Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sloppy Night for 2011 MLS season kick-off

J Hutcherson of US Soccer Player Newsletter writes of the 2011 MLS season kick-off between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders.

Other than an unnecessary reminder that wet conditions and artificial turf might not be the best platform for flowing soccer, Tuesday's Major League Soccer opener didn't exactly give us much to work with. Sure, it's nice to see the teams on the field with points on the line, but the bigger stories were about who was absent. Seattle parted ways with Blaise Nkufo the day of the game and LA wasn't first choice in goal or in attack.

The result was closer to what we've seen in preseason. Teams trying to turn ideas that are still works in progress into opportunities that simply weren't happening. That was as true for 1-0 winners LA as it was for Seattle. Both are still working toward fine tuning their tactics, and that's likely going to be a trend for MLS in March.

If we accept the idea that Seattle was closer to a full strength eleven on opening night and the Nkufo issue wasn't one in the locker room, they ended up the team with the most to lose. Big home crowd and a weakened opponent with a history of shutting that big crowd advantage down. Add in the national cable television audience and weather conditions that certainly wouldn't favor a team from LA, and anything short of a point is a disappointment.

What we got was Los Angeles handling their business just like they did well into the Summer last season. It's not a stubborn refusal to lose. The Galaxy did more than enough to leave with no points last night. It's not even one team taking better advantage of opportunities. Both teams seemed set on spending large portions of the game passing the ball into the feet of the nearest defender. It's more about LA expecting that eventually a shot will fall for them, and that's all they'll need.

It's worth stressing that one of Seattle's best moments in attack ended with players unable to simply control the ball. Of course this happens at all levels, but this was against a team with an established record of making the Sounders look suspect at home. That moment now becomes something for Seattle to get over. It's just as important as almost catching the post in terms of simply translating ideas.

LA heads into their second game in Week 1 knowing they can beat a Western Conference rival without their starting goalkeeper and striker. That should be on the mind of New England, their Sunday night opponent that still has plenty of time to try and figure out a few things. Are their ideas any better than Seattle's? Should the score have been more than 1-0? What's home field going to look like for LA this season?

There should be no doubt that the rest of the League will be watching on Sunday night when LA opens their home schedule against New England. Some have the Revolution in contention in the East this season, and it's another three points to prove before LA moves on to the first marquee match up of 2011.

Last night, Real Salt Lake kept their home field reputation intact with a 2-0 win over Saprissa to open their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal series. With an away date in San Jose to start their MLS season, Week 2 has them hosting the LA Galaxy. Though the schedule makers didn't do any of us any favors putting this game so early in the season, it's LA with the first and best opportunity to end RSL's streak.

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