Here are the ten things we learned from Week 2 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Nightmare Pt. 2 For Minnesota
Minnesota United made their MLS home debut in a blizzard on Sunday afternoon in front of more than 35,000 fans at TCF Bank Stadium, and, somehow, managed to get beat worse than they did in their first game in Portland.
Atlanta United had the lead after just three minuets. They were up 3-0 inside of a half hour. The game would finish 6-1, but not before Minnesota goalkeeper John Alvbage was, fittingly enough, stretchered off the field with a nasty leg injury.
United have now conceded eleven goals in their first two MLS games. They’re the first team in league history to concede five or more in back-to-back matches.
It was a disastrous and completely unacceptable performance. The Loons again created a handful of good chances and put together good stretches of attacking possession, but, again, the defense was shocking.
Take this stat: Alvbage, before his injury, had saved just three of the thirteen shots he’d faced in the club’s first two games. The defense has been that bad.
Vadim Demidov and Jermaine Taylor have both had fine days as professionals, but the game has passed both men by. Demidov is a costly swing-and-miss for United – he is the club’s captain, after all – but there’s simply no way he can start next weekend.
Adrian Heath needs to shake things up and give this club’s supporters something to hang their hats on, because the danger here is that everyone in the Twin Cities stops paying attention to MLS.
Minnesota has the Vikings, the Twins, the Wild, the Timberwolves, and the Gophers, and United’s stadium now isn’t scheduled to open until 2019. If the Loons continue to be this bad, they’ll get lost in the shuffle – and won’t be able to complain.
2. Atlanta Puts on a Show
The chatter leading up to this game pitting expansion clubs was that Atlanta’s young South American players would be shells of themselves in the snow.
Well, Josef Martinez had a hat-trick, Miguel Almiron had a brace, and the likes of Yamil Asad, Hector Villalba, and Greg Garza all picked up assists in the coldest game in MLS history. For as bad as the competition was, this was still a statement win.
It was also a statement for the club. Compared to Minnesota, it looks like Atlanta has been in the league for a decade. They had players on their bench Sunday who would be among the Loons’ stars.
Nothing that has happened in the first two weeks of the season – including the Red Bulls game last weekend – suggests that Atlanta won’t be a playoff team. They’ve been as good as advertised.
3. LA Drops Second Straight
The Galaxy is in bad shape.
Though they were arguably the victims of great goalkeeping and questionable refereeing on Sunday, there is no chance that the Bruce Arena’s LA teams ever would have lost two straight home games to start a season.
But that’s what this LA team, after losing to Dallas last weekend and Portland on Sunday, have done.
The club is without Gyasi Zardes, Robbie Rogers, and Ashley Cole through injury. Giovani dos Santos may be joining them. Jermaine Jones and Dave Romney were suspended this weekend; Jelle Van Damme will be suspended next weekend.
The club’s big offseason signings, Joao Pedro and Romain Alessandrini, have looked unremarkable. They’re having trouble creating offense, and, if Sunday was any indication, trouble drawing fans.
LA’s commitment to building from within and targeting their spending has been noble, but if things keep going like they have so far this year, how long will it last? How long will Curt Onalfo last?
On a happier note: You won’t see a better counterattacking goal in the league this year than the one Diego Chara finished off to win the Timbers’ their first road game since MLS Cup 2015.
4. Is Houston For Real?
After two games of the 2016 season, the Owen Coyle-led Houston Dynamo had scored eight goals and were coming off of a 5-0 win over FC Dallas.
Coyle, of course, would be fired a month-and-a-half later with Houston rooted to the bottom of the Western Conference table. Quick starts in MLS can often be misleading.
That said – this year’s Dynamo, now 2-0-0 under Wilmer Cabrera and playing some of the league’s soccer, might just be for real two years before anyone thought they would be.
Houston followed up its Opening Day win over Seattle by pasting Columbus 3-1 at BBVA Compass Stadium on Saturday night. Cubo Torres scored again, and Tyler Deric had an excellent game in goal in front of a defense that has shouldered a big load very nicely through two weeks.
Cabrera – who got the job, you’d have to imagine, because of all the goals he got out of Torres at Chivas USA – has his club playing with a kind of vivaciousness that is usually reserved for the late fall.
