After two weekends, it looks like a tornado has torn through the MLS standings, leaving teams strewn across the standings in seemingly random ways.
Columbus and Portland, who met in the MLS final in December, are a combined 1-3. San Jose, New York City, Philadelphia, Orlando, Houston and Real Salt Lake, who all missed the playoffs last season, are above the red line. And preseason favorites Seattle and Vancouver, who meet Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, are still looking for their first point.
What is going on here?
“It’s MLS, man,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Anybody can beat anybody on any given day. ... It’s early, and you’ve got to let the dust settle — and the dust usually doesn’t settle for a couple of months.”
It’s probably true. It’s certainly true that there are 32 games — and therefore 96 points — left for the Sounders and Whitecaps. But that doesn’t mean either club wants to wait any longer to break through. This is Seattle’s eighth MLS season, and they have never opened with three straight losses.
“More than points you just want to have your confidence and your belief, and I know the guys believe in what we’re doing,” Schmid said. “… It’s not like we’re looking and we’re saying, ‘Oh, we’re six points behind San Jose, we’re three points behind Portland.’ Everything’s so close. You win one or two games, everything evens up again.”
Yet the fact is that the Sounders already are six points behind two teams in the Western Conference. Last season, six extra points would have given Seattle a first-round playoff bye and home field advantage. Six fewer would have cost them a playoff spot altogether.
And there’s no easy way to mentally convert either of the Sounders’ first two losses into wins. But both easily could have been draws except for what was likely a temporary problem: goalkeeping blunders.
In the opener, Sporting Kansas City’s winning goal came on a rare misplay by Stefan Frei, who couldn’t quite track an oddly low-bouncing ball on CenturyLink Field’s new turf.
Frei missed the next match due to injury, but the Sounders seemed on their way to a 1-1 draw at Salt Lake until second-year keeper Tyler Miller got outjumped and ultimately outmuscled for a high ball in front of goal.
Take away those two errors, and the Sounders are 0-0-2 heading into this home match. Two points in two games isn’t great. That pace doesn’t get you where you want to go. But in the early season, two doesn’t call attention to itself in the unseemly way zero does.
And even at that, the more nagging question would have remained: When is this offense going to break out? Over the first 180 minutes, the one Seattle goal has come from defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso. That gives him one more than designated players Clint Dempsey and Nelson Valdez combined. One more than the starting forward trio of Dempsey, Valdez and homegrown Jordan Morris. One more than any combination of other Sounders you could possibly name.
“You can be playing bad the first half of the season, and then next thing you know you’re lighting it up,” Dempsey said. “It’s definitely important to catch a rhythm sooner rather than later. But you definitely don’t want to be a team that catches it early and then loses it towards the end. … At the same time, you don’t want to go through a season and not play well, either. So we need to make sure that we do get it right.”
Yes, it’s early. But in soccer, as in life, early has a way of morphing into not as early as you think. Into not as early as you wish. And the shift happens almost imperceptively.
Yes, it’s early. But the meter’s running.
SEATTLE SOUNDERS (0-2-0, 0 POINTS) VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS (0-2-0, 0 POINTS)
7 p.m., CenturyLink Field
TV: Ch. 13. Radio: 97.3 FM.
Head to head: The series is even at 5-5-2, but the Whitecaps lead 3-2-1 at CenturyLink Field. Seattle took two of the three MLS meetings last season. The Whitecaps will visit again on Sept. 17, while the Sounders will go to Vancouver on Oct. 2.
Notes: Both teams are looking for their first points after opening league play with consecutive one-goal losses. … The Sounders have never begun an MLS season 0-3. … This is the first game of the annual Cascadia Cup round robin between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. The Sounders won it in 2015. … No player on either team has scored more than one goal this season. … Defender Jordan Harvey has been Vancouver’s man of the match for each of the first two games. … Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei will return after missing the Salt Lake match with elbow inflammation. Forward Nelson Valdez is probable after suffering a thigh injury at RSL. However, centerback Brad Evans (shoulder) and midfielder Erik Friberg (knee) are out. … Vancouver midfielder Kianz Froese and defender Jordan Smith are ineligible due to disciplinary suspension. … The referee is Mark Geiger.
Quote: “It’ll be really fun. I think these rivalry games are super exciting to watch, but now I get to play. It will be an awesome experience, for sure.” — Homegrown Seattle forward Jordan Morris on his first Cascadia Cup appearance.
Next: After a bye next weekend, the Sounders return to MLS play April 2 when the Montreal Impact visits.