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5 things we learned in MLS: Week 3

Referee drama and tactical gymnastics galore in MLS over the weekend.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

1. New Coaches Embrace the Weird

Veljko Paunovic and Patrick Vieira took control of two very different sides at the beginning of this season, but with very similar end goals: stop flirting with the bottom of the table and get Chicago and NYCFC back into contention for silverware. Interestingly, both coaches have responded to the challenge with some crazy formations. Both have trotted at least one three defender set, and NYC even showcased one of the first 3-4-3s I've ever seen used on what could be considered a regular basis in MLS.

Of course, the formation trickery has seen its ups and downs already in the young season. Paunovic has a major turn-around to manufacture in Chicago, and has only managed two draws thus far (which, it has to be said, is better than two losses). NYC's formation has looked explosive at times, and it seems to be getting the best out of Pirlo. On the other hand, the three defender set looks workable at Yankee Stadium, whose field is approximately the size of a ping-pong table, but will probably be exposed more often as they travel (July looks like a brutal month for them). The new coaches are trying to take on MLS with the weird, but the jury's still out on how it will turn out.

2. Seeing Red

Both Kyle Beckerman and Je-Vaughn Watson were shown red cards for fouls that just last year might only have been yellows. PRO, the referee organization responsible for all MLS officials, have been targeting challenges where players leave their feet and show the studs of their boots. In this case, both Beckerman and Watson caught ankle with their challenges, but refs in general have been quicker to show cards for challenges that are reckless and dangerous regardless of if the tackler wins the ball, and that's a good thing. There are more skilled players in MLS now than ever before, and the Hack-A-(insert Nagbe, Morales, Nguyen, Diaz, etc) strategy needs to go. Idea: teams could get better at actually defending instead.

3. Sporting Out Strong

Sporting Kansas City are the only undefeated team remaining in MLS (after three weeks, which is crazy and wonderful. Thank you MLS gods), and they haven't had an easy schedule, either. KC picked up a tough three road points in Seattle, closed out a victory with a man advantage against Vancouver, and then held Sebastian Giovinco in check for a full 90 minutes against Toronto FC. After an uncertain season in the back for KC, their defense through three weeks is reminiscent of their Supporter's Shield challenges in 2012 and 2013 (in which they gave up 27 and 30 goals respectively, both league lows on the season). That spells trouble for a bloodthirsty Western Conference.

4. Let's Talk about the Red Bulls

Last year's Supporter's Shield champs scored their first goals and picked up their first win this weekend, which is a good thing. However, Gonzalo Veron, Gideon Baah, and Ronald Zubar all needed to be subbed off due to injury, and their defense looked like a wet paper towel. The loss of Damien Perinelle and Matt Miazga to injury and Chelsea (which are almost the same thing) has rendered RBNY hapless at the back. Jesse Marsch's usual tight ship is leaking in goals at the back, and for the sake of my Supporter's Shield prediction, they should stop that.

5. Geiger Counter

Fans from the Pacific Northwest tend to whine about each other more than most in losses, but look at the penalty Mark Geiger gave to the Whitecaps this weekend:

Pour out a fifth for your Sounders friends, and then drink the rest of whatever you poured a fifth from, because you're not going to hear the end of this one until June.