The MLS XI, Week 3: Good Things Happen in 3s; Altidore's Instant Impact

It's only fitting that the third week of the MLS season was defined, in many ways, by the number three.
Publish date:

It's only fitting that the third week of the MLS season was defined, in many ways, by the number three.

FC Cincinnati stole the show with its first three-point haul in MLS, a 3-0 drubbing of the Portland Timbers in front of an eager and appreciative crowd at Nippert Stadium. There are 3-0-0 and 0-3-0 teams in the Pacific Northwest, while the third is smarting from conceding three or more goals for a third straight game.

The week also featured a trio of sensational goals from three newcomers and three goals from one established superstar in what was the highest-scoring week in MLS history, according to the league's communications department.

Here's our look back at the most notable items from Week 3 in MLS:

I. A first three-point haul for FC Cincinnati

FC Cincinnati earned notoriety on the national stage during its USL days with the raucous crowds it was able to attract to Nippert Stadium and the atmosphere they were able to cultivate in such a short time as a franchise. It should be no surprise, then, that such an atmosphere was brought to the MLS stage.

FCC dominated the Timbers for the first MLS win in club history. Goals from defenders Kendall Waston and Mathieu Deplagne sandwiched a sensational back-heel effort from Allan Cruz and ensured the 32,250 who turned out for a famous first in Cincinnati went home quite pleased.

An oddity: Waston's goal marked the second straight season an MLS expansion team's first goal at home was scored by its captain's-armband-wearing center back after Laurent Ciman did the same for LAFC vs. Seattle last April. 

A second oddity: Waston's goal was not the first eventual game-winner from an FC Cincinnati center back captain in an inaugural season home opener. That distinction belongs to Austin Berry, who did the honors with a diving header against the Charlotte Independence in the club's 2016 USL expansion season. The more you know.

The match was broken wide open after the hour mark, with a pair of goals two minutes apart sending the blue-and-orange-clad audience into delirium.

All in all, it was about as perfect a home opener as FCC could have crafted, and with four points from a season-opening gauntlet that included matches at Seattle and Atlanta and then at home against last season's MLS runner-up, it's been a better-than-expected start to life in MLS.

II. A first trio in MLS for Rooney

Wayne Rooney did plenty in his sensational half-season in 2018, but one thing he hadn't done was net a hat trick. He can cross that achievement off his to-do list after leading D.C. to a 5-0 thrashing of nine-man Real Salt Lake. Rooney did it from the penalty spot, on a lovely chip over Nick Rimando and then on a tap-in in a match that showcased the dynamic qualities this United team can have.

And yes, the win featured D.C.'s third straight clean sheet, making Ben Olsen's side the only one yet to concede a goal this season.

III. The only 3-0-0 team

That would be the Seattle Sounders (though Toronto FC is also perfect but has only played twice in three weeks). Jordan Morris's third goal of the season was part of a 4-2 win over the Chicago Fire, one that propels the Sounders to nine points and Morris into U.S. national team camp with plenty of personal momentum. The goal came off a phenomenal curling cross from Nicolas Lodeiro, with Morris taking two touches with his right foot to loop home the strike for the uncharacteristically fast-starting Sounders.

To illustrate just how effective Morris has been this season, coming off a 2018 in which he missed the entire year with an ACL tear, look no further than his last active campaign: He's already matched his 2017 output of three goals and an assist–in 1,553 fewer minutes.

He's clearly not the only producer for Seattle, with Raul Ruidiaz tallying late to score in an eighth straight game for the Sounders dating back to last season (and including the playoffs). It's no wonder that having each other on the field together is opening things up for the Seattle attack, one that's tallied a league-best 10 goals through three weeks.

IV. Three poor showings for Portland

If there's anything sweeter for Seattle than winning, it's seeing Portland struggle. What is going on in the back for the Timbers? With Liam Ridgewell gone, their back line has been shambolic, conceding a league-worst 10 goals in three games and at least three goals in each of their three matches. The red card to Larrys Mabiala in Cincinnati won't help matters when the club resumes play March 31 vs. the LA Galaxy, but at least Diego Chara will be back after serving his red card suspension. The club remains winless since 2015 without its midfield engine, running that streak of futility to 23 matches.

