Reigning MLS Cup finalists start off strong; Power Rankings
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)
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