MLS Matchday 32 Player Power Rankings
Lionel Messi was conspicuous by his absence in Matchday 32 of the 2023 MLS regular season.FotMob - 2 weeks ago
Whether he is playing or not, it seems Messi will always be the story, and being rested by his manager Tata Martino after the international break caused a stir.
But Atlanta United put on a show for the fans who had turned up to see Messi, perhaps showing that there is more to this league than one player.
And here are five more, making up the Player Power rankings for the latest round of games with the post-season playoffs just around the corner.
By James Nalton, MLS expert
Brooks Lennon 9.0 (Atlanta United)
Atlanta United looked liberated as the team stormed to a 5-2 win against Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami.
Except there was no Messi in Atlanta. The city had prepared for the Argentine’s arrival by opening up the top tier of its Mercedez-Benz stadium, shared with Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, taking the capacity from its usual soccer match capacity of 42,500 to over 70,000.
Tickets were sold at Messi prices and many fans showed up just to see Messi, but a player should always be free to rest if one is needed and a head coach should not be obliged to pick a player in every game just because marketing all over the league happens to be based around them.
In his absence, Miami’s opposition, Atlanta United, ran free. And if Atlanta United are running free Brooks Lennon is usually a big part of it, marauding forward down the right flank.
Messi’s Argentina teammate Thiago Almada pulls the strings in midfield for Atlanta, but Lennon provides width, energy, and a different kind of creativity.
Lennon picked up his 10th assist of the season, powering to the byline before crossing for Tristan Muyumba to flick a shot in off the far post.
He then scored a goal of his own having made his way into a center-forward position to receive a cross from the left.
“We just played our style,” Lennon said after the game. “We came back to just loving the game of football.”
Denis Bouanga 9.2 (Los Angeles FC)
It has been a disappointing year for LAFC on the back of a championship-winning season in 2022.
With Bouanga in the team, however, there will always be a chance for a shot at winning the MLS Cup once the playoffs come around.
He showed his class again in El Tráfico (the name for the Los Angeles derby match with LA Galaxy) this weekend.
The Gabon international opened the scoring with a great header, finding space between the centre-backs before leaping to connect with a cross from Diego Palacios.
He then pounced on an error from the LA Galaxy defence to put his side 3-2 up, with LAFC then going on to win the derby 4-2 thanks to a goal from Timothy Tillman.
Ramiro Enrique 8.9 (Orlando City)
All of a sudden, Orlando City are in the mix at the top of both the Eastern Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.
Having slowly crept up the table towards the end of the season, Orlando now finds itself second only to FC Cincinnati in MLS, eight points behind the leaders with six games to go.
Orlando has now overtaken St. Louis City in the overall standings and will be encouraged by the performance of Enrique, the 22-year-old Argentine who joined the club this season.
This was his best performance to date, scoring the two goals that turned the game on it’s head with Orlando having been 3-2 down against Columbus Crew with just minutes remaining.
He was involved in the Facundo Torres goal that had started the comeback, laying off a pass to the scorer of the first goal, Martin Ojeda, who then set up the onrushing Torres. The Argentines combining in a packed penalty area to make it 3-2.
Then Enrique’s goals won the game. The first came as he picked up a loose ball from a free kick to equalise, and then something very similar happened for the winner, finishing first-time as the ball fell to him at the far post.
All too familiar defensive issues for Columbus Crew, but Orlando and Enrique took full advantage.
Cristian Espinoza 8.9 (San Jose Earthquakes)
San Jose recorded an important win in their quest to qualify for the playoffs, moving level on points with opponents Real Salt Lake.
Espinoza opened up the Salt Lake defence with a scything through ball for Jeremy Ebobisse, who gave San Jose the lead.
The Argentine winger also assisted his side’s second, which turned out to be the winning goal, finding centre-back Rodrigues, who was still forward from a corner, with a threaded cross using the outside of his right boot.
On his day Espinoza is one of the best players to watch in MLS, and this was one of those days.
Ryan Gauld 8.8 (Vancouver Whitecaps)
The Scottish attacking midfielder has become a regular feature in the Player Power rankings this season.
Indeed, regular readers and MLS watchers will know he’s much more of a forward now, playing through the middle alongside American goal-poacher Brian White.
The pair have formed a productive partnership for the Whitecaps that has seen the team shoot up to fourth in the Western Conference standings and look a threat going into the playoffs on that side of MLS.
White leads the club’s goalscoring charts with 11, plus four assists, while Gauld himself has 10 goals to go with his nine assists.
Just one more assist is needed for Guald to achieve the magical double figures for both stats in 2023.
The linkup was evident as Vancouver defeated Toronto and Gauld crossed for White to head home the winning goal in a 2-1 road win.
It all looked too easy for the pair, and Toronto’s defence merely watched as it happened, but this is a well-rehearsed routine that will pick off such sleeping defences with ease.
(Cover image from IMAGO)
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