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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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: