• New England Revolution make their 2013 debut in Chicago
• D.C. United welcome Real Salt Lake
• Mixed MLS fortunes in Concacaf quarter final first legs
So the opening week of the 2013 is in the record books and with it were one or two surprises and at least one great advert for the league as Portland and New York crashed into each other in a wild 3-3 draw. The biggest surprise was probably Montreal Impact's smart, disciplined road performance against Seattle (at least until familiar frailties threatened to undo their good work in the last ten minutes) that saw them come away with an unlikely win over a side expected to compete yet again at the to of the West.
The Sounders would lose again in midweek, though that was rather less of a shock, and if anything a decent road result in the Concacaf Champions League, as they went to Tigres and came away with just a 1-0 deficit. Intriguingly they also gave a few more minutes to DeAndre Yedlin, who was one of the few bright spots at the weekend. The 19 year old set this week's pace for the rookies in the league. No game for the Sounders this weekend - they're resting up before next week's CCL second leg, as are the LA and Houston players. Houston were at home on Tuesday night for their quarter final, and played a positive game, though Brad Davis's breakthrough goal came very late and may not be enough to take them through when they travel to face Santos Laguna in the return (recent history seems to suggest nothing less than a 4-0 aggregate lead is advisable for MLS sides heading to Torreón).
LA Galaxy were in action on Thursday night, against the side who broke RSL hearts in the fall, the Costa Rican team Herediano. They'll be very happy to bring a 0-0 scoreline back to the Home Depot Center (while it's still the Home Depot Center), but less happy with some very poor refereeing decisions. First a clearly onside Mike Magee slotted a second half goal only to see it disallowed for offside. Then, with time running out, an incredibly soft penalty was awarded to the home side, though justice was done as the spot kick was crashed off the bar.
We'll be keeping an eye on those second legs next week, but right now we're turning our attention back to week two of MLS, as the 16 teams not in continental action get down to domestic business. As usual we've asked our motley crew of fan reps, beat writers, podcasters, bloggers and Sigi Schmid writing under a pseudonym, to fill us in on the main stories at their clubs this week, as we look forward to the weekend's games. Don't forget to have your say below and join us on Monday to see what we made of it all.
1.30pm Sat, Rogers Center (TSN, RDS2)
A home opener at the Rogers Center for Toronto - perhaps stirring memories of their wild start to 2012, with the banner strewn affair against the Galaxy in the CCL. Whether the 2013 vintage crowd are in any mood to emulate the 45,000 plus who showed up for that game is debatable, even with yet another coaching fresh start to prompt them. But despite last week's defeat in Vancouver, it seems that the mood in Toronto is one of patience, if not yet optimism, as the new regime finds its feet. Their opponents, Sporting KC, have arrived into 2013 in familiar formidable form, despite some key personnel going missing. A brief scare against Philadelphia was overcome relatively easily in the end, and of all the sides Toronto might have hoped to intimidate at their home opener, Vermes' combative side are not the obvious choice. Still it's early season and the Nelsen revolution has to start in earnest sometime. GP
Duncan Fletcher, Waking the Red, Toronto:
The main story of the last week or so, home opener aside, is the ongoing rebuild of the club. There were 6 triallists at training this week, including former Spurs prospect John Bostock, and for the first time, there was a name put to the 'young Argentine striker' the club's been looking at, and rather a fantastic name it is too, Maximiliano Urruti. TFC remain a work in progress, so there was a general acceptance among media and fans that last weeks defeat in Vancouver was 'better than expected' as TFC played a decent first half, and some of the new players impressed. Robert Earnshaw looked lively up front, Danny Califf solid at the back, Kyle Bekker promising in midfield. 'Lowered expectations' straw clutching for sure, but fans and media grudgingly getting on board with just how much time and work TFC still need is a good thing.
There is another minor 'storm in a teacup' story going on right now, which is an instagram photo making fun of Earl Cochrane, a team exec who's somehow managed to survive all of TFC's purges, going as far back as the Mo Johnston days. Started months ago by Julian de Guzman, plenty of former TFC players commented, with varying degrees of bitterness/immaturity and were joined by two players still at the club in Doneil Henry and academy kid Jordan Hamilton. Another good example of the culture that Kevin Payne has talked about needing to change.
