Five thoughts from the opening night of the 2012 MLS season
Playing its first-ever game, Montreal allowed the quickest goal in league history
C.J. Sapong scored the game-winner for D.C. United in front his hometown crowd
Injuries to Shaun Francis and Dilly Duka spoiled Columbus’ season-opener
From the Montreal Impact's MLS debut to Columbus' forgetful night, here are five thoughts from the opening few games of the 2012 MLS season:
1. Impact drop MLS debut
Welcome to MLS, Montreal Impact. It's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride.
The Impact got a rude initiation at the hands of their Canadian rival Vancouver Whitecaps, dropping their debut at a sold out BC Place. Making matters worse, the Impact yielded the quickest goal to ever open an MLS season, according to the league, letting new Vancouver Whitecaps acquisition Sebastien Le Toux score four minutes into the match.
Over the course of the complete 90 minutes, the Impact actually didn't look too out of place, using physicality to prevent the Whitecaps from obtaining a rhythm. On the attack, though, the Impact lacked imagination and continuity and never posed a true threat (credit must be given to Vancouver's back line and newcomers Martin Bonjour and Young-Pyo Lee). MLS veterans Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp did what they could to restore stability after the early concession, but it was far from an ideal entry to the league.
The Impact are going to be a work in progress as any expansion team with all new parts would be. It's on first-year coach Jesse Marsch to pull the strings and find the best combination that works, and tonight was not a prime example of that.
Marsch thinks highly of Tyson Wahl at centerback (even though he was a standout left back for Seattle last season), and former Whitecap Jeb Brovsky had his moments as a rookie last season and got the nod at right back, but what was the versatile Zarek Valentin doing being left on the bench behind both players? Granted, Valentin has been away for a while with the U.S. Under-23 national team, and perhaps he was omitted to prevent any chance of an injury before the Olympic qualifying tournament, but he would have brought more quality to a back line that was going up against a loaded attack.
Instead, Wahl got burned on Le Toux's opening tally, hesitating while in a vulnerable position and misplaying Eric Hassli's flicked-on header. His miscue allowed Le Toux to win the ball and coast in on goal unmarked and set the tone for Montreal's disappointing first night in MLS. There will be highlights in Montreal's opening season, but Saturday did not provide any of them.
2. Vancouver attackers put on a show
Vancouver's stable of attackers is going to be fun to watch this season, if only for the moments of brilliance it is capable of creating. Case in point: Camilo's goal that put away the Impact and is an early entrant for this season's initial Goal of the Week.
The Brazilian winger's finish was a thing of beauty that was the culmination of a true team effort. On a sequence that started in Vancouver's half of the field and was a clinical demonstration of one-touch passing, spacing and well-timed runs, Le Toux, Hassli, Davide Chiumiento and Camilo all played a role in the build up. Le Toux, who transitioned seamlessly into the team upon his arrival from Philadelphia, started things in the back by playing a ball to Hassli, who pinged it back to Chiumiento. The Swiss-Italian playmaker played it wide to Le Toux on the right wing, where he sent a ball that Hassli dummied right to Chiumiento's feet.
With Montreal's defense stretched and reeling, the play ended with Chiumiento slotting Camilo into the area, where he did the rest. He turned former Serie A veteran Matteo Ferrari around while cutting to his left foot, created space for himself while cutting across the area and beat Donovan Ricketts from close range for the final touches on a masterpiece.
The Whitecaps turned some heads by seemingly over-acquiring strikers and attackers during the offseason and not tending to the club's lack of a possession-minded midfield, but having so many capable finishers and creators clearly has its benefits.
3. Sapong comes home, plays hero
C.J. Sapong grew up about 35 miles from RFK Stadium, so what he was able to accomplish in his short time on the field Saturday night had to feel a little sweeter than usual.
The U.S. national team January call-up and Manassas, Va., native came off the bench and delivered a clinical header off a stoppage time corner kick to steal a deserved three points for Sporting Kansas City against D.C. United in a 1-0 result that unfolded in front of his family and friends.
Sapong set the wheels in motion for the goal from the get-go as well. He bodied up physical D.C. center back Brandon McDonald for a 50-50 ball and turned toward goal, only for McDonald to bear hug him from behind and yield a free kick. Graham Zusi's ensuing set piece met the D.C. wall with full force and went out for the corner, which Zusi curled perfectly into Sapong's path. The reigning Rookie of the Year made no mistake, getting free and bouncing a header inside the left post.
So much for the vaunted sophomore slump.
If the capable-but-struggling Teal Bunbury doesn't find his form sometime soon, his starting job may not be waiting for him when he returns from an anticipated spell with the U.S. Under-23 national team for Olympic qualifying.
4. Hamid, Pickens come up big
For the opening-day golazos scored by Camilo and Colorado's Quincy Amarikwa, there were a pair of mid-season-form saves as well.
Bill Hamid and Matt Pickens turned in highlight-reel efforts that came at key moments as two of the more impressive individual plays of the season-opening slate.
Hamid's leaping scissor kick to rob Kei Kamara off a header at the end of the first half was the play of the game up until Sapong's winner. Anticipating Kamara to head home Roger Espinoza's cross in the air, Hamid left his feet in hopes of cutting down the flight path. Instead, Kamara headed it down, and Hamid had the wherewithal to kick out his feet and prevent the SKC striker from opening the scoring. Between training with West Brom, the U.S. men's national team and U-23 side, Hamid has entered his third season in peak shape, and it showed.
Pickens had a tremendous reaction save, as well, instinctively pushing Chad Marshall's header off a free kick over the bar in the 79th minute of what, at the time, was still a one-goal game. Marshall could only put his hands on his head in disbelief after Pickens sprawled out to deny his would-be equalizer, and Amarikwa put the finishing touches on the 2-0 result 10 minutes later with his upper 90 blast.
5. Columbus gets off to a rough start
The Columbus Crew would probably prefer hitting restart on the 2012 season. Within seconds of the opening whistle, Marshall, the club's star center back but one with a history of head injuries, collided head-to-head with left back Shaun Francis and was down for an extended period of time before ultimately returning. Moments after that, winger Dilly Duka, a U.S. U-23 midfielder and a candidate to be one of MLS' top breakout players, pulled up lame and had to be taken off with an apparent hamstring injury, one that could prevent him from participating in Olympic qualifying depending on the severity.
In terms of game play, Emilio Renteria offered little stationed up top by himself. Goals figured to be hard to come by for the Crew after parting ways with leading scorer Andres Mendoza, and the new attacking duo of Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas (who was used as a substitute) hardly troubled an organized Colorado back line. In defense, Marshall rebounded from his knock, but his linemates weren't exactly stellar. Danny O'Rourke and Sebastian Miranda got caught ball watching on Kosuke Kimura's bending cross, allowing Drew Moor to have as free a header as there is. Needless to say, Columbus wishes it could call "Mulligan" on its start to 2012.