There have been 17 games played in both conferences so far. In the West, just one franchise is still pointless – Chivas. On the opposite side of the continent, six teams have failed to get off the mark. Much was made last year of the major gulf in class between conferences but it’s worth noting that a bunch of sides from the East finished the season in mid-table obscurity – Columbus, New York (both sides qualifying for Wild-Card berths) and Chicago.
The bottom four was a shared Conference experience with two sides each from the East and West. So, maybe a little too much emphasis was placed on Eastern sides being so far off the pace set by their coastal rivals. Perhaps more time should have been devoted to the clubs simply floating through the campaign.
Perhaps with some more guile, creativity and ruthlessness, these teams could’ve been more competitive. Already this season, one fears that DC and Philly could struggle while it’s hard to pinpoint how much improving New England or Toronto have done since last year. Add Chicago and Montreal to the mix and this could really be a defining campaign for the Eastern Conference overall.
Real Salt Lake’s start to this campaign has been eerily similar to last season. 2 games played, 2 wins racked up, just one goal conceded and one of those victories a resounding success against LA. Jason Kreis’s side have looked boringly good in both matches and facing a winless Chivas at the Rio Tinto this weekend should ensure another three points.
For Fabian Espindola, he’s aiming to tie Robbie Findlay as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in the regular season, having netted in both RSL games so far. This is his 6th season with the club and the Argentine has been steadily improving since arriving in MLS. Last term, he clocked up over 2,000 minutes of playing time and hit double-figures with goals – both for the first time.
Last season, it took him 6 games to score twice. This year, it took him 125 minutes. March is rounded off with a trip to Portland – where last season’s good start came to an end while mid-April presents three successive away games against Kansas, San Jose and Dallas. With fixtures like that on the horizon, RSL need to make light work of their struggling opponents on Saturday.
Both franchises are already 5 points clear of their nearest Eastern challenger. It can be argued that their opening two games were pretty generous fixtures but Sporting KC did have to go to DC and get a result while let’s not forget that the Dynamo have five more away games before debuting their new stadium (sound familiar?)
On Friday, a stern test for Houston as they head to Seattle and having racked up two 1-0 wins so far, it’s difficult seeing Tally Hall keeping another clean-sheet against a notoriously free-flowing side. With David Estrada causing Toronto all kinds of problems with his movement last week, it will be interesting to see how Houston cope.
Thinking back to MLS Cup last term and how many chances the Galaxy were able to create, especially breaking quickly in the final third, the Dynamo’s defensive unit need to be sharp, decisive and anticipate things much better than in that showdown with LA.
For Kansas City, their starting eleven looks impressive. Their best players from last term have begun the season well – two clean-sheets for Jimmy Nielsen, two goals for CJ Sapong, Kei Kamara’s already off the mark, Graham Zusi looks sharp and they racked up three goals against New England even without Teal Bunbury.
For Dallas, a first away game of the campaign though their form on the road last term wasn’t particularly bad, relative to the MLS average. Blas Perez has delivered with a goal and two assists so far and with Brek Shea still on duty with the USA Under 23s, if KC can stop the supply to the 31 year-old, it’s a big step towards three points.
The signs are good that Martin Rennie’s outfit can involve themselves in a play-off push but things can change very quickly in MLS. And normally, just when results are seemingly going your way. Vancouver need to be wary of their weekend hosting of a winless DC essentially because they’re not used to this.
There’s an expectation and a feel-good factor and it’s Rennie’s job not to allow players get caught up in the mirage. It’s early days and the West Coasters two victories have come at home against an expansion side and away to the second-worst team in the conference last season. They were comfortable against Montreal without ever really getting out of third gear while Jay DeMerit said after the trip to Chivas – ‘That’s what a road win looks like’.
There will be a swagger to the Caps on Saturday, especially with Rennie asking for a little more creativity and entertainment from his players on home soil. But under-estimating DC is dangerous. A late drop in concentration cost them in injury-time against Kansas while a 3-1 away defeat to the slightly under-pressure reigning Cup holders last weekend is an experience many MLS sides can relate to.
They are missing players due to international commitments while Dejan Jakovic could be forced to miss out due to injury. But they still have quality. Dwayne De Rosario would enjoy nothing better than scoring in BC, as would fellow former TFC player Maicon Santos.
2 games played. 2 defeats. 4 goals conceded. None scored. For the New England Revolution, it’s all very last year, isn’t it? Not quite. Last term, they started quite well before setting off on a run of two wins from ten games. Oh, and from their last 14 games of the campaign, they also won just twice.
The beginning though – that was quite impressive. Their opening 10 fixtures yielded 3 wins and 4 draws. 13 points. The fact they accumulated 15 from the remaining 24 matches tells its own story. But let’s talk about the positives ahead of their clash with Portland. The Revs are at home for the first time (where 4 of their 5 wins came last year) and Portland’s away form was alarmingly poor last season.
From a possible 51 points, John Spencer’s side racked up just 12 – translating as 2 victories and 6 draws. But if New England are to pull off a surprise here, where will the inspiration come from? Benny Failhaber is out after picking up an ankle strain in that 3-0 loss to Kansas City.
Saer Sene lasted just 56 minutes of that game – struggling as a lone striker. While elsewhere in the team, more worries. Stephen McCarthy was sent-off against KC and he’ll be serving his suspension this weekend.
With trips to LA and Dallas coming up after this for the Revs, a positive result this weekend is a must. But it looks like being a challenge, as does their season.
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