If you squint really hard, you might find the bad teams in MLS. Maybe.
It has only been two weeks, but there is no doubt that this is the best MLS has ever been. A glance at the Eastern Conference standings shows that, where Toronto, New England, D.C., New York and Chicago make up the non-playoff teams. Even if it is absurdly early to be standings watching, every single one of those teams, save Toronto, can make the playoffs. Moreover, each has some redeemable, entertaining qualities. Nine teams in the East alone are legitimately good teams.
The Western Conference isn't too bad, either. Only Chivas and Colorado look destined for the bottom of the table, while LA, Seattle and San Jose are still weeks or months away from getting back to their best with another couple signings or health.
Oh, and two of MLS's bottom feeders, Toronto and Chivas, won this weekend.
You've come a long way, MLS.
When Robert Earnshaw put Toronto FC in front after three minutes, the TFC fans didn't know how to react. When he scored a second, they were in shock. When the final whistle blew, the fans unleashed 234 days worth of delirious screaming. For the first time since July 18 of last year, Toronto had a win, and it came over mighty, but very flawed, Kansas City.
Peter Vermes gets credit for trying. He is trying oh so hard to mold Sporting into something with variety instead of the same one-track team they were the last two years, but some old habits die hard.
Exhibit A: Bobby Convey.
For reasons beyond reason, Vermes continues to put all his eggs in the Convey basket, just as he did a year ago. If fit, Convey will play, which means a better, more capable player (i.e. C.J. Sapong) will not, and KC's complete inability to get anything going down the left is not lost on anyone with a pair of eyes. Nor was the impact Sapong made when he came on lost on anyone with a brain.
Exhibit B: The 4-3-3.
Vermes has made sweet, sweet love to his formation of choice for several years. The question now is whether he will cheat on it and dabble with the 4-4-2 that this team screams for, if for no other reason than to get Sapong on the field (although a diamond would be another wonderful step towards sanity, Peter).
Nobody is going to argue that Olsen is one of the best coaches in MLS, but might he be the best of the second tier of coaches? D.C. is not a team chock full of talent, and they certainly aren't when Dwayne De Rosario is out through suspension, but Olsen keeps this team ticking. He coaxes what he can out of Chris Pontius to drag along a thin attack and somehow patches up a flawed defense to get results.
On a team that defies logic, and which has no clear way forward, Olsen gets full marks -- again.
The Revolution were bad last year. The Revolution are going to be bad this year. The Revolution are going to be bad next year. The Revolution are going to be bad for eternity because Robert Kraft doesn't care, they play in a football stadium and they struggle to draw any fans.
Hold up. The Revolution went to Chicago and came away with not just three points, but a performance they weren't capable of a year ago. They showed they were capable of being organized and methodical about the way they move the ball instead of hitting it into the first open space they see. The Revs looked like a real, honest team.
It may be time to put the jokes away and look at New England seriously. They have Jerry Bengtson, Lee Nguyen, Juan Carlos Toja, Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez, a handful of attackers that several teams in the league would die for, and when Saer Sene gets healthy, Jay Heaps is going to have more toys than he can possibly play with. New England may be unbalanced, but they are not short on talent.
The question in New England is whether they can keep the ball out of their own net, but they are showing signs of life there too. Andrew Farrell showed why he was the No. 1 pick in the draft with a wonderful MLS debut and A.J. Soares can be a good defender. The biggest boost to the Revs defense may be Kalifa Cisse, though. The new signing put in a good first match and if he can provide an adequate shield for the defense like he did in Chicago, the Revs might have something to get excited about, damned Kraft or not.
It took a sixth-minute, 30-yard bomb from Daigo Kobayashi and a 57th-minute tally by Kenny Miller to overcome Jairo Arrieta's strike, but the Whitecaps did what was necessary to win. Vancouver did it in style too, with creativity in the midfield, both on and off the ball, as well as a defense that didn't look the least bit affected by the absence of Jay DeMerit despite going up against the Crew's sensational duo of Arrieta and Federico Higuain.
Talent has never been a problem for the Whitecaps, but making that talent resemble a team has been. It appears as if they may have solved that, at least in the midfield, with the signings of Nigel Reo-Coker and Kobayashi.
The dependability of Reo-Coker gives Vancouver a dependable hub to build around and Kobayashi has proven to be a worthwhile foul to Gershon Koffie on the right. When Kenny Miller is as active as he was on Saturday, the Whitecaps have a real, fearful attack, even if Darren Mattocks is ill-suited to playing as a lone striker. Maybe that talent in Vancouver is finally going to come good, thanks to the colorful "Reo C".
Last week they tamed Seattle, and this week Portland were their victims. Montreal are your Cascadia Cup champions.
Colorado Rapids 1-2 Philadelphia Union
The Oscar Pareja project continues with the positives, possession and bright young players like Deshorn Brown* and Dillon Powers, and the negatives, a back line that needs the help of a midfield that can't provide it and an inability to turn possession into chances.
For the second straight week, the negative overwhelmed the positives. While the Rapids knocked the ball around harmlessly, the Union took advantage of a corner kick to get Amobi Okugo on the scoresheet, then exploited an unorganized Colorado team in transition to net the winner. It was everything the Rapids struggle with, which just so happened to play into the Union's strength -- uber-athleticism.
* Brown played the role of helper on Colorado's lone goal in yet another exciting outing for the rookie. Keep that Brown hype machine revved up.
Chivas USA 3-1 FC Dallas
It was a long 224 days for Chivas, but they finally won a match. Congrats.
We will end this here so as not to rain on Chivas' parade or lead Dallas to the edge of the cliff. So again, congrats, Chivas.
"Would you like a win? Here you go."
Sincerely, Roy Miller
While Miller will get the headlines and the ridicule for looking like a statue on San Jose's equalizer, committing the handball for the game-winning penalty and then encroaching on Chris Wondolowski's first saved penalty so he could make the second kick, those are a series of mistakes worth three points. Exactly what is going on in the Red Bulls' midfield is going to be worth far more.
Without the injured Juninho, New York was overrun in the midfield for long stretches of the match and exposed for the average, at best, midfield they have. Can you piece together a competent midfield out of Juninho, Dax McCarty, Johnny Steele, Eric Alexander and a makeshift Tim Cahill? Sure, but that depends on Juninho being healthy -- which is asking a lot of a 38-year-old -- and the delightfully surprising Steele playing regularly. Another option could be to play Thierry Henry as an attacking midfielder below Cahill and Fabian Espindola up top, but even that isn't worth a ticking Juninho and Steele.
Have midfield, will win. Without Juninho, New York may not have a midfield, no matter what magic Mike Petke can whip up.