The arrival of March has not, unfortunately, done much to improve the weather. But although the calendar has failed to bring out the sun, it’s certainly done wonders for MLS and US Soccer.
The month began in the glow of two sparkling victories by US national teams, while four MLS preseason tournaments churned out interesting results across the nation. The league’s hot stove also gave out a last few ticks as teams finalized their rosters ahead of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals and First Kick 2012, both of which launch this week.
That’s right. This week. Clap your eyes on that again: The offseason officially ends on Wednesday, when Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy square off at the Rogers Centre (8 pm ET, FoxSoccer), and Seattle Sounders FC and Santos Laguna meet at CenturyLink Field (10 pm ET, FoxSoccer) in the CCL quarterfinals.
Three days later, First Kick arrives with a weekend’s slate of games, including the historic first MLS meeting between Vancouver and Montreal, and the MLS debut of the NBC Sports Network, which will broadcast FC Dallas’ home opener against the New York Red Bulls on Sunday (GET TICKETS).
Let’s play back the final week of the offseason, and then kiss it goodbye.
11 Games, 78 Years
The US men’s national team said goodbye – or, rather, arrivederci – to a historic winless streak this past Wednesday when they clipped four-time World Cup champions Italy 1-0. The victory, courtesy of Clint Dempsey’s 55th-minute strike after some solid setup work by Jozy Altidore, was the Yanks’ first defeat of Italy in 11 tries stretching back to 1934.
The result also marked Italy’s first loss in Genoa since 1924.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting XI featured FC Dallas attacker Brek Shea, as well as seven MLS alums, including three former MLS Rookie of the Year winners (Carlos Bocanegra, 2000; Clint Dempsey, 2004; and Maurice Edu, 2007).
Highlights: VAN 1, TOR 0
While that US win was a deserved and historic result, it came in an international friendly, not a high-stakes tournament, so American fans can only make so much of it.
Vancouver Whitecaps supporters can keep that thought in mind in the wake of their team’s undefeated run to the championship of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic in Orlando.
The Caps went 4-0 and outscored opponents 8-0 en route to the trophy, but their 1-0 victory in the final came against a Toronto FC lineup of reserves and trialists (the Reds rested their first team ahead of Wednesday’s CCL match). And of course the entire run took place in the preseason, which often means as much for regular-season performance as practice meant for Allen Iverson.
Yet it does seem safe to say the 'Caps are a shoo-in to improve upon their performance last season, when they played with a lot of style but racked up the most losses in the league.
New attacker Sébastien Le Toux is fitting in, their defense looks much improved, and in July, they’ll welcome Scottish midfielder Barry Robson, who’s currently lighting it up for Middlesbrough in the English Championship.
Null and Boyd
Things are also looking up in Cascadia’s Southern sector, as well, where both Seattle and Portland closed out the preseason with shutout victories.
The Timbers’ new Designated Player, Kris Boyd, scored six minutes into his debut on Sunday night, and Portland blanked Swedish side AIK 1-0 in the final game of the Portland Timbers Tournament.
(San Jose pasted Chivas USA 5-0 in the Portland tourney’s other Sunday match, as newcomer Sercan Güvenisik bagged a goal and an assist.)
Seattle wrapped up a 5-0-2 preseason with a 2-0 win over Jaguares de Chiapas last Wednesday, getting two goals from Fredy Montero. The Colombian striker heads into Wednesday’s CCL clash with five preseason goals.
LA pleased with depth for busy 2012
Diamonds in the Rough?
The Galaxy also begin CCL play on Wednesday, and they closed out their preseason with a shootout win over New England in the final of Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz., this past Saturday.
LA rested most of their first-choice players, fielding a lineup of reserves and youngsters, including 17-year-old Jack McBean. They held a mostly first-choice New England side to a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes, then took the penalty shootout.
Bruce Arena said his young team “did surprisingly well”—a phrase that could also apply to New England’s entire preseason, despite the down note at the end.
Led by first-year coach Jay Heaps and rookie Kelyn Rowe, the Revs went 3-0-1 in Arizona as they look to rebuild after last year’s last-place finish.
Dos a Cero
The solid turns by so many youngsters bodes well for the rising talent in the league. So, too, did the performance of the US U-23 team in their friendly against Mexico this past Wednesday.
Caleb Porter’s team, which started seven MLS players, looked particularly impressive en route to a 2-0 win. The goals came from Red Bull Juan Agudelo and Mix Diskerud (who deflected a shot by Philadelphia’s Freddy Adu).
With the season practically upon us, MLS roster compliance day came and went this past Thursday, producing a couple of noteworthy moves.
In Montreal, Italian defender Matteo Ferrari officially signed with the Impact, who’d invited the Serie A veteran to camp several weeks ago.
Across the continent in Vancouver, the Whitecaps waived former US international Lee Nguyen, whom they’d acquired in a weighted lottery in December. New England signed Nguyen the next day.