Back from seemingly the shortest offseason in professional sports, Major League Soccer celebrated the 2018 opening weekend. From Toronto FC’s silverware display to LAFC’s inaugural match, soccer in North America swooned at the storylines and marveled at (some of) the performances. Here are some takeaways from MLS Week 1.
Major League Soccer Opening Weekend
NYCFC Looks Very Good
NYC enters its 4th season with a bit of a quandary. Season ticket holders dropped by about 1000. Their stadium bid for the Aqueduct site in Queens was not accepted. Critics are wondering what City intends to do for a 2nd act.
Based on their week one performance, it looks like their 2nd act will include some very solid play with the lineup they’ve put together. Head Coach Patrick Viera and Sporting Director Claudio Reyna spent the offseason injecting a bit of youth and assembling a lineup that is a bit of a risk. With Jack Harrison off on his European adventure, one had to wonder who would pick up the slack. And of course, there’s David Villa, who may be the most important DP signing since Thierry Henry, but is also one year older. How long will his engine actually run?
On Sunday night, NYC controlled the match for huge swaths of the first half. They possessed the ball exceptionally well, defended solidly, and took their opportunities with grace. They earned a 2-0 lead on goals by Maxi Moralez and Jesus Medina. After their 2nd goal, Sporting Kansas City pressed the match. City bent but did not break. That’s a refreshing change from seasons past, where NYC lacked defensive ability. If City can remain consistent over the course of 34 weeks, and the goals don’t dry up like they did last season, the NY Cityzens could be a force to be reckoned with.
Champions League Hangover Might Be a Thing
Both teams that played in midweek CONCACAF Champions League matches at midweek lost. It’s not just that they lost, they lost to opponents they likely should have beaten.
Toronto FC came off a storybook 2017. They brought home a treble of sorts, winning all three domestic trophies they competed for. We know this because they displayed all three pieces of silverware before they opened their MLS season at home vs. the Columbus Crew. While they controlled possession for most of the match, the defending champions seemed just a bit off. Their passing was not crisp, their work rate wasn’t impressive, and their shots were mostly off target. They were outworked by a Columbus Crew team that traded away both Justin Meram and Ola Kamara. However, Gyase Zardes wasted no time opening his Crew account, and Frederico Higuain did Higuain type things. The result was a hard fought 2-0 road win for the Crew, and even though TFC threatened towards the end of the match, the Reds were left wanting.
The situation in Seattle, where LAFC snuck away from CenturyLink Field with a 1-0 win, was a touch different. After Diego Rossi scored the first LAFC goal in the 11′ (an absolute beauty, by the way), the Sounders pressed and pressed hard. They outshot LAFC 22 – 5, but put only 7 of those shots on frame. LAFC only put one on frame, and that’s the one that went in the net. With Jordan Morris done for the season, and the Sounders determined to push their case in Champions League, one has to wonder about depth and finishing. Time will tell.
Defensive Issues for Atlanta
So much for the afterglow?
Atlanta United made quite the splash in their inaugural season. They controlled games, scored goals at will, and everyone swooned at the prospect of their 2nd season potential.
Yeah, about that.
It turns out that playing defense in soccer is actually very important. One might say it’s a critical part of success in the soccer world. Someone forgot to tell Atlanta that. The result in week one was predictable. Giveaways, standing around in the backline, and some insane goalkeeping errors by Brad Guzan allowed four Houston Dynamo goals by the end of the first half. Poor defensive play from Atlanta amounted to allowing 10 Dynamo shots on frame. Mostly, the Dynamo pressed the Atlanta backline, this led to rushed clearances and tons of giveaways.
These are all the passes by ATL’s CBs. That’s Parkhurst with the lone wolf pass into the box. Reams of turnovers for the other two guys who started. pic.twitter.com/HPRS8O4hyZ
— Matthew Tomaszewicz (@shinguardian) March 3, 2018
If Atlanta is to improve on the success of their inaugural season, they’re going to need to get their backline focused in a hurry. While MLS season is a marathon, dropping early season points is generally not a recipe for success. Now they have the pesky mantle of expectations. How they carry that mantle will be integral to how far they go in 2018.