1. FC Dallas: still lucky, still winning
FCD bagged a 2-0 victory in Philadelphia this week to maintain a perfect start to the season: three wins from three games. Nine points puts Dallas three points clear of its closest challengers in a Supporters' Shield race that is at way too early a stage for anyone to be talking about it seriously.
Less silly, however, is the observation that FCD currently leads the league in goals scored (six) and has only conceded once. The team is solid at both ends of the pitch. And in a year when every other side has stumbled at least once, it is the only MLS club still with a 100% record.
It is also one of the luckier teams in MLS at the moment. In Week 1, FCD edged San Jose Earthquakes by scoring the only goal of the match in stoppage time. In Week 2, a similarly even contest with Sporting Kansas City turned on a 52nd-minute goal that put FCD up 2-1 and consigned KC to chasing a game on the road - an effort that helped Dallas to add a third goal, and seal the win, in the 73rd minute. How is a 3-1 home win over KC (winless in three attempts to date) in any way lucky? That go-ahead goal should have been flagged for offside.
This week, Dallas was on the road for the first time this season. The game in Philadelphia was again pretty even, and again, FCD got a lucky break: Zach Pfeffer got duped by Mauro Diaz's quickness of thought, and was sent off for elbowing the Argentine playmaker in the head. If Pfeffer doesn't make that mistake, and Philly doesn't lose Sheanon Williams to an early injury and have to reshuffle its defense, maybe Dallas doesn't get through the rest of the game quite so easily.
We'll never know and, of course, a good team makes its own luck. FCD might have been lucky to beat the Quakes in stoppage time in Week 1, but there's nothing lucky about employing a poacher like Blas Perez, who redirected a shot from Moises Hernandez many players would have tried to duck, rather than treat as a cross to be headed. The second goal against KC might have been offside, but the other two were not, and FCD has consistently created chances in every game it has played to date (11 attempts on goal in each match). Pfeffer didn't appear to crash into Mauro Diaz this week because he was possessed by homicidal rage, but because a clever player with the technique to execute his vision did something unexpected and the Union player couldn't adjust: the collision was brutal, but it looked like it came as a surprise to both players.
Also, if there is a team in MLS that deserves a little luck, it is FCD. The club started 2014 by winning five games out of its first seven, but then went on an eight game winless streak that threatened to derail the season. Coach Oscar Pareja gradually guided an injury-riddled squad back to form and subsequently fitness, and the team made the playoffs. This year, it will be hoping to improve on last season's fourth-place finish in the Western Conference.
Pareja learned perhaps more than he anticipated about his squad in 2014, thanks to all the injuries. He would appear to have liked much of what he saw, because while 11 players were released in the off-season, just six new faces were brought in. The coach gave young players - Moises Hernandez, Tesho Akindele, Ryan Hollingshead and Victor Ulloa - their first MLS regular season starts in 2014, liked what he saw, and has kept faith with them at the start of this season.
Any luck FCD has experienced is by design, and deserved after last year's travails. Furthermore, although we still don't really know which teams will be good at the end of the season when the playoffs roll around, it is worth noting that none of Dallas's opponents to date have lost more than one game so far this year: the Quakes have won twice since losing in Week 1 to FCD; KC has a couple of draws either side of its loss to the league leaders; and the Union lost for the first time in 2015 in Week 3.
The next couple of weeks will test FCD's depth and early-season form: it faces Seattle at home on March 28 and the Timbers in Portland on April 4. And it will have some players missing for international duty when the Sounders come to visit. But FCD had players missing a lot last year, and still managed to be a pretty good team. If it has now found a way to be lucky as well, we may not need to guess at the identity of at least one of the successful teams this season for much longer.
2. Portland: still trying to stop tying
The Timbers don't look bad - indeed, they have consistently been competitive for the last couple of years - and will be expected to improve when key players Will Johnson and Diego Valeri return from injury.
But coach Caleb Porter has been in charge since 2013, and in his tenure the team has consistently...tied. In that first year under Porter, Portland rode 15 draws and just five losses (14 wins, too) to the Western Conference regular season title, just two points behind the Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. Porter won Coach of the Year. In 2014, 13 ties and nine losses (12 wins, as well) added up to a few too many points dropped to make the playoffs: the Timbers missed out by one point.
A draw is better than a loss, but there is surely a large enough sample size now to question what it is about Caleb Porter's tactical approach that seems to leave his team so consistently prone to the draw.
In 71 regular season games under Porter's leadership, the Timbers have drawn 31 times: 44%. For some observers, this has become a bit of a running joke.
How did Portland do? Lemme guess- they tied?— Eric Wynalda (@EricWynalda) March 22, 2015
Right now, in a new season, this counts as little more than an anomaly. Portland is missing arguably its two best players, and it could tie every game until they get back and still be in the hunt for the playoffs when Johnson and Valeri are ready to play (the former should be back before the latter). But if the ties keep piling up, the issue will increasingly look to be less the matter of the players available for a specific match and more that of the coach's approach to the game in general.
3. Good news and bad news for Montreal's CCL campaign
In common with a great many teams this week, Montreal Impact drew 0-0. For L'Impact it was a point gained, since it was a road game played against last season's MLS Cup runner-up, New England Revolution, and Hassoun Camara contrived to get himself sent off in the 61st minute, leaving Montreal to play 30-odd minutes with 10 men.
