What you need to know

Atlanta United owner Blank, Messi & Inter Miami honored at 2024 Sports Business Awards

The 17th annual Sports Business Awards were held Wednesday night in New York City, and Major League Soccer groups took home several awards: Atlanta United owner Arthur M. Blank (Lifetime Achievement Award), Inter Miami CF sign Lionel Messi (Deal of the Year) and Inter Miami CF (Sports Team of the Year).

Dallas, Seattle advance to US Open Cup quarters

Two more MLS clubs were in US Open Cup action Wednesday night, with FC Dallas and Seattle Sounders FC booking their quarterfinal spot. They join Atlanta United, Sporting Kansas City and LAFC, who each advanced on Tuesday.

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Who's the favorite in the West?

Two teams in the East look capable of finishing first in the conference. It’s going to be Inter Miami or FC Cincinnati. As of now, there’s no other viable option.

The picture isn’t nearly as clear out West. After 14 games, Real Salt Lake are averaging 2.00 points per game but Minnesota United are doing the same through 12 games. Both LA teams aren’t far behind, the Rapids and Vancouver could get hot at any moment, and, somehow, Austin are doing that thing again.

So, who’s going to end up on top? Well, here’s where each contender stands.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC - 1.46 points per game

Vancouver is as low as I’m willing to go in the standings for a potential Western Conference winner. Houston can’t score, St. Louis are good and nothing more or less, Seattle are broken, Portland can’t defend, FC Dallas are injured, Sporting KC are old and San Jose are technically worse at defending than Portland.

The ‘Caps are nine points back of RSL, but they have a game in hand and a roster that’s good enough to compete with better teams in the league and roll past bad teams. The problem is that they don’t have enough high-level talent to consistently dominate the mid-level teams and earn points against the best teams. We’ve seen it repeatedly in the last couple of years.

They can change that this summer by potentially adding a third designated player, but that’s a long way off. They’ll need to get hot immediately and make a genuine push for the top of the conference before Leagues Cup before adding that key piece. Those are big asks right now.

Colorado Rapids - 1.5 points per game

We’ve officially reached the point where we can call the Rapids’ high-profile offseason a success. The team that won five games last season has won six through their first 14 games this season.

A run to the top of the conference is a big ask though. As good as Cole Bassett and company have been, this team is still limited by the top of its roster. Djordje Mihailovic has been pretty much the same player we remembered from Montréal, but it’s not clear how much faith you can put in fellow DPs Rafael Navarro and Kévin Cabral.

Navarro has at least come good statistically this season, putting up eight goals and two assists over 1137 minutes. Unfortunately, four of those are from penalties and his underlying numbers aren’t anywhere near an elite DP level. His loan technically expires in July and it's unclear if the Rapids will exercise their option to make the transfer permanent. Meanwhile, the risk they took on Cabral hasn’t paid off. He has three goals and four assists in 22 starts since arriving before the 2023 season.

Like the ‘Caps, it feels like they need more production from the top of their roster to find themselves at the top of the West by Decision Day. They could potentially rework their DP situation this summer, but it might be too late if they aren’t already within striking distance.

Still, don’t get it twisted. They’ve done an outstanding job getting things back to this point. Last year felt bleak. This year has been a complete 180.

Austin FC - 1.57 points per game

My brain says: If the team that’s averaging 1.01 expected points per game finishes first in the Western Conference I will never use another statistic again.

My heart says: That’s exactly why they’ll finish first.

Look, we talked about it more in-depth yesterday. But Austin have a decent roster that could get a lot better when they replace former DP Emiliano Rigoni this summer. It feels like we’re heading toward the first busy summer of sporting director Rodolfo Borrell’s time in charge of this roster. It’s doubtful that will be enough this year, but hey, we were all there in 2022.

LA Galaxy - 1.57 points per game

The Galaxy certainly have enough firepower to make a run to the top. They’re third in MLS in expected goals per game at 1.79 xG per 90. The problem is that only three teams have been worse defensively this season. LA are allowing 1.67 xG per 90. That’s worse than San Jose, who have allowed a league-worst 33 goals on the season.

It’s not clear how that’s going to get better. They could, in theory, win enough 3-2 games to finish on the top of the West, but the probability of that seems low. For them to feel like a favorite, something would have to give defensively. As of now, it’s not clear how they’ll look to sort that out this summer.

If they can, they’ll be a genuine MLS Cup contender. It will just probably be too late to finish on top of the conference.

LAFC - 1.62 points per game

Are LAFC the actual favorites?

They haven’t had the same early season success as Minnesota United and RSL, but their underlying numbers suggest that’s been down to some bad luck. Per American Soccer Analysis, LAFC lead the West in expected points, expected goal differential, and expected goals. They do not lead the West in expected goals allowed, but that’s only because they’re 0.01 xGA per game behind Houston.

Basically, every metric we have suggests that LAFC are the best team in the conference. Some metrics like ASA’s Goals Added suggest that LAFC are the best team in MLS.

What’s scary about that is that we haven’t even seen LAFC’s final form. Olivier Giroud is on the way this summer and who knows what else they have up their sleeve. If I got abducted by aliens and they told me to correctly pick a team to finish first in the West or they would blow up the planet, I’d pick LAFC.

Minnesota United - 2.00 points per game

The Loons are a blast, Robin Lod is turning into a genuine star, Tani Oluwaseyi is the league’s best story this season and they’ve earned one of the best records in the league despite dealing with injuries plus whatever Emanuel Reynoso is doing. There’s reason to believe they might slow a bit, but no real reason to believe they’re going to come to a complete halt anytime soon.

Their underlying numbers are second-best in the West behind LAFC and they should be able to offload Reynoso soon and open up a DP spot. At that point, whoever they bring in might determine their chances to finish first in the West and their chances at winning MLS Cup. I think it’s in play for them. They’re just going to need one more boost of high-end talent. If they can get that signing right without throwing a wrench in what’s worked for them so far - i.e. signing a Reynoso clone that becomes the focal point of the attack to the detriment of the collective - then they have a real chance at a special season.

Real Salt Lake - 2.00 points per game

Is Chicho Arango going to stay this hot? Probably not, right?

The good news is that even if he slows down, other RSL players are starting to pick up some of the slack. Diego Luna has two goals and two assists over the last four games after a slow start to the season, and Andrés Gómez has seven goals and four assists on the season while looking like a Young Player of the Year candidate. With Arango putting up an absurd 13 goals and eight assists in 14 games, they’ve had more than enough firepower to get by.

That being said, they’ve overperformed a bit. Their underlyings aren’t quite on the same level as Minnesota and LAFC.

That being said, RSL still have plenty of untapped potential. They can theoretically open up two DP spots by buying current DP Matt Crooks down and potentially shifting pieces around to get Gómez off his current Young DP designation and back to a U22 player. It would take a bit of work, but not that much work. RSL can push all of their chips in this summer.

At that point, it’s just a matter of holding of Minnesota and LAFC sides trying to do the same. That won’t come easy.

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Good luck out there. Remember what’s important.