MLS Thoughts: Portland Timbers a real contenders this year

The Portland Timbers have started this season on fire.

The 2015 MLS Cup champions struggled last season, failing to win a single away match and missing the playoffs. But this season has been a different story. The Timbers sit atop the league with nine points in three matches and second in the league with 10 goals.

Saturday night, the Timbers showed just how dangerous they can be in a 4–2 win over Houston. Portland fell behind 2–1 behind two Houston goals late in the first half, but dominated the second 45 minutes. The Cascadian side rebounded with three goals to take the win, and they scored them with relative ease. Diego Valeri found himself on the end of an open header and David Guzman and Fanendo Adi toyed with Dynamo keeper Tyler Deric to seal the win.

The Portland opened the season with three-straight wins for the first time in club history and is making a strong case to be Supporters’ Shield contenders. Between Valeri, Guzman and Adi among others, the Timbers’ attack is straight up scary. And if they can keep it clean in the back, this will be a team that no one will want to play.

Atlanta is the real deal

People fawned over Atlanta United during the offseason.

They weren’t without merit. United made a splash picking up Tata Martino as their head coach and Miguel Almirón and Josef Martínez among other South American players. But big signings don’t always mean immediate results on the pitch.

Except for Atlanta.

After dropping their opening match against the New York Red Bulls, United have won their last two matches by a combined score of 10–1. Their 11 points in three matches leads the league. Martinez looks absolutely incredible with five goals in three matches, and he’s a legit candidate to unseat Bradley Wright-Phillips for the golden boot this year. Plus, the 100,000 that have shown up for the two matches at Bobby-Dodd Stadium continue to make this team a huge plus for MLS.

Of course, the wins have come against struggling Minnesota and 10-man Chicago, and I still want to see how they fare against another playoff contending team. Their match at Seattle on March 31 will be very interesting.

But I think it’s safe to say that Atlanta is the real deal this year.

minnesota gets its first point

It took 270 minutes, but Minnesota finally have their first point in their history.

The Loons struggled through their first two matches of the season, falling to Portland and Atlanta by a combined score of 11–2. But Saturday was a brighter day for the MLS newcomers.

Things seemed to be going their usual horrible ways as Colorado opened the goal in the 17th minute; however, Minnesota fought back this time. The Loons scored in the 50th minute to level the match and then Christian Ramirez put the team ahead with a goal eight minutes later. Unfortunately, Colorado scored immediately after that and Justin Davis saw red in the 70th minute, forcing the Loons to settle for a 2–2 draw.

Still, the draw is a much better result than what Minnesota had been getting the past two weeks. There are still a lot of questions surrounding the Loons’ defense, but their offense is certainly MLS ready. And maybe this result plus the international break will help get them back in the game.

FC Dallas finding ways to get results

FC Dallas won twice last week, but they weren’t pretty wins by any stretch of the imagination.

The Huntsmen defeated Pachuca in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday. They then picked up three points at home against the New England Revolution.

But FC Dallas fell behind early in each match, allowing a 4th minute goal to Pachuca and a 10th minute penalty to New England. And the team struggled to create anything to get them back into the contest.

Still, they managed to overcome deficit each time. Maxi Urruti scored right before the half against the Mexican side, while Kellyn Acosta hit a rocket for a game-winning free kick goal. And Urruti netted his second brace to give FC Dallas a 2–1 league win on Saturday.

It hasn’t been pretty, but ending the month with seven points in MLS and putting themselves in a position to advance to the CCL final is still a pretty good month.

Cyle Larin stepping up for Orlando City

Orlando City supporters held their collective breath when Kaka left the pitch with an injury in the team’s opener two weeks ago. But Cyle Larin has given them a reason to celebrate instead of mourn.

The Canadian forward scored only a few minutes after Kaka left the pitch against NYC FC, then continued his hot start Saturday against Philadelphia. Larin scored twice in the 2–1 win, including the game-winner in the 73rd minute.

The goals are nothing new for Larin, who has tallied 34 goals since joining Orlando City in 2015. But the consistency so far combined with the importance of his new role is crucial for a team that has struggled to make the postseason.

City have only played two matches after a “snow out” last week in New England, so the sample size is small. But if Larin continues to play like this, the Lions will be strong contenders for a playoff spot in the east.

real salt lake struggling

Something is up in Salt Lake City and its name just might be Jeff Cassar.

Real Salt Lake limped home last season to a fourth-place finish in the West and a Wild Card exit in the postseason, and things haven’t been much better this season either. The Utah side has yet to win a game after a home draw to Toronto and a road loss to Chicago, causing a lot of anxiety amongst the supporters.

But things looked good for RSL to start their match against Los Angeles Galaxy when Yura Movsisyan scored in the 18th minute. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. Kyle Beckerman got sent off right before half after his second yellow card of the match. The Galaxy tied the match in the 69th minute and took the lead for good five minutes later.

Real Salt Lake sit in a tie for last place in the Western Conference with Minnesota. Considering how bad last season ended and how poorly this season has started, I’d bet good money that Cassar will be the first manager fired in the league this season.

Update: RSL announced Monday afternoon that they fired Cassar. Daryl Shore will take over as interim head coach.

Seattle returns to form at home

There’s no place like home.

That’s what the Seattle Sounders are saying in their fist match of the season in the Emerald City.

The Sounders struggled to start the season, earning just one point in the first matches. That lone draw came in a come-from-behind draw at Montreal last weekend.

But Sunday, the script was much different. After unveiling the 2016 MLS Cup Championship banner in the rafters at CenturyLink field, the Sounders returned to form. Clint Dempsey opened the scoring with a penalty kick goal. After the New York Red Bulls leveled the match in the 57th minute, Jordan Morris gave Seattle the lead for good in the 66th minute.

Seattle finally looked like the team that managed the late-season run to the MLS Cup. Dempsey, Morris and Joevin Jones all looked like threats that will terrorize opposing defenses. If they can build off this performance after the international break, they’ll be a good threat to be the first team to repeat as champs since the 2011–2012 Los Angeles Galaxy.