The ball is still round and each team puts 11 players on the field. Beyond that, however, Week 1 of the 2020 season offered up a range of unexpected developments across MLS. Here’s my top five.
Kinda big debut
“I expect him to fit into the way that we play; how fast it is, I don’t know.”
Those were Peter Vermes’ words when Sporting Kansas City completed the loan signing of box-to-box midfielder Gadi Kinda from Beitar Jerusalem in January. While there is some history of connections between MLS and the Israeli top flight, it hardly gave us a track record by which to project Kinda’s suitability for success on this side of the world, which is just one reason why this acquisition got lost in the shadow of Sporting’s club-record deal for striker Alan Pulido.
So it was a surprise to see just how hard Kinda balled out in Kansas City’s 3-1 win at Vancouver. The 25-year-old covered plenty of ground, got on the ball often, usually looked to push his team forward – and of course, smashed my personal favorite Goal of the Week candidate into the top corner first-time:
Through a combination of circumstances, the Colorado Rapids have been a chronically overlooked team over the past year or three. Even after they played some of the league’s most effective soccer down the stretch under Robin Fraser last season, falling short of the playoffs mainly because of their woeful start, it’s been all too easy for many MLS observers to write them off.
As I learned when they passed through D.C. last week, collecting three road points along the way, Colorado are just fine with that. Quietly confident that they’ve built a well-rounded contender, the Mile High Club don’t mind flying below the radar – but D.C. United’s Ben Olsen certainly took notice.
“They're better, make no mistake. Robin's a good coach, and they've got a nice mix,” said Olsen after his team’s 2-1 loss. “They’re dynamic, the center of the park is good. Kei [Kamara], it's as good as I've seen him play in a long time. He seems pretty engaged and motivated. Giving that many set pieces up to Colorado is always dangerous; they're as good as any team in the league in that department.”
You don’t often see a teenager with choices in front of him like FC Dallas’ latest Homegrown. He initially committed to Clemson to play both college soccer and kick for the ACC (gridiron) football powerhouse, with Tigers head coach and family friend Dabo Swinney calling him one of the best athletes he’d ever seen.
But the Alabama native elected to sign an HGP deal with FCD last week. He was immediately thrust into the starting lineup on opening day, and anchored the midfield like a seasoned vet in the 2-0 win over Philadelphia, shielding Dallas’ back four and notching an assist for good measure.
Early red in Ohio
Maxime Chanot's 3rd-minute DOGSO red card was not just a crippling blow for New York City FC’s hopes of gaining a positive result on their visit to Columbus Crew SC; it was the earliest ejection ever seen in an MLS season opener and equaled the third-fastest in any MLS game in history.
It’s hard to argue too much with referee Ramy Touchan’s decision; what I’m curious about is whether Chanot meant to do it? If not, and his tangle of legs with eventual match-winner Lucas Zelarayan was accidental, it’s about the harshest luck imaginable for NYCFC’s Luxembourgish defender.
Chicago Fire FC: Not bad!
Thanks to a complete overhaul both on and off the field, the team formerly known as the Men in Red are arguably the biggest enigma in the league at present. That left me expecting the worst as they faced a daunting Week 1 visit to the defending MLS Cup champs at CenturyLink Field, the first in a three-game season-opening road swing.
Yes, it was a grievous defensive error to leave the white-hot Morris unmarked on a late corner kick. But all in all Raphael Wicky and his squad gave us some interesting footy to chew over. Now let’s see how they look against teams not carrying heavy legs from midweek Concacaf Champions League duty like the Seattle Sounders were.