Major League Soccer returned for its seventeenth season over the weekend with two major story lines: the debut of expansion Montreal Impact and the match between arguably the league’s top two sides, LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. The opening weekend did not disappoint with several fantastic goals and late winners. New players made a nice first impression while others returned to MLS, eager to prove their value. Overall the league started its new season in a positive way.
Saturday March 10:
Vancouver Whitecaps 2 – Montreal Impact 0
The league’s newest club, Montreal Impact, debuted against long-time Canadian rivals Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place in British Columbia. Instead of celebrating their entry into the league, the Quebec-based club were given a harsh taste of reality when Sébastien Le Toux scored in the fourth minute for his new team, Vancouver. Though the Impact had its share of chances, through captain Davy Arnaud in particular, the visitors were never equal to the home side’s expansive offensive prowess. The inclusion of Le Toux alongside his French compatriot Eric Hassli gives Vancouver a powerful pairing, one which regularly overpowered the Montreal defense. In the second half, a combination of Hassli and Swiss midfielder Davide Chiumiento sprung Brazilian Camilo for a wonderful goal, bringing the score to 2-0 and giving Vancouver all three points in the interconference tie.
Colorado Rapids 2 – Columbus Crew 0
In a rematch of last season’s Wild Card Playoff game, Colorado Rapids were again victorious at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park against Columbus Crew, this time 2-0. Defender Drew Moor opened the scoring for the home side with a header just before half-time. Though goalkeeper Matt Pickens was called upon several times to preserve the narrow lead, with Chad Marshall coming the closest to equalizing, Colorado never ceded ground to Columbus. Quincy Amarikwa provided the final margin with a long-distance rocket in the 89th minute. The match pitted the 2010 (Colorado) and 2008 (Columbus) MLS Cup champions.
DC United 0 – Sporting Kansas City 1
One of only two intra-conference ties on the weekend saw Sporting Kansas City, last season’s top Eastern Conference team, escape from Washington, DC with a late 1-0 win over DC United at RFK Stadium. 2011 Rookie of the Year CJ Sapong headed in the crucial goal half-way through the four minutes of injury-time, giving Sporting all three points in a match they deserved to win. Despite dominating the chances and possession, the visitors just could not find their way past DC goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Finally, Sapong eluded the defending of Daniel Woolard and nodded a Graham Zusi corner past a motionless Hamid. Despite struggling to score against DC, Sporting are expected to be the top team in the Eastern Conference again in 2012.
San Jose Earthquakes 1 – New England Revolution 0
MLS’s leading scorer over the past two seasons, Chris Wondolowski scored the opener and ultimately the winner for San Jose Earthquakes in a 1-0 win against New England Revolution at Buck Shaw Stadium. The tiny ground (sold out at 10,525) erupted in the fifteenth minute when a poor Shalrie Joseph pass was intercepted by Shea Salinas and fed to the streaking Wondolowski. From there, the US international calmly shot past Matt Reis for the game’s only goal. The Revolution, trying to rebound from finishing eighteenth in 2011, still have quite a bit of work ahead if they are to compete for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference this season. Though Benny Feilhaber did have a nice chance late on, first-year manager Jay Heaps could find this season a long one.
LA Galaxy 1 – Real Salt Lake 3
The marquee tie of the opening day of games came in Los Angeles where the MLS Cup holders hosted last season’s CONCACAF Champions League finalists. The Galaxy were denied a first half lead twice via the intervention of the crossbar as Landon Donovan (27th minute) and Marcelo Sarvas (44th) both saw terrific shots from outside the box beat Nick Rimando but carom to safely away from goal. Neither side could find a way into goal until a perfect David Beckham cross found the head of Edson Buddle in the 71st minute. That header pushed the Galaxy ahead and seemed to take away the momentum Salt Lake built through strong possession. Yet two minutes later, Sean Franklin redirected a Sebastian Velasquez cross into his own net, leveling the score and providing life for RSL. Javier Morales, a 67th minute substitute, gave the visitors the advantage when he poked in a goal after a goalmouth scramble in the 80th minute, stunning the Galaxy fans at the Home Depot Center. Finally, the combination of Álvaro Saborío and Fabián Espíndola provided a third goal for the visitors, pushing the score to 3-1 in the 85th minute. Afterward LA manager Bruce Arena blamed fatigue, having played mid-week in Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. Regardless, it was the first Galaxy loss at home since November 2010 and the first victory for Real Salt Lake away to Los Angeles since June 2009. The top sides will face each other again in Los Angeles and once in Salt Lake City.
Sunday March 11:
FC Dallas 2 – Red Bull New York 1
FC Dallas opened the new season in style as Panamanian new boy Blas Pérez assisted on both goals in a 2-1 defeat of Red Bull New York at FC Dallas Stadium. Zach Loyd got the opener on eleven minutes before Ricardo Villar scored from a terrific Pérez through ball in the 61st. New York struggled all afternoon with its combination of Thierry Henry and Juan Agudelo up top. Only with Kenny Cooper‘s inclusion just after the hour was Red Bull able to challenge Dallas at all. Cooper received a perfectly weighted long ball from Henry and cooly clipped the ball clear of the onrushing Kevin Hartman to pull one back for the visitors in the 78th minute. Moments later, the former Dallas and Portland striker sent a rocket toward goal, forcing a difficult save by Hartman. In the end though, Red Bull had far too little on the day. Manager Hans Backe will be questioned about leaving Cooper on the bench after a strong pre-season, particularly after the 19-year old Agudelo did very little to show why he deserved to start. The victory for Dallas was also the fourth win by a Western Conference team against an Eastern Conference foe in the first weekend.
Chivas USA 0 – Houston Dynamo 1
In a match similar to Saturday’s DC United-Sporting KC game, reigning Eastern Conference champions Houston Dynamo dominated the chances and possession against Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center but needed an injury-time goal to lift them to victory, 1-0. Canadian international defender André Hainault scored the winner just when it looked like Chivas might steal a point after an uninspiring performance. With tarps covering large sections of the stadium, limiting attendance to a maximum of 18,000 (which was not met), the home side managed very little beyond the crafty back-heel shot Juan Pablo Ángel flicked toward goal just before half-time. That back-heel, which came directly from a corner, ricocheted off the near post, bouncing safely away and leaving the Goats wanting. With six more away games to start the season as their new stadium is completed, Houston will feel fortunate to take all three points. The victory was also the first for an Eastern Conference team against a Western Conference team in 2012.
Monday March 12:
Portland Timbers 3 – Philadelphia Union 1
The final match of the First Kick weekend saw Portland Timbers come from a goal down to defeat Philadelphia Union 3-1 at Jeld-Wen Field. Gabriel Gómez scored from a 51st minute free kick for the Union after a listless first half from both sides. Portland replied with three goals in twenty-two minutes, starting with a 54th minute header from 19-year old defender Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Designated Player Kris Boyd headed in Portland’s second in spectacular fashion in the 66th before Kalif Alhassan, the MLS Player of the Week, chipped the Philadelphia goalkeeper in the 76th. The offensive output belied the torrential rain and wind gusts that kept even the covered supporters wet. Portland’s victory only reinforces their overwhelming home field advantage while the Union were yet another Eastern Conference club to lose against Western Conference opposition.