5 biggest takeaways from MLS Week 1, including Thiago Almada’s brilliance

CHESTER, PA - FEBRUARY 25: Julian Carranza #9 and Daniel Gazdag #10 of the Philadelphia Union celebrate the team's fourth goal scored by Gazdag at Subaru Park on February 25, 2023 in Chester, PA.  .  (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Julián Carranza and Daniel Gazdag of the Philadelphia Union celebrate the team’s fourth goal scored by Gazdag at Subaru Park on February 25, 2023 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Despite Mother Nature trying to make things difficult, Major League Soccer has kicked off its 28th season with a bang. If week 1 was any sign of what’s to come, we’re in for a lot of goals, big performances and pure chaos – so basically MLS at its best.

Philadelphia, Seattle are already warming up

The Philadelphia Union was on a tiebreak from winning the Fan Shield last year, and Gareth Bale’s goal is on its last legs from lifting the MLS Cup. Instead, they were left with a few individual awards but empty-handed as a group.

Philadelphia has kept their lineup and improved even more with the addition of Joaquin Torres, so it’s no wonder Union is the favorite this season. The opening minutes of their match against the Columbus Crew was something of a rude awakening as they struggled to get going and conceded an own goal. But when this command kicks in, beware. The core they have knows exactly how to adapt and take over because they’ve been together long enough. That’s what makes the Union dangerous, which is reflected in the final score of 4:1. Two goals each from Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza on assists from Alejandro Bedoya and rookie Torres is just as good as it was for current Coach of the Year Jim Curtain.

It seemed that last year the Seattle Sounders sacrificed everything they could to win the CONCACAF Champions League. Their season in MLS has been hit hard by various injuries and not even Brian Schmetzer has been able to work his magic and push his battered team into the playoffs. However, on Sunday, they informed the league that they were back.

A 4-0 shutdown by the Rapids was a necessary statement for a franchise accustomed to MLS success. If you watched their Club World Cup defeat to Al Ahly in early February, you could already tell that the team was in good form as they controlled most of that game before losing by a botched deflection. But against the Rapids, the Sounders showed they were still at the top of the league.

The return of João Paulo is massive, Knowhow Tolo remains a beast, and the line of Cristian Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris is too powerful for some defenses. Even with star striker Raul Ruidias out with a aching hamstring, having someone like Heber step in and make an immediate impact seems unfair.

Same old Saunders.

st louis on chalkboard

Winning as part of an extended team is not easy, however, away from home in one of the best and most dynamic stadiums in the league. Playing their first match in Austin, St. Louis City SC should not have taken 3 points.

However, Bradley Carnell and company simply don’t care what expectations are placed on this franchise.

Tim Parker wrote his name in franchise history by scoring the first goal in just 24 minutes. Despite a ridiculous score by Sebastian Driussi and only 20 minutes left behind, City never gave up. The rookies on the block were given a goal after a gross mishandled pass by Austin defenseman Kipp Keller, who replaced Julio Cascante with an injury. And even after they tied the game, they showed even more ambition by pushing for the winner instead of just sitting back and settling for a draw. Designated player Joao Klauss dealt with this moment after a clinical 1v1 move and a finish against Keller, falling on his back in exhaustion after the goal. It took a lot of energy and it wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a well-deserved moment.

“The start with the win and the goal was perfect,” Klauss said after the game. “What we did today was incredible.”

Trust me, St. Louis. The expected opening of the house is already on the horizon.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 25: Thiago Almada No. 23 of Atlanta United reacts after scoring a stoppage time free kick goal against the San Jose Earthquakes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 25, 2023 in Atlanta, U.S. Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin K. Cox/Getty Images)
Thiago Almada led Atlanta United to victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday with two goals in stoppage time. (Photo by Kevin K. Cox/Getty Images)

World class goals from Thiago Almada

This off-season has been different as some players have traveled to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Many have represented MLS in different countries, but only one has been there to the very end and can call himself a World Cup champion.

Thiago Almada was able to soak it all up and earn Argentina’s trust before returning to Atlanta United. The 21-year-old now faces a tough task as everyone already expects him to be the anchor for the coveted success of The Five Stripes. And it looked like they were headed for a heavy loss to San Jose in front of 67,538 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium until Almada’s skill and brilliance came to the fore. It’s hard to choose which was better: to equalize or win, but both of them reminded of what Almada is capable of. Two absolute goals six minutes apart in stoppage time to win it for Atlanta.

Enjoy the fact that he is in the MLS and shows these moments while he is here.

Texas and New York teams go 0-5

Texas has three teams in MLS – two are expected to be very good this season and one is from Houston. The Dynamos received an assist from Hector Herrera on a corner but had nothing more to celebrate after a 2-1 loss in Cincinnati. Dallas lost at home against a team from Minnesota who have no idea what is happening to their star player Emanuel Reynoso and if he will ever return. And Austin got on the team playing their first game. Not a good day for the Lone Star State.

Let’s check out New York.

NYCFC appears to be stuck in the mud and in need of a lengthy rebuild unless they can find a game changer to replace at least some of Tati Castellanos’ output. Their attack was lacking and they looked downright bad in a 2-0 loss at Nashville. The Red Bulls’ 1-0 loss in Orlando was slightly less disappointing as they controlled the game and created chances but just couldn’t get into the net. And Orlando’s goal was scored due to controversial handball, which resulted in a penalty.

Three of those five teams should make it to the playoffs without a hitch. One might resist, but could potentially get inside. The other is Houston. Either way, a rough start.

Uh, Toronto?

Don’t panic and don’t overreact to losses in the first week…unless your star player gets injured in the 34th minute of the season and then you just ruin your mood in the final minutes.

A good goal from Mark-Anthony Kay in the 83rd minute seemed enough to give Bob Bradley’s team their first win despite the early replacement of Lorenzo Insigne. But DC United equalized with designated player Christian Benteke, and a few minutes later 21-year-old homegrown Ted Koo-DiPietro was the winner. Head coach Wayne Rooney also fielded 16-year-old centre-back Matai Akinmboni against players who won European Championships and went unpunished.

Not many people expect United to be very good, but this result is colossal. If you’re trying to figure out if it has more to do with DC’s victory or Toronto anxiety, then the correct answer is both.


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