Chicharito and Riqui Puig finally step up! MLS winners and losers as superstars get LA Galaxy back on track

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Riqui Puig LA Galaxy 2023
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The west coast giants grabbed their long-awaited first win of the MLS season on Saturday during another entertaining round of fixtures

Entering the weekend, there were just two winless teams remaining in MLS. And while one was finally led to three points by their superstars, the other continued to be exposed as an MLS legend's hot seat gets even hotter.

The LA Galaxy finally fought their way to their first victory on what was their eighth attempt, with the club's biggest names stepping up to lead the way.

Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and Riqui Puig put in performances worthy of their reputation, offering a glimmer of hope that the Galaxy could just play their way out of this disastrous start to the season.

There's no such hope in Kansas City, though, as Sporting KC continue to be abysmal, to put it kindly. Nine games, just three goals and, most importantly, zero wins; it's quickly going from bad to worse for Peter Vermes and co.

With that said, here's a look at this weekend's winners and losers from across MLS:

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  1. WINNER: Galaxy superstars

    WINNER: Galaxy superstars

    The LA Galaxy have always been a team of superstars and, this weekend, for the first time this season, those players were there to lead the way.

    Chicharito, only recently returning from injury, scored his first of the season, joining Puig on the scoresheet to lead the Galaxy to a 2-0 win over floundering Austin FC.

    It's a win that, for the Galaxy, will go a long way as they finally have something positive to work with.

    Greg Vanney made the much-needed and long-awaited change to a 3-5-2, uniting Chicharito with Dejan Jolevic up top. That partnership should be as good as any in the league, as long as Vanney is flexible enough to play them together. With Chicharito finally healthy, the Galaxy's attacking issues should get somewhat better, even if their wide players continue to be nothing short of useless.

    As for Puig, adding goals to his game will be a big part of his development. Even in the Galaxy's defeats, the ex-Barcelona prospect is a player that can dictate the entire game from midfield, and he's done that several times this season. But if he can do that and provide service to the front two, the Galaxy can start cooking.

    One win is a start, and only that: a start. It did, however, show that there are some reasons for optimism for a team that still has nowhere to really go but up given their start.

    "When you are in this type of club, the pressure and the standards and the responsibility is very high. It's not the same to be in another club and not win six games," Chicharito said. "Here in LA, you don't win in six games when you're the Galaxy, you can see we don't even have fans in our stands. So yeah, it was a release, a confirmation moment."

  2. LOSER: Sporting KC
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    LOSER: Sporting KC

    It would be fair to say it feels like it's all crashing down at once in Kansas City but, to be honest, that has been going on for some time.

    Now winless through nine games, Sporting KC's problems go far beyond this season. This disaster, this mess, has been a long time coming, even if a slew of injuries has made it all a bit worse than it should.

    The club has failed to sign top-end, star contributors for the better part of the last decade and their heroes of yesteryear have finally fallen apart. Roger Espinoza, who started the 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution this weekend, has been, aside from a brief spell at Wigan, at this club since 2008. It's no wonder he's slowed down.

    For years, Sporting KC relied on a core spearheaded by the likes of Espinoza, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi. Besler is retired, but the other two are still there with nearly 30 years of service at the club between them.

    That, on its own, isn't a problem. It is good to have continuity and club legends. The problem is that the club has never replaced much of anyone from the team's heyday in the mid-2010s.

    The blame, of course, falls on Vermes, who is in charge of all facets at Sporting KC. For years, Vermes has been synonymous with this club, and he will remain so, even if this continues to get worse and worse and a change is required.

    The good news? Alan Pulido is back, so that should help up front, but there may be nothing this club can do about their problems in midfield or defense. There are just simply too many holes for this team to be competitive as Vermes, or whoever else is in charge should the club make a change, is likely staring down a multi-year rebuild.

  3. WINNER: Philadelphia Union
    Facebook/Philadelphia Union

    WINNER: Philadelphia Union

    That's more like it!

