MLS winners and losers: MVP Acosta closes on Messi as Union broken again

Ryan Baldi
MLS winners and losers
MLS winners and losers

It was a different diminutive Argentinian No.10 shining brightest in MLS this weekend, while the man from Le Mans put his racing speed to use in a fresh way.


MLS winners

The Most Valuable Playmaker?
It was ‘Rivalry Week’ in MLS this past weekend, and in the most-anticipated clash of the matchday, reigning MVP Luciano Acosta needed just two second-half minutes to settle a clash that brought together two of the best teams in the league.

The ‘Hell is Real’ derby between the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati takes its name from a Christian billboard on the side of Interstate 71, the highway separating the two Ohio cities.

And the rivalry has been much more hellish for Cincinnati since the Orange and Blue joined MLS in 2019. The Crew, founder members of the league, have won three MLS Cups – including beating Cincy in last season’s final. Not only have Cincinnati – last year’s Supporters’ Shield champions – never won an MLS Cup, going into this weekend’s fixture at Field, they’d never beaten their rivals away from home.

But thanks to Acosta, that changed on Saturday.

The Argentinian created the game’s opening goal in the 74th minute with an intricate, jinking dribble down the right side of the penalty area before lofting a perfectly clipped cross for Kevin Kelsey to head in from close range.

Then, in the 76th minute, Acosta calmly swerved defender Steven Moreira’s challenge inside the box and set a carefully curled strike into the far corner of Patrick Schulte’s net.

Max Arfsten pulled a goal back for the home side late on, but Acosta’s two minutes of magic proved enough to seal a satisfying victory on the most hostile of territories for Cincinnati.

Acosta has now either scored or assisted – or, as was the case here, both – in his last six MLS outings and Pat Noonan’s side sit second in the Eastern Conference, just three points behind Inter Miami with a game in hand. The race for the Supporters’ Shield could come down to which of the two contenders’ Argentinian maestros can sustain their MVP form.

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Denis the Menace
Los Angeles FC forward Denis Bouanga snared the league’s Golden Boot award last season with 20 goals in 31 games.

The France-born Gabon star has thus far been unable to replicate such prolific scoring this term, with his perfectly admirable return of six strikes in 12 appearances leaving him five goals off the pace in the running for the top scorer’s award – currently led by Christian Benteke, Chicho Arango and Luis Suarez.

But while Bouanga didn’t match the three frontrunners by scoring this weekend, he did display a timely creative productivity that would have pleased soon-to-be strike partner Olivier Giroud if he was watching from Milan.

The 29-year-old winger provided assists for all three goals in LAFC’s 3-0 defeat of the Vancouver Whitecaps at BMO Stadium on Saturday.

And all three came via the kind of delivery from wide that, if replicated over the second half of the campaign after the Frenchman’s pre-agreed arrival, will help Giroud hit the ground running in MLS.

Many of Bouanga’s goals come from the former Saint-Etienne man driving inside from the left to finish with his right foot. This time, though, showcasing the kind of acceleration befitting of a player born in Le Mans, the 29-year-old burst to the outside of his marker and swept sumptuous low balls across the face of the goal to be gobbled up by Cristian Olivera, who scored the game’s first two goals, and Mateusz Bogusz.


MLS losers

Off-beat Union
Cavan Sullivan, the 14-year-old sensation who last week signed a homegrown player contract with Philadelphia Union ahead of a future move to Manchester City when he turns 18, was in attendance at Subaru Park on Saturday to strike a 6ft-high ceremonial drum before the visit of Orlando City.

And the Union were very much marching to the beat of their own dramatically oversized drum just a few weeks ago. After a 2-2 draw away to Atlanta United on 15 April, Jim Curtin’s men boasted the last remaining undefeated record in MLS this season.

Since then, though, they have not won a single league game, with now three defeats and two draws in their last five fixtures.

This weekend’s reverse against struggling Orlando City is especially concerning. It was the just the third win of the season for the Florida side and even maligned Designated Player signing Luis Muriel scored not only his first MLS goal since joining Orlando from Atalanta in January but he also grabbed a second in a 3-1 win.

The defeat saw Philly slip to ninth in the East, with just three wins from 11 games for the season so far. It’ll take more than a teenager bashing a novelty percussion instrument for the Union to rediscover their rhythm.


The Crew’s continental conflict
Just one position and one point ahead of the Union in the Eastern Conference standings, the Columbus Crew are riding an even longer winless streak after their home loss to FC Cincinnati.

The reigning MLS Cup champions have not won a league match in seven attempts, with this weekend’s derby defeat snapping a streak of five successive draws.

What is baffling about the Crew’s underwhelming beginning to the 2024 MLS campaign is that they have been on fire in continental competition, having reached the final of the CONCACAF Champions Cup, in which they will face Mexican side Pachuca at the start of next month.

The CCC was undoubtedly the focus for the Crew at the campaign’s outset. But few would have predicted success continentally would come at such a high cost in the domestic league.

Coach Wilfried Nancy has deservedly earned plaudits for the style and sophistication of football he has coaxed from his charges since taking over at Field ahead of last season. The Frenchman’s managerial mettle faces a different test over the remainder of the 2024 MLS season if he is to rescue the Crew from their faltering title defence.

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