World Soccer Talk

10 things we learned from MLS gameweek 2

Here are the 10 things we learned from MLS gameweek 2:

1. A Little Joy For NYCFC

NYCFC’s rollout was rough. It ranged from brutally mismanaged to the deliberately misleading in the signing of Frank Lampard. The team still doesn’t have a stadium plan, the New York Yankees are moaning about their use of Yankee Stadium, and what became painfully obvious over the last year was that MLS saw Manchester City’s money, saw the New York City location, and rushed a franchise to debut before it was ready.

On Sunday, NYCFC played their first home game. The Yankee Stadium setup was predictably killed across social media and the US soccer landscape. But it’s time to stop piling on New York City for a little while.

For as much they got wrong, NYCFC got two major things right – Jason Kreis and David Villa, and they both came through to give NYCFC a 2-0 win in their first home match. Yankee Stadium was sold out – 43,000 strong – it was loud, it felt big-time, and the team produced a fantastic match.

NYCFC, despite all their mishaps, is still uniquely set up to capture the hearts and minds of America’s biggest and greatest metropolis. If they continue to win, add Lampard and another major DP like Xavi in the summer, and make progress on the stadium front, all that potential that MLS went gaga for could very well be realized.

2. Meanwhile, The Revs Are A Mess 

They were frighteningly inconsistent last year too, and it’s been a terrible start for the New England Revolution in 2015. Jermaine Jones’ absence has hurt, but not as much as its hurt the team’s defense not to have AJ Soares.

The Revs have no goals in two games, and Charlie Davies has yet to get a start despite his fantastic form to end last season. With Teal Bunbury out indefinitely, Jay Heaps would do well to change things tactically and possibly go to a two striker set-up.

The East isn’t great, but Orlando City and NYCFC will most likely both be playoff threats. New England needs to get their season started.

3. The Clock Is Ticking On Brad Evans At Center-Back 

Seattle lost to San Jose 3-2 on Saturday night. That was shocking for several reasons. First of all, the Quakes hadn’t won since last summer while the Sounders are the defending Supporters’ Shield champs. Two, the game was in Seattle, and three, the Sounders were in the lead after just 18 seconds.

But from there, things fell apart. Brad Evans is a terrific player, but asking him to play center-back and win MLS Cup could be a step too far. Evans was at fault at least partially on all three San Jose goals. The Sounders will get a center-back in the summer, but they also have long-term club servant and last year’s starter Zach Scott on the bench. Why can’t he play? Moving Evans wide for a quickly-slowing Leo Gonzalez would improve the team all around.

4. Portland and LA Continue To Produce Thrillers 

For the second season in a row, there were two stoppage time goals in the Portland-LA fixture in Portland. The Timbers got a 90th minute goal from Fanendo Adi off of a terrific setup by Liam Ridgewell and Darlington Nagbe, only to be denied at the death by a corner-kick goal from the Galaxy’s Alan Gordon.

This ended up being a contrast in styles – Portland using a terrific spine to play direct through Nagbe and Adi, dominating the first half hour, before LA adjusted to control possession and the game throughout the end of the first half and most of the second half.

The Galaxy appear to have found a gem in Finish midfielder Mika Vayrynen, who will absolutely be starting at least until Steven Gerrard arrives in the summer. Portland, meanwhile, appear to be weathering their injury storm even if they are frightfully thin on the bench. Problem is, there’s simply no margin for error in the West. They need to start picking up three points.

5. Questions Emerge About FOX’s Broadcast 

There were certainly positives again this week with FOX’s MLS broadcast, which did originate from Portland with the Timbers-Galaxy matchup. The network’s mic setup makes crowds sound terrific, the broadcast is sharp graphically, and provided plenty of good information.

But there are problems. The full-screen ads that engulf the screen during the game have to go. Alexi Lalas is a terrific soccer personality who is reliable for good insight and knowledge, but he’s not a natural color analyst. Lalas is much better from the studio or as the third man on the broadcast like he was for ESPN’s MLS coverage.

Play-by-play man John Strong completely blew the calls of both of the Timbers’ goals, while Julie Stewart-Binks had some rough moments on the sideline, including a bizarre report on Timbers goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey being surprised about the enthusiasm for MLS in Norway without providing any context or further information.

