Round 1: Fearsome Philly come out fighting
No one sets out to debut poorly, but sometimes these things can't be helped.
Such was the plight of the Philadelphia Union on Thursday, when they took to the field for the first time as a real-life Major League Soccer team. Unfortunately, months of build up did little to prepare them for the league's loudest environment, created by the 36,000 Seattle Sounders fans filling Qwest Field.
Philly lost the game 2-0, but that wasn't the real story. No one expected them to go into Seattle and win, especially with the young, inexperienced side that head coach Peter Nowak put out.
RESULTS Fri Mar 26 Seattle Sounders 2-0 Philadelphia Union Sat Mar 27 Chivas USA 0-1 Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew 2-0 Toronto, Dallas 1-1 Houston Dynamo Sun Mar 28 Kansas City Wizards 4-0 DC United, Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 New England Revolution, New York RB 1-0 Chicago Fire, San Jose Earthquakes 0-3 Real Salt Lake
No, the story was the Union's tactics, which can only be described as "physical", so much so that they went well beyond the usual MLS standard (which is entirely rougher than it should be).
Defender Danny Califf admitted to fouling Seattle's star Colombian striker Fredy Montero off the ball intentionally in the first 30 seconds of the match to "send a message". He was promptly shown a yellow card.
That the Union struggled wasn't surprising. Nor were the tactics they employed, even if they bordered on dangerous at times. No, the only surprising thing from the entire ordeal was the comments of Union head man Nowak after the match.
He called Freddie Ljungberg "dishonest" and a "diver". He bemoaned the apparent desire of the Sounders to take advantage of the referee, and he implied that the the man in the middle treated the Union poorly in their first-ever match.
Ljungberg may dive... on occasion. The Sounders may have a few others who go down rather easily when confronted by a challenge (the aforementioned Montero comes readily to mind), but none of that changes the fact that Philadelphia attempted to bully their opponents, got caught on multiple occasions, and paid the price.
Poor Peter. He went looking for an excuse, and all he could come up with was a terrible attempt to shift blame from his young team to the officials. Luckily no bystanders were hurt by Nowak's shot, despite it being so wide of the mark.
The rest of the league was much less intrigue-filled, if only because the spotlight was slightly dimmer and the play less contentious. Real Salt Lake got their title defence off to a banner start, dropping three goals on hapless San Jose. Argentine midfielder Javier Morales (who you would know about if you had read The Real American Football's season preview) collected a brace on two magnificent strikes.
Though it's difficult to tell just how good RSL (have I mentioned that Americans like acronyms?) will be in 2010 because the competition was less than fierce on Saturday, there's no doubting their quality in several positions on the field.
In Los Angeles, a rather sad-looking David Beckham looked on as his LA Galaxy team-mates downed New England 1-0 on an Edson Buddle goal. Landon Donovan, he of the much heftier CV since he last took the field in MLS, provided the dead-ball service that led to the Galaxy's match winner.
It was certainly not a comprehensive victory for the defending Western Conference champions, but Bruce Arena's side stayed organised in defence and held down a toothless Revolution attack. New England's chances were significantly diminished before the match even got underway, as they were without their star midfield stalwart Sharlie Joseph.
The most anticipated match of the weekend was not because of the two sides taking part (New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire), but because of the stadium in which it took place. Red Bull Arena debuted as an MLS venue to rave reviews on Saturday, and though there were traffic problems that kept many fans from getting to their seats in time for kickoff, the building lived up to its billing.
Years in the making, the stadium was the desperate dream of so many in the New York area. To say that the disparity between the Red Bulls' previous home (the cavernous Giants Stadium, with its ancient and knee-jarring artificial surface) and their new ground is night and day would require a wordy description of the despair-inducing blackness of the night and the eye-searing brightness of the day.
Let's just call it a bit of a change and be done with it; oh, and the Red Bulls won on a thumping volley from new Estonian signing Joel Lindpere.
With one round of matches in the books, little of real value can be gleaned; home advantage, sides still sorting themselves from off-season changes, and the match-ups of contenders with clubs not expected to be much served to fill up the results sheet but failed to give us any real sense of who will be standing by the time we get to November.
Eastern Conference Pt1: Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, New England Revolution & DC United Eastern Conference Pt2: Toronto FC, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bulls & Philadelphia UnionWestern Conference Pt1: LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Houston Dynamo & FC DallasWestern Conference Pt2: San Jose Earthquakes, Chivas USA, Colorado Rapids & Seattle Sounders