Major League Soccer

MLS review: Charlotte FC win battle of the Queen Cities, Russell the SKC hero & more

Chris Smith
Russell was the hero once again for SKC.
Russell was the hero once again for SKC. / Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

We had a reduced slate of MLS games this weekend due to the international break, but there was still plenty of entertainment on offer.

We had a battle of the Queen Cities between Charlotte FC and FC Cincinnati and a rivalry game between Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake on Saturday. Then on Sunday, despite both the United States and Canada being in World Cup qualifying action, almost 23,000 fans packed into Providence Park to watch the Portland Timbers take on Orlando City.

How did it go down? Let's take a look.

1. Kahlina & Swiderski deliver again as Charlotte FC pick up second win

Fresh from their first ever win against the New England Revolution, Charlotte FC returned on Saturday to make it back-to-back Ws. FC Cincinnati were the latest victims, going down 2-0 in a battle of the Queen Cities.

Cincy actually had the better of the game, outshooting Charlotte 14-10 and winning the xG battle 1.61-1.00. But they didn't account for the brilliance of Kristijan Kahlina between the sticks.

The Croatian is fast emerging as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS and he proved why once again here with five world-class saves. That was enough to set the stage for another Karol Swiderski brace - one sneaking in at the far post after six minutes, the other an early contender for Goal of the Season, blasting a free-kick home from 30 yards.

There has been a lot of negative noise surrounding Charlotte FC so far, most of it needless. They've been turned into a punching bag for those looking for an easy narrative.

But on the field, they play slick, stylish soccer that's both easy on the eye and ruthlessly effective. There will be more road bumps as there always are with expansion teams, but Charlotte FC are proving they're unlikely to be the castaways so many predicted in Year One.

2. Johnny Russell the talisman again as RSL finally lose

With massive expectations, Sporting Kansas City have faltered at the start of the new season. Meanwhile, with far lower expectations, Real Salt Lake went unbeaten across their opening four games.

But the formbook was turned on its head on Saturday as SKC won 1-0 at Children's Mercy Park. And as has so often been the case down the years, it was Johnny Russell delivering the late winner.

Tim Melia and the SKC defense played their part with a couple of big saves and vital interceptions. But the hosts were good value for the win and would have celebrated sooner if not for some heroics from RSL's stand-in goalkeeper, Zac MacMath.

SKC all of a sudden climb up to eighth in the West. But more importantly, we've seen that they can remain patient to grind out a win, and that Russell is still a talismanic figure for this team. He absolutely has the talent to carry Peter Vermes' side into the Playoffs even with Alan Pulido out for the season - perhaps with a little help from Daniel Salloi and Khiry Shelton.

The spark that ignites Sporting Kansas City's season? Let's wait and see, but rivalry wins are always funny like that.

3. Portland and Orlando chew each other up in 1-1 draw

Maybe it was the distraction of playing at the same time as Canada and just before the USMNT in their massive World Cup qualifiers, but something just didn't feel right at Providence Park on Sunday.

The Timbers and Orlando City are capable of some of the best soccer in MLS but in this one, they really just chewed each other up with choppy, turgid play. It was a battle, and neither team won.

There were moments of quality, like Brazilians Alexandre Pato and Junior Urso combining for the opening goal. Or Cristhian Paredes dancing through the Orlando defense and winning a late penalty, which he converted.

If anything, this game just proved that things aren't quite clicking in Portland, while Orlando continue to frustrate the life out of their opponents and will be a huge threat in the East if they can find a regular source of goals.