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About those Saturday “must-win” scenarios in Major League Soccer

Mar 30, 2013, 9:29 AM EST

Before becoming the head coach of the Portland Timbers in 2013, Caleb Porter amassed a record of 119 wins, 18 losses, 17 ties, and one national championship in seven years at University of Akron. (Photo: Getty Images.) Getty Images

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.

  1. joeyt360 - Mar 30, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    Yeah, we need new terminology here. Maybe you just call them “urgency games” — games that are less than must-win but more than a regular game.

  2. buckyball77 - Mar 30, 2013 at 5:28 PM

    Realizing that you’re stirring the pot on these early season game previews:

    Re. Caleb Porter. I hope we keep in mind-

    1985-86 ManU, Ron Atkinson’s last full season, 4th Place 22-10-10
    1986-87 ManU, some new manager named Alex Ferguson, 11th Place 14-14-14
    (I guess they should have given up on Alex in early 1987!)

    • Richard Farley - Mar 30, 2013 at 5:30 PM

      There were “doubts” about all those guys at those times.

      Let’s not read too much into one word here. If Porter loses today, there will be some doubts (the word used above), but nobody’s going to be looking to replace him.

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