Posted: Mon March 4, 2013 3:42PM; Updated: Mon March 4, 2013 5:55PM
Avi Creditor

Reigning MLS Cup finalists start off strong; Power Rankings

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Mike Magee
Mike Magee celebrates one of his three goals with A.J. DeLaGarza on Sunday.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

You exhale yet?

Opening weekend offered plenty to digest: a classic in Portland that set the early bar for Game of the Year (likely the Goal of the Week and Save of the Week, too); Mike Magee's hat trick in a coronation ceremony for the two-time defending champion LA Galaxy; and the double-sided nature of the MLS attendance spectrum. Here's a comprehensive look back:

1. MLS Cup finalists off and running

By the end of last season, it was clear MLS' top two teams had made the final, no matter the playoff seeding. Not much has changed. Both the Galaxy and Houston Dynamo had dream openers, clean sheets against postseason-level competition from 2012.

There was no Galaxy hangover like last year, when they opened 3-8-2 before making a run to another title. Despite no longer employing David Beckham and waiting for Landon Donovan to come back from his self-imposed hiatus, the Galaxy sent a fresh reminder that they boast more than Designated Player power, pasting the Chicago Fire 4-0.

Consider it took the Fire until Aug. 22 to concede four goals in a game last season. They may not have had Arne Friedrich roaming the back line and were out of sorts working in new midfield pieces Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz and Dilly Duka, but as soon as Magee struck his second tally, things unraveled in a hurry. LA's overall class and stout defense -- Brazilian center back Leonardo returned from long-term injury woes -- shone through, and the Magee-Robbie Keane combination looked every bit as lethal as Keane-Donovan did down the stretch a season ago.

As for Magee, he continues to amaze and surprise everyone not in a Galaxy jersey. Keane has been outspoken -- most prominently in an interview with The Sporting News -- about Magee's quality and how he should be a candidate for a U.S. national team call-up. How many times does the 28-year-old playoff hero have to come through in big spots until Keane's suggestion is heeded?

The other cup finalist persevered despite goalkeeper Bill Hamid's attempts at being shorthanded D.C. United's lifesaver. It was Ricardo Clark's heroics, positioning and work rate that won out, and kept Houston unbeaten at BBVA Compass Stadium. Clark appears as settled in and in form as he was before his futile voyage overseas. With he and Adam Moffat sandwiched between left-wing stud Brad Davis and right-wing menace Oscar Boniek Garcia, there might not be a more complete midfield in the league in terms of roles being defined and execution expected.

2. The Chivas USA conundrum

Where to begin with the club that appears stripped of all dignity?

The new era at Chivas USA began with a whimper, from the empty seats to the lackluster play. While the Chivas-Columbus game was going on, so, too, was Seattle-Montreal. More than 38,000 packed CenturyLink Field in Seattle. A reported crowd of about 7,100 (sure seemed like a generous case of rounding up) watched a Chivas team featuring seven starters who had never played in MLS before get overrun by the Crew. Through the most optimistic lenses, the average attendance figure between the two matches was a healthy 22,500. Through a set of more realistic ones, there are some serious issues going on at L.A.'s second club, one that sacrificed plenty of value to remake its image and mold the roster with a more Hispanic and Latino flair.

MLS commissioner Don Garber preached patience for Chivas in his talk with reporters at halftime of the Galaxy-Fire game Sunday. Fair enough, and Chivas is surely due more than one week to prove its case, but the fact that there were more Chivas punchlines in the soccer community than fans at the Home Depot Center spoke volumes about where the club's starting point really is.

The only redeeming factor from Chivas' debut was the coaching staff's fashion sense, with Jose Sanchez Luis Sola (aka Chelis) and his suited-up assistants undoubtedly making Barney Stinson proud. If Chivas can't find a winning formula in the immediate future, things could get uglier in a hurry. The first SuperClasico against the cross-locker-room rival Galaxy comes in Week 3, where rock bottom seems like a rather strong possibility.

One phrase has carried over from the past Chivas regime, though. It was uttered on an almost weekly basis in 2012, and after being forced into super-human action in goal not even 40 seconds into the season it looks as if it will be a thing again in 2013: "Poor Dan Kennedy."

