The MLS Wrap: Home fortresses penetrated, Union youth movement rewarded and more

Comments()
Toronto, Kansas City and Seattle are normally some of the toughest places to play in MLS, but not so in the opening weekend of the 2018 season

Leave it to the opening weekend of the 2018 MLS season to throw conventional wisdom out the window.

Several of the teams considered title contenders stumbled out of the blocks, while some normally impenetrable home venues were breached by ambitious opponents.

Among those opponents was Los Angeles FC, which made a memorable MLS debut to hand Bob Bradley a victorious return to the league after a decade away.

Article continues below

Toronto FC and Atlanta United came into 2018 as the most hyped teams in the league. TFC as reigning champion, and boasting an even stronger roster, and Atlanta, featuring a high-powered attack that helped distract from valid concerns about its defense. Both teams suffered multi-goal defeats, including Atlanta United's 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Houston Dynamo.

Of course, we have to provide a reminder that overreacting to week one results is far too common and certainly not recommended. In fact, here is a stat that should bring some calm to the fans of teams who fell flat in week one: none of the past four MLS Cup winners won their season opener. In fact, none of the four even scored a goal.

No, that doesn't mean that teams such as Minnesota United and New England should be thinking about an MLS Cup title, but it should lend some pause to fans of Atlanta United, Toronto FC, the Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers who might have wanted to read too much into their team's season opening defeats.

Here is a closer look at the opening weekend in MLS:


NORMALLY IMPENETRABLE HOME FORTRESSES BREACHED


Peter Vermes MLS Sporting KC 03052018

Of the four teams in MLS which only suffered one regular season loss at home in 2017, three of them matched that loss total in the opening weekend of the new season.

Toronto FC fell at BMO Field, dropping a 2-0 decision against Columbus, the Seattle Sounders fell to a feisty Los Angeles FC side at CenturyLink Field, and Sporting KC suffered a 2-0 defeat at Children's Mercy Park against New York City FC.

TFC's loss was probably the most surprising of the three. Not just because of how tough the reigning MLS champion normally is at home, but because Greg Vanney trotted out a close to full-strength squad rather than resting more players ahead of the upcoming CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Tigres. Toronto FC had the possession edge in the match, and the two sides were 13-12 on total shots, but TFC failed to finish its opportunities — hitting the woodwork twice — while the Crew put together a pair of excellent goals in the first 50 minutes to take control and put the pressure on the home side.

It's probably a stretch to look at the result as some sort of blueprint for teams to follow heading into Toronto. The reality is TFC had just played a CCL match against Colorado the previous Tuesday — a 0-0 draw that sent Toronto to the quarterfinals — and looked a bit sluggish at times.

Seattle rested starters against LAFC ahead of its CCL quarterfinal clash with Chivas Guadalajara and it opened the door for a very game LAFC side to escape CenturyLink Field with a hard-fought 1-0 victory. The result flattered the visitors on a night when Seattle had many more chances and dominated play in the second half, but it was former Sounder Tyler Miller who made seven saves to deny Seattle a chance at a comeback.

Sporting KC's loss to NYCFC shouldn't induce panic, but it does show a gap between a true title contender and a team still working to get into that category. Sporting KC created some good chances, which was encouraging considering the fact Peter Vermes is still shopping for a top forward. The bigger cause for concern was how easily NYCFC was able to create good scoring chances against a defense that was the best in MLS in 2017. NYCFC worked with wide areas with ease, leaving us to wonder if Sporting KC might wind up paying the price for playing wingers as converted fullbacks against teams with the speed on the flanks to punish them.


UNION'S YOUTH MOVEMENT PAYS EARLY DIVIDENDS


Anthony Fontana MLS Philadelphia Union 03032018

The Philadelphia Union entered 2018 considered a team likely to struggle. Ownership's limited resources were going to lead the Union to have to lean on some young prospects to fill roles that others teams are filling with top international talent.

The Union's opening match was a dream start. Teenage playmaker Anthony Fontana scored his first career goal and fellow teenager Auston Trusty played very well in central defense in Saturday's 2-0 victory against the New England Revolution.

"Great for Anthony to get the goal, great for Auston to play as well as he did, but overall a team effort from every player on the field,"  Union coach Jim Curtin said after Saturday's win. "All 11 guys attacking, all 11 guys defending."

The performances by homegrown players Fontana and Trusty were particularly satisfying for Curtin, who began his time with the Union working with them in the Union academy.

"There was a 40 x 40 patch of AstroTurf where this young group of nine-year-old kids were on the field that had a dream of maybe someday playing for the Philadelphia Union," Curtin said. "You think Auston Trusty being there as well, with Ian Munro, Phil Karn with myself, and to see them now take this step in Talen Energy Stadium under the bright lights is something that is special."

