<![CDATA[All 22 MLS teams played their season openers this weekend, and there was plenty of action on the pitch. While it is too early to glean too much from only 90 minutes of play, a few items stood out that are worth mentioning:
Atlanta United show promise
Playing in front of a third-best 55,000 fans for their opener, Atlanta faded late in the game and lost to the New York Red Bulls, 2-1. But it’s clear that owner Arthur Blank has given the fans an exciting team to watch, and the level of energy that Atlanta displayed in the first half was amazing. What United was lacking was the on-field experience that the Red Bulls possess, but that will come with time.
This is an exciting team to watch on the pitch, and will likely become a legitimate competitor on the field. The Southeast region of the United States has been without an MLS franchise since the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny were dissolved in 2001, but this team will represent the area well.
FC Dallas might actually be worthy of their lofty expectations
After playing a tough CONCACAF Champions League match on Wednesday night, FC Dallas traveled to Los Angeles and beat the Galaxy, 2-1. Manager Oscar Pareja was unable to depend on playmaker Mauro Diaz, as he’s sidelined with an Achilles injury, and had to rest Javier Morales, but his squad of MLS veterans and home-grown players from their academy showed why this team won the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup in 2016.
While the Galaxy held a 65%-35% advantage in possession, Dallas’ strong counter-attack proved too much for the Galaxy defense. With a manager like Pareja able to tailor a game plan to match his opponent, expect Dallas to be vying for the MLS Cup at the end of the season.
D.C. United still lack shape
After several years of having manager Ben Olsen at the helm, United is good enough to advance to the playoff stage, but not much further. Olsen has relied heavily on his back-four defenders (anchored by United States Men’s National Team defender Steven Birnbaum) and solid goalkeeping from Bill Hamid. While this has proven effective in the past, United’s inability to mount a consistent offense has resulted in matches where they’ve amassed a lone point rather than the full three points they needed.
Purchasing midfielder Luciano Acosta to minimize the loss of Perry Kitchen was a wise move, but as was evidenced this past weekend, Acosta’s absence (due to injury) severely weakened an underperforming front line. They continue to have difficulty maintaining their shape while advancing the ball up the field, thus lacking proper support from the defensive portion of the field going forward. Playing in the weaker Eastern Division, United should advance to the playoffs, but without a more stable attack formation, they could have an early exit.
Minnesota United look like an expansion team
Being a newly-minted expansion team is never easy, and Minnesota looked as though they were a bit unprepared for their opener. While playing in Portland is a less-than-enviable task, the team faded as the game progressed, ceding three goals in the final ten minutes. With a porous back line and an offense that took two shots on frame in the entire match, expect Minnesota to be the basement dwellers in the tough Western Division at the end of their inaugural campaign.
Orlando City SC showed a lot of heart
Losing team captain and midfield legend Kaka in the 7th minute of their match against David Villa and New York City FC could have easily rattled a young squad like Orlando, even though they were playing in their new stadium for the first time. After all, when Kaka was injured last season, the team went on a tailspin and ended up out of playoff contention. After Cyle Larin scored in the 15th minute for the Lions, the team closed ranks on the pitch, resulting in a 1-0 victory and the three points that go with it.
NYC had almost 70% of the ball possession and seven shots on goal, with Orlando having the lone shot on goal that really mattered. While some football analysts called it winning in ugly fashion, those three points will clearly suffice for the Orlando faithful, especially given the circumstances.]]>