Los Angeles FC are finalizing a deal to sign former Real Madrid attacker Gareth Bale. Bale, 32, isn’t the same player he was in his 20s but he still has undeniable technical and physical quality that you can see when he’s on international duty with Wales.
Prior to this year, signing Bale would have felt like a very un-LAFC thing to do. Their transfer strategy has mostly focused on watching U-20 World Cup footage and bringing in young players from South America.
But now, LAFC have seemingly gone full “sweeping up aging, out-of-contract European superstars” mode this offseason, going after both Bale and Giorgio Chiellini. Oh, and apparently Carlos Vela is staying in LA as a DP until the end of 2023. LAFC are getting older, there’s no doubt about it. However, the fact that neither Bale nor Chiellini will be DPs this season means that the risk of signing that pairing is relatively low – lowering risk is important when you’re signing older players in a league that limits your roster resources.
There’s room for LAFC to scour South America for talent, while still taking advantage of chances to sign players like Bale. It’s not an either/or.
But, given that there was very little noise about Bale heading to LA and that Bale hasn’t played in a U-20 World Cup for Ecuador, this move rates very highly on the Surprise-O-Meter.
FC CINCINNATI ARE ABOVE THE PLAYOFF LINE ALMOST HALFWAY THROUGH 2022
Reading: Mhmm, yep, mhmm, this feels about rig…wait, what?
Don’t look now, but FC Cincinnati is a very respectable soccer team. I know that we’ve been trained not to say those words together in the same sentence, but they just keep getting respectable results and playing respectable soccer.
Pat Noonan and Co. beat Orlando City 1-0 on Friday and by the end of the weekend, Cincy found themselves in seventh place in the East. With that win over Orlando, Cincinnati pulled within one point of their best-ever MLS total. Right now, Cincy’s sitting on 23 points, just one point shy of their record 24 points back in 2019.
After winning back-to-back-to-back Wooden Spoons, hanging out above the playoff line is a nice change of pace for Cincinnati. They now have a defined style of play under Noonan, they’re playing their best attackers, and they have some respectable goalkeepers this season. According to American Soccer Analysis, FC Cincinnati have the sixth-best expected goal difference on a per game basis in the entire league. Not just in the East.
It’s safe to say that their results have been far better in 2022 than in any of their previous years in MLS.
I, for one, didn’t expect this drastic of a change. Neither did our MLS Surprise-O-Meter, apparently.
SEATTLE PICK UP ANOTHER WIN
Reading: I’m not even dignifying that with a response
Okay, it looks like we’ve angered the Surprise-O-Meter here. This one was a little bit of a heat check, because frankly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Sounders are heating up in league play right now. They beat Sporting Kansas City 3-0 on Saturday and since May 15, Brian Schmetzer’s team has gone 5W-1D-1L.
The Seattle Sounders are getting results now that they’re fully removed from the Concacaf Champions League – and they’re starting to play some excellent soccer, too. Since the middle of May, the Sounders have been creating more open-play xG per 90 minutes than any other team in MLS. They’ve also been leading the league in average shot quality and they’re second in MLS in goals per 90 minutes. Defensively, Seattle’s numbers are strong as well.
Even without some of their stars, the Sounders are humming right now – and as the Surprise-O-Meter tells us, that shouldn’t be all that surprising based on previous years. The Seattle Sounders have never missed the playoffs in their time in MLS and they’ve only missed the Western Conference semifinals once (last year).
It’s bad news for the rest of the league, but great for Sounders fans: it looks like Seattle is back.