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Thiago Almada's must-see free kick and what is FC Cincinnati capable of this season? 5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 13

In a word, forgettable. Following one of the most exciting matchdays of the MLS season, the league’s first foray into midweek play definitely did not live up to the billing, but there were still a few moments that caught our attention. Despite MLS Matchday 13 being promoted as a continuation of Rivalry Week, there were few games that truly fit that description, and it showed both on the field and in the scorelines.

5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 13

#1. Thiago Almada is a free kick wizard

It speaks to the standard that Atlanta United star Thiago Almada has set for himself this season that his third and most recent free kick was arguably his least impressive. The 22-year-old has built himself an impressive body of work across the pitch, but his deft set pieces make for incredible viewing. 

Almada has been spectacular this season, but during Atlanta’s recent poor run of form, the World Cup winner has been contained very well. Even against the Rapids, he missed a penalty earlier in the game before scoring from around twice the distance.

The loss of Giorgos Giakoumakis, who is now beginning to return to full health, set United back in recent weeks, but it's possible that Atlanta’s midweek thrashing of Colorado could be a sign of things to come. 

#2. What is FC Cinncinati capable of this season?

The rise of FC Cinncinati has been incredible to behold. From U.S. Open Cup starlets to MLS cellar-dwellers, and now finally to genuine contenders. Wednesday’s win marked seven straight home wins for Pat Noonan’s side, a feat that will massively help toward the tail end of the season, as Cincy aims to make a serious run at MLS Cup. 

During this run, Cincinnati has beaten some of the league’s best sides in Seattle and Philadelphia, showing off their defensive acumen in the process. Their most recent display was a 3-0 thrashing of CF Montréal, who went into the match on a four-game win streak and hadn’t conceded a league goal in a month. 

Pat Noonan has masterminded a defense that has allowed a goal per game, though, for context, five of those came at the hands of St. Louis City in their one loss. When looking at their home record, Cincinnati has been superb, conceding just three times and scoring 12. Keep in mind, this is a team playing without Brazilian forward Brenner who will leave the club for Udinese over the summer. If Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez are able to find their shooting boots, as they did last season, the rest of the league might not stand a chance if they need to travel to TQL Stadium. 

Next up, the Hell is Real Derby on Saturday. 

#3. Charlotte FC is picking up the pieces

A difficult 2-1 win over Chicago marks three wins on the bounce and four wins from five games for a Charlotte side that earned six points from its first eight matches. Since then, Christian Lattanzio’s side has earned the joint-most points of any team in the Eastern Conference. It’s brought fun back into Bank of America Stadium and the fans have been reveling in their new-found success. 

On a Wednesday night in Charlotte, entire sections of fans doing the Poznań made for an incredible sight. This club tradition, which celebrates their side’s Polish signings, has fans turning away from the field, arm in arm, bouncing in a visually stunning display that literally shook the stadium. As we see more and more clubs enter MLS and bring their own spin to the matchday atmosphere, it’s great to see this love for the game and passion that would not be out of place at the San Siro or the Etihad.

On the pitch, Charlotte earned a well-fought win in spectacular and heartwarming fashion. 21-year-old Brandon Cambridge scored his first MLS goal to equalize for the hosts less than ten minutes after coming off the bench and added a second for good measure.

"You dream of that moment as a kid and when it finally happened, you’re always practicing celebrations in your bathroom or your room, those all go out the window," said Cambridge. 

Charlotte will look to continue this impressive run of form against Nashville on Saturday. 

#4. Is Sporting KC’s resurgence a false hope?

As recently as matchday 10, Sporting still didn't have a win in the league, but since then, their luck and play have changed completely. A win on the road at Seattle was followed by a comprehensive 3-0 drubbing of Minnesota United at home. Their midweek trip to visit LAFC should have derailed all good momentum, but it didn’t. 

Despite going down early after Dénis Bouanga’s goal, Peter Vermes’ side rallied and equalized through captain Johnny Russell. From there, SKC hung on to bring an important point back to the Midwest before a first edition of the "Derby-que" against St. Louis City this weekend. 

So is this for real? Did this Sporting team finally turn a corner after one of the worst starts to an MLS season in history? Maybe. It’s still way too early to tell but the signs are pointing in the right direction. The play on the field has looked much better and attacks that would have petered out a month ago are finding the net. 

There has no doubt been improvement, but fans should be warned: Two wins and a tie isn’t as much of a streak as it might initially sound and a loss this weekend would bring Sporting all the way back down to zero, especially given City’s recent poor form without Klauss. 

#5. Can LAFC win the treble?

Last season’s MLS Cup champions and Supporters’ Shield winners have continued their brilliant form into 2023. Domestically, Steve Cherundolo’s side is near the top of the table in MLS, has just one loss in the league all season and is still in the Open Cup despite playing its youth team.  The club also has a chance to become the second MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League after Seattle’s triumph last year with a two-leg tie against Club León in a few weeks. 

In summary, LAFC has not stuttered or stumbled at any hurdle. They’ve looked practically unbeatable all season and if current form is to be any indication, they can absolutely do the treble. Victory in all three competitions would be unprecedented and in a few months or years, we may be talking about this team as one of the best MLS sides to ever grace the pitch. 

Despite losing Gareth Bale, Cristian Arango, and Maxime Crépeau from last season’s squad, they’ve gotten better. Bouanga has become invaluable. An MVP frontrunner. The best player on the best team. That’s with Kwadwo Opoku, Timothy Tillman, And Carlos Vela in the lineup as well. 

Bouanga’s 16 goals and four assists in 17 games played across all competitions is ridiculous and already, it feels as if the Gabonese forward has one hand on the MVP award, but we're sure that won’t be the only silverware he gets his hands on this season. 

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