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Takeaways From MLS Opening Weekend

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MLS kicked off its 22nd season this weekend. Here are some things we learned from the multitude of games.

Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

After months of preseason and speculation about the new MLS season, it is finally here. This weekend was very exciting as we got to see our Lions take to the field for the first game of their third MLS season. While this game was very exciting, what were some of the things we learned from opening weekend as a whole?

Minnesota United is as Bad as We Thought It Was

On Friday, Minnesota United kicked off the MLS season with a trip to Portland, which was also its first MLS game ever. When you look at the 5-1 score line in favor of the Timbers, it’s clear to see that there was a considerable gap in quality between the two teams. Yet many MLS analysts were taking the approach that the game showed hope for the Loons’ season. Now, even though the game was 2-1 pretty late on, I did not see anything in that game that would give me hope if I were a Minnesota fan.

If you look at the stats, the game looked pretty even. The two teams had a similar amount of shots and Minnesota had more possession by six percent. But those who watched the game know that in reality Minnesota’s performance was very poor. On the defensive side, as a unit, the club wasn’t that bad. But Jermaine Taylor had an awful day, playing a big part in conceding the first goal, and Portland’s wingbacks had far too much space going forward that they could exploit. The Timbers were just able to create too many scoring opportunities as the game wore on and they scored three goals in the last 10 minutes.

On the offensive side, Minnesota looked pretty dysfunctional for most of the match. Its midfield had some spells of prolonged possession but struggled to get its front three involved to get past the back line of Portland. The one silver lining in terms of attack was the introduction of Christian Ramirez. His clinical finishing shows he could be the man to lead the line for Minnesota this season. As for the rest of the team, Adrian Heath is going to have a lot of work ahead of him to turn this team’s fortunes around.

Orlando City Can Survive Without Kaká

Most people reading this have probably heard that Kaká was hurt about 10 minutes into Orlando’s season opener against New York City FC. When he went down, just about every Orlando fan in the world thought one thing: this is going to be a long game. This is because Kaká is the glue that holds Orlando’s attack together. Yet, nearly as soon as he came off, Orlando City scored a goal which came through a cross from Giles Barnes (his replacement) to Cyle Larin, who powerfully headed the ball in.

This goal is not what proves the team can play without Kaká. It was what followed the goal that was truly impressive. Now, if you’ve been following preseason coverage, the biggest talking point about Orlando City was that the team had the worst defense in the league last year. In the absence of Kaká, it was clear that Orlando’s attack would find it hard to score another goal in the game. This made it essential that the Lions keep a clean sheet, which is exactly what they did. As an Orlando City fan, the best thing to see for me was the solid performances from new additions Donny Toia and Jonathan Spector. This was key as they were brought in specifically to grind out games like these and hopefully they can continue to do so in the future.

Colorado Rapids Can Have Another Playoff Run

At the start of the last MLS season, no one expected anything from Colorado. Yet the Rapids went on to challenge for the Supporters’ Shield in pretty impressive fashion, finishing second in the Western Conference and getting to the conference final. The main reason for Colorado’s success last season was its rock solid and quite frankly unattractive defense, paired with USMNT legend Tim Howard.

While the team did very well last season, it seems that many analysts do not have the club repeating that success this season. This is most likely a decision made just based on the fact that Colorado is not that fun to watch and also has added no new key players on offense. But why should this mean the Rapids can't repeat their achievements this year? For me, the real question is if the club can continue to have such a great defense. This weekend, it proved its defense still has it as Colorado won its game 1-0 against the New England Revolution. It remains to be seen whether it can continue to win games like that over the course of a season, but based on this weekend I’d say why doubt them?

New Designated Players Will Have a Big Effect on the Outcome of this Season

Perhaps the biggest story line of this new MLS season is the arrival of new younger Designated Players. On opening weekend, all eyes were on them and they did not disappoint. Starting with the very first game, Sebastian Blanco of Portland certainly gave a good advertisement for this new “generation” of younger DPs. He faded out of the game at times, but for the most part he was very dangerous with the ball at his feet and also worked hard off the ball. The latter was seen when he won a free kick in a dangerous area fighting for the ball which led to a goal. The former was seen when he sent in a cross which Diego Valeri headed in for the second goal of the night.

Other young DPs that shined were Giovani Dos Santos, Albert Rusnak, and David Accam. Dos Santos and Accam both found the back of the net in their respective games for what turned out to be their teams’ only goals. Rusnak, on the other hand, did not score but had five key passes in the game compared to Toronto’s six. All in all, these DPs showed a lot of quality this weekend, leading to optimism for MLS fans. The league’s vision is that these new DPs will create a better product on the field, which will lead to more popularity and attracting more quality players to the league. So far, the plan looks pretty spot on in terms of improving the quality of play.