Image: Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports
After last weekend's season opener, the 2021 MLS season is now in full swing, and all set up to be one of the best ever. Here's are my favorite moments from Matchweek 1, my best player, and favorite goal. Also, I'll preview what to look out for this weekend.
Austin FC Gets a Harsh Welcome to MLS
Having an expansion club open up their season is usually a recipe for a shellacking, and while what happened on the pitch will be something that fans will forget in a few years, Austin FC and their current squad have a lot of room to grow in 2021. Offensively, Los Verdes were pretty much non existent, with only 3 out of 12 shots all game on target, as opposed to the Black and Gold's 9 of 24. Head Coach Josh Wolff remained optimistic in regards to what his squad can achieve this season, and reiterated to the press that his squad is still making the adjustments to playing in the MLS. Several Austin players, such as Cecilio Dominguez and Rodney Redes were making their first ever caps in MLS, and weren't used to the physicality that the league is known for. Like I mentioned in my season preview, Los Verdes have put all their chips on unproven youngsters like Redes to develop into future superstars in the league, and I don't think they're looking to rush along his development too quickly.
In terms of support, Austin FC fans have already been able to prove that they travel very well, as some fans made the trek all the way to California to see their team play for the first time in person. Additionally, a watch party put on by the club back in Austin drew a pretty sizable crowd. Austin has gained the reputation as a hip, up-and-coming city over the past decade in Texas, with some even comparing the city's culture to that of Portland, so it's no surprise that a passionate fanbase for soccer can be found in the capital of the Lone Star state.
Chicharito Keeps the Galaxy on the Map
LA Galaxy's Javier Hernandez, commonly known as "Chicharito," entered his 2021 campaign with low expectations. In his second season following a departure from a long career in Europe, Chicharito was predicted to go out in the same quiet manner of so many aging MLS stars before him, on an LA team that was predicted to lose their spot on the city's pedestal to the flashy new club owned by Will Ferrell. However, in the Galaxy's first game against Inter Miami on Sunday, Chicharito played what some are considering his best game in a Galaxy shirt so far, as he racked up two goals in the second half.
Like any team in the first game of the season, the Galaxy seemed to be experimenting with several formations that failed to provide any results. However, after bringing two strikers forward late in the game, LA was finally able to play some inspired offense. Their roster is still lacking in terms of defense, and overall, they're going to have to make some decent moves in the summer transfer window if they actually want to compete this year. Until then, Chicharito can keep doing what he's doing and bring back some exciting, old school MLS excitement with the LA Galaxy.
The Seattle Sounders Aren't Messing Around
No one expected the Sounders to be a bad team this year, but I think clubs like LAFC and Columbus Crew really stole the show in terms of the potential they were showing during the preseason. The Crew's current performance in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League was definitely a contributor to this hype, as they join four other MLS Clubs in the Quarterfinals next week (which, by the way, you should check out even if your club isn't in it. The better any American squad does, the better it makes the league we all love). After losing three starters from last year, the Sounders were definitely expected to take a bit of a backseat this season.
In their first game against Minnesota United, the Sounders shattered those expectations as quick as possible, taking the most decisive victory in the league so far at 4-0. Raul Ruidiaz notched up two goals for Seattle, but Joao Paulo Mior's screamer was definitely the highlight reel that encapsulates exactly what this Sounders team can do. Aside from the exciting goals, Seattle's win was also highlighted by the debut of Josh Atencio, who has stayed with the Sounders instead of their Tacoma USL side due to Covid restrictions around callups. By staying with the senior team, Atencio can be ready to make an appearance at a moment's notice, while also gaining some valuable experience with the other senior players.
Basel's Week 1 Awards
Player of the Week: Chicharito
Like I said in the game recap, Chicharito is bringing the MLS blue blood Galaxy back into the limelight for the foreseeable future. His squad will take on the New York Red Bulls this weekend and look to continue developing that two-man forward game.
Goal of the Week: Nashville's Randall Leal vs. Columbus
Leal hit this from way outside the box, and STILL managed to paint the corner? I mean come on, a goal like that is just *chef's kiss.*
My Match to Watch This Weekend-LAFC vs Seattle Sounders (Saturday at 6 EST)
Seattle continue their revenge tour against the team to beat in the Western Conference. There's some big beef brewing between these two clubs, as not only are they both Western powerhouses, but this is also their first meeting since Seattle knocked out the Black-and-Gold in the first round of last year's MLS Cup Playoffs. Seattle enter this one as the underdogs, and should Captain Nicolas Lodeiro be ruled out yet again, Seattle fans will get another look at the young Josh Atencio.
Aside from standard League play, five MLS teams will be in action throughout next week in the CONCACAF Champions League, so make sure you check them out as well!