Play-by-Play Plus: Surprise start for not just Union in MLS play so far

Count the Union among a host of teams that jumped out the gate

goal celebration huddle

Photo Credit: 
Greg Carroccio

After three weeks of MLS play, you must admit there are a few surprises when you take a look at the standings. When you have Montreal leading the East and Dallas and Vancouver leading MLS’ Western Conference, it generally leads to some serious head scratching. How about the Chicago Fire in 10th place in the east, and Seattle in the ninth and final spot in the west.

I'm sure things will change in the weeks ahead, but for now fans in Montreal, Dallas, and Vancouver can certainly be proud of their teams' good start. The same can be said for supporters of the Philadelphia Union who are in second place in the East, thanks to back to back wins versus Colorado and New England. Let's take a look at what the Union has done so far in 2013:

·         They have won back-to-back one goal decisions despite having to deal with some miserable travel and weather.

·         They have managed to score goals off of corner kicks in two consecutive games.

·         They have scored the game’s first goal in all three of their games.

·         They have managed six points team despite injuries that have limited the playing time of guys who were expected to make a contribution. Individually, Jack McInerney continues to score important goals, while Amobi Okugo gets better with experience and right now looks solid alongside veteran Jeff Parke.

The Union is idle this week in terms of MLS play, but has a friendly on Saturday against famous Mexican side Pumas UNAM. It's a chance for manager John Hackworth to keep a few of his starters in a good rhythm while also offering up a chance to others who have had little to no playing time in the first three weeks. In addition, it's extra time off for those nursing injuries.

Looking ahead, the Union return to MLS action with two straight road games, at New York (March 30) and at Columbus (April 6), before returning to PPL Park for a match against a new look Toronto FC.

Now for some MLS slow starters:

Sporting Kansas City has won the last two Eastern Conference championships, but has gotten off to a slow 1-1-1 start this season. In 2012, they began the year with a seven-game win streak. No need to panic here though as head coach Peter Vermes has the players to contend for another conference title. It just may take a little bit longer to indoctrinate Benny Feilhaber and Oriol Rossell into their system. The loss of Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza was huge, but not a big enough hit for this team to not be a contender in the East.

A slow start doesn't really tell the story for the Chicago Fire. A playoff side a year ago, they begin the season 0-2-1, and have yet to score a goal. Designated player Sherjill McDonald does not look like the stud that notched four goals and the same number of assists during his 12 game stint in 2012. This is not a team with huge goal scoring potential so if this Dutch striker doesn't score, it could be a long season in Chicago. Chris Rolfe is their best offensive weapon, but he needs help up top, otherwise rival defenses can do more to shut him down. The Fire will be better once they get injured Arne Friedrich and Logan Pause back, but neither guy scores goals.

Bottom line: right now, Chicago could use some offense.

In closing out today's column, congratulations are in order to both the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy who have advanced to the two-leg semifinals in the CONCACAF Champions League. Both face tough Mexican opposition in Santos Laguna (vs. Seattle) and Monterrey (vs. Los Angeles).

Monterrey is the two time defending champion. It would be a huge statement, especially for the continued growth of MLS if at least one of these clubs can get to the CCL final.