After a 15-week offseason, and an appetizer of CONCACAF Champions League games, First Kick 2012 finally launched with a hearty feast of five matches on Saturday and two on Sunday.
The banquet did not disappoint. It featured the historic debut of the league’s 19th team (and third in Canada), the fastest opening-day goal ever, a pair of last-gasp winners and a meeting of Western Conference favorites in California.
There was also a tasty golazo, a side dish of revenge in Texas and a landmark, three-course national TV debut.
Let’s go back for a second helping of First Kick 2012.
(And save room for one more tonight, when Portland hosts Philadelphia on ESPN2 at 9:30 pm ET.)
Off On the Wrong Foot
HIGHLIGHTS: 'Caps spoil Impact's MLS debut
The Montreal Impact began their MLS existence on Saturday night much the way the Portland Timbers did theirs the previous season: by giving up an early, welcome-to-the-bigs goal to their opponents.
Whereas last season it was Colorado’s Jeff Larentowicz finding the net after only eight minutes against Portland, this year it was Sebastien Le Toux, the Whitecaps’ top offseason acquisition, scoring just four minutes into his Vancouver debut and setting a league record for the fastest opening-day goal.
Le Toux put the Impact in a 1-0 hole against their rivals from British Columbia and set the tone for the match. Montreal did have some flashes in a respectable first showing, but Vancouver controlled most of the game. They doubled their lead in the 54th minute after a slick series of one-touch passes—and a sly dummy by Eric Hassli—set Camilo free in the Montreal box.
The Brazilian attacker cut back on Impact defender Matteo Ferrari and punched a sliding shot to the far post to send Jesse Marsch’s men to a 2-0 loss in their MLS debut.
Heavyweights at the Home Depot
Los Angeles and Toronto marked the return of MLS teams to competitive action when they met in front of 47,658 fans at the Rogers Centre last Wednesday night for the first leg of a CCL quarterfinal.
Toronto got early goals from Ryan Johnson and rookie Luis Silva, but Mike Magee and Landon Donovan responded as LA pulled out a 2-2 draw. (Seattle downed Santos Laguna 2-1 in MLS’ other CCL match that night.)
HIGHLIGHTS: Late rally gives RSL victory
Three days later, Bruce Arena’s men were back in action for their MLS opener, hosting Real Salt Lake at The Home Depot Center.
After Edson Buddle headed in a signature David Beckham cross in the 71st minute, the stars seemed to be lining up for the defending champs. But Real Salt Lake replied two minutes later from a deflected ball in the box, then took the lead in the 80th minute when Javier Morales scored his first MLS goal since breaking his ankle in early 2011. Fabian Espindola put the match away with a goal in the 85th minute.
Arena took the blame for the 3-1 loss, saying fatigue was a factor and that he shouldn’t have started so many players (nine of 11) who’d played in the CCL match on Wednesday. (He also complained about the scheduling, pointing out that fellow CCL participants Toronto and Seattle both had the weekend off.)
LA’s weary legs aside, the game still featured sequences, from both teams, that could double as advertisements for the quality of play in MLS as Year 17 officially begins. It also served notice – not that any was needed – that Real Salt Lake will be a force in the Western Conference this year.
MLS on NBC
HIGHLIGHTS: Dallas outplays NY
The following afternoon in Frisco, Texas, the Red Bulls took on FC Dallas in a game that kicked off the NBC Sports Network’s landmark broadcast agreement with MLS.
But New York fans could be forgiven if they mistook the telecast for a rerun.
That had nothing to do with the production – which delivered the goods – and everything to do with New York’s play. The Red Bulls lost 2-1, giving up one goal after failing to adequately clear a set-piece and the other on a glaring defensive error – Roy Miller’s giveaway in his own end.
Both breakdowns echoed problems from last season, when the Red Bulls conceded 16 goals on set pieces and several others on mental lapses in the back by Rafa Marquez, Tim Ream and their goalkeeping corps.
God Bless Amarikwa
WATCH: Amarikwa seals win with blast
Columbus fans may have had a similar sense of déja vu watching their team kick off the new season on Saturday with a 2-0 loss at Colorado – the same place they ended their 2011 season.
Rapids defender Drew Moor scored the opener, burying Kosuke Kimura’s cross with a powerful header just before halftime. Quincy Amarikwa capped the solid win in the 89th minute with the odds-on favorite for Goal of the Week, a blistering shot from distance into the top corner.
In D.C., Sporting Kansas City attacker C.J. Sapong scored a dramatic, 93rd-minute header to send his team to a 1-0 win over United and provide a breakthrough after an evening of sustained pressure on D.C. ‘keeper Bill Hamid, who made seven saves.
A similar game unfolded on Sunday in Carson, Calif., where Chivas USA netminder Dan Kennedy made eight saves to keep his team level, but could not stop Andre Hainault’s stoppage-time blast that lifted Houston to a 1-0 stunner over the Goats.
Chris Wondolowski provided the difference in the week’s other squeaker. The 29-year-old striker, who scored 16 goals last season, bagged one in his first game of 2012, finding the net in the 15th minute to give the Quakes to a 1-0 win over New England on Saturday night.