The first week for Major League Soccer and the Western Conference is a wrap. The surprise? A well-prepared Minnesota United FC team outplaying a perennially tough Portland Timbers team on hostile ground in the Rose City. Maybe not so surprising? Western Conference giant LAFC defeating new side Inter Miami.
The opening week also saw plenty of new names making their MLS debuts, and quite a few goals for new and old faces alike!
Dallas started off their 2020 campaign with a 2-0 win at home over the Philadelphia Union, with goals from Zdenek Ondrasek and youngster Paxton Pomykal. The young Dallas side was very sturdy defensively, frustrating the Union and looking very capable in the attack. New addition Thiago Santos took control of the midfield and shut the Union down, while the attack of Michael Barrios and Jesus Ferreira was threatening. As with every team in the first match of the season, FC Dallas have some things to clean up, but this was a promising result this weekend and will only improve as the season goes on.
Next Match: Next Saturday, FC Dallas host Montreal, who picked up a 2-1 win over New England this weekend. Should be an interesting test for two sides that many people have some doubt about. With Montreal potentially having to rotate because of Concacaf Champions League, this match could be another good chance for Dallas to pick up another three points.
In their first match under new Head Coach Tab Ramos, the Dynamo traded blows with the Galaxy in a 1-1 draw, with goals from Cristian Pavon and Mauro Manotas. I was pleasantly surprised with Houston’s defensive resilience against Chicharito and the Galaxy, with the only goal coming from a wonder-strike by Pavon. Manotas pulled the Dynamo level in the 54th, which is how it would end. Matias Vera and Zarek Valentin were stand out performers, in my opinion, and a 1-1 draw seems fair. As the season goes on, if the Dynamo are to have success, the defense will have to play much stronger than last year, and Mauro Manotas needs to continue his goalscoring form he had in 2019. But after one match, things look promising for the Dynamo in 2020.
Next Match: Houston will hit the road and head to Sporting Kansas City, who were very impressive in their first match this season. If Houston hopes to come away from KC with a positive result, they must lock down their defense and be prepared to deal with Alan Pulido and Johnny Russell.
Los Angeles FC
LAFC started their season against new expansion side Inter Miami. LAFC came away with a 1-0 win thanks to a cheeky Carlos Vela chip. Miami gave LAFC a serious run for their money. Perhaps this was simply due to fatigue on LAFC’s side from their Champions League victory over Leon, or maybe Inter Miami are better than people seem to think (the latter being my opinion, I’m a really big fan of Miami and what they’ve done, but I digress). In the end, LAFC didn’t play their best football, but still came away with three points, and really, that’s all that matters.
Next Match: LAFC host the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, which should be a relatively easy three points, before their champions league quarter-final tie against Cruz Azul.
The Galaxy drew 1-1 with Houston, thanks to a Pavon golazo and then a Mauro Manotas equalizer. Of course, this game was also Chicharito’s MLS debut, but to be fair, the Mexican international didn’t do much. He made a few smart runs and a few intelligent plays, but didn’t have the massive impact fans were hoping for—which could be expected in his first MLS match. The Galaxy seemed much more defensively resilient than previous seasons this past weekend, which may be a good sign for their playoff ambitions. But in the draw this weekend, the Galaxy looked *fine*. Nothing amazing, nothing terrible; just fine. Pavon was without a doubt their best player this weekend.
Next Match: The Galaxy have their home opener this upcoming weekend against the Vancouver Whitecaps. This game seems like a very good chance for three points and Chicharito’s first MLS goal. Definitely a match I’ll be keeping my eyes on!
Minnesota United FC
In my opinion, the Western Conference team that had the best opening week was Minnesota United. The Loons went to Portland—a venue where it’s hard to get results—and picked up a 3-1 win, with the only goal against coming from a questionable penalty decision. Following a brace from Kevin Molino and a goal from newcomer Luis Amarilla, as well as a solid backline, Minnesota really impressed me with their performance. The 2019 Defender of the Year Ike Opara had an excellent game (despite giving away the penalty), and as a unit, the Loons seemed very well organized and executed a wonderful game against the Timbers. It also makes my heart happy to see Amarilla score on his MLS debut.
Next Match: MNUFC are away from home again this weekend and traveling to San Jose. If the team performs the way they did against the Timbers, they will come away with another three points, resulting in six to start their season. Minnesota could turn out to be a dark-horse MLS Cup contender.
The new boys in the West! Nashville lost a close duel with Atlanta 2-1 in front of nearly 60,000 spectators, with its first-ever goal as an MLS club courtesy of Walker Zimmerman. This match has been overshadowed by the news of Josef Martinez’s torn ACL, but I was pleasantly surprised by Nashville’s debut match. Designated Player Hany Mukhtar was a definite bright spot on the night, as was the lone goal scorer Walker Zimmerman. There were plenty of Rapids connections in this match with 2010 MLS Cup-winning coach Gary Smith as head coach, while former Rapids Dominique Badji and Eric Miller got the start, with former Rapids SuperDraft pick Alan Winn coming off the bench. Badji and Winn did very little, while Miller will only be remembered for partially being at fault for ATL’s first goal. I will admit I was borderline shocked with how well Nashville performed, and despite the result, this was a very good first match in MLS for Nashville.
