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.