MLS Week 6 Feelings Check: A Failure to Launch

ImageWe’re finally to that point in the long – and, by August, interminable – Major League Soccer season when narratives start to take shape. And thank gods for that. Who doesn’t like a story? And the title, it’s a joke so inside that it’s entirely possible that only I will get it. Still, it fits the vagueness of what comes below.

I like stories, personally, because they signal an end to the long march through watching and commenting on highlights (which I’ve long felt was a little low value). Maybe the time lost watching and re-watching highlight reels will go to watching one more game each week; maybe. What I’m after here, and what I’ll be after in the (many, many) weeks ahead is a general sense of what’s going on across the MLS as a whole. Something as global as power rankings, but without the faux-precision…like getting rid of the guys with the chains in futbol Americano. Maybe it’ll deal more with players in the future, or trends that track below the game-level. For now, though, it’s all about games. At any rate…

…so, where are we, or rather where are MLS’s 19 teams after Week 6, and how do they fit together. Again, generally?

Well, only one team has kept a big, righteous zero under their “L” column: yep, Real Salt Lake was the only team to escape Week 6 undefeated. And, from what I saw Sunday, they deserve it. This is one of those stray things one might miss by just staring at the standings, but the most impressive thing about RSL’s start is that they’ve played four games on the road already. That 2-0-4 record sits on the less impressive side of the ledger, for sure, but I think it’s fair to slip the Utah squad into the early-season elite. And – hey! – look where Portland plays next week! Super!

That opens another question: which teams join RSL in the still-informal creme de la league? (Short answer: not Portland.) Let me just start by saying it’s not a points thing. To name a name, FC Dallas boasts the league’s best record, but between (deep, deep) history and what I’ve seen of them in 2014, I just can’t make myself buy into them. They’ll stay held up in my wait-and-see column for a while, at least until I see something that doesn’t look like their last game against the Seattle Sounders…speaking of…and sorry for the digression…

I put Seattle in that elite at this point. It took back-to-back weeks of them working through their issues out on the field, but I do think the therapy (and meds) is (are) taking. Now, this is sure to piss off (thank god my visits are, so far, sparse), but I think the Colorado Rapids also belong in that elite. Their only loss came to last year’s champs – and, yes, at home and that ain’t good – but they’ve stolen points on the road two weeks running now and against decent clubs. That’s how to build a record for the long term, people. Also, there’s the LA Galaxy, who seems to eternally own a cache of games in hand. They might have started badly, and endured CONCACAF Champions’ League pain/distractions besides, but they’re picking up points where and when they should. And gods know they have the parts.

Getting back to the champs, Sporting KC, fly the elite flag for the Eastern Conference. I’d say they’re flying it lonely and under shelling, but I think the Columbus Crew can plausibly step into that fray. For as much as the last two weeks have not been kind, they did swipe a point from the San Jose Earthquakes this past weekend – though it bears noting that that might not be the feat it appears to be. (Then again, RSL got as many points, if more goals.) So, what of the team that gave the Crew their one and only loss – Toronto FC? I…just can’t. I watched the Columbus game and TFC totally deserved the win and, yes, I see how closely their records match. I know and see all that. But…it’s Toronto. It won’t take much convincing to shift them higher, but it will take convincing.

And that brings me to the actual center-piece of all this, the inspiration for the title, etc. The most interesting thing about MLS so far is the number of teams that just…can’t…seem…to…get…started. This speaks to anyone not listed above, in all honesty, but it means different things to different teams. The poster-children for this are the Philadelphia Union and, yes, my team, the Portland Timbers; I’d argue that the New England Revolution belong in there as well, maybe the Vancouver Whitecaps, too, but their fates and/or trajectories are headed in opposite directions for now. New England, for instance, seems to be finding its feet, while Vancouver just dances this semi-eternal box-step. Let’s see…anyone else? Yeah, what the hell: throw the Chicago Fire on the, um, burning fires of frustration as well, for being the league’s #1 sister-kissers. Oh, also the New York Red Bulls. Basically, I’m talking about teams that neither gain, nor give up a lot – e.g. teams that keep tying. And, there, I mean teams that aren’t RSL…because they’re arguably in the same boat with that 2-0-4…I just think they project better than most.

Anyway, the point is, you’ve got your elite teams – RSL, LA, Colorado, Sporting KC, Columbus (again, arguably) – then you’ve got the bubble-boys – TFC and FC Dallas; think that’s it – then you’ve got…just a big fucking mess. A collection of teams whose parents are very, very disappointed in them (See; Portland, Philly, probably New York); teams that got people all hot for a week or two before going all weird (thinking Vancouver, here, and the as-yet unnamed Houston Dynamo); teams that lost people’s attention early, but who are now starting to reclaim it (New England, mainly; DC United has a little streak going, but DC); and then you’ve got a team that people can’t figure out (Chivas) and a team that pretty much everyone already seems to have written off (the Montreal Impact). And Chicago. With that great row of “D’s.” Just feel like I should, uh, name everyone…anyone missing? Oh, shit. Sorry, (the) San Jose Earthquakes. They have games in hand, so…maybe?

Now…to put all that together…

Basically, I believe that, a thing or two aside – e.g. Seattle’s defense; Sporting KC’s forwards – the elite teams have their shit figured out and that they’ll earn more points than they drop going forward, etc. Generally, though, I think they’ll get better as they refine what they do well into a purer form of. As for Toronto and Dallas, I’m fairly sure they’re swimming toward the same boat; I’m just scanning the water for sharks. If I had to name the team most likely to succumb, I’d go with Dallas. Whether it’s the water, or the humidity (which is like the air in the water), there’s something in there I don’t trust…

I can see the rest of the teams going either direction, in all honesty,. To hit close to home (just about in the groin, in fact), I am seriously worried about Portland. That’s because I know the next game sucks and that Houston on the road isn’t that much better. Or maybe it won’t be. That said, they share something with Philly: huge (or at least apparent) on-paper potential. Basically, these guys can wake up and fuck up the league at any second. Trouble is, they’re sleeping now and, face it, sometimes over-sleeping is fatal to success. I can’t say that applies to New York, who I think have real limitations and generally lack that second gear…not sure how I lumped them together, but there you go.

Everyone else has varying degrees of potential. For instance, Teal Bunbury could come alive for New England and that would be enough to make them a force. This being MLS, anything can happen. It’s just more likely with some (say, Vancouver) than others (Montreal).

All for this week. The story continues…

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