The MLS XI: Atlanta's first impression, Orlando's new stadium headline opening week
Welcome to the MLS XI, a new weekly feature where we pick out the best XI (11, for those allergic to Roman) things that stood out over the week in Major League Soccer.
Following the 2017's opening weekend, the inaugural edition features, appropriately enough, a fair number of firsts, and a few first-in-a-whiles.
Let’s get right to it.
I. The Atlanta crowd: The Good, The Bad, and the Fine
Atlanta United played their first match at Bobby Dodd Stadium, and the vast majority of it was great for the home side (that is, before the New York Red Bulls' late rally spoiled the party and handed United a 2-1 defeat). Especially when the already-electric atmosphere went off the charts after Yamil Asad’s opening goal:
However, that goodwill could easily have evaporated entirely later on with the perpetuation of an anti-gay chant unfortunately prevalent in the game in places around the world and if this beer (or, god forbid, something more harmful) would have hit its intended target:
However, for some reason all some people want to talk about a card of chants distributed to crowd members in advance of the team’s first game:
Plenty of people will chime in and make fun of this document, saying that it shows MLS is a “plastic” league, or some other dismissive criticism. Ignore those people. Chant cards are totally fine. If some people can’t empathize with the obstacles of drumming up support for a fledgling team in a first-division league…that’s their problem, not Atlanta’s. May Atlanta United Supporters make all the chant cards they wish to, from now until eternity, for there is no “wrong” way to support a soccer team (unless you’re harming others).
II. Superman provides Minnesota's lone highlight
I wanted to believe in Minnesota United. Really, I did. But I (and many others) simply didn’t see any foundation for a winning team there yet, and that was fully on display in the team’s 5–1 loss to the Portland Timbers, with the hosts opening the season in style courtesy of two goals apiece from Fanendo Adi and Diego Valeri and the opener from Lawrence Olum.
All that being said, Christian Ramirez scoring the team’s first goal in history was something special. Nicknamed Superman mostly because of his partnership with Miguel “Batman” Ibarra, Ramirez prevented Friday’s opener from being a total disaster with this driven, accurate strike.
III. Banner of the week
At the risk of piling on Minnesota United, the NES nerd in me really appreciated this two-stick banner from some very creative soul in the Timbers Army:
IV. A purple paradise
You can check out renderings, take virtual tours, flyovers from a blimp, fly-throughs with a drone, and track every phase of construction from the time the first steel beam is put into place until the last blade of grass is watered. But, other than being there in person, nothing can give you a true sense of how good a venue is for soccer than watching a full game on TV.
By that measure, Orlando City Stadium passes with flying colors. The all-standing “purple wall” has the same visual effect as its yellow sister in Dortmund, the camera sight lines give the impression of a huge, prime-time location in the sports landscape, and the roar of the crowd after Cyle Larin’s opener was…really something.
V. A purple problem?
It wasn’t all good for Orlando. Kaká, who arrived in the city two seasons ago hoping to make a difference in that stadium opener, had to come off injured in the first half. Now the news is that the league's highest-paid player will be out six weeks. That could be a big problem for Jason Kreis’ team, which was overwhelmed after Kaká’s exit from that game but managed to secure the 1-0 win over NYCFC. It'll be all hands on deck to fill his void, though it has to be encouraging for Kreis & Co. that the reworked back line earned the clean sheet, which was an all-too-rare feat in 2016.
VI. Saves from the spot
It was a good week for PK saves. Tim Melia had perhaps the most impressive one, which was actually two, with this double-denial against D.C. United. His recovery speed is second-to-none among MLS goalkeepers:
Those saves ended up saving a point for SKC, which left RFK stadium for the last time with a 0–0 draw.
Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando had a PK save of his own, made even more impressive by the fact that he appeared to be talking to referee Alan Chapman right up until the kick was taken. That didn't prevent him from adding to his PK-saving lore by denying Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco in a scoreless draw.
VII. How did D.C. United not score here?
Just watch this play and ask yourself that question over and over.
VIII. Deuce is back
Clint Dempsey started his first MLS game since being ruled out with a heart condition towards the end of the 2016 season. He made it count with a goal in a losing effort against Houston.
It’s not the prettiest he’s ever scored (that would be this one) but it’s nice to see one of U.S. soccer’s most exciting players back on the score sheet.
IX. Cubo Torres: Also back
Erick “Cubo” Torres made his name in MLS starting four seasons ago, when he was a goal-scoring reason to watch the otherwise-woeful Chivas USA. Wilmer Cabrera was his coach then, and the pair reunited in Houston after Cabrera’s hire this offseason. Apparently that (plus some suspect goalkeeping from MLS Cup hero Stefan Frei) is all Cubo needed to score his first MLS goal in over two years:
X. Hello, Romell Quioto!
Welcome to MLS. I hope you’re enjoying Houston. Please keep scoring goals like this, the eventual game-winner in the Dynamo's 2-1 triumph over the reigning champs.
XI. Jeff Cassar’s sweater
I’m still in awe of this thing.