By Ridge Mahoney
The 17th season of Major League Soccer featured road wins for the top two Eastern Conference teams last year, Sporting Kansas City and Houston, and frustration elsewhere among the Eastern teams.
Houston’s 1-0 triumph at Chivas USA was the only Eastern win in six games matching teams from different conferences. None of the eight games ended in ties, though both SKC and the Dynamo needed goals in stoppage time to pull out their wins.
Real Salt Lake ended the Galaxy’s 26-game unbeaten streak at home with a comeback 3-1 victory; roared on by a rabid fans at Jeld-Wen Field starved of league play since October, Portland beat Philly by the same score after falling behind.
Chicago, Seattle and Toronto FC sat out opening weekend; all three get underway Saturday. Columbus is the only team with a bye this week.
1. REAL SALT LAKE (1-0-0) -- A late rally knocked out the defending champ, 3-1, in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference final. After an own goal, Javier Morales and Fabian Espindola came off the bench to score late goals at HDC. It was a great start for RSL but remember last year it belted the Galaxy, 4-1, on the second week of the season, and we all know how that turned out. Yet it’s hard to top beating the top dogs at their place.
2. FC DALLAS (1-0-0) -- FCD acquired Ricardo Villar last year to replace David Ferreria when necessary; the Brazilian seldom filled the bill in 2011. Against New York on Sunday, he and offseason acquisition Blas Perez carried the attack in a 2-1 victory. Perez’s pressure deflected an attempt clearance to Zach Loyd, who scored the first goal, and Perez’s steal and setup provided Villar the ball he clipped home for the winner. Centerback Hernan Pertuz looked strong and confident in his MLS debut.
3. PORTLAND (1-0-0) -- Year 2 blasted off the launching pad with a 3-1 thumping of Philly in a driving rain at Jeld-Wen Field. Rookie Andrew Jean-Baptiste equalized three minutes after a shot glanced off his head into the Timbers net, and then Kris Boyd’s head guided home Kalif Alhassan’s cross. Alhassan sealed victory when he chipped a ball from the right wing into the far top corner that had to be either a cross, or a genuine masterpiece.
4. HOUSTON (1-0-0) -- Brad Davis, Brian Ching, Will Bruin and Mac Kandji tried to score on Chivas USA without success, so defender Andre Hainault took charge in the 92nd minute. He trapped a goalbound shot with his right foot and steered it into the net with his right to register a 1-0 victory. Keeper Tally Hall, beginning his second year as a starter, posted the ninth shutout of his career.
5. SPORTING KANSAS CITY (1-0-0) -- By beating D.C. United, 1-0, at D.C. United at RFK Stadium on a goal by C.J. Sapong, SKC matched the number of games it won during a 10-match road trip that opened the 2011 season. It pummeled the D.C. goal for much of the game (17-7 edge in shots) and ultimately broke through when Sapong headed home a Graham Zusi free kick in the 93rd minute.
6. COLORADO (1-0-0) – Oscar Pareja won his debut as head coach, 2-0, over Columbus on a header by Drew Moor late in the first half and a spectacular clinching strike from Quincy Amarikwa in the final minutes. The Rapids controlled play for most of the match, a reflection of Pareja’s institution of an attack designed around possession in a 4-3-3 formation anchored by Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz in midfield and Omar Cummings up front.
7. LOS ANGELES (0-1-0) – Edson Buddle celebrated his return to the Galaxy with a glorious header from a David Beckham cross in the 70th minute; the goal punctuated a dominance that quickly evaporated after a Sean Franklin own goal tied the game. RSL drove on to score twice more and win, 3-1. Coach Bruce Arena cited fatigue and his failure to change more of the players who went the full 90 three days earlier in a 2-2 tie with Toronto in Concacaf play. They host TFC Wednesday in the second leg and face D.C. Sunday.
8. SAN JOSE (1-0-0) – Shea Salinas returned to Buck Shaw Stadium more than 27 months after being claimed from the Quakes by Philly in the Expansion Draft. Early in the match he picked off an errant Shalrie Joseph pass to slip Chris Wondolowski behind the New England back line. Wondo’s right foot did the rest to provide a 1-0 win, the first Quakes’ victory in a home opener since 2002.
