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What to Watch for: MLS Week 3

The Dynamo are on a rampage, and will March qualifiers throw a wrench into MLS and CCL plans?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports


For the past several seasons, the Dynamo have been a shadow of the juggernaut that landed in Houston after a previous life as the first version of the San Jose Earthquakes. On the back of talisman striker Brian Ching, the newly-oranged team won two MLS Cups and seem poised to become a dynasty. A string of middling seasons, in which the team usually qualified for the playoffs but also did not win any silverware, led to the departure of longtime coach Dominic Kinnear, and the coaching carousel began. But two games into the season the Dynamo have 6 points from two strong results against Seattle and Columbus, and they’ve done it in no small part thanks to the reemergence of Erick “Cubo” Torres.

This goal is so reminiscent of what made Cubo one of the best strikers in the league on the worst team in the league. Chivas USA was always a threat to score with Cubo because of his ability to stretch the field, take the ball down quickly, and conjure magic all on his own. That ability seemed lost and buried after his move to the Dynamo primarily landed him on the bench, but the introduction of former Chivas USA manager (as well as former USMNT U-17 boss) Wilmer Cabrera has brought it back. That could be great news for both Houston and Mexico, but two games doesn’t prove anything. Cubo and the Dynamo travel to Portland this weekend for a stiff test at Providence Park.

Looking for an Answer

Life as Steve Birnbaum seemed pretty good coming into this MLS season. Bruce Arena seemed keen on him in January Camp, and he was one of only two players that started both friendlies. He was named captain of D.C. United before the season, and had built up a nice handful of caps in 2016 to pad his resume.

It’s all gone a bit wrong for Birnbaum and D.C. as of late. Following a season-opening draw to Sporting KC, NYCFC absolutely shredded the D.C. defense for a 4-0 win last weekend. Shortly after, Birnbaum was also left off the USMNT roster for the next Hexagonal matches, leapfrogged by Walker Zimmerman in the MLS center back pecking order.

D.C. welcome Columbus to RFK Stadium this weekend, and while the Crew haven’t quite put things together in the attacking third yet, they still have plenty of weapons that can put the ball in the net if D.C. aren’t careful. Marcelo Sarvas seems to be on a steeper downhill slope in terms of age and form than was previously expected, and that fatally hurt D.C. last weekend. It will be up to Sean Franklin and captain Birnbaum to right the ship this weekend at home. If he can pull D.C.’s defense back together, he just might find himself back with the USMNT as well.

Qualifying Headaches

It’s exciting for clubs to see their players get national team call-ups for their respective countries, but the upcoming dates are particularly busy for a few clubs. FC Dallas had a game last weekend and a midweek CONCACAF Champions League game ahead of a game this weekend. Kellyn Acosta and Walker Zimmerman then will have to immediately travel to San Jose for the March 24th clash with Honduras, then travel to Panama for the USA’s March 28th game, then travel back to the States and meet up with Dallas ahead of a decisive April 4th CCL match against Pachuca in Mexico. That’s a whole lot of miles, and Dallas aren’t the only club that could possibly suffer from well-traveled players. Toronto FC will miss Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. Atlanta United lose Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Carlos Carmona to CONMEBOL qualifying. Seattle loses both forwards in Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris. There are a whole lot of dates in the MLS calendar coming up, and once again the league’s penchant for playing through international dates (even if there are only a handful of MLS games that will take place from March 24th to April 1st) will cause no shortage of headaches.

Games to Watch

Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC might not have quite the same rivalry that the Reds have with Montreal, but that doesn’t prevent fireworks from erupting when the two teams meet. The East-meets-West Canadian game should be an interesting matchup. First place is up for grabs in the West with Houston and Portland squaring off in the Timbers hometown, and the Timbers won’t be as shorthanded as previously thought after the Disciplinary Committee somewhat miraculously chose not to suspend both Diego Chara and David Guzman, despite the LA Galaxy’s best efforts.

The Dynamo and Timbers have scored 5 and 6 goals so far this season, respectively, a number only bested by Atlanta United. It should be a good one.

Speaking of Atlanta United, I’m sticking with them as a game to watch this week as well. The Chicago Fire were built with a polar opposite approach, but they’re above the new kids in the table and seem to have a very solid midfield built around MLS vets Dax McCarty and Juninho. Mostly, this game is a very good measuring stick for both teams. Just how good are they? We’ll find out.

Poorly Executed MLS Photoshop of the Week