Happy new season! With Week 1 in the books, every MLS team has now played one match of their 34-game 2022 slates, which equates to just under 3% of the campaign as a whole. It’s an extremely small sample size and typically that limits the value and scope of the analysis that can be offered on those first 90-plus minutes.
Welp, I’m going to do it anyway.
Maybe we’re just cynically exploiting the excitement and/or dread that your favorite team and its competitors may have inspired in you after opening weekend. But now that we finally have some actual competitive league matches to talk about, let’s have some fun with it, shall we?
This exercise will involve two categories. Since I’m an optimist at heart, we’ll start with the bad news first.
Quakes meet everyone's (diminished) expectations
How did that bygone meme go? “I expect nothing and I'm still let down,” I think it was? Yeah, that’s the vibe with the San Jose Earthquakes.
The boys by the Bay entered the season with doubts swirling about the future of coach Matias Almeyda, questions about their roster’s depth and quality… and didn’t exactly set anyone at ease with a messy, wide-open display at home against the league’s youngest team, the New York Red Bulls, that recalled some of the low points of the Pelado era thus far.
Starting a back three of Francisco Calvo, Jackson Yueill and an are-you-sure-he's-really-fit Nathan raised some questions, and the 3-4-3 formation that devolved into a 3-6-1 mishmash as RBNY counterattacked them into oblivion raised some more. Even when they’re not in top form, the Quakes have been one of my favorite MLS storylines – and entertainment products – over the past three years, but right now this is not appointment viewing. At all.
Sporting KC can’t keep up
Kansas City, conversely, carry the oldest roster in MLS, and on the fast FieldTurf at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday, you could tell.
The Midwesterners enjoyed plenty of the ball, produced more shots, completed more passes and at a higher accuracy than Atlanta United, but got just about run out of the building by their hosts’ superior speed and precision in transition, eventually losing by a healthy margin, both on the scoreboard (3-1 loss) and in expected goals.
It was an afternoon of sobering data points for Peter Vermes and given the academy-driven youth project that is a long-term focus for his club, I’m curious to see how he responds to perk up SKC, who traditionally have one of the league’s clearest philosophical identities.
Miguel Berry szn?!?!?!
“I’d be silly to not play this kid Miguel Berry a lot of minutes this year,” was how Caleb Porter put it after the Columbus Crew’s 4-0 thumping of Vancouver. And it’s striking indeed to see Gyasi Zardes – one of the most consistent, hardest-working and respected No. 9s in contemporary MLS history – start the season as second-choice in central Ohio.
But Berry, or should I say Miguel, as the back of his jersey newly reads this year, was good value for it, after showing signs of dramatic progression last season.
Every team would love to have options like that for one of the most important positions on the field, so I’d pump the brakes on the Gyasi trade talk that’s suddenly simmering in some quarters, but a sea change could well be afoot for the Crewzers.
Nashville making me look good
So yeah, I went out on a limb and picked Nashville SC to win the Western Conference, which I readily admit is a little risky – but considering that everyone and their dog on the MLSsoccer prognostication panel was picking Seattle, it seemed like a moment for some counter-intuitive boldness.
Preseason predictions are a fool’s game, but they’re part of the business, and I should probably quit while I’m ahead in the wake of the Golden Boys’ 1-0 upset of the Sounders on their own pitch. Gary Smith has honed a ferocious collective defensive mindset – NSH are still yet to concede more than two goals in two years in MLS – and it made life really difficult for the Rave Green.
Other opponents will suffer similarly at their hands this season, I reckon.
Inter Miami: Not so bad!
They still didn’t score, and perhaps it’s just low expectations at work, but I was pleasantly surprised at Miami’s buildup play and combination work in the final third against Chicago in Saturday's 0-0 draw. Gonzalo Higuain seems to have embraced the ‘wily drifting creator’ role and teed up his younger teammates again and again on Saturday.
His frustrations at the inability of Leonardo Campana & Co. to finish those chances was palpable. Instead of framing that as “negative body language,” however, I’m going to humbly suggest that it might actually be an encouraging sign of a pricey Designated Player who’s bought in and demanding of his team even in the wake of the serious difficulties IMCF have weathered over his limited time in south Florida.
Also, how about those pink kits?!