The MLS Wrap: Timbers attack dominant, Galaxy avoid disaster and more

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This past weekend in Major League Soccer reminded us that
Cascadia is once again the center of dominance in the
league, with the past two MLS Cup winners — the Portland
Timbers and Seattle Sounders — both looking capable of adding
another trophy this year. MLS Week 3 also gave some
traditional contenders like the LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas
City a chance to remind us that they aren’t quite ready to be
in the “also-ran” category just yet.


Portland leads MLS Team of the Week

Atlanta United gave us the latest bit of evidence to support
its claim as
an expansion contender
, and it’s safe to say talk of Tata
Martino’s side being a playoff team in year one feels far less
crazy than it did a month ago.

The playoffs are starting to sound less realistic for a few
teams that had postseason aspirations in D.C. United and the
Vancouver Whitecaps. Of course, we’re just three weeks into a
34-game season and you can’t really rule anybody out, but
D.C. and Whitecaps fans can’t be happy with what they’ve seen
so far.

Perhaps no team gave its fans more reason to feel optimistic
than Minnesota United. After being destroyed in their first two
matches in MLS, the Loons turned in a very encouraging showing
in a 2-2 draw against the Colorado Rapids. Earning points in
Colorado has been no easy task for visitors over the past two
years, so Adrian Heath’s men to responding to their recent
blowout losses with an inspired show has given
Minnesota United fans reason to believe their team won’t just
be kicked around for 34 games this season.

Here is a look back at the top storylines from MLS Week 3:

TIMBERS ATTACK DOMINANT IN DYNAMO
DISMANTLING

David Guzman MLS Portland Timbers 03182017

The Houston Dynamo aren’t going to back down from anybody. That
much is clear after three weeks of the season. Wilmer Cabrera
has confidence in his attack’s ability to
trade punches with anybody.

The Dynamo met their match on Saturday in a Portland Timbers
side that just might have the best offense in the league. They
rattled off three unanswered goals in a masterful second half
to become the only team in MLS to start the season with three
straight wins.

Houston looked like it might just hand Portland its first loss
of the season when Romell Quioto scored just before halftime to
give the Dynamo a 2-1 lead. Goals just before the break can
sometimes shake a team’s confidence, and leave an opening for a
second-half stumble. Not only did the Timbers not stumble after
halftime, they came out and dominated the Dynamo, smothering
them and creating chance after chance on the way to the 4-2
win.

“I think it shows the heart that they have, the hunger they
have, the fight that they have,” Timbers coach Caleb Porter
said after the win. “Obviously there are certain guys that
always fight, because it’s just in their DNA, but you need
fight out of guys like (Sebastian) Blanco and guys like
Darlington (Nagbe) and (Diego) Valeri. I was really proud of
the entire team, but I was proud of the second half with those
three guys in particular because it’s not always natural for
those guys to want to fight and dig and grind and battle.

“I thought the whole team did that, but we got it out of
everybody, and that’s the main reason we were on the ball so
much, because we kept winning it back with our pressure. I
thought we just played with a real edge, a real ruthlessness
that I’ve been wanting to see, and we showed that.”

Porter could be seen with a wide smile on his face after
Saturday’s match. Not only because of how the team responded to
its first deficit of the season, but also because of how much
better it looked than last week, when the Timbers
struggled to put away a 10-man LA Galaxy side  in a
1-0 victory. It is a safe bet Porter let his team know it
didn’t show enough of a killer instinct to put a few more goals
up on the Galaxy, but what we saw against Houston was just how
good the Timbers can be when everyone is locked in and putting
in maximum effort on both sides of the ball.

This is especially important for a Timbers team that still has
question marks surrounding the defense. Third-choice left back
Zarek Valentin stepped in and played well, setting up a goal,
while Roy Miller fit right in playing for the injured Liam
Ridgewell. The back four wasn’t impenetrable, but it doesn’t
have to be when the Timbers are attacking like they did on
Saturday.

