By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 30, 2023) US Soccer Players – The arrival of April means many things. The feeling of spring is in the air, and sports kicks into overdrive. Baseball celebrates the opening day of its new season. Golf’s biggest week of the year arrives with The Masters. American football’s preeminent offseason event, the NFL Draft goes down at the end of the month. Both the NBA and NHL hit the stretch run of their seasons with the playoffs looming. And then there’s the soccer.
American soccer has a big month ahead. It’s not just the still-fresh MLS season moving into a higher gear via its second full month of play. It’s also the return of the Concacaf Champions League, a new edition of the USA-Mexico rivalry, and the symbolic start to the final sprint in several European competitions where Americans ply their trades.
Spring fever in Major League Soccer brings with it a tendency towards overreaction. With a handful of games already in the books, it feels like we can begin to assess clubs’ regular season prospects. New players are already being judged on their initial performances, and a consensus is forming on who’s good and who’s not.
The Seattle Sounders’ fast start has plenty of observers talking up their chances to get back to the MLS Cup and add to the club’s trophy case. In April, the Sounders could climb into the top spot in the Western conference though they’ll need to perform well in three away games.
Hosting St Louis City on April 8 looms large for Seattle in getting to the top of the standings. St Louis emerged from March as the runaway biggest story in MLS thanks to its record-breaking start. They might not arrive in Seattle without a blemish on its record, the club plays away to Minnesota on Saturday, but they’ll still be in first for the showdown with Seattle.
Neither Seattle nor St Louis will hit April juggling multiple competitions, the challenge facing three other MLS clubs. Defending MLS Cup champion LAFC enters April within striking distance of first in the Western Conference and in a prime position to reach the semifinal stage of the Concacaf Champions League.
LAFC coach Steve Cherundolo hasn’t had to worry too much about his players responding to the heavy workload. While additions like Timothy Tillman and Stipe Buik have taken on a share of the minutes, the club’s core excelled in both MLS and the CCL. April will be the stiffest test yet. Two legs in the CCL against the Vancouver Whitecaps plus the club’s league schedule means LAFC will play seven games in 29 days.
Unlike LAFC, the Philadelphia Union has struggled out of the gate in MLS. The Union faces a less familiar and more difficult opponent in the quarterfinal round of the CCL, Liga MX club Atlas, on top of its five league matches. The Union is under pressure to climb the Eastern Conference table and keep its dream of a continental title alive.
On April 19, the United States and Mexico will meet in Phoenix, Arizona in a game setup to serve as an appetizer to a Nations League semifinal matchup in Las Vegas a few months later. Billed as the “Continental Clasico,” the Phoenix friendly will bring the US and Mexico together for the first time in 2023. The game will be one of two guaranteed clashes between the rivals, with a third showdown possible at this summer’s Gold Cup.
Mexico will be attempting to break an American run of dominance in recent years. Mexico last beat the USMNT in 2019, when El Tri triumphed 3-0 in a friendly at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. In 2021 the US downed Mexico three times, first in the Nations League final in Denver, then in the Gold Cup final in Las Vegas, and finally in a World Cup qualifier in Cincinnati.
The two teams last played to a 0-0 draw at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in March of 2022. Mexico leads the all-time series with 38 wins to the Americans’ 23. Twenty-five of Mexico’s victories against the US happened before 1994.
While MLS is just getting its engines started for the 2023 season, leagues across Europe are hitting full throttle on the final stretch of the 2022-23 campaign. The biggest stories naturally center on league title races, with both the English Premier League and the German Bundesliga drawing the attention.
In England, Arsenal is attempting to lift the Premier League title for the first time in nearly two decades. The club of American goalkeeper Matt Turner has so far staved off a push by Manchester City to knock Arsenal out of the top spot and holds an eight-point lead with ten matches remaining on the schedule. Arsenal is far from a small club, but the Gunners beating out the likes of City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United to win the Premier League would still be a significant surprise.
Bayern Munich’s grip on the German championship is a decade old. The last club other than the Bavarian powerhouse to win the Bundesliga was Borussia Dortmund in 2011-12. As spring arrives in Germany, the possibility that someone could knock Bayern off its perch is very real. The Bundesliga title race is competitive with two months left. Gio Reyna and his Dortmund teammates are on an 11-game unbeaten run that goes back to November of 2022.
Dortmund is on a mission to repeat its feat from 2012 and sits one point up on Bayern Munich with nine matches to play. The two title challengers face on to start the month in a massive game that might help decide the title. 3rd-place Union Berlin isn’t out of it either, with Jordan Pefok’s club only five points behind Dortmund.
Jason Davis is the host of The United States of Soccer on SiriusXM.
More From Jason Davis:
- Eredivisie experience showed in the USMNT’s March wins
- League A and beyond in the Concacaf Nations League
- Auston Trusty is part of the USMNT center back picture in March
- LAFC puts the focus on player development with Red&Gold Football
Photo by Fernando Leon – ISIPhotos.com