Top 5 Takeaways From MLS Opening Weekend
Written by Thomas Hair
Spring is a special time of year in Carolina. Flowers are blooming. Birds are singing. And… Charlotte FC supporters are chanting? Well, okay, not yet, but it is my sincerest hope that Carolinians will soon count the beginning of the Major League Soccer season amongst the savored hallmarks of Spring.
There was certainly a palpable buzz in the air this weekend as the long-awaited 2021 MLS season kicked off for 26 current teams.
If you watched, it was exhilarating to imagine Charlotte being a part of it next year with stadiums full again. If you missed out on the action but want to follow along in preparation for 2022, I’ve got you covered!
#1: Austin’s Arrival
Los Angeles FC 2-0 Austin FC: Although 2021 expansion club Austin FC lost their inaugural match 2-0, people in Charlotte should be encouraged by what the Verde were able to do out there.
Even with 2019 MVP Carlos Vela accidentally subbing off in the first half, LAFC are a well-oiled attacking machine. Yet, Austin surprisingly controlled 56% of the possession in the match. Austin were good enough to potentially steal a point at the MLS Cup favorites if a few key moments had gone differently.
It’s another data point that shows expansion teams can still enter MLS and be competitive quickly. That is, if you have a clear vision of how you want to play and invest in the right personnel to bring it to life. Over the next year, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to compare Charlotte FC’s build to Austin’s, which is showing positive early signs.
#2: Southeastern Stalemate
Orlando City SC 0-0 Atlanta United FC: Since Charlotte FC’s inception, supporters and ownership alike have taken aim down I-85 and made it clear that Atlanta United will be Public Enemy No. 1 here.
Atlanta’s Week 1 opponents, Orlando City, also claim the Five Stripes as a rival. Since the enemy of our enemy is - for now - our friend, it made this match classic Good vs. Evil. It also made it even more satisfying to watch as Atlanta were repeatedly denied a winner in the final 10 minutes, and their trash-talking star striker Josef Martinez went goalless in his return after missing 2020.
It’s not too soon to start letting the hate flow through you. Yes, that’s it. Good. Now together: SCREW THAT CITY!
#3: THE GOLAZOS!
First games of the season are sometimes light on the entertaining play fans crave. There’s still some nerves and rust to work through, right? NOT THIS YEAR! MLS teams lit up social media with some certified bangers on opening weekend. It’s only Week 1 of 34, and we already have a few legit contenders for Goal of the Season!
Houston Dynamo FC 2-1 San Jose Earthquakes: In the very first game on Friday evening, San Jose found themselves down 2-0 when midfielder Paul Marie decided to try his luck with a curling shot from long range, because Why Not? The contact could not have been more perfect, bending gloriously around the keeper and back inside the far side-netting. That angle from behind gives me goosebumps.
Seattle Sounders FC 4-0 Minnesota United FC: Improbably, Seattle’s Brazilian midfielder João Paulo managed to top Marie’s goal in the ensuing game of Friday night’s double-header. With unbelievable technique, Paulo controlled a flying clearance with one outstretched foot and then smashed it back towards goal with that same foot – all in one fluid, powerfulmotion. This opening salvo set the tone as Seattle steamrolled a Minnesota team that was expected to challenge them atop the West.
Chicago Fire FC 2-2 New England Revolution: Don’t care for the individual heroics? More of a team goal person? The Chicago Fire, AKA Barcelona of the Midwest (not really), had you covered this week. Seriously, check out the sweet build-upon Robert Beric’s opening goal. The Fire would live up to their recent mantra of “one step forward, two steps back” however, and choke away the 2-0 lead.
#4: Chicharito puts the league on notice
Inter Miami CF 2-3 LA Galaxy: If you’re new to Major League Soccer, one of the names to know is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The charismatic 32-year-old striker is one of the most popular Mexican players of all-time and has scored goals for the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Chicharito joined up with LA Galaxy to much fanfare last year, but almost nothing went right. He scored only two goals as the Galaxy trudged through a terrible season.
A classic example of the big-money bust that Charlotte FC should avoid at all costs, right? Well, maybe not. Perhaps due to his well-publicized Instagram workouts, 2021 Chicharito does look like a player reborn. He scored two goals on Sunday primetime as Galaxy defeated David Beckham’s Inter Miami. With Tom Brady in attendance!
Chicharito delivered a heartfelt speech afterward, opening up about his struggles and the death of his grandfather. Were the doubters wrong? Is Chicharito kicking off a 20-goal revenge tour?
#5: The Champions League effect
Parallel to MLS, the best teams from the season prior also compete in the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) to crown the best team on the continent. It’s certainly a competition Charlotte will strive to be in and perhaps win. However, the physical and emotional exertions can take a toll on your MLS form.
Last week, all five MLS clubs in this year’s CCL advanced to the Quarterfinals. A few days later, none of those top clubs (Atlanta, Columbus, Philadelphia, Portland, Toronto) won in their MLS openers.
This demonstrates the challenge of competing in multiple competitions within the roster constraints of MLS. It makes it doubly crucial to be intelligent with your roster and depth decisions.
Observe the teams hunting Champions’ League glory this season and remember that each signing Charlotte FC announces this year could be a vital piece of the puzzle to put our club on that stage someday soon!