Major League Soccer marked the start of its platinum anniversary with one of the most anticipated opening weekends of play since that first one in 1996, when 18 players currently in the league weren’t even alive.
Two more expansion teams entered the field, Orlando City drawing New York City FC 1-1, while just three of the remaining nine original franchises won their 2015 openers.
One of those originals, the five-time MLS Cup champion LA Galaxy, began with an emphatic 2-0 win, bested only by the Seattle Sounders’ 3-0 victory on Sunday.
Win, lose or draw, all 20 teams have just begun an eight-month haul toward one of 12 playoff places. The Montreal Impact also remain alive in the CONCACAF Champions League, with a semifinal series against Costa Rican champion Alajuelense looming.
Here are a few thoughts on the opening weekend of the 2015 MLS season:
Parity ruled supreme, with just two matches seeing goals before halftime
The Sounders’ dominant first half in a 3-0 win over the New England Revolution and the Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC’s dueling goals were outliers in an otherwise closely contested first 45 minutes across the league. MLS’ teams looked as competitively similar as they ever have.
In a league structure that emphasizes that closeness, winning franchises will be ones that find a way to differentiate themselves. The LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, New York City FC and the Seattle Sounders have their big-name stars, but others such as Real Salt Lake and the Portland Timbers could cause problems through their team chemistry, while FC Dallas emphasizes its youth.
All indications are that MLS will be a hit in Orlando, much like in the Pacific Northwest
A raucous crowd of 62,510 greeted Orlando City and NYCFC at the Citrus Bowl on Sunday, and second-half goals from Mix Diskerud and Kaká rewarded the persistent support throughout the match. Orlando’s starting lineup seemed to be closer to the finished product than NYCFC’s, which will be waiting until summer for Frank Lampard’s appearance.
David Villa lacked service, and NYCFC managed just one shot on target: Diskerud’s curling strike. Meanwhile, Orlando’s midfield trio of Cristian Higuita, Amobi Okugo and Kaká showed great understanding and some dynamic interchange in combinations through the middle of the field. The Lions also controlled most of the game but just couldn’t score, as forward Carlos Rivas strayed offside five times.
Defending champion LA started the next season off on the front foot
A 2-0 win on opening day over a lackluster Chicago Fire side showed that, despite losing Landon Donovan, LA has plenty of firepower remaining in its two top goalscorers from 2014, Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes.
Keane seemed to shoulder even more of the leadership load, and his passionate style has not diminished at age 34. For the most part, the Galaxy looks much the same as it did last season with the exception of Donovan being gone. LA didn’t miss a beat as Stefan Ishizaki filled in the right-wing role against Chicago.
Despite all this, let’s not get carried away with Week 1 conclusions
The first of 34 matches after which half the league gets into the playoffs becomes fairly meaningless after the opening month of the season. Toronto’s golden trio of Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore clicked, as did Seattle’s strike partnership of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, but that’s ultimately worth just three points.
Any performance, good or bad, can easily be reversed at this point by earning or dropping three possible points in Week 2. In England in the days before the internet, when newspapers were the most reliable source of information, league tables were only published after the third week of the season. Individual matches become more important in mid-summer and autumn in MLS, although no team wants to dig itself an early hole.
Week 1 Best XI
GOALKEEPER: Tyler Deric (Houston Dynamo)
DEFENDERS: Ray Gaddis (Philadelphia Union), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Zach Loyd (FC Dallas), Alvas Powell (Portland Timbers)
MIDFIELDERS: Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Amobi Okugo (Orlando City), Kaká (Orlando City)
FORWARDS: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)