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5 Reactions To MLS Opening Weekend
- Updated: March 10, 2016
MLS opened its season Sunday with a huge flurry of matches, culminating in a wild west showdown between the L.A. Galaxy and D.C. United that didn’t finish until late into the night. For those that didn’t watch, you missed quite a bit of exciting soccer, but don’t worry these next five reactions will paint a picture of what you missed.
1.) Attacking soccer is alive and well in MLS
The previous record for goals in the opening weekend was 27 set all the way back in 2001. This particular opening day saw that record shattered to the tune of 36 goals. There was a barrage of action near the end of the first round of games that made my head spin as the MLS soccer Sunday crew kept jumping from game to game in an attempt to keep up with all the highlights.
For American fans who find soccer boring because of the lack of goals, this was certainly the weekend to watch. NYCFC vs Chicago produced seven goals, Houston vs New England six, and L.A. Galaxy vs D.C. United plus Montreal vs Vancouver five goals each. Each and every match was a back and forth affair with an endless bounty of chances.
To have attacking soccer to this degree is not surprising given the fact that of the nearly fifty DP (designated players, or players who have a large salary that fractionally counts against the cap) slots occupied in MLS, only three are allocated for defenders. That means the other forty-five or so players who are the league’s most highly paid are attackers. It is logical that scoring and to the casual fan, excitement, is at an all-time high with the financial distribution being so lopsided.
2.) MLS Soccer Sunday coverage knocked it out of the park
ESPN3, Youtube, and mlssoccer.com combined to create a studio show in the mold of NFL Redzone for every game except the evening nationally televised matches. What this means is that an MLS diehard, like myself, could watch nearly eleven hours of MLS coverage Sunday. I didn’t watch every minute of the action, but the coverage was wonderful. The crew spent long stretches of time covering each match, previewing every team and most importantly were not afraid to cut in and switch to the most interesting action.
It was a brilliant move by MLS to kick off their season and the selection of the in-house crew was also spot on. The highlight of the group was probably Jason Kreis, the former Real Salt Lake manager and most recently NYCFC head man. He brought an interesting perspective to his former squad and wasn’t afraid to be opinionated about it. Others in the studio show included Matt “The Armchair Analyst” Doyle, former MLS player Calen Carr, KickTV’s own Heath Pearce, and a former head referee.
3.) MLS is thriving locally, just not yet nationally
What I mean by that is that while the attendance figures for each match were encouraging, the TV ratings were once again abysmal. According to sportstvratings.com, ESPN’s nationally broadcasted game was outdrawn by Stetson vs Florida Gulf Coast college basketball and Mississippi State vs South Carolina women’s college basketball on the same day. There are a number of factors influencing the poor TV ratings, like small market clubs, many hardcore fans attending their own team’s match (every league game was Sunday), and lack of advertisement from ESPN. Despite all these excuses, the fact remains the average American doesn’t want to tune in unless their club is playing.
The NFL and NBA are successful in large part because even casual fans want to watch the Buffalo Bills against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. In the NBA, tell me one casual fan that doesn’t want to watch Steph Curry and Golden State play, well anyone. Until the MLS creates a feeling amongst casual soccer fans that there are must watch clubs, nationally the league will never be relevant.
Locally, however, MLS couldn’t be stronger. Orlando City had the fifth highest attended match in the world for the weekend with a crowd of over 60,000. Elsewhere in the league, Portland, Vancouver, and San Jose all had sellouts. In total, MLS experienced an average crowd of over 26,000.
4.) Canadian clubs are really good
Toronto FC may have achieved the most impressive result in the first week with an away win against the New York Red Bulls. They were able to secure the victory without the service of the, once again, injured Jozy Altidore leading the line. With solid additions made throughout the defense this offseason, Toronto look primed to have the ability to match their potent offensive attack. Giovinco displayed no signs of slowing down following his MVP performance a year ago, with a goal and assist.
Montreal and Vancouver were matched up with one another otherwise the Canadian clubs might have gone for the sweep over the weekend. Montreal without the services of a finicky Didier Drogba won a hard-fought battle 3-2 behind a potential MVP dark horse in Ignacio Piatti. Piatti scored a beautiful goal after weaving through a thicket of Vancouver defenders:
Vancouver, on the other hand, is thought by many an MLS pundit to be a favorite in the Western Conference with a young deep team.
5.) Old guys get the first laugh
This offseason, there was a good deal of hand wringing about the collective age of the L.A. Galaxy and also the immobility of NYCFC midfielder Andrea Pirlo. While many of the questions were not put to rest this weekend, both clubs got off to a flying start.
L.A. Galaxy after going down 1-0 to D.C. United put on a show in the second half en route to a 4-1 victory. The scoreline doesn’t do United justice as they outplayed the Galaxy for long stretches, yet the quality in L.A.’s attack carried the day.
Steven Gerrard will miss the cover provided by the now departed Juninho and I question whether Nigel de Jong has the legs for an entire season. Yet, all is well in L.A. for now as Mike Magee did his thing off the bench, leading the Galaxy to a big three points.
NYCFC also got off to a positive start against perhaps the worst team in the league. The main concern, Pirlo, put in a performance that most expected (well-played passing, yet defensively he didn’t even move much). New York will have to figure out how to put a midfield around Pirlo like Juventus did, that allows him to focus solely on spraying balls from a deep-lying position and little else. Three points, especially on the road, is nothing to sneeze at regardless of the opposition.
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