Next Match: Nashville heads west to Portland to take on the Timbers this weekend. If they can take some notes from Minnesota and find a goal or two, we may see Nashville sneaking back home with a point or maybe even three.
Portland lost at home 3-1 to Minnesota, and saw their main attackers completely shut down by the Loons. New signing Yimmi Chara failed to make an impact and Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco were quiet as well. New forward Felipe Mora performed well, but lacked the service to make a difference. Overall, Portland didn’t look like the team we’ve all come to know in past seasons, but I’m not worried about the Timbers yet. Offseason DP addition Jaroslaw Niezgoda is out with an injury, but I believe once he comes back to full fitness, the Timbers will be just as good as previous seasons.
Next Match: The Timbers host Nashville this weekend, which is a good opportunity to pick up three points. The team will have to learn lessons from its defeat to Minnesota, and have to find a way to get their midfield maestro Diego Valeri to make a difference.
RSL played a dull 0-0 draw with Orlando, with the best moment being the debut of Guissepe Rossi. RSL looked poor in the attack without star Jefferson Savarino, who was sold to Brazil this offseason. Albert Rusnak wasn’t able to create any chances, and Damir Krailach and Corey Baird were pretty helpless in this match, with no service to work with. I think it’s gonna be a very long season for RSL, which I believe will find goals hard to come by, but maybe that’s just my anti-RSL bias talking. Former Rapids goalkeeper Zac MacMath made his RSL debut this weekend and made a few important saves. Orlando missed a big chance for three points.
Next Match: RSL has its home opener against the New York Red Bulls this weekend. The defense will have to be very stingy, and Albert Rusnak will have to perform better than he did against Orlando if RSL hopes to take three points against the Red Bulls.
Thanks to a wonder goal from new centerback Oswaldo Alanis, the Earthquakes were able to come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Toronto. The Earthquakes looked poor in the first half, but once the ‘Quakes went down 2-0, it showed some serious fight, with Andy Rios tapping in a cross for 2-1, before Alanis’ absurd freekick saved San Jose a point at the death. I’m still not too impressed with the Earthquakes, but seeing the fight to come back to draw in this match was definitely a promising sign for Earthquakes supporters.
Next Match: San Jose has a second home game to start 2020 as it welcomes Minnesota United to NorCal. This is the Western Conference match I’m most excited to see this week, as both teams already have a lot to play for: Minnesota to prove that its win against the Timbers was legit, and San Jose need to prove that it has what it takes to be serious playoff challengers this season.
The Sounders began its title defense against the new-look Chicago Fire, with a heavily rotated squad due to a Champions League loss to Olympia. Miguel Ibarra missed a few clear-cut chances and moments after the second half began, Robert Beric gave the Fire the lead. A few minutes later, Seattle had a goal called back for offside by VAR before a Jordan Morris brace got Seattle a 2-1 win and all three points. I was much more interested in Chicago’s performance, as this result isn’t a good indicator of Seattle’s quality without Nico Lodeiro and Gustav Svensson due to injury and Jordan Morris was only available off the bench due to fatigue. Former Rapids defender Shane O’Neill started at center back for Seattle and got beat for the Fire’s lone goal, but performed well enough otherwise.
Next Match: Seattle host another rebuilding Eastern Conference team this weekend when the Columbus Crew come to town. Hopefully we get to see a full-strength Seattle team and the Crew will be a good gauge of the Sounders’ real quality as they look to defend their 2019 MLS Cup title.
Sporting Kansas City
SKC was another team that was very impressive this weekend, beating Vancouver 3-1. New signings Gadi Kinda and club-record signing Alan Pulido scored, as well as Erik Hurtado. Other than Vancouver’s lone goal, SKC seemed extremely sturdy defensively, but also seemed very dangerous in the attack. Kinda had an incredible MLS debut, scoring an unbelievable goal and dominating the midfield. An opening weekend away win for SKC is a very good start after last year’s disastrous season.
Next Match: SKC has its home opener against the Houston Dynamo this weekend.
The final team we have to look at is Vancouver, who played very poorly in a 3-1 loss at home to SKC. Poor defending inside the 18-yard box was the undoing of the Whitecaps this weekend, as all three goals came from balls inside the 18 that weren’t cleared away. The Whitecaps’ lone goal came from a solo run by new winger David Milinkovic, who squared the ball across the six to Jake Nerwinski, who made it 1-1 at the time. New striker Lucas Cavallini had a good chance toward the end of the match only to be thwarted by Tim Melia. Overall, a disappointing start to 2020 for a still-rebuilding Vancouver side.
Next Match: Vancouver travels to LA and plays the Galaxy this Saturday. This will be a very difficult test for the Whitecaps against such an offensively potent Galaxy side.