Major League Soccer
Great Goals and Some Poor 'Keeping in MLS Week One
March 07, 2016
THE 21ST SEASON of Major League Soccer began Sunday like it had in each of the previous 20—with some good, some bad, and some ugly. The Whitecaps disappointed, FC Dallas dominated, and Toronto FC looked greatly improved. We saw some poor goalkeeping, ill-advised red cards, stunning late-game rallies, and big crowds.
Here are my takeaways from Sunday.
Piatti is Player of the Week
Choosing the best player of the opening weekend was easy, as Ignacio Piatti put on a clinic in leading Montreal to a 3-2 road win against Vancouver. The Argentine midfielder had a hand in all three tallies, posting two goals and an assist, and his opening strike was one of the plays of the day.
It was an especially strong result for the Impact considering that it came without Didier Drogba, who is controversially going to miss a portion of Montreal’s early games on turf. Piatti helped illustrate that this team can win without Drogba, however, aided by a strong debut from trade acquisition Harry Shipp and a customarily outstanding outing from reigning Defender of the Year Laurent Ciman.
Vancouver, meanwhile, was a massive disappointment, continuing its odd weakness at home and its poor run of form dating to the home stretch of last season. For a team that boasts perhaps the fastest attackers in the league, it lacked creativity in the attacking third.
Runner-up: Mike Magee, who subbed on at halftime for the Los Angeles and promptly scored two goals and created another as the Galaxy defeated D.C. United 4-1.
Castillo injured as FC Dallas win
Readers of the ASN Western Conference preview know that expectations should be high in Dallas, which could be in the running for four of the top MLS individual awards with Oscar Pareja (Coach of the Year), Matt Hedges (Defender of the Year), Carlos Gurezo (Newcomer of the Year), and Fabian Castillo (MVP).
Sunday brought a bit of a setback to one of those four, as Castillo went down with a leg injury in the final minutes of its 2-0 cruise-control win over Philadelphia. Fortunately, the damage is reportedly not as serious as it first appeared.
"In that last play when he went in front, he hurt his adductor," Pareja said. "But he will be fine. As I said, it's a muscular problem that can be healed soon. So we will have Fabian probably in the next two weeks. I don't want to overelaborate on that, but the prognosis from the doctors is OK."
Castillo had buried the opener for Dallas, but Pareja’s squad can certainly win without him if necessary: Perhaps the true star Sunday was Mauro Diaz, who recorded both assists.
Portland prevails over Columbus—Again
When the opening day schedule was announced, the rematch of MLS Cup 2015 stood out—with a national television audience on ESPN to boot. The game, a 2-1 Portland win, did not disappoint.
Diego Valeri’s free kick was quality, Steve Clark made maybe the best save of the weekend in the first half against Dairon Asprilla, and on Fanendo Adi’s winning goal, Lucas Melano began the play with a ridiculous looping pass into the box with the outside of his foot.
The best, though, came from Federico Higuain, who scored on an amazing bicycle kick equalizer in the 68th minute.
In the end, howard, Columbus did not do enough. "We showed today that we picked up right where we left off at the end of the year," Portland coach Caleb Porter said. "Last year wasn't an anomaly."
Red Bulls prove vulnerable to counter
The New York Red Bulls led MLS in scoring in 2015 en route to Supporters’ Shield honors, but Columbus exposed a key weakness that was exposed in last year's playoffs—teams know they can sit back and hit the Red Bull defense on the break.
On Sunday, Toronto FC took a page from Crew's playbook, conceding possession (37%-63%) only to create great counter-attacking chances in a 2-0 road win.
That said, New York coach Jesse Marsch didn’t sound overly concerned.
“It's an easy talking point for the game because normally you feel like the chance that Brad [Wright-Phillips] has, the chance that Mike [Grella] has, the chance that Lloyd [Sam] has, those wind up going in,” Marsch said. “But they don't tonight, and that's going to happen occasionally. So I'm not overly concerned about that.
“I still thought there were a lot of really good moments and I thought we had a lot of good moments where we managed the game well, and then you have two or three plays. Literally in the whole game, there are two or three plays that get away from us, and two of them lead to goals. So this is going to happen sometimes. We need to, again, be better in those moments. But overall I thought there was a lot of good.”
But not as much as there was for Toronto FC. Notching a goal and an assist, Sebastian Giovinco looks like he has picked up right where he left off last season, and the much-maligned defense so far looks much improved.
The biggest collapse of the weekend was that of Real Salt Lake, which held a 2-0 lead on Orlando City lead going into stoppage time but somehow coughed up two late goals and finished with a 2-2 draw. In Houston, the Dynamo held a 3-2 lead over New England before Daigo Kobayashi grabbed an equalizer in stoppage time.
The goals made for great drama, but they beg the deeper question, too, of MLS teams’ abilities to protect leads and see games out. After its late-game struggles against Tigres in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Salt Lake faces a particularly frustrating situation.
“Lack of focus,” coach Jeff Cassar said bluntly after the game. “Not recognizing what they're doing. For 88 minutes we dealt with that extremely well. But then at the end it takes another level of concentration, another level of recognizing—maybe it's a choice that happened earlier higher up the field and we walk away with the result we wanted.”
Goalkeeping was surprisingly bad
The steady goalkeeping MLS has become known for was not on display on Sunday.
Stephan Frei should have stopped Nuno André Coelho’s shot but instead cost his team (which had been reduced to 10 men) a chance at the draw, and Dan Kennedy was even subbed out of the Galaxy’s game against DC United after failing to stop an entirely savable shot by Lamar Neagle.
Los Angeles at least rallied for an ultimately convincing win, but Kennedy and the team’s revamped defense didn’t inspire confidence.
GOALS, Goals, and More Goals
Major League Soccer players scored 36 times on Sunday, and you've seen two of the best above. Here is another share-worthy blast.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.