How many folks had Seattle and Chivas near the bottom of their Western Conference pre-season picks? How many expected the Crew and Houston to be challenging for their respective conference crowns? Therein lies a tale of parity and woe, frustrated ambitions, and unlooked-for success. To the Dogpile, my friends!
The Alpha Dog
1. Seattle Sounders (WWW)
Dealing with expansion road woes? Check. Surviving first test of depth with Montero out? Check. Delivering karma bitch-slap to "enthusiastic" TFC hooli-fans? Priceless. It's only been three games, but Sigi's Sounders are ticking all the boxes. Can they possibly survive the long, cruel MLS summer? That remains to be seen. But for now, it's full speed ahead with three multi-goal victories, not a single goal surrendered, and a nauseating green flag planted atop the Dogpile.
Next: Wizards (Home)
The Playoff Pack
2. Chicago Fire (WDW)
Lost Thorrington to an early red, but still managed to grab a goal and keep a reasonably toothless Red Bull attack at bay. They may not be atop the league, but they're atop the East, albeit in a tie, pretty much where they were expected to be, and have done it largely without Blanco. Still, it's a long season, and we've only seen a limited test of their depth, but so far, so good for the Fire.
Next: Quakes (Away)
3. +2 Chivas USA (WWW)
Hmmm. Color this one mysterious. I still don't know how Chivas are 3-0. They haven't really dominated or controlled games. Their opponents are often creating more and better chances. They aren't exactly defending with surety. Yet somehow the wins keep coming for Preki & Co. The question is: should they get rolling and stay healthy, will they survive the likely departure of Kljestan in the summer? Even if he doesn't go overseas, he'll be missing for international duty. Is he even that central to their attack?
Next: LA Galaxy (Away...kind of)
4. +2 New England Revolution (WDW)
Not a convincing first half, and not a particularly convincing PK call to decide the match, but Nicol the Illusionist continues to weave his spells. They're starting to get some players back, and they're picking up results the way they always do. It's only three games in, but the team that most everybody thought might struggle is tied atop the East.
5. +2 Real Salt Lake (LW)
Now, that's more like the RSL I expected to see this season! 17 shots, 8 on frame, 4 in the net. Against the defending champs. I think this was just the warning shot across the league's bow. Operating in the weaker conference gives them a pretty solid shot at the Supporters' Shield. The one big knock against them was always going to be finding a consistent scorer. Can Findley be that man? In the end, it's only one win. An impressive one, yes, but they'll need to continue in this vein to build momentum and climb the Pile.
Next: DC United (Home)
6. +4 Colorado Rapids (LWW)
Two wins in a row. They're scoring goals, even if they don't look particularly solid at the back. With Seattle making a statement early that they won't be pushovers, the Rapids may be facing more of a struggle for a playoff spot than they had anticipated in what appeared to be a weak West. So far, they seem to be answering that bell. If Casey can stay healthy, they might just continue to do so, though the defending will have to improve.
Next: Crew (Away)
7. +4 DC United (DDW)
Could there be a less convincing undefeated team? Despite some moments of Keystone Koppery at the back, only a few signs of attacking danger, and some un-United-like lack of possession, Emilio proved his DP credentials by snatching all three points from the gaping mouth of a potential draw. With the injury crisis easing, can the Black-and-Red build on their undefeated start?
Next: RSL (Away)
8. -5 Toronto FC (WDL)
Whoops! So much for Fortress BMO, as the Sounders prove immune, yet again, to the ravages of Expansion Fever. TFC had some decent approach play and fractional openings, but a flash of noxious green seemed to appear at the last moment to plug all the gaps. At the other end, TFC's defensive shortcomings were exposed in full. They've got attacking chops, it's just a matter of finding some defensive solidity. Time for the return of Mad Mo's wheelin' and dealin' ways?
Next: FC Dallas (Home)
Bum-Sniffing Omega Mutts
9. +5 Kansas City Wizards (LLW)
Ah, now there is the Wiz that many of us thought would be challenging in the upper half of the table. Solid at the back, potential in the attack, quick on the counter. Lopez looks like he is responding to last season's disappointment with class. Don't live up to the hype? Well, take a pay cut, work your ass off, and come back with something to prove. Solid guy. Wish Gallardo could have done the same for DC.
Next: Seattle (Away)
10. -6 Columbus Crew (DDLL)
Ruh-roh, pilgrim. A severe spanking at the hands of RSL didn't start the week off well for the Crew, and despite looking equal to, if not better than, the Goats for large stretches, they ended the week with a loss as well. Are they perhaps not as strong as pre-season punditry would have us believe? Is everybody gunning for them and sussing them out tactically? They took a while to build up steam last year as well, so we shall see. For now, I pitch them down amongst the ranks of the unlettered and unwashed mongrels.
Next: Rapids (Home)
11. -3 San Jose Earthquakes (LWL)
Ouch. 3 shots? Just one on frame? Cannon is good, but he's not going to keep a clean sheet every game. Maybe the nasty weather in KC came as a shock to the Cali boys? Whatever the case, there are certainly questions around the Quakes' attack. If they can get those questions resolved, they'll be a playoff side. If not? Enjoy fighting for scraps with the other Omega Mutts.
Next: Fire (Home)
12. -3 Houston Dynamo (DLL)
Should I do it? No? Too corny? Should I? All right, I'll do it...Houston, we have a problem! Despite looking cohesive and generally solid against United, there was no cutting edge, no one ready to step up and grab the game by the scruff of the neck. Though they were up a man, the Dynamo were reduced to shots from distance and dumping crosses in to a Ching-less forward line at the end. Until they fix that, the Dynamo are going to struggle mightily.
Next: Red Bulls (Home)
13. -1 Los Angeles Galaxy (DL)
Wow! 15 seconds in and you concede? Then you slowly fight your way back into it, grab the lead, and surrender it again just seconds later? Add in a little dash of Dema being Dema, and you've got the recipe for a miserable, if predictable, night in La-La Land. Speaking of predictable...hey look, Bruce just added another grizzled veteran! Will Berhalter fix the back line, or does he just add to the preponderance of years that Arena seems to be strapping to the Galaxy's ankles?
Next: Chivas (Home)
14. -1 New York Red Bulls (LDL)
Oh dear. 75+ minutes playing up a man and you can only manage 4 shots on frame? Whither the vaunted greyhounds racing away from defenders? Whither the vaunted nogginwork and finishing flair of Angel? Osorio's got some work to do to if he expects to have the chance to make another post-season run.
Next: Dynamo (Away)
15. FC Dallas (LLL)
They were looking good early, but, as usual, faded down the stretch. They seem to have the offensive tools, but can they find a defense to compliment them? If not, it's going to be a long season, and they may challenge the Gax as for the title of "Most Promiscuous."
Next: Toronto FC (Away)