Ignacio Piatti, Sebastian Giovinco and Mike Magee stood out in a high-scoring MLS Week 1, writes Liviu Bird in his Power Rankings.
The first stages of Major League Soccer seasons normally look sloppy, and many of Sunday’s opening-day matches fit that bill. Defenses are far from familiar in Week 1 despite going through preseason together, and attackers can usually take advantage to the tune of multiple goals per game.
Certainly, neither the New England Revolution nor the Houston Dynamo defended well in their first match of the season. It finished 3-3, with 27 shots between the two teams flying toward goal in a game with multiple errors on the back end.
Indeed, only four teams failed to score on Sunday, and just two of 10 games finished with a solitary goal. New York City FC turned in a crazy 4-3 win over the Chicago Fire, in which NYCFC was the only team to lead in the match to give Patrick Vieira a victory in his MLS coaching debut.
Sebastian Giovinco, the reigning league MVP, kick-started his season by orchestrating a 2-0 win for Toronto FC over the Supporters’ Shield-holding New York Red Bulls. In keeping with the theme, he also pantomimed kick-starting a motorcycle in his goalscoring celebration after he put away the 82nd-minute penalty that would prove to be the winner.
Toronto's was as close to a statement of intent that you can get on opening day in MLS, one coming from a team that has made a lot of noise without really winning anything in its history. However, its Canadian neighbor Montreal Impact made a statement of their own in a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, with Ignacio Piatti stepping up big in Didier Drogba’s turf-induced absence.
In another wild, multi-goal game, Orlando City SC scored in the 94th and 95th minutes after going down 2-0 to Real Salt Lake to earn a point. It was a rough game, with both teams going down to 10 men before halftime.
The best teams from the Western Conference in 2015 continued their winning ways, with FC Dallas taking probably the most comfortable victory of the week in a 2-0 match against the Philadelphia Union. The Portland Timbers, meanwhile, won their MLS Cup rematch against the Columbus Crew, 2-1, despite Federico Higuaín’s acrobatic overhead kick that equalized the match for 11 minutes in the second half.
The San Jose Earthquakes and Sporting Kansas City turned in the only 1-0 results of the week, defeating the Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders, respectively. Finally, to cap a long day of MLS play, the LA Galaxy came from behind to defeat D.C. United, 4-1, despite losing new starting goalkeeper Dan Kennedy to a first-half injury. Mike Magee thrived in his return to the Galaxy, coming off the bench at halftime and contributing two goals and an assist in addition to drawing a penalty.
Here are some highlights from the kickoff to MLS’s third decade of play:
Coach’s Corner: Breaching Seattle’s three-headed monster
The Sounders’ new 4-3-3 look has been built up all offseason, created in an effort to get all of their attacking pieces on the field at the same time. Even with the loss of Obafemi Martins to China, coach Sigi Schmid stuck with the system against Kansas City.
It featured three narrow forwards in the attack, as the trio of Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez and Jordan Morris doesn’t contain a true winger. That put a lot more pressure on the fullbacks, Joevin Jones and Oniel Fisher on Sunday, to provide width moving forward.
In turn, that created tricky situations in transition moments, particularly when Seattle lost the ball in the initial phases of build-up. In the 21st minute, Dom Dwyer picked off a ball in the top half and had a huge gap to slip the ball to Connor Hallisey, but goalkeeper Stefan Frei came up with the save.
A moment like this is also what led to Fisher’s sending off just before halftime, as he scrambled back into a reckless tackle in transition, completely changing the complexion of the game. Fisher’s speed makes him a flashy player, but much like DeAndre Yedlin in the same position before him, he’ll need to balance that better with his defensive responsibilities.
Relying on recovery speed could leave his team in trouble in those moments all season, as opponents could target that space the fullbacks leave behind when they move forward. Kansas City, whether consciously or not, sent many of their outlet passes in the back and middle thirds into those wider areas.
With the important role he played defensively as usual, it’s hard to believe Osvaldo Alonso looked like he was on his way out of the Emerald City not too long ago. He recovered 11 loose balls, made one interception and went 59-for-63 in pass attempts for a 93.7% success rate, continuing to be the Sounders’ steadiest presence in their MLS era.
Attacking Player of the Week: Ignacio Piatti, Montreal Impact
With 36 goals across the 10 matches on Sunday came several multiple point-getters, but Piatti’s performance stood out above the rest for what it might symbolize. Drogba won’t play four of the first five games in the Impact’s season because they’re on turf, and the team struggled in the attack in 2015 before he joined in late summer.
The pieces on this Montreal team in 2016, though, could reverse that trend. Of course, Drogba’s goal-per-game scoring rate will be welcome once he gets back into a rhythm, but two goals and an assist from Piatti make him a viable shadow man.
The Impact needed every one of his contributions, too, as he had a hand in every goal in a victory by a one-score margin.
Giovinco is the runner-up in this competition, scoring the winner and assisting the second in Toronto’s 2-0 win. TFC’s attack got off 12 shots and hit the target five times, but it wasn’t until Giovinco conjured two key moments in the last 10 minutes against the Red Bulls that the Reds finally scored.
Others with impressive first-week performances included Magee’s uplifting performance off the bench for the Galaxy; Joao Plata, who scored both of RSL’s goals and would probably be higher on the list had his team pulled out the win; and Diego Fagúndez, with his goal and two assists for New England in Houston. Finally, Mauro Díaz assisted on both goals in Dallas’ win over Philadelphia.
Defensive Player of the Week: Evan Bush, Montreal Impact
This was a tough decision between two good goalkeeping performances, but Piatti’s teammate on the opposite end takes the honors for his multiple big saves for the Impact. André Blake, perhaps finally set to get a run of games as the Union’s starter, also showed well but looked a little slow off his line on the opening goal of the 2-0 loss to Dallas.
The goalkeepers in general had a lot to do with the Week 1-quality defenses in front of them, and Bush and Blake certainly had plenty of opportunities to shine. They both ended up with eight saves in their respective games.
The variety of Bush’s interventions helped his cause, as he stopped a 1-on-1 early, made a diving reaction save late on to keep the lead and stopped plenty of shots in between. He couldn’t do much about two point-blank chances on set pieces, but he could hardly be faulted, either.
David Bingham also held together the Earthquakes’ victory with several stops, but he looked a little less clean technically than Bush. Bingham can take some solace from the fact that he did keep the shutout, continuing a positive 2016 so far in which he also made his debut for the U.S. men's national team.
Further honorable mentions go to FC Dallas center back Walker Zimmerman and Earthquakes defender Víctor Bernárdez for their roles in their teams’ shutouts. Goal-scoring defenders Kendall Waston and Nuno Coelho impressed on the other end of the field.