MLS: 10 Things We Learned on Opening Weekend
The 2015 MLS season began on Friday, with the defending champion LA Galaxy claiming a 2-0 win against a hapless Chicago Fire team at the StubHub Center.
Saturday was highlighted by Jozy Altidore's brace against the Vancouver Whitecaps in his competitive debut for Toronto FC. Four goals were scored in that game. The other five matches combined for just three goals.
Sunday provided some dramatic moments. Ten-man Orlando City SC salvaged a draw against New York City FC in front of over 62,000 fans at the Citrus Bowl in the teams' inaugural MLS match.
Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls tied, while the Seattle Sounders confidently defeated the New England Revolution in the final two games of opening weekend.
Here are 10 things we learned in the first round of regular-season matches.
LA Galaxy Will Be Just Fine Without Landon Donovan
Jose Villarreal started on the left flank in the role Landon Donovan formerly occupied. Villarreal is tipped to be a future star for the LA Galaxy, but he has yet to meet expectations.
The homegrown product finished a disappointing loan spell at Cruz Azul in summer 2014. He was sent down to the Galaxy's reserve squad and wasn't even on the first team for most of the season.
However, in his first appearance of the 2015 season without Donovan, the 21-year-old showed flashes of brilliance. He wasn't outstanding, but none of the players for either the Galaxy or Chicago Fire were particularly sharp.
Villarreal finished with a goal and was wreaking havoc on the left wing with Gyasi Zardes and Robbie Rogers.
The Inglewood, California, native missed a few quality opportunities to add to his tally, but with more time, he'll slowly come into form. If he does, the Galaxy might be asking "Landon, who?"
Shaun Maloney Needs to Play Higher Up the Pitch
The Chicago Fire struggled in almost every way against the LA Galaxy on Friday. Designated player Shaun Maloney played a deeper role than usual, and as a result was ineffective.
Head coach Frank Yallop played Maloney beside Chris Ritter in a 4-4-2 system. Ritter's equally pitiful display exposed the Scot's weaknesses.
The 32-year-old typically plays as a No. 10 and runs in bursts. By the beginning of the second half, Maloney looked knackered.
Maloney and the Fire would benefit if the player were operating in his usual role. Stamina, endurance and defending aren't attributes the DP has, so Yallop should plan accordingly on Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Montreal Impact Still Lack Attacking Chemistry
The Montreal Impact re-tooled this offseason and acquired some great players. However, they did not sign a striker, and the absence of a solid goalscorer has left a gaping hole in the Impact's squad.
Jack McInerney has potential and could replicate his form from 2013, but it will take time to gain an understanding with some of his new teammates.
Ignacio Piatti didn't join Montreal until last summer and only started twice behind McInerney last season. Dilly Duka was another midseason arrival, and Justin Mapp could miss significant time due to serious injury.
The chemistry up front will take time to develop. As long as the likes of McInerney and Piatti start together, they'll eventually gain an understanding a few weeks into the season.
Jozy Altidore Has His Confidence Back
Jozy Altidore was acquired by Toronto FC from Sunderland in exchange for Jermain Defoe. Altidore scored just one Premier League goal in 42 appearances, and due to his designated player status, there was some scrutiny directed at the American.
The 25-year-old striker silenced those critics for one night. His brace against the Vancouver Whitecaps means his TFC career has begun well, but there's something even more significant here.
Altidore's second goal was scored via the penalty spot, but he opted for the Panenka-style chip. He made no mistake, ran over to the Whitecaps fans and put his hand over his ear.
A NSFW photo of Altidore, retweeted by Toronto FC and taken by Duncan Nicol of the Vancouver Southsiders, went viral the day after the match. It's a sign that the U.S. international's confidence is back and that he's happy again.
Octavio Rivero Gives Us an Early Contender for Miss of the Season
Saturday was not kind to the Vancouver Whitecaps and to striker Octavio Rivero.
The Uruguayan forward scored against Toronto FC, but minutes before opening the scoring, he delivered an early contender for miss of the season.
Rivero whiffed on a cross from less than six yards away from an open goal. The Whitecaps lost 3-1, but an early goal could've set the tone at the outset of the game.
The 23-year-old was asked about the miss after the match by reporters (h/t The Province's Marc Weber):
"I tried to get the ball but it just got underneath my feet. I’m still getting used to the pitch. It was disappointing we didn’t score there."
There may not be a miss worse than that for the rest of the 2015 season.
Carlos Rivas Can Be a Top-Tier MLS Striker
Orlando City SC head coach Adrian Heath chose Carlos Rivas to play up front instead of young designated player Bryan Rochez. The 20-year-old Colombian demonstrated his pace and athleticism, but also frustrated fans with his poorly timed runs.
Rivas was flagged for offside five times, per MLSSoccer.com. He also generated five shots, but none hit the target.
Orlando's counterattacks were dangerous, especially with Kaka on the ball. It wasn't perfect, though. The Lions were hesitant with their passing, causing Rivas to mistime his runs.
Like every other team that had a busy winter, Orlando's squad still needs to get used to each other. Rivas' selection was a surprise, but if he and his teammates can develop an understanding, he's going to torment opposing defenses.
Bradley Wright-Phillips Still Adjusting to Life Without Thierry Henry
Bradley Wright-Phillips was rewarded for his 27-goal season with a designated player contract in December. The deal was signed just weeks before sporting director Andy Roxburgh left the club.
Roxburgh was replaced by Ali Curtis a week later. Curtis made a flurry of moves, which left Wright-Phillips as the New York Red Bulls' only DP.
Thierry Henry retired and Tim Cahill departed for China. This shifted all of the offensive responsibility onto the shoulders of the Englishman.
Wright-Phillips started up front against Sporting Kansas City, ahead of Sacha Kljestan, Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam. The 29-year-old forward failed to record a shot, per MLSSoccer.com.
The Red Bulls' overall attack was average, but it's clear how integral Henry was to New York. The Frenchman assisted 10 of Wright-Phillips' 27 regular-season goals in 2014.
Considering the turnover this winter, it might take a few games for Wright-Phillips to settle into coach Jesse Marsch's system. However, if the forward doesn't quickly adjust to the team that surrounds him, New York will be headed for trouble.
Seattle Sounders Are Unstoppable with Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey Together
Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey combined for 32 goals and 13 assists for the Seattle Sounders last season. Both forwards were integral to the Sounders' Supporters' Shield-winning campaign.
Nothing changed in the 2015 season opener against the New England Revolution. Martins and Dempsey were involved in all three goals in Seattle's 3-0 demolition of last year's MLS Cup finalists.
The Revolution did not have Jermaine Jones or Lee Nguyen, who are both recovering from injuries. However, the Sounders were lethal and clinical on attack, unlike most teams this past weekend.
Dempsey and Martins may have struggled if Jones had started, but they have to be constantly monitored. If both players are given enough space, they'll take advantage.
As long as both forwards are in the lineup, the Sounders will be difficult to stop.
Fans Simultaneously Impress and Disappoint
Orlando City SC sold out the Citrus Bowl in their inaugural MLS match against New York City FC. Over 62,000 fans packed the stadium to watch the Lions draw 1-1 against their expansion cousins. The sea of purple was an incredible sight.
However, two other sets of fans caused a stir for different reasons. A Houston Dynamo supporter allegedly threw beer at Columbus Crew forward Kei Kamara. The Sierra Leonean tweeted about it after the game.
In Vancouver, something similar happened after Jozy Altidore's second goal. Whitecaps fans threw beer at the American, according to Kurtis Larson of the Toronto Sun.
Altidore had some fun with the incident when Larson asked him about it, even commenting on how Canadian beer tastes.
"No different. Same thing. The feeling is the same. Credit to [Whitecaps] fans, they’re fantastic. Hopefully when they come to [Toronto] we give them the same thing."
These may be isolated incidents, but it's certainly not fun to see a player getting pelted with alcohol. On the bright side, Orlando fans demonstrated how much supporters can add to a game.
MLS Teams Are Still in Preseason Mode
The key takeaway from this weekend is that many players are still gaining fitness, chemistry and a feel for the ball.
Carlos Rivas strolled offside too much, the Seattle Sounders were dominant and Bradley Wright-Phillips was a non-factor. However, it's just one game.
Eight of the 10 matches were locked at 0-0 at halftime. In total, only 16 goals were scored last weekend. Injuries and CBA (collective bargaining agreement) negotiations seemed to take their toll on the players as well.
Several teams also added new players this winter, so adjusting to a new league, coach and teammates will take time. The performances on the field should improve within the next few weeks.