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5 things we learned from MLS opening day 2020

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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.

Player ratings from USMNT 4-1 Canada

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The United States men’s national team picked up a very meaningful win for the Gregg Berhalter era, collecting a 4-1 win over Canada in Florida.

[ MORE: Match recap | Three things ]

Here’s how the men did in Orlando.

Starting XI

Brad Guzan — 6 — Moments of trouble, including a poor early pass that nearly gave Canada a chance at a 1-0 lead within 2 minutes.

Tim Ream — 7 — Didn’t have his best moment at the back post on Canada’s goal, but delivered the goods in a left back role.

John Brooks — 7 — One tricky tackle atop the 18 that went uncalled, but the Wolfsburg man showed why he’s the most complete package at center back. A terrific ball handler with vision and a monstrous physical presence.

Sergino Dest — 8 — We should all write this 19-year-old thank you cards. What a dribbler.

Jackson Yueill — 7 — He’s gonna need to get experience in order to become an every-match starter, but there was enough hardness to think he could be an answer to the “Who backs up Tyler Adams?” question.

Weston McKennie — 6 — One great pass on a counter, but otherwise a perfectly average performance for one of the U.S.’ most promising players.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 69′) — 7 — Good in tight spaces and the creative part of a midfield triumverate.

Jordan Morris (Off 86′)  — 9 — This kid. Aside from one horrific late cross, the Seattle Sounders man had another incredible game in the U.S. shirt. Goal, assist, sub off, win.

Paul Arriola — 7 — Just fine. Industrious as usual, but the focus was elsewhere.

Gyasi Zardes — 8 — A surprise starter, the big man delivered in a big way.

Substitutes

Alfredo Morales (On 69′) — 7 — If you don’t start him, he’s a great player to bring off the bench with a led.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 86′) — N/A —

Tyler Boyd (On 90’+1)– N/A — 

USMNT rides early lead, hammers Canada

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The United States men’s national rode a dynamite first half to a 4-1 defeat of Canada in Florida on Friday.

The men were sloppy in the second half after riding out to a 3-0 lead, but the damage was done for Canada.

The Yanks will qualify for the CONCACAF Nations League final with a win over Cuba in the Cayman Islands.

[ WATCH: Three first half USMNT goals ]

After losing 2-0 to the Canucks in Toronto, the Yanks got a goal within two minutes of kickoff in Orlando.

Sergino Dest flicked or got good Fortune when he popped a Sebastian Lletget corner kick over a host of players, and Jordan Morris buried his chance past Red Star Belgrade back stop Milan Borjan.

The next 20 minutes showed a series of fouls and cards, but John Brooks and Lletget proved better up to the task than the lineup last summer.

The Yanks made it 2-0 when Morris again got behind the line, collecting a slightly-askew first touch and sending a left-footed cross that Zardes planted in the back of the goal.

It was 3-0 when Ream chipped a free kick to the center of the box for Long to head home.

The Yanks nearly made it 4-0 when Weston McKennie slipped Dest into a 1v1 with Samuel Piette. The Ajax man opened up room for a shot, but he dragged it wide of the goal.

The Canadians back line proved leaky, and Zardes stole a ball and squared for Lletget who blazed over the bar early in the second half.

Canada pulled one back through Vitoria, who got the best of the United States’ zonal marking. Brad Guzan made a couple straight-forward recoveries late as the Yanks held on for the win.

But the Yanks would find one more goal, Zardes’ hard shot deflecting past Borjan.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola

How USMNT can top Canada without Bradley, Pulisic

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There’s definitely neither Michael Bradley, Zack Steffen, nor Christian Pulisic for the United States men’s national team in their last bids to qualify for the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.

Some have joked, “Who cares?” about the new competition, but this matters for the Gregg Berhalter era considering a second loss to Canada would… well… look, it would be a second loss to Canada.

[ MORE: USMNT trims squad to 23 ]

How bad is that? First of all, considering the ire sent south from Canadian media and fans when we didn’t brand John Herdman’s triumph over the USMNT in Toronto as “the time soccer was reinvented by the Children of Bobby Orr (TM),” let us say that Canada:

A) was very, very good in the October win, led by a tactical demolition.

2) is genuinely much improved over the past half-decade (We’ve covered this much over the years, though it was a slow burn)

D) will be a nation to be reckoned with come World Cup qualifying, led by the remarkable Alphonso Davies.

There. And we mean it.

But losing twice inside of one month to a nation who hadn’t beaten you since Berhalter was in middle school would be a monumental step back for a program already swimming in the shallow end thanks to a string of monumental step backs.

We’re gonna have so many monuments to our setbacks. It’s gonna be beautiful. People will love them.

So make no mistake about it: No Bradley and a less-than-100 percent Pulisic is a real problem. The club is still without Timothy Weah and Tyler Adams, but does have a healthy John Brooks and in-form Josh Sargent to go with recent commitment maker Sergino Dest.

That doesn’t help the Bradley-, Adams- and Pulisic-less midfield, but it’s something. We’d note that Julian Green is playing the sort of game that can help a team down its prime influential playmaker, but 2.Bundesliga or something, we guess.

A back four with DeAndre Yedlin, Dest, Brooks, and Tim Ream is going to do a lot better job with Alphonso Davies than the one with, checks notes, Daniel Lovitz, Ream, Aaron Long, and Yedlin. Dest will be out of position at left back, but he’s been there before and better than the alternative.

So, yes, the back four should be fine in front of, presumably, Brad Guzan, but how will Berhalter deal with Scott Arfield‘s game-busting work in the midfield? Alfredo Morales and Weston McKennie are a great start assuming it’s a 4-3-3 scenario. Berhalter for some reason hasn’t been impressed with Sebastian Lletget‘s work for the USMNT, so it seems likely either Jackson Yueill or Cristian Roldan will get run against Canada.

The forward are going to be fine with Jordan Morris, Sargent, and either Paul Arriola or Tyler Boyd, as long as Berhalter lets them press a Canadian back line which is by far their weakest aspect (and sits ahead of a very good goalkeeper in Milan Borjan).

The absence of Bradley and Pulisic doesn’t make Canada a favorite in Florida, even given last month’s abomination at BMO, but Herdman bamboozled Berhalter last time and doesn’t even have to go for a win this time, as a draw will be enough to end the USMNT’s CNL hopes.

Given the electricity of Davies and Jonathan David, the steel of Arfield, and the game-stealing ability of Borjan, the Yanks can play well and still lose. But a speedy back line with two strong center backs combined with an industrious and energetic midfield, and a press against Canada’s inexperienced backs should be enough.

Now we await Berhalter’s plan.