As for the Dynamo, they were taught a lesson in Portland, but
you shouldn’t go writing them off just yet. They showed in the
first half on Saturday that they can cause any team trouble,
and as they mature as a group, and solidify some things
defensively, the Dynamo have the makings of a playoff team.

“We have good players. We’re building a team of course,”
Cabrera said. “We need to continue performing. We need to get
better. We have very tough games ahead of us. In order for us
to get into the playoffs for this season, we have to be able to
play better through the 90 minutes, and that’s something we
still haven’t had success with.”

The Dynamo and Timbers meet again, on July 29 in Houston, in a
match that should feature two teams in the heart of the playoff
race.

GALAXY AVOID DISASTROUS START WITH VITAL ROAD
WIN

David Romney MLS LA Galaxy 03182017

An 0-3 start to the 2017 season would have been disastrous for
the LA Galaxy, especially considering the tough matches that
lay ahead, but Curt Onalfo’s men responded to adversity with a
confidence-building comeback in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Real Salt
Lake.

Now you can definitely point to Kyle Beckerman’s second yellow
card as the tide-turning moment of the match, but the Galaxy
deserve credit for stepping up in the second half after a
lackluster first half to grab a win before a bye week and
stretch of tough matches after the break.

“It took strength of character to get back in it,”
Onalfo said after the match. “I thought we showed grit and we
pressed and did an excellent job of exploiting the extra
player. Credit to the guys for the great effort and more
importantly, being intelligent about how we played tactically
and got the point.”

Injuries have hit the Galaxy hard to start the 2017 season, and
Onalfo has had to lean hard on several backups he knows well
from his time coaching Galaxy II, such as Bradley Diallo, David
Romney, Nathan Smith and Jack McBean.

The Galaxy also received an impressive showing from designated
player Romain Alessandrini. The former Olympique Marseille
winger had been rather quiet in his first two matches with the
Galaxy, but helped set up both of the Galaxy’s goals on
Saturday to show why they made him one of their big-ticket
signings of the winter.

“He’s going to get better and better,” Onalfo said of
Alessandrini. “He hasn’t been with us a month. That’s another
thing for the people on the outside that’s hard to see because
we haven’t had our full group the entire time. It takes time to
get to know each other.

“He’s going to only get better. He wears his heart on his
sleeve, he tries stuff, and he makes plays. He did well and he
only is going to get better and was frankly unlucky not to get
a goal.”

The week off comes at a good time for the Galaxy, who will be
hoping to have Gyasi Zardes and Ashley Cole back from injury
when they travel to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps on April 1.

MINNESOTA UNITED SHOWS SIGNS OF LIFE

Christian Ramirez Minnesota United MLS 03172017

After a pair of lopsided losses to start the season, Minnesota
United looked like a lost cause, but Adrian Heath managed to
get his team to shake off those ugly defeats and deliver a
brave showing in Saturday’s 2-2 draw in Colorado.

The Rapids are one of the toughest teams in the league at home,
and were expected to have an easy time against the expansion
Loons, but it was Minnesota United which took a 2-1 second-half
lead that stunned the Rapids, albeit only briefly since
Colorado came right back and equalized a minute later.

A Justin Davis red card threatened to spoil the Loons’ best
showing of the year, but they held on playing with 10 men to
earn the first point in the club’s MLS history.

“I can’t praise the players enough for their attitude,” Heath
said. “They dug in, it’s tough, it’s not easy with 11 players
here, and so for us to get our first MLS point, our players can
be really pleased with their efforts. I actually thought the
first half, until we gave them that goal, we started quite
well, I thought we always looked dangerous on the break, all
evening.”

Christian Ramirez scored his second goal in three matches to
give Minnesota United the lead briefly, and appears to be
making a smooth transition from the NASL to MLS. Another former
NASL standout who impressed for the Loons was Brent Kallman,
who started in place of struggling Vadim Demidov and earned Man
of the Match honors.

Minnesota United will head to New England next
weekend still in search of its first win, but there is
much more belief now in the Loons being able to find that
victory than there was a week ago.

