The best (and worst) from Week 1 in MLS
From the teeming scene in Orlando to that turd of a slur heard way too often, let’s take a deeper dive into some of the “bests” and “worsts” of Major League Soccer’s 22nd opening weekend.
We can certainly nitpick Clint Dempsey’s return or dwell in the melancholy of just a little less-than-trademark Deuce-ness. Yes, the Seattle Sounders’ freelancing attacker did a few frustrating Dempsey things, like dropping too deep out of attacking positions and giving away possession unnecessarily when simple passes would do. But let’s save that for later, eh?
Because just seeing the longtime United States international back on the field was quite something. His goal was a bonus, really. Good on him. And welcome back.
Best place to celebrate the league’s 22nd season kickoff
No question on this one as they popped the top on Orlando City’s sensational new stadium. The place is fabulous; the relentless fan frenzy even more so. That stadium, ferociously purple and instantly among the top spots in MLS the moment gates officially flew open Sunday, will be around for decades. But there will only be one first match; here’s hoping you caught a few moments of it through the national TV broadcast. If not, well, count on seeing that amazing supporters wall in league promotions for decades to come.
Best MLS debut
Call this one a draw between Atlanta’s Yamil Asad and Orlando’s Jonathan Spector – in both cases not just for their contributions per se, but because of what those feats meant to the occasion. Asad’s goal was the first for a franchise, bequeathing the crowd of 55,297 something to savor and treasure on a night when the result eventually turned. That goal is history, man!
Spector was good in timing and positioning, effective in traffic control along the back, strong in the air and a good all-around leader. Most significantly, the veteran American was solid in the late moments that mattered, which is precisely what manager Jason Kreis needed for a club that has struggled to close out matches.
Also, a little wave of the scarf to Houston newcomers Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, who have Dynamo fans rightfully excited.
Best indication of MLS moving in right direction
The “youngs” dominated goal scoring in Week 1, adding support to the league’s prudent movement toward talented youth (and away from the old and slows). To wit:
There were 17 goal-scorers over the weekend. Average age: 25.9. Youngest among them were Kellyn Acosta (21), Cyle Larin (21) and Asad (22). The 30-somethings of the group were Diego Valeri (30), Lawrence Olum (32) and Dempsey (33).
Best news for fans and referees
Put a checkmark next to “good start” on the league’s new officiating initiatives, reducing the incidences of persistent infringement, delayed restarts and players and coaches throwing ridiculous hissy fits. Generally speaking, we got a little less of all that mess in Week 1.
Then again, one week hardly makes a trend. The test was always going to come as the season grew longer. Only in April, May and beyond, we will see if referees lose the plot or continue to enforce the tougher standards. Still, any good follow-through needs a good start, and MLS got one.
Best fashion moment
No question about it, Real Salt Lake manager Jeff Cassar, rockin’ the turtleneck to the delight of soccer social media. He wore it well, every bit the high-style match for other MLS managerial sweater-wearers past and present: Mike Petke, Carl Robinson and Pablo Mastroeni, among them.
Perhaps Cassar inspired his team. While new playmaker Albert Rusnak had his moments, it was the old guard, Kyle Beckerman (34) and Nick Rimando (37), who turned in dandy performances in a scoreless draw with MLS Cup runner-up and 2017 Eastern Conference favorite Toronto.