It was a very cold week in MLS. Indeed, the New England Revolution-Orlando City match was cancelled due to cold and high winds in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Minnesota United, on the other hand, had no such qualms about the weather. Their first ever MLS home game was the coldest game in MLS history. The snow may have given that away, but you would never have known when Atlanta United threw six goals on the board.
MLS Week Two Talking Points: Welcome Back Cubo Torres
Those six goals were something of a broader theme to MLS week two compared to the first. This slate saw more free flowing attacking action, where as week one saw a bunch of defending that produced three scoreless draws and only one team managing more than two goals.
There was a lot going on, but here are five key talking points from the second week of American soccer action in 2017:
I Guess Cubo Torres is a Thing Again
Anyone remember the last time Erick “Cubo” Torres was a productive MLS player? Wilmer Cabrera does. The current Houston Dynamo manager was in charge of the final Chivas USA team that saw Torres score 15 goals in 29 starts. He was then dispersed to Houston where he proceeded to disappear. Calling him useless during his time there could be considered a compliment. Since the Dynamo added him as a Designated Player on Christmas Ever 2014 he hasn’t been anything worth mentioning. He had scored zero goals in a total of 22 games.
Well, he has come along in 2017 and blasted a pair of goals home in Houston’s first two games. Both have been things of beauty, too. His free kick in the opener against Seattle was a perfect curling effort around the wall in inside the far post. The second saw him collect a long ball, take a couple touches and blast it into the top corner.
It’s more than Wilmer Cabrera mystique that has Torres relevant again. The new look Dynamo attack is really working in his favor. Their speedy wingers (mostly Alberth Elis, who played out of his mind on Saturday night) are really opening up space for him to create his great moments.
Sporting Kansas City Has a Finishing Problem
For the second week in a row, Sporting Kansas City played out a frustrating scoreless draw. Both times they have faced a team that came out with a defense first plan and outright refused to push players up the pitch. Last week it was D.C. United playing passively, this week FC Dallas wandered into Children’s Mercy Park with many of their big guns on the bench and the youth that took their places wasn’t up to attacking at all.
SKC could have made them pay by throwing all they had at the goal. They had every chance available to them and couldn’t unlock a mostly apathetic Dallas team. A lack of tactical creativity is partially to blame, as well as the inability for Peter Vermes to see the situation in front of him and start throwing numbers forward.
Vermes has made exactly one substitute in two games, which leads me to believe a couple things. First, he has zero faith in his bench. It is clear after two games that SKC has a problem with attacking depth that will only get worse as the dog days of summer arrive. Second, he has no idea who the best players on his own roster are. Two matches in a row have seen Sporting Kansas City look lifeless agaisnt teams with no interest in playing outside their own half. Tactics are one thing, but the players need to actually play the game. At the moment, I’m not sure Vermes has the best players in the best spots.
FC Dallas is Taking the CONCACAF Champions League Seriously
FC Dallas had a very good reason to sit their regulars on the road in Kansas City. A CONCACAF Champions League clash with Pachuca beckons and they will need their best available eleven to beat the Liga MX leaders, who were given an unexpected week off thanks to a sudden referee strike. Dallas doesn’t want a very well rested Pachuca side coming to Frisco, Texas to play a weary Dallas team that had to play 90 gritty minutes in 30 degree weather.
I’m hoping that Dallas can make a run in the CCL. They are the MLS team that stands the best chance of winning the thing since Real Salt Lake made the final in 2011-12. Sure, the Impact made it to the final two years ago, but they had a forgiving run to the final and were never expected to win a two legged tie against the legendary Club America. Dallas has the most talented team MLS has given the CCL in a long time, so it’s now or never for the league to prove that it can go toe to toe with Liga MX. Maybe, just maybe, a title run would give MLS sides a reason to take the tournament seriously when the new format kicks in for winter 2018.
It’s Going to Be a Long Year for Minnesota United
Minnesota United dropped their opening game 5-1 to the Portland Timbers. That was never the plan, but it was an acceptable outcome considering the expansion team was going against one of the best attacking forces in the league in one of the most hostile environments possible. Expectations changed when they came home. They had their home crowd watching their home team in MLS for the first time. They had a snowstorm giving them some sort of Minnesota Feng Shui in their favor. They also had a fellow expansion team to play against. Surely, a draw would have been the minimum expectation.
The Loons did not have a banner afternoon. The snow seemed to only negatively affect the home side as Atlanta cruised to a goal after 120 seconds on their way to putting up a six spot on the day.
We knew Minnesota United would not be making headlines with a hot start, but I feel like losing your first two games by a combined 11-2 is going to hurt the enthusiasm around the team. Nobody wants to watch a loser, especially a loser who routinely gets blown out by four or five goals.
I’m worried this will cause local support to drop off rather quickly. There aren’t big name stars to put butts in seats once the novelty of having MLS wears off as they have relied mostly on cheap pickups and talent that can carry over from their final NASL squad. They aren’t going to be a bunch of upstarts causing upsets and creating intrigue around their team. Instead, they are going to be the worst team in MLS and after two games it isn’t going to be close. It all sums up to there being little reason to pay attention to this team in 2017. I hope the fans can muster up some support and stick with this squad through the rough seas on their maiden voyage.
The Timbers Still Struggle on the Road
I know, I know, the Timbers scratched out a 1-0 victory for their first regular season road win in 17 months. However, they did not have their greatest game ever. This wasn’t like the 5-3 triumph at the StubHub Center that kick started their run to MLS Cup in October 2015. This was a gritty, ugly performance that got the benefit of a major officiating mistake.
Jelle Van Damme was sent off in the 34th minute for what amounted to a phantom foul. His first yellow came just minutes earlier when he couldn’t keep from running his mouth at a foul called against him. The second came from his bolting run at David Guzman, who flopped to the ground to buy the foul. He got more than he asked for and provided Van Damme with his second yellow card and an early exit from the match.
The Timbers proceeded to not play like they were a man up. They allowed the Galaxy to do whatever they wanted with the ball while failing to aggressively close them down. Their attacks were always one and done despite their inherent advantage in numbers. With the exception of a couple moments in the game, it was the Galaxy looking more likely to find an equalizer than the Timbers doubling their lead. A 72nd minute breakaway was the one chance the Timbers had to slam dunk the game away and Fanendo Adi horrifically botched it.
LA Galaxy likely put three or four goals in if they had a full compliment of players on the pitch. They were that dominant while a man down and it wasn’t even close. That’s just as much a knock on the Timbers abilities as it is a compliment to LA’s resiliency. There isn’t that much of a gap in talent between LA and Portland and, even if there was, you don’t expect to see a team go a man down and continue to boss the game around the way the Galaxy did. So, even though the result went in their favor, the Portland Timbers road woes are far from over.