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Credit to the Quakes and Josef Martínez dunks on his former club: 5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 11

Shock results rocked the boat in MLS Matchweek 11, with upsets happening from Seattle to Miami and San Jose to Charlotte. Frontrunners have emerged in both the league standings and the MVP race as several big names set the scoresheets alight and dazzled in front of packed crowds. 

5 takeaways from MLS Matchweek 11

#1. Credit to the Quakes

It’s about time we gave San Jose the credit it deserves. Aside from the shortened 2020 season, the Quakes have not qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs since 2017 when the league consisted of just 22 teams. This season has been a complete overhaul and they finally have their statement win to show for it. 

In front of a packed Levi's Stadium, the Earthquakes put their in-state rivals to the sword and ended LAFC’s unbeaten start to the season. The anti-LA sentiment was extremely high in San Jose this week as their Golden State Warriors face the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs, and this game provided fans of the Bay Area with another avenue to let out their hatred of all that lives in Southern California. Over 45,000 turned up to see Cristian Espinoza put on a show as his brace gave the Quakes a 2-1 win. 

This team that went 8-11-15 last season and finished dead last in the Western Conference has turned everything around, and after years of embarrassment and frustration, there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. After 11 games, San Jose leads the league in expected goals and has looked mighty going forward with one of the most fearsome attacking trios in the league (the aforementioned Espinoza, Cade Cowell and Jeremy Ebobisse).

At the heart of this new-found hope is the 28-year-old Espinoza, who's having the season of his life with the Bay Area side. The Argentine midfielder is the league’s joint-top scorer with eight strikes, level with Jordan Morris and Dénis Bouanga, and his 11 goal involvements are the most in MLS. As we discuss the MVP race and include the likes of Bouanga, Hany Mukhtar, Thiago Almada and João Klauss, Espinoza has done more than enough to not just enter the conversation but lead it. 

Also worth noting is the club’s massive contrast between its home and away records. On the road San Jose is among the worst in MLS, racking up just two points in five games, but 16 points from six games in San Jose leads the Western Conference. This disparity has been a constant since head coach Luchi Gonzalez joined the club in August 2022 and will need to be addressed before the postseason if a deep run is in the cards. 

#2. Josef Martínez gets off the mark against his former club

Saturday was a homecoming of sorts for Josef Martínez, who left Atlanta United in the winter to join Inter Miami after six seasons in red and black. The Venezuelan forward set MLS ablaze when he joined from Serie A side Torino in 2017, and since then he has done very little apart from putting the ball in the net a whole lot. 

His famous partnership with Miguel Almirón will live long in the hearts of Atlanta’s fans but after the fallout from a disagreement between Martínez and the club, it was time to move to pastures new in 2023. He joined Inter Miami and, quite surprisingly, encountered a massive drought that saw him enter Matchweek 11 without a single goal involvement. 

As if in a terribly predictable telenovela, Martínez came off the bench against his former side in the 57th minute and within 19 minutes he had a brace. It was written in the stars, days before the game. The man who left a hero became the villain overnight. Truly a script that everyone saw coming and nobody could prevent. 

Ahead of the season, we pegged the return fixture in Atlanta later this season to be one of our most anticipated games, and this latest twist ensured that all eyes will be on Mercedes-Benz Stadium when Inter Miami heads to Atlanta on Sep. 16.

#3. Sporting KC finally gets its win

It took 11 games but Peter Vermes and Sporting Kansas City finally have a win, and it came against possibly their most difficult opponent yet. Seattle had already curb-stomped Sporting earlier in the season as Jordan Morris put four past a pitiful defense at Children’s Mercy Park. The Sounders have looked so good all season — especially at home where they had previously only dropped points with a draw against LAFC — but that unbeaten record came to a crashing halt as Sporting defied the odds and emerged victorious at Lumen Field. 

Four minutes into the match, Erik Thommy dealt the first blow to Seattle before Alan Pulido doubled his side’s advantage at the half-hour mark with his first MLS goal since 2021. The Sounders had been punched in the mouth but still had 60 minutes to right the ship and get a point in front of their own fans. In the end, Brian Schmetzer’s side could only muster a goal from the penalty spot as Sporting went home with the three points from a contest that defied logic. 

This could be a galvanizing moment for Kansas City, who just last week felt the horrible sting of defeat at home to Montréal. A side once confused and bewildered at just how things got so bad has been presented with an opportunity. Take this momentum and run with it. Steal some points off Minnesota and LAFC before the “Derby-que” against St. Louis City SC on May 20. 

#4. Hany Mukhtar loves a hat trick against the Chicago Fire

Despite being named last season’s MVP, we still can’t believe what Hany Mukhtar is capable of. Last week the German pulled the strings from midfield, providing crucial interventions for each of the three goals despite only being properly credited with one assist. This week, however, Mukhtar turned scorer as he bagged his third career hat trick and second against the Fire in a 3-0 win. 

If last week’s performance wasn’t enough, this definitely puts the 28-year-old firmly in contention for retaining his MVP title. However, if he wants any chance of getting his hands on some different silverware, he’ll need some help from his teammates. 

As of now, Mukhtar has scored six of Nashville’s 14 goals and he’s assisted a further four, meaning he's been directly involved in 71% of his side's goals this campaign. That doesn’t even factor in the goals where his influence in the play was not credited with an assist, as we saw with the first two against Atlanta. It truly is a one-man show in the Music City, but it seems to be working, at least for now. 

#5. CF Montéal’s unprecedented three-game winning stretch

2023 began about as poorly as it could for Montréal, who lost six of its first seven matches and looked pretty dismal throughout the spell. Since then, the Québec-based side has put together a run of three straight wins and climbed from the bottom of the Eastern Conference to just two points away from the playoff positions. 

While the change in form is absolutely worth praising, it should be noted that this run has included wins against the New York Red Bulls, Sporting KC, and most recently a two-faced Orlando side. Not exactly the highest quality of opponents, but you can only beat the opponent you’re facing and Hernán Losada’s side has done just that. 

Three straight shutouts also help, especially after one of the worst defensive records to begin a season in MLS history. Montréal conceded 17 goals in its first seven games but has suddenly found a way to hold firm in defense. If Toronto is held scoreless next week, it will have been over a month since L'Impact saw the ball hit their own net. 

This impressive turnaround speaks to the quality of the league and just how difficult it is for teams to turn their seasons around. Montréal was so far behind that even three straight wins doesn’t put them in a playoff spot. Fans often criticize the regular season for being devoid of meaning but it's true that teams who fall into holes and struggle to get out quickly find themselves playing catch-up all season. 

Poor spells can doom entire seasons and while it's certainly too early to tell, Losada’s team may be ruing their first seven matches as they attempt to rejoin the pack. For now they're right there, a cat amongst the pigeons, in a mid-table battle that sees fifth to 13th-place separated by just three points. They have every chance of making it out and they have this three-game spell to thank. 

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