So MLS is back everybody!
And boy, week one could not have showed off the league's constant excitement and unmatched parity any better. A record 36 goals were scored throughout the action-filled day, with seven of them occurring between NYCFC and Chicago Fire and six between the Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution. Of course, you can't forget Orlando City SC's ridiculous comeback against Real Salt Lake, when they scored in the 94th and 95th minute to pull out the hardest-fought draw ever.
All of this craziness was preceded by the first match of the afternoon, Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls. This intriguing matchup saw last year's Supporters' Shield winners face a side that includes MVP winner Sebastian Giovinco. Although the Red Bulls had control for the majority of the match–they managed to keep a 63% possession advantage for the entirety–Toronto would emerge victorious thanks to some of Giovinco's magic.
After NYRB appeared to be on the verge of scoring for around 80 minutes, last year's leading Golden Boot winner took over. The Italian found a sliver of space down the wing in the 81-minute and sent it towards rookie winger Tsubasa Endoh, who was pushed over by Kemar Lawrence, earning TFC a penalty-kick. Giovinco smashed it home, and, about ten minutes later, he was at it again when he picked up an assist on Marky Delgado's goal in second-half stoppage time.
It's encouraging for Toronto to see him playing as well as he did last season. With him being such an important part of their offensive production, they need him to produce at a similar rate as 2015. History isn't at his side, as no one in MLS history has been able to score 20 goals two years in a row. But as Giovinco showed here, he is at peak form to start the season.
He did it at a different position than usual. With Jozy Altidore sitting due to a hamstring problem, the former Juventus man was placed as a center-forward in a 4-3-3, separate from his usual position in two-forward sets. Giovinco adjusted well, playing all over the field and doing what he does best: wreck havoc on opposing defenses.
One positive that the Red Bulls can take, however, is that newly acquired center-back Gideon Baah, replacing the departed Matt Miazga, looked very, very good. He shut down Giovinco early on and was spot on with his distribution. But overall, New York have to be disappointed that they weren't able to get at least point from their opening match of the season.
Here are some other key points from the hectic opening Sunday:
Portland Timbers victorious over Crew
In a nationally televised rematch of last year's MLS Cup Final, the Timbers narrowly defeated Columbus Crew SC in front of their loud and excited fans at Providence Park.
The same 2-1 scoreline haunted Crew fans. Despite the constant pressure they put on Adam Kwarsey's goal, Columbus were unable to strike first, and they would end up on the back-foot when Diego Valeri's set piece cross bounced past a screened Steve Clark, putting the Timbers ahead by a goal.
It took 42 minutes for the Crew to respond, but Federico Higuain's goal was well worth the wait. The Argentine's acrobatic bicycle kick instantly became a contender for Goal of the Week, and quieted the bouncing Portland crowd. That gave the away side all the momentum, but they were unable to take advantage of it. The Timbers, content with sitting back and waiting to counter, didn't make a huge effort to take away possession from Columbus, who would end with a 61% advantage in the statistic.
It wasn't until the 79th-minute when they got on the counter, as Dairon Asprilla's blast was parried by Clark in the direction of Fanendo Adi, who knocked it home to give the Timbers the lead. They would hold onto it for the rest of the match, just like last December.
Portland look like they have a serious chance at repeating as MLS Cup champions, if this game was any indication. The Crew, meanwhile, will be just fine.
Orlando City storm back against RSL
A game that was an afterthought going into week one turned out to be the best match of the weekend.
Cyle Larin disposed of any sophomore slump notions with a goal and assist in the last two minutes of their game at home against Real Salt Lake. The second-year striker, who set an MLS rookie record for goals last season, had concerns that he would drop off after enjoying such success last season, but those were, for the moment, discarded following this clutch performance.
If he looks like that by himself, imagine next week when Kaka returns.
Seattle Sounders: Their first MLS match with Jordan Morris up front didn't exactly go as planned. A 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City was a disappointing result to say the least, but there's always an adjustment period for big changes like the ones the Sounders are undergoing. Verdict: Ongoing
Ignacio Piatti: It turns out that the Montreal Impact don't need Didier Drogba after all. That may be an overstatement, but they reassured everyone that they are more than a one-man team with a 3-2 victory at Vancouver. Piatti, who scored a magnificent solo goal, was at the forefront of that. Verdict: Promising
Revolution without Jermaine Jones: They needed a late Daigo Kobayashi goal to draw with the Dynamo, but a point is a point and the Revs will take that away to start the season. The defense could need some work, but the offense proved its worth in the 3-3 tie. Verdict: Better
Final Points of Emphasis
—Patrick Viera and NYCFC can score goals: The NYCFC-Chicago Fire match was similar to an NBA game: defense was non-existent. 4-3 was the final score, with NYC getting all three points. It was an impressive performance for Viera's side, who look to improve on their mediocre initial season in MLS. Possibly more reassuring, though, is the fact that those goals came from players who haven't seen the field all that much previously.
Khiry Shelton, Tony Taylor, Tommy McNamara and Mix Diskerud scored for them in Chicago. The first two saw sparse playing time last year, while the McNamara and Diskerud are key components in the midfield who NYC will look to for goals.
—So can the Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo needed to improve their chance creation for this season, as one big weakness they had last year was that nobody really could be classified as a playmaker in the midfield. They addressed that by trading for Cristian Maidana, who made his debut along with Andrew Wenger against New England.
The result was three goals and what really should have been a Dynamo win. It was a very promising for Houston to see all the goals, and more so to see Maidana proving his worth as a number-ten.
–Mike Magee!!!: If Giovani dos Santos turns out to be injured for an extended period, the LA Galaxy apparently have no need to worry, because Mike Magee is ready to step in! The former MLS MVP scored twice and assisted one after he replaced dos Santos at half-time due to a leg injury. It was overall a good night for the Galaxy, as they bounced back from conceding early to D.C. United.