9. VANCOUVER (1-0-0) – The recently hooked-up French Connection paid off in the third minute against Montreal when Eric Hassli flicked on a ball that Sebastien Le Toux drilled home for the opening goal in a 2-0 dispatch of the Impact. Camilo clinched the victory by gliding through several opponents with the ball before firing it low inside the far post. The ‘Caps, winners just six times in their expansion season, gave this year’s newbies a rude introduction to MLS.
10. SEATTLE (0-0-0) – The Sounders were one of three teams to sit out opening weekend. After playing the second leg of their Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal with Santos Laguna on Wednesday, they get underway Saturday at home against Toronto FC.
11. TORONTO FC (0-0-0) – See Seattle; TFC’s second leg of CCL play against Galaxy is also on Wednesday.
12. CHICAGO (0-0-0) -- Coach Frank Klopas, a midseason hiring last year, starts off his first full season in charge with Montreal’s MLS home debut on Saturday.
13. NEW YORK (0-1-0) -- Thierry Henry led the Red Bulls with five shots yet also orchestrated much of the attack by dropping back into midfield, from where he clipped a ball Kenny Cooper lobbed into the net for New York’s goal in a 2-1 road loss to Dallas. Centerback Markus Holgersson’s whiffed clearance led to FC Dallas’ first goal, and a careless giveaway in midfield by Roy Miller prompted the second. Can’t blame this one on Rafael Marquez, who sat out on a suspension.
14. COLUMBUS (0-1-0) -- After keeper Andy Gruenebaum and his teammates had fended off numerous Colorado attacks, a cross fumbled by the goalie led to the corner kick by which Colorado took a 1-0 lead late in the first half. Chad Marshall nearly equalized with a header before a second goal left Columbus with a 2-0 defeat and an attack looking punchless without Andres Mendoza and Robbie Rogers.
15. CHIVAS USA (0-1-0) – A quickly taken Juan Pablo Angel free kick bounced off the base of the post and he sent two headers over the crossbar to deprive Chivas USA a goal it probably deserved. Those misses were greatly magnified when a stoppage-time goal enabled Houston to leave Home Depot Center with a 1-0 victory. Angel had signed a new one-year deal three days before the game; the man who earned his money was goalie Dan Kennedy with seven saves, including a spectacular double stop late in the match.
16. D.C. UNITED (0-1-0) – Keeper Bill Hamid stymied SKC’s offense numerous times as D.C. labored to contain the defending Eastern Conference champion, which it did until a goal finally came in stoppage time. At the other end United managed just one shot on goal by substitute Maicon Santos. Designed Player Branko Boskovic, who missed most of the 2011 season through injury, didn’t get much attack generated but did earn a caution early in the second half.
17. PHILADELPHIA (0-1-0) – Philly took a 1-0 lead in Portland on a goal by debutant Gabriel Gomez, then wilted under onslaughts from the Timbers and their zealous, raucous fans in a rain-saturated 3-1 defeat. A fumble by young keeper Zac MacMath allowed Portland to equalize just three minutes after Philly had taken the lead and two more goals in 10 minutes swept away hopes of securing a point. Freddy Adu was nearly invisible and none of the defenders will want to re-live the last 20 minutes.
18. MONTREAL (0-1-0) -- A shaky debut at Vancouver hasn’t dissuaded Impact fans from snapping up tickets for the MLS home opener; as of Monday, 46,500 had been sold for the match at Olympic Stadium, which will house the Impact until a renovated and expanded Stade Saputo is ready. Davy Arnaud nearly equalized with a header cleared off the line, and Montreal battled after falling behind in the fourth minute of a 2-0 defeat.
19. NEW ENGLAND (0-1-0) -- Coach Jay Heaps said the Revs were guilty of playing San Jose’s direct game in a 1-0 loss to the Quakes. He also agreed that poor technique and disjointed sequences were to blame as well. Aside from a Shalrie Joseph giveaway that left Colombian newcomer John Lozano exposed on San Jose’s goal, he and ex-midfielder Stephen McCarthy formed a promising defensive partnership. Lee Nguyen looked sprightly if a bit lost in his MLS debut and Benny Feilhaber’s occasional flashes weren’t exploited.