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MLS Weekend Recap, Round 1: No clear front-runner in a muddled Eastern Conference

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Red Bulls, Orlando best of a motley bunch

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

We have arrived. Week One is in the books and after hoping to gather some more insight on our Eastern conference foes I ultimately ended up with a large number of questions unanswered. After Week One I think it would be fair to say the Western Conference heavy hitters showed their strengths to a greater degree than their Eastern counterparts.

FC Dallas was ever impressive picking up three points in LA against the Galaxy. Kellyn Acosta is a real gem of a midfielder. He, like many of his Dallas teammates already seem to be in midseason form. The youngster is currently playing beyond his years and after a recent brace in the CONCACAF Champions league he found net again in this one. It has to be said LA put up a fight and have plenty of talent on their squad as well. They should still remain competitive once those new pieces start coming together. Watching this one right after the Fire game was like day and night. This game lived up to they hype. These two teams were both trying to strike an early blow to each other and it was fun to watch.

The two bigger surprises on Saturday came later in the day. Houston beat the defending champs Seattle at home in what came as a bit of a shock to me. Many people are picking Seattle to go very far again this year and perhaps repeat as champs. Yes, it is only one game but there may be a bit of concern with how Seattle came out sluggishly. Houston jumped all over them. Similarly surprising, San Jose took initiative in their home opener against Montreal. Montreal is a team I expect to be competitive for a playoff spot in the East again but I was un-inspired by their performance and they rarely threatened the San Jose goal. This was a great opening result for a San Jose team who has missed the playoffs for several years just like the Fire.

Toronto, D.C, Philadelphia and New England all failed to score Saturday. While Toronto’s point on the road can’t be seen as a failure they did not seem to be the same cohesive unit we saw at the end of last season. Sebastian Giovinco was stymied for most of the game and rarely linked up with Jozy Altidore. On the face of things I have to imagine as those two go, Toronto will also go. DC failed to take all three points at home in their opener drawing with Sporting KC. There were chances at both ends and Marcelo Sarvas had a weakly hit PK saved by the KC goalkeeper. It is worth noting here that DC’s main creative threat Luciano Acosta did not play in this one due to an injury. As for New England, well this one was tough to watch. They lost 1-0 in Colorado. The Rapids had one of best defenses in MLS last year and they picked up where they left off with this clean sheet.

Cyle Larin scored the first goal at the new Orlando City Stadium for the home team. Larin met an inviting ball over to the back post and headed in neatly. Quality service from the flanks like that is great to watch and it is something the Fire have lacked for some time. It’s just that one quality ball into the box that can mean the difference between three points and zero. It was a neat finish by Larin who has solidified himself as one of the more consistent front men in MLS. If he breaks out and has a bigger year than the last couple Orlando may reach the playoffs for the first time in their history. It is worth mentioning Kaka was pulled off early on in this one for an apparent injury.

The Sunday evening Eastern conference match between Red Bulls and MLS newcomers Atlanta United felt like a showdown between two potential contenders. There has been a lot of excitement around the DP signings Atlanta has made and rightfully so. Josef Martinez was pesky in leading the line and it seemed like something positive would happen every time Miguel Almiron got on the ball. For a team who has never played together competitively they looked dangerous. Despite losing they may have the talent to be successful immediately once Tata has a chance to get his message across. On the other side it was always going to be tough for NYRB to get a positive result on the road in Atlanta’s debut and the fact that they did was extremely impressive. This was the stand out result of Week One as far as Eastern teams go. They have been so solid in the regular season the past couple of years because of the effort they bring each and every week.

Hot (Time) Take

My goal this week was to focus on the teams in the Eastern Conference with the hope of learning a few things about the teams the Fire will have to beat out to reach the playoffs. However, I was instead drawn to the performances of Portland and Dallas this week. They were simply the more notable results from what I saw. There were not many teams from the East who were overwhelmingly impressive in week one.

If anyone stood out, it was the Red Bulls’ ability to come from behind and win on the road. That game was as competitive as any this weekend and both teams seem solid all around. I know I am not the only one who is worried about the Fire’s right side and how they can improve defensively in those areas. Many of these teams have attacking players who will move around the field over the course of a game and take up spaces where they feel like they can exploit and manipulate defenders. The idea of a Piatti, Almiron or Giovinco identifying a glaring weakness of ours and taking up that space is particularly terrifying.

New York Red Bulls and Orlando City were the only two teams in the East to pick up all three points in Week One. We will continue to track the other clubs in the East, how they progress, and after a while we may have a better picture on how the Fire stack up. It is simply too early to jump to any conclusions but a point on the road is not a bad start.

All of the week one highlights can be seen here.