Maybe these aren't the Seattle Sounders of old? And all it took was some Clint Dempsey.
These certainly aren't the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers of old. Both teams have some serious work to do, and one of them might not be able to turn things around no matter how hard they work.
Clint Dempsey's return to MLS didn't go as planned last season. Neither did his loan to Fulham and his stints with the United States weren't much better.
Man, does that rough patch seem like a long time ago.
Dempsey has been sensational in the early going for Seattle, scoring five goals in his last two matches. He followed up his hat trick against Portland with a brace on Saturday at Dallas, and he helped set up Seattle's other goal in a 3-2 win. Whether it was his booming free kick, scoring through traffic from close range or coming back to get the ball and initiate the attack, Dempsey has been every bit the player Seattle thought he could be when they bought him. He has been the best attacker in the league.
More than that, though, Dempsey appears to be changing the attitude of the Sounders. The team has long been criticized for being weak mentally, while Dempsey has drawn praise for his toughness and unwillingness to make excuses -- now that seems to be rubbing off on Seattle. The Sounders have bounced back from a tough start to the season and now come back from early deficits in back-to-back away matches.
Maybe this is a new Sounders? If so, you can probably thank Dempsey.
Oh god do TFC need Bradley and Defoe
Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe earned plenty of praise for Toronto FC's hot start to the season, but how responsible were the two Designated Players for the Reds' nine points from their first four matches? We got that answer on Saturday.
Without Bradley, the Toronto midfield was a complete mess. Kyle Bekker, who has looked excellent next to Bradley, had his moments but saw the tempo get away from him at times and Jeremy Hall's rough start to the season continued. Admittedly, the two were not helped by the awful pitch at BMO Field and TFC was also missing Jonathan Osorio, but their inability to quickly transition the ball and the lack of a midfield presence when the ball did get to the final third was evident. Without Bradley, the TFC midfield fell apart.And up front, TFC weren't much better. Gilberto and Dwayne De Rosario struggled to find space as the lack of an over the top threat compacted the field, while the slow play through the midfield allowed the Rapids to get men back. Then when the two did get opportunities, they were wasteful.
Eventually, Colorado found a late goal and a win, leaving TFC without a point and plenty of questions about how dependent they are on their pricey new acquisitions.
Crisis in New York?
No MLS season is lost in March and April, but if the New York Red Bulls don't turn things around soon they will be buried by May and June. A loss to D.C. on Saturday made it six matches without a win and there's only one reason to believe things will get better -- the return of Tim Cahill.
Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave were back in the lineup against D.C., but that didn't help. It doesn't look like Mike Petke can do much either, as he continues to make changes and play with lineups and tactics to no avail. The Red Bulls don't look lackadaisical or unmotivated either. They work hard, they try, they're prepared, they're just not good enough.
Right now, New York looks like a team that has been beaten by age. Maybe Father Time has finally caught up with them because this slow start isn't just a lack of form or an inadequate coach -- it's a flawed roster.
The Red Bulls just aren't very good and unless Cahill can play the role of savior in his return from injury, it will take a summer overhaul to get New York back in contention.
The Timbers are still winless
Like the Red Bulls, the Portland Timbers don't have a win this season, but things aren't as bleak in the Rose City. Another draw, this time to Chivas (Wait, Chivas? Maybe things are as bad as they are in New York.) has the Timbers just one spot away from the Western Conference cellar and this time, they couldn't even win at their own game.
The Goats out-possessed the Timbers at Providence Park, putting Portland in a bit of a bad spot offensively, but Chivas couldn't do anything with the ball so it didn't seem too dangerous. Darlington Nagbe helped set up the opener and despite their struggles, Portland looked set for three points, but Erick Torres scored 11 minutes from time to leave the Timbers still in search of their first win.
A year ago, it was the Galaxy who made a habit of surrendering late leads and all season, the expectation was that they would pull it together and be ready to compete by the end of the season, but it never did and they went crashing out of the playoffs as a result. Again, this comes with the obligatory "it's only April" warning, but pretty soon it will only be May, June and July.