ExtraTime Radio Podcast
LISTEN: Is it too early for awards? Probably (OK, definitely), but that can't stop the guys from naming their quarter-season MVP and top defender, young player, goalkeeper, midfielder and outside back. Plus, everything you need to know from the MLS weekend that was! Subscribe now so you don't miss an episode!
I’ve watched – and this is a conservative estimate – 90 of the 103 MLS games played so far this season in their entirety.
And I've gotta tell you, I have next to no idea what’s going to happen each week, and I’m certainly not dumb enough to put any week-to-week predictions down on paper (R.I.P. Pick 'Em). Around the Major League Soccer soccer dot com offices, we call this predictable unpredictability #PeakMLS. About the time you think you’ve got something pegged, the rug gets yanked out from under you.
Who thought the much-fancied Portland Timbers, even without Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, would roll down to previously punchless San Jose and get smoked? That a comeback draw at home against the playoff-starved Chicago Fire would be labeled a turning point by the mighty LA Galaxy? That the most entertaining attack in MLS would belong to the Dynamo?
Who predicted Minnesota United and Atlanta United would both be sitting on 11 points when, just a month ago, the former was maligned by many as very possibly the worst MLS team of all-time (!!!) while the latter was garnering praise as a project that would change the league forever?
Who went out on a limb this preseason and predicted Cubo Torres and C.J. Sapong would top the Golden Boot charts on May 8 with seven goals apiece? That Victor Vazquez, Alex, Joevin Jones and Chris Wondolowski would top the assist charts?
Point being: When it comes to MLS, forget what you think you know. Things change. And they change quickly, in large part because each and every team has the ability to surprise you. I stand with Alexi Lalas, who said at halftime of Minnesota’s eye-opening 2-0 win against Sporting Kansas City that Major League Soccer is the most competitive league in the world.
Toronto, sans Sebastian Giovinco, can go to Seattle and win an MLS Cup rematch on three days rest. The Colorado Rapids can go from Supporters’ Shield contenders to bottom feeders in a matter of months. The Union can break a 252-day winless run against a Red Bulls team with MLS Cup aspirations. FC Dallas can top the table with one of the lowest payrolls in the league.
Nobody bats an eye. We shrug and say, ‘That’s #PeakMLS.’ If you’re looking for order and any level of certainty from your soccer consumption, this league may not be for you. If you’re looking for order and any level of certainty from your soccer consumption, I’m not sure why you’re watching soccer in the first place.
So before you fill the comments section with calls for a dominant power or two for the sake of #narrative or diatribes against parity and the salary cap, just think what you’d miss out on if MLS was like La Liga (three teams have a legitimate title shot), the Bundesliga (Bayern Munich have won the league 12 of the last 18 seasons) or the Premier League (back to being predictable after Leicester City’s miracle championship).
I’ll take the randomness and "what just happened?" entertainment value of MLS over all three. There’s only one way to know what will happen week to week on first-division fields in the United States and Canada. You’ve got to watch.
THREE QUICK THOUGHTS
- Chris Wondolowski is going to end his career as MLS's all-time leading goalscorer.
The Quakes legend needs 20 goals to catch Landon Donovan’s mark of 145, and I think he’ll get them. In fact, if Dominic Kinnear keeps giving him license to roam in the attacking third and San Jose’s attacking additions get on the same page, he might just have the most well-rounded attacking season of his career. Wondo already has five assists (two short of tying his career-high) to go with four goals, and he most definitely hasn’t lost his knack for getting on the end of scoring chances. The 34-year-old finishes with 14 goals this season, then breaks Donovan’s mark in, let’s say, August 2018. You heard it here first.
- Wilmer Cabrera has a positional battle on his hands.
Mauro Manotas is productive and good. Cubo Torres is productive and good. Manotas and Torres are also center forwards in a system that only uses one center forward. So who plays when both are healthy and available? That’s a question Cabrera is going to have to answer week-to-week while maintaining the #positivevibes currently flowing through the Dynamo locker room. How he manages the situation could go a long way toward determining whether Houston return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
- How will the Galaxy locker room react to Curt Onalfo’s gambit?
The LA boss raised eyebrows when, down 2-0 at home against the Chicago Fire, he gave captain Jelle Van Damme the first-half hook. Afterwards, with a point in the bag following two second-half goals, Onalfo said the comeback was “a galvanizing moment for our group” and that the Galaxy “became a team” on Saturday night. What does it mean that transformation happened with Van Damme and Jermaine Jones, who left with an injury just before halftime, watching from the sideline? And how will the players react to the substitution and the result that followed? Something to watch as the league’s most successful club tries to right the ship after a rocky start.