After the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday, no undefeated teams remain in the 2015 Major League Soccer season. Those two, along with the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United, look like the league’s hottest teams for now.
New England and D.C. are among a four-way logjam with FC Dallas and the Vancouver Whitecaps for first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings.
And while it’s impossible to ignore the East’s best teams, Seattle looks like a contender already again, with the league’s best two-forward pairing in Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey.
The Whitecaps have faltered some, winning just once in the past five games, but Carl Robinson’s team could well rebound at home against the Philadelphia Union this weekend.
From D.C.’s fast start to the season to Real Salt Lake’s suddenly slow one, here are some talking points from Week 9 of the MLS season:
New England revs up, goes to top of the table
The Revolution's win over the Red Bulls both ended the New York's unbeaten streak and sent the Revs to first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings on goals scored over D.C. They haven’t lost since two poor performances at the very start of the year.
Charlie Davies scored his third goal of the season in the effort on Saturday, continuing his resurgence under Jay Heaps. The 28-year-old has scored in each of New England’s last three matches, all victories.
However, it’s difficult to gauge the Red Bulls’ weaknesses in their third game in seven days. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam started on the bench and played less than half an hour each in the second match of a tough week in which they also drew the Colorado Rapids at home.
The Red Bulls have a golden opportunity to get back on track when they host struggling newcomer New York City FC in the teams’ first match-up on Sunday.
D.C. off to best start in franchise history
D.C. United won’t win any awards for most attractive style of play in MLS, but it has continued where it left off last year with its best eight-game start ever in 2015. A 2-0 win on Saturday over the Columbus Crew, which followed a gutsy 2-1 victory in Vancouver, are the most recent results in a six-game unbeaten run for the capital’s team.
Having 2014 leading scorer Fabián Espíndola back from suspension helps immensely.
He couldn’t play for almost two months after an altercation with an assistant referee in the playoffs, but he scored his team’s first goal and assisted the second last weekend in just his second match of the season.
On the other end of the field, goalkeeper Bill Hamid just signed a multi-year contract extension that prevents him from leaving on a free transfer, boosting his hometown team defensively. New England might lead the early Supporters’ Shield race, but D.C. boasts the highest points per game in the league with 2.13, having played one less match.
RSL identity crisis leaving team baffled
Captain Kyle Beckerman said it best in his post-game comments following RSL’s 1-1 draw at home against the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday: “We've got to find ourselves. … We've got to figure out who we are and what we're about.” A change in system from Jason Kreis’ diamond midfield to Jeff Cassar’s 4-3-3, along with injuries and national team call-ups, have left the team reeling in recent games.
In RSL’s latest health issue, playmaker Javier Morales picked up a concussion against the Earthquakes. He’s already missed time with a groin injury. Add him to a trainer’s table that already includes Joao Plata, Chris Schuler and Sebastián Jaime.
Even the team’s five-game unbeaten streak to begin the season can be taken with a grain of salt, as three of those matches were draws, including against the Portland Timbers and Philadelphia Union, which currently sit outside the playoff places. In four games at Rio Tinto Stadium, previously one of the toughest places to play in MLS, RSL has managed just five points.
Playing in a Western Conference that's deeper than ever, RSL needs to heed Beckerman's call, and soon.
Logjam at the top
It’s hard to say who clearly deserves to be No. 1 in the power rankings right now. Beyond a general tier of the league that has teams such as New England, the Red Bulls, the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United at the top and the Montreal Impact and Philadelphia Union at the bottom, the gaps among franchises are often difficult to discern.
Still, it’s very early by MLS standards—not quite one-third of the way through the regular season—and the playoff field will include over half the league this year. Once those two-leg series hit, things become even less predictable.
To keep from leaping to premature judgments, remember the LA Galaxy in 2014: despite sitting as low as ninth in the West in mid-May, it eventually played what was basically a home-and-away series against Seattle to decide the regular-season championship. LA went on to win its fifth MLS Cup in the postseason.
By design, anything is still possible in this league.
Week 9 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City)
DEFENDERS: Sean Franklin (D.C. United), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Damien Perquis (Toronto FC), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)
MIDFIELDERS: Fabián Castillo (FC Dallas), Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution), Mauro Díaz (FC Dallas), Sacha Klještan (New York Red Bulls)
FORWARDS: Obafemi Martins (Seattle Sounders), Fabián Espíndola (D.C. United)
11Seattle Sounderslast week: 1record: Record: 5-1-2 | This Week: 3-1 at NYCFCAnother set of goals from one of the deadliest forward pairings in the league, Obafemi Martins in each half and Clint Dempsey in the second, lifted Seattle to victory at Yankee Stadium.
22D.C. Unitedlast week: 4record: Record: 5-1-2 | This Week: 2-0 vs. ColumbusD.C. is off to its best start in franchise history, unbeaten in six matches, and it wasted no time in reaping the benefits of getting Fabián Espíndola back from suspension, with his early goal vs. the Crew.
