MLS Matchday 34 Player Power Rankings
Several teams learned their post-season fate and a regular season champion was all but crowned in Matchday 34 of Major League Soccer.
Toronto and Colorado Rapids are the first teams for whom the race for the playoffs is mathematically over, sitting bottom of the Eastern and Western conferences respectively.
Things are tight around the playoff qualification line in both conferences though as teams have between three or five games left to play in the 2023 regular season.
A the top of the standings, the Supporters’ Shield winner is all but decided, and the player who will win this season’s MVP award is pretty clear.
But first to an eight-goal thriller in Washington, D.C. where a familiar name bagged a hat-trick.
By James Nalton, MLS expert
Christian Benteke 9.8 (DC United)
Two of the original MLS teams are battling it out in the Eastern Conference for a place in the 2023 playoffs.
It’s not the area of the table fans of either side want to be operating in, and DC United were on the wrong end of the result in this important game against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday.
Given DC United’s performances in recent seasons, still being in with a chance of playoff qualification at this stage of the season is something of an improvement.
That there is still a chance owes a lot to the goals of Benteke who, on 13 for the season, is just two off the top of the goalscoring charts going into the final run of games in 2023.
Two goals from inside the 6-yard box, one a header following some clever movement and another eventually turned in after some persistence in a ground duel gave DC a 2-1 lead in a high-scoring game.
A penalty won by himself then made it 3-2, but DC eventually lost 5-3.
Brian Gutiérrez 9.1 (Chicago Fire)
If DC United are still in with a chance of qualifying for the playoffs, then Chicago Fire, having played a game less, should be considered as part of that race, too.
Chicago’s league finishes in recent years have been consistently poor so, again, as with DC, still being in the mix at this stage might be considered slight progress even though it has been another difficult season overall for the club.
Gutiérrez scored one and assisted another in a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution on Matchday 34 to keep the Fire just about in touch with that playoff line.
The 20-year-old United States youth international did well to get something substantial on Jonathan Dean’s cross to open the scoring.
Some nice footwork in the box and awareness of where his teammates are then set up Gastón Giménez for the second, but New England equalised late on through Carles Gil.
Luciano Acosta 9.1 (FC Cincinnati)
It now seems certain that Luciano Acosta will be crowned MLS MVP in 2023 as he once again helped FC Cincinnati move a step closer to securing the Supporters’ Shield title as overall league leader.
Acosta scored one and assisted another as Cincinnati scored three without reply at home to Charlotte FC.
Not before he had set himself up for an overhead kick which was saved by Kristijan Kahlina in the Charlotte goal.
Lucho’s assist came as he won possession high up the pitch and set up Aaron Boupendza, and his goal was a great solo effort, dribbling from the halfway line before finishing inside the area with two defenders for company.
The other Cincinnati goal came from an Álvaro Barreal free-kick, the Argentine scoring another worldie on the same weekend he was nominated for this year’s Puskas Award for his volley from a corner kick in the US Open Cup quarter-finals against Pittsburgh Riverhounds.
Xande Silva 9.0 (Atlanta United)
It is about time Xande Silva featured in the Player Power rankings. He’s been impressive since joining Atlanta United on loan from French side Dijon in August, and this was a particularly outstanding performance as Atlanta defeated Montreal 4-1.
He opened the scoring, acting as the inside forward and drifting in from his position on the left to get on the end of Saba Lobzhanidze’s ball into the box.
He then set up Thiago Almada for Atlanta’s second after doing all the hard work himself, bursting into the box past defenders and then having the composure to find Almada in front of goal.
It was also Silva’s pressure that led to an error from Montreal defender Gabriele Corbo allowing Georgios Giakoumakis to pounce and finish excellently to remain joint-top of the MLS scoring charts with 15.
His directness will be a threat to any opposition in MLS as Atlanta heads into the playoffs with a promising-looking team that should also see them do well in 2024 when they have the option to make Silva’s loan move permanent.
Emiliano Rigoni 8.8 (Austin FC)
Following a three-hour weather delay, Austin FC versus LA Galaxy became one of the classic MLS After Dark matches.
Austin went 3-1 up with Rigoni assisting the first for Alex Ring. It might have been an unintentional lay-off, but it worked nevertheless.
There was nothing unintentional about Rigoni’s goal—Austin’s third—which was fired into the roof of the net after he was sent in behind the Galaxy defence by Daniel Pereira.
The game finished at around 1.30am in Austin following that long delay, and by that time LA Galaxy had come back to make it 3-3 in a dramatic, late, late show.
(Cover image from IMAGO)
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