After just two rounds of the 2017 season, three teams are already looking a lot better than they did last year, and all three face road tests this weekend that can validate their apparent
The Fire plays at Atlanta after posting a win and tie in its first two games, and the Dynamo and Quakes take their two-game win streaks into away matches with, respectively,
Portland and Sporting Kansas City.
(There is no MLS game on the ESPN channels this week because of college basketball, tennis and other event coverage. Fox Sports 1 televises the only
Sunday game of the weekend, Seattle-Red Bulls, at 7 p.m. ET.)
Here’s a rundown of what to watch for before the Sounders play their first-ever home game as defending MLS
DOWN SOUTH JUKIN’, PART TWO.
Okay, Atlanta United FC, what can you do for an encore?
Having lost its home opener -- Red Bulls rallied to win, 2-1 -- in front of more than 55,000 fans, AUFC takes on Chicago (Saturday, UniMas, MLS Live/MLS Direct Kick, 4 p.m. ET), the
conference’s worst team the past two years – as in losing 37 of 68 games, not an easy task in a sport rife with ties -- but looking quite competitive so far in 2017.
midfield shored up with offseason additions Juninho
and Dax McCarty
presents an unfamiliar obstacle for Atlanta United, which has relied on accurate long balls out of the back to release
game-breakers Miguel Alimiron
and Josef Martinez
. They combined for five snow-encrusted goals in a 6-1 rout of Minnesota United last weekend.
Going over the top and thus
bypassing the Fire central midfielders could be an effective tactic once again, though AUFC is stocked with skillful players adept at combination play. It completed 73 percent of its passes in the
home opener yet at times looked disjointed in the attacking third.
With a first MLS win -- and a dominating one at that -- under its belt and another big crowd expected at its temporary
home, Bobby Dodd Stadium, the team will be out impress another national TV audience. The organization is also taking steps to crack down on fans bellowing vulgar chants on opponent’s goal kicks
and throwing debris onto the field.
Chicago conceded 58 goals last year – more than any team except Orlando City (60) – and so far this season has limited Columbus and Real
Salt Lake to just five shots on target and one goal allowed. Neither of those foes ranks near the top of MLS in potential firepower, as Atlanta certainly does, and thus Chicago will be tasked with
riding out periods of sustained and probably intense pressure. HOT START FOR HOUSTON.
Like Chicago, the Dynamo is a team
revived as it heads to Portland (Saturday, MLS Live/MLS Direct Kick, 10:30 p.m. ET), where the 2015 MLS Cup champion is also going through a renaissance after missing the playoffs last year.
The Dynamo’s front three of Ronell Quioto
, “Cubo” Torres
and Alberth Elis
is as dangerous as had been anticipated. Each scored a goal in a 3-1 thumping of
Columbus last weekend that was a shutout until the
93rd minute, but the midfield play of Alex
(two saves) and sharp work of keeper Tyler Deric
(three early saves with the
score 1-0) played important roles as well.
Houston started out the season by beating Seattle, 2-1, with goals by Torres and Quioto and rode out the last 40 minutes after a Clint Dempsey
strike to get the victory.
Look at it this way: one of the few Dynamo players to impress last season, forward Mauro Manotas
, has played only nine minutes in 2017. Last year he tied
for the team lead with six goals while starting just 10 of 22 games.
Few assignments are tougher than Providence Park for a revamped team heading out on its first road trip of the season,
and it’s likely much will be revealed in this game about the Dynamo back line. The Timbers, as expected, routed expansion newbie Minnesota United, 5-1, at home to start the season as Diego
and Fanendo Adi
both scored twice.
A second caution to Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme
in the 34th minute greatly aided a 1-0 Portland victory last weekend at
StubHub Center. The Timbers, playing 11-v-11, countered quickly on a cleared Galaxy corner kick in the eighth minute and scored when Diego Chara
polished off a nice one-two with Valeri. The
goal arose from wonderful ball out of the back by Sebastian Blanco
to Chara, who nodded it to Valeri and raced forward to tap in the return pass.
Chara was fined by the MLS
Disciplinary Committee for feigning contact on a challenge from Van Damme, whose vociferous protest of a foul call earned him his first caution for dissent. After the defender was dismissed, Portland
couldn’t break through the 10 men to get a second goal and needed a sharp save from keeper Jake Gleeson
in stoppage time to claim the win. AWAY FROM AVAYA.
After San Jose toppled Montreal in its season opener, head coach Dominic Kinnear
reminded reporters that the Quakes started 2-0-0 last year and
wound up with just eight wins. By beating Vancouver, 3-2, last weekend after falling behind, 2-0, the Quakes are again winners of their first two games and also flush with scoring four goals. (They
tallied a league-fewest 32 last season.)
On Saturday (8:30 p.m., MLS Live) the Quakes play their first road game of the season. SKC has yet to score or concede a goal and last weekend at
home generated just two shots on target against an FC Dallas team that rested a bunch of starters. Dom Dwyer
and newcomer Gerso Fernandes
had a fair share of looks at goal (eight shots
combined, each put one on frame), and considering the Quakes surrendered two goals in the first 17 minutes to Vancouver on defensive errors, SKC is geared up to test the Quakes back line early and
The Quakes certainly look more potent with a quartet of TAM signings -- three attackers and centerback Florian Jungwirth
-- and considering stalwart forward Chris
has scored just one goal, present many more challenges for an opposing defense. Anibal Godoy
has won both games with superb goals from his midfield slot and if SKC comes out too
anxious to end its scoring drought, it may leave spaces the visitors can exploit.
San Jose needs points in games like this to get back into the playoffs after a four years of failure. SKC
needs to score a goal and go from there.