33New England Revolutionlast week: 6record: Record: 5-2-2 | This Week: 2-1 vs. Red BullsThe Revs haven’t lost since two poor matches to open the season, winning five of their last six to vault to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings, although D.C. has more points per game.
44New York Red Bullslast week: 2record: Record: 3-1-4 | This Week: 1-1 vs. Colorado, 1-2 at New EnglandThe last remaining undefeated team in MLS fell on Saturday to cap what was a tough week for the Red Bulls, playing three games in seven days.
55Vancouver Whitecapslast week: 3record: Record: 5-2-3 | This Week: 0-0 at PortlandSuddenly, the Whitecaps have won just once in five games, although taking a point away from Providence Park is never an unwelcome thing; a home game against Philadelphia next week offers a chance to get back on track.
66FC Dallaslast week: 8record: Record: 5-2-2 | This Week: 4-1 at HoustonDallas has been streaky in the past couple seasons, and this year has been no different, though if Mauro Díaz and Fabián Castillo can consistently play as they did on Friday, that could change quickly.
77Los Angeles Galaxylast week: 5record: Record: 3-2-4 | This Week: 1-1 vs. ColoradoLA’s start in 2015 isn’t as slow as the early stages of 2014, and if Bruce Arena has shown anything over the years, it’s that he knows how to get a team to its peak at the right moment.
88Columbus Crewlast week: 7record: Record: 3-3-2 | This Week: 0-2 at D.C.The Crew saw their four-game unbeaten streak snapped at RFK Stadium, but this is a team that doesn’t seem to have reached its potential yet despite exploding for seven goals in the previous two games.
99San Jose Earthquakeslast week: 10record: Record: 3-4-1 | This Week: 1-1 at Salt LakeFriday in Salt Lake marked San Jose’s first draw of the season in the Earthquakes’ traditional head-banging style: a choppy game that resulted in a total of 37 fouls but just three yellow cards.
1010Real Salt Lakelast week: 9record: Record: 2-2-4 | This Week: 1-1 vs. San JoseOnly a Víctor Bernárdez own goal ended RSL’s 387-minute scoreless streak, but it lost Javier Morales to a likely concussion and became the first victim of a bizarre new interpretation of the offside law against the Earthquakes.
1111Sporting Kansas Citylast week: 13record: Record: 3-2-4 | This Week: 1-0 vs. ChicagoPaulo Nagamura came off the bench to score the only goal in Sporting’s win over Chicago in what was otherwise a dreary game, though Tim Melia performed well in a rare appearance in goal.
1212Toronto FClast week: 16record: Record: 3-4-0 | This Week: 1-0 at PhiladelphiaThe Reds have won twice in a row on the road for just the second time in franchise history, the latest courtesy of a Sebastian Giovinco free kick from distance, and they finally return to BMO Field this weekend.
1313Chicago Firelast week: 11record: Record: 3-4-0 | This Week: 0-1 at Kansas CityDavid Accam’s red card hindered the Fire’s efforts to equalize against Kansas City, and the 1-0 loss snapped Chicago’s three-game winning streak.
1414Portland Timberslast week: 12record: Record: 2-3-4 | This Week: 0-0 vs. VancouverDiego Valeri finally made his season debut as a 52nd-minute sub on Saturday, a lengthy appearance off the bench that could signify that he’s ready to play a full 90 minutes again very soon.
1515Orlando City SClast week: 15record: Record: 2-4-2 | This Week: OffThe Lions return to action on Friday against the Revs, who should be a tough test particularly after a week off from league play and two losses in a row. Losing Kevin Molino to an ACL tear also weakens an already thin strike force for Adrian Heath's side.
1616Houston Dynamolast week: 14record: Record: 2-3-4 | This Week: 1-4 vs. DallasThe Dynamo’s start under new manager Owen Coyle has been uninspiring, both in the results and in the way that the team has played in the early stages of the season. Houston conceded four goals for a second straight game against a conference rival.
1717Colorado Rapidslast week: 18record: Record: 1-2-6 | This Week: 1-1 at Red Bulls, 1-1 at LAColorado has drawn three games in a row for the second time this season and has scored more than one goal just once, in its only win, a 4-0 trouncing of FC Dallas.
1818New York City FClast week: 17record: Record: 1-5-3 | This Week: 1-3 vs. SeattleDavid Villa returned from injury in the second half against the Sounders, but even he couldn’t prevent NYCFC’s winless skid from extending to seven games on Sunday.
1919Philadelphia Unionlast week: 19record: Record: 1-6-3 | This Week: 0-1 vs. TorontoNot much has gone right for the Union this year, and its loss to Toronto finished a week in which forward C.J. Sapong was arrested on Friday and charged with reckless driving and driving under the influence.
2020Montreal Impactlast week: 20record: 0-2-2 | This Week: OffFinally, Montreal returns to league play on Saturday against the Timbers, who were also RSL’s first opponent after losing in the 2011 CCL final. Will there be a hangover after missing out on the region's top prize?