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MLS Stats Zone: Portland Timbers defy expected goals as DC United and the LA Galaxy show progress

Two teams that missed the playoffs in 2023 have established themselves as two of the best MLS teams in 2024, albeit just two games into the season.

Just one team - Inter Miami - has more than four points, but that's because they're one of two teams to have played three games already. Everyone else will feel it's early enough to progress to where each team wants to be this season - even the three teams on zero points.

Still, we'll take a look at the most eye-popping numbers from the second weekend of games in the 2024 MLS season.

Read about 2024 MLS Cup odds on site.

DC United and LA Galaxy make their marks

Fans didn't know what to expect when Christian Benteke and Riqui Puig joined DC United and LA Galaxy, respectively. Benteke had an inconsistent decade in the Premier League while Puig never made the grade at FC Barcelona despite graduating from the club's famed academy.

Well, they're making their marks stateside now. Benteke leads the line for DC and scored a hat trick in the club's opening game of 2024. After scoring one goal in half a season after joining midway through 2022, he netted 14 in 2023 and could exceed that this season.

Benteke didn't play in DC's second game of the season, but the club continued its expected goals dominance in a 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. DC posted 2.0 xG to Portland's 0.8, and while a penalty kick contributed to DC's xG, both the club's goals had a post-shot expected goals value of 0.97, indicating an average goalkeeper would have a three percent chance of saving the shot.

After battling to a draw with Inter Miami to open the season, the Los Angeles Galaxy improved over the second weekend of matches to beat the San Jose Earthquakes 3-1 on the road.

Riqui Puig, after missing a penalty against Miami, scored the final goal against San Jose. He also led his team in touches with 119 - his next-closest teammate had 88. But Puig's teammates Joseph Painstil and Dejan Joveljic deserve praise, too.

Paintsil joined in the offseason from Belgian club Genk, and he has been a star on the wing already. He scored a goal and assisted Joveljic's goal, as well as making a joint-team-high four progressive carries with the ball.

Joveljic has broken the 10-goal mark in just one of his four MLS seasons, but he has two goals and one assist already in 2024. He used his 20 touches against San Jose wisely, as he scored and provided the assist for Puig's goal.

Portland defies xG

The top team in the Western Conference has a negative xG differential and has created a mere 1.3 xG in its two matches. The Portland Timbers have defied convention under new manager Phil Neville, and the players are doing it by committee.

In their first match, Portland put four goals past the Colorado Rapids while creating a paltry 0.5 xG. Against DC in their second game, the Timbers scored twice on 0.8 xG in a 2-2 draw. In all, Portland has created 1.3 xG and conceded 3.2 xG for a -1.9 expected goal differential, but they hold an actual goal differential of +3.

Four different players have scored Portland's six goals in two matches, with one of those goals being an own goal by the Rapids. Summer 2023 signing Antony scored twice against Colorado, and Eryk Williamson - a midfielder returning from injury - added one of his own. Against DC, Santiago Moreno assisted Dairon Asprilla's goal before scoring himself, assisted by new left-back Eric Miller.

Josef Martinez ready to bounce back?

After scoring 77 goals in his first three MLS seasons and winning the league's MVP Award and the MLS Cup in 2018, Josef Martinez hasn't looked the same since he suffered a torn ACL 68 minutes into his first game of the 2020 season.

But in two games off the bench to begin the season with new club CF Montreal, Martinez looks dangerous again, and the numbers back it up. While he does not - and, sadly, probably never will - have the speed he had in his pre-injury years, he slipped deep to link with his midfielders and find space in front of the backline in Montreal's most recent game, a 2-1 win over FC Dallas.

Martinez has not started either of his team's matches this season. He came off the bench for a hobbled Matias Coccaro just before halftime against Dallas, and when he got the chance, he looked like his old self when dashing past veteran center back Omar Gonzalez to finish a through ball from Montreal defender Ruan, putting it past Dallas goalkeeper Maarten Paes.

The performance of Montreal goalkeeper Joathan Sirois deserves praise. If it wasn't for him preventing 1.3 post-shot expected goals' worth of chances, Martinez's goal likely would not have been the winner. After that game, Sirois moved into fourth among MLS goalkeepers in post-shot expected goals plus/minus with a +2.0 rating, meaning that he has saved the equivalent of two more goals than an average 'keeper would.

Bonus stats

  • The Seattle Sounders held Austin FC to just two total shots in their game, with Austin ending the match with 0.0 expected goals.
  • Toronto FC designated player Lorenzo Insigne completed all three of his dribble attempts and scored the lone goal in Toronto's 1-0 win over the New England Revolution in matchweek 2.
  • With 1.6 post-shot xG prevented against New England, Toronto FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson is second in the league in total post-shot xG prevented and first in the league in post-shot xG prevented per 90 minutes.
  • Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Zac MacMath saved all six of Los Angeles FC's shots on target in Salt Lake's 3-0 win in a snowstorm.

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