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The good, the bad and the ugly of MLS's Month 1
by Ridge Mahoney, May 2nd, 2007 9AM

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MLSThe good, the bad and the ugly marked the first month of MLS play in 2007. Two new stadiums staged their first matches, harsh weather curtailed attendances in some cities, and the two teams picked by many to reach MLS Cup 2007 staggered out of the gate.

THE GOOD. An influx of resources pledged by Red Bull when it bought the team more than a year ago has yielded a training facility and commencement of construction in Harrison, N.J., of Red Bull Park. On the field, too, there are signs of life in the Bruce Arena Era after more than a decade of dormancy.

Dane Richards is a serious candidate for Rookie of the Year, Claudio Reyna adds class and experience, and keeper Ronald Waterreus' fiery leadership and quick reflexes buttress a reliable back line. Jozy Altidore, enough said. Juan Pablo Angel can be the high-octane, high-profile personality this franchise needs when he joins the team next month.

There's a whole new fleet of creative players and potent finishers around the league. Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and David Beckham are incoming Designated Players, but Luciano Emilio has lit it up for D.C., Carlos Marinelli has added a spark to Kansas City, Roberto Brown is proving to be handful for Colorado's opponents, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto has the tools to rival Stern John as the most exciting Crew player of all time.

Toronto FC fans packed BMO Field for its inaugural game last Sunday. They waved scarves, they swarmed into downtown pubs and restaurants to warm up properly, they cheered, they whistled, they sang and they rolled out the old standard, "All we are saying, is give us a goal." Fantastic stuff, except for not getting a goal. TFC has three straight home games to give the fans what they need.

THE BAD. Inaugural matches at Dick's Sporting Goods Park and BMO Field are landmarks of the league's growth, but mediocre crowds at several games serve as reminders that just opening the doors, even shiny new ones, isn't enough to drive up attendances.

Dallas, in its third year at Pizza Hut Park, drew just 9,165 Sunday for a 1-0 loss to New England, a week after an announced crowd of 20,500 witnessed its home opener. Bad weather plagued the second game, as was the case for the Colorado opener, at DSG Park (18,086), and Colorado's following game, on a Sunday afternoon, drew only 12,110. Chicago's second home game of the season drew only 11,717 and the Toyota Park crowds will be closely watched, as the Fire won't have the excuse it did last year when most of its home games were loaded into the second half of the season.

After losing 4-0 to Chivas USA on the road, Real Salt Lake came home to play Colorado on Monday night. Why Monday? Rice-Eccles Stadium was unavailable over the weekend because the University of Utah hosted the NCAA gymnastics championships.

A crowd of 14,173 watched Real lose to its Rocky Mountain Cup rivals, 2-0. About the only good news for operator-investor Dave Checketts is that a group opposing his stadium plan failed to gather enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue.

But RSL 2007 is beginning to look a lot like RSL 2005, which won just five games. This year's version is better, but the league is better, and so far, RSL seems to have lost the ground.

THE UGLY. If hopes and expectations weren't so high for D.C.United and Houston, their combined record of 1-5-1 would be of modest concern. Yet the flagship franchises of MLS shouldn't be at half-mast, notwithstanding an inevitable letdown following their inspiring performances against Mexican opposition in the CONCACAF Champions' Cup.

The Dynamo certainly didn't dominate last year - it won only 11 of 32 regular-season games before rolling through the playoffs - but its pressing, aggressive style has produced just one goal in four games. The malaise that affected United at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs last year has returned; it conceded six goals in its first two MLS games before losing 1-0 in Columbus last weekend.

Go-to guys Jaime Moreno and Dwayne DeRosario aren't sparking their teams, both of which seem out of sync. Time isn't of the essence, yet D.C. is already 10 points behind Eastern leader New York, and nothing galls the United faithful like looking up at ex-D.C. employees Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Richie Williams and Bruce Arena.

D.C. plays six of the next nine at home, including a June 10 meeting with New York. Expect improvement. Houston travels to RFK Memorial Day weekend. Expect fireworks.

 



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