All of these things are true: If the MLS season ended now, Seattle Sounders FC wouldn’t have enough points to make the playoffs. But since they have played one fewer game than other teams Western teams, they are on pace for the playoffs when figured by points per game.
And if they beat Houston at CenturyLink Field on Saturday, the Sounders actually move ahead of the point total they held after four games last season, when they went on to win the Supporters’ Shield.
“It’s way too early to look at that,” coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday. “What I always say is a point and a half a game is usually what gets you to the playoffs or very close. Right now we’re at 1.33. We win on Saturday and we’re at like 1.75. Early in the season like that, it changes dramatically. I think when you’re about 10 games into the season is when you can start thinking about it.”
Still, the first 10 percent of the long season is all that’s available. So, Schmid’s wise advice notwithstanding, here are four observations from the first four weeks of the season.
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DEPTH COUNTS AS MUCH AS STAR POWER
The Sounders won their opening match on the strength of players such as Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. But those guys weren’t in Dallas last weekend, when Seattle’s depth managed a scoreless draw against unbeaten but similarly weakened FC Dallas.
In a way, MLS is something like modern NCAA basketball in that there is a downside to super strength. In college hoops, if you have the best players now, you’ll probably lose them to the NBA soon enough. In MLS, if you have the best players, you’ll probably lose them to international duty while the domestic league keeps right on playing.
POWER STRUCTURE REMAINS INTACT
The Galaxy lost Landon Donovan. The Sounders lost DeAndre Yedlin. The Red Bulls lost Thierry Henry, Jamison Olave, Tim Cahill and Mike Petke. Real Salt Lake has had to replace its usual allotment of irreplaceable players.
And yet, those teams are either in their usual lofty spots in the standings, or passing the eye test while awaiting the hot streaks we have learned to expect.
With a literal world of talent to assess and choose from, it’s the solid front offices that dominate MLS.
ORLANDO, NYCFC HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
One thing commissioner Don Garber and MLS have gotten right are its expansion targets. Pretty much everyone invited into the league since Toronto in 2007 has brought ambitious ownership, a solid fan base or both.
For now, the Cities — Orlando City SC and New York City FC — seem to be bringing both. Their rosters make them appointment viewing as their make their inaugural visits around the league.
And though it is early, the newcomers rank first and third in MLS home attendance. Orlando’s two-game average of 46,791 temporarily tops unchallenged MLS attendance champion Seattle (currently 39,479), while NYCFC is right behind at 35,481.
ALL SOUNDERS GOALS REMAIN REALISTIC
Through three games, the Seattle stands at 1-1-1, and the team has looked as good, bad and blah as that record indicates.
However, Dempsey and Martins have been a scorching, entertaining offensive threat. The midfield has been solid as an encouraging infusion of young depth has mitigated the absences of Osvaldo Alonso and Marco Pappa.
And if the back end sometimes appears to be Chad Marshall in the middle of a three-ring circus, there also are indications that Tyrone Mears was a well-chosen acquisition, Leo Gonzalez has at least one more solid season in him and that Brad Evans is a fast learner with a steely enough resolve to follow a disastrous performance with a distinguished one.
Although, as Schmid notes, we’ll know a lot more after another seven games or so.