10 things we learned from MLS gameweek 5 of the 2017 season

Photo credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the ten things we learned from Week 5 of the 2017 MLS season.

1. An Unusually Busy March Week

There is more pressure to win in MLS in 2017 than we’ve ever seen before, and that’s how – just four weeks into the season – you get a week like the one we just saw across the league.

Consider: Real Salt Lake promoted Mike Petke to replace Jeff Cassar – fired after just three games – as the team’s manager. Chicago signed German legend Bastian Schweinsteiger to the biggest contract in club history.

Minnesota, on pace to shatter the record for goals conceded in an MLS season, went out and got Sam Cronin and Marc Burch from Colorado. Vancouver, in an effort to bolster its central midfield, shipped Kekuta Manneh to Columbus for Tony Tchani.

It was a whirlwind – the type of which we don’t usually see in MLS until mid-July or later – and a sign of the times. Especially at the bottom of the table, clubs are being more aggressive than they’ve ever been before.

2. Petke’s Second Chance

Mike Petke spent nearly two full years out of soccer after being fired by his hometown New York Red Bulls in January of 2015, but, after jumping back into the game with the Real Monarchs, he needed just over three months before being appointed RSL manager last week.

Question RSL’s handling of this situation all you want – bringing Cassar back after last season and giving him three games was a bad and entirely avoidable decision – but Petke deserves to the opportunity he’s been given in Sandy.

This is a man who won the Supporters’ Shield in his first season as an MLS manager in 2013 and then came within a game of reaching MLS Cup in 2014 – all as a first-time manager shepherding a team of notoriously big egos.

Petke is a character. He’s got force of personality in a way that Cassar never did – and at a club that has lost a ton of personality in the last few years, that’s a very good thing.

Starting today, Petke is one of Salt Lake’s defining figures. He’s a long-shot to match Jason Kreis’ success with RSL, but he’ll put his stamp on the team in much the same way.

3. Bad Attendance At Yankee Stadium

NYCFC’s attendance is in a tailspin. Two weeks ago, just 18,515 fans showed up at Yankee Stadium to watch their team draw the Montreal Impact 1-1. It was the smallest crowd in club history.

This week, just 20,066 made the trek to Yankee Stadium to watch Patrick Vieira’s team beat San Jose 2-1. For a club like NYCFC – one of MLS’ best teams in its biggest market – these are terrible numbers.

They also continue a trend that started last season, when the club drew just over 27,000 fans – down from the 29,000+ they drew in their debut season of 2015 – despite finishing in second in the Eastern Conference.

Attendance should pick during the summer, as it does across the league, but this early-season dip isn’t just a product of the weather. NYCFC came into this season with 2,000 less season ticket holders than they had last year.

Considering how much fun this NYCFC team is to watch, the attendance problems are puzzling. Maybe the novelty of having an MLS club in NYC proper is wearing off. Or maybe, after two seasons, fans are tired of watching soccer at Yankee Stadium.

If that’s the case, no one can be surprised. The sightlines for soccer at the Stadium are terrible and the atmosphere is usually lackluster. It’s hardly even much-loved baseball stadium, and it is, as it always has been, a poor fit for MLS.

But the only way that NYCFC is going to get serious about building its own stadium is if fans stop showing up in the Bronx – and, through three games of this season, that might just be what is happening.

4. Strong Start for Schweinsteiger

Chicago and Montreal played a fairly absurd game on Saturday afternoon that would finish 2-2 after two stoppage time goals, but the real headline in Bridgeview was Bastian Schweinsteiger had an excellent debut for the Fire.

Schweinsteiger, who only arrived in the U.S. on Monday, started and went the full 90 minutes in his debut. He scored the opening goal, and, increasingly as the game went on, was the best player on the field. He had one assist, and could have had three more.

There is plenty of good reason to be skeptical of what Schweinsteiger can add to an MLS club at this point in his career, but he can continue to play like he did on Saturday, he’ll be worth the money for Chicago.

One of the most encouraging signs was how fit Schweinsteiger looked. There might be something to be said for the fact that, having hardly played at all in the last year at Manchester United, Schweinsteiger might be fresher now than he has been at any other recent point in his career.

In any case, Chicago’s Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic – two men who know what it takes to win in MLS – have bought completely in to Schweinsteiger. This was a promising start.

5. Minnesota Runs Rampant in First Win

After a month of being beaten up on, Minnesota United turned the tables on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis – pouring four goals past Real Salt Lake to secure their first ever MLS win by a score of 4-2.

Christian Ramirez scored twice, and now has four goals on the season, but the star was Kevin Molino – whose all-action performance included a goal, a yellow card, and two assists.

It was a landmark night for Minnesota, punctuated by the incomparable Adrian Heath charging around the field and pumping his fists in celebration in front of the Dark Clouds and True North Elite at fulltime. This victory was a long time in coming.

Petke, meanwhile, has a big job in front of him. RSL – starting with Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando – hardly even looked engaged.

6. Thunderous Victory for Vancouver

The Whitecaps badly needed a victory on Saturday ahead of the second leg of their Champions League semifinal, and they got it in thrilling fashion – a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the LA Galaxy in front of a raucous crowd at BC Place.

Vancouver took the lead early on, only for LA to score two goals in quick succession and go into halftime up 2-1. But Fredy Montero’s first MLS goal since 2012 tied the game, and a thunderous effort from Matias Laba just seconds later put Vancouver back on top. Laba would add a second to ice the game three minutes from time.

It was an attacking explosion from the Whitecaps, who began the week by trading arguably their best attacker in Kekuta Manneh. Christian Techera, who stands to pick up the majority of Manneh’s minutes, played his best game since 2014.

It was a fabulous show, and the ‘Caps will need something similar on Wednesday night if they are to overturn a 2-0 deficit against Tigres.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, have now won just one of their first four games – with Curt Onalfo’s decision to go with Clement Diop over Brian Rowe in goal looking stranger and stranger by the minute.

7. Atlanta Holds Its Own In Seattle

Atlanta’s visit to Seattle on Friday night didn’t live up to its billing as a soccer spectacle, but it was another strong signal that Tata Martino’s team is for real in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Atlanta more than held its own at CenturyLink Field – not only on the score-sheet, but also in the run of play. Possession was split evenly and Seattle was held to just a single shot on goal.

SEE MORE: Schedule of MLS games on US TV and streaming

The defensive performance was particularly encouraging. With Josef Martinez sidelined and Atlanta facing a stretch with five of their next six games on the road in places like Toronto, New York, and Portland, the defense is going to have to be good.

Friday night, it was just that – and if Atlanta can pitch shutouts against good teams, with the way their offense has been going, they’ll make the playoffs at a canter.

8. Houston Soars Again

Houston is showing no signs of fading. Behind a hat-trick from Cubo Torres, the Dynamo stomped all over the New York Red Bulls in a thoroughly impressive 4-1 win on Saturday night at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Torres, quite simply, looks possessed. Wilmer Cabrera is the only professional coach he’s ever produced for, but when he’s playing for Wilmer Cabrera, there are few players more fun to watch in MLS.

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