Mike Kuhn, Editor, Down the Byline, Sporting Kansas City:
Ahead of the game this weekend against Toronto, one of the main stories for KC this week has been the two teams that were on the field for Sporting KC last weekend in the season opener against Philadelphia. There was the team that was on the field for the first 30 minutes of the game or so, the team that was outplayed all over the field by the Philadelphia Union and there was the team that played the last 60 minutes, especially in the second half when KC controlled the game. The first 30 minutes or so of the season opener, Philadelphia took the game to KC and Sporting was lucky to only be down a single goal thanks to some poor finishing by the Union. Shortly after the 30th minute, Sporting started to come into the game more. In the 41st minute KC got their first chance of the game and took advantage of it to level the score before half time. In the second half, Sporting continued to come into the game more and took control of the game getting a second and a third to get the win. Heading into the weekend it'll be a question of which of the two shows up against Toronto in their home opener.
6pm Sat, Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Univision Deportes)
Battle of the two most talked about jerseys from jersey week, as the every-season-ticket-holder/Colorado flag-wearing Rapids take on the Bethlehem Steel inspired Union. Both teams boasting keepers in need of an image change after week one. Stewart Ceus had a rush of blood to the head as he misjudged a bounce horribly to gift Dallas the winning goal, while Zac MacMath conceded three goals as the Union's familiar struggles with dealing with balls into the box resurfaced. It might be the case of the least leakiest defense deciding this on, with both sides clearly still finding their feet. GP
Todd Haggerty, Centennial 38 Supporters, Colorado Rapids:
The Rapids lost to FC Dallas 1-0 via an absolute howler from backup keeper Steward Ceus. Despite the loss, the mood of Rapids supporters, which had gathered for their first game as a unified group (Centennial 38), was generally positive. In fact, one supporter, Zoë Swaine (Ed: Todd possibly selling space in Guardian previews on open market), was completly over the moon about the play of Dillon Powers on his debut. However, perhaps the good vibe had to do with the beer because the game against Dallas revealed a lot of issues with the team: Without Martin Rivero there is a distinct lack of creativity in the final third and while Deshorn Brown displayed a lot of energy he really wasn't a goal threat. Moving on, this week the rapids welcome Philadelphia for the home opener. With a massive snow storm in the forecast, and the return of Conor Casey, this match has all the makings of a pulsating 1-1 draw. Hot alcoholic drinks anyone?
Dan Walsh, Philly Soccer Page, Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Union's 3-1 home loss last Saturday against Kansas City was a tale of two halves, one controlled by the Union and the second dominated by Kansas City. Union fans have reacted the way Philadelphia fans typically react: Overreaction.
Some criticized Union manager John Hackworth for starting two players (Ray Gaddis and Gabriel Farfan) in positions they didn't play regularly last season or in preseason games while sacrificing a second striker for a second holding midfielder. Others spent more time criticizing striker Sebastien Le Toux for missing an open shot than praising him for netting a beautiful goal in his first game back with the Union after a year away. A few (including me) highlighted deficiencies of goalkeeping after 21-year-old Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, who struggled last year, let in three of the four shots he faced Saturday. Many seem resigned to a long, unsuccessful season.
Beneath this lie two competing views: 1) The Union are a mismanaged, underfunded club; and 2) This team has a ton of young talent and added some key veterans during the offseason, and they just need time -- and maybe another key player -- to mesh and turn into a contender.
Put me in the latter camp. Farfan's return to his natural midfield role makes the team more dynamic. Gaddis isn't a left back yet, but he's too talented to sit the bench. By July, Philadelphia could be the league's most exciting team. The pieces just need to come together.
7pm Sat, RFK Stadium
D.C. had to play Houston without De Rosario last week, after his pre-season headbutt saw him suspended. No end to their ongoing miserable run against the Dynamo, with a 2-0 defeat, but a little more composure in front of goal, or a couple of balls breaking another way and we could have been reflecting on a different outcome — though clear chances were at a premium without DeRo. RSL meanwhile, drew the sting of a raucous atmosphere at Buck Shaw, and rode their luck a little on their way to a 2-0 victory, but the familiar sight of Beckerman sliding the through ball for Saborio for the second, will have reassured fans fearing the end of an era. But D.C. is another tough road trip. GP
Kim Kolb, Screaming Eagles:
A week into the season, United hasn't reduced the questions for the year. Without DeRosario, United could not sustain an attack and United is forced to try and find a DeRo free solution again this week. Does Ben Olsen continue to work with Lionid Pajoy? Or does United try a different forward, or forward combination. John Thorrington would have been Man-of-the-Match if it wasn't for a stopped penalty and goal line save in the first half. Once again it comes down to if/when the team gells and plays for each other. That wasn't a consistent factor in Houston. The hope is it will be this week at RFK.
