At least Toronto FC was not ready for leg one of the Concacaf Champions League. Despite fielding a mostly first choice lineup, the Reds got absolutely smoked in Panama by Independiente La Chorrera 4-0. After a really bad 2018 season it seemed like Toronto had gone back to firming up the back line and would be at least defensively sound if not offensively questionable with Giovinco’s transfer. They were questionable everywhere with a combination of Marky Delgado and Jonathan Osorio failing to make up for the creativity lost when Victor Vazquez departed and a front three of draft pick Griffen Dorsey, Terrence Boyd, and left back pressed into playing forward Justin Morrow not coming close to making up for missing Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.
It’s one game, but in a sense it’s a continuation of a forgettable season last year. Still, Greg Vanney looks more likely to be the ex-manager of Orlando City than he does a promising American coach by the time October rolls around.
Sporting Kansas City
The 3-0 scoreline tells the tale for SKC. The team had a stellar match beating Toluca at home. With the departure of Ike Opara to Minnesota, the backline looks a little different, but Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic, and the best American outfield player in 2018 according to WhoScored, Graham Zusi, kept the visitors to just three shots on target in front of Tim Melia. Gianluca Busio made the 18 but stayed on the bench for the match.
I mentioned that they were bad, but this is how bad they were: Terrence Boyd missed a penalty and was subbed after 57 minutes, Alex Bono watched four goals sail into his net, Dorsey and Morrow committed more fouls than they took shots, Michael Bradley took three corner kicks, and despite having 70% of possession and completing 87% of their passes, the midfielders couldn’t get the ball to the forwards in any dangerous situations. Going into the year with Giovinco and Vazquez leaving, I thought TFC would drop back into a 4-4-2, focus on building a defensive foundation and rely on Boyd and Jozy Altidore to score effective if unattractive goals, perhaps once Altidore is fit that’s what the team will try. The team obviously has a lot to work on going into leg two, to say nothing of starting the season against MLS opponents.
The nine stripes continued their tradition of losing the first competitive game of the year. This time it came against S.C. Herediano in Costa Rica with a 3-1 scoreline with the 9th place team exploiting a disorganized Atlanta defense early and often. Left back George Bello got the start and while it was an overall