The jury is still very much out on FOX’s MLS coverage. We’ll see.

6. Ugly In Houston 

The Dynamo looked terrible in their 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Orlando City on Friday night. Disjointed in attack, short of ideas, and generally pretty slow. Brad Davis especially appears to be losing a step, and this was always the fear with Owen Coyle – the Dynamo would play unwatchable soccer and lose.

Coyle’s deflection after the game that the Dynamo were beaten by goalkeeper Tyler Deric’s blunder that led to Orlando’s goal was troubling in that it didn’t acknowledge at all how poor Houston were in front of a sellout crowd at BBVA Compass Stadium.

If Deric hadn’t made two terrific saves on Kaka in either half, Houston would have lost by multiple goals. The Dynamo have plenty of professionals and veterans in their team, but with the West being as tough as it is, they have a daunting task of improvement ahead of them.

7. Dallas, Columbus Look Good

Both Dallas and Columbus are good young teams with good young managers who kept the cores intact, and they both turned in terrific performances at home in week two.

Dallas have plenty of bite and a well-balanced mix of pragmatism and potential. Blas Perez continues to score as reliably as he infuriates people, Fabian Castillo continues to improve, and overall, Dallas is horrible to play.

Columbus, meanwhile, are quickly becoming one of the worst kept secrets in the league. They keep the ball better than almost anyone outside of LA, they have tremendous balance, and in the effervescent Kei Kamara, a striker who will score bunches of goals.

The hometown fans in Columbus are noticing too – they had a terrific atmosphere for their Trillium Cup win over Toronto, and it’s much deserved. This whole year could be the culmination of a franchise turnaround that began when Anthony Precourt bought the team two summers ago.

Dallas against Columbus is the dark-horse MLS matchup.

8. Bad Weekend For Referees 

In week one I praised the refs, but this week was a disaster. The toxic Dave Gantar – Toronto pairing was repeated, and Gantar did his part to make things work by sending off Justin Morrow for a terrific, all-ball challenge at the end of the first half.

Michael Bradley did not hold up his end of the bargain by strangling Gantar on the spot, but there will be more opportunities for that this year.

Allen Chapman had a laugher at the Rio Tinto for RSL-Philadelphia, while Blas Perez’s second goal for Dallas against Kansas City was a good two yards offsides. Yikes all around.

9. Salt Lake Continue To Struggle 

A 0-0 draw in Portland isn’t a bad result, but it was slightly off-putting how pleased RSL boss Jeff Casar was with it when quizzed midweek.

They’ll be no spinning a soft 3-3 home draw with the Union on a bogus game-tying penalty that was so bogus that even the man who drew it, Luke Mullholland, didn’t pretend afterwards that it was one fairly.

RSL’s forwards, with the exception of Saborio, continue to be garbage. The team looks like they miss the contingent of veterans that took off in the offseason – Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert, Ned Gravaboy, Sebastian Velazquez – and one player that did remain, Devon Sandoval, continues to be all but ignored.

Sandoval was sensational in the 2013 run to the MLS Cup Final under Kreis, but Casar has hardly used him at all. Salt Lake is missing Joao Plata too, but they’d kick into high gear soon – or they’ll miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. 

10. Attendance! 

MLS is averaging over 25,000 throughout its first two weeks of play, and while that number will obviously go down – Orlando and NYCFC sold out their football and baseball stadiums respectively and Seattle had two home games – the league is a lock to break its attendance record again.

Quality of play is important, of course, but the atmospheres around the games have to be big-time as well. MLS has to feel like a major league. The expansion teams have already delivered in that regard. San Jose, which opens their stadium next weekend, will boost the league-wide number as well.

Minnesota is on its way. The league is already publicly acknowledging looking at expanding beyond 24 teams. Things are looking good.

Week 2 Superlatives

Best Individual Performance: David Villa, NYCFC

Best Team Performance: Columbus (v. Toronto)

Best Unsung Performances: Kaka, Orlando City; Darlington Nagbe, Portland; Bobby Shuttleworth, New England; Fernando Aristeguieta, Philadelphia

Best Game: Portland v. LA Galaxy