The 2019 MLS season kicked off with some standout performances, some controversy, a new beginning and a glorious orange ball. Here's the best from opening weekend.
MLS's opening weekend certainly did not lack intrigue.
The 2019 season kicked off with some standout performances, some controversy, a new beginning and a glorious orange ball. A trio of struggling sides from a season ago got their seasons started with wins, as Toronto, Minnesota and Montreal all won away from home–something they combined to do just six times in 2018.
Meanwhile, the four teams still alive in the Concacaf Champions League combined to take two points from their opening matches, with three of the four opting to rest a few starters while balancing the early-season schedule grind. We've seen CCL take different levels of priority in the past, but with regular-season finishes carrying a bit more weight than in the past with the new playoff format, it'll be interesting to see how the Red Bulls' Chris Armas, Houston's Wilmer Cabrera, Atlanta's Frank de Boer and Sporting KC's Peter Vermes manage their squads in the coming weeks.
Here's the best from an MLS season-opening weekend, one that was bookended by the Bradley family.
I. Michael Bradley, goal machine?
Bradley had scored one–ONE–regular season goal in MLS from 2016-2018, a span of 86 games and 7,717 minutes. So, naturally, he outdid all of that in just over an hour to kick off the season on Saturday with an unlikely double in a 3-1 win over Philadelphia that helped Toronto FC start fresh after Concacaf Champions League embarrassment in the round of 16.
Throughout his career, it's been those late, surging runs into the area that have made Bradley a threat in the final third. With Toronto suddenly light on star attackers with Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez off to the Middle East, Jozy Altidore still out recovering from injury and Alejandro Pozuelo not yet in the fold, perhaps we'll be seeing more of Bradley forcing the issue in the coming weeks.
II. Another season-opening loss for Atlanta United
Atlanta United is the reigning champion of MLS and figures to be among the contenders for the title again in 2019, but one thing the club has yet to master is opening day. Its 2-0 loss at D.C. United marked the third straight season Atlanta has opened its MLS campaign with a loss. Not only that, but Atlanta was the only one of the league's 24 teams to be shut out over the weekend.
If you think there's going to be any knee-jerk panic in Georgia, all you need to do is look back at the calamity of opening day in Houston last season and then recall what followed. Atlanta will be fine.
Of the two sides in Sunday's nationally televised match, D.C. was the one with the bigger questions, and it answered them emphatically. Luciano Acosta showed no ill effects of his failed transfer to PSG (and was helped by a Brad Guzan howler for the insurance goal), Wayne Rooney's work rate remained high and Paul Arriola was a menace on the wing, freed from his temporary move to defense after the acquisition of Boca Juniors' Leonardo Jara.
III. Welcome back, Jordan Morris
Morris, back from a torn ACL, played his first competitive minutes in well over a year after starting in Seattle's 4-1 win over FC Cincinnati, and he did more than just show up in uniform. Morris appeared reinvigorated and active from the start, and he was rewarded with two goals–his first since August 2017.
It was an unusual brace, to be fair. His opener took a fortuitous deflection on the way in, with its curve path altered yet not enough to turn the ruling from a Morris goal to an own goal. The second was even more unusual–it came off his left foot. Morris is notoriously right-footed, often opting for outside-of-the-boot attempts with his right instead of shooting with his weaker foot. But with rejuvenation comes, perhaps, an expanded attacking arsenal, which is scary news for Sounders opponents after seeing how Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez and Raul Ruidiaz looked in tandem with one another. Granted, it was at home against an expansion side, but it was also a feel-good element to opening night.
IV. They'll always have Leonardo Bertone
For one magical moment, FC Cincinnati had all it could've hoped for in its inaugural MLS match. Leonardo Bertone's stunning volley put FCC up in Seattle and likely wrapped up a place on the Goal of the Season highlight reel. Things took a drastic turn for the worse soon after, but at least FCC struck the first blow.
V. The Zlatan/Efrain dynamic
Giovani Dos Santos's roster-compliance-forced departure and the sale of Ola Kamara opened up some minutes in the LA Galaxy attack, and they appear to be Efrain Alvarez's to lose. The 16-year-old standout was a game-changer for the Galaxy in their 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, with his game-tying assist the catalyst on opening night.
Of course, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had the final say, kicking off his quest to shatter every record MLS has with his game-winning header.
The dynamic between the two players at the complete opposite ends of the career spectrum is going to be a blast to watch. The 37-year-old Ibrahimovic had no problem touting the Mexican-American Alvarez as the best 16-year-old in MLS in the days leading into the season, and after the match he was there as his guiding light, too. He jokingly told him not to say too much in a drive-by comment during Alvarez's postgame TV interview, and then told reporters, jokingly again, that he slaps the homegrown player if he doesn't do what he tells him.
As far as mentors go, Alvarez has it quite good.
If this was Mother Nature's way of giving the retiring Tim Howard a SnowClasico in Colorado because he was injured for the famous USA-Costa Rica World Cup qualifier in 2013, it was wholly unnecessary. But it made for one memorable season-opener, full with record-low temps, six goals, treacherous footing, shovel breaks and, of course, a new inductee into the Snow Fro Hall of Fame.
It was settled the final seconds by a rookie making his debut, with University of Denver product Andre Shinyashiki capping the draw with a stoppage-time equalizer on the rebound.
VII. Our first officiating controversy
Orlando City did well to come back from two goals down and take a draw off NYCFC, with Nani and Dom Dwyer influential in surprise bench roles and Chris Mueller and Tesho Akindele the goalscorers. But Orlando likely should've had the shot at a 3-2 win after referee Baldomero Toledo somehow determined after a video review that Maxime Chanot, whose outstretched arm caught Dwyer's snap-down header for Nani, somehow "did not deliberately handle the ball."
Judge for yourself:
VIII. There goes my hero
Who hasn't been a kid, imagining yourself in the dying moments of a game that's hanging in the balance, setting up the chance to be the hero? The ball's at your feet. The seconds are ticking away. The play is beginning to materialize, and ... well, the fantasy scenario turns out better than it did for Columbus's Pedro Santos at the death of a 1-1 draw vs. the Red Bulls.
Not exactly a DP-level return in the moment from one of the Crew's top earners.
IX. An Impactful assist
When the Montreal Impact are on, they're capable of some beautiful play, and that was most certainly the case on their eventual game-winner in San Jose. Saphir Taider got the goal, but the magic comes from this curving Zakaria Diallo assist. What a ball.
X. The divergent paths of Landon Donovan and David Beckham
Let's check in on the weekend experiences the two former LA Galaxy teammates had:
XI. Dio's dagger at the death
We reserve the last word for the man wearing the last possible jersey number, doing his damage in the last minute of the weekend.
Adama Diomande's goal at the death gave LAFC a come-from-behind, 2-1 win over Sporting KC and Bob Bradley a very gracious 61st birthday present. LAFC's No. 99 juked Graham Zusi and powered a 94th-minute blast by Tim Melia, with only the back of the net saving the rocket from taking off into the 3252 supporters' section.
Sporting KC, perhaps fatigued by its CCL matches, resorted to physical play all night to take LAFC out of its rhythm, appearing to focus specifically on slowing down Carlos Vela. Six players went in the book, including Roger Espinoza twice, which gave LAFC the man advantage for the waning minutes. It took every last second before Dio's dagger, opening a second straight season with a three-point haul.