10 things we learned from MLS gameweek 1 of the 2017 season

Photo credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the ten things we learned from Week 1 of the 2017 MLS season.

1. Plenty To Be Excited About as MLS’ 22nd Season Kicks Off

MLS’ 22nd season kicked off on Friday night in Portland, and its opening weekend included the debuts of two new teams, the opening of a gorgeous new stadium in Orlando, and a crowd of 55,000 fans at Bobby Dodd Stadium to greet Atlanta United.

This year’s first weekend of action didn’t have the barrage of goals that last year’s opening weekend did, but we did see several impressive performances, one big upset, a ton of full stadiums, and plenty of competitive soccer.

The league is bigger, stronger, and deeper than it ever has been has before. It should be a fun year.

2. Minnesota Rocked On Its MLS Debut

MLS did Minnesota United no favors by scheduling their first game for Friday night in Portland, and, somewhat predictably, the Loons got clobbered in their debut.

5-1 clobbered. The game wasn’t that lopsided – it was 1-0 at halftime and 2-1 after Christian Ramirez scored an excellent goal in the 79th minute – but the gulf in talent between the two teams was just that big.

United have a long way to go. First, need some fullbacks. Jermaine Taylor can barely move at right back; while Justin Davis, as hard as he worked, was badly overmatched on the left back.

Fullback play – as Atlanta demonstrated with the outstanding work of Greg Garza and Tyrone Mears in their debut game against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday – is extremely important. The Timbers had their way on the wings all night.

Adrian Heath will also want to get more aggressive with his team selection. Minnesota’s midfield trio of Mo Saied, Ramsus Schuller, and Mo Saied kept a solid shape through 80 minutes, but they couldn’t drive the team forward.

Ramirez has to start next time out against Atlanta, pushing Johan Venegas back into midfield, and he likely will. Miguel Ibarra may start too, as Bashkim Kadrii couldn’t get anywhere near the action on Friday night.

It wasn’t a completely lost trip. The 150-odd Loons fans who made the trip to Portland from the North made an excellent impression, and they got to see their club – which almost folded at the start of this decade – play an MLS game.

Better days are ahead for Minnesota. Few teams in MLS are as good as the Timbers, and there are few stadiums as difficult to go to than Providence Park.

Heath will figure things out in the months ahead. It should get easier from here.

3. Atlanta Soars, Then Crashes

In some ways, Minnesota had a better opening night than Atlanta did.

The Loons’ debut in Portland wasn’t supposed to go well. Atlanta’s, at home in front of 55,000 fans against a struggling New York Red Bulls team, was supposed to go much better.

For an hour and change, it did. Bobby Dodd Stadium was electric, the team looked fast, and a first half Yamil Asad goal had Atlanta up 1-0. Then things fell apart.

Daniel Royer equalized on a corner, Bradley Wright-Phillips forced an own goal to make it 2-1, Carlos Carmona got sent off for stomping on an injured player, fans threw beer at Mark Geiger, and everyone went home in a rather unseemly mood.

Worse than all of that, though, were the homophobic chants that came from the team’s supporters. It was despicable behavior that has no place in MLS and must be eradicated from the game everywhere.

Atlanta has some growing up to do, both on the field and off of it. That said, the future is extraordinarily bright for soccer in the Southeast. This club will have better nights as well.

4. Orlando City Stadium Impresses

Orlando got a big win over NYCFC to kick off their third MLS season on Sunday afternoon in Central Florida, but the biggest star of the occasion was the club’s fantastic new stadium.

With roofs on all four sides, the league’s first standing section for supporters, a beautiful grass surface, and a capacity of more than 25,000, Orlando City Stadium established itself with fifteen minutes as one of the MLS’s best venues.

The stadium is already in an echelon only currently occupied by Providence Park in Portland, BMO Field in Toronto, and maybe Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City. It was loud, it was packed, and the standing section looked absolutely phenomenal.

Soccer-wise, Orlando still needs work – and they may be without Kaka for the foreseeable future – but the stadium is a gem, and it will be the backbone of the club for years to come.

5. Timbers Unstoppable on Opening Night

The opening weekend’s most impressive performance belonged to the Timbers, who scored five goals at home for the first time in their MLS history against Minnesota.

From the midfield forward, there’s no better team in the league than Caleb Porter’s. The front six, with the additions of David Guzman and Sebastian Blanco, is going to be unplayable this year.

Speaking of unplayable, Fanendo Adi was operating at unfair level on Friday night. He won a penalty, could have won another, got a secondary assist, and scored twice. Vadim Demidov, the Minnesota captain, had a miserable evening.

Adi has now scored, dating back to preseason, eight goals in his last seven games. He’s the Golden Boot favorite.

If you’re a Timbers fan – the center back situation notwithstanding – it’s hard not to be giddy right now. If you’re a neutral, you have to be happy that Portland is back to the Porterball style that made them such a good watch in 2013. The year is off to a good start in Soccer City.

6. San Jose Starts Well

When I picked the ‘Quakes to make the playoffs in my preseason column, it was more a vote of confidence in Dominic Kinnear than a judgment on the team he and new GM Jesse Fioranelli have assembled.

Well, the team looks pretty good.

San Jose opened the season at home on Saturday night with a 1-0 win over Montreal in a game that wasn’t as close as the score-line suggested. Anibal Godoy bagged the winner early with a delicious chip, and the Impact finished the match with ten men.

There was plenty for Kinnear to like. Rookie left back Nick Lima looked more than comfortable in his debut, new center back Florien Jungwirth was strong in defense, and Tommy Thompson carried over his strong preseason form in a bright outing.

SEE MORE: Schedule of MLS games on US TV and streaming

In the bigger picture, the ‘Quakes attacking play looked more fluid than it did at any point last year.

There’s plenty of real estate out West for this team. Outside of Portland, Dallas, and Seattle, the conference is wide open. San Jose is off to a good start.

7. Red Bulls’ Grit Shows Again

After a tumultuous offseason, and a terrible start to the campaign in the CONCACAF Champions League against Vancouver, the Red Bulls easily could have folded after going down in front of that rabid crowd in Atlanta.

They didn’t. Instead, New York kept its cool, came back, and watched Tata Martino’s team collapse. It was a classic Red Bull performance – gritty, hardworking, and effective.

Mike Grella had a big impact when he came, as did young forward Derrick Etienne. Luis Robles had a huge hand in the come back as well – both with his play in goal and his very visible leadership.

There are plenty of reasons to be down on the Red Bulls right now. But the DNA of the team that has had so much success over the last two years appears to be very much intact.

8. Nick Rimando

Nick Rimando has still never won MLS’ Goalkeeper of the Year award, and, at 37, he only has so many seasons left to play.

This should be the year. Rimando was the Man of the Match in Real Salt Lake’s opening draw with Toronto FC, saving a Giovinco penalty and putting together 90 outstanding minutes in front of a makeshift defense to keep a clean sheet.

Rimando is still one of MLS’ best goalkeepers – and certainly one of its most fun goalkeepers to watch – and this has to be the year he’s duly recognized.

9. Dempsey Strong in Return

Seattle got caught flat-footed against a driven Houston team on Saturday night, but there was a silver lining: Clint Dempsey made his first competitive appearance since August in the loss and scored the Sounders’ lone goal.

It was a great night for a player who’s general health – not to mention his future in soccer – was in some doubt as he sat out the second half of last season with a heart problem.

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