Philadelphia, PA – It's been a long time coming for the Chicago Fire and Portland Timbers, but both clubs finally collected their first wins of the season, while New York is struggling to figure out what went wrong as we look back on Week 6 in Major League Soccer.
AN IDENTITY FOUND IN PORTLAND?
The Portland Timbers have faced struggles to open the season.
Through four games, the club had picked just three points with three draws, but something clicked on Saturday and Caleb Porter's team finally earned a win.
Things didn't look good early as designated player Diego Valeri and defender David Horst both had to be subbed off in the first half because of injury, but the Timbers came out inspired in the second half.
Ryan Johnson got things rolling for Portland in the 55th minute when he nodded home a cross from Diego Chara, and put the game away 17 minutes from time when he broke free down the left wing and ripped it into the far corner to finish off a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo.
"It feels good winning our first of hopefully many. (I'm) proud of the guys," Porter said. "They had a bit of adversity in the first half, but as the half went on, we just got rolling. The guys that came into the game did a great job."
Portland hit its stride in the second half after going to a high-pressure defensive system and not letting Houston see much time on the ball. If the Timbers can keep it going, they could be on the cusp of a nice unbeaten run.
CHICAGO FINALLY GETS THREE POINTS; NEW YORK STILL STRUGGLING
There isn't a team in MLS that got off to a worse start than Chicago.
The Fire began the season by suffering a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of the Los Angeles Galaxy and followed it up with a disappointing 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution.
A listless 0-0 draw against Sporting Kansas City was followed by a 4-1 setback at home against Chivas USA to leave the club with one point from its first four games.
But on Sunday against New York, Frank Klopas' team finally put together a full 90 minutes to get a victory.
New York opened the scoring 17 minutes in with a fantastic overhead volley past Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson by defender Jamison Olave.
The Fire had a great chance to equalize after Jonny Steele was called for a handball in the penalty area, resulting in a penalty kick.
Chris Rolfe took the shot, but sent it wide of the left post.
Chicago shook off the penalty miss and tied it in the 44th minute when Daniel Paladini shook his defender and got on the end of the cross, snapping his header down ahead of Red Bull goalkeeper Luis Robles for the 44th-minute equalizer.
Maicon Santos found the game winner for Chicago in the 83rd minute. After receiving a pass from Paladini on the left side of the box and cutting it back to lose his defender, he coolly side-footed it under Luis Robles.
Santos completed his brace in the 89th minute when he tapped in a Jeff Larentowicz cross at the right post.
"It was an important game for us," Klopas said. "We needed this win and it good for the team to get a victory. We kept working hard and there was belief in the team."
New York, meanwhile, looked to have turned a corner after Thierry Henry's world-class finish last week lifted the club to a 2-1 win over Philadelphia Union.
But defensive lapses cost New York against the Fire. The Red Bulls haven't won in 10 all-time meetings at Toyota Park and haven't won in Chicago since 2005, when they were still known as the New York/New Jersey MetroStars.
New York has one win in its first five games and rookie head coach Mike Petke expressed his frustration:
"I'm very disappointed," Petke said. "If I'm with a team in a rebuilding stage, with players who are rookies in the league, how mad could I be? But I'm with guys who are capable of so much more."
Petke certainly has a right to be unhappy with early results, but some of the blame ultimately must fall on his shoulders for not getting the most out of a roster full of world-class talent.
In other weekend action, Philadelphia earned its first-ever point in Columbus with a 1-1 draw against the Crew, Colorado grabbed its first win of the season with a 1-0 result over Real Salt Lake, and Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes played to a 1-1 draw. Finally, Toronto FC battled back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 stalemate against FC Dallas.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
This week's honor goes to Toronto FC defender Darel Russell, who netted an equalizer in the final minute of regulation to salvage a point in a 2-2 draw with FC Dallas.
Trailing, 2-1, in the 90th minute, Russell brought down a ball from outside the box and ripped a rising, right-footed strike off the far post and past FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez on the half-volley, sending the home fans into a frenzy.
Honorable mention goes to Olave for an outstanding overhead volley from inside the Chicago penalty area, but the Red Bulls eventually fell to Chicago by a 3-1 count at Toyota Park.
TORONTO FC - .This is not the same Toronto FC side that took the pitch last season. Club president Kevin Payne and rookie head coach Ryan Nelsen have done an admirable job assembling the roster, and the positive vibes are starting to come. After a hard-fought 2-1 loss to Montreal on March 16, Toronto played well in a draw with Los Angeles the following week and showed some real resolve to battle back from 2-0 down against FC Dallas on Saturday with a pair of goals in the final five minutes. Teams used to be able to look on their schedules and pencil in a TFC match as three easy points. Not anymore.
PORTLAND TIMBERS - Portland was hit with some bad luck in the first half of Saturday's match against Houston at JELD-WEN Field when Valeri and Horst needed to be subbed out, but Johnson's double in the second half gave the Timbers a much-needed victory after going winless in their first four matches.
"It feels great," Johnson said of getting the first win of the season. "We're not too high because we know we're going to win a lot of games here. But at the same time, we work really hard and with the guys we have, who went through the first few games having to come back, to get the first goal was huge."
Portland will look to keep its positive momentum flowing when they go for a second consecutive win at home against the San Jose Earthquakes.
NEW YORK RED BULLS - New York seems to have been stuck on the trending down list all season with the exception of a nice win against Philadelphia on March 30. Petke's club looks lost and definitely not on the same page. Sunday's 3-1 loss to a scuffling Chicago side exposed some defensive weaknesses which Petke and his technical staff will need to correct. Yes, Henry was not fully healthy and Fabian Espindola missed the match, but this is a club with exceptional talent up and down the roster. It probably isn't panic time in New York quite yet, but with each loss the fingers of concerned fans get closer to the panic button.
REAL SALT LAKE - Alvaro Saborio may be thinking about his missed penalty against Colorado for a little while after Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin got his hand to Saborio's shot, which looked ticketed for the top right corner, and Colorado went on to beat Real Salt Lake by the slimmest of margins, 1-0, on Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Colorado scored the only goal of the match five minutes into the game and bunkered down to collect three points.
"I think it's tough, especially because we had talked about trying to start really aggressively," RSL head coach Jason Kreis said. "I wanted to see if we could focus on that for a second week in a row, I feel like when we do that we often times get a good result. We did a lot of talking about starting really well, and we didn't get it accomplished, obviously."
RSL has lost two of its last three and has a tough task on hand this week, traveling to BC Place to battle the Vancouver Whitecaps.
THE WEEK AHEAD
There's a full schedule of MLS action this weekend with seven matches in the offing on Saturday and two on Sunday.
This week's pick of the lot sees Atlantic Cup rivals D.C. United and New York Red Bulls lock horns for the second time in less than a month at RFK Stadium. New York dominated play in the teams' first meeting, but had to settle for a 0-0 draw.
After having a bye last week, Montreal looks to rebound from its first loss of the season at Saputo Stadium against Columbus, while Philadelphia hosts Toronto FC at PPL Park. Seattle will attempt to bounce back from a loss to Real Salt Lake when it hosts New England, while RSL travels to the Pacific Northwest to face Vancouver.
Coming off a 2-2 draw against Toronto, FC Dallas returns home to battle the Los Angeles Galaxy, while Colorado will shoot for its second straight win against Chivas USA.
Sunday's action sees Portland hosts San Jose and Houston return to BBVA Compass Stadium to face Chicago.