    Finally, the Union put together a performance in MLS, snapping a five-game winless skid in the league. Sandwiched between that skid is a CONCACAF Champions League triumph over Atlas, and it appears that has given this team a bit of confidence, not that they really need it.

    The Union smashed Toronto FC, 4-2, in a game that wasn't quite as close as that scoreline indicates. The hero this week was Mikael Uhre, who smashed a hat-trick past TFC to help right the course for the Union, a team that hasn't yet looked like the juggernaut that many expected them to be this season.

    “I thought that we played our best 45 minutes of the season in that first half," said Union coach Jim Curtin. "I think it looked like us. I think we were proactive."

    Up next, though, is a marquee matchup in the CCL: an MLS Cup rematch against LAFC. If the Union really want to make a statement, and if they want to exact a bit of revenge, they'll have the stage to do so in the CCL semi-finals.

    What a showcase that should be, especially with the Union looking something like their old selves once again.

  4. LOSER: Phil Neville and Inter Miami

    LOSER: Phil Neville and Inter Miami

    It's only April, but we've already reached the point where Phil Neville has to answer questions about job security.

    Such is life at Inter Miami, a club that is always under the microscope, even more so when they aren't winning.

    Right now, Neville and Miami simply aren't winning enough.

    "It's nowhere near good enough for what we want for this football club," Neville said after the latest defeat, a 1-0 loss to Houston that marks the club's sixth-straight defeat after beginning the season with two wins.

    "I take full responsibility for that and the consequences that come my way, but I believe 100 percent that we can start winning. We can start getting wins on the table. We can start climbing the table. I've got belief in the players we've got. I see it."

    Neville has something of a point: Miami can, and probably should, start winning. They have been the better team several times throughout those six games but, for a variety of reasons, have fallen short. On the balance of play, they should have picked up a few points over the past few weeks but, unfortunately for Miami, you don't get much of anything for winning the 'balance of play' battle.

    Still, it's hard to win games if you can't score and, right now, Miami simply can't score. This loss to Houston makes it three straight without a goal, and it's hard to argue with the results when you can't find the back of the net.

    There's work to be done in Miami. After a U.S. Open Cup match against Miami FC this week, they'll head to Columbus on Saturday to face the Crew. That's a winnable game and, while we may not yet be in must-win territory for Neville, we may be in must-not-lose territory.

  5. WINNER: Santi Rodriguez

    Maybe the answer has been right there for NYCFC all along. The club has been calling out for a striker since Taty Castellanos' departure and, after months of miscasting Talles Magno in the role, Santi Rodriguez was handed the keys as something of a false nine.

    And it worked! It couldn't have gone much better. Rodriguez got two goals, Magno got the other, and NYCFC cruised to a win against FC Dallas.

    Starting Rodriguez in this spot opens several doors for NYCFC, as it allows Magno to go back to his familiar position out wide while giving Richy Ledezma the No.10 role that had been occupied by Rodriguez. Of the two, Ledezma is the better playmaker so, in a way, it all makes sense.

    “I honestly had doubts about the position that Nick [Cushing] chose for me,” Rodríiguez said postgame. “It is a bit different to what I am used to. I felt uncomfortable the first couple of minutes and more than anything, I felt frustrated in terms of not having the ball. After that, I started to adapt more to the game and that served me well to get the two goals.”

    Is Rodriguez the long-term answer here? Probably not. it may not even be the answer next week, Cushing says.

    “Will we do that every game? No. We go to a really difficult Toronto team where we may need a focal point,” Cushing said. “We may need someone to run in behind. We may need a real physical presence up there. Every game is different.

    “For what we asked the team, and in particular Santi tonight, I thought it was a masterclass. Not only in the goals but also tactically, the spaces that he played in and the decisions that he made on the ball.”

    NYCFC still has to prioritize a true superstar forward as that, and that alone, will take this team to the next level. A star No.9 carried them to their first MLS Cup, and this team is strong enough to make another run if you add that 15-20 goal guy up top.

    NYCFC is now unbeaten in four with just one loss in their last six as they're making a run toward the top of the East.