It seems like we do this every year: About a two months in we start to proclaim that the MLS cream is rising to the crop. And every year, it all ends with a veritable crap shoot of a playoff. So, feel free to look back on this column six months from now and laugh about how we thought we'd actually figured it out.
But it really does look like we're starting to get some separation between the good teams, the mediocre ones and the others who are hopelessly lost in the wilderness.
Real Salt Lake are good ... again
We're now seven weeks in and there's one undefeated team: Thy name is RSL. Yes, yes, they have four ties, but they seem to be picking up right where they left off despite their architect leaving to build skyscrapers in New York City. Head coach Jeff Cassar has RSL grinding out results, if not always looking dominant and they did it again against the Portland Timbers.
The Timbers had their chances to at least claim a point, but full credit to RSL for figuring out a way to keep Caleb Porter's side winless. Good teams figure out ways to win and that's just what they did when Ned Grabavoy hit a smooth strike past Donovan Ricketts in the 78th minute.
Even more credit should probably go to Nick Rimando, who was at his normal unbelievable self. The best goalkeeper in MLS (who has never officially been named as such, by the way) was credited with four saves, but a couple of them probably should have counted double. Darlington Nagbe and Maximilano Urruti, in particular, will be seeing Rimando in their nightmares.
There's a fair debate to be had as to who is the top team in MLS right now, but there's a lot to like about Cassar's side, especially considering they are still learning play under their new boss. Once Cassar has fully integrated himself, this team is going to be really scary.
Sporting KC just doing their thing ... again
Chalk it up to the wear and tear from CONCACAF Champions League, but the defending MLS Cup champions got off to a slower start than they probably wanted. After going winless in their first two, though, Sporting KC have now won three of four and are unbeaten in five to move to the top of the Eastern Conference table. This week they really showed just how good they can be.
Granted, their 4-0 win came against the hapless Montreal Impact, but blowouts against any MLS team are really worth noting in this parity-driven league. Even more notable is that after scoring just five goals in their first five matches, KC nearly equaled that total against the Impact.
Not that it was an entirely complete performance, mind you. Until Aurelien Collin shocked the stadium with a left-footed blast from the edge of penalty area in the 71st minute, KC had been clinging to a 1-0 lead that came through an own-goal.
But once Collin scored, the rout was on.
Dom Dwyer was the main beneficiary, using all that vaunted athleticism to grab a pair of insurance goals in the 74th and 86th minutes.
That KC's defense is currently the best in MLS should hardly be a surprise. Over the last couple years, they've proven that scoring against them is a tall task. But if this game unlocks their offense, watch out.
Jerome Miron / USA Today Sports
FC Dallas bounced back nicely
There were plenty of people just waiting to see FC Dallas slip after they got off to a hot start for the second straight season. That's exactly what happened a week ago against the Seattle Sounders, when Dallas blew a pair of leads at home before falling 3-2.
Facing a tough Toronto FC side, this Oscar Pareja-coached team showed just how much they've changed under their new manager. Despite falling behind early on what probably should have been ruled an own-goal (it has been awarded to Issey Nakajima-Farran), Dallas bounced back claim victory behind a pair of set-piece strikes. The first was a header from Matt Hedges off a Michel corner and then Blas Perez pounded home the winner off a scramble that started with a Michel free kick from near midfield.
That win kept FC Dallas atop the (very early) Supporters' Shield standings, but it also showed that this version is not going to be quite so quick to crumble. There were already plenty of reasons to like what Pareja has done in his first year — there might not be a team more fun to watch — but he also seems to have instilled some belief and confidence that always seemed to be lacking under Schellas Hyndman's watch.
As an aside, there's some reason to be worried about TFC. As improved as they may be — which is the absolute least you should expect after they committed about $100 million in the offseason — they still aren't as good as the sum of their parts. Head coach Ryan Nelsen is already complaining about his team "running on fumes," which is a really bad excuse for a team to be using just six games into the season. And while a lot of people are going to suggest that it's because TFC lacks depth, it's also fair to wonder if Nelsen just doesn't know how to use the tools he has at his disposal.
Sounders aren't quite elite, but...
The Seattle Sounders have yet to put together a complete performance this season, which should keep anyone from proclaiming them to be among the league's elite quite yet. But they just finished up a three-game road trip in which they claimed seven points, all of which came in matches in which they trailed at one point.
The two Designated Players are quickly establishing their bonafides as the top pairing in MLS, and they combined on another goal this week. For those of you keeping track, this is the fifth time in six weeks that at least one of them has scored and Dempsey's assist to Martins on the game-winner was the fourth time those two have combined on a goal.
Their latest was remarkable in how easy they made it look. It started with Martins making a simple layoff pass to Dempsey around 50 yards out and then making a run toward goal. Despite four defenders surrounding them, Dempsey pushed ahead before putting Martins in with a perfectly weighted ball. Martins let it run just long enough to draw Chivas USA goalkeeper Dan Kennedy off his line before chipping the veteran.
If those two continue to play this way and the Sounders can figure out their midfield, they will be a handful to deal with.
Guess who has the second longest unbeaten streak in MLS
No, no, the Chicago Fire are no where near the top of the league. But they might not be quite as far away as you think, either.
Ever since their season-opening loss to Chivas USA — which, admittedly, is looking worse and worse — the Fire have consistently been the better team. Unfortunately, they've still yet to win.
The 1-1 tie at home against the New England Revolution was their sixth straight draw. But despite playing down a man for the final 17 minutes — oh, and by the way, PRO should probably apologize for the BS yellow card Quincy Amarikwa was given for "simulation" that ultimately contributed to his expulsion — the Fire were in prime position to win this one. For the second straight week, they won a penalty in stoppage time, this time after Kevin Alston was shown a questionable red card for handling a ball that was bound for the back of the net. But for a second straight week, the penalty was saved, as was the put-back attempt.
Both times, the Fire have only themselves to blame as neither spot-shot was particularly well taken. But let's not let that distract from the fact that the Fire are generating chances and playing pretty well. It's far too early to draw far-reaching conclusions, but it's worth pointing out that the Portland Timbers had a long string of draws a year ago while they figured out how they'd play under their new coach. Look out for this team in a few months.