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MLS Talking Points: Vieira's Yankee Stadium debut, Portland Timbers' next test and more

The opening week of the MLS season had goals galore, but it also left plenty of questions unanswered throughout the league.

We saw perennial powers like the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders stumble out of the gate, and traditional underachiever Toronto FC open the season with an impressive victory. We watched Montreal win without Didier Drogba, and the defending champion Portland Timbers served notice that they intend to keep their crown.

What happens in Week 2 will go another step toward giving us an idea of how things might go this year. Can FC Dallas post another emphatic victory, this time against an in-state rival? Can Orlando City earn another result without Kaka? Will the LA Galaxy click without Gio dos Santos in the lineup? Will the Red Bulls find their goal-scoring ways?

We should see the league's CONCACAF Champions League participants start to shake off the fatigue and disappointment of the quarterfinals, with Seattle, Real Salt Lake and D.C. United all searching for victories after failing to win on opening weekend. Only the Galaxy managed a victory in Week 1 among CCL teams, but that came after an awful first half, and against a terrible D.C. United side.

This week lacks high-profile matchups, and many star players are expected to miss action due to injury. As disappointing as that will be, it will mean opportunities to impress for players like NYCFC's Tommy McNamara, Orlando City's Cyle Larin, the LA Galaxy's Mike Magee and many more.

Here is Goal's guide to the major stories to watch for in MLS Week 2 ...


Having your team score four goals and win in your professional coaching debut isn't a bad way to start your career, but Patrick Vieira couldn't be blamed for coming away from last week's 4-3 victory against the Chicago Fire being cautiously optimistic.

Why? Well, surrendering three goals against a Fire team few would consider a juggernaut will do that to you. With a much tougher challenge awaiting on Sunday against Sebastian Giovinco and Toronto FC, Vieira knows his defense will need to tighten up if he's going to deliver a victory in his first match in charge at Yankee Stadium.

"We concede three goals because I think we give the goals away, but even if we don't talk about the three goals that we concede, I think we concede too many chances," Vieira said. "We have to defend much better as a team. We concede a lot because we didn't defend well from up front and that is one of the aspects of the game we need to improve.

"It will take time, but what is important for us is we have to get better game after game," he added. "We're still a long way, but I was quite really pleased. Sill not perfect yet, but the way the players are working every day in training, the commitment in training, the concentration in training, make me believe that we will get better as a team."

Speaking to media on Thursday, Vieira made it clear that he is implementing an attack-minded style of play that could lead to some growing pains for the second-year club, but he is determined to integrate a proactive style.

"The way that I want the team to play is a risk, but I'm prepared to take that kind of risk because what is important for me is that we will create more than we will concede," Vieira said.

NYCFC will face a tough Toronto FC side that opened the season with a 2-0 victory against the Red Bulls. TFC played a defend-and-counter style that frustrated the Red Bulls, and limited them to just one shot on goal before TFC scored a pair of second-half goals to post its first win at Red Bull Arena in club history.

TFC isn't likely to be quite as defensive-minded against a vulnerable NYCFC back line, especially not with reigning MLS MVP Giovinco leading the attack.

The midfield battle should be especially appealing, with Michael Bradley and Will Johnson looking to keep NYCFC creator Andrea Pirlo under wraps, while also looking to make him work defensively.

NYCFC's decision not to employ a natural ball-winning midfielder to play alongside Pirlo is seen as a risky move, but Vieira believe his midfield and defense should be fine with Pirlo in the middle as long as the team remains organized.

"I'm not worried at all because his brain helps him to anticipate the next pass, the next move," Vieira said of Pirlo. "The way we're going to play, controlling the game, we will have the possession of the ball. We will have the ball more often, and with the quality of Andrea he will make the difference. But without the ball I'm not worried at all about it because our organization, the distance between the lines, will help him and the other players run less."

Sunday's Eastern Conference showdown will have its share of star power, but one star who is sill questionable for the match is English star Frank Lampard, who is still working his way back from injury.

"He's getting better, but we have to look at how he will respond day after day, and see how he is going to respond with the work he's doing inside the gym," Vieira said of Lampard. "We will make a decision in the last minute."


No, this match won't feature any international superstars, but the defending champion Timbers will look to test their high-flying attack against San Jose's stingy defense.

It's easy to forget that the Earthquakes were hot on Portland's heels for a playoff spot in the Western Conference last year before the Timbers went on a season-ending hot streak that culminated with an MLS Cup title. San Jose missed the playoffs, but Dom Kinnear's squad has the look of a team capable of closing the gap in the West and being a playoff team this year.

