Here are the ten things we learned from Week 3 of the 2017 MLS season.
1. Timbers Continue To Fly High
The best game of the weekend was at Providence Park on Saturday night, and, though 45 minutes, the Houston Dynamo were stealing the show. At halftime, they deservedly led 2-1 behind goals from Cubo Torres and Romell Quioto.
Then the Timbers checked into high gear.
Portland absolutely throttled the Dynamo in the second half – outshooting them 13-1, outscoring them 3-0, and dominating so thoroughly that Caleb Porter didn’t need to make a single substitution en route to what would finish as a 4-2 Timbers win.
The game had the six goals, as seven yellow cards, two penalties, two ties and three lead changes. It was the kind of spectacle we don’t usually get in MLS until the late summer.
Houston departed the occasion with no points, but plenty of reason to feel good. They took the game to the Timbers for a half, and proved their mettle on one of the toughest stages in the league.
But when Portland is on, like they were in the second half on Saturday night, they are close to unplayable. The team’s front six is a buzzsaw. For a solid twenty minutes, Houston couldn’t complete consecutive passes.
The Timbers are the league’s only 3-0-0 team, and they’re on pace to score more than 100 goals. No club has looked more impressive in March.
2. Atlanta Impresses Again
The only team that has scored more goals this season than the Timbers is Atlanta, who put up another crooked number on Saturday afternoon and grabbed their first home win in the process against a familiarly hapless Chicago Fire team.
Atlanta, in the same vein as the Timbers, was absolutely overpowering. The Fire had 17% possession. One Atlanta player – center back Leandro Gonzalez Pirez – completed more passes than Chicago’s entire team did.
Some of that was Johan Kappelhoff getting sent off after just eleven minutes, but Atlanta looks like the real deal. Their front four covers more ground and puts more pressure on opposing defenses than any team we’ve seen in the first three weeks.
That work-rate is one of the benefits of building around young players, and it should continue to result in Atlanta wearing teams out in second halves. They’ve scored five goals after the 60th minute in their last two games.
The other positive for Atlanta on Saturday? The fans showed up again, with a crowd of more than 45,000 on hand at Bobby Dodd Stadium on hand to watch the show. More performances like this one, and they should keep coming back.
3. Seattle Celebrates in Style
The Sounders lifted their 2016 MLS Cup banner on Sunday afternoon at CenturyLink Field, and then put in a very good performance to beat the New York Red Bulls 3-1 for their first win of the season.
Jordan Morris scored his first goal of the season, and Clint Dempsey scored a penalty ahead of his return to the USMNT, but the Sounders’ best player might have been, encouragingly, Harry Shipp.
Shipp had an extremely rough 2016, never finding his feet in Montreal after being abruptly traded from his hometown Chicago Fire.
Seattle scooped Shipp up in the offseason with the idea of starting him as something of an inverted winger, and they were better for it on Saturday. Shipp put together what might have been his most complete game since 2015, and he capped it off with a deflected goal to make it 3-1.
Width is still a concern for the Sounders’ attack, but if Shipp is consistently as good as he was against the Red Bulls, they might not need true wingers.
4. Minnesota Wins First Point in Colorado
Minnesota is on the board.
The Loons got their first MLS point on Saturday night in Commerce City, reversing a 1-0 halftime deficit and then holding on for a 2-2 draw in a performance that was, if imperfect, certainly spirited.
The better news is that Adrian Heath is getting some answers in the positions that plagued United during the first two weeks of the season.
Brent Kallman was excellent in place of Vadim Demidov in central defense, while Ibson came in and gave the team a very solid stretch in central midfield in the second half.
Even Justin Davis acquitted himself nicely at left back, before being very harshly sent off for a challenge on Marlon Hariston twenty minutes from time.
Heath has remained upbeat through Minnesota’s historic early struggles, and this performance – in a venue in which the home team hasn’t lost since 2015 – was a big step in the right direction. It was a sorely needed good day.
