MLS is back! Fans have had to wait for what felt like forever, unless they are Toronto fans, in which case it was a short offseason with lots of celebrations. While not every team played, there was a lot of action packed into the 10 fixtures.
Daily Soccer Digest’s MLS expert and host of the Soccer Soup Podcast, Sam Nelson, breaks down the action in U.S. Soccer’s top flight. Stay tuned for analysis from around the league each week.
Here are the 5 most important takeaways from week 1:
1) Tyler Miller Does Not Miss His Friends in Seattle
When the LAFC expansion draft happened in December, it was Tyler Miller - the Sounders backup GK - who was picked up by LA to become the new number 1. This might have come as a surprise to some, because other goalkeeper options in the expansion draft were more desirable, including David Ousted, of Vancouver at the time. Miller was well known in Seattle as Stefan Frei’s backup, playing primarily in the US Open Cup, as well as coming in for Frei during the playoffs this past season, and playing very well. That playoff appearance might have been the light that Bob Bradley wanted for his number 1 GK, and Miller came into preseason already sitting at number one on the LAFC depth chart.
It seemed fitting that LAFC’s inaugural MLS match should be played in Seattle against Miller’s former team. Miller was heading back with a chip on his shoulder, always the number 2 to Stephan Frei, and ready to show that he deserved a chance. Miller had to come up big a number of times, making 4 saves on the day. His biggest save came in the 12th minute on a beautifully taken volley by Seattle fullback Nouhou. The shot skipped across the turf towards the far corner, but Miller pushed it aside skillfully. Miller ended the game with a clean sheet, making LAFC’s first game an exciting one, and proving that he deserves to be a number 1 goalkeeper in MLS.
2) The Crew Does Not Care What Precourt Wants
As just about every American soccer fan knows at this point, Anthony Precourt, the owner of Columbus Crew SC, has made plans to move his team from Ohio to Austin, TX. This news began coming out during the playoffs last season, and it might have helped propel the Crew to their Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Since Columbus was knocked out of the playoffs, more news has come out about the move, but it still is very unclear what is actually going to happen to Crew SC at the end of the season.
The Ohio Attorney General filed a lawsuit on Monday against Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS, “...to protect Ohio taxpayers’ interests...” We will be following Ohio v. Precourt as the story unfolds.
That being said, the players are not too concerned with the front office shenanigans right now, because they want to prove their worth on the field. Columbus came out ready for the challenge against defending champs Toronto FC and they earned a 2-0 victory in Toronto. Gyasi Zardes, in his first outing for the Crew, scored a goal to open his campaign, hoping to reignite his career and prove that he is the player he was a few seasons ago. It is a long season, but things started out well for Columbus and company in 2018.
3) Surprise! It’s the Union!
When analysts came up with their preseason predictions for the league, one of the teams that typically found their way to the bottom of the eastern conference was the Philadelphia Union. The Union did not have a stellar offseason it would seem, with the only big name addition being David Accam from Chicago. The other players brought in were 3 homegrown signings, one player from USL, and a loaned in midfielder. Most people were writing off the Union, saying their front office did not know what they were doing.
“This team is so deep. There is a lot of healthy competitiveness in every single spot. I know once I get an opportunity, I have to take it. Thankfully, I feel I did pretty well tonight.”
– Anthony Fontana on his MLS Debut
The Union came out flying on Saturday night against New England. The Revolution created a few chances early on but could not find the back of the net. The Revs struggled with the speed of Accam and CJ Sapong, especially with quality distribution coming from Alejandro Bedoya and Philadelphia Homegrown talent, Anthony Fontana. 18-year-old Fontana had an excellent MLS debut and he will be a youngster to watch develop into a professional this season.
It may have been a closer contest had Antonio Milnar not earned a red card in the 21st minute. The absence of the starting center back opened the door for the Union to come in and steal 3 points in week 1. Claude Dielna, the other starting Center Back for New England, was also sent off for a second yellow in the 86th minute. 20 minutes after the first red card, Anthony Fontana tapped home the eventual game-winner, starting the season strong for Philly and taking one step towards proving the analysts wrong. C.J. Sapong would later slot home the Union’s second to put the game out of reach for New England. Although no one is particularly high on the Revs this season, for Philadelphia to come out and dominate a game like they did this past weekend says a lot about what they can do moving forward this season.
4) Are MLS Attendance Numbers for Real?
Ever since talk began of the Crew moving away from Columbus due to low attendance, MLS followers have been more aware of the announced attendance numbers around the league. It seems that these numbers are manipulated based on what the league wants people believe. For example, the Philadelphia Union had an announced attendance of 16,452 for their season opener against New England. The Union’s home ground, Talon Energy Stadium, has a maximum capacity of 18,500, which would indicate that the stadium was about 89% full. Photos from fans at the game show many empty seats, including whole sections of seats without people.
This was also seen in Houston, where the announced attendance from the league for the Dynamo’s home opener against Atlanta was 20,377. Houston’s home stadium holds a capacity of 22,000 people, meaning the stadium should have been 91% full. Fans, who again have pictures of a primarily empty stadium, aren’t buying it.
It is understandable that the league would want to have large numbers of fans attending games, and it would sound better to a fan looking to go to a game in Houston that they would be joined by 20,000 people as opposed to 9,000. It is a business move that the league has been known to do in the past, where they adjust the numbers to appear to be growing. In Orlando, gate receipts say that only 4,000 people would be at certain games while the league would claim 8-10k at games. “Business metrics” like these, as Don Garber would say, are ways of showing which cities are doing better than others and challenging others to do better. Unfortunately, it just makes the league look bad when numbers do not add up with turnstile numbers and photographs.
5) Homegrown Player of the Week: Alphonso Davies
MLS homegrown players are not just important in each club's roster, but the communities around them as well. Having a player who comes from the area a team is based in is something everyone likes to see. Producing homegrown talent is also an indication that youth development systems are working. This week, 26 homegrown players made appearances for their teams, out of 105 homegrown players rostered in total. Last week, we selected the DSD MLS Homegrown XI.
The homegrown player with the biggest impact in Week 1 was Alphonso Davies, the 17-year-old winger for Vancouver. With his blistering speed and vision Davies notched an assist and then scored his first MLS goal, leading Vancouver to a 2-1 victory over Montreal. This comes after a great preseason for Davies. It appears that he will be playing at this high level every week for the Whitecaps this season.
Author: Sam Nelson