A few thoughts on the first weekend of 2017 MLS season

MLS is finally back.

Roughly 83 days after the Seattle Sounders defeated Toronto on penalty kicks to take the MLS Cup, MLS returned to stage with quite the bang.

First, Portland showed off it’s newly found attack with a 5–1 stomping of newcomer Minnesota United on national television Friday night. FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy slogged through a rough opener Saturday afternoon, which saw the Supporter’s Shield winners come out 2–1 winners. Then, the Sounders struggled to a 2–1 loss to a Houston Dynamo team looking to rebound with a new coach.

On Sunday, Orlando City christened it’s new stadium with a 1–0. Finally, newcomer Atlanta United blew a late lead (stop me if you’ve heard that with Atlanta sports before) against the New York Red Bulls in it’s first-ever match,

In all, the 12 matches produced entertainment, talking points and a lot of debate. So, here are a few thoughts after the opening weekend in MLS.

Portland actually has an Attack

The Portland Timbers started the season off with quite the bang on Friday night. The Timbers opened the scoring off of aLawrence Olum header, which was such an MLS goal. Diego Valeri doubled the lead two minutes into the second half, then pushed the lead back to two with a penalty kick goal after Minnesota trimmed the lead in half. Fanendo Adi finished off the rout with two great goals.

The offensive show is a welcome sight for a Portland team that struggled in 2016. The Timbers failed to win an away match last year and averaged just 1.4 goals per match. If this match is a sign of things to come, there will be much happier days ahead in Oregon.

FC Dallas vs. Los Angeles: A tale of struggles

The biggest match up in terms of contending teams came out west with Los Angeles hosting FC Dallas. Neither team looked particularly great in this match, but the visitors found goals from Maxi Urruti and Kellyn Acosta to take their first win at the StubHub Center since 2009.

FC Dallas looked like a team that had travel roughly 4,000 miles during the week, going to Panama for the CONCACAF Champions League and then to Los Angeles. The normally stout defense struggled to keep the home side from threatening, especially in the second half. But the attack looked promising given the situation. Christian Coleman is still very raw, but there were flashes of potential. Urruti’s opening goal can only mean good things for FC Dallas while Acosta is seriously poised for a breakout season.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy need some sort of spark. Giovani dos Santos got forward a lot but didn’t really have a target to get the ball to make the play in the final third, like Robbie Keene did for so many years for the team. Midfielder Jermaine Jones brings a lot of energy, but he’s going to rack up the cards this year. And Jelle Van Damme is really the only strong point on defense. Things might get worse before they get better in Southern California.

Flop like a fish

Diving and flopping plague CONCACAF action and unfortunately, North America isn’t immune that type of gamesmanship. Two matches on Saturday saw penalties called . First, Los Angeles Galaxy defender Dave Romney went down in the box with the lightest of touches inside the box, which referee Kevin Stott whistled for a penalty. Then in Salt Lake, Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco appeared to be tripped by Real Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando; however, on replay, Giovinco dragged his back leg and looked to trip himself. Nevertheless, referee Allen Chapman awarded Toronto the penalty.

Fortunately, the ball didn’t lie in that situation as Rimando easily saved Giovinco’s penalty attempt. The same could not be said in Los Angeles as dos Santos scored from the spot to temporarily level the match.

Hopefully the institution of video reply in the second half of the season will eliminate these bad calls. And hopefully these two plays aren’t a sign of things to come. Like seriously, it’s bad form. If you want to dive, the Olympics were in August.

A surprise in Houston

The first real surprise of the 2017 MLS season came down in Houston between the Sounders and Dynamo. Houston opened the scoring with a wonderful free-kick strike from Cubo Torres, his first MLS goal since 2014. Romell Quioto doubled the advantage with a great curling strike from outside the box. Clint Dempsey, playing in his first match since sitting out with an irregular heartbeat, tried to get the Sounders back into the match with a goal in the 58th minute, but to no avail as Houston hung on to win.

The result comes as a surprise given Houston’s struggles and Seattle’s success. The Dynamo struggled the past two seasons under Owen Coyle, and, while they’ve made changes, it’s hard to see them being contenders this year. Meanwhile, Seattle comes into the season as the reigning MLS Cup champions, and they are undoubtedly one of the favorites to win the Western Conference.

I still don’t think that the result is very indicative of how either side’s season will go this year. Seattle has a lot of fire power up front. The attack of Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nicolás Lodeiro will giving opposing teams headaches.

Houston also looked sloppy towards the end, especially on the right side of the defense, to allow Seattle to get back into the match. And for Dynamo fans, I offer this word of caution before getting too hyped up: Houston beat FC Dallas 5–0 in the second match last season and still finished last in the conference.

Orlando City’s new stadium

I am so jealous of your new stadium, Orlando.

Orlando City opened up its new 25,000 stadium Sunday with a 1–0 win over New York City, and what a stadium it is. Obviously, the stadium is state off the art, but the best feature is the miniature wall on one end. It’s a smaller version of “The Yellow Wall” in Dortmund, but it’s just as intimating and loud. A less noticeable feature is the roof that covers most of the stands. While some likely see it as cover from the weather, it does a great job of keeping the sound in the stadium.

The capacity crowd finally got a chance to explode in the XX minute after Cyle Larin headed in a Giles Barnes cross for the only goal of the match. However, injuries to Larin and Kaka tempered some of the celebration of the victory.

Still, that is one gorgeous stadium, Orlando City. I’ve already put it on my soccer bucket list.

Struggles for Atlanta United

It looked like it was going so well for Atlanta United in their first-ever game.

United held a 1–0 lead late in the Sunday night match against the New York Red Bulls in front of a sold-out Bobby Dodd Stadium. But then it all fell apart. Daniel Royer leveled the match with a nice header in the 76th minute and then an own goal in the 82nd minutes. And to cap it off, United’s Carlos Carmona got send off in the 88th minute after appearing to put his boot on a Red Bulls player.

For most of the match, it was the expected party. Over 55,000 packed Georgia Tech’s stadium while the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium finishes being built. The red and black made for an incredible scene. And Yamil Asad’s goal in the first half nearly brought the place down.

But the ending was so, so Atlanta it hurt even in Arlington. It went from 100 miles per hour in one direction and 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction in a matter of minutes. Such is the soccer, and sports, life.

Keep your heads up Atlanta. It’s a long season and you’re squad looks good on paper.

What to Expect from mls this season

The games this weekend weren’t as great as they could have been this season, but momentum is building for the league. Just look at Atlanta and Orlando and the atmosphere they created on national television. I can’t wait to see what Minnesota puts on next weekend. 

As what to expect from the league, I think it will have it’s best season yet, both on and off the field. The level of play continues to improve, and the addition of more South American talent only adds to the talent. And off the pitch, continues to grow in the American sports conscious. It’s really an exciting time to be a fan in this league.

One weekend down. Only 33 to go.