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When you mess with the Red Bulls, you get the horns and chaos in the Wild West: 5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 21

MLS is now past the halfway point in its season, and the summer break for the new Leagues Cup is quickly approaching. Players are missing important games thanks to international play, including the CONCACAF Gold Cup, but as we saw on Saturday night, some teams’ struggles are other sides’ gains, so let’s see what we learned on MLS Matchday 21.

5 takeaways from MLS Matchday 21

#1. Philly loves a 4+ goal win

What’s the saying about guarantees in life? Death, taxes and the Union scoring 4+ goals against weak opposition? It's not? Well, maybe it should be. 

Subaru Park was rocking as the hosts put Lionel Messi’s next club to the sword. On a night when training cones dressed in pink could have put up just as much fight, Philly’s 4-1 win might be a let-off. 

Arguably the best side last season, Philadelphia scored goals at will and won at a rate seldom seen in MLS. Though Jim Curtin and his side struggled early in 2023, their recent form has been more reminiscent of the team from 12 months ago. 

In the last six games, Philadelphia has scored the league’s joint-most goals with 14. Forward Julián Carranza has been excellent in this stretch, bagging five goals and an assist, one of which came against this terrible Inter Miami team. If this side can keep it up while FC Cincinnati falters, they have every chance of rejoining the dogfight at the top of the Eastern Conference.

#2. FC Cincinnati gets rocked in D.C.

Is that a crack? A sliver of hope? Don’t look now, but Cincinnati might be beatable after all. 

At home, they've been unplayable. 10 wins from 10. 19 goals for and just five against. That’s not winning, that's domination. On the road, it's been another story. 

Three wins in nine away games, a negative goal differential and now a second loss on the season makes for tough reading. Add in the nature of its losses, and Cincinnati may have a reason, or several, to be fearful. 

This team was hit hard by the international duty flu, and rightfully so. Matt Miazga and Brandon Vazquez have been two of the best players in the league this year, and both were called up to represent the United States at the Gold Cup. In Chicago, Miazga got the start against Jamaica while Vazquez scored the equalizer off the bench, but in the nation’s capital, their teammates missed them dearly as DC United ran riot.

Despite the unflattering 3-0 scoreline, Pat Noonan’s side still leads the MLS Supporters’ Shield race by a decent margin as second-place New England sits seven points back. The Gold Cup lasts until July 17, meaning that if B.J. Callahan’s side at least makes the final, Cincinnati will play four more games without their stars. 

Next up, those chasing, red-hot Revs come to town in the hopes of shrinking the gap to four points. 

#3. When you mess with the Red Bulls, you get the horns

Earlier this season, we highlighted the fact that you, as a fan of MLS, should always watch Atlanta. They’re a great young team with lots of upside, but crucially, they have every chance of getting battered every week too. This time, it happened. 

In New Jersey, the Red Bulls gave Atlanta a curb-stomping they will not soon forget. One of those days that reminds you of being a kid, having to get back in the car with your dad after losing 14-1 and driving two hours back home in silence.

For Atlanta, costly giveaways proved deadly once again. It’s been a consistent theme this season, and at Red Bull Arena, it just kept happening. Four goals, two of which came straight from turnovers, compiled the misery for Gonzalo Pineda’s side, which now sits 14 points off first-place Cincinnati. The season is far from over, but with players like Thiago Almada and Giorgos Giakoumakis starting regularly, these inconsistent performances need to disappear. 

#4. Đorđe Petrović shows why Manchester United want him

European clubs raiding MLS for young goalkeepers is nothing new. The league has a long history of giving shot-stoppers the tools they need to succeed, and bigger clubs have taken notice. Most recently, it was Gaga Slonina who swapped the Windy City for the Blues of Chelsea. Before him, Matt Turner was attracting attention in New England and turned that into a move to Arsenal. Now, fellow Revolution keeper Đorđe Petrović appears to be the next player for sale. 

The name on everyone’s lips is Manchester United. Fresh off rumors that David de Gea may be leaving the club, it seems that the 23-year-old Serbian could be his replacement at Old Trafford. 

With all this speculation flying around, Petrović made a statement on the pitch with a superb performance against Toronto FC. He registered nine saves as his side came from behind to win 2-1.

Could he be here to finish the season or will he be overseas before the summer is over? Only time will tell, but for now, he remains a massive reason that the Revs are winning games. 

#5. Chaos in the Wild West

On Wednesday, LAFC got the win it so desperately craved while St. Louis City continued its nose-dive. It felt like the ship had been righted and order was finally restored. Now, just a few days later, the pair are right back where they started.

LAFC hosted the wildly inconsistent Vancouver Whitecaps, whom they have already beaten twice in the CONCACAF Champions League this season. In the league, however, the visitors looked impressive stepping out to an early lead and never relinquishing it en route to a memorable 3-2 win, Vancouver’s first road win all season.

Up north in San Jose, St. Louis broke its four-game winless streak thanks to a pair of goals from Samuel Adeniran. The 24-year-old has been on loan with USL Championship club San Antonio FC for the past month before being recalled just hours before the match was set to kick off. He was named to the staging lineup and scored a brace with a sweet, headed goal before hammering home the decisive spot-kick in his side’s 2-1 win.

The two sets of results, combined with Seattle’s lackluster 0-0 draw against Orlando City, means that St. Louis City, the expansion side, once again sits atop the Western Conference. Will things stay like this? Probably not given LAFC still has a game in hand and St. Louis continues to struggle with injuries, but for now, it’s a thoroughly impressive achievement. 

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