Here are the 10 things we learned from week three of MLS.
1. New beginnings in San Jose
Thanks in large part to MLS’ generous hand in scheduling the Chicago Fire as the opposition on opening day at the new Avaya Stadium, the San Jose Earthquakes’ big day went off without a hitch.
Avaya is gorgeous, easily one of the best venues in the league. The soccer is coming along, albeit slowly, with San Jose’s best coach since they returned in 2008 in Dominic Kinnear, and a roster finally transitioning from brawn to true skill.
It appears that the ‘Quakes are turning the corner. In their Supporters’ Shield winning year of 2012, San Jose were the league’s villains, bashing heads together and bashing in goals in jet-black uniforms at a college stadium in front of the historically thuggish 1906 Ultras supporters group.
Now, San Jose has completely rebranded with a new logo, a new look, and a new stadium. The result is a sleeker feel, and while ‘Quakes fans loved the Goonies, this new setup is a much better bet for long-term success.
2. Good vibes at Red Bull Arena
No Red Bulls fan will ever fully forgive the Red Bull brass and Ali Curtis for the firing of Mike Petke in December. Nor should they. But Jesse Marsch has been winning over people left and right since he got the job in the aftermath of Petke’s dismissal.
Calm, confident, and poised, Marsch’s vision meshed with what Curtis wanted the post-Henry Red Bulls era to look like, and so far, results have been promising. New York dominated from wire-to-wire in their home opening win against rival DC United.
Bradley Wright-Phillips turned in a fantastic performance, the trifecta of Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins, and Sacha Kljestan owned midfield, and an inexperienced defense was rarely threatened. This Red Bulls team looks like a playoff outfit, especially in the weak East.
No one will forget Petke, but no one everyone will come to disassociate his firing with the Marsch era – which is exactly what Curtis and Co. hoped would happen when they made the move last winter.
3. More woe in Philadelphia
The Union lost 2-0 to FC Dallas at home on Saturday afternoon, in freezing whether, in front of a paltry crowd. Zach Pfeffer was sent off for a vicious elbow, Rais M’Bohli continues to confound in goal, and Philadelphia continue to frustrate.
It’s not a good scene at PPL Park early in 2015, and that’s not exactly a surprise. When Jim Curtin was made the interim manager and given more than half a season to audition for the full-time job, the chances were always decent that he would get it, which wasn’t necessarily the best thing for the Union.
Curtin is a Philly native, a stand-up guy, and someone with years of MLS experience. He’s clearly not, however, any sort of transcendent soccer mind, and with the Union’s roster and front-office insistence on behaving like a small-market team, that’s what the Union really needed.
It’s going to be tough for Philadelphia to make the playoffs. They struggle to score goals against good defense, don’t have a ton of team speed, and need absolute tactical cohesion and direction in order to succeed. It’s a huge job facing Curtin – and it could get ugly again for the Union.
4. Time for a goalkeeping change in Chicago?
Forget all that ails the Chicago Fire throughout their team, one position that has hurt this year has been the one that was supposed to be the most solid – goalkeeper.
Sean Johnson was terrible in the Fire’s loss to San Jose on Sunday, at least partially culpable for both of the Earthquakes’ goals with mistakes that have plagued him throughout a promising but ultimately frustrating career – poor decision making and rebounds.
Johnson is a terrific athlete and natural shot-stopper, but he’s all too unreliable in pressure spots – and that behind a defense that ensures he’s going to get drilled all year. With the always-reliable Jon Busch on the bench, it might be time for a goalkeeping change.
5. Questions for DC United
The bench is looking pretty thin for Ben Olsen and DC United right now. DP Eddie Johnson’s future is uncertain as a heart condition may force the Florida native to retire, Fabian Espindola is still suspended and will be for almost another month, and Luis Silva is still out as well.
DC could be looking at a slow start – they were already bounced from the CONCACAF Champions League – and questions linger about whether their 2014 was a fluke.
DC still has a very solid defense and central midfield, with the same pieces that scraped so effectively in their turnaround campaign last year. The question is whether sides with more individual skill and game-breaking ability, like the Red Bulls on Sunday, will blow this team away. Olsen preaches industry – but that will only get you so far in MLS.
6. Will Colorado ever win again?
After drawing against 10-man NYCFC 0-0 at home on Saturday, the Rapids are now 16 games without a win since the middle of last summer, a slide that started when Colorado were in the playoff places in 2014 and has taken them to the cellar of the Chivas USA-less Western Conference.
To put it quite bluntly, Pablo Mastroeni appears to be in way, way over his head and is trying to distract everyone from that fact with his excellent mustachio and fashion sense.
Of course, Mastroeni didn’t really even want this job, but the Rapids bungled their tug-of-war with FC Dallas over Oscar Pareja and resulting managerial search so badly that they had no choice but to appoint him. The results haven’t been pretty.
In just over a year, Mastroeni has taken a team that Pareja had on course to be an MLS Cup threat this year or next and has turned them into a punch line. No one knows who is going to play from week to week, and while there are plenty of talented young players, there’s no telling how they are going to develop.
DeShorn Brown has already been sold, Chris Klute jettisoned, and Dillon Powers possibly on his way out this summer. It doesn’t have to be hard. There’s a back-line in place, a central midfield of Sam Cronin and Marcelo Sarvas begging to be installed, and Kevin Doyle coming in to play forward.
The Rapids engineered a goalkeeping controversy by bringing in Zac McMath to compete with Clint Irwin, but that’s fine. What Mastroeni needs to do is decide on a team and stick with it. That might be the only way he can save his job.
7. Timbers tread water
Portland has been bludgeoned by injuries, and it’s important to remember that while watching another slow start take hold.
The Timbers haven’t won in their first three games, but they haven’t lost either – they’ve been competitive, organized, and consistent, or in other words, everything they weren’t in their weekly circus of 2014.
The injuries to Diego Valeri, Will Johnson, and Ben Zemanski have sapped the Timbers of all of their depth and have come at the worst time schedule-wise – Portland doesn’t play a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year until Orlando City comes to Providence Park on April 12th.
All things considered, the Timbers are doing fine – and their start to this season is eminently more respectable than their start to last year.
8. Why can’t Orlando City score?
Another game, another shut-out from the run of play for Orlando City, who took a 95th minute goal from Octavio Rivero on the chin in their first-ever MLS loss at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The good news is that Orlando continues to compete – one win, one draw, and one loss is about right for how they’ve played in their first three games. The bad news is, there isn’t much creativity offensively – there’s a lot of, get it to Kaka and hope he makes something happen.
That over reliance on Kaka, who, it should be said, has been sensational so far, is causing problems. Orlando doesn’t have any cohesion in the attack unless the Brazilian is involved, and they haven’t really found an answer at forward despite having plenty of options.
This team will be hard to beat – the likes of Aurelien Collin and Amobi Okugo have set a culture in that regard – but Orlando doesn’t knock heads together, they want to play good football. That’s proving harder to do than anything else so far in the top flight.
9. Expansion to Minnesota
On Wednesday, it will be announced at Target Field that Minnesota United are MLS’ 23rd team. This should be a slam-dunk – United have all their ducks in a row, from partnerships with other pro sports teams, to working on a stadium deal, to a successful NASL team.
Minnesota is a good soccer market, and one that MLS feels bullish about. The question continues to be Miami, where there has been precious little progress on the stadium front, and with Sacramento’s bid already too impressive to ignore, the pressure is piling on Beckham and Co. The expansion train is going fast. Miami risks being left behind.
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