There are no must-wins four weeks into an eight-month season, but since that’s the language that gets thrown around, we’ll roll with it. Yes, anybody can recover from a winless month, but since nobody wants to go into April with a “0” in the win column, a sense of urgency is understandable.
One team is already guaranteed a winless month, with Chicago getting the weekend off after a 0-3-1 start. As a result, rumblings are beginning to sound around Frank Klopas, the man at the helm of a team expected to compete for the playoffs. If the Fire can’t get things turned around in April, Steve’s words may prove prescient: “Klopas cannot possibly survive much more of what we’ve seen around Toyota Park.”
It’s important to note Klopas’s potential peril is the result of expectations – goals which feed into the early angst. But not every team expected 2013 to be a winning one. Of the league’s four active winless sides, only two expected to be contenders this season, and while the situation in Portland is unique because of the hype around Caleb Porter, the Timbers’ Saturday opponents had few expectations of playoff soccer.
With that context, here’s how we rate the severity of today’s must-win scenarios, in terms of need:
1 – New York Red Bulls: Really need to break through
New York’s at home, against a team they should beat, and haven’t been that bad this season. Their two losses were on one-goal defeats at Montréal and San Jose, and you could argue the Red Bulls could have won their draws against Portland and D.C. United. Yes, their failure to get wins is more important than their proximity to them, but their underlying form matters when judging how the team’s actually played.
If they carry that form into today’s game in Harrison, New York shouldn’t have much of a problem against Philadelphia (3:30 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN). If they do, new management could start asking questions. Mike Petke’s unlikely to feel much heat, but some of the players – particularly the ones held over from the previous regime — could be put under the microscope.
2 – Portland Timbers: First doubts could surface
The Timbers have looked good this year. They played the perfect Montréal Impact as well as anybody. They got a point in Seattle, and they overcame Mikael Silvestre’s early hiccups to get a first kick point from New York.
But Saturday at Colorado is a no excuses scenario. If The Caleb Porter Project is worth the hype, Portland wins in Commerce City.
Portland has never done well at DSG (outscored 9-1 in three visits), and the team has only three road wins in franchise history, but if they can’t get three points at Colorado, it will be worth considering if they’ve made any progress under Porter.
3 – Seattle Sounders: Need a stronger performance
If Seattle loses at Real Salt Lake, the organization isn’t going to panic; however, if the team looks as bad as they did last week in San Jose, growing fan could star consolidating their growing worries about Sigi Schmid.
The most concerning part about Seattle isn’t their lack of wins. It’s their lack of quality. They have one goal this year, a score that was more Steve Zakuani’s individual effort (to set up Eddie Johnson against Portland) then anything systemic.
If Seattle goes four games without showing signs of attacking life, the team should be concerned. They have too much talent to be taking these kinds of steps backward.
Right now, it looks like something’s wrong. At some point, you have enough information to act.
4 – Colorado Rapids: The bar’s pretty low
Conor Casey, Jeff Larentowicz, and Omar Cummings were shipped out this winter. Edson Buddle’s injured, as is Matt Pickens. Martín Rivero has yet to play this season.
Of course Colorado’s going to be concerned if they lose at home to Portland. Any team would be, but there weren’t big expectations coming into the year. Colorado need to take a longer view of the season, one which precludes any must-win scenarios five rounds into the campaign.