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MLS can be a hard league to follow sometimes because there aren't any teams that dominate year after year. This means that almost every game is up for grabs, and it's hard to understand a league in which strange, inexplicable things happen every single week, simply because absolutely nothing is predictable or normal.

It's difficult to put together a dynasty in MLS. The best players tend to leave, or be on the downsides of their careers. Squads aren't that deep, so one or two injuries to key players can sometimes derail an entire season. Travel is onerous and even the best teams are decidedly ordinary when they go on the road. Some find small, repeatable advantages — a great youth system or an exceptional coach — but even then, dynasties are hard to come by.

Unpredictability is always a bad thing. Most European leagues are won by one of a small group of teams, every single year. If you aren't a fan of one of those teams, then the season gets tedious quickly. As the MLS season kicks off, meanwhile, every team — even expansion Cincinnati — has playoff hopes. A half-dozen might have a shot at the Supporters' Shield.

Short takes

• The U.S. women's national team opened the 2019 SheBelieves Cup by showing that there are still reasons to worry about its defense. The U.S. played well against Japan but settled for a 2-2 draw after two defensive miscues led directly to goals. Center back stalwart Becky Sauerbrunn was out injured, so there's still hope for improvement. But for now the shaky defense is the United States' biggest concern. Its game Saturday against England (3:30 p.m., Ch. 9) is a big one.

• Apart from Toronto's humbling at the hands of Panamanian champs Independiente, the first round of the CONCACAF Champions League went well for MLS teams. Atlanta overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit by defeating Herediano 4-0 at home. Sporting Kansas City thumped Toluca 5-0 over two legs, an astonishingly dominant performance against a Liga MX team. New York and Houston also qualified for the quarterfinals, which begin next week. For once, it wouldn't be surprising to see multiple MLS teams make the semifinals.


La Liga: Barcelona at Real Madrid, 1:30 p.m. Saturday, beIN. At this point, all Real Madrid is looking for is revenge. Madrid isn't going to win the league title; it's nine points behind Barcelona and the gap shows no signs of closing. It's not going to win the Copa del Rey; it lost to Barcelona 3-0 at home in midweek, sealing its exit from that competition. Given that it also lost 5-1 to Barca earlier this year in the league, Madrid desperately needs to save face in this edition of El Clasico.

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: