MLS Wrap-Up: 10 Things We Learned from Regular Season Week 1

Jason Davis@davisjsnSpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 12, 2012

MLS Wrap-Up: 10 Things We Learned from Regular Season Week 1

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    Week 1 of the 2012 MLS season is (mostly) in the books. While not exactly chock full of surprises, the first slate of games gave us a tangible set of results to judge how the first part of the season might go.

    Despite the hype and anticipation ahead of First Kick, it takes awhile for MLS clubs to fully get into the swing of things. New players in new systems rarely head into the campaign flying. Teams moving into the season without massive changes from 2011 should have an advantage, but still have to find their feet. 

    That means the soccer we saw was a far cry from the best the league will offer this year (hopefully).

    But uneven play can still produce moments of excitement. There were a few of those.

    Some of what we thought we knew before games kicked off is still true, while some suddenly deserve a reassessment. So what did we learn?

MLS Can Be Ugly, Especially in Week 1

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    The level of play in Major League Soccer isn't as bad as some people think, but then, it's not exactly what anyone would call "good" all the time, either. And it's certainly unattractive more than occasionally.

    The first week bore that out, with some of the play being flat-out dreadful, turning the games into a chore to watch. Part of that is down to the Week 1 matchups, with a few of the league's more direct and physical teams battling each other. 

    But even teams we expect to be good this year struggled to get going. It took Sporting Kansas City until added time to find a winner in D.C., though they controlled the game throughout. Houston needed injury time themselves to beat Chivas USA.

    Time is the only cure for some of the ugliness on display this weekend. Of course, some teams will just always be ugly.

LA's Defense Has Some Issues

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    First, the caveats: LA was coming off an emotional and exhausting mid-week game in Toronto, RSL is capable of doing that to anyone, and the Galaxy started a rookie in central defense.

    The first two could make Galaxy fans feel a little better about the state of their defense moving forward, but the latter is going to haunt them all season. Omar Gonzalez is not walking through that door.

    Presumed starter Andrew Boyens was identified as the weak link before the season began, the hole in an otherwise strong team that might hold the Galaxy back. A mediocre defensive performance against Toronto in the CONCACAF Champions League showed those fears weren't unfounded.

    Tommy Meyer's insertion into the lineup in place of Boyens on Saturday night indicates how uncertain Bruce Arena is in his central defense, and the 3-1 loss to RSL shows it could be an ongoing problem.

    In other words, don't hand LA any trophies just yet.

Vancouver's French Connection Will Be Potent

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    When Sebastien Le Toux landed in Vancouver after being unceremoniously dumped by the Union, the Whitecaps suddenly had one of the league's best striker tandems.

    Le Toux and fellow Frenchman Eric Hassli combined for Vancouver's first goal of the season on Saturday, giving the rest of the league a glimpse of just how dangerous the two can be when paired together.

    Now that the Whitecaps have the dynamic Le Toux, who will no doubt return the favor by setting up Hassli many times this year, Vancouver just needs to sort out their defensive issues to have a chance at the playoffs in their second MLS season.

    It would be a mighty leap for the Whitecaps to make the playoffs in 2012, but they won't miss out because of their two Frenchman.

The Red Bulls Are Still an Enigma

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    After struggling to create much of an attack through 70 minutes against FC Dallas on Sunday, the Red Bulls finally woke up. Despite more than enough talent to get the job done, Hans Backe's team once again came in under expectations, losing 2-1. 

    Hans Backe surprised many when he started Juan Agudelo rather than new acquisition Kenny Cooper alongside Thierry Henry. Cooper scored, combining well with Henry, so perhaps Backe will make a switch shortly. 

    The sudden faith in Agudelo was a sharp departure from Backe's previous approach with the young striker. Meanwhile, Thierry Henry is already acting surly. 

    The lineup (missing a suspended Rafa Marquez) and performance only reinforces what we already know about New York: They have the horses but haven't yet figured out how to maximize their potential, and they're never far from drama. 

The Columbus Crew Really Hate Going to Colorado

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    The Columbus Crew just don't do trips to Colorado.

