Throughout the MLS season, I'm going to be adding a new, league-wide update with a quick notebook of major stories from the past weekend and beyond. This is an Orlando City website, but every Wednesday, we're widening our view to the whole of the league.
RSL surprising its way to top of the West
If you were to guess who leads the Western Conference after four games, most likely you'd say either LA team, Seattle maybe Portland. But despite several key injuries and no Designated Players, Real Salt Lake lead MLS's Western Conference, albeit alongside LAFC, with 10 points, with wins against Seattle, Nashville and New England.
I assumed that this was merely a fluke, given the perceived lack of talent and some of the game states of this season, but the underlying numbers are all pretty strong. RSL is a tough defensive team and get enough creativity from wingbacks and Justin Meram to provide for Bobby Wood. If the new ownership group can add in a few DPs to bolster the overall talent, it could be a memorable season in Claret and Cobalt.
Cincinnati and Charlotte aren't bottom feeders
Two of the most ragged on teams in the preseason, for good reason, were FC Cincinnati and Charlotte FC. Charlotte is an expansion team and rarely bodes well, while Cincy rattled off three consecutive Wooden Spoons.
After two weeks and two losses for each, that criticism was fully justified. And then things changed. Cincinnati beat Orlando City on the road, a shocking smash and grab, before throttling a mentally broken Inter Miami team at home. Charlotte nearly earned a draw against Atlanta United, and then defeated a short-handed New England Revolution team 3-1. Both squads have genuine stars at center forward in Brandon Vazquez and Karol Swiderski and play surprisingly attractive soccer.
The two teams face off on Univision this Saturday in the middle of the international break.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying ends this week
It's here. The final window of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in North America is this week and it's massive. The United States currently sit in second place, but has its hardest qualifying window yet with road trips to Mexico and Costa Rica, with a home match in Orlando against Panama in between.
Canada is all but qualified in first place, while Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama join the US in the battle for spots two through four. Fourth place earns a cross-continental playoff with the champion of Oceania, and the first three spots earn an automatic birth. This weekend is going to be stressful.