Denzel Eslinger, RSL Perspective:
For Real Salt Lake the season couldn't have started much better, a bit of revenge over the San Jose Earthquakes, a fourth straight opening day road win for RSL, the 100th career clean sheet for Nick Rimando, a 300th career match for Kyle Beckerman, and a pair of goals for Alvaro Saborio. Now the question is can they find a way to get better, despite the 2-0 win last weekend, there were plenty of areas that RSL will need to improve on in order if they want to build on that success. Perhaps the biggest thing will be communications, but I think that is something that every team has to work on at the start of the season.
RSL has never picked up a victory at RFK Stadium in DC, so the challenge will be huge, but with DC missing Dwayne DeRosario and a RSL building on confidence gained last weekend, anything could happen. It will likely come down to who can take advantage of their opportunities, last week Sabo converted his 4 shots into 2 goals, RSL as a team had 14 shots with 6 of them being on goal, DC United was unable to score against Houston in their opener and of their collective 7 shots none were on goal. I think this one will be entertaining as both sides like to possess the ball and play a more attacking style, but I have a feeling it will likely end up in a 1-1 draw.
7.30pm Sat, Toyota Park (NBCSN)
The Fire were overrun by the Galaxy last week, with Robbie Keane popping up between the defense and midfield to torment Jeff Larentowicz - playing an unaccustomed lone D-mid role. It's the type of inviting space Saer Sene might have relished were he back and fit. As it is the Revs kick off a new season hoping Jerry Bengtson will bring some of his international form to New England. There'll be interest too in how and if Jay Heaps uses number one draft pick Andrew Farrell. Heaps has introduced a few new moving parts this year, and will be expected to give his second-year Revs project a lot more definition than last season's hit-and-miss debut. GP
Scott Fenwick, Editor, On the Fire, Chicago:
After enduring a stunning 4-0 defeat in sunny Los Angeles, a shell-shocked Fire squad returned home just in time for winter storm Saturn. With ten inches of snow dumped upon Chicagoland, club Chief Operations Officer Atul Khosla was on the horn mid-week looking for ideas and extra equipment to get Toyota Park ready to go for Saturday night's match against New England. I've got one: how about shovel day? First 5,000 fans get a free towel!
Seriously though, as they dig themselves out of the snow, Fire Nation is still scratching its head about Sunday's humiliating defeat. Moreover, supporters wonder whether or not they'll have to endure a second consecutive embarrassment: a sparse crowd for the home opener. Will we hearty Chicagoans head to the stadium in less than ideal weather conditions and stand and deliver?
Uncertainty about the lineup also abounds. With veterans Logan Pause (DM/RB) and Arne Friedrich (CB) injured, Chicago's defense remains in critical condition. Friedrich is likely out, while Pause's status remains unclear. Plus, after Steven Kinney's performance at center back on Sunday, many question whether or not he's fit to play in MLS at all. The best the club can hope for this weekend is for Pause to slot in at right back, which will move Jalil Anibaba into the middle beside Austin Berry. And as far as the "still gelling" midfield goes, supporters' tolerance for canned answers and explanations will disappear quickly if its squad underperforms against a team it "should beat" this weekend.
The Revs were the only team in the MLS with a bye in week one and all of this waiting has been tough for the fans to handle. The mix of pre-season optimism and over-acrching skepticism (cultivated by years of perceived ownership neglect) has made any Revs-related discussion quick to turn sour. The excitement amongst Midnight Riders at Parlor Sports last weekend for MLS First Kick was obvious but the discussion about the 2013 New England Revolution was muted. Right now, this is not a fun team to talk about, even amongst passionate fans lubricated with beer.
There are just too many questions and not a lot of answers. 2nd year manager Jay Heaps has a lot to prove. Where will the goals come from? Who is captain? Is there an MLS starter amongst the goalkeeping stable? For better or worse, Saturday night is right around the corner and the discussion can go from the abstract to the slightly more concrete.
7.30pm Sat, BC Place
The Whitecaps saw off Toronto last week, but the attention rapidly switched from their speedy new attack to the news that captain and defensive bedrock Jay De Merit may have picked up a season ending injury. You suspect Martin Rennie inked in DeMerit and Andy O'Brien as center backs and got on with roster building during the off-season, but he's been forced into an immediate rethink. Columbus Crew were slightly flattered by the 3-0 scoreline over Chivas, but they were deserved winners. On paper it's easy to say the trajectory of a team on the up since last summer, and with the Whitecaps readjusting their spine, the Crew, who stayed on the West coast all week, might fancy stealing maximum points on their first road trip. GP
Benjamin Massey, Editor, Maple Leaf Forever, Vancouver:
The biggest story (the only story?) in the Vancouver Whitecaps world has been the injury to centre back Jay DeMerit. It's a funny thing. Most Vancouver fans will agree that, on the field, DeMerit is valuable but replaceable; maybe the weakest of the regular starting four, and centre back is Vancouver's deepest position. Yet when we learned on Monday that DeMerit had ruptured his Achilles tendon and was out at least six months, there were a lot of worried faces among Vancouver fans.
