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Three Things We Learned From MLS Opening Day

Armen Bedakian

Armen Bedakian is a soccer writer covering every aspect of the game in Major League Soccer and around the world. I love a crunching slide tackle, but can't stand a bad offside call. Follow me on Twitter - @ArmenBedakian

The LA Galaxy kicked the season off with a 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire, in a weekend that provided plenty of drama and lots of interesting storylines. Here are three things we learned from opening weekend in MLS:

 

Jozy Altidore’s Still Got It

New-look Toronto FC kicked off its 2015 campaign with a bang, defeating the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1 in a match that would feature plenty of goals and talking points for either team. While Vancouver fans will be pleased that the team’s newest Designated Player, Uruguayan forward Octavio Rivero, found the back of the net, Toronto FC fans will be doubly so, after U.S. international forward Jozy Altidore netted twice to seal the win for the Reds.

Altidore came to MLS having endured a troubled spell at Sunderland in the English Premier League, where he mustered just one league goal in over 40 appearances with the club. Fears that he would struggle to score again in MLS were quickly squashed, however, as Altidore linked up smartly with Toronto’s Italian fireball, Sebastian Giovinco. Not only was Altidore scoring, but scoring in style, placing a cheeky panenka penalty past David Ousted in the dying moments of the match and celebrating with confidence.

Jozy Altidore has still got it, folks, and could be one of the most dangerous forwards in MLS.

 

Orlando and New York Mean Business

Sixty-Thousand purple-clad fans packed the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida to witness the very first MLS game for Orlando City SC, played against another expansion side, New York City FC. The two teams highlighted the opening day weekend, with Kaká and David Villa captaining each respective side in their debut matches. There was plenty of camaraderie between the two, as well as between U.S. internationals Brek Shea and Mix Diskerud, who were also on opposite teams.

But, once the whistle blew for kick off, those friendships were forgotten and fans were treated to a dramatic first game; Diskerud opened the scoring late in the second half for New York with a perfectly placed curling effort, supplied out from the left by David Villa. Orlando City’s notorious central defender, Aurelien Collin, kept true to his reputation, too, picking up a red card for a harsh tackle on Villa moments later.

When all hope seemed lost for 10-man Orlando, Kaká stepped up and saved the day with a fortuitous free kick that bounced off a New York defender, beating Josh Saunders in the final minute of the match to earn a 1-1 draw.
It’s clear that both teams still need some work to do; neither is a finished product just yet. The football, at times, wasn’t pretty, but both teams show plenty of potential and could cause problems for teams who aren’t careful. In the end, this match was equal parts spectacle and sporting fun, a game that will go down in the memory books in this, the 20th season of Major League Soccer.

 

Beware the Giants in the West

Not for nothing, but MLS is a league built around the idea that, in any given year, any team can win the MLS Cup. But, in recent years, through some smart team building, there has emerged a pair of Western Conference teams who pose the greatest threat each and every year. Both the LA Galaxy and the Seattle Sounders got off to excellent starts this weekend, with LA brushing aside Chicago 2-0 and Seattle making a statement against the New England Revolution in a 3-0 victory at CenturyLink.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins continue to combine wonderfully together up top for Seattle, while Robbie Keane remains as threatening a forward as ever, despite his age. Look for these two sides to duke it out for spots one and two in the conference.

The Western Conference is now the battleground where teams in MLS will make or break their seasons; putting it frankly, there are simply too many strong teams in the West, now that Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo were moved over to accommodate for New York and Orlando in the East. Making it to the playoffs here will be an incredibly difficult test for everyone involved.