The odds are still stacked against the Union in the tough Eastern Conference, but with those youngsters showing well, and with the looming arrival of newly-signed playmaker Borek Dockal, there is some reason for optimism for a team that has struggled to make its mark in MLS since joining the league in 2010.


QUICK KICKS


Mauro Manotas MLS Houston Dynamo 030318

The Houston Dynamo didn't get much fanfare this offseason as a team to watch out for, in part because of no real high-profile signings and the departure of Eric 'Cubo' Torres . The Dynamo responded with a resounding 4-0 win against Atlanta United that has Wilmer Cabrera's second season in charge off to an excellent start. Yes, the Dynamo need to be taken seriously in the wide-open Western Conference.

Mauro Manotas could be the key to Houston's push for supremacy in the West. He scored 10 goals in 2017 sharing time with Torres, but now that the Mexican striker has left the Dynamo, Manotas could be a darkhorse Golden Boot contender if his strong opening week showing is any indication.

Rookies are finding it tougher and tougher to break through and earn minutes in MLS, but a few managed to earn starts opening week, including the Orlando City tandem of Chris Mueller and Cam Lindley . Benefiting from Uri Rosell still working his way back to fitness and Dom Dwyer recovering from injury, Mueller and Lindley didn't look out of place in Orlando City's 1-1 draw with D.C. United.

There were several MLS debuts for teenagers this weekend, including one for highly-rated D.C. United prospect Chris Durkin , who played 17 minutes in Saturday's draw.

LAFC played both of its first-round picks, with Joao Moutinho playing well at left back and Tristan Blackmon making an impact as a late-match substitute.

The Ola Kamara-Gyasi Zardes trade is looking good for both teams after week one, with Kamara netting twice in the LA Galaxy's 2-1 win against the Portland Timbers and Zardes scoring in the Crew's 2-0 triumph at Toronto FC. Zardes looked sharp in preseason and has settled well into the Columbus attack, while Kamara could be a golden boot contender playing in front of the Galaxy's stacked midfield.

Speaking of Kamaras, Kei Kamara looks right at home with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and their fast-paced attack will be tough to stop if Kamara continues to click with Alphonso Davies . The real question is how will newly-acquired midfielder Felipe fit into Carl Robinson's plans. Veteran central defender Aaron Maund was solid playing in place of Tim Parker — who was traded to the New York Red Bulls for Felipe - but now Felipe will have to fight hard for playing time against Russell Teibert and Efrain Juarez . It will be very interesting to see who Robinson calls on for next week's key Western Conference clash against Houston.

Patrick Vieira chose Ben Sweat over Ronald Matarrita to start at left back in NYCFC's season opener, and the decision paid off, with Sweat helping set up the second goal in NYCFC's 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City. Sweat thrived as NYCFC's left back last season in place of the then-injured Matarrita. The Costa Rican fullback was expected to take his job back from Sweat this season, but early signs point to Sweat holding onto the job and thriving in the role.

The San Jose Earthquakes attack showed well putting up three goals in Saturday's 3-2 win against Minnesota United, but how much of that was down to an improved attack, and how much is due to Minnesota's faulty defense? Danny Hoesen looked sharp up top while the midfield wing tandem of Vako and Magnus Erikkson looked good in helping create chances and spreading out the Loons defense. We will have a much better sense of how much better this revamped Earthquakes attack is when they travel to take on Sporting KC on March 17.


BEST OF MLS WEEK 1


Alphonso Davies Vancouver Whitecaps MLS

Player of the Week: Alphonso Davies . The young Vancouver Whitecaps standout delivered a goal and set up another to help the Vancouver Whitecaps beat Montreal 2-1 on Sunday.

Team of the Week: Columbus Crew. Going into Toronto and beating the reigning champion is no easy task, and the Crew did just that.

Rookie of the Week: Joao Moutinho. The first pick in the MLS draft turned in a steady performance as Los Angeles FC's starting left back.

Goal of the Week: Diego Rossi. The Uruguayan forward delivered an excellent finish to lead LAFC to a win, and register the first goal in team history:

 

Next article:
Dani Olmo: The ex-Barca youth star who quit La Masia and could now return to Camp Nou
Next article:
'Why not win it this year?' - Liverpool hero Mane targets Champions League glory
Next article:
Gerrard: Klopp will deliver title for Liverpool and I don't want his job... yet
Next article:
VAR in Premier League: Why isn't it in the 2018-19 season & when will it be introduced?
Next article:
Lacazette over Arsenal frustration and enjoying life at 'great club'
Close