Voices: Sam Jones

Top 5 surprises of Week 1 in MLS

MLS, as MLS does, spent the weekend doing everything in its power to subvert every expectation you had going into said weekend for no other reason than it enjoys doing it. I, being a person of great culture and taste, enjoyed the heck out of it.

Caveats are everywhere you look here in Week 1, it being the smallest of small samples sizes. But let’s take a look at everything we thought we knew coming in and how MLS told us in kind that we were so, so, very wrong

Just scratching the surface here, honestly. This week went crazy.

The Sounders are still the Sounders

Man … I at least thought they’d wait until summer. Turns out that a team who loses three starters from an MLS Cup team still has … eight more starters from an MLS Cup team than most other teams. They didn’t even have Nico Lodeiro! You would think they would at least be a bit slow out of the gate.

Nope. They switched to a 3-5-2 and looked like they’d been running it for years. They plugged in homegrown Josh Atencio into the midfield and he did plenty well. Easy to do when you’re surrounded by Cristian Roldan and Joao Paolo WHO I’VE BEEN TELLING Y’ALL ABOUT FOR MONTHS.

But yeah, Nouhou did Nouhou things at left center back of all places, Raul Ruidiaz is still him, and Fredy Montero showed up and I got to remind everyone that he actually kind of sort of balled out in Vancouver last year according to Goals Added. Kind of a bummer we have to accept our fate of another Seattle MLS Cup so early in the year, but here we are.

On the flip side of that, all of us who picked Minnesota to take a step forward this year feel slightly more nervous about that. Those of us, at least, who aren’t paying attention to the greater plan at hand. How can you be underdogs when everyone believes in you? Gotta lay low for a couple of weeks, build up some “shock the world” mentality and then Minnesota will be on the right track. Just wait.

Montréal defy the critics while Toronto struggle

Pretty much everyone who covers MLS picked CF Montréal to finish last, then they lost to a USL League One side from Statesboro, Georgia, of all places with like one week to go before the season began, then Toronto pulled off one of the great first-round upsets in CCL history when they basically beat Leon with their U-23s and Michael Bradley.

And somehow all of this ended with Montréal, Romell Quioto and Mason Toye carving through the Toronto press and just taking it to the Reds in a 4-2 win after which Djordje Mihailovic told the critics to put their money where their mouth is knowing full well anyone who does criticism for a living has no money to put anywhere.

Alrighty then, MLS. What a way to start a Saturday.

I don’t know how much of this is an indication of Montréal being good or simply figuring out that the best way to beat Toronto’s press is to just go over the top and make a well-timed clever run to get on the end of the pass. I dunno. Toronto gets a pass for the whole Leon thing we mentioned before.

Austin gel immediately

Hey! That looked pretty good!

For a team playing their first ever competitive game under a first time manager against the most ruthless team in the league, this one very well could have ended up as a draw. They did a decent job of limiting LAFC chances (although Bob Bradley may have accidentally done that better than anyone with an accidental sub of Carlos Vela) but they especially looked cohesive going forward.

Austin didn’t get the win — and they faded a bit in the second half — but they should be ecstatic about having that performance to build on. This isn’t an expansion team in danger of getting thumped every game and that’s all you can really ask for in year one. They, like Nashville last year, may even find a little more than that.

Brenner and Lucho Acosta immediately transform Cincinnati's attack

FC Cincinnati, who scored just 12 goals all last season, scored twice in the first 11 minutes of their season opener. New signings Brenner and Lucho Acosta each scored. This broke my brain. I could feel them laughing at us. At everyone.

Cincy couldn’t hold onto the lead after Randall Leal either accidentally on purpose scored the greatest goal of his life. But if you can go on the road to a playoff team and have your two major signings score and have the other team need to accidentally score or on purpose score the greatest goal of their lives, then that’s a pretty good start to the year.

Chicharito and Gonzalo Higuain put 2020 struggles behind them

Gonzalo Higuain bagging a goal from a penalty and an assist felt good. Chicharito grabbing a brace felt emotional.

Honestly, I felt things a couple of times thanks to Higuain and Chicharito. The first came when Higuain found Robbie Robinson for a tap in to open the game. VAR took the opportunity to check a potential offside. When the ref gave the goal, Higuain and Blaise Matuidi behind him celebrated like they’d both scored a game-winner.

I just enjoy when people care because they want to. They don’t have to care when they’ve done so much in their career already. It felt like a combination of frustration releasing and a genuine want to entertain Miami’s excellently rowdy home crowd.

Speaking of caring, very few MLS players have cared as much as Chicharito this offseason. I’ve talked about it before on The Daily Kickoff, the only newsletter printed and read aloud by Robert Redford each morning probably, but Chicharito’s Instagram this offseason has been nothing but Rise and Grind-esque posts that would look extremely comfortable on the Instagram of the most active person you’re connected with on LinkedIn.

Last year clearly affected him a lot on the field. In the real world, his grandfather died and he struggled personally. It led to him talking openly and poignantly about the need to remember the human side of players when criticizing their struggles.

“I hope one day we can normalize that, that it doesn’t matter how much fame you have, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter how much success you have in a superficial way, it doesn’t matter, nothing about it, you’re just still a human right, you are not more or less than any human being in this world, it doesn’t matter,” he said

“I think we shouldn’t ask for perfection because perfection doesn’t exist. What makes us incredible is that we are humans and we are not perfect. I’m here each day. We can improve each day, we can learn each day, we go through very difficult things every single day, but some other basic difficulties and difficulties never gonna stop in your life when you try to reach like a flat, happy place that does not exist.

“I hope one day, we can normalize ourselves. Simple, similar beings here in this position. That doesn’t mean that I have more value than yourself … And so we go through a lot of stuff. We’re gonna keep going through stuff, but the most important thing is like, we can see ourselves as a human that we want to push ourselves, we still want to do what we want. We are passionate about it, but we shouldn’t ask for perfection for ourselves because we are humans in the end. I’m not a robot. I’m not perfect.”

Chicharito earned those two goals, y’all. And I hope you feel happy for him.

You should also feel happy if you’re a Galaxy fan that Greg Vanney has unlocked the big, poorly kept secret that Chicharito does pretty well with a second striker helping out. Vanney subbed on Ethan Zubak at halftime to play in that role and it changed the entire makeup of the game. Now, with a big weight off Chicharito’s back after he matched last year’s scoring total in one game, it may have changed the trajectory of Chicharito’s entire career.

Robert Beric can still only score once a game

Lol OK no, this is still a real thing in MLS. Go look at his MLS stats. I’ll wait.

Yeah. Really. He’s only allowed to score once a game. It’s a rule.

But he does score nearly every game.

Anyway, Chicago looked sharp in a 2-2 draw with New England who looked a bit shell shocked after the first 20 minutes and recovered nicely.