The Hatewatch is an odd gig, part seething invective circus, part soccer-themed candlelight vigil. Every bit of mocking derision at a blowout loss includes, as its necessary counterpoint, some undermining passive-aggressiveness to the corresponding blowout win: “You looked good, dear, but remember it was only against Atlanta,” intones a mother-figure shot in blurry monotones. So.
Let’s have it, then.
This weekend’s biggest winners were the three teams - New York City, Columbus and LAFC - who went on the road against contenders and took all three points. (Those contenders - Kansas City, Toronto and Seattle, respectively - have to be classed as the week’s losers.) Houston put up four goals in the first half for an Atlanta side that, in retrospect, looked ripe for the picking.
It’s a long season, folks. Settle in.
Sigi Schmid is not the kind of manager who looks a whole pile of football talent and goes, “Welp, I got no idea.” Getting balanced and energetic two-way performances from mercurial players like Gio dos Santos, Emmanuel Boateng, the Gals passed around the Timbers’ attempts to press them into mistakes, finding runners over the top. Ola Kamara got the opener in the 34th, Romain Alessandrini the second two minutes later. The high-tempo approach took its toll on LA, with Alessandrini limping off in the 61st and Portland halving the lead through Sebastian Blanco 5 minutes later, but they successfully shifted gears into a countering posture and saw out the win.
Seattle Sounders 0-1 Los Angeles FC
Every franchise in MLS that has had a chance to hire Bob Bradley and did not should be judged harshly, the Chicago Fire not least among them. The Fighting Bob Bradleys became only the second MLS expansion team to win their opener on the road - Guess who the first one was! Guess who their manager was! - as they scraaaaaaaped a clean sheet against an under-strength Sounders side. The FBB’s fluid and mobile attack, with Mexican star Carlos Vela pulling the switches, had Seattle bamboozled early on; the goal came after a series of interchanges freed Diego Rossi in a pocket of space 16 yards out, and the 20-year-old Uruguayan curled home a sumptuous far-post finish. Seattle fought gamely but seemed to lack a bit of the final product, with Will Bruin’s offside tally the best of a handful of half-chances.
I didn’t watch this one at all. Word on the street is that 17-year-old Canadian phenom Alphonso Davies got his first goal to win the game. Oh, Canada.
Watching this largely to scout the Fire’s first opponent, I see a Kansas City side built to win 1-0 games that gave up the first goal on a brilliant moment from David Villa. KC looked more threatening late in the game, after the inclusion of Hungarian forward Daniel Salloi. NYC was able to preserve a clean sheet thanks to a couple of astonishing reflex saves by A Completely Fresh Face We Totally Didn’t Give Away For Peanuts, keeper Sean Johnson.
Toronto FC 0-2 Columbus Crew
This opening-day rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference final featured the Greatest MLS Team Of All-Time (Like, Really, Seriously You Guys) against Gregg Berhalter’s Pity-Follow Ragamuffins. Berhalter stood above this game like a colossus, cooking up a defensive schema which stymied TFC and that his Crew carried out vigorously. The hosts, on the other hand, looked slow and a little sloppy even before midfield creator Victor Vazquez limped off injured. As long as Anthony Precourt nurses his head-ass inversion - and MLS supports him - That Fucking Yellow Team are everyone’s No. 2, and Berhalter’s thoughtful tactical decisions make watching them a rich experience.
In retrospect, we should’ve seen this coming. Tata Martino’s Atlanta is filled with compelling attacking talents and committed to a vibrant, balls-out brand of pressing football. Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo have evolved into a slash-and-burn countering outfit designed to devour teams committed to a vibrant, balls-out brand of pressing football. Atlanta’s defense still leans heavily on ancient bodies like those of Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz. Imagine Alberth Elis, alone with the ball on an emerald carpet, picking out passes forever. Be forewarned: Houston is not as good as this result implies; Atlanta is not as bad.
New England is working hard to raise the bar on early-season turmoil in MLS, rolling into their opener with their best player (Lee Nguyen) still healthy and still training apart from the team, then upping that ante by having both starting centerbacks red-carded during the game. Not only did the Revs lose 2-0 to a Union side still putting the pieces together, they displayed the familiar, soul-deadening body language of defeat even before the second red.
Philadelphia got very good performances from young players, with two Homegrown players, 19-year-old Auston Trusty and 21-year-old Anthony Fontana particularly impressing. Fontana, who spent last season getting games at the Union’s USL side, Bethlehem Steel after signing his Homegrown deal, scored the first goal and setting up the second.
Orlando City SC 1-1 DC United
The VAR weighed in heavily on Saturday evening shitfest. Review gave DC United a penalty, which Darren Mattocks crushed off the frame of the goal. Review gave Orlando a red card, amping their massive crowd into vengeance-mode. In the end, DC’s overall control of the match was evened out by the host Lions’ desperation, the 10-man side equalizing in stoppage time through rookie debutant Stefano Pinho. United were headlined by new signing Yamil Asad, whose biggest moment was a looping free kick that drifted just past all the searching heads and baffled Joe Bendik, knuckling into the goal.
FC Dallas 1-1 Real Salt Lake
What happened to Dallas? The defending 2016 Supporters Shield winners, by acclaim the deepest team in the league with the best academy … then suddenly the flame went out in early summer 2017? Or something? Because this was a fortunate point for FC Dallas, while Salt Lake will surely rue their inability to finish any of a few good chances to put this one away. Joao Plata got the goal for the Royals, while Maxi Urruti was instrumental in forcing the tying autogoal.
Yippee: San Jose has some good attackers. Yippee: Minnesota’s a defensive mess to start the season - this is how traditions are built! I have to confess I was fading pretty hard by the time this game came on. My memories of it are like little slideshows - the first entitled San Jose Gleefully Tearing Minnesota Limb From Limb, the second Minnesota Indignantly Defending Its Honor Now That It’s Too Late.