Here are the 10 things we learned from the first week of MLS’ 20th season:
1. The new MLS TV deal got off to an encouraging start
Not only should the Sunday double-headers on ESPN2 and FOX Sports 1 become destination spots for American soccer fans, but the productions on both networks feel big-time this year.
ESPN has refreshed their presentation with some fantastic new graphics and a full-fledged pregame broadcast, while FS1 has a studio show. Both networks also appear to have dedicated more cameras and microphones to their broadcasts this year as well.
For comparison, last year’s opening weekend had just a single game on national TV – Seattle vs Sporting KC from CenturyLink Field on NBCSN on a Saturday afternoon. This year’s opening weekend had four national TV games across three networks. Now, if we can just figure out how to use the SAP button on Univision…
2. Both Orlando City and New York City FC did well in their inaugural game on Sunday
NYCFC put together a very decent performance, got a terrific goal from Mix Diskerud, and came away with a point, while Orlando salvaged what would have been a sour end to a banner day with Kaka’s deflected stoppage time equalizer.
But it’s clear that these two sides are still very much expansion teams, and no amount of talent, Jason Kreis, or Fill The Bowl madness can change that. There’s a certain roughness, a lack of chemistry and lack of polish that is pervasive in first year teams across every sport. That’s why it will be difficult for both to make the 2015 playoffs.
3. Seattle is picking up right where they left off last year
The Sounders’ third goal in their demolition of the New England Revolution on Sunday night was world class. Tyrone Mears looks like Roberto Carlos. No Osvaldo Alonso, no DeAndre Yedlin, and Brad Evans at center-back – it didn’t matter.
But the story, as usual, was Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, and more exactly, how well they work together. It’s no surprise that both Dempsey and Martins have been hits in MLS, but few could have predicted that they’d be so inseparable on the field.
4. It was a tough night for New England in the Emerald City, and they have a few concerns going forward
One is that this team is pretty average without Jermaine Jones. The other is how Teal Bunbury – if he’s not injured – Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, and Diego Fagundez are all going to get playing time and gel.
If Jones misses a considerable amount of time, and the Revs can’t get their attacking balance right, it could be a tough start to the year for the defending Eastern Conference champs.
5. The Chicago Fire are an absolute mess
The Fire have no clue how to play together. Their central midfield is Swiss cheese. And Sean Maloney and Harry Shipp don’t compliment each other at all well, mostly because of their almost indistinguishable styles. Plus, they have too many forwards.
Frank Yallop, who wields all the power in Chicago, should be on the hot seat. The team he has constructed is close to bizarre.
6. LA didn’t miss a beat in their cakewalk win over the Fire on the first Friday night of the season, and part of that of course was the opponent
But the Galaxy continue to impress because of their team-wide composure and ability to highlight their strengths. No one in MLS plays with such assurance. If this team can hold serve and be in the top three in the West by the time Steven Gerrard shows up in July, look out.
7. The two best games of the weekend were at Providence Park and Sporting Park
The games between the Portland Timbers-Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City-New York Red Bulls were exciting to watch.
Both venues were ear-splittingly loud, and the atmospheres fueled the kind of intense, physical, tightly played games that we only reasonably expect during the playoffs.
A couple of terrific individual moments – Nick Rimando’s Spiderman denial of Rodney Wallace and Lloyd Sam’s fantastic solo goal – ended up denying the home team in both games. All four teams are well constructed by American coaches without global stars – and that’s what this era of MLS is really about.
8. Toronto FC made a huge statement on the road with a win against Vancouver Whitecaps
This should be the year for TFC. They’re loaded at almost every position, they have two or three of the best players in the league, and they won this game despite not really even knowing what they were trying to do on offense for most of the 90 minutes.
The ‘Caps, meanwhile, need to figure out their central defense, harness their mouth-watering ability on the break, and play with some composure. There’s a ton of potential in Vancouver, but it’s still very much just potential.
9. Call me crazy, but it was a good week for the referees
Alan Kelly did a sensational job on the weekend’s biggest stage in Orlando, rightfully nailing three players for diving and sending off a doggedly thuggish Aurelien Collin.
Kelly is one of a new crop of referees brought to MLS in the last few years that has drastically improved the overall standard of officiating throughout the league. All across the country, the men in the middle had a good first week of the season.
10. Glad we didn’t have a lockout?
This weekend of MLS – especially the marquee games – didn’t disappoint. Mix, Kaka, Dempsey, Martins, Keane, and Altidore were all on the score-sheet.
The games are being played better in front of more people. The stars are showing up. The next round of expansion, according to Don Garber, will be announced in the next two months. Gerrard, Cubo, Lampard, and possibly Rafael Van der Vaart are on their way.
It’s impossible not to feel the momentum this league has that would have been killed if we didn’t play this weekend. There’s no reason to believe the league’s twentieth season shouldn’t be its best – but what’s more exciting is that there’s also no reason to believe that the league’s 21st season won’t be more exciting than its twentieth.
Week 1 Superlatives
Best individual performance: Clint Dempsey, Seattle
Best team performance: Seattle (v. New England)
Best unsung performances: Brek Shea, Orlando City; Jack Jewsbury, Portland; referee Alan Kelly, NYCFC v. Orlando City; Clint Irwin, Colorado Rapids; Tyler Deric, Houston
Best game: Portland v. Real Salt Lake tied with Sporting Kansas City v. New York Red Bulls
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