Don’t Get Too Excited About Your MLS Team’s Great Start to the Season

Recent history shows March usually isn’t a barometer of the season ahead
by Ray Marcham   |   Friday, March 18, 2016

March is the strangest month in Major League Soccer, and that makes it one of the most intriguing.

No, a club can’t win the Supporters Shield or the MLS Cup in the season’s first month. They can’t get eliminated from a playoff berth, either, though the task does get harder.

MLS is truly a league where how you finish is more important than how you start. Thanks to the playoff system, you’ll never see a team win a title two months before the end of a season, like what has happened this season in France’s Ligue 1 (Paris Saint-Germain clinched the title last weekend) or in the 2014-15 Bundesliga (Bayern Munich wrapped up the title in late March).

That means fans in Montréal, Kansas City or San Jose probably shouldn’t get too high, though the 2-0 start is impressive. It also means supporters in Seattle, Vancouver, Columbus or the Red Bulls shouldn’t worry too much, yet, though the 0-2 start isn’t good.

History shows that clubs who eventually win the Supporters Shield often start slow. The last winners of the Shield that started 2-0 were the 2010 Los Angeles Galaxy. That’s a big difference from the first seven seasons of MLS, when every Shield winner started with at least two straight wins. Those included the 2002 Galaxy, 2001 Miami Fusion, 2000 Kansas City Wizards, 1999 DC United, 1998 Galaxy, 1997 DC United and 1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny.

That 2002 Galaxy side is also the last MLS Cup champion that started the season 2-0. Other Cup champions that started a season 2-0 were Kansas City in 2000, DC United in 1999, Chicago in 1998 and DC United in 1997. That’s it, and that should show supporters that patience is vital, no matter how bad a team may look now.

There may be no better poster club for going from a slow start to an MLS title than the Portland Timbers. Their season-opening win over Columbus was the first March win for the club in four years. The last time Portland won in March was 2012, when they defeated Philadelphia. The Timbers then went on to have their worst MLS season, which led to the sacking of John Spencer as manager and the overhaul that laid the foundation for the future success the club has had.

So, what is the best start in MLS history? Maybe you’ve got to go back to 1996, when the Galaxy started the league’s first season by winning their first eight matches in regulation and their first 12 overall, including two shootout wins (no draws in MLS back then, as tie games went straight to a shootout). While they did make the MLS Cup Final, they lost to DC United 3-2 on an Eddie Pope goal in extra time.

More than likely, the aforementioned 2010 Galaxy might have had the best start, as they also went unbeaten in their first 12, winning their first four and having 10 wins and two draws before finally losing a match. One other club has started a season with a 12-match unbeaten run, but Real Salt Lake’s 2014 start included only six wins to go with six draws.

The fortunate thing for the four MLS sides which have started 0-2 is that in the last three seasons, only two clubs have started 0-3. Those are the 2015 Chicago Fire and the 2014 Montréal Impact.

But a club would have to go a long way to match the horrific start of Toronto FC in 2012. That season, the Reds lost their first nine matches before finally getting a win in late May against Philadelphia. In the end, TFC won just five times, ending one of the worst seasons in MLS history and maybe being the counterpoint that a team can’t lose a season in March. Then again, they lost April and most of May, as well.

Even DC United in that horrid 3-win 2013 season had won their second match of the season. But they followed that win with a 13-match winless streak, adding to that nightmare. But here’s the crazy part of that DCU season; we learned that it was the exception, as DCU had finished second in the East in 2012 and won the East in 2014.

Will an MLS club start 0-3? Seattle hosts Vancouver in the first Cascadia clash of the season this weekend, so at least one won’t be 0-3 (and maybe both if it ends in a draw). The Red Bulls will have a tough task, hosting a Houston club that is coming off a 5-0 thrashing of FC Dallas. Columbus might have the best chance at a win, as they visit a DC United side that’s scored just once in two matches and maybe are lucky not to be 0-2 themselves.

Can any 2-0 team go 3-0? Montréal is playing at FC Dallas, which means they may get Didier Drogba back because of the grass field. San Jose will be playing the first California Clásico of the year at Carson against the Galaxy, while Sporting KC hosts a Toronto side that took 4 of 6 points against the New York clubs to start the season. None will be easy, but all hope to match FC Dallas in 2015 and the 2014 Columbus Crew in starting the season 3-0. Dallas ended up winning the West last year, but Columbus finished third in the East in 2014 and made a quick playoff exit.

A good start to a season is always appreciated. A bad start isn’t good. But unless you’re the 2010 Galaxy (good) or 2012 Toronto FC (bad), there’s not usually much to read into wins and losses in March. The MLS season is a marathon, and starting well or badly often doesn’t forecast what’s ahead.

Ray MARCHAM

Nationality:
USA
College:
Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.
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