By Tom Sweezy
Facundo Torres (Photo courtesy of Sam Essex)
Matchday 30 from Major League Soccer saw plenty of fireworks as the MLS Cup Playoffs draw close. There were also some added moments from international stars from across the league as an international window approaches, and players are due to miss some upcoming matches. We saw celebrities, blowouts, much-needed wins, and some tough losses. As there is every week, so many storylines have risen from another week of action. But it is my duty here to sift through those storylines and pick out just a few that any/all fans of MLS should be aware of:
Kai Wagner continues to prove his dominance over the left back position
The Philadelphia Union since 2019 has been one of the best clubs in the Eastern Conference. To me, this goes partially hand in hand with the arrival of left back Kai Wagner during the 2019 season. Wagner has played in over 160 games for the Union since his arrival to the club and in that time has been one of the league’s best in providing assists. Wagner has assisted on 41 goals in all competitions during that time and has been a key part of the high levels of scoring we’ve seen from Philadelphia in recent seasons.
Wagner once again showed this ability this last matchday as Wagner would be the Man of the Match in the Union’s win over the New York Red Bulls. Wagner assisted on three of Philly’s four goals; Damion Lowe’s 57th-minute goal, Julian Carranza’s 58th-minute goal, and Daniel Gazdag’s 76th-minute goal. The interesting part to be aware of about Wagner is that after this season, his contract is up with Philadelphia. Wagner could go to Europe, as we’ve seen interest from multiple clubs the last few windows, but if he doesn’t return he would be one of the top MLS free agents this off-season.
The stars of Los Angeles come out to watch Messi play
Before the match between LAFC and Inter Miami CF this past weekend, the lights were shining bright out at the home of the reigning MLS Cup Champions. Off the field, the PLETHORA of stars that came out to either support LAFC and/or come watch Messi play was insane. Of the notable stars, we saw; Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Leonardo DiCaprio, Selena Gomez, Tom Holland, LeBron James, James Harden, Ed Norton, Nas, and a ton more.
We’ve never seen this kind of star power in bunches like this coming to MLS games. The Lionel Messi tour has had an “NBA-esc” star turnout to its games. On the field, the fans who came out to see Lionel Messi were happy as Miami would grab a huge 3-1 road win. In this win, Messi would rack up two assists on goals scored by Jordi Alba and Leonardo Campana.
Orlando City pressing for the top of the Eastern Conference
FC Cincinnati is clear and top of Major League Soccer, let alone the Eastern Conference. But within the last few weeks, we’ve seen a few clubs push closer and closer to Cincinnati’s chokehold of the top of the East. At TQL Stadium in Cincinnati this past weekend, Orlando City traveled to Cincinnati and squeezed out a massive 1-0 road win. In the 44th minute, striker Romario Enrique fed a ball back into the box and found an unmarked Facundo Torres who put home the easy finish past Roman Celentano.
With 7 yellow cards, a red card, and a ton of other fouls… this slugfest was a well-earned road point for the Lions. Orlando City is a team in the East to keep an eye on. Since the arrival of Óscar Pareja in 2020, the club has only improved. Making the MLS Is Back Tournament Final in 2020, winning the 2022 U.S. Open Cup, and now fighting for a top spot in the Eastern Conference late in the 2023 season.