1. Philadelphia Union is the best bad team in MLS
Ten rounds into this season, and we can start to make some pronouncements about teams in MLS. Most teams have amassed sufficient body of work for the statements to be fair.
It is fair, for example, to say that one-win-out-of-nine Montreal Impact is terrible. This may not remain the case for the rest of the year, may not even remain the case for the rest of this week, but right now, L'Impact is making a strong argument for being the most dreadful team in the league. This weekend's limp effort at home against Sporting Kansas City was one of the most one-sided affairs ever witnessed in MLS.
Plenty of good teams will lose to KC this year, but they won't lose like this: at home, with nearly 80% of possession conceded to the visitors, who essayed more than 800 passes at a 92% accuracy rate. Those are the sort of numbers players rack up in training sessions. Unopposed training sessions. Pity is perhaps the only explanation for KC's relatively modest 3-0 win over Montreal.
What has that got to do with Philadelphia? Well, the Union is, to date, the only team in MLS to have lost to Montreal. That happened a couple of weeks ago, since when Philly has gone on to lose to Seattle Sounders and, this week, to D.C. United.
Three straight losses. One win out of 11 games played, and the lone victory was back in the second week of the season. The Union is dire.
Up to a point. What is curious about Philly's form is, though the wins aren't coming and the losses are mounting, this team doesn't lose by much. Each of the five games Philadelphia has lost this season has been close - just one goal separating the winner from the Union.
This week's 1-0 loss to DC was a case in point: the Union conceded early (to a goal that might have been flagged offside on another day - MacMath appeared impeded by two DC players crowding the goalmouth), but were not outclassed or even outplayed, just outscored.
It all adds up to a team that appears to be a little bit of luck, or maybe a managerial change, away from reversing its fortunes. Whether that can be achieved over the next couple of matches, when the Union must play two of the best teams in the East (KC and New England), will perhaps be the difference between the present coaching regime presiding over the turnaround, or a new tactician being appointed.
2. The New England Revolution's time is now
A couple of weeks back, this column pointed out the schedule had opened up a bit for Seattle: a couple of winnable games at home was likely to give the Sounders separation at the top of the league table. As it happened, Seattle obligingly concurred with the analysis, and ran its winning streak to five games, becoming the consensus best-team-in-the-league along the way.
And then, this week, the Sounders hit the road again and ran straight into a wall daubed with the ebullient faces of the 2014 New England Revolution. Seattle lost 5-0. We will see whether the experience has any lingering impact on the team.
For the Revs, however, the result was the crowning achievement of a three game run in which they have beaten some of the presumptive top teams in MLS: Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, and now Seattle. The most recent win confirms the confidence of this team in its own ability, and its ability to win when it is confident.
And now the schedule has opened up invitingly for New England. The next five games are all winnable. The Union's dreadful form has been discussed already - and the Revs get to play Philly twice in this stretch (5/17 and 6/28). There is also a trip to Montreal ahead (5/31).
New England will host DC and New York as well. The latter opponent, RBNY, will be missing key players (Tim Cahill and Roy Miller to World Cup duty; Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave to fear of involuntary retirement). The former, DC, is the toughest match-up on paper, but the Revs just beat Seattle 5-0, so they need not fear tough match-ups.
The season has just entered the six-week period during which MLS clubs will be most affected by the World Cup. Several teams will lose key players; form may be inconsistent, even by the parity-driven standards of this league.
New England won't be the least affected by this - but it's unlikely the Revs will miss scarcely-used Jerry Bengtson over the next five matches.
If we're not talking about the Revs as title-challengers at the end of June, we'll be trying to explain how it all went so wrong for them.
3. All eyes on July 4th for Landon #135
Improbably, Landon Donovan has managed to get through LA Galaxy's entire pre-World Cup schedule (just seven games, but still) without scoring the one goal he needs to become the stand-alone all-time top scorer in MLS regular season history.
The league would really like to throw this party. Donovan is as important to the survival and growth of the league as David Beckham and the rest of the high-profile talent that followed. When he scores the goal he needs to add historical weight to his claim to be MLS's most influential player, there will be a great deal of (deserved) hype.
But LD is presumed to be heading off to Brazil with 22 other USMNT players. He'll miss a minimum of six games for LA: the last World Cup group match for the US is on 6/26, just two days before LA's 6/28 match against San Jose.
So, if USMNT doesn't make it out of a group it is not expected to make it out of, the earliest game LD could play will be the July 4th home game against Portland Timbers.
From the perspective of the league, perhaps the only silver lining to an early USMNT exit from the World Cup would be the chance to celebrate a special American player on America's special day.
Of course, this will require Landon to score a goal.
4. The Crew could be headed from bad to worse
Having started the year with three wins in a row, the Crew has now sunk to a win-some-lose-some, 3-4-3 record. Overall, this is average, but the trajectory - the sudden accumulation of losses - implies a team that isn't good.
And things could be about to get worse. Michael Parkhurst is in USMNT's preliminary World Cup squad, so he's gone until at least June 2nd - probably until the end of June, since he seems to one of Jurgen Klinsmann's preferred players.
Gonzalez, Parkhurst and Francis are three of the Crew's starting back four. The team's main problem at the moment is a lack of goals, but this may be about to be compounded by a makeshift back line getting to know itself without the luxury of an attack capable of grabbing the goals needed to counter the occasional defensive error.
Also, insofar as the team could use as many attacking options as it can get right now, Arrieta's call-up isn't helpful.
If none of these guys make their respective nations' final 23, they'll still be missing for three games. And they could be out for as many as six MLS matches. If the Crew hasn't figured out a way to win by then, it may too late for their returning starters to bail them out.
5. RSL is the best team in the league at the moment
Not every team has played 10 games yet, but every club in MLS has lost at least twice - except Real Salt Lake. A thumping 5-2 win over the Dynamo in Houston put an exclamation mark on RSL's season-opening ten-game unbeaten streak.
Five games have been won, five have been tied, and those 20 points are good for second overall in MLS - second only to Seattle, which has played one more game and had to throw together five wins in a row just to keep pace with RSL.
Getting almost a third of the way through the season unbeaten is impressive. Doing so when six of those first 10 games were played on the road is intimidating. Yes, RSL has just lost three key players to the World Cup exodus - Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and Alvaro Saborio - but it is also looking at a stretch which will correct the imbalance in its early schedule. Six of RSL's next ten games will be at home, and the stars will likely be back for a few of those.
The league is much distracted by questions of form - and strings of wins are of course a healthy indicator of superiority. But so too is not losing. And until a team does manage to beat RSL, it seems only right to regard it as the best team in MLS, regardless of what the standings might suggest.