Major League Soccer's twentieth season got off to an inauspicious, if not unexpected start yesterday evening in LA, depending on your point of view. Either the the Galaxy fiddled around for two-thirds of the match before taking control and all three points, or somehow, Sean Johnson was able to keep Chicago in the running for a point for the same amount of time before it all played out as expected. Galaxy 2 - 0 Fire.
THE PIECES ARE THERE, OBVIOUSLY AND LA WILL BE A FAVORITE TO REPEAT AS MLS CUP CHAMPIONS. THE CHICAGO FIRE ON THE OTHER HAND WILL NOT.
There really isn't too much to break down, LA was rusty and sub-impressive in the finishing department. The feel that they were closer to mid-season form was due more to the quality of their opponent than their actual opening game quality. The pieces are there, obviously and LA will be a favorite to repeat as MLS Cup Champions.
The Chicago Fire on the other hand will not. There are simply not enough pieces in the box to build a team with and the front office and technical staff in Frank Yallop and Brian Bliss are not competent enough to assemble a supporting cast for Sean Johnson, Harry Shipp and Mike Magee, should he return to his league MVP level following last year's season ending surgery. The Fire's only other asset is Quincy Amerikwa who overachieves simply by force of will and is able to make the occasional threat on goal. Everything else with this team either doesn't want to be there or can't compete as an MLS level starter. The team is a train wreck and that is testament to the incompetence of the Owner, Front Office & Technical Staff.
But in some good news for Yallop and Bliss and some of the stiffs they have brought into or kept in Chicago, MLS, NASL and the USL are all in expansion for the next few years, so you can probably extend your careers by at least 3-4 seasons. But the faster you are out of Chicago, the better.
Later today, MLS' 20th opening weekend begins is earnest with six matches:
Montreal at DC United - 3:00 PM ET
Philadelphia at Colorado - 4:00 PM ET
Toronto at Vancouver - 6:00 PM ET
Columbus at Houston - 8:30 PM ET
San Jose at Dallas - 8:30 PM ET
Salt Lake at Portland - 10:30 PM ET
What you Shouldn't watch:
Meh - It's opening weekend, might as well watch all you can, but Montreal v. United has the potential to be dreadful. Both teams are somewhat solid, but coaching & tactics are suspect at best. Both Olsen & Klopas can motivate, but they can't coach their way out of a match with a lesser, but well coached team. Emotion is easily frustrated.
What you Should watch:
Toronto at Vancouver: Probably the best possible match of the day for someone to see if all the money Toronto has spent is finally going to pay off and get them into being a playoff contender and satisfy the expectations of their fan base that deserved the humbling they received via the incompetence of the coaching their Ownership put in place.
Salt Lake at Portland: Watch just for the atmosphere and speed of the Timbers & Salt Lake's tenacity. No quarter will be asked & none will be given.
Both of these are "Don't Miss" matches.
NYCFC at Orlando - 5:00 PM ET
NYRB at Kansas City - 7:00 PM ET
New England at Seattle - 9:30 PM ET
Fortunately, for the fans, all three games are spaced enough to allow viewing for all three and it's still too cold to be contemplating lawn work this early in the year.
NYCFC/Orlando is the match not to be missed. Expansion clubs are always exciting, but these are not your MLS 1.0 or 2.0 expansion clubs stocked with nothing but chaff and waivers from the other teams. Expect Jason Kreis to have his team disciplined and ready and expect Kaka to dazzle.
NYRB at Sporting will be the match to miss if you have to. Red Bull's success was due to Theirry Henry, pure and simple - expect them to be pedestrian at best and Sporting to be solid enough to win, but unspectacular.
Seattle v. New England will come down to can Sigi out coach Jay Heaps motivation and Jermaine Jones' tenacity. Like Arena, Sigi Schmid is at a point where he has to demonstrate if he can continue to evolve as a coach or will start the slow decline into solid, but average. Supporters Shield aside, Seattle can be dazzling when they are firing on all cylinders, but when they are frustrated, they are flying blind and can't find their way into MLS Cup.