DeMerit is the team's captain and its public face. He's popular and well-respected. And his MLS contract is said to expire at the end of this season: without trash bags of allocation money for being an expansion team it's unclear the Whitecaps will be able to re-sign him even if they want to. So the team's captain might be leaving with both a bang and a whimper, a nasty rupture six minutes into the first game of the year on a nothing jump to try and win the ball. It would be an inglorious end, if indeed it is an end, for a player synonymous with MLS in Vancouver. At least there's no question who'll start in DeMerit's place: it's Brad Rusin.
Ben Hoelzel, Crew Union, Columbus Crew:
In the season preview I mentioned how optimistic Crew fans were about this season. Well, after drubbing Chivas 3-0 opening week, the optimism is getting a bit out of control as some are already calling for an MLS title run. I, however, remain cautiously optimistic. Let's be honest, Chivas is a terrible team and two goals in the last few minutes made the scoreline look better than the on field performance really was that night. But the Crew still looked good, and Federico Higuain picked up where he left off last season as the class of MLS.
This week's game against Vancouver should provide a better test for the boys in yellow. The Whitecaps made some of the best attacking additions in the league this offseason and should be a much improved squad once they gel together. Additionally, they're tough at home, the Crew decided to camp out on the West Coast all week, and have historically struggled on artificial turf. All this could mean a more sluggish Crew squad despite being the better team on paper. My heart says a 2-1 win but my head sees a 1-1 draw.
10.30pm Sat, JELD-WEN Field
Diego Valeri introduced himself with the deftest of touches against New York Red Bulls last week, as he scored a wonderful goal within 15 minutes of kicking off his first competitive Timbers game.
The contribution of Valeri and the movement of Darlington Nagbe off him, helped the Timbers to a 3-3 result that rather saved Mikael Silvestre's blushes. His debut was a nightmare, with two basic error giving up two goals as he struggled to come to terms with his new team mates and the turf. Montreal meanwhile, were scoring deftly finished goals of their own en route to a smash-and-grab victory at the Sounders. You imagine that having seen the game footage from this week;s opponents that Davy Arnaud will be back to help our Patrice Bernier in deeper midfield positions. Otherwise Valeri may have another addition to his highlight reel. GP
Michael Pearson, Timbers Army, Portland:
2013, a new year, a new coach, a new formation, and plenty of new hope for Timbers' fans coming off an exciting 3-3 draw with NYRB. While the defense looked at times like it was still waiting in a Parisian air terminal for their flight to Porterland, the rest of the team, including DP playmaker Diego Valeri, got fans drooling in their IPAs with their brand of possession orientated, high pressure soccer that will be sure to win over the hearts of die-hards and casual fans alike. Despite Valeri's wonder goal (seriously, one of the best I've ever seen in Timbers green in terms of difficulty and style points), Timbers were down 3-1 at half, a scoreline that past teams would have wilted from like spinach in a hot pan. Instead, whatever Porter said to the team at half worked masterfully. A happy draw, if there is such a thing at home, but the fight, resolve, and tenacity displayed by the team is certainly something new to watch for this year.
Up next is Montreal, who pulled off perhaps the surprise of the weekend beating the Sounders in Century-Link, behind a resolute defensive line that gave up few real chances. The Nesta-led defense frustrated the Sounders, and the play of Hassoun Camara in particular seemed to help lead the way to their away win. Countering that defensive focus will be the job of the Portland midfield, which looked up for the task in the second half of the match on Sunday. The pressing question is if Frenchman Mikeal Silvestre can shake off the rust and ensure that Montreal doesn't get another goal on the counter like they did in Seattle.
Sofiane Benzaza, Mount Royal Soccer, Montreal:
The Cascadian road trip continues for the Montreal Impact and they face the mighty Timbers. What has marked the Impact's week? A win against the Seattle Sounders that symbolizes the team's ability to win in hostile territory. It was a road win that also symbolized the team's ability to stay organized, calm and keep a score.
The Italian duo of Ferrari-Nesta started the season together, hopefully an omen of an injury free season for both. But If we talk about veteran players, Davy Arnaud showed his years of MLS experience with a great performance versus the Sounders. Captain America gave a lesson in effort and showed a scoring touch that many had forgotten. Merci Davy!
