Last week, we took a look at clubs who have gotten off to a surprisingly strong start and which of those seem best equipped to continue that form throughout the year. This week, we're going to do the exact opposite.
This time, let's inspect the MLS powers that have stumbled out of the blocks and figure out which are most likely to pull it all together to reclaim their place among the league's elite before the MLS Cup battle royale rolls around. Truth be told, they are all quite capable of coming correct from here on out, but some will have to dig out of larger early holes.
So instead of my usual alphabetical order, let's rank these surprise slow starters on a scale from "Meh, we got this" to "Holy crap, when is somebody going to put out the dumpster fire?!?"
Home losses to Inter Miami and NYCFC stung, but Jim Curtin's boys looked their old, capable selves again in a weekend victory over Chicago. New lineup players are fitting in fairly well, they have Superman (otherwise known as Andre Blake) in goal and there's always the Concacaf Champions League effect to consider.
Gosh, they're only 1-2-1, so should the Union even be in this article? Yes, the struggle is actually real in Philly. After posting impressive xG differentials per 90 of 0.39 and 0.44 the last two seasons, they're currently sitting on a -0.41. Much of this can be chalked up to a dysfunctional build/ attack.
The team is last in passing percentage and are shooting surprisingly poorly for accuracy (though they take the closest-to-goal shots in MLS on average, Philadelphia sit third-to-bottom in percentage of shots on target, a stat they topped the league in last year).
Panic button rating: Barely a glance at it so far. And their Champions League chase is now paused until August, so they should shed the early hangover that tends to affect the MLS clubs playing these extra tournament games through April. In Philly, I trust.
If any team here is a solid bet to "pull a Sounders" (aka struggle out of the gate, add a high impact player in summer and then bully its way to the title), it's LAFC. After all, they have the fourth-best xG differential per 90, but haven't translated that into results so far.
It is worth noting they've enjoyed only 42 combined minutes of Carlos Vela and Moon-Hwan Kim, who represent a legit international caliber right side that should frighten any opponent. Not only that, but Bob Bradley and friends might have a Designated Player slot to play with — and by "play with" I mean address a center forward situation that is far from ideal. All in all, most observers probably feel they'll put it all together before long... but we all thought that in 2020, too.
Panic button rating: A weekend loss in Seattle puts it, at the very least, within reach. This club is ripe for the picking from foreign clubs, and one would obviously prefer to be on solid playoff position ground before being forced to replace someone like Eduard Atuesta or Diego Rossi in the lineup. A notable sale like that certainly could happen, so it's better sooner than later with pocketing points.
The Timbers haven't played that poorly overall, but are finding ways to lose games. A missed penalty here, a counter defense breakdown there, set piece leaks just about everywhere, and suddenly you're 1-3-0. You want to give them some benefit of doubt because they just got Jeremy Ebobisse back and remain in wait for Sebastian Blanco's return, but one expects better game management from a veteran team with a fair amount of cohesion. Of course, knowing this group, the current tense situation could be a slight memory three rounds from now.
Panic button rating: Portland are as capable as anyone on this list of pulling a U-turn on their slow start. However, it may already be time to give the button a firm tap if they fall this weekend at San Jose (who'll be playing their third game in nine days).
Like Portland, the Reds are no longer stretched by Champions League play. And like the Timbers, it's tough to be too harsh when top cogs are absent (for reference, Toronto FC have seen just 58 combined minutes of action from Jozy Altidore and Jonathan Osorio, and none thus far from reigning league MVP Alejandro Pozuelo). Put simply, they aren't creating a whole lot with the ball, and have made too many mistakes at the back for a team not creating a whole lot with the ball.
Panic button rating: Pozuelo seems close to a return, and that could flip this side's switch. In that light, it probably seems too early to hit the alarm. But because they're in the beastly East, it seems a good idea to come out with the drive of a desperate team when they clash with MLS Cup holders Columbus on Wednesday.
The issues in Minnesota are all very clear. The heart of defense remains stiff without Ike Opara and Bakaye Dibassy, while standout wide backs Chase Gasper and Romain Metanire are standing out for the wrong reasons this year. The Loons have barely been able to carve out good looks for new striker Ramon Abila, and nobody else can shoot straight (through four rounds, the Loons are by far the worst team in MLS at putting shots on frame). Just when it looked like they were pulling out of the early nose dive, three late and annoying leaks against the Rapids snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. They need a win streak, stat, and Bebelo Reynoso can't do it all by himself.
Panic button rating: As the Hulk might say, SMASH! Barring last season's unique playoff setup, no MLS club that opened with four losses has reached the playoffs. Being in a wide open, wild West could help the Loons be the first, and I believe they have the horses to rescue the season, but they need to turn this thing around pronto.