3. First impressions, Cascadia players edition

As is the case every year, rookies and newcomers were quickly under the microscope to determine how fruitful teams' scouting efforts are. A pair of rookies in the Pacific Northwest rookies displayed their fearlessness and blinding pace. Whitecaps attacker Kekuta Manneh, 18, and Sounders right back DeAndre Yedlin, 19, injected quality in season-opening starts.

On the veteran end, Whitecaps playmaker Daigo Kobayashi showed his touch of class with a deft layoff to Gershon Koffie for Vancouver's game-winning goal. Their midfield partnership is something to get excited about. Having Premier League veteran Nigel Reo-Coker in reserve doesn't hurt, either.

The Game of the Week in Portland featured two debuts that could not have had more polarizing returns. Mikael Silvestre had a half to forget including an awful backpass in his first eight minutes that gifted the New York Red Bulls' Fabian Espindola a goal and took the luster off his signing instantaneously. He was then beaten off a bounce on the Jeld-Wen Field turf to provide Espindola a free path on goal prior to being slow in retrieving to the back post for Heath Pearce's cross that was touched home by Jamison Olave.

Timbers playmaker Diego Valeri, however, was a maestro. His juggle, control and flick for Portland's equalizer was uncharted territory for a Timbers midfielder. He made the transition from South America to MLS look easy. It is worth remembering that Kris Boyd scored in his debut as a Portland DP also before fizzling out, but given the fluidity and influence that Valeri instilled on the Timbers and his control of the midfield reins, it would appear that this DP newcomer is on the road to meeting lofty expectations.

4. First impressions, coaches edition

Five coaches also debuted with mixed results. No newcomer had a grander welcome than Montreal's Marco Schallibaum. Coaches from around the world have struggled to adjust to MLS, but Schallibaum passed his first test in North America with flying colors, executing his tactical plan to perfection to snag a hard-fought road result in Seattle.

Caleb Porter is perhaps the new coach under the must scrutiny given his role in the U.S. Under-23 national team's failure to qualify for the Olympics, but he trotted out a well-oiled attacking machine. Getting the most out of Darlington Nagbe could mean the difference between Portland being an OK attacking side and a dynamic one, and Porter's influence on his former college pupil resulted in one of the performances of the week.

On the other end of that 3-3 draw was Red Bulls boss Mike Petke, whose team blew a two-goal lead. That won't sit well with defensive types like Petke and assistant Robin Fraser. Finding a way to balance that in the week leading up to another tough road challenge, at San Jose, is the task at hand.

Sola was addressed above, but El Chelis' double substitution at halftime and final sub by the 56th minute was an indication that even he didn't think he trotted out the right lineup. The combination of his rocky first game on the sidelines after reportedly telling journalists already that he doesn't see himself at Chivas for more than two years cannot make for smooth sailing. Then again, smooth sailing has never been what El Chelis was supposed to be about.

Ryan Nelsen's case at Toronto FC is the most unique. Playing in the Premier League a little more than a month ago and working with a team that is still being patched together and is an admitted work in progress, Nelsen galvanized his squad in tough conditions and came close to salvaging a point. Few opening-day losses are seen as successes, and while it may be a stretch to consider TFC's a positive, that the Reds fought hard and appeared to have direction is certainly an indication of better things to come.

5. Team of the Week

Goalkeeper: Bill Hamid (D.C. United)

Defenders: Young-Pyo Lee (Vancouver Whitecaps), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Alessandro Nesta (Montreal Impact), Josh Williams (Columbus Crew)

Midfielders: Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo)

Forwards: Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Alvaro Saborio (Real Salt Lake), Mike Magee (LA Galaxy)

