3817_isi_acostakellyn_mlsmj030417302 Michael Janosz/isiphotos.com
Major League Soccer

MLS Opening Weekend Mostly a Big Snooze Fest

The quality just isn't there yet, resulting in some boring games that lacked offensive excitement. That said, FC Dallas, Atlanta, and Houston have cause for optimism as the 2017 campaign gets underway.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 08, 2017
11:05 AM

THE OPENING WEEKEND in MLS was pretty ugly as most games devolved into snooze fests. The good news is that the quality is only going to improve as early-season games are typically far behind those at the end of the season.

Still, the offensive cohesion just was not there. Of the 22 teams that played over the weekend only four scored more than one goal. The Timbers' five-goal romp over Minnesota—brace yourselves Minnesota fans, it is going to be a rough first year—was the only team to score more than two.

Even Toronto, which should be among the best offensive teams this season, failed to score. But that wasn’t all that went wrong for the league. One of its brightest stars, Kaka, is set to miss six weeks. Orlando’s new stadium is terrific and it was fun to watch the team win at home, but without Kaka for over a month, it might have to play catch-up in the playoff race.

In terms of young players getting on the field, the situation can still use improvement. Crew SC goalkeeper Zack Steffen is one potential young star to watch this year, Alphoso Davies looks like a man among boys for Vancouver, and New York Red Bulls homegrown player Derrick Etienne, Jr. has some promising tools. And while it’s true that the United States U-20 team took away some key stars this past weekend, MLS teams need to do a better job of getting young players minutes, and we can only hope it improves in 2017.

Here are some talking points from the weekend.

Team of the Week: FC Dallas

If you are a neutral fan or a casual observer looking for a team to support in MLS, FC Dallas should be your team. The franchise deserves far more fans than it has now because it invests in youth players and it actually plays the kids—with good results, most of the time.

On Saturday, FC Dallas rolled into the Home Depot Center and walked away with a 2-1 win over the new-look Los Angeles Galaxy. The team’s best player on the day was United States international Kellyn Acosta who could be a darkhorse candidate to start in Russia (should the U.S. team make it, of course) as Bruce Arena will likely need more options in defensive midfield. Acosta has defensive bite and the sort of athleticism that lets him cover a lot of ground.

While that skillset is not uncommon, Acosta also has good technique on the ball and his goal scoring is improving. Already in 2017 he has two goals in the Champions League and his third tally was the game-winning goal against the Galaxy.

When you throw in the best central defense tandem in the league, FC Dallas is poised for a strong start to 2017—and at the midway point its best offensive player, Mauro Diaz, is expected back from an ACL injury.

Player of the week: Diego Valeri

In Friday night's season opener, Portland trounced Minnesota 5-1 in front of its usual packed house at Providence Park.

After last season’s disappointing showing and an early Champions League ouster, it was a fun time for the team and its fans to start off a new year on the right foot. Front and center was Diego Valeri—and the Argentine midfielder owned the center of the field and score two goals in the process.

It was nice to see a big-name designated player turn in a quality performance in the opening weekend.

Nice crowd for Atlanta, but Red Bulls win

In the offseason, a lot was made about the passionate fans Atlanta was assembling before its inaugural season. In its opening game at Bobby Dodd Stadium (its temporary stadium this year), supporters did not disappoint in terms of creating atmosphere.

In front of 55,000 fans, the stadium was shaking and it came across on television as an intense European game. When Yamil Asad gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 25th minute, it was a pretty intense sight to behold.

At the end of the day, the Red Bulls prevailed despite not playing particularly well. Its experience enabled it fight through an opponent with all the momentum and a tough home field advantage.

There should be reasons for the Red Bulls to be concerned, however. How is the front office spending money? Cutting back from the days of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez is one thing but while the team has talent, it comes across as cheap. As Seattle and Toronto demonstrated, adding a Nicolas Lodeiro or Sebastian Giovinco can push a team over the top. Will the Red Bulls invest in success?

On the flip side, there should be optimism in Atlanta. Yes, it lost. But most of its opponents will not be as savvy as the Red Bulls. Playing in Atlanta will be difficult for anyone. For an expansion team, this is about as good as you can hope for and fans should be excited about the club’s potential. Expecting a contending team right out of the gate is not fair—and I think Atlanta fans get this.

Houston gets a good win

Early season games are misleading and generally sometimes lack the sense of urgency that they should. But for teams trying to turn the page on difficult seasons, these games are important to build momentum and excitement.

On Saturday, Houston defeated reigning MLS Cup champions Seattle 2-1 at home in one of the better games of the weekend. Houston made a bunch of moves to bolster its roster and new head coach Wilmer Cabrera has a team with a distinct Latin flavor to it.

While American fans were happy to see Clint Dempsey get back on the scoreboard, Houston fans were even more delighted that things might be heading in the right direction. Making the playoffs could be difficult but turning around this underachieving team in the right direction is no small feat.

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