5. Shakeup Leads To Columbus Win
Gregg Berhalter was always going to shake things up after the Columbus Crew started the season with one point from their first two games, and, sure enough, he lined his team up in a hybrid 3-6-1 on Saturday against DC United.
It worked. The Crew didn’t play a particularly attractive brand of soccer, but they won the game 2-0.
It was a change in approach from Berhalter, who last season stuck with his attacking style of play even when it was clear that Columbus’ defense wasn’t good enough to win games. Pragmatism hurts, but at some point, there are no other options.
DC, meanwhile, still hasn’t scored a goal this year. Ben Olsen’s teams often start slow, and they’re in character to start 2017.
6. Vancouver Continues To Struggle
The Whitecaps were handed a 2-0 loss midweek in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals at Tigres, and they then returned home to lose 2-0 in MLS play against Toronto FC.
Vancouver is now almost certainly going out of the Champions League. Meanwhile, they’ve got one point from their first three league games and an offense that has been shut out two times at home to start the season.
The troubling thing is that this team isn’t exactly underachieving. They’re just not very good. They don’t have a true creator in the mold of Pedro Morales to unlock opposing defenses, and their defense isn’t what it was in 2015.
At some point, as well liked and respected as he is, Carl Robinson is going to take the fall.
7. Larin Carries Orlando
With Kaka out for the next two months, it’s all about Cyle Larin in Orlando – and the young striker delivered again on Saturday, scoring a brace to beat Philadelphia 2-1 at the Lions’ gleaming new stadium.
Larin, after struggling under Jason Kreis at the end of last season, looks as good as he ever has in MLS. He’s also making a player out of Carlos Rivas, who had a beautiful assist on Larin’s first goal.
Larin might not be long for MLS. For now, though, this is his team – and, from the reactions of Kreis and Will Johnson when Orlando fended off a furious late Union charge to clinch the three points, this was a big win.
8. LA Guts Out Important Win
LA came into its game against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night without its starting fullbacks, Jelle Van Damme, Giovani dos Santos, and Gyasi Zardes. They had lost two straight at home to open the season, and, after eighteen minutes, was losing the game 1-0.
Then things turned. Kyle Beckerman was sent off just before halftime, the Galaxy clamped down, got a goal from Dave Romney, and, despite Nick Rimando’s best efforts, a winner from RSL-killer Ema Boateng.
LA is going to have all the pieces they need to win when they get healthy and the summer transfer window opens. For now, though, they need to stay afloat in the West and get results like this one.
Salt Lake, meanwhile, is now winless in eleven straight home games. If Carl Robinson is about to be in trouble, Jeff Cassar is one step ahead of him – and Mike Petke is waiting in the wings.
9. Bernier Continues To Deal
There wasn’t much notable about NYCFC’s 1-1 draw with Montreal on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, except this: The Impact’s 37-year-old captain Patrice Bernier continues to be the bee’s knees.
It was Bernier’s phenomenal pass that set the table for Dominic Oduro’s equalizing goal in the second half, and throughout the 90 minutes, he was one of Montreal’s best players.
Bernier is a Quebec native who has been with the Impact since the club’s debut season in MLS. When he retires, as he has said he’ll do at the end of the year, Montreal will lose their touchstone player.
For now, Bernier remains crucial to this team’s success. As important as Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman are, as Bernier goes, this team often goes.
10. Kljestan over Feilhaber?
With Bobby Wood ruled out of the US’ two crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Bruce Arena needed to add another attacking player in his squad. He went with Sacha Kljestan over Benny Feilhaber. It’s a curious decision.
It’s Feilhaber who has enjoyed the better start to the MLS season. The Sporting Kansas City creator scored a fantastic goal against San Jose this weekend, while Kljestan has struggled in the Red Bulls’ new 4-2-2-2 formation.
And if anything, it was Feilhaber who showed better in the two friendlies that both he and Kljestan played with the national team in January.
Kljestan is an excellent player in his own right, but he’s been cold – and Feilhaber is the better out-and-out creator. Arena can’t afford any missteps at this stage. The US’ World Cup qualifying campaign hangs in the balance.