Major League Monday
The new Major League Soccer season got underway this weekend and Reuters Soccer Blog will have a regular Monday morning lookback at the main talking points from each weekend of action in the North American league from Simon Evans in Miami along with video goal highlights.
Last year’s MLS campaign ended in rather unimpressive fashion with the championship game in a cold and half-interested Toronto but on Saturday the new season got under way, also in Canada, and the scenes in Vancouver offered a much brighter picture for the league’s future.
The Vancouver Whitecaps’ debut in MLS, after years of treading water in the second tier leagues following the collapse of the old NASL, was always going to be a moment of celebration for the soccer-loving public in British Columbia but what made the event truly memorable was the game itself with the Whitecaps crushing their fellow Canadians Toronto 4-2 in a hugely entertaining and open game.
It was a reminder that for all the emphasis on stadiums, organization, marketing and image-management, important though they all are, it is the ‘product on the field’, the game itself, which is going to make the lasting difference and take the league to the next level. Questions could certainly be asked about Toronto’s defending but both teams moved the ball well with the Whitecaps swift breaks and intelligent angled passing particularly catching the eye. The Vancouver fans will also be delighted that their ‘designated player’, Frenchman Eric Hassli, hardly a ‘Beckham rule’ signing in terms of profile, turns out to be a smart striker with an eye for goal – claiming two on his debut.
But not surprisingly most of the attention this weekend was on the response of the fans to the return of top flight soccer to Vancouver – Cam Cole’s report in the Vancouver Sun captures the mood of excitement and fulfillment.
With Montreal joining MLS next year and with Seattle and Portland down the coast from Vancouver both enjoying excellent levels of support, there are plenty of games with a local edge for the Whitecaps fans to enjoy and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the move from Empire Field to the redeveloped and much larger BC Place later in the season.
Another reminder that it is the on-field basics that count most came with Sporting KC’s victory at Chivas USA. All the talk around Sporting in the build-up to the game surrounded the impending trial they have offered to NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, which may have generated plenty of local publicity for the team in KC but also rather added some ammunition to those who like to dismiss MLS as ‘minor league’. In contrast, there hadn’t been too much noise made about the club’s designated player signing in the off-season, Mexico international Omar Bravo. Bravo’s two goals in the 3-2 win at Chivas weren’t spectacular headline-grabbers but they showed him to be a clinical finisher and were the kind of goals that 20-a-season forwards score. It will be interesting to see how his pairing with young U.S forward Teal Bunbury develops, when the 21-year-old returns from injury. MLS will win over skeptical fans of other sports, such as the NFL, with quality players and quality games – not silly link-ups with wide-receivers.
No doubt about the feel-good story of the weekend – Charlie Davies returning to first-team professional action, 17 months after he was involved in a fatal car accident, and scoring twice after coming on as a substitute for DC United against Columbus. The first was a penalty kick but the second, where he showed his pace and agility, was an encouraging sign that a player whose career so easily could have been over, may yet get back to the level where he was – a key player in Bob Bradley’s U.S team and one of the most exciting talents the country has seen in years. The next step is to prove he has the stamina back and that he can perform consistently.
SOUNDERS NEED A STRIKER
The Seattle Sounders have lost both their opening games – the showcase ‘First Kick’ against the Galaxy on Tuesday and then a tough away game at New York on Saturday. They haven’t managed a goal in 180 minutes and the decision to release Swiss striker Blaise Nkufo, just hours before the first game, looks odd at the moment. Sounders fans will be hoping that the release of a designated player, was in order to make space for another goalscorer and they need one. Jamaican O’Brian White hasn’t impressed yet and the lively Colombian Fredy Montero could do with a threat alongside him.
WHAT DOES BECKERMAN HAVE TO DO?
As well as being the most composed passer of a ball in MLS and one of the best readers of a game in the league, Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman also knows where the back of the net is, as he showed with his perfectly struck winner in Saturday’s victory against a determined San Jose in the Bay Area rain. Beckerman wasn’t part of the U.S squad at the World Cup and the dreadlocked midfielder hasn’t been included for upcoming friendlies against Argentina and Paraguay. The problem appears to be that U.S national team coach Bob Bradley doesn’t see a way to integrate a deep-lying playmaker like Beckerman into his formation. It is a pity because one of the elements that has been missing from Bradley’s line-ups has been someone who can slow the game down, put his foot on the ball and play some intelligent possession football.
TAKE A LOOK FOR YOURSELF
Here is this week’s goal highlights from MLS and there are some crackers in there.
Click this link if you have problems seeing the video below.