Monday Postgame: A magical Week 1 in MLS

Looking back at a spectacular First Kick 2011

Abracadabra! What a magical Week 1.

If a genie had granted someone the perfect opening week to MLS, the results could hardly have been different from everything that happened in the past seven days.

Twenty-seven goals in 10 games. Sparkling debuts from two of the league’s new designated players. Terrific stadium atmospheres, even in cities where the weather refused to cooperate.

There was also a rising star who won a game with his first career goal, a wide-open, six-goal game in the new Canada derby, and a powerful display from the defending champs.

And that’s all before we even consider what Charlie Davies did. The magic lamp might have dished up all the other good stuff, but to grant the fans’ wildest wishes for Davies, the genie seems to have put in a little overtime. Or he just had a big genie heart.

Anyway, let’s blink and take a look back at the historic First Kick 2011.

Washington Monument

In his first competitive match since October 2009—when he survived a car accident that broke the femur, tibia and fibia in his right leg, tore ligaments in his left knee, fractured an eye socket, his nose and left elbow, and left him with head injuries and a lacerated bladder—D.C. United forward Charlie Davies scored not one but two goals.

He entered the game against Columbus in the 52nd minute, and 10 minutes later, when D.C.’s Chris Pontius drew a penalty, didn’t hesitate to say he wanted to take it. He later thanked his teammates for trusting that he would put it away, despite being fresh off the bench in a 1-0 game.

But burying the penalty was nothing compared to his second. In the 77th minute, Davies took advantage of a slip by Crew defender Chad Marshall, weaved into the Columbus box, rounded keeper Will Hesmer, and slotted home. It was classic Davies.

“Best night of my career?” Davies said to the Columbus Dispatch afterward. “No. Best night of my life.”

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Designated Hits

New designated players Eric Hassli of Whitecaps FC and Omar Bravo of Sporting Kansas City had nights to remember as well, as each struck two goals in his MLS debut.

Hassli scored the first goal in Vancouver’s MLS history, lashing home a volley from close range to set the tone in the Caps’ 4-2 demolition of Toronto FC. The big Frenchman added a second in the 72nd minute as the westerners easily took the honors in the league’s first Canadian derby.

Bravo skillfully lifted a bouncing ball over Chivas USA keeper Zach Thornton to make it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time of Sporting’s eventual 3-2 win over the Goats. The former Mexican international scored what would eventually be the matchwinner in the 74th minute, and nearly made it a hat-trick three minutes from time, but was denied by an excellent save from Thornton.

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Baptism by Fire

While Vancouver hosted rebuilding Toronto in their MLS debut, fellow expansion team Portland Timbers visited the fully loaded defending champion Colorado Rapids, who unfurled their 2010 MLS Cup banner before the game, then went out and overwhelmed the Northwest newbies with three goals in the first 31 minutes.

Jeff Larentowicz, Omar Cummings, and Jamie Smith did the damage. Smith’s 31st-minute rocket off the bar has the inside track for goal of the week.

Kenny Cooper earned some consolation for Portland, scoring the Timbers’ first MLS goal on an 80th-minute free kick that slithered through traffic and into the bottom corner. 

Famous Firsts

There were several other noteworthy firsts this week.

At Red Bull Arena, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo, who already has a goal for the U.S. national team, got his first in MLS play, a goal-of-the week candidate that lifted New York to a 1-0 win over Seattle, sending Sounders FC to an 0-2 start after Tuesday’s loss to LA.

New Chicago Fire signing Diego Cháves of Uruguay scored his first MLS goal during the Fire’s 1-1 tie with FC Dallas, and his compatriot Gaston Puerari—who saw snow for the first time in his life last month when he signed with Chicago—nearly opened his own MLS account after a gorgeous cutback to free himself in the Dallas box.

But Kevin Hartman denied Puerari with a brilliant save, and the Dallas keeper made two others down the stretch to preserve the tie his side, which was playing a man down after Brek Shea’s red card in the 55th minute.

Kansas City rookie CJ Sapong scored his first career goal during Sporting’s 3-2 win over Chivas, while Danny Califf and Kyle Beckerman got their first tallies of the 2011 season.

Following a long throw in, Califf poked home the rebound of Sebastian LeToux’s shot off the bar to give Philadelphia a 1-0 win over Houston. (Aside: Why doesn’t every team have a long thrower? It creates a dangerous set-piece on every throw-in the other team’s half. Though, teams that do have it, like the New England Revolution, often seem to rely on it too much.)

Beckerman’s goal was the lone strike in RSL’s 1-0 win at rainy, windswept Buck Shaw Stadium, where the host Earthquakes created numerous chances but couldn’t finish. It was a gritty, impressive result for Salt Lake, just four days after a 2-0 win over Saprissa in their first-leg CONCACAF Champions League semifinal. 

West Coast Nor’easter

The bad weather wasn’t limited to northern California. Down south, the conditions were even worse for Sunday night’s First Kick curtain closer between the Galaxy and the visiting Revolution. It rained heavily during the entire 90 minutes, leaving standing pools of water on the field by game’s end.

But the unrelenting downpour didn’t prevent an entertaining affair: After Shalrie Joseph scored an early header for the visitors, LA midfielder Juninho struck a swerving 22-yard rocket past Revs keeper Matt Reis.

It was the second goal of the season for Juninho, who scored the winner in LA’s season-opener over Seattle, which was also played in a torrential rain.

LA had three goals waved off—two of them correctly—and probably deserved more from the match. But they’ll take the four points from two games—and hope they never see another drop of rain again.

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