The Major League Soccer season is a long one. Very long. So long in fact that a baby could be conceived today, brought to full term and delivered before the 2017 MLS Cup final even kicked off.
With that in mind, it's good practice to avoid overreacting to opening-week results. Most, if not all, teams are still not fully sharp and still working out preseason kinks. The team that struggles through its opener this week could look much different a month from now, while the team that rolls to a week-one win could just as soon stumble in the coming weeks.
Consider last season, when reigning champion Portland opened its campaign with a 2-1 victory at home. At the time there was little reason to believe the Timbers season was destined for disappointment. Meanwhile in Seattle, the Sounders opened 2016 with a home shutout loss to Sporting Kansas City. Chances are pretty good there weren't many Sounders fans who left CenturyLink Field that day feeling that was the year an MLS Cup was finally on its way.
Having said all that, there was plenty from the opening week of 2017 that can be considered eye-opening, encouraging, and in some cases, worrisome. For the Houston Dynamo, Saturday's opening win was a sorely-needed breath of fresh air for a team that had stagnated in recent years. For the New York Red Bulls, Sunday night's comeback win was crucial to help them avoid the misery of two losses in a week after last Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League elimination.
And then there was Atlanta United, which one may think comes away from Sunday's loss to the Red Bulls discouraged. Anyone who watched Gerardo Martino's men buzz around Bobby Dodd Stadium, though, saw a team loaded with talent and potential. Atlanta should be fun to watch all year, and will only get tougher to beat as the collection of new faces gets used to playing together.
Minnesota United's debut was far less encouraging, though even a 5-1 drubbing in Portland isn't likely to squelch Adrian Heath's belief that this season can yield something encouraging.
Here is a look back at the top storylines from MLS Week 1:
DYNAMO DAZZLE IN WIN OVER SEATTLE
It has been a long time since the Houston Dynamo could be realistically considered an exciting team to watch — probably a decade in fact. But the 2017 Dynamo came out of the gates flying, with Wilmer Cabrera's speedsters flashing some serious attacking muscle in a 2-1 victory against the defending champion Seattle Sounders.
The Dynamo showed the potential to look this good in preseason, but since MLS preseason results are often known to be misleading, that early success went a bit under the radar. That quickly changed on Saturday, as the Dynamo attacking trio of Erick Torres, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis ran the Sounders ragged.
"Yes. This is going to be us," a content, but cautious Cabrera said after Saturday's win. "We’re not going to be a team that’s going to be possession-oriented, because we don’t have those types of players. We have attackers; we have guys who are dynamic. We have midfielders who work hard. So this is going to be the Houston Dynamo."
As good as Houston's newcomers looked, it was some familiar Dynamo faces who stepped up big on Saturday, including goalkeeper Tyler Deric, DaMarcus Beasley, Ricardo Clark and the enigmatic Torres, who scored his first Dynamo goal on a free kick, snapping a goal-less drought he had endured since joining Houston via a $5 million transfer. Torres' goal was significant, because the Dynamo's hopes of a true breakout season rest on the Mexican striker's ability to recapture his best form.
Saturday's win still gave Cabrera plenty to work on, as the second half was controlled by the Sounders, who came close to leaving Houston with a point by taking advantage of some shaky Dynamo team defending. The Dynamo held on to earn an encouraging three points, giving Houston fans reason to believe a return to the glory days of a decade ago just might be in the cards.
RED BULLS DELIVER BIG WIN FOR MARSCH
Jesse Marsch will say the comeback win delivered by his New York Red Bulls was all about the team, but there's no denying how important that result was for Marsch.
Considering the tumultuous offseason the Red Bulls just endured, and last week's CONCACAF Champions League loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, Sunday's 2-1 victory in Atlanta was a sorely-needed breath of life for a coach who looked likely to start taking on blame for his team stumbling out of the blocks.
Atlanta United overwhelmed the Red Bulls in the first half and even into the early part of the second half, but Luis Robles made some key saves to keep the Red Bulls in it. Marsch's tactical adjustments at halftime eventually bore fruit as the expansion team began to find fewer opportunities as the second half wore on.
"Atlanta tested us in big ways in the first half, and we took a punch but hung in there," Marsch said after Sunday's win. "We talked about it at halftime, just giving a little bit more and being a little bit clearer tactically. Making a couple of adjustments, but being a little bit sharper physically, putting more into the game. And now taking the crowd out, play by play."
"Their team's good," Marsch said of Atlanta United. "Tata Martino is a good coach. He has a clear tactical way of doing things. They tried to exploit us on the wing a bit. Once we made a little bit of an adjustment, that helped the game."
Marsch deserves credit for his adjustments and second-half substitutions, which helped the Red Bulls earn a very important opening-week victory. The result was made all the more impressive by the fact the Red Bulls just played in Vancouver on Thursday before traveling to Atlanta for Sunday's game.
