The international break rolls on but we still had three MLS matches to sink our teeth into over the weekend.
Charlotte FC started life without Miguel Angel Ramirez in perfect fashion on Saturday, beating the New York Red Bulls 2-0 in their first match under interim head coach Christian Lattanzio.
Sunday’s double-header saw Nashville SC and the San Jose Earthquakes trade chances but grind out a 0-0 draw, while the New England Revolution heaped more misery on Sporting Kansas City with a 2-1 win at Children’s Mercy Park.
There were plenty of standout individual performances despite the low number of games, and here’s our top five:
Nashville may have been frustrated by the Quakes at GEODIS Park, but it wasn’t for the want of trying from Hany Mukhtar.
So often the catalyst to Gary Smith’s attack, Mukhtar attempted five shots and created five chances on the night, worth 0.65 xG and 0.45 xA respectively. On another day, that would definitely be enough to either score or assist a winner, but a mixture of bad luck, slack finishing, and some rigid Quakes defending kept Mukhtar out.
Still, whether he was driving the ball forward himself or carving the Quakes open with a pass, Mukhtar by far looked the most likely to break the deadlock on Saturday.
Perhaps Mukhtar would have scored if he wasn’t facing an inspired goalkeeper in JT Marcinkowski.
Okay, it has to be said that Marcinkowski did get rounded a couple of times and was helped out by his defenders. But the former US youth international certainly played his part, making five crucial saves to keep a clean sheet, as well as nine recoveries, and one high claim.
It’s a team game, and Marcinkowski needed help from his defense. But the 25-year-old also faced 0.76 xGOT and deserves applause for being equal to Nashville’s best efforts.
The New England Revolution will have to find new ways to win following the sale of star striker Adam Buksa to Ligue 1 side RC Lens.
But given he’s sat out some serious time with a leg injury, it’s easy to forget Gustavo Bou is still around to lead their attack.
The Argentine returned to the starting line-up on Sunday and made his presence felt within half an hour, expertly bringing down and finishing a Dylan Borrero pass to put the Revs 1-0 up at SKC.
Aside from his goal, Bou attempted another four shots and created one chance, but his role was largely restricted to creating space for others.
Still, that goal was a huge contribution to an important New England win, and a timely reminder that Bou is one of the most clinical forwards in this league when fully fit.
We’ll get to some of Charlotte FC’s free-flowing attacking soccer against RBNY in a moment, but a nod must also be given to their mammoth defensive effort on Saturday.
Perhaps the standout candidate from the backline was full-back Joseph Mora.
Time and again, the Red Bulls targeted Charlotte’s left for their attacks but were constantly thwarted by Mora, who ended the match with 10 tackles (TEN?!), 12 recoveries, three clearances, two interceptions, and 10/13 ground duels won.
They’re truly phenomenal defensive numbers and were only one part of a brilliant Charlotte rearguard. It should also serve as a confidence boost to Mora, who has certainly had his ups and downs this season.
As so many have done before him, Ben Bender is proving why the SuperDraft still has a place in Major League Soccer.
Picked first overall by Charlotte at the start of the season, the 21-year-old has slotted perfectly into life in MLS, holding down a starting spot at Bank of America Stadium and displaying technical ability beyond what anyone could have expected.
On Saturday, he showed expert spatial awareness and movement to drift into the half-space and evade RBNY attackers before receiving the ball and firing a deflected shot home to put Charlotte 1-0 up on the stroke of halftime.
It’s the sort of play that is quickly becoming ‘vintage’ from Bender, just like the corner flag celebration that followed.
As the Red Bulls pushed for an equalizer in the second half, Bender remained up for the task at the other end, making eight recoveries, two clearances, one block, and one tackle.
But it’s that movement and goal that has caught the eye. This kid is going places.
Honorable mentions: Joe Willis, Paul Marie, Guzman Corujo, Dylan Borrero, Emmanuel Boateng.