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#AlwaysWatchAtlanta and Austin FC in crisis mode? 5 things we learned from MLS Matchweek 4

Week four of the MLS season was one of the best yet. The matchweek featured great games like LAFC traveling to Seattle and New England hosting Nashville. Philadelphia’s last-minute loss to Montreál sent shockwaves across the league, reminding fans that nobody is safe from the drama that is MLS. With over three goals per game on Saturday, you’d be forgiven for finding it difficult to follow every match, so let's take a look at what we learned from MLS Matchweek 4. 

5 things we learned from MLS Matchweek 4

#1. The Western Conference Championship will run through either Seattle or LAFC.

Is it too soon to call? Obviously yes, but my goodness, it looks like these two sides are just on a different level from the rest of the league. We’ve been treated to a fairytale story in St. Louis but it’s still too early to call for the expansion side. Seattle and LAFC, however, have been put through the wringer and come out on the other side.

LAFC just got off a stretch of five games in 15 days that saw them advance comfortably in the Champions League and accumulate seven points domestically. Not exactly a bad tally. Steve Cherundolo’s side has one of the deepest rosters in the league and some new superstars to take over when necessary. Denis Bouanga has been on fire, scoring at will in all competitions, and shows no signs of slowing down. The draw against Seattle could just as easily have been either a win or a loss, so in the end, a point a piece is probably fair. Best of all, LAFC can finally rest ahead of their next game in seven days' time. 

Seattle faced a reality check last week, losing 1-0 to a disciplined Cincinnati side on the road. The Sounders looked good in the loss and made life very difficult for Cincinnati’s defense, despite the disappointing result.

Brian Schmetzer’s side had a week to reflect on the defeat and shift focus to LAFC and did so extremely well. While debuting their stunning new secondary shirt, the Sounders kept Los Angeles off the board and threatened throughout the match. It must be said that Seattle is fairly unlucky to not have scored on the day but magic from Stefan Frei in goal saw to it that LAFC got nothing more from the match. It’s this balance of solid defending and fairly reliable goalscorers such as Jordan Morris that ensures Seattle will be in contention for MLS Cup at the end of the season.

#2. MLS finally needed its whip-around show. 

Whip-around shows are great. They let fans keep up with all the best action from every game going on, especially when there are 14 games in one night and as many as 11 games happening at one time. The first week of MLS360 was disappointing for MLS Season Pass subscribers, but the show's production quality has increased tenfold in recent weeks. 

Just in time too as Matchweek four featured 44 goals and frankly way too many simultaneous games to keep up with. The coverage kept flying from game to game, and from chance to chance, showing just how entertaining a show like this can be when done right. 

MLS is thrilling stuff and Apple TV is finding a great balance between showing goals and opportunities, using multi-screen displays and checking in with the best games between chances. I’m excited to see how they keep improving the service, even if they keep those infuriating commercial breaks.

#3. Atlanta United is box office.

There has been a small online movement in Spain among pundits who noticed a fascinating trend. #AlwaysWatchGirona reminds viewers to tune in when the Catalan side takes to the pitch, due to their propensity to steal points from losing positions. In MLS, it’s quickly becoming apparent that fans need to do the same with Atlanta United, albeit for a slightly different reason.

Atlanta’s goalscoring record is the best in MLS with 11 goals in four games. Gone are the days when Mercedes-Benz Stadium played host to Josef Martínez and Miguel Almirón. World Cup winner Thiago Almada and 18-year-old Caleb Wiley have the unenviable task of filling the boots of these former heroes but seem more interested in seeing their own names in lights. 

Two straight games with three or more goals is proof of the class in Atlanta’s attack. Add in new signing Giorgos Giakoumakis, who opened his account against Portland on Saturday, and this United side looks difficult to stop. If you like goals, just remember to #AlwaysWatchAtlanta.

#4. St. Louis City is officially the best expansion side in MLS history.

There isn’t much to say about St. Louis City that hasn’t already been said. Three wins from its first three matches was already impressive, and a fourth consecutive win ensures they will now stand alone atop the MLS standings and have the best start to a season of any expansion team in league history. 

A 3-0 win over San Jose puts all doubt to rest regarding St. Louis City’s potential. They may have gotten lucky more than a few times this season but their luck ran out against the Earthquakes, allowing their skill and ability to take the reigns. Three different goalscorers secured the result on the night and equaled Atlanta for the most goals scored this season. 

So, here they go into uncharted territory. There are no more records to dangle in front of the proverbial expansion rabbit. Now we can see what St. Louis is really made of. Personally, I can’t wait for them to finally be seen not as a good expansion team, but rather just a good team. 

#5. Is Austin FC in crisis mode?

2023 has not gotten off to the start that Los Verdes supporters perhaps thought it would. A season that had so much promise going into the campaign has been bipolar to put it gently. In both MLS and CCL, fans never know which Austin FC they’ll see on any given day. Will it be the team that scored two wonder goals to beat Real Salt Lake, or will it be the squad that put up no fight and lost 2-0 to Houston? 

This most recent loss comes just four days removed from one of the most humiliating upsets in CCL history, when Haitian club Violette AC bounced last season’s Western Conference runners-up 3-2 on aggregate. The first leg, played in the Dominican Republic due to ongoing safety concerns in Haiti, was among the worst performances I have ever seen from an American team, let alone an MLS side. Two identical goals followed by an own goal that defies all logic capped off a night that many American soccer fans would like to forget. 

While star man Sebastián Driussi scored twice in the second leg, it was too little too late and Austin was sent home. In MLS, performances have rarely been better. Josh Wolff’s team has looked off the pace this season but has still managed to get two wins putting them sixth, just above San Jose. 

This was supposed to be the year that Austin stepped out from LAFC’s all-encompassing shadow and created its own story, but 2023’s mixed bag of bad results with small victories scattered in makes for a confusing and frustrating season. They'll need to get the campaign back on track quickly before it’s too late to save. 

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