LYTTLETON: Champions League preview

MLS Power Rankings

Week 1 MLS Power Rankings
New Rank Old Rank Team
1 1 Houston Dynamo (1-0-0)
The defending Eastern Conference champions looked comfortable and in sync, although the story could be a lot different had Brad Davis' missed penalty kick been punished by D.C. taking points at BBVA Compass Stadium. Dom Kinnear's side turns its attention to the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and a date against Herculez Gomez and Santos Laguna on Tuesday, when the club's 26-game unbeaten run at home is on the line.
2 2 Los Angeles Galaxy (1-0-0)
No Beckham, no Donovan, no problem. The Galaxy received their championship rings and put on a championship performance in putting out the Fire in convincing fashion. With Marcelo Sarvas stepping into central midfield, Leonardo filling in admirably in central defense and Juninho looking like his spry self, the Brazilian contingent had plenty to say about the Galaxy's fortunes on opening day. And yes, Mike Magee is the pace-setter for the Golden Boot.
3 3 Sporting Kansas City (1-0-0)
Sporting KC played lights out in the second half after looking nothing like the team that dominated in the 2012 season. Granted, there will be a transition period while working in new DP striker Claudio Bieler -- who had quite a nice debut with a goal and an assist -- and playmaker Benny Feilhaber while without Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara. Many figured that transition would take a few games. If it only took 41 minutes, when Graham Zusi netted his dagger of an equalizer against the Union, then Peter Vermes' team will be just fine.
4 9 Real Salt Lake (1-0-0)
Beating the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium, where they did not lose at last season, is quite the accomplishment for a team that had to replace a good chunk of its nucleus. While Fabian Espindola and Jamison Olave were busy scoring goals in Portland, the evolving RSL relied on its depth in defense and Alvaro Saborio up top to fend off the Supporters' Shield holders. The early returns on the Joao Plata acquisition indicate that Garth Lagerwey and Jason Kreis got it right. Again.
5 11 Columbus Crew (1-0-0)
Columbus took full advantage of Chivas' no-field advantage. Federico Higuain, recovering from a number of hard challenges, blasted from distance to pick up where he left off after his first taste of MLS last summer and fall. There were other massive showings by the Crew. Glauber acquitted himself quite well in central defense, a complement to Chad Marshall, and Dominic Oduro's 75-yard run and finish capped a successful debut.
6 4 D.C. United (0-1-0)
D.C was shorthanded without the suspended Dwayne De Rosario, and it showed in the attack, with the club not forcing Tally Hall into making a single save. That said, D.C. was 10 minutes away from stealing a scoreless road draw in a place it had never won, and there were encouraging bits to take into this weekend's home opener against RSL, even though that won't be reflected in the standings.
7 1 New York Red Bulls (0-0-1)
The new additions for Mike Petke's side looked right at home for the most part, but where were Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill? The two DPs disappointed in a big way to kick off the season, with Henry's heavy touch on a breakaway preventing a golden chance from him giving the Red Bulls a 4-2 edge and likely sealing all three points. Nothing ever seems conventional when Portland and New York do battle, and that again was the case on a wild night at Jeld-Wen Field.
8 6 Seattle Sounders (0-1-0)
First the good: Welcome back to full fitness, Steve Zakuani. Now, the bad: Osvaldo Alonso's absence in the midfield was glaring, and Montreal struck for its goal through where he would have been stationed. In any other game in past seasons, the Sounders would have struggled while playing without their suspended field general Alonso, and leaders at the front and back in Fredy Montero and Jeff Parke. Perhaps the season-opening stumble against Montreal should not have been as shocking as it felt. Either way, Seattle has no choice but to find a different gear Wednesday for a CCL quarterfinal first leg at Mexican leader Tigres UANL.
9 5 San Jose Earthquakes (0-1-0)
Chris Wondolowski had his chances, and then some, but the finishing touch just was not there for the reigning MLS MVP and Golden Boot winner. His partnership with Michael Fucito worked out pretty well, but neither had the killer instinct, and the Earthquakes stumbled at home. Missing charter Goonies members Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart in addition to the right-flank combo of winger Marvin Chavez and right back Steven Beitashour proved too much to overcome for a club that welcomes dangerous New York to town this weekend.
10 10 Vancouver Whitecaps (1-0-0)
