Here are the ten things we learned from Week 2 of the 2016 MLS season.
- Orange Crush
The weekend’s most eye-popping result came in the Texas Derby, where MLS darlings FC Dallas were blitzkrieged 5-0 by the Houston Dynamo.
It was a whipping of extraordinary proportions. Part out-of-nowhere Dallas meltdown, but part Houston brilliance. Through two weeks, the Dynamo are averaging four goals per game in a 2016 season that Owen Coyle promised would feature more attractive and free-flowing soccer.
So far, it’s delivered in a big way. This Houston team is fun. They’re more mobile, creative, and hungry than they were in 2015. Christian Maidana and Andrew Wenger have been sensational thus far, and this thrashing of Dallas was the club’s most impressive win in over two years.
With the West looking much weaker than it did last year – more on that in a minute – there’s room for the Dynamo in the playoffs.
It only gets harder to win in Houston as the weather gets hotter and hotter, and if the Dynamo can pick up more points on the road this year, Coyle’s team is going to continue to surprise.
- What Happened to the West?
The losers on Saturday included the Seattle Sounders, the LA Galaxy, and Vancouver Whitecaps, and FC Dallas – four of the Western Conferences top five teams in 2015.
It’s a quartet that has two wins in eight combined matches. For Seattle, Vancouver, and LA specifically – it’s anyone’s guess what happened to Dallas this weekend – there are gaping holes that could go so far as to suggest that the Eastern Conference might be MLS’ stronger circuit in 2016.
Seattle is incredibly thin and missing Obafemi Martins immensely. Vancouver remains limited offensively and surprisingly suspect defensively, while LA is old, slow, and seemingly devoid of inspiration. The conference’s standard-bearer, the Portland Timbers, were also losers on Sunday.
This season is still young, but the early signs aren’t promising for the elites out West.
- Didier Who?
There’s a contender in Sporting Kansas City, but the league’s best team through the first two weeks has to be the Montreal Impact.
Mauro Biello’s team downed the defending Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls 3-0 at the Olympic Stadium on Saturday afternoon, in what was a wire-to-wire thrashing.
What makes Montreal’s start to this season all the more impressive is that the goals – six in two games – are coming without Didier Drogba.
There aren’t many other teams in the league who could lose a Drogba and continue to win in style. But between Nacho Piatti, Harry Shipp, and a glut of speedy attackers and cultured midfielders, the Impact offense hasn’t missed a beat.
Drogba should return soon, before Montreal forgets why they spent the entire offseason ringing their hands about his fate.
- Sporting Rolling
Sporting Kansas City, the Western Conference leaders, put together a very impressive 2-1 home win over Vancouver on Sunday.
There were a couple of especially promising signs. One was the finishing of Dom Dwyer, who bagged both goals. Dwyer’s work-rate always gets him a ton of chances, but he’s never been a clinical finisher. If he’s as good in front of goal as he was on Saturday, he’ll be in the running for the Golden Boot.
The other positive is that Sporting has now won games over Seattle and Vancouver without Benny Feilhaber and any substantive contribution from major offseason acquisitions Justin Mapp or Brad Davis.
This team is still playing somewhat shorthanded in attack, and winning nonetheless.
- Intrigue in Chicago
The Fire were miserable defensively on Opening Day, shipping four goals at home to NYCFC and barely looking like a professional team in the process.
So Veljko Paunovic decided to go with a 5-3-2 formation this week, and the result on Friday night in Orlando was a good one. Despite playing a man down for the majority of the match, Chicago managed a 1-1 draw.
Although the red card meant we didn’t get to see it for an entire game, the 5-3-2 – the look Chicago used to beat Portland in preseason – should be here to stay. The look gives the Fire extra help defensively, and allows plenty of room for David Accam to run on the counter.
In a league that still lags behind the rest of the world tactically, Paunovic is quickly establishing himself as a manager to watch – and the Fire will continue to improve.
- Weather Problems
The weather is an underrated but hugely important factor in the quality of a game – and as we saw in San Jose and Colorado this weekend, the weather is a legitimate reason why MLS games in the spring are often difficult to watch.
One look at these games – the field at Avaya Stadium was almost unplayable, while the wind wrecked havoc in Commerce City – just goes to show again why MLS can’t play a winter schedule.
And aside from the poor play, attendance suffers in bad weather. The San Jose-Portland game was announced as a sellout of 18,000, but the actual attendance was far less. It’s no coincidence that MLS crowds get considerably bigger and atmospheres get considerably better when the weather gets warmer.
- NYCFC Continues To Be Fun
Patrick Vieira rolled NYCFC out for its home opener on Sunday against Toronto in something akin to a 3-6-1 – certainly outdoing Paunovic’ 5-3-2, and fooling TFC for at least a half at Yankee Stadium.
NYCFC loaded the attacking third with skillful players, which was fun, but even more fun was the role that the setup allowed Andrea Pirlo to play. His 110 touches were his most in a game since joining New York, and the most of any player in an MLS game this season.
Pirlo pinging the ball around with true defensive cover in the form of Federico Bravo is going to win NYCFC games this year.
Vieira is going to be continue to be flexible tactically, and continue to push his team to get forward and score goals. His challenge going forward is going to be on the defensive side of the ball, fitting Frank Lampard into a packed midfield as soon as next week.
- Toronto Continues To Be Good
A 2-2 draw at Yankee Stadium certainly isn’t as impressive as a 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena, but there’s no denying that Sunday was Toronto’s second consecutive positive result of the season.
Greg Vanney had work to do to get his team back into the game, and his second half moves – notably a formation change to push his team wider on the flanks and involve the veteran midfielder Benoit Cheyrou – did the trick.
That’s encouraging. I wasn’t sold on Vanney last year, but it’s highly unlikely TFC comes away from the Big Apple with a point if he doesn’t adjust. As long as Toronto can come away from their season-opening marathon road trip with twelve or so points, they’re going to be in perfect position to compete for the Supporters’ Shield.
- Goal of the Year?
This goal from San Jose’s Quincy Amarikwa had it all, combining defense, offense, fight, power, imagination, and precision. It’s going to take some beating for Goal of the Year.
- Rooting For Pablo Mastroeni
It wasn’t pretty, but it was easy to see how much Colorado’s last-gasp 1-0 win over LA on Saturday meant to Rapids manager Pablo Mastroeni.
The third-year coach ripped off his jacket after Marco Pappa scored his stoppage-time winner, and it was hard to not smile for the former US international who, after what’s felt like endless misery, finally experienced one of his best moments on a difficult job.
Mastroeni is overmatched and outgunned, but he’s battling. And regardless of anything else, the Rapids are going to need that kind of spirit this year.
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