With exactly half of their regular season slates complete, both Toronto FC (2.06 ppg) and the Chicago Fire (2.00 ppg) are at or above 2 points per game. This isn't exactly unprecedented – teams have been at that mark at this point in the season a number of times in the past decade.
Nobody, however, has been at or above that mark at season's end since the 2005 San Jose Earthquakes. That was the first year of the post-Landon Donovan Quakes, when the keys to the diamond midfield were handed to Dwayne DeRosario, and when guys like Brian Ching and Brad Davis did their jobs with both rugged consistency and underappreciated artistry. It's also the group that moved to Houston after the season and ripped off two straight MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007 to go along with the 2005 Supporters' Shield.
Dom Kinnear was the manager of that group, both during their San Jose years and after the move to Houston. Kinnear inherited a semi-dynasty when he took over as head coach of the Quakes in 2004, then upgraded it and drove it to newer and greater heights over the next three seasons. He kept first the Quakes and then the Dynamo in the hunt for either the Shield or Cup every year from 2004 through 2013 (save for the lost season of 2010), navigated the adjustment to MLS 2.0 and the opening of a new stadium, developed players like those three mentioned above as well as Geoff Cameron and Stu Holden, and did so while switching from the diamond 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 to a flat-ish 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 and making stops at all formational locales in between.
He was more flexible and inventive as a head coach than most fans give him credit for, and as my colleague Charlie Boehm wrote, for a good chunk of time Kinnear was probably the best in the league.
Sometimes his team was direct and unforgiving in its pragmatism. Other times – especially with the 2005 and 2006 teams, but also with the 2011 & 2012 groups that were among the league leaders in chance creation, possession percentage and passing accuracy, and probably deserve better than to be remembered primarily as the long-running foil of Donovan and the Galaxy – Kinnear coaxed his group to play some beautiful soccer. He did so while developing more than his share of players for the national team, and/or for lucrative moves to European clubs.
It's fair to say, though, that things haven't quite been the same since 2014. Kinnear's Dynamo went just 11-17-6 that year, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference. It was mutually announced late that season that he'd leave Houston to take over the Quakes, his second stint in the South Bay, but really the first time he'd be changing jobs, in what felt destined to be a happy homecoming.
Just under three years since that announcement and exactly two-and-a-half seasons into his return to San Jose, Kinnear was dismissed as head coach by the Quakes. News came out via press release on Sunday afternoon.
The announcement was at least somewhat surprising since San Jose just posted a 2-1 win over RSL on Saturday night, and are currently fifth in the Western Conference. Their biggest offseason signing is just getting his groove, and their new DP is going to arrive in a couple of weeks. Fifth place in the West and a record of 5-3-2 over their last 10 games across all competitions? The ambient talent in this squad is not greater than that, and while they've not looked like contenders, they're nonetheless hanging in the scrap just above the red line and doing so with a puncher's chance of a top two finish in the conference.
Seriously, look at the standings. Kinnear's old team in Houston sit second in the West and have drawn praise from MLS cognoscenti since March. Yet they're exactly two points clear of the Quakes, and I've spoken with several long-time observers of the league who felt like this was shaping up to be a classic Kinnear season – survive the first half, thrive in the second and play your best soccer in November.
Quakes GM Jesse Fioranelli, who was hired this offseason, felt otherwise:
5. The fifth team in my own personal list of elite groups are FC Dallas, who put in a "this-is-just-good-enough-for-the-regular-season" performance in Friday night's 1-1 draw at Houston.
Of course, Dallas have now won just once in eight games and Houston just once in seven. Sooner or later I'll have to rethink the rankings as I've got them in my head (are Dallas all that good if they keep, you know, not winning?) but for now I'm comfortable keeping them in the top five.
This is recommended reading from DynamoTheory.com, by the way.
4. It looks like Atlanta United have finally got the hang of winning at home. Saturday's 1-0 result over Colorado was their fourth straight at Bobby Dodd Stadium after a rocky start to the year in Georgia.
Josef Martinez now has seven goals in 423 minutes, which translates to 1.5 goals per 90. The highest season-long total in MLS history is 1.08 goals per 90 by Stern John in 1998 (26 goals in 2170 minutes), and since then the only one to come all that close to averaging a goal per 90 over a sample size of 2000+ minutes was Bradley Wright-Phillips (.94 goals per 90 in 2014).
What Josef's done thus far sure seems unsustainable. But he sure does keep scoring when healthy, doesn't he? Let's keep an eye on him.
3. It's also worth keeping an eye on Alejandro Bedoya, who was excellent for Philly in their slump-busting 1-0 win over visiting D.C. United on Saturday (volume up for analysis):
As nice and intricate as that sequence was, the Union still pretty badly need a No. 10. So many things have to go right for Philly to create a big chance – this combination here, that run there, this touch into space and pullback, etc – with their current set-up, while most of the teams ahead of them have one guy who they can be like "hey, just get the ball to Mauro and see what he'll do."
The transfer window should be interesting for Philly, in other words. But please remember it's a trade window as well, and there are playmakers in this league worth pursuing.
The 'Caps – who have dropped below the red line on raw points, though not quite on points per game – face a murderously hard schedule over the next two months. Five of seven are road trips, and the only two home games are against one of the league's best teams (NYCFC) and a rival (Portland).
They'll need to sort themselves out defensively, and also figure out how best to get Fredy Montero cooking. The Colombian DP has just five goals and a single assist through 1138 minutes, which makes this solidly his least productive MLS season on a per-90 basis.
1. And finally, the latest edition of the Cascadia Derby took place late on Sunday night, with Clint Dempsey's late header giving 10-man Seattle a 2-2 draw at Portland, who should definitely be kicking themselves. USMNT fans should hope that Dempsey comes to love that super-sub role, because the realities of age and the pace of international play probably make that his future in Red, White & Blue.
Timbers fans, meanwhile, have suffered through a prolonged, two-month slump that's seen their season at least partially derailed. Portland have nine points in their last 10 games, tied with RSL for last in the West and second-worst overall in that span (Orlando City have eight from their last 10). ESPN's Taylor Twellman did a good job of breaking down how injuries and inconsistency in the center of defense have pulled Portland apart and made fairly routine turnovers into game-changing misadventures:
The good news for both of these teams is twofold. First, the West is soft this year so dropping points – even at home – doesn't seem like a deathblow.
Second is that the summer window opens soon. "Deathblow" or not, lost leads and dropped points hurt, and jobs are on the line. Expect big moves in the Pacific Northwest.