The Whitecaps' fortunes took a big hit with Jay DeMerit suffering a reported ruptured Achilles just seven minutes into the season. Vancouver can take some solace in Brad Rusin's debut in emergency duty. The Whitecaps rallied after their captain went down, and the midfield control center of Daigo Kobayashi and Gershon Koffie behind all that athleticism up front is going to make Vancouver a tough squad to keep down.
11 16 Montreal Impact (1-0-0)
The Impact were disciplined, confident and successful in a hostile environment and turned in perhaps the most impressive of any opening-weekend showing at Seattle. The work between Felipe and Davy Arnaud on the Impact's goal-scoring sequence was textbook and precise. As long as the club's aging -- and we do mean aging -- core of defenders stays healthy and fit for the long haul, there's reason to believe Montreal will be an improved side in its second season. Among the oddities circulating MLS is that in two matches against Seattle all-time, the Impact are a pristine 2-0-0.
12 13 FC Dallas (1-0-0)
Schallas Hyndman's side got off to a winning start in a rematch of the 2010 MLS Cup final, but both teams are vastly different now. For FCD, it marked the first match of the post-Brek Shea era. Kenny Cooper's return had mixed results, and the club was only able to get on the board because of a hand-wrapped gift that put Jackson in on goal. There's reason to believe FCD can get out to a 2-0-0 start considering the club's next match is against lowly Chivas.
13 12 Portland Timbers (0-0-1)
The new-look Timbers conjured memories of the past incarnation, with defensive blunders paving the way to a deficit. Past Portland teams may have wilted, though, and these Timbers never looked ready to pack it in. Diego Valeri demonstrated the class reputation that he brought to MLS, and the Johnsons, Will and Ryan, also showed well in their club debuts. There is certainly room for improvement defensively, but Portland should be fun to watch.
14 8 Chicago Fire (0-1-0)
Being the road team for a defending champion's coronation is never an easy prospect, and the Fire learned that the hard way by being the Galaxy's punching bag. There is far too much quality on Chicago's roster for the club to be that poor on a weekly basis. Nothing short of a u-turn this weekend should be expected. Seeing Maicon Santos earn the start over DP striker Sherjill MacDonald was a slightly head-turning development worth watching going forward.
15 14 Philadelphia Union (0-1-0)
For about half an hour, the Union looked like world beaters, moving the ball around with ease and out Sporting KC-ing their opponents. Sebastien Le Toux's opening goal was a perfect reintroduction to PPL Park, and the club created numerous quality chances. Ultimately, failing to convert those chances led to missed points. The Union looked demoralized by Zusi's equalizer before halftime, and the wheels fell off as soon as SKC fell into its rhythm.
16 15 Colorado Rapids (0-1-0)
Steward Ceus did not quite make a compelling case that he should be the full-time starter in goal for the Rapids with Matt Pickens sitting this one out. His howler gifted FC Dallas all the offense it needed. Considering the Rapids started five players who weren't with the team last year, it's not surprising to see growing pains. All told there were plenty of chances created by the new-look and rejuvenated attack.
17 17 New England Revolution (0-0-0)
The rested Revs kick off their campaign in Chicago against a likely angry Fire team that will be out to correct its errors. All eyes will be on No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Andrew Farrell and Honduran striker Jerry Bengtson, but do not overlook the return of Andy Dorman, back in MLS after five seasons abroad and reunited with former teammate and current Revs coach Jay Heaps.
18 18 Chivas USA (0-1-0)
The Chelis Era is not off to a glowing start. With seven players making their MLS debut in front of a practically empty stadium, all of the preseason energy and enthusiasm exuded by the new manager did not yield anything close to the results he or owner Jorge Vergara wanted. What is so ironic is that if Chelis was somehow able to lure his former player, Herculez Gomez, from Santos Laguna and pair him with Juan Agudelo up top, he'd have the eyes of every U.S. national team fan.
19 19 Toronto FC (0-1-0)
For a club that signed five players on the eve of the season, including one that started at striker in the opener, Toronto FC did not fare too poorly despite a 1-0 loss to Vancouver. The pains of transitioning will surely rear their head, but considering most expected TFC to be slapped around, the outcome was much better than most would have anticipated and makes this experiment one to keep monitoring.
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