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MLS Tiers: Starting Sparkle Continues for Expansion LAFC, Resilient Columbus

Columbus has overcome plenty to get off to a perfect start through two games, while Bob Bradley's LAFC could not be enjoying a more ideal beginning to life in MLS.

Starting your season on the road against the reigning champion is a tough assignment. You’re essentially the homecoming opponent. Following that up with a home opener unlike any other in league history—it could be your last, and everyone knows it—represents a genuine test of focus and composure that would trip up many teams.

To win both of those games, and to do so after replacing your two leading scorers, is a testament to the coaching and culture at the Columbus Crew. Gregg Berhalter’s team has every reason to be 0-2-0. Yet they’re 2-0-0 following their win in Toronto and then Saturday’s dramatic defeat of Montreal. Gyasi Zardes already has eclipsed his 2017 goal total, and Federico Higuaín has been outstanding. It’s early, but this looks like a team whose flexibility and resilience will be one of the stories of 2018.

It’s hard to imagine an MLS club being more satisfied with its on-field start. Yes, Los Angeles FC has been spectacular. But they kicked off with a blank slate. There was no baggage. The Crew started with something to overcome, and should be feeling capable and confident after a pair of satisfying wins.

This week’s tier rankings will focus on how the rest of MLS is feeling after a couple weeks. And we begin with the five clubs who would’ve had trouble scripting a better start.

Thrilled so far


Columbus Crew (2-0-0), Los Angeles FC (2-0-0), New York City FC (2-0-0), New York Red Bulls (1-0-0), Vancouver Whitecaps (2-0-0)

It’s not just the fact that LAFC is only the third MLS expansion team to start 2-0-0 or the first to win its initial two road games. It’s the way Bob Bradley’s team has managed the feat. LAFC held on and won with grit in Seattle, then traveled to Utah on Saturday and blew the doors off Real Salt Lake. In addition, 20-year-old forward Diego Rossi now has been involved in all six of the club’s goals and was named MLS player of the week for his two-goal, three-assist performance at RSL. No adjustment period required.

David Villa scored in a fourth consecutive home opener, and NYCFC is off and running with good-looking wins at Sporting Kansas City and home to the Galaxy. The rival Red Bulls have been focusing on the Concacaf Champions League, which makes Saturday’s 4-0 dismantling of the Portland Timbers with a squad featuring only two obvious first-choice players all the more impressive. And Vancouver took its chances Saturday and won, 2-1, in Houston, where the Dynamo lost only three of 21 games last year.

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Not perfect, but no big worries


Atlanta United (1-1-0), Houston Dynamo (1-1-0), San Jose Earthquakes (1-0-0), Seattle Sounders (0-1-0), Toronto FC (0-1-0)

The Jeff-Larentowicz-at-center-back experimented having ended after one ugly outing, the Atlanta midfield was back to its dominant self against 2017 nemesis D.C. United on Sunday. It took Tata Martino’s side 70 minutes or so to blow the game open, but the hosts weren’t troubled and looked a lot more like the team that’s expected to contend in the East. The Dynamo are also 1-1-0, and, although they’re coming off a loss, they were the better team for much of Saturday’s match against Vancouver and won’t have wasted all the good vibes from their season-opening rout of Atlanta.

San Jose, Seattle and Toronto were idle. The Quakes looked good for most of their week 1 win over Minnesota and Seattle and TFC are all-in on this week’s CCL quarterfinal deciders.

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Not ideal, but something to build on


Chicago Fire (0-1-0), LA Galaxy (1-1-0), Minnesota United (1-1-0), New England Revolution (1-1-0), Orlando City (0-1-1), Philadelphia Union (1-0-0), Sporting Kansas City (1-1-0)

This tier is all about perspective. Take Sporting, for example. This is a club that has represented the defensive standard in MLS for several seasons, so coach Peter Vermes probably is annoyed and/or bewildered by the fact that his squad has leaked five goals in two games. But they also came from behind to win in Chicago on Saturday with goals in the 83rd and 86th minutes. That’s something to feel good about while other issues are addressed.

LA and Minnesota are deservedly .500, and the Revs eked out a win over Colorado absent their two starting center backs. Orlando still hasn’t fielded a first-choice lineup, while Philly (winners over 10-man New England) and the Fire (losers in a wild, back-and-forth game against SKC) are just getting started.

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We may have some problems


Colorado Rapids (0-1-0), FC Dallas (0-0-1), D.C. United (0-1-1), Montreal Impact (0-2-0), Portland Timbers (0-2-0), Real Salt Lake (0-1-1)

Colorado (including two CCL matches) and D.C. have shown very little going forward, while Portland can’t seem to defend. FCD was off last weekend, so didn’t have the chance to demonstrate they finally recalled how to win games. Montreal looks softer than we’re used to. And despite its potential, RSL deserves demotion to the bottom tier after a home implosion like that