ATLANTA UNITED IS THE REAL DEAL
It isn't often a losing team generates a tremendous amount of praise, but it's tough not to give Atlanta United some serious credit for playing extremely well in Sunday's loss to the Red Bulls.
The expansion side came into the season with plenty of hype for building a team that, on paper, had the look of a playoff side. It was clear in Sunday's opener that head coach Gerardo Martino had done very well to put the pieces together and get his team playing attractive soccer. Some outstanding saves from Luis Robles, coupled with some defensive breakdowns in the second half cost Atlanta United its dream start, but there was no denying how much MLS has to look forward to from the new team.
"We created chances, which is the most important, unfortunately we didn’t score, pressure, for lacking a final pass, for different reasons," Martino said after Sunday's loss. "What I think we must improve is controlling the game. The game today was very intense, very up and down."
"We came in here at halftime really pleased with the way we played," Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst said. "We knew they’d bring a little more pressure in the second half. We just weren’t able to finish it out. We weren’t clinical enough up front when we had a big opportunity and, then, to give away a set piece was disheartening and the (Carlos Carmona) red card, as well. We need to learn from it and we will.”
There were plenty of positives to point to for Atlanta, from the play of Miguel Almiron, who was dangerous throughout, to U.S. national team defender Greg Garza, who looked like a player Bruce Arena will want to consider for his U.S. World Cup qualifying squad.
Atlanta United will look to rebound next week against fellow expansion side Minnesota United, and given how shaky Minnesota's defense looked in its opening-day loss to Portland, Atlanta United could have a field day.
BITTERSWEET STADIUM DEBUT FOR ORLANDO CITY
Forgive Jason Kreis if he doesn't pop a bottle of champagne after his Orlando City side managed a 1-0 win against New York City FC. There are plenty of positives to take away from the match, including the team's defensive performance, the three points and the incredible atmosphere provided by Orlando City's fans in their new stadium. But Kaka's early exit due to injury cast a dark cloud over what would normally be a celebratory day.
When Kaka left the match in the 11th minute with a hamstring injury it looked like things would turn sour quickly. However, Kaka's replacement, Giles Barnes, set up Cyle Larin for the game's only goal and the Lions defense did the rest, shutting down NYCFC's vaunted attack for a shutout few would have envisioned before the match began.
"In times past, and even with the group we had last year, this game would have ended up differently," Kreis said. "I feel that the team spirit would have buckled, and there would have been a mistake that cost us. Tonight, the guys continued to fight, they stayed together, even though there were some mistakes happening, a lot of mistakes happening, people had positive reactions to those mistakes and made plays. A big, big night for everybody defensively, and that's something to build on."
What will keep Kreis from celebrating too much is knowing he will now have to cope without Kaka for the foreseeable future. Orlando City was already faced with trying to replace the attacking contributions of Kevin Molino, who the Lions traded away this winter, but losing Kaka was a blow Orlando really couldn't afford and will now put even more pressure on the likes of Larin, Matias Perez Garcia and Barnes to pick up the slack.
Kaka's absence was clear to see in an attack that struggled to generate chances, and wound up watching NYCFC dominate the bulk of the play on Sunday. In fact, Larin's goal came off Orlando City's only shot on goal, and NYCFC finished the match with seven shots on goal and a 68-32 edge in possession, the biggest possession disparity in MLS in week one.
"That doesn't make me happy, for sure," Kreis said when asked about NYCFC's considerable edge in possession. "Like I said, we did some things well tonight, and we didn't do some other things well, mostly what happened when we had the ball. I think there's a lot of reasons for that, but it will be a big focus for us, that we need to value the ball a lot more than we did tonight."
What Kreis will be happy with is the performance of a back line that looked miles better than the Orlando City defense that surrendered the most goals in MLS a year ago. Jonathan Spector was outstanding in his MLS debut, while Donny Toia did very well at left back. Spector and Toia were two of several players who helped the Lions fight for the kind of victory last year's side would have found a way to lose.
"The level of work and commitment and togetherness by our team was off the charts," Kreis said. "But we've got a lot of work to do. We know that."
BEST OF MLS WEEK 1
Player of the Week: Diego Valeri. The Timbers playmaker dazzled on Friday, scoring two goals and setting up a third to lead Portland to a 5-1 romp over Minnesota United.
Team of the Week: Houston Dynamo. The second half of Saturday's win may not have been pretty, but the Dynamo still showed enough in beating the defending champion Sounders to get the nod.
Rookie of the Week: Nick Lima. The San Jose fullback was fearless, helping contain Ignacio Piatti on the defensive end while also contributing to the attack with some promising runs forward.
Coach of the Week: Jesse Marsch. The Red Bulls boss made the perfect second-half adjustments to wrest control away from Atlanta United, and help his team earn a valuable three road points.
Goal of the Week: Romell Quioto's long-range blast was nice, but it loses out to Anibal Godoy's perfect chip: