Welcome to this recap of Major League Soccer Week 3 - and do cherish these early days when the schedule draws bald, strong lines between one Week and the next. As with the clock ticking up to closing time, things get blurry later.
Speaking of blurry, I have strong doubts that the standings will look the same at season’s end than they do today. As much as I try not to lean too far over the skis - especially now that I’m working with less direct observation - I feel pretty confident in predicting that neither Toronto FC, nor the Seattle Sounder and the Portland Timbers will end 2018 hanging off the bottom of the table; on the other side of the same token, I don’t expect Minnesota United FC to finish 2nd in the Western Conference and I do expect that Philadelphia won’t hold onto 3rd in the Eastern - and I say that as someone who’s thrilled to see teams like that where they are, even as I believe both teams read like someone who believes he’s ready for the pro circuit after winning his first three hands of Texas Hold ‘Em.
It was a pretty good weekend all in all, even for being Portland-Timberless - although, let the record show that my unconscious mind guided me toward a means to let the Timbers crash this post - in that not a lot of teams and situations feel settled after Week 3. I’ll get to individual results and comments thereon - and the stuff about Portland - but I want to continue by filling in the outline above and painting sort of an statistical, impressionist portrait of the week just past.
I’ll start with a word on methodology. I watched three games this weekend: Atlanta United FC’s 4-1 romp over the Vancouver Whitecaps, Real Salt Lake’s generally fortuitous 1-0 win over the New York Red Bulls, and FC Dallas’ long-handed ‘n’ languid 3-0 walk over the Seattle Sounders (links to recaps down below). Your first take-away from that is that I know those games better than the rest, but, as every modifier in the sub-clause of that sentence suggests (because what do I know about, say, Dallas after watching for just one 90-minute game?), I have every intention of drawing inferences from whatever data points I have on hand, and I’m not sure it’s going to be any worse.
To illustrate the above, allow me to draw broad preliminary examples from this week’s games: for instance, I think Toronto reads as having enough faith in what they’ve got to the point of perhaps asking too much of them - see, who they started against Montreal. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, look like they’re building the squad rotator’s dream. It’s a choice of thinking your players can handle the rigors and still win it all (Toronto) versus a plan to optimize a long-haul season, while knowing that might entail a slip or two (New York, whose squad rotation worked against Portland, but not RSL…sort of). The Sounders, on the other, other hand, might be pushing too many ingredients past their expiration date to succeed in most things this year.