The Dyanmo are young, motivated, and all pulling in the same direction. We should get a better idea of how good they really are next Saturday night when they face the Timbers at Providence Park.
5. NYCFC Runs Rampant
After sputtering on their opener last Sunday in Orlando, NYCFC’s offense got going with a superb 4-0 win over DC United on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
David Villa had a brace, while Rodney Wallace and Maxi Moralez opened their accounts for the club. NYC dominated in every phase. It was as complete a victory as we’ve seen this season in MLS.
Villa was so good, Steve Birnbaum – a national team player – was almost erased from the game. NYCFC had 61% of the ball and completed almost 600 passes. For Patrick Vieira, that’s a tour de force.
NYC is leaner, faster, and perhaps even more comfortable with Vieira’s system than they were last year. This is a Cup favorite.
6. Vancouver Falls Apart
The Vancouver Whitecaps made a tremendous start to their game at Avaya Stadium against San Jose on Saturday night, with Erik Hurtado and Nico Mezquida scoring in the first seventeen minutes.
Then things turned. David Ousted was sent off for taking down Chris Wondolowski on a breakaway, and the Earthquakes came back to win the game 3-2.
That Vancouver couldn’t hold onto a lead while playing some 80 minutes with ten men was understandable. But if you could try to hold onto a lead a man down against any team in the league, San Jose would have to be near the top of the list.
Portland, in fact, beat San Jose 1-0 last year while playing a man down for almost fifty minutes after Dairon Asprilla was sent off.
It would have been nice to see the ‘Caps dig similarly deep here. But they decidedly did not. This could have been a season-galvanizing win. Instead, it turned into a forgettable night. Vancouver has still never won an MLS game in Northern California.
7. Ciman Disappoints
Montreal had Seattle by the scruff of the neck on Saturday afternoon at the Olympic Stadium. The Impact were up 2-0 after 51 minutes coasting – only to concede twice after the 83rd minute and draw 2-2.
It was a collapse – and much of the blame for it fell at the feet of 2015 MLS Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman.
The Belgian, who was lucky to be on the field at all after committing a fistful of yellow card-worthy challenges throughout the afternoon, barged into Oniel Fisher and conceded the penalty that Nicolás Lodeiro converted to make it 2-1.
He was then caught in no-man’s land on the equalizer – failing to close down Christian Roldan’s cross or get into the box where the Impact were short of numbers.
The Impact desperately need better from their DP center back. As Toronto will attest, Montreal is already suspect defensively – and if Ciman continues to suffer from these lapses in concentration and general recklessness, the Impact won’t be anywhere near the MLS Cup conversation this year.
8. Columbus Sputters Out of the Gate
The Crew’s comeback tour is off to a rough start. Columbus blew a lead to draw Chicago at home in Week 1, and then got absolutely pounded in Houston on Saturday night.
But more than the results, Gregg Berhalter will be troubled by how bad his winter acquisitions have looked.
Both Mohammed Abu and Artur have looked off the pace in central midfield next to Wil Trapp, while DP center back signing Jonathan Mensah went and got himself sent off late against the Dynamo.
The offense is still creating chances – though the finishing has left something to be desired – but this team is going nowhere if it doesn’t get defense from the midfield on back figured out. So far, Berhalter doesn’t appear to have any answers.
9. Sporting Can’t Score
180 minutes into 2017, Sporting Kansas City still doesn’t have a goal.
In Week 1, they couldn’t find the net against the same DC United team that shipped four goals at Yankee Stadium yesterday. In Week 2, they couldn’t break down a severely watered-down Dallas side looking ahead to its midweek Champions League commitments.
Peter Vermes will find a way to grind out points with the group he has, but this team isn’t getting out of the Wild Card round again as its currently constructed.
SKC, as usual, needs more attacking firepower. Graham Zusi isn’t worth his salary number at right back – especially since the club has Saad Abdul-Salaam – and he’s a prime candidate to be moved to free up cap room.
10. Tim Howard Excels In Return
The Colorado Rapids fell 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday afternoon in Harrison, but Tim Howard was excellent in his return from injury and likely back in pole position to start the USMNT’s March World Cup qualifiers.
Whether the Rapids can return to the playoffs if their goalkeeper is the best player is another question entirely.