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Three (early) things we learned on MLS opening day

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Major League Soccer is back and true to form it was wildly unpredictable.

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In the early slate of games on the opening day of of the 2018 season, things got weird, fast.

The Columbus Crew rolled into Toronto and beat the reigning champs, while Houston hammered much-fancied Atlanta United.

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Below is a look at what we learned from two huge shocks in the opening 180 minutes of the 2018 MLS season.


Columbus Crew’s players seem unfazed

The #SaveTheCrew movement is still going strong and even though Columbus’ owner broke his silence to speak out on Friday about his plans to relocate the team to Austin, Texas, the players seem unfazed. Ridiculously so.

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Gregg Berhalter’s boys made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals last season and although they lost the likes of Ola Kamara, Justin Meram and Kekuta Manneh in what seemed like textbook asset stripping over the winter, picking up the likes of Gyasi Zardes (more on him shortly) gives them hope they can hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Going away to Toronto FC on the opening day and bagging a big shutout win is some statement and this season can go one of two ways for Columbus: the players can relax and play open, attacking soccer without any worries as this could be the last campaign for the team in Columbus.

Or, perhaps they will coast through and pick up big wins when nobody expects them to and suffer weird defeats. For what it’s worth on Day One, it appears the former is the mindset in charge as this group of players seem to still be riding high from their improbable playoff run last season.


Sophomore slump for Atlanta United?

This is one of those “way too early predictions” but what if Atlanta’s players believed the hype over the offseason about how good they were in their debut MLS season in 2017?

A 4-0 hammering at Houston on Saturday didn’t kick off their season on the right footing and Brad Guzan‘s shaky display in goal was added to by a missed penalty kick by Miguel Almiron as it turned into a horror show in the Texas sun for Tata Martino’s men.

Wilmer Cabrera’s Houston deserve a lot of credit too. They were 3-0 up after 26 minutes but the Dynamo are just one of those teams right now that are neither expecting to, or getting any, credit.

Houston’s attacking unit was the main reason they stunned everyone last season and finished in fourth in the West and made it to the Western Conference final.

Mauro Manotas, Alberth Elis and Andrew Wenger were at it again as Houston’s fluid attacking unit had Atlanta’s defense stretched all over the place. The signing of Chris Seitz and the likes of Philippe Senderos and DaMarcus Beasley being around has added extra experience and there is a good balance to Houston’s team.

Can the same be said for Atlanta?

There is a serious concern that this ATL side is too attack-minded and Darlington Nagbe certainly had a debut to forget in midfield after his big move from Portland in the offseason. How can Tata Martino fit in Barco (when he is fully fit), Josef Martinez, Almiro, Villalba and Gressel into the same team? He can’t. But still, we all expect Atlanta to be the main rivals to Toronto FC in the East.

Opening day in any league around the world throws up some bizarre results and this will be filed under that category. Unless Atlanta truly suffers a sophomore slump of epic proportions.


Zardes ready to get back on track

Remember when Gyasi Zardes was a starter for the U.S. national team and one of the first names on the team sheet? Yeah, that wasn’t too long ago. During the 2016 Copa America Centernario run he was an outlet for the then manager of the USMNT Jurgen Klinsmann, and Zardes’ ability to play out wide or through the middle gave his club and country options.

It seems like a long time ago that he scored 19 goals in the 2014 MLS season on the way to helping the Galaxy to yet another MLS Cup trophy.

Zardes’ star has fallen rapidly over the past few years and he has suffered with injuries and a lack of form in front of goal. He was never the most natural finisher, but his goal at Toronto on the opening day reminded us of what he’s all about.

With 38 USMNT caps and six goals to his name, is this the year Zardes finally puts his injury woes behind him and reignites his international credentials? He is just 26 years old and it’s not like the USMNT has many talented attackers ahead of him right now. Time to reintroduce yourself, Gyasi.

Video: Mbappe taps home to give France first blood

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The match is really opening up now, and France has begun to assert itself with an opener just beyond the half-hour mark.

[ MORE: Denmark, Australia draw, leaving Group C wide open ]

Kylian Mbappe has given Les Bleus a 1-0 lead over Peru after a deflected Olivier Giroud cross found the Monaco attacker just in front of goal for a tap-in finish.

The sequence began after Paul Pogba dispossessed Peru deep in their own half, before dishing the ball off to Giroud.

The goal for Mbappe is his first at a World Cup, as the 19-year-old continues to impress for both club and country.

American referee Geiger accused of asking for Portugal kit

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Morocco’s World Cup journey will conclude after the group stage, but the African side isn’t pleased with how their second match transpired on Wednesday against Portugal.

[ MORE: Spain gets win after Iran sees equalizer ruled off ]

The Moroccans have lodged a complaint with FIFA against referee Mark Geiger — an American who has become one of the most well-known officials in Major League Soccer.

Geiger was alleged to have asked Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo for his jersey at halftime of the 1-0 win over Morocco, to which Geiger has categorically denied the claims.

FIFA released the following statement on the matter:

The claims stemmed from Morocco player Nordin Amrabat, who addressed the matter in an interview following the match.

“I don’t know what [Geiger] is used to, but he was very impressed by Cristiano [Ronaldo],” Amrabat said. “I’ve been just told by Pepe that in the [first half], he asked if he could have his shirt. Come on, man. What are we talking about? … We are at the World Cup, not a circus here.”

Geiger returned to action on Thursday as video assistant referee for the Denmark-Australia match, which included an important alteration in a call that led to an Australia penalty kick.

Group C wide open as Denmark, Australia settle for draw

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Denmark and Australia settled for a 1-1 draw on Thursday, as this exciting Group C affair had nothing to separate the two nations at the end of 90 minutes.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

As it stands, the Danes lead the group with four points, while Australia earned its first point of the World Cup.

France will meet Peru later on Thursday, with Les Bleus having won its first match and Peru having suffered defeat to Denmark.

The Danes broke through after seven minutes when Nicolai Jørgensen picked out a perfect back-heel pass to Christian Eriksen at the top of the box, before the Tottenham Hotspur attacker volleyed home for a 1-0 lead.

Jørgensen nearly doubled the Denmark advantage in the 24th minute when the 27-year-old had an open header from close range that skewed just wide of the target.

Australia worked its way into the match following the opener, and were awarded a penalty kick in the 37th minute after VAR Mark Geiger altered an initial decision for a handball inside the box.

Mile Jedinak converted the spot kick to level the match at 1-1, giving the Socceroos life.

A dangerous free kick four minutes later almost gave Denmark the lead once again, however, Eriksen couldn’t get a crucial touch on the ball to knock it over the goal line before Ryan collected.

The second half continued with lightning pace from both sides, and Aaron Mooy‘s 71st minute blast came inches away from giving Australia an improbable lead.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The two nations will conclude Group C play on June 26, as Denmark faces France and Australia takes on CONMEBOL side Peru.

Video: VAR awards Australia penalty, before Jedinak converts

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The Socceroos battled admirably in the latter stages of the first half, and Australia was rewarded for their efforts.

Australia has leveled the match at 1-1 after a Mile Jedinak penalty kick cancelled out Christian Eriksen’s stunning opener in the seventh minute.

After an initial decision to play on by the head referee, VAR Mark Geiger opted to award a penalty kick to the Aussies after Yussuf Poulsen was caught with his hand away from his body on a Mathew Leckie header.

Poulsen was also shown a yellow card for the infraction, which rules him out for Denmark’s group-stage finale against France.