V. An instant impact and a welcome back

How about the 2019 debut for Jozy Altidore? Off the bench in the 68th minute, Altidore broke Toronto FC's deadlock with the New England Revolution in the 80th by finishing off an excellent team goal. Michael Bradley's looping ball out of the back fell for Justin Morrow, whose cross through the area curled right into the path of an on-rushing Altidore.

The emotion showed by Altidore speaks volumes, with the player finally back to match fitness after his disappointing 2018 was cut short with an ankle injury. TFC showed faith in him by rewarding the U.S. forward with a new contract through 2022, and the 29-year-old Altidore has begun to do his part by validating the club's belief.

VI. An instant impact, Part II

Ezequiel Barco, the second-most expensive signing in MLS history, scored on a header three minutes after coming on for Atlanta United, helping the reigning MLS champs salvage a 1-1 draw vs. the Philadelphia Union. The Five Stripes needed the goal to counter the opener from 18-year-old homegrown Brenden Aaronson, who scored on his debut as he got the start in place of the suspended Marco Fabian.

That this and a consolation second-leg win over Monterrey in the CCL that cemented an aggregate quarterfinal elimination are what Atlanta's been reduced to celebrating isn't a very good sign for the reigning champs, but perhaps it's the start of them breaking out of their doldrums, with the fixture congestion due to let up.

VII. The nominees for best first MLS goal by a newcomer

D.C.'s Lucas Rodriguez and NYCFC's Alexandru Mitrita can duke it out for those honors along with FC Cincinnati's Cruz, after each scored in sensational fashion.

Rodriguez connected for an expert side volley directly off a Rooney free kick, swinging his left foot through the set-up and piling on in the rout of RSL. The degree of difficulty involved in getting off a hit this clean should not be understated.

Mitrita, meanwhile, got on the board for his first goal in MLS on an exceptional individual effort. Streaking down the left channel with blazing speed, Mitrita then cut back on two defenders and wasted little time in uncorking a powerful blast from close range to open the scoring in a 2-2 draw vs. LAFC.

VIII. A revenge goal for naught

Diego Rubio was dealt by Sporting Kansas City to the Colorado Rapids in the offseason, and the Chilean responded by delivering his first goal for Colorado against, of course, Sporting Kansas City. It came in ridiculous fashion, with the usually stable Tim Melia rushed into having his clearance attempt blocked by Rubio and into the goal. As for the whole don't-celebrate-against-your-old-team thing, yeah, Rubio didn't quite subscribe to that.

Unfortunately for Rubio and his new teammates, the goal wouldn't hold up. Johnny Russell's sensational free kick two minutes after a Johan Blomberg red card ensured a share of the points, with the CCL semifinalists salvaging a point. 

IX. What a sequence

The Zlatan-less LA Galaxy strung together 25 passes en route to taking a 2-0 lead over Minnesota United Saturday night, with Chris Pontius finishing off the impressive sequence.

It still took a late Sebastian Lletget goal to secure the three points and hold off MNUFC's comeback attempt, with the Loons falling for the first time all season and the Galaxy rebounding quite nicely from their first loss last week.

X. In appreciation of Ignacio Piatti

This week's 10th item goes to Montreal's No. 10, who, at 34 and in his last season with the club, remains every bit worth the price of admission. Piatti led the Impact in a 3-1 win in Orlando, with a pair of goals and another all-around stellar performance. The double gives him 10 career goals against Orlando City, who surely will be thrilled to see him go. The extra touch to cut back on Sacha Kljestan, whose turnover deep in his own half gifted Montreal the opportunity, was the chef's kiss on his day at the office.

While it's all going right for Piatti, the same can't be said for success-starved Orlando, which is without a win in three games and has the New York Red Bulls and D.C. next up on the docket.

XI. Speaking of ongoing struggles

San Jose made a drastic change on the bench in bringing in Matias Almeyda. Vancouver also changed its coach, and then ushered out 21 players and brought in 15 new ones for manager Marc Dos Santos. After losses to the Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo, respectively, the two sides are the only ones without a point thus far, going 0-3-0 to start and not giving their supporters much in the way of optimism. It's early, and the big changes likely need time to settle, but the paying customers will only be so patient.