4-2-3-1: Week 1
Guess who’s back? Back again?
It’s Carlos Vela. The answer is Carlos Vela and he’s got receipts, apparently.
The MLS season for 2022 is here and after a short offseason that felt way too long, we can all watch things happen and make sweeping snap judgements. Lots of things happened in week one and we will go through them and find our: four favorite narratives, two games to go back and watch, three goals of the week, and one thing to look forward to next week.
Atlanta United is possibly very scary again. Sure they made the playoffs last year and were knocked out by the eventual champions, but they were tied for the league-lead in points earned over the home stretch with Gonzalo Pineda and they looked the part against Sporting Kansas City in week one. What made it more impressive is the fact that Atlanta was forced to get the job done while missing multiple projected starters and on top of that, playing Dom Dwyer (!!!) for 65+ minutes due to depth issues on the wing with Luis Araujo going down with an injury. Atlanta is not perfect and they will drop points at some point, but what week one from them showed was a scary level of depth. They can piece things together MacGyver-style and still throw haymakers.
If Atlanta United are MacGyver, Nashville SC has taken up the more ominous role of Thanos. Dread it. Run from it. Destine (1-0 losses to Nashville) still arrives. Nashville is going to make you earn everything you take from them and anything you earn will not be enjoyable. They defend like a team that was told they would have to sleep outside if they gave up a high quality chance. They stay incredibly well organized and are happy to just parry and dodge your strikes until you make a mistake, at which point they punish you because despite the perception lingering from 2020, Nashville does in fact have attacking talent that can ruin your day if they have to carry the ball through parts of a game. They know what they want to be and they execute it well. Beating Seattle in Seattle just felt like a nice reminder that they are ready to extend the Gary Smith Revenge Tour another year.
CONCACAF Champions League continues to drain teams like a pool full of leeches and reading into it should be done on a by-the-team basis. NYC losing to the Galaxy on the road? It happens and the expectations for both teams are sky high. Seattle losing to Nashville? Again, Thanos sat on your coach with muddy boots and you are neither the first nor the last victim of Gary Smith. Montreal losing a chaotic game in Orlando? Road losses after an emotional victory over a Liga MX team WHERE YOU GOT THEIR MANAGER FIRED is disappointing but ultimately OK. Colorado? Listen Rapids, we gotta talk. You got blown off the field by Carlos Vela and LAFC a few days after losing to Comunicaciones. Let us count the reasons that one feels inexcusable: It was at home, in the snow, at altitude and you had a man advantage for over an hour and squeaked out one goal that led to PKs where you lost. It is not the early 2010s anymore and MLS teams should be winning their ties more often than not against non Liga MX teams. It is not meant as a disrespect to a team like Comunicaciones – which played with a bravery that should live on for decades – but the budget and talent growth in MLS, combined with the circumstances, mean a win should have been an afterthought. Ultimately they committed the worst offense: Never be the subject of someone else’s legendy night. No one will blame you if you are asking real questions about Colorado right now, even after one week.
Finally, if you are looking for an “I don’t know if that was someone being good or someone else being really bad” then you can head down to Austin and see the dismantling of Cincinnati that the Verde delivered. A 5-0 win at home will always be celebrated but that is a hell of a damper on any hopes Cincinnati had to start strong. They got a new coach in place, some new energy, a chance to start the season with a relatively favorable road game and got deatomized. Is Austin really that good? Probably not but you can sell me on them being better in year two as they settle in and find themselves. Cincinnati though? Look, it will surely get better than that as the season goes along but the Wooden Spoon at this point is stained with Skyline Chili and if they want to let someone else hold it for a year they will need to do better than that.
New England at Portland - This was the game to watch if you needed to pick one that was not from your hometown. A slugfest. No jabs, on haymakers with an early goal of the year nominee between the team that hosted MLS Cup last year and the team that broke the points record. A wonderful game that was a joy to watch from the comfort of home with two managers who you just cannot bet against. Go back and watch this one and never count out either one as long as they are still fogging a mirror.
Toronto at FC Dallas - Sure it was a 1-1 game but both teams are rebuilding with new managers and were fun. They both want to attack and have that fun quality of “I don’t mind a few flesh wounds if I get to deliver some of my own” and they both had their opportunities. It will take time to see the finished product from both but there is reason for optimism in both camps and what do ya know, Texas might not hold down all three basement spots in the west this year.
1. Yimmi Chara - It’s a Goal of the Year candidate. It’s the best one you’ll see this week. Move on.
2. Chicharito - The man has that same magical quality that Josef Martinez and other amazing strikers have: The game just slows down for them in the big moments. This is a great job of getting back onside and then the casual drag, get it on the correct foot and almost lift the goal off the ground. In the 90th minute. The situation escalates and makes it even greater to me.
3. Dom Dwyer - Very similar to Vela’s and I would easily accept that one here but Dom had a bit more to do and dribbled past his defender before beating Tim Melia to the near post and turning Fontas into a traffic cone pushed it into third for me. Again, I will absolutely hear arguments for either. It is also a great ball because Josef Martinez has just decided to become an attacking midfielder now, I guess. Side note, both cases involved defenders daring left-footed attackers to cut inside on said left foot in two cases of stabbed men asking to be stabbed.
The obvious thing to keep an eye on will be the game with Charlotte FC and the LA Galaxy. Charlotte is expected to break the single game attendance record and I’m sure some will get up in arms about it in Atlanta but it feels unnecessary. Part of the fun with Atlanta was that they kept pushing the game forward in this country. A knock on effect is that you set a standard for others to match or beat. Seattle was in a similar situation before Atlanta game into being and the Galaxy will still claim a wonderful dynasty in the last decade that dominated. It is OK to have records like this broken. We should encourage it. Hell, if St. Louis wants to come in and put 80,000 in a stadium then by all means we should celebrate it. Now, it should be noted that it will be just as important – if not more so – that these clubs keep up the high averages. Obviously Atlanta has a unique setting where they can push their average above most in the country due to the expansion of the stadium but getting near capacity for your venue will be great to see for the Charlottes of the world. Hopefully they build on their week one loss and continue to represent the growth of the game in the southeast. We could be on the most hilarious collision course of all: the southeast becoming more annoying than the Pacific Northwest.