Major League Soccer 2012, Week 3: What We Learned

Real Salt Lake midfielder battles Chivas USA midfielder Nick Labrocca for the ball during Saturday's match. (Photo via RealSaltLake.com)

Week 3 in MLS proved the Eastern Conference clubs can hold their own against the West with New England, New York and Kansas City all scoring big home wins.

It is safe to say that Week 3 in Major League Soccer was one that the Soccer Gods looked down on all of us and said "you know nothing." Results we expected didn't come through and one team we thought was on the brink of disaster showed that they may be just fine here.

Six of the matches in Week 3 showcased East v. West - with four of those games in Eastern venues. It was a good weekend for the Eastern Conference, particularly on Sunday with two big wins by the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City.

Overall, the East showed they weren't nearly as weak as we suspected them to be, as they went 3-2-1. The two losses came early in the weekend with the Seattle Sounders FC downing the Houston Dynamo 2-0 and then on Saturday with the San Jose Earthquakes spanking Toronto FC 3-0.

But those results may not be the biggest shocker of the weekend.

Chivas shocks Salt Lake

We'll get to the New York and KC games in a moment. The one result that most of us pundits would have pegged as a sure-bet for the weekend was Chivas USA at Real Salt Lake. RSL had not lost to Chivas in the last five matches dating back to 2009. It seemed like an easy pick considering how dreadful Chivas USA had looked to start the season.

Well, not all things are sure bets in soccer and this one ended up being one of them. Rookie Casey Townsend scored his first ever MLS goal late in the second half to give the Goats the shocking three points. Keeper Dan Kennedy was a beast between the pipes as well making several big stops.

RSL held a massive edge in possession, shots and well just everything. It just wasn't meant to be on the night.

Does this make RSL a weaker team? Absolutely not, it was one game of 34 and only their fifth regular season loss at Rio Tinto Stadium. Games like this happen but can be good for a team like RSL. Getting a tough loss out of the way early can pave a way for a long spell of success.

The main thing to keep in mind is this is still March and the MLS season is a long one. If Chivas USA can build on these three points it will only make the Western Conference that much tougher to figure out.

Panic button not pushed in Big Apple

All the talk going into the weekend was surrounding how New York would play against the Colorado Rapids. Based on the 4-1 result, it seems the Red Bulls took full advantage of the bulletin board material that was written about them all week. Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper notched two goals apiece in this rout of the Rapids.

The result was impressive but it should be quickly pointed out that Colorado was missing two massive elements to their midfield that would have made this a much tighter game. Jeff Lawrentowicz was out with a red card suspension and Pablo Mastroeni was out with an injury.

With those two gone, New York had loads of space in the midfield to spread out the Rapids and basically have their way with them.

The return of Wilman Conde and Rafael Marquez also certainly helped as the Red Bulls played with a little more grit and toughness in defense.

Hans Backe finally had a top notch first XI on Sunday and he showed the rest of the league really what this team is made of here. Impressive offense and a gritty defense. This team is still fairly thin behind the starting XI but at least we know they can run up a lead.

Surprises in Toronto and New England

This weekend looked to have a few sure bets actually. Aside from Chivas at RSL, two other matches seemed to have easy written all over them. San Jose at Toronto for their home opener and the Portland Timbers visiting the New England Revolution.

The results ended up being exactly the opposite of what most would have expected. New England scored an early goal to edge Portland while Chris Wondolowski and San Jose ran all over Toronto.

One thing may be clear with San Jose, when their offense is clicking they may be nearly as good as anyone else in the league. On Saturday they had the space in the midfield on the wings and the speed to get by Toronto (grant it the Reds were missing a few key players in the back).

As for New England, I'm not expecting this result to be anything more than three points. Portland had the bulk of the chances and possession and just lacked in the final third in finishing. Matt Reis made several craft saves to keep the score at 1-0.

Sporting has their way with Dallas

Aside from a nifty Ricardo Villar free kick goal and a few Kevin Hartman saves (including one against Kei Kamara from the penalty spot), FC Dallas didn't have a lot against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday.

Dallas was without a few key members of their offense including Brek Shea and Fabian Castillo. In result Dallas manager Schallas Hyndman was forced to use a Home Grown player and a fullback on the wings. Jair Benitez is no midfielder and youngster Bryan Leyva is talented but still has a ton of growing to do before he's a full-time starter in this league.

Sporting was able to knock Dallas around all over the place in the second half when Villar was subbed out. Hyndman replaced him with another defender, Bobby Warshaw, giving Dallas three defensive midfielders and a full back in the five man midfield. Not a ton of offense there folks.

Between Kamara, Bobby Convey and Graham Zusi, Sporting looked way too tough for Dallas on Sunday evening. At 3-0-0, it could be safe to say that the Eastern Conference will run through Kansas City, but then again so could all of MLS.

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