Nine games, 24 goals, two red cards and plenty to cuss and discuss across MLS – here’s a few cuts.
Run and gun
Even with a scoreless draw between the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew SC, fans were treated to plenty of rippling nets over the weekend. And while the sample size is small, after three weeks of play we’ve seen some teams get involved in more shootouts than others, both for better and for worse.
Most of us tend to associate Atlanta United’s high-octane attack with wide-open games like their 4-1, red-card-assisted win over Vancouver on Saturday. And indeed, all three of their games so far have featured at least four goals, leading to an average of 4.33 total goals per game. But surprisingly, the Five Stripes aren’t actually tops in this statistic.
After outlasting the Earthquakes 3-2 at Children’s Mercy Park, traditionally-stingy Sporting Kansas City have now scored seven and conceded seven in 2018 for an average total of 4.67 goals per game. This is the same outfit that allowed the fewest, and scored the fifth-fewest, goals in MLS last season, which means that Sporting’s games have served up more than twice as many goals this year as last.
The upshot? If you like barnburners, ATL and SKC are appointment viewing right now.
Taste of revenge … or not
Probably the most fraught clash of the weekend unfolded up in Quebec, where mighty Toronto FC, fresh off their landmark Concacaf Champions League triumph over Tigres UANL, swaggered into Olympic Stadium to visit their rivals the Montreal Impact.
After losses in their first two matches under new coach Remi Garde, the home side needed a W – and after 90 minutes of frantic, end-to-end soccer, they got one, thanks to Jeisson Vargas’ deflected strike and some late defensive heroics from Michael Petrasso. Beating Toronto means a lot to anyone from the City of Saints, in just about any context, and this one was timely for the Impact.
Out at Real Salt Lake, head coach Mike Petke insisted that his team’s snowy, hard-fought 1-0 win over his former club the New York Red Bulls (via a penalty kick from yet another key VAR decision) had “zero more gratification as it would if we were playing anybody else.” But his team was palpably relieved to put last week’s 5-1 whipping from LAFC behind them.
As Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle points out, there’s no getting around the fact that CCL means a lot to most of the teams from across the region who take part, as it should. And even the most talent-laden squads in MLS and Liga MX find it challenging to maintain maximum focus and fitness for league play in between those big international games.
For Toronto and the Red Bulls, Saturday’s losses are probably a price they’re willing to pay for reaching the CCL semifinals. For the Sounders, falling to FCD just adds to the sting of their elimination at the hand of Chivas Guadalajara.
Costly red cards
Sunday’s Dallas win carries a rather substantial asterisk, mind you. Clint Dempsey’s first-half ejection – a rather petulant act of aggression to Jacori Hayes caught by VAR – put Seattle behind the 8-ball and was ultimately too much to overcome for Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer’s tired, shorthanded group. FCD were happy to exploit that gift as they worked through their own CCL aftereffects.
Another straight, early, VAR-enabled red was at the heart of Atlanta’s defeat of Vancouver. In real time, few noticed Kendall Waston’s contact with Leandro Gonzalez Pirez in the midst of a scrum of bodies in the Whitecaps penalty box on an ATLUTD set piece.
But the cameras picked up enough evidence of malfeasance to get the big Costa Rican defender sent off for violent conduct by referee Ismail Elfath, and the Fives Stripes’ loaded front line is not the sort to allow a penalty kick followed by a lengthy span of numerical advantage to go to waste. These decisions are inevitably controversial, but Seattle’s Schmetzer provided a useful frontlines perspective on Sunday.
“Well, we've got keep our players on the field somehow. With instant replay, we can't do anything stupid,” he said in his halftime interview on the Sounders broadcast.
The undefeateds: Who’s left?
With many teams spending more and more both on and off the field, there’s been some fretting over the perceived decay of the league’s famed (or infamous, depending on your perspective) parity of late. Those with that perspective may wish to note that even though the season is still very young, most of the league has already tasted defeat at least once.
Only five teams have yet to lose in MLS play, and of those, only two have picked up maximum points from their games to date.
NYCFC are the early pacesetters with nine points from their first three games, a very impressive start for Patrick Vieira’s side in terms of both aesthetics and results. Expansionists LAFC are, surprisingly, 2-0. And a bit further back, Columbus, Dallas and Philly are all still unbeaten.
Your moment of zen
Finally, a quick shout for a unique outing in quiet Boyds, Maryland, where D.C. United hosted the Houston Dynamo in an interesting 2-2 draw at the Maryland SoccerPlex Saturday. This intimate venue, called into action as a temporary home for D.C. while their new home, Audi Field, is under construction, got a dusting of snow coupled with some late dramatics on the field to complete the March Madness-esque vibe: