The international break is now upon us, but before players departed for their respective national teams, Week 3 of MLS play provided plenty of talking points.
In a week dominated by goals, and lots of them, several teams stood out above the rest. The Portland Timbers and Atlanta United lit up the opposition for a combined eight finishes while MLS Cup finalists Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders provided impressive efforts of their own. Unfortunately for the Houston Dynamo and San Jose Earthquakes, their early-season hot-streaks came to an end with the first losses of their young seasons.
Towards the bottom of the table, Minnesota United finally showed signs of life, snagging a point against the Colorado Rapids. It was the lone draw of a busy week, one which left plenty to digest ahead of some major international matches.
Here’s a look at several takeaways from Week 3 of MLS play:
TIMBERS, ATLANTA UNITED CONTINUE TO LIGHT IT UP
Early in the season, it’s understandable for teams to struggle on the attacking end. It’s the final piece of the puzzle, crispness in front of goal, and it’s not uncommon to see teams lack the cutting edge required until hitting their stride as the season goes on.
Unfortunately for the other 20 teams in the league, no one told that to the Portland Timbers or Atlanta United.
The two clubs lit up the opposition yet again this weekend as the Timbers thrashed the Houston Dynamo, 4-2, while Atlanta toppled the Chicago Fire, 4-0. Through three games, the Timbers have fired 10 goals to lead the Western Conference while Atlanta’s tally of 11 goals is as many as the three teams behind them in the standings combined.
Both teams have found their form thanks to the play of their No. 10. Diego Valeri continues to shine as one of the best playmakers in MLS, joining Fanendo Adi, Darlingon Nagbe and Sebastian Blanco to create a fierce front four. With Adi shoving his way through the defense, Valeri and co. have plenty of room to interchange and create behind him as the Timbers come at defenses in a variety of ways.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has apparently struck gold with the club’s South American core. Miguel Almiron looks to be everything he was expected to be, giving Atlanta a premier creator from the offset. Josef Martinez is scoring goals at an alarming rate and could be in line for a Golden Boot push while Hector Villalba fired his first finish of the season this past weekend. Add in the unexpectedly spectacular Yamil Asad and it looks like Atlanta has something special in the attack.
Now, it’s much too early to peg one of these two teams as a historically good attacking team, even if they are on pace to do so. However, they certainly have the potential to be as the skill sets of those involved make the attacking barrage much more than a coincidence, even this early in the season.
NASL IMPORTS STEP UP FOR MINNESOTA UNITED
As the club constructed a roster for its debut season, Minnesota United made sure to stay true to its roots. Several NASL stars were brought in to ease the transition while connecting the team’s MLS future to its successful past in the lower division. However, through the opening two weeks of the season, the group of NASL imports were largely absent as the Loons slumped to one of the worst starts imaginable.
On Saturday, several of those familiar faces joined the lineups and it paid dividends in a 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids.
Of the 14 players to see the field for the Loons on Saturday, five had previously played for the club in the NASL. One of them, Christian Ramirez, fired a goal, his second of the season, while another, Ibson, came off the bench to provide a secondary assist. Miguel Ibarra also joined the starting XI, making his first career MLS start while Brent Kallman stepped up in place of Vadim Demidov to help plug the floodgates that spewed open defensively through the first two weeks.
It wasn’t a perfect, nostalgia-filled experience, though. Justin Davis, the fifth of the NASL imports, was sent off in the 70th minute for a hard foul.
Still, the point remains. The players brought up from the NASL are prepared to serve as more than just depth. Ramirez and Kallman, in particular, should be penciled in for a starting role going forward for a team now looking to push its way out of the mess created from their opening two losses. The Loons, by all metrics, are still one of the worst teams in MLS, but the club at least has a positive to latch on as they look to build momentum heading into their next match.
RED BULLS CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE WITH NEW SYSTEM
The New York Red Bulls emerged in a 4-2-2-2 once again on Sunday and, for the third straight game, they struggled to adapt to the new look. Faces have changed throughout those three games but one thing is abundantly clear: it isn’t working. At least, not yet.
The Red Bulls struggled on Sunday afternoon, falling, 3-1, to the Seattle Sounders on the night the MLS Cup champions raised their banner. There’s no shame in the loss. The Sounders are the reigning champions, after all, and dropping points at CenturyLink Field is certainly not the worst of MLS sins.
However, there’s cause for concern. The Red Bulls were once again forced into a switch back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1, but the move came a bit too late. The Sounders were already gone, well on their way to three points. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, slumped to defeat, their first of the season.
All things considered, the Red Bulls’ start has been fine. Six points from three games is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering the two wins came against potential playoff contenders. But still, the eye test is lacking, as the Red Bulls don’t look like the team of yesteryear.
Is the formation switch the cause? Maybe, but Jesse Marsch is a good enough coach to iron it out. Are they lacking a true second forward? Possibly, but it’s too early to write off new signing Fredrik Gulbrandsen.
The Red Bulls are a much better team than Sunday showed, and they’re a team that should be mustering more than two shots on target. The crispness will come as time goes on, but what formation it comes in remains up for debate.
URRUTI STEPS UP FOR FC DALLAS
Heading into the 2017 season, Maxi Urruti was something of a forgotten man in Dallas. New signing Cristian Colman was expected to lead the line, relegating Urruti back to backup duty for a team that has MLS Cup aspirations.
Urruti bagged a brace in Saturday’s come-from-behind win over the New England Revolution, taking his goal count to three in two games. You can also add in his play in the CONCACAF Champions League to his early 2017 resume, as the Argentine’s midweek goal against Pachuca could be vital in helping the club reach the competition’s finale.
Through the opening weeks, Kellyn Acosta has earned a bulk of the headlines, and rightly so. The midfielder has been spectacular on both the attacking and defensive ends while adding the goalscoring touch that was always lacking in his game.
However, FC Dallas wouldn’t be where they are without Urruti, who deserves his props for once again stepping up in a big moment.
I like Ramirez, but come on, most of NASL players that make the cut, have to be back ups or it will be a long season.
It will be a long season.