ORLANDO CITY MANAGING WITHOUT KAKA

Cyle Larin MLS Orlando City 03172017

When Kaka injured his hamstring early in the season-opening win
against New York City FC it looked like Orlando City might
be doomed to a poor start to the 2017 season, but following a
second straight win, the Lions are doing just fine.

Orlando City coach Jason Kreis has pushed all the right buttons
in Kaka’s absence, starting Carlos Rivas next to Cyle Larin in
Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Union. Larin has
spent much of his career playing as a lone striker, but Kreis’
decision to pair Rivas up top with Larin paid dividends as they
combined on the opening goal. Matias Perez Garcia did his part
to provide Larin with service, delivering a pinpoint through
pass that Larin ran onto and converted for the winning goal.

With Rivas, Perez Garcia and Giles Barnes helping provide
service, the Lions attack just might be able to manage for the
six weeks or so Kaka is still expected to miss.

The Orlando City defense looked solid again on Saturday, and
featured a unique wrinkle in the form of Will Johnson being
deployed at right back. The veteran midfielder handled the
assignment well, helping keep the ever-dangerous Chris Pontius
under wraps while Jonathan Spector and Jose Aja partnered well
in central defense again.

“I thought it was another really strong performance
defensively, really from the entire group,” Kreis said after
Saturday’s win. “From the back four, when you look at each
individual player and how many important plays they made,
tackles they made, headers they won in the box, being in the
right place at the right time, I’d say all four of those guys
had big, big nights for us and we know we need it.”

Kreis went into 2017 with the mission of making his defense
tougher to play against after a disastrous 2016 defensively,
and the early signs are positive. If the attack can keep
feeding Larin, then Kaka should return in May to a team in the
thick of the fight for a playoff place.

QUICK KICKS

Dom Oduro MLS Montreal Impact 3172017

If Dom Oduro’s second-half equalizer against New York City FC
felt a little familiar, it was probably because it was less
than a year ago when Oduro scored a stoppage-time equalizer for
Montreal to tie NYCFC at Yankee Stadium in a match dominated by
the home team.

The scenario definitely felt familiar to NYCFC coach Patrick
Vieira.

“I think the game today was a deja vu, because I remember last
year it was the same kind of scenario,” Vieira said. “We
controlled the game, we were the better team, (but) at the end
we only got the point and today was the same.”

The New York Red Bulls saw their 18-match unbeaten streak in
MLS regular-season play halted by the Seattle Sounders. They
fell just one game short of matching the MLS record of 19 held
by the Columbus Crew (2004-2005) and FC Dallas (in 2010). The
Red Bulls’ last loss came on July 3 against New York City FC at
Yankee Stadium.

Atlanta United is lighting up the scoreboard, as well as the
turnstile, early in its inaugural season. Along with having
scored 11 goals in its first three matches, Atlanta United
has also sold out its first two matches, surpassing 100,000 in
combined attendance in those matches. 

BEST OF MLS WEEK 3

Maxi Urruti MLS FC Dallas 03182017

Player of the Week: Maxi Urruti. The Argentine
striker scored a pair of beautiful goals to help FC Dallas
rally past New England. Urruti deserves credit for his
goal in last week’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal
first-leg win against Pachuca.

Team of the Week: Portland Timbers. Blitzed
the Houston Dynamo in the battle of 2-0 teams with a dominating
second half.

Rookie of the Week: Alex Crognale. The
University of Maryland product was outstanding in the center of
the Crew’s three-man defense, helping shut down Patrick Mullins
and keep D.C. United off the scoreboard in his professional
debut.

Coach of the Week: Gregg Berhalter. The
Columbus Crew coach trotted out a new-look 3-5-2 on the road
against D.C. United and came away with a precious
three points. Benching Ethan Finlay and starting Crognale in
the middle of a three-man defense was gutsy, but Berhalter made
it work.

Goal of the Week: As impressive as David
Romney’s left-footed volley was for the LA Galaxy, it’s hard to
top Benny Feilhaber’s long-range strike against San Jose:

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