The Timbers will arrive in Avaya Stadium brimming with confidence after an impressive season-opening win against Columbus, a game that suggested this year's Timbers attack may be even more dangerous than the 2015 vintage.

The Earthquakes boast one of the most underrated defenses in the league, and goalkeeper David Bingham is poised for a breakout season. Both will be tested severely by Portland's lightning-fast counterattack.

San Jose's attack continues to rely on Chris Wondolowski, who should be locked in one of the best battles in MLS this weekend when he clashes with Nat Borchers.


Kei Kamara made a big splash this winter when he played hardball with the Columbus Crew to earn himself a new contract. Now a newly minted designated player making a salary reportedly in the $1 million range, Kamara came into the 2016 season with high expectations after tying Giovinco for the MLS lead in goals last year.

Kamara kicked off his new year with a forgettable showing against Portland, in a loss that saw him miss two clear-cut scoring chances that he normally finishes. Those misses raised the question of whether the Crew were really wise to give Kamara a new deal after the first big season of his career, and at the age of 31.

Crew coach Gregg Berhalter wasn't asking those questions. In fact, Berhalter came out in defense of Kamara, and made it clear he wasn't worried.

“I think it’s good for him to be in these positions and get chances and maybe not succeed right away," Berhalter told reporters in Columbus on Wednesday. "Obviously, we want him to score all the time. But it’s not necessarily a harmful thing for that to happen.”

Nobody should expect Kamara's stats to nosedive this year because he's cashing bigger checks, but if he does take a step back in 2016 it will only serve to magnify questions about whether the Crew caved too easily to Kamara's demands. A down year for Kamara would also make it that much tougher for future MLS players to earn deals like the one Kamara snagged.

Of course, if Kamara helps lead the Crew to an MLS Cup title, nobody will be talking about his deal anymore, which is precisely why Berhalter agreed to the contract. The 2016 Crew have the depth and talent to win MLS Cup, and doing so with a happy Kamara would be easier than doing so with an unhappy Kamara.

The veteran forward should have plenty of chances to score his first goal of the year on Saturday, when Columbus faces the Philadelphia Union.


When Orlando City was first linked with Italian midfielder Antonio Nocerino this winter, the impending move seemed a bit of a strange choice given Orlando City's wealth of central midfield options. With Kaka, Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren, Servando Carrasco, Harrison Heath and Richie Laryea, the Lions didn't appear to have a need in the middle of the field.

It didn't take long to see why Orlando City made the move. This week alone, the Lions will be without Kaka (injured), Darwin Ceren (suspended), and Higuita just returning from suspension, coach Adrian Heath could hand Nocerino his MLS debut on Friday against the Chicago Fire.

Nocerino's versatility makes him the ideal top-shelf addition for a team that saw its playoff hopes dashed by injuries last season. He can play in a deep-lying role, a box-to-box role, and even a more advanced central midfield role. He can also provide some depth on the right flank as well.

Now nobody would mistake him for Kaka when it comes to attacking contributions, but he should provide a stabilizing influence in midfield. It will be interesting to see how he does against the Fire, assuming Heath hands him his debut. We should find out early on whether Orlando City made the right decision in signing the former AC Milan player.


The season is a long one, running all the way though October, but that lengthy schedule doesn't make it any less concerning when we see so many of the league's top stars injured to start the season.

Lampard's injury isn't all that surprising given his age, and Altidore has had a penchant for hamstring injuries through his career, but Kaka's absence is being felt in Orlando and Drogba's decision to skip four of Montreal's first five matches in order to avoid playing on artificial turf can't be going over well with Impact fans (or the Impact for that matter).

Drogba's absence is made more puzzling by the fact the Impact have scheduled Saturday's match against the New York Red Bulls to be played at Olympic Stadium rather than much smaller Stade Saputo. Montreal can take heart in the fact the Impact posted a big road win at Vancouver to star the season.

Gio Dos Santos' absence from LA's road trip to Colorado should give Mike Magee another chance to state his case for a starting role, while NYCFC could be tempted not rush Lampard back considering how good Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud looked playing in front of Andrea Pirlo last week.

TFC will miss Jozy Altidore when it visits Yankee Stadium on Sunday, but Greg Vanney's side showed last week at Red Bull Arena that it can win without him.

As much as most of the teams missing DPs should be able to make due in the short term, the fact remains all of the teams with players on the above list will need their stars back soon.