    The Rapids dispatched the Crew easily at Dick's Sporting Goods Park 2-0 on Saturday, on goals by Drew Moor and Quincy Amarikwa. 

    The loss in Colorado to open the season follows Columbus's wild-card playoff loss to the Rapids last season in Commerce City, which followed a regular season loss there, which followed the Crew's away leg loss in the 2010 playoffs. 

    Too bad the Crew won't have a chance to even the score at Crew Stadium, where they have beaten Colorado in recent years. The two teams don't play again in 2012. 

The Quakes Will Scrap and Wait for Wondo

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    The San Jose Earthquakes are no one's idea of a sexy soccer team, at least not in the way they go about grabbing points on the field. It's mostly scrap and battle and hope Chris Wondolowski finds a goal.

    Frank Yallop is a pragmatic coach, and his team reflects his character. This is a team playing Steven Lenhart, after all.

    Saturday's home win over the New England Revolution is a case in point; the Quakes hung on for the win after Chris Wondolowski's 15th minute goal, doing little more than stymieing the Revs for the balance of the game.

    But, as long as Wondo continues scoring at a rapid clip, it's not exactly the worst game plan. 

FC Dallas Doesn't Need Perez to Score for Him to Make a Difference

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    Blas Perez didn't score either of FC Dallas's two goals in their win over New York, but he collected assists on both.

    Perez was signed to score goals, and Schellas Hyndman will no doubt hope the Panamanian does so in short order. With David Ferreira still recovering from his ankle injury, Dallas will need Perez's scoring contribution as much as it needs his hold up play and distribution.

    Perez showed he can play provider on Saturday, laying off a poor clearance to Zach Loyd for the first Dallas goal and putting through Ricardo Villar for their second.

    It's not the element of his game that got Perez the big MLS contract, but it's a nice bonus for Hyndman and company that will serve them well while their lineup solidifies.

Real Salt Lake Has No Intention of Conceding the West

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    Real Salt Lake was the forgotten team in the preseason hype around the LA Galaxy and (to a lesser extent) the Seattle Sounders. The Utah club isn't an obvious choice to take silverware this season.

    Let's not forget Jason Kreis's team nearly won a continental championship last season, gave LA a test in the Western Conference Final and continued a run of successful campaigns going back to their MLS Cup win in 2009.

    Nevertheless, they ran a distant third in predictions for the Western Conference order of finish. Playoffs, sure; first place, not so much.

    RSL enters the season dealing with injury issues, and it's still not certain that Javier Morales will return to this pre-injury form. But their 3-1 win over LA, with Morales coming on as a substitute and picking up a goal, is a definite statement that Real Salt Lake intends to give LA and Seattle a run for the top spot in the conference.

C.J. Sapong Isn't Ready for a Sophomore Slump

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    Somewhat surprisingly, C.J. Sapong didn't start for Sporting Kansas City at RFK Stadium on Saturday. Head coach Peter Vermes opted instead for the greater speed of Teal Bunbury against D.C. United, relegating Sapong and his more physical, athletic game to the bench.

    When that didn't work, and Sporting looked headed for a road draw to open the year, Vermes called on Sapong to make a difference off the bench late in the game.

    The second-year striker replaced Bunbury in the 75th and headed home an athletic goal in injury time.

    It was a emotional moment for the local product, and a perhaps a sign that Sapong is ready to back up his first-year success with a productive 2012. 

Great Goalkeeping Performances Aren't Enough

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    Both D.C. United's Bill Hamid and Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy put in heroic performances between the sticks for their respective teams this weekend. Unfortunately, neither hit the showers with much to show for their efforts.

    Hamid make a spectacular save and stopped six other shots for United against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday. The young keeper once again showed why Jurgen Klinsmann has tapped him for USMNT duty. But all that was needed to spoil Hamid's excellent day was a set piece goal from C.J. Sapong in the 93rd minute.

    Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy matched Hamid's performance from a statistical standpoint, making seven saves of his own against Houston. Just as with Hamid, Kennedy was let down by an offense that couldn't score and an injury time winner from the opponent. André Hainault slipped a shot past Kennedy in the 92nd minute, just as Chivas appeared set for the draw.

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