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Narrow margins and expansion struggles: What did we learn from MLS Opening Weekend?

LA struggled by Houston impressed in a cagey first weekend of action...

Week 1 of the 2017 MLS season is already in the book. After weeks of expectation and excitement, we now have some sort of form to look at – although as many questions if not more than we had before the first ball was kicked. Expansion sides Minnesota and Atlanta both suffered reality checks in their inaugural games, while there were early-season struggles in front of goal for a number of teams. So what have we learned after the first round of games?

MLS is not an easy league to come into…

Minnesota United and Atlanta United both suffered defeats in their MLS debuts. But things look a lot more promising for Atlanta than they do for the Loons after the first week’s performances. Minnesota were thumped 5-1 in Portland in Friday’s season opener, conceding twice in stoppage time to make the scoreline look a lot more concerning than it perhaps was. Although the biggest worry for Adrian Heath will be the fact Portland looked miles better than the expansion side. Yes, that’s hardly surprising given the Loons have literally just entered the league, but the fact is they’ve had a long time to build a competitive squad and we didn’t see enough from to them to quash fears that 2017 could be a long and tough season for them.

For Atlanta, things look a lot more encouraging. They might have let a one-goal lead go late on at home to the Red Bulls on Sunday night, but they played an entertaining style of play that caused New York problems throughout. They will be a tough side to face for anyone because of Tata Martino’s high-pressing style of play. Atlanta just need to ensure they have the fitness to play that way from start to finish to avoid any more late slip-ups.

It’s going to take some time for the goals to start flying in…

Last season’s opening weekend saw 36 goals scored in the ten games – a league record on opening weekend – so it was always going to be tricky to repeat that average of 3.6 goals-per-game. This year that goal rate was halved on opening weekend as there were 20 goals in the 11 games – an average of 1.8 per match. That could be down to better defending, which was certainly the case with Orlando City as 2016’s worst defensive unit started 2017 with a shutout against a wasteful NYCFC in front of a raucous crowd at the brand new Orlando City Stadium.

New York City were one of nine sides to fire a blank in Week 1. Toronto FC and DC United missed penalties in their 0-0 draws against Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City, respectively, which proved to be costly misses from 12 yards. Montreal Impact failed to register a single shot on target in their 1-0 loss at San Jose, while Vancouver failed to score in their season opener for the first time in MLS history.

The goals will be easier to come by as the season finds its feet. Early season games are tense and teams take a while to get back into the swing of competitive league football in front of expectant crowds, it’s the same with any league in world football. Don’t be surprised if the floodgates open as early as Week 2.

It could be a long season for LA Galaxy…

We all knew that 2017 was going to be a transitional year for LA Galaxy, and they showed very little to suggest otherwise in Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas. Curt Onalfo is trying to get used to his squad, who themselves look a completely different unit to the one that finished third in the West last season. Jermaine Jones and Joao Pedro seemed to spend more time kicking Dallas players than creating chances from deep in midfield. They did have a tough job against arguably the league’s best team but that’s a tag we usually associate with LA. Somehow, it doesn’t feel like we’ll be saying that again any time soon.

Are the Houston Dynamo this year’s Colorado Rapids?

Many people have the Dynamo down to finish at the bottom of the West once again this season. But they sent out an early statement with their 2-1 win over reigning MLS Cup Champions Seattle on Saturday night. Few people took Colorado seriously until they were top of the Western Conference for a run of weeks and challenging for the Supporters’ Shield into the final weeks of the campaign. That’s not to say the Dynamo will do that this year, but early signs suggest they will be a better team than they were in 2016.

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