Seattle’s 2-1 defeat of Toronto FC Wednesday at BMO Field adds luster to the 100th meeting with all-time rival Portland at Providence Park on Sunday. In Part I, we listed the struggling Sounders among the elite teams and their gutty defeat of the defending champion with a weakened lineup explains why.
Portland has won three in a row to straighten out a rocky start to the season. New head coach Giovanni Savarese is slowly getting his ideas implemented and restoring the players’ faith in each other. They rode out a few tough moments in San Jose and snatched all three points thanks to Valeri.
With some more seasoning they should be squarely in the hunt for a top three spot come August, assuming Savarese can dole out minutes throughout the squad and incorporate the offseason acquisitions, of which Cristhian Parades has looked particularly good.
TALES OF NEW YORK AND THE DEEP SOUTH. A 4-0 rout of NYCFC last weekend uplifted the Red Bulls and turned the bright lights back to the red side of the Hudson River rivalry. That result also tainted NYCFC’s reputation for road success; after picking up eight points in its first four away games -- wins at Sporting Kansas City and San Jose, ties in New England and Atlanta – it has lost at Portland, 3-0, and been humiliated at Red Bull Arena.
Still, the depth and quality of the squad coached by Patrick Vieira is hard to match in MLS. Even a very good team will throw in the occasional clunker, yet seldom do so many players falter in the same game. NYCFC gets another stiff road test this weekend against Los Angeles FC, which is already regarded as a solid threat to win the conference just eight games into its existence.
The Atlanta-Sporting Kansas City game Wednesday was billed as a possible MLS Cup preview; it’s not a stretch to project NYCFC as a viable candidate to represent the Eastern Conference. A long jaunt to face LAFC offers a chance to atone for a dismal performance but is also a challenge against a team that is anxious to bust loose after opening its new stadium with three goals in the first two games. (LAFC beat Minnesota, 2-0, on Wednesday, and was evaluated in Part I.)
The Red Bulls are assuming a different identity, one no longer radiating around Dax McCarty and Sacha Kljestan. If its status as an elite team is questioned, it should be noted Bradley Wright-Phillips is one of the top forwards in MLS and Luis Robles is annually a candidate for Goalkeeper of the Year. Kaku (three goals, six assists) looks to be an ideal DP signing, centerback Tim Parker is on the improve, and the young brigade led by Sean Davis and Tyler Adams ranks among the league’s best. The Red Bulls should improve steadily as the season unfolds.
This weekend the Red Bulls play at Colorado. New head coach Anthony Hudson is finding his way in the league. The Rapids have lost three in a row and in four games against conference foes they have failed to win and been outscored, 7-3. They also play at NYCFC next week, and have already played SKC twice, so the early-season schedule has not been kind.
Unleashing Dominique Badji has produced results -- he leads the team with five goals in eight games –--and that is as many goals as the rest of the team combined. One of the offseason additions, midfielder Jack Price, is solid enough. As for the long-term prognosis, it’s too soon to tell.
Fresh off its 2-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, in which Atlanta United lost keeper Brad Guzan to a red card in the 34th minute yet held out at 0-0 until midway through the second half, the Five Stripes head into the Lions’ den at Orlando City shorthanded and on short rest. And make no mistake, this is a prime opportunity for head coach Jason Kreis to steal some Southern thunder from the 2017 expansion sensation.
Six wins in a row have shot OCSC up the standings and given everyone an answer to a question raised often the past few years: How good could Orlando City be with an able cast to support heroic keeper Joe Bendik? Kreis used money and players and draft picks to sign league veterans Dom Dwyer, Justin Meram, Chris Schuler and Kljestan, and added a few productive international players to build an impressive roster. Uri Rosell, formerly of SKC, will add his experience and expertise upon recovery from a knee injury that has limited him to 38 minutes in the last three games as a sub.
Hot teams inevitably cool down -- see Atlanta United and NYCFC -- yet the Lions appear to be deep enough and hungry enough to ride out the inevitable rough patches.
REVS ON THE RISE IN THE EAST. Gregg Berhalter and Brad Friedel played together on the U.S. national team; now they are head coaches of Eastern Conference rivals.
Crew SC is roiled by machinations of a possible move to Austin, the Revs are in revival mode. Columbus hosts Midwest rival Chicago (both teams played midweek and are evaluated in Part I); New England plays defending champ Toronto FC.
The setup for the Revs’ is ideal, at least in terms of logistics. TFC lost to Seattle, 2-1, while the Revs rested. In their last game a week ago Saturday the Revs were pasted, 4-2, in Montreal and didn’t get on the board -- newcomer Wilfried Zahibo netted both goals late -- until the deficit was 4-0.
Zahibo and Cristian Penilla are the most prominent of several foreign signings currently regarded as shrewd moves. Both of them have four assists. Zahibo has scored three goals, Penilla two. They and Teal Bunbury (four goals) and Diego Fagundez (three goals) are still getting to know each other but the attacking overload that occasionally stilted the Revs in seasons past appears eradicated.
Friedel put down the hammer when Lee Nguyen held out; he didn’t play a competitive minute and was shipped out for a big wad of allocation bucks right before the transfer window closed.
That money and the team’s fast start raise hopes that as a rookie head coach with vast experience as a player in MLS and Europe Friedel’s growing pains won’t be severe.
The former U.S. teammates square off next weekend when Crew SC visits Gillette Stadium. By playing well in back-to-back games following the debacle in Montreal New England can solidify its persona under Friedel.
SHOWDOWN OF STRAGGLERS. The runt game of the week matches Real Salt Lake against D.C. United at Rio Tinto Stadium. Both teams are far below the playoff line on merit.
RSL seems incapable of transforming last season’s encouraging finish into 2018 points despite an attack that features Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak, and Joao Plata, and a defense backstopped by Nick Rimando. In its five losses it has been outscored, 17-3, and is 0-4-1 on the road. Last weekend it took a 12th minute lead in Orlando on a superb goal by Homegrown product Corey Baird, and lost, 3-1, after conceding three goals in 18 minutes.
There’s a severe disconnect in transition and many players are contributing only occasionally. Centerbacks Justen Glad and Nick Besler are being exposed far too often. This is a big fix for head coach Mike Petke and his coaching staff. RSL has unveiled its shiny new training center; will it spend money during the summer transfer window?
United’s pursuit of Wayne Rooney is well-timed with the opening of Audi Field slightly more than two months away, by which time a playoff spot could be nothing more than a dream. Yamil Asad, acquired from Atlanta United, has done all right (two goals, two assists), but when Darren Mattocks (three goals) is your leading scorer, you got problems.
Two months into the season, here’s how the teams stack up, by category:
Elite -- 1. Atlanta. 2. Toronto FC. 3. New York City FC. 4. Sporting Kansas City. 5. New York Red Bulls. 6. Seattle. These teams are the most likely to reach the MLS Cup final.
Dark horses -- 7. Orlando City. 8. Los Angeles FC. 9. FC Dallas. Surprises but not shocks to line up in the final game of the season.
Contenders -- 10. Portland. 11. Columbus. 12. New England. 13. Chicago. Certainly of playoff-caliber, not likely to reach the last hurdle.
Bubble teams -- 14. Vancouver. 15. Houston. 16. Montreal. 17. LA Galaxy. Plagued by question marks and shortcomings, they need improvement to finish in the top six.
Longshots -- 18. Minnesota United. 19. Philadelphia. 20. Real Salt Lake. 21. Colorado. 22. San Jose. 23. D.C. United. The Loons appear to be on the right path. The Rapids and Quakes look iffy. Philly and RSL are adrift, United is homeless until July 14.