If you like surprises, this was the week for you. Nearly every game delivered an unexpected result, a shock mistake, or a sudden flash of brilliance – or all three.
On the other hand, if you don’t care for the unexpected – or if you’re a New York fan – this was a week to avert your eyes.
Apparently having run out of new ways to blow a game, the Red Bulls are now revising old, astonishing ways to do so. New York’s late-game meltdown against San Jose was just the biggest shocker in a week full of surprises, big and small.
Toronto FC got things rolling on Saturday afternoon, upsetting last year’s Eastern Conference table-toppers, Sporting Kansas City, 2-1, for their first win in 15 games and the inaugural MLS victory for new coach Ryan Nelsen.
Philadelphia and New England followed suit, picking up unexpected away wins, while Montreal won in rugged Cascadia – again – and Chivas USA stunned FC Dallas 3-1 to secure a badly needed win, the club’s first under new coach José Luis Sánchez Solá.
All of which got us thinking, in a week full of the unexpected, is there an early-season favorite for surprise team of the year?
Last season it was San Jose, who improved by a record 28 points and 11 wins over their 2011 team en route to winning the 2012 Supporters’ Shield.
Which team, if any, will follow suit this year? The sample size of games is obviously very small, but there are some emerging candidates:
They were outshot 19-9 on Saturday, and had just 36.9 percent of possession compared to Portland’s 63.1. But they were ruthlessly efficient, putting six of their nine shots on target, and two in the back of the net – compared with one for Portland. That, of course, is the only stat that matters.
This was a textbook defend-and-counter performance in a hostile environment against a fired-up host eager to take all three points. And it was Montreal’s second such performance in two weeks, following a win at Seattle in Round 1.
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The Impact were mathematically alive for a playoff berth fairly late into last season. Are they a playoff team this year? Could they make a postseason run?
They need to keep their several 30-something players healthy during the long, travel-heavy season, but the early returns certainly look good.
They blanked rebuilding Toronto in their opener, then dispatched Columbus, a team with title aspirations, in their second game on Saturday. And Vancouver got both results in style, generating numerous chances with slick passing sequences.
Kobayashi looks like the real deal, and Kenny Miller has approximately 100 percent more energy and sharpness than he had last season. The loss of center back Jay DeMerit was a huge blow, but veterans Y.P. Lee, Alain Rochat and Andy O’Brien should ease newcomer Brad Rusin’s adjustment to the backline as DeMerit’s replacement. They also have Honduran international Johnny Leverón waiting in the wings.
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Vancouver squeaked into the playoffs last season, but they were a sub-.500 team that sputtered badly down the stretch and got eliminated in the first round.
Have their key offseason acquisitions shored up the side? They’ve definitely restored Vancouver’s status as one of the league’s most entertaining teams. However much they surprise beyond that remains to be seen – and should be fun to watch.
After looking better than expected in their season opener at Vancouver, Ryan Nelsen’s men returned home to Toronto and nailed down the Kiwi international and D.C. United alum’s first win as an MLS coach, jumping on KC early then holding on for a 2-1 victory.
Welsh international Robert Earnshaw scored both goals, new acquisition John Bostock, a 21-year-old midfielder on loan from Tottenham, drew a penalty and was a consistent threat, and Hogan Ephraim, 24, a winger on loan from QPR, looks like a highly skilled addition to the team.
Those three, who were all signed within the past two weeks, are still getting acclimated to the league, integrated into the team and working toward match fitness. But add them to the Reds’ improved backline – which bent but didn’t break against KC – and, well, there’s reason for hope among long-suffering Toronto fans.
After the win, Nelsen cautioned that TFC are “still a long way away,” but the fact that the coach is tamping down expectations after just two games is a testament to the potential the Reds have flashed during the young season.
Don’t laugh: The Goats got a big win on Sunday, and a huge goal from Juan Agudelo. The 20-year-old American not only tied the game with his strike, but also displayed the combination of skill and power that are a big reason why he has 17 caps for the US national team already. Chelís had to like what he saw.
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They’re still searching for an identity, but considering the disarray of the offseason and the amount of scrutiny they’ve been under in recent weeks, if the Goats surpass last season’s win-total of seven, it would constitute a surprise.
The Revs got a late start to the season, but used it to win for the first time ever at Toyota Park, edging Chicago 1-0 as Kelyn Rowe, Juan Toja and Lee Nguyen sparkled in combination play.
Andrew Farrell, the top pick of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, gave New England fans another reason for optimism, turning in an excellent debut at right back. The Revs look improved on both sides of the ball.
While Toronto, New England and Chivas showed encouraging signs this weekend, Montreal and Vancouver looked like teams with personalities and real cohesiveness.
They’re experienced, poised and professional, and they hold the early edge for surprise teams of the year.