Óscar Pareja’s still defying expectations, but who’s going to play defensive midfield next week for Dallas?

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For the second straight year, Óscar Pareja’s his team off to a strong start. And for the second straight year, it’s a team that was supposed to finish near the bottom of the West. Whatever magic the former FC Dallas midfielder had in the Rocky Mountains, he clearly brought it with him when he returned to Toyota Stadium, and he’s putting it to use even earlier in the season.

Last spring, after a worrisome stretch to start the season, the new Dallas head coach found a formula with the Colorado Rapids, one that helped propel the thought-to-be rebuilding team into the playoffs. Now, three weeks into the 2014 season, Pareja has his new team on top of the Western Conference. With its 3-1 win over visiting Chivas USA, Dallas leading Major League Soccer with seven points through three games, building an early, two-point lead on Real Salt Lake and Vancouver in the Western Conference.

Saturday’s final score looks more lopsided than the match played out, though it was certainly Chivas’s least effective match of the season. Still, the effort that produced four points in two games was still there for Wilmer Cabrera’s team. The realities of the road, however, caught up to them. Holding out with a 0-0 through 70 minutes, Chivas saw a combination of Dallas execution and bad luck send the team to its first loss.

The breakthrough came in the 71st minute when an incredulously high line on a restart 12 yards inside Dallas’s half doomed the Goats. A chip over the top of Mauro Díaz saw Hendry Thomas knock the ball down for Fabian Castillo, who gave Dallas a late lead.

Seven minutes later, Díaz’s 30-yard ball rolled behind Tommy Lochhead allowed Je-Vaughn Watson to double Dallas’s lead, a goal that prove vital when Erick Torres beat Matt Hedges to a near post ball in the 81st minute, making it 2-1 Five minutes later, a Michel restart blasted into a wall deflected past Dan Kennedy, giving Dallas its two-goal win.

The schedule’s been kind for Dallas, who have faced Montréal, a half-strength Kansas City, and Chivas USA without traveling out of the central time zone, but still without George John and Raul Fernández, there’s plenty to laud about the team’s hot start. Perhaps the four goals allowed reflects the absences of the team’s two best defensive players, but a league-leading seven goals scored has made up for those problems. The attack may be over reliant on Díaz creating behind Blas Pérez, but it’s a dependence that’s produced huge early results.

After Saturday’s game, the only real problem for Dallas is depth, specifically in defensive midfield. Early on at Toyota Park, Adam Moffat had to leave the game injured. Andrew Jacobson took his place but had to be stretchered off in the second half after rookie Thomas McNamara stepped on his upper ankle. In stoppage time, Hendry Thomas committed a Hendry Thomas, earning straight red when he drove boot-fist at Bofo Bautista. With a set-up that’s playing two midfielders in front of the defense, Pareja is running out of options in the middle.

It’s something that could be particularly problematic against next week’s opponent, with Michel and Victor Ulloa a potential pivot tandem against the possessive-conscious Timbers. With seven days until kickoff, however, Pareja will have plenty of time to come up with other solutions. Given where his team sits after three weeks, it may be time to adjust our expectations of what Pareja can do and can not do with FC Dallas.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]