Two clubs that were the polar opposite of each other last week will meet this Saturday: FC Dallas and Montreal Impact. Just looking at last week's results, on paper the Impact should win this easily. But then you remember that FCD were considered to be better than Montreal just two weeks ago (it seems so long ago, doesn't it?). So who has the advantage?
Let's start with FC Dallas. The Hoops got clobbered by the Houston Dynamo last week by a shocking score of 5-0, with four of those goals scored in the first half-hour. The defending regular season Western Conference champions looked flat throughout the game, starting with literally passing the ball into their own net and continuing with a complete lack of offensive production despite the presence of Fabian Castillo in the lineup.
Dallas, who were a Supporters' Shield favorite entering the season, were just off in so many ways. On the contrary, the Impact won their second straight game against the only club that was able to get the better of FCD in the standings last season: the New York Red Bulls. 3-0 was the final score of that game, and what's notable there is not only that Ignacio Piatti added a goal and assist to his rapidly growing tally or that the stout defense led by Laurent Ciman held up beautifully; it's that Didier Drogba didn't play. Again.
The only storyline that was really associated with the Impact during the offseason was Drogba's situation. First, it was whether or not he would even be in Montreal; then, it was how often he would play. These two recurring topics created a third storyline: How the Impact would perform without the Ivorian in the starting lineup. It was a valid point, considering that they were unable to establish themselves in the East before he arrived midseason from Chelsea.
But now, after two games of Drogba sitting out due to knee issues when playing on turf, that burning question seems pointless now. Montreal, led by Piatti, have beaten two of the top Supporters' Shield favorites in NYRB and the Vancouver Whitecaps during the first two weeks of the season and look to make that three against Dallas.
So that's why they have to be considered favorites. But FC Dallas still have perhaps the most talented starting XI in MLS. They were exposed by the Dynamo last week, but Castillo and Mauro Diaz both still exist, the latter most likely healed a bit better from that groin injury he suffered two weeks ago. Matt Hedges remains one of the best central defenders in the league (despite his own goal last week) and the attack is as deadly as ever. As long as they don't come out with their minds still at BBVA Compass Stadium, they should do just fine.
Then again, Drogba will be returning. He was a scary thought for teams going into the season; it's scarier now that the league knows what the Impact can do without him.
What to watch for this weekend
—Teams still with zero points: After two weeks of MLS matches, only four teams, two in each conference, remain pointless: Vancouver, NYRB, the Seattle Sounders and Columbus Crew SC. Those aren't exactly the clubs you would expect to be in the cellar.
All four of them could be considered strong Supporters' Shield contenders entering the season. The Red Bulls are defending the trophy, the Crew are coming off an MLS Cup Final appearance, the Sounders remain mostly the same team (with some changes) that were at the top of the race in mid-2015 before injuries and international call-ups saw them limp to the finish in fourth place, and the Whitecaps are arguably the best young team in the league, and hold many parallels with last year's Western Conference winners, FC Dallas.
But all four are 0-2 and have been outscored by a combined 17-6. Each have their own problems–preventable or otherwise–that are holding them back from reaching their high expectations.
The Red Bulls have essentially the same lineup as last year, aside from the departure of center-back Matt Miazga and the acquisition of his replacement, Gideon Baah, but have struggled in their first two games against Toronto FC and the Impact. They have yet to score a goal–partly due to Bradley Wright-Phillips' ineffective finishing in the box–and have experienced problems with their once-vaunted central midfield.
When New York face Houston in week three, they should have a good chance at defeating the Dynamo despite their success last week. Without Giles Barnes and Cristian Maidana, as the visitors will be on Saturday, Red Bull fans have a right to be confident thanks to their advantage in central midfield. More turnovers like this, however, and their path to the top will get more and more difficult.
In Seattle, the sale of Obafemi Martins and constant injuries have combined to put the Sounders at the bottom of the conference. Brad Evans, Roman Torres, Stefan Frei, Michael Farfan and Erik Friberg have missed games this season, and Nelson Valdez, Martins' replacement at center forward, is questionable for the Sounders' game against Vancouver. This unmatched amount of injuries has set them back considerably.
Martins, who was sold to China after scoring 40 goals over three seasons for the Rave Green, opened up a huge hole in the center of the attack. Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris have looked somewhat promising on the wings of their 4-3-3 formation, but Valdez has predictably been unable to replicate the Nigerian's production. The lack of hold-up play and overall presence in the box has really set back their attack.
