Week 5 of the MLS season is in the books, with everyone returning from a critical international break to focus on club action.
The two conferences are starting to take shape, especially in a week where some continued their charge to the top and others stayed stuck in the mud.
Let's take a look at some of the most interesting storylines from the weekend:
1. And then there were three...
The start of the 2022 season has been marked by a couple of teams making wholly expected unbeaten runs, and others not so expected.
After Week 5, there are just three teams yet to taste defeat: LAFC, Philadelphia Union, and Chicago Fire.
LAFC set themselves up nicely for this weekend's El Trafico clash with the LA Galaxy by beating Orlando City 4-2 on the road. Yet another bag of goals from the league's top scorers, although Steve Cherundolo will want to re-tighten that defense before coming up against Chicharito (more on him later).
The Union, meanwhile, brought Charlotte FC crashing back down to earth after a couple of wins, sucking the life out of them in a way only Jim Curtin teams can. The 2-0 was measured, methodical, and inevitable.
Chicago are the final unbeaten team. They're fourth in the east with nine points from five games, and though they've only scored five times (not adding to their total in a 0-0 draw with FC Dallas), they've only conceded once. That's an incredible achievement for a side that has been a trainwreck across the last few seasons. Huge credit goes to new head coach Ezra Hendrickson, goalkeeping starlet Gabriel Slonina, and the defense in front of him.
The only downside for the Fire was the early loss of Xherdan Shaqiri to injury on Saturday.
2. Title holders continue to falter
Two teams that everyone expected to ride high in the standings this season but, so far, aren't are NYCFC and the New England Revolution. After all, once you win a trophy, a lot of extra pressure follows.
NYCFC fell 2-1 away to Toronto FC on Saturday in a match where they really were their own worst enemy. As they have done throughout the start of this MLS season, the reigning champions created their own problems and didn't give Taty Castellanos anywhere near enough service.
Meanwhile, Supporters' Shield holders New England fell to a miserable 1-0 defeat at home to the New York Red Bulls. Bruce Arena's men huffed and puffed, but just couldn't bring the attacking verve that defined them last year. The Red Bulls had them at arm's length, then let them press self-destruct when Andrew Farrell cleared the ball right at teammate Matt Polster, who was unfortunate to see it diverted into his own net.
Of course, both teams can point to Concacaf Champions League commitments stealing a little early-season focus. But give it a few weeks and that excuse won't wash - it's time to start putting points on the board.
3. MLS players making USMNT bids
The World Cup draw has been made and the United States certainly have a lot to look forward to in the group stage alone. Now is the time for players to put in those extra yards to get Gregg Berhalter's attention ahead of the trip to Qatar.
In MLS, a few players, in particular, are going above and beyond to stand out:
- Brandon Vazquez scored his fifth goal of the season to top the Golden Boot standings in FC Cincinnati's 4-3 defeat to CF Montreal. Vazquez also forced the own goal that made it 2-1 to Cincy at the time, and should have had an assist with a great delivery for Dom Badji. The 23-year-old is going to be hard to ignore if he keeps up this goalscoring rate.
- Djordje Mihailovic also netted two very, very impressive goals in that match to hand Montreal the win. The midfielder has three goals in his last two, four in nine across all competitions, and continues to be a creative menace with the ball at his feet. There is a need for a little extra playmaking quality on Berhalter's roster in case the USMNT need to break down a stubborn defense.
- Gabriel Slonina kept his fourth clean sheet in five games at the start of this season as the Fire played out a goalless draw with Dallas. Slonina has only had to make two saves per match in that time but when called upon, he's come up big. That's incredible concentration for a 17-year-old who would be forgiven for letting his mind wander due to lack of experience. Slonina is calm, quick, and is capable of digging his team out at vital moments. Sitting behind Matt Turner and Zack Steffen at this year's World Cup would do him no harm and right now, he deserves a spot.
4. Chicharito does Chicharito things
Chicharito scores goals. He doesn't care who you are or where you're from, he just wants to put the ball in your net.
The 33-year-old came up with another two instinctive finishes on Sunday as the LA Galaxy won 3-1 away at the Portland Timbers. One was a late run to the back post to poke the ball home, the other a sweeping finish into the far corner following some great work from Raheem Edwards.
Chicharito very nearly won the Golden Boot with a team that didn't even make the Playoffs last season. Already, he's just one behind Vazquez in this campaign having played a game fewer.
Tata Martino continues to snub Chicharito for El Tri, but Greg Vanney and the Galaxy know just how valuable the striker is.
5. Inter Miami continue disastrous start
What on earth does Phil Neville do next?
His Inter Miami side are stranded at the bottom of the overall standings with just a single point from five games after their fourth consecutive loss at the weekend - 3-1 at home to Houston.
The Herons have conceded a whopping 13 goals and scored just three. Even the San Jose Earthquakes aren't posting numbers that bad, and that's before you consider that two of their three goals were penalties.
Even in a league as forgiving to coaches as MLS, Neville is living on borrowed time. Miami look uninspired, shambolic, and doomed all at once. He needs to find solutions, and very, very quickly.
MLS Week 5 results:
- Chicago Fire 0-0 FC Dallas
- Toronto FC 2-1 NYCFC
- FC Cincinnati 3-4 CF Montreal
- Columbus Crew 0-1 Nashville SC
- San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Austin FC
- Philadelphia Union 2-0 Charlotte FC
- Orlando City 2-4 LAFC
- New England Revolution 0-1 New York Red Bulls
- DC United 0-1 Atlanta United
- Vancouver Whitecaps 1-0 Sporting Kansas City
- Minnesota United 1-2 Seattle Sounders
- Colorado Rapids 1-1 Real Salt Lake
- Inter Miami 1-3 Houston Dynamo
- Portland Timbers 1-3 LA Galaxy