5pm Sun, The Home Depot Center (UniMas)
Chelis is supposedly ringing the changes from an already transformed Chivas side that had the local Columbus announcers confessing to not knowing who "half these guys" were during last week's game. The result against Columbus wasn't entirely representative of the pattern of the game, but Chivas could do with at least a point against a Dallas side still finding their range behind what should be a potent new attack. Dallas aren't likely to get as easy a goal as they were gifted against Colorado last week, but if last week's attendance at the Home Depot Center is anything to go by, they may play in a lot more intimidating stadiums this year. They looked far from convincing at times last week, but come into this game on the back of a win and will fancy their chances of taking something on the road here. GP
Julio Ramos, "Chivas Mayor", Union Ultras:
Unfortunately the main focus this week was on the low attendance and not the way the team played. It sucks to hear all kinds of stupidity from haters — the stadium was empty due to the lack of planning from our front office (zero advertisement etc.) and it has nothing to do with people not being interested on the team. I guarantee you that if we do a proper plan of work to bring people to the stadium we will have at least 14000 per game.
Gina Zippilli, The Inferno, Dallas:
The story this week is probably how ugly of a win it was on Saturday. We were probably expected to win the game, but it was a pretty hideous performance. The positive side is, it's still early days. The defense have played together before so I don't know why they were hanging by a thread at times. Ferreira looked like he was adjusting to a new position and Jacobson was getting used to the team around him. Cooper is on a new team etc. Luckily Jackson was presented with the easiest goal he'll ever score. The main other takeaway this week is the new keeper Fernandez. He got rather mixed reviews, with the negative ones seeming to come from people who saw a different game than me, or weren't there. I though he was fantastic. The team as a whole though just hasn't come together yet. It'll happen.
10pm Sun, Buck Shaw Stadium (ESPN2)
The Quakes were uncharacteristically profligate with the type of second balls in the box that saw Wondolowski plunder so many goals last year, during their opening loss to RSL. The good news for them is that they can expect more chances against a New York side fabled for an inability to clear their lines, and who are still figuring out yet another new backline early this season. New York meanwhile will be hoping for a rather less tepid performance from their designated players Henry and Cahill, and more of the same from the first half performance of Fabian Espindola against Portland. There should be goals in this one. The Earthquakes may feel home advantage should give them one more of them than the visitors. GP
Robert Jonas, Center Line Soccer, San Jose:
The San Jose Earthquakes did not start their Supporters' Shield defense on a good note, as visiting Real Salt Lake executed a 2-0 victory courtesy of a brace from Alvaro Saborio. Freshly minted "Designated Player" Chris Wondolowski disappointed for the Quakes, as the 2012 MLS MVP missed on numerous scoring opportunities. The big question around the club centers on whether Wondolowski can shoulder the expectations that come with being a DP.
Until he sees the return to health of influential players Alan Gordon, Steven Lenhart, Marvin Chavez, and Steven Beitashour, head coach Frank Yallop is left with a threadbare bench from which to select his match day roster. Winger Shea Salinas has been tasked with orchestrating most of the offensive thrust, but he has big shoes to fill in that role as last year's playmaker Simon Dawkins now plays with Aston Villa. The same hard-working attitude by the players that was so evident last season is still on display, but much of the 2012 Goonies magic appears to have disappeared into thin air.
San Jose's nationally televised marquee match-up with the New York Red Bulls on Sunday may be less a showcase of the powerhouse that was the 2012 Quakes and more a case study in how best to weather the injury storm that rages over the club. The MLS season is more a marathon than a sprint, but the Earthquakes will want to avoid dropping too far down the Western Conference table to start the 2013 season.
Tim Hall, author of "The view from 101" for First Touch, New York:
When Mike Petke took over the reins at the Red Bulls, a lot was made about the mentality and the attitude he would be bringing to the team. Well, one game in and that mentality will already have been tested, as New York lost a 3-1 lead to end up sharing the points at Portland. Will Petke's men view that as an opportunity lost, or a valuable road point?
For the Red Bulls to show the proper amount of fight this week at San Jose, the defense is going to have to come together quickly. Despite scoring a goal in his debut with the club, Jamison Olave did his best impersonation of a statue in letting Portland back into the game. A similar performance by the former RSL man would undoubtedly lead to San Jose's potent offense lighting up the scoreboard. On the other side of the ball, New York's new look flowing four man attack showed promise, but were the beneficiaries of mistakes. They'll need to be better at creating opportunities on their own against an experienced and disciplined Earthquakes defense. If they can, this could be another wild multiple goal affair.