By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON DC (Mar 16, 2018) US Soccer Players – MLS might be a league of parity, but three weeks into the season not all games are even. A few might have more to teach us than others. Injuries, midweek games for Concacaf Champions League participants, and unusual conditions will play a role in the results and how we parse them. Here is a look at four games have the most potential to teach us a thing or two in Week 3.
Atlanta vs Vancouver
The Five Stripes recovered from a shocking opening day loss to Houston with a dominant 3-1 win over DC United last weekend. Tata Martino’s team looked like what we expected from the outset of the season, pressing the ball effectively and playing irresistible attacking soccer with speed and panache.
Was that the real Atlanta United? Martino adjusted the team sheet after the debacle in Texas, shifting Jeff Larentowicz from center back into his more natural defensive midfield position and moving to a 3-5-2 formation. It also helped that DC United isn’t built to punish opponents with the counterattack in the same way as Houston.
With the Whitecaps visiting Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a team that can do damage on the counter themselves, the question is whether Martino sticks with what worked last week. The club is still searching for help at defensive midfield, meaning that for the time being Larentowicz will have to carry the load.
If Atlanta is an elite MLS team at this point, they win at home against Vancouver. The Whitecaps quality is less obvious. This gives Carl Robinson’s team a chance to prove they’re good enough to play with presumed elite with a strong showing in Atlanta. Vancouver played a balanced game at home to beat Montreal in week 1, then conceded possession and leveraged the counterattack in a road win over Houston.
They figure to have less of the ball against Atlanta. Can the counter and set pieces lead to a shock win?
Real Salt Lake vs Red Bulls
The general consensus is that RSL didn’t look all that bad last week, despite taking a 5-1 loss on the chin from LAFC. Rather than an indication that the side will struggle into the near future, the game spoke more to LAFC’s excellent preparation and legitimate talent as orchestrated by Bob Bradley.
Whether or not that’s flattery will be the question this weekend. Mike Petke’s Real Salt Lake welcomes in the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls are fresh off of a Champions League triumph on Tuesday night over Club Tijuana, meaning Jesse Marsch is likely to rotate his squad for a second consecutive MLS date. Last week against the Timbers, the Red Bulls’ contingent of young player stepped in and led the team to a 4-0 romp over the Timbers.
Rolling out a youth-heavy team at home is one thing. Doing it on the road on the other side of the country is another. Can the kids handle the responsibility away from Red Bull Arena? Which vets will Marsch press into duty four days after the Champions League win?
Mike Petke hit the expected notes after last week’s loss, declaring it “unacceptable”. Expectations around RSL mean losing again at home or perhaps even splitting the points is likely to lead to some tough questions in Sandy.
Let’s not forget that this is a club that fired its head coach three games into the 2017 campaign. No one thinks Petke is going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean things won’t be very uncomfortable in Utah.
Montreal vs Toronto FC
The defending champs are on the road to face their Canadian rivals, the Impact, at Stade Saputo after their own Champions League triumph. Unlike the Red Bulls, Toronto was off last weekend in preparation for the trip to Mexico. The four-day turnaround for a league match coming off a bye week doesn’t necessarily eliminate first-choice players from consideration. TFC’s strength is its depth, so Greg Vanney could choose to rotate at several positions.
Winning on the road in Montreal sends an early statement for the Reds. Giovinco is in fine form, Altidore is both a handful to deal with and scoring goals, and Michael Bradley’s influence is undeniable. It’s beyond the DPs that TFC made their bones in 2017 and it’s beyond the DPs that will determine this season.
The Impact showed signs of life in Columbus last week, but enter week 3 with no points. The biggest question swirling around the Impact is whether Remi Garde’s system will take before the first month of the season is out.
“Haphazard” is the best way to describe things so far, with the defense bringing up the rear on the road to efficiency. The attack can be truly good at times, but if Montreal can’t improve on slowing down the opponent through midfield, they’ll be playing a lot of 3-2 games in 2018.
FC Dallas v. Seattle
The reclamation project in Frisco got off to a rocky start when FC Dallas crashed out of the Champions League to Panamanian side Tauro FC before the regular season even began. Opening day saw the club salvage a point at home via a late RSL own goal. That means Oscar Pareja’s team is looking for their first real goal and first win of the new campaign.
After last year’s disastrous finish, Pareja has to prove he can regain the faith of his players and return FCD to the top echelon of the Western Conference. Luckily for him, there’s plenty of reason to believe the deck in the West will reshuffle in 2018 and playoff spots will be available.
It will be a month or two if we know whether this is a 2016-like FC Dallas team or something close to the 2017 version, but the performance on Sunday will give us a clue or two. Kellyn Acosta is out, but it’s the Sounders who have the bigger injury problems.
Seattle lost Jordan Morris to a torn ACL in the round of 16 of the Champions League, then saw both Will Bruin and Chad Marshall leave the second leg loss to Chivas in Guadalajara before halftime. Nicolas Lodeiro is out with a foot ailment and Victor Rodriguez is still missing in action. Brian Schmetzer faces difficult choices on the road against a Western Conference opponent.
Can the Sounders fight through the Champions League disappointment and the scourge of injuries?
More From Jason Davis:
- Derailing an MLS season
- Can MLS win in the Concacaf Champions League?
- MLS plays a surprising week 1
- The big MLS stories for 2018
(Photo by Howard C Smith – ISIPhotos.com)