Don't be surprised if the Sounders' final DP slot is used on a striker this summer.
Vancouver, meanwhile, have been significantly hampered by the offseason departure of starting right-back Stephen Beitashour. The Iran-international went off to Toronto, and now VWFC have watched Fraser Aird and Jordan Smith struggle at the position in the first two weeks of the season. This, first and foremost, has to be fixed somehow by Carl Robinson before they can be considered serious candidates for a major trophy.
They have had the misfortune of facing the two hottest teams in the league–Sporting Kansas City and Montreal–in the first two weeks of the season. There have been difficulties for the Whitecaps, but there shouldn't be too much concern.
The Crew were given a pass by most after they dropped their opening game against the Portland Timbers; after all, the Timbers are the defending champions. But many were questioning when Columbus lost at home to the Philadelphia Union directly after the visitors lost captain and midfielder Maurice Edu to a crucial injury.
After two straight 2-1 losses, offensive production will be the main goal of the Crew when they travel to Illinois to square off against the Chicago Fire. Perhaps coach Gregg Berhalter will be prompted to insert Justin Meram back into the starting lineup after two weeks of Hector Jimenez.
—Teams with six points: There are four teams with no points, but there are three with the maximum amount: the Impact, Sporting KC and the San Jose Earthquakes.
We've talked about Montreal plenty so far, so we'll move onto SKC, who have defeated Seattle and Vancouver thus far. Sporting's two victories this season have come at a time where other top Western Conference teams have faltered early on, meaning these six points will come in handy later on in the season.
Their front three faced some concerns about goal-scoring, as neither Brad Davis nor Graham Zusi have been known to produce goals on the wing unlike now-departed Krisztian Nemeth, and Dom Dwyer, despite his talent, shouldn't be by himself in the scoring department. But those worries have been thrown out the window in the first two games of the season.
Benny Feilhaber's absence hasn't hurt them so far; Roger Espinoza's success in the midfield has been one of the biggest reasons for their spot at the top of the conference. But they will face a big challenge when they play against Toronto.
San Jose defeated the first place team last week–Portland–and the last place team–Colorado–two weeks ago. Against Portland, it was Quincy Amarikwa's ridiculousness that got them three points, along with their typical toughness and pressure defense. They may not be favorites to win anything, but I'd watch out for San Jose.
On Saturday, they will be tasked with a determined LA Galaxy team who are coming off a disappointing loss in Colorado last week.
Players to watch
—Servando Carrasco (Orlando City SC): NYCFC have been scoring goals left and right this year (they already have six) and have a win and a draw, a respectable record for a team that didn't make the playoffs last year. They experimented with a three in the back formation last week in a 2-2 draw with Toronto, and that worked well against a counter-attacking TFC side who needed Sebastian Giovinco to pull out a win for them.
That 3-4-3 formation occasionally became a 3-6-1 as the two wingers, Khiry Shelton and Tony Taylor, often drifted into the midfield. That meant more coverage defensively, therefore the two midfielders sitting higher up the field, Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud, were allowed to push up far and put more pressure on the Toronto defense, which had trouble dealing with the onslaught of attackers.
Patrick Viera will likely go with a similar system, so Carrasco–a defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3–will be key in stopping the NYCFC's offensive barrage.
—Juan Manuel Martinez (Real Salt Lake): RSL face a tough test on Saturday against Portland, but they can remain hopeful due to the fact that they were able to defeat Seattle last week, proving that they are capable of holding a lead.
Against the Timbers, RSL will have to produce some offense on the wings to avoid being broken down by the stacked central midfield of Portland, who create most of their chances from that area. Martinez, impressive so far this season, should be able to find some space down the wing to attack.
—Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution): It turns out that the Union were less affected by the loss of Edu against Columbus than most people thought. Personally, I thought the presence of Kei Kamara at center forward for the Crew would be enough to dominate in central midfield. As it turns out, I was wrong.
Philly were able to adequately deal with Kamara, or at least enough to get the win. This week, they face New England, who have a different commodity on their hands: Lee Nguyen, the playmaking number-ten.
It will be interesting to see whether the Unions two-man defensive midfield will be able to keep Nguyen from running his magic outside the box without Edu.