The clean sheet was encouraging. In mid-week, L'Impact beat Alajuelense 2-0 in the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. The club's most pressing priority is not to lose the second leg of that series by more than two goals. Pressure on the defense on the road could almost be considered welcome practice for a team focused on coming back from Costa Rica in early April with a CCL final to think about. And the need to shuffle the defense again next week, to account for Camara's absence and international call ups, is another chance for coach Frank Klopas to explore his depth options on the back line.
Unfortunately, while Montreal can enjoy the clean sheet and need not worry too much about any result at the moment that isn't against a Costa Rican team, the match did produce some bad news: rookie forward Cameron Porter suffered an apparently serious knee injury.
Porter was not a player MLS teams were excited about in the off-season: Montreal picked him up in the third round of the SuperDraft, 45th overall, and he was passed over even by RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch, who had been part of the set-up at Princeton, Porter's college, last season. Since that low-key start as a professional, his trajectory has been steep.
On February 24, he made his debut as a pro in Montreal's CCL quarterfinal first leg, subbing in to a tense match in Mexico in the 81st minute. He got 19 minutes off the bench in L'Impact's opening MLS match of the year, against D.C. United. On March 3, he was thrown back into CCL in the 85th minute of the quarterfinal second leg against Pachuca. Montreal needed a goal: Porter got it in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
That goal brought him attention and an early opportunity to see if he could handle it. Klopas gave Porter his first start in L'Impact's next game: the first leg of the CCL semifinal against Alajuelense. He played the whole game, contributing most notably to the build up for Montreal's opening goal.
This week's start in MLS was the latest step in a remarkable ascent. And then an awkward landing on New England's oft-derided turf shut him down. Disappointing for a young player building early momentum in his career, and disappointing for a team targeting a turnaround from MLS-worst in 2014 to CONCACAF-elite in 2015.
Porter joins winger Justin Mapp on the Montreal injury list (and attacking midfielder Dilly Duka, though he isn't expected to be out for long), and L'Impact will have a couple of weeks to make adjustments to its plans for the attack it will use against Alajuelense in April.
4. The Rapids really need a goal
The Rapids tied 0-0 at home this week, adding another clean sheet to the 0-0 they picked up in Philadelphia in Week 1. So the defense seems to have some promise. But the team hasn't scored since the 30th minute of that October match against Chivas: 420 minutes of play and more than five months of real time. That is a long time to ask fans to wait to see a goal from their team.
Worse, perhaps, the Rapids let Deshorn Brown slip away to Norway in mid-March: he scored the last goal before Neeskens, against Seattle on October 5. The last time a player still in Colorado's squad scored a goal for the team was September 27 (Gabriel Torres in a 1-1 draw with San Jose). And the last time the Rapids actually won a game in MLS was July 25 - against Chivas.
Colorado has played two games so far this season. It should have won this week, but NYC FC's 'keeper Josh Saunders is in good form and the Rapids forwards are not. The team has released or traded more than 20 players since the end of last season: this is not the same Colorado as last year.
MLS teams can change significantly from season to season, as DC's turnaround last year and Montreal's current CCL run demonstrate. There is no necessity to project the Rapids' form in 2014 on to the team on the field in 2015.
Well, there is one reason: this week, Colorado looked a little bit like a team that had simply forgotten how to score a goal. The team's top scorer for the past two seasons, Brown, is gone. The last man to score for the Rapids, Neeskens, is gone. Even the team he scored against, Chivas, is gone.
This year is a fresh start for the Rapids. But it will feel neither fresh nor started until the team gets a goal - and then a win.
5. Davy Arnaud misses out on MLS most-fouled record, reaches career milestone anyway
It's not smart to throw positive attention in the direction of a D.C. United player when writing for a RBNY site, but this column's intention is to look around the league, and occasionally that means the uncomfortable task of looking at the team from down the road.
Sebastian Salazar - writing for CSN Washington - spotted that Arnaud was just three fouls short of becoming the most fouled player in MLS history going into DC's Week 3 match-up with the New York Red Bulls.
Despite the tempting chance to hack their way into league history by shoving Arnaud past (former DC player...and yes, briefly, once even a Metro) Jaime Moreno's all-time MLS record of 703 fouls suffered, the Red Bulls were restrained - Arnaud was only fouled once in the game. He will need to wait a while longer for that record.
Arnaud did commit five fouls himself, solidifying his place on MLS's all-time top 10 fouls committed chart (he's currently eighth; RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch is second). Somehow, despite PRO's insistence it was cracking down on persistent infringement this season, both Arnaud and Perry Kitchen (whistled four times during the game) avoided yellow cards, but that is a different matter.
The DCU midfielder did, however, reach a career milestone against RBNY: he played his 330th game in the MLS regular season. He is just the 15th player to reach that mark in MLS. If he continues to be a regular starter this year for DC, he should finish 2015 as one of an even smaller number (five at the moment) to have made 350 appearances in the league.
He is also 11th on the league's all-time minutes-played list, and should expect to crack that top 10 this season.
Congrats on all your accomplishments, Davy. And sorry you didn't see enough of the ball this week for RBNY to give you the pummeling you needed to be recognized as one of MLS's absolute statistical best.