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No one is pressing the panic button (yet)
by Paul Kennedy, March 30th, 2014 8:30PM

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[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Seven MLS teams ended the first month of the season without a win. They include both 2013 conference regular-season champions, New York and Portland, and the 2012 and 2013 MLS champion LA Galaxy. Montreal is the fourth 2013 playoff team still looking for its first victory, but none is showing any signs of panic.

PORTLAND. The Timbers' 2-1 loss at FC Dallas dropped them to 0-2-2 after four games, eight points behind first-place Dallas. Last year, the Timbers were 0-1-3 after four games, six points behind Dallas, but they went on to win the Western Conference and Dallas finished in eighth place, 18 points off the pace.

There are signs of trouble in Portland, where Argentine Norberto Paparatto, who was supposed to solidify the backline, has struggled. Fellow Argentine Diego Valeri, who was the 2013 MLS Newcomer of the Year with 10 goals and 13 assists, has been shut out in both categories through four games. Up front, all the Timbers have mustered is two goals from Gaston Fernandez. Still, Coach Caleb Porter says he's not worried.

“It would be easy to get down and frustrated and start worrying, but we’re not going to do that because we know we have a good team and we know what we’re capable of,” he said after Saturday's loss to Dallas. “It seems like I keep saying that, but at the end of the day, if we weren’t playing well I’d be worried. But we’re playing well.”

NEW YORK. Like Portland, the Red Bulls got off to a slow start only to recover and win their first Supporters' Shield. They actually have one more point after four games than they did last season, earning a 1-1 tie with Chivas USA in the fifth minute of stoppage time after two draws the previous two weeks. They've certainly played a lot better than in the 4-1 loss at Vancouver on opening day.

Coach Mike Petke liked the second-half performance against Chivas USA, but he was not happy with the first half during which Australian star Tim Cahill and Richard Eckersley (responsible for the penalty awarded to Chivas USA) went off with injuries.

"It was much better in the second half," he said. "Overall organization, our desire, our ability to create chances and get forward, but at this point, four games in, there’s still a lot that we need to clean up. A lot. I can’t put my finger on it, specifically in the first half. To say that I wasn’t happy in the first half would probably be the understatement of the year."

Petke was frustrated but he said he wasn't going to press the panic button. "However," he added, "I’m trying to not say the wrong thing if that makes sense, because I’m not happy. I’m not happy with a lot of things." He did say he was going to pay attention to the play of the Red Bulls' reserves, in action Sunday against the Dayton Dutch Lions. He wasn't about to make wholesale changes for Saturday's game at Montreal but admitted "we need some life in this team at times."

MONTREAL. Of the eight coaches at new clubs around MLS, only the Impact's Frank Klopas and his successor at Chicago, Frank Yallop, have yet to pick up their first win. Montreal's 1-1 tie at Philadelphia was its first point after three losses and coincided with the return of Italian Marco Di Vaio from suspension.

"It was a game that we played well again," said Klopas. "We had some good moments and the way we came back to fight after being a man down showed a lot of character. It's a positive thing to build on."

It was Di Vaio who had the tying goal in the 80th minute for the short-handed Impact, which lost Andrew Wenger to a red card five minutes earlier, but its one point in four games is nonetheless the worst record in MLS.

"We can take some good things away from today's game," said Di Vaio. "We played against a good team and I am happy that I was able to score an important goal for us with a man down. After they scored, we fought to make sure they wouldn't get a second and it kept us in the game."

LA GALAXY. The Galaxy has played only two MLS games -- both against Real Salt Lake -- so a loss (1-0 at home) followed by a tie (1-1 in Utah) to unbeaten RSL isn't too bad. The second bye weekend in three weeks allowed the Galaxy to regroup following its exit from the Concacaf Champions League, where a nightmare start to the return leg in Tijuana sent it packing in the quarterfinals.

Among the Galaxy's issues: who'll play at right back and alongside Omar Gonzalez in the middle. Brazilian Leonardo was benched after his horrible performance in Tijuana, and A.J. DeLaGarza slid back into the middle, but James Riley, DeLaGarza's replacement at right back, was lost in the second RSL match with a knee injury that will sideline him for six months. Among Coach Bruce Arena's options are to start Dan Gargan, an offseason pickup like Riley.

Another change after the first RSL game and two CCL matches was the Galaxy's use of a diamond midfield with Landon Donovan working up top and Baggio Husidic and Stefan Ishizaki, both brought in from Sweden in the offseason, starting on the wings for the first time. Arena cautioned that the new look was in part dictated to neutralize the RSL midfield, but the use of Donovan in the middle is something the Galaxy may show more of.


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