2020 Major League Soccer opening day had it all. A late winner, a late equalizer, a victorious debutant, a defeated debutant, and lots of great goals.
[ MORE: MLS opening day roundup ]
One things people should avoid is making any broad assumptions about a team’s season from just 90 minutes of action, but we can still draw plenty from the Saturday results. From in-form players to injuries and new boys, there are lots of lessons from the first slate of games.
1) Nashville S.C. won’t lay down and die
While Nashville couldn’t find an equalizing goal against one of the league’s best squads, they certainly showed fight and determination. The MLS debutants were thought to be a more defensive squad, but David Accam and Randall Leal had plenty of good chances, threatening one of the more stout back lines on numerous occasions. If the MLS new boys can get more cohesion as the minutes tick on this season, they will be able to produce more venom on the chances that seemed to just barely go begging on opening day. With this kind of more aggressive performance on a regular basis, Nashville will be a tough out this season and could push for a playoff spot.
2) USMNT stars will shine
For U.S. national team fans, it was a great day of individual results. Walker Zimmerman scored the first goal in Nashville S.C. history. Emerson Hyndman bagged a fabulous volley. Jonathan Lewis picked out a late winner for Colorado. Paxton Pomykal struck late for FC Dallas in a win. Brad Guzan was stout in goal for Atlanta United.
During a time when USMNT fans have seen nothing but brutal injury news over the past few months, it was good to see a number of Americans have good days on the field. That could be a storyline all season long.
3) Cristian Pavon has a real shot at MVP
The LA Galaxy were only able to work a point out of their season opening visit to Houston, but Cristian Pavon looks a dangerous one. In addition to his brilliant early goal, Pavon delivered three key passes and was a general menace in the Houston attack. It was all the more impressive considering that otherwise, the Galaxy had little to offer up front outside of Joe Corona’s 66th minute chance. If the Galaxy attack builds into the season and helps Pavon, he could have a real shot at the MVP award this season, especially if Josef Martinez misses significant time. Speaking of…
4) Atlanta United is in trouble without Josef Martinez
When Josef Martinez collapsed into a heap and pointed to his knee, Atlanta United fans – and frankly, all fans of exquisite soccer – held their breath. It’s tough to speculate, but by the looks of it, one of the most electric players in the league could miss a significant amount of time. No one wishes that on Atlanta, but it sure looked a serious one.
Martinez’s exit sucked the life from Atlanta United, and they absorbed pressure through the final 20 minutes. There’s plenty of positives for Frank De Boer to take from the road victory, but the finish is unlikely to be one of them. The withdrawal of Pity Martinez was another reason for their lack of incisive personality, but Josef’s absence is a real problem for Atlanta. If he is indeed to miss significant time this season, de Boer has his work cut out for him to keep this attack as one of the most dangerous in the league.
5) Thierry Henry can coach
The Montreal Impact handed Thierry Henry his first MLS win in spectacular fashion as Max Urruti delivered an absolute stunner to win it in the 80th minute. That’s nice and all, but Urruti’s boss Thierry Henry way able to coach his way to victory as well. With a defensive formation that featured three center-backs, Henry hoped to sit deep, absorb pressure, and counter his way to victory. Montreal eventually held 57% possession against New England, but much of that was ultra-conservative passing out of the back, with very little actual attacking third action. Still, it choked the life out of New England – not in a Man City or Liverpool high-energy asphyxiation, but instead in a lull you to sleep type of way. It worked, at least on opening day, and the Frenchman could be on his way to an enjoyable managerial career if he can manage to tweak his system to fit his opponents each week.
BONUS: Don’t worry, there will always be controversy
It took until the final few moments of the day, but there was a clear moment of refereeing controversy on opening day. With Nashville S.C. looking to pour forward in the dying minutes of the game, Atlanta United broke the other direction which forced Nashville goalkeeper Joe Willis to come and challenge near midfield. As the ball pinged around in the chaos, Willis lept into the air to stop an Ezequiel Barco shot from just past the midway line. Willis clearly raised his arms into the air and stopped the effort well outside his box which should have led to a blatant red card. The on-field referee, however, only gave a yellow and the VAR review did not reverse the call. While it didn’t change much in the game coming in the dying minutes and benefitting the eventual losing team, it does mean that Nashville won’t lose its goalkeeper for a one-game suspension and reassures fans that – don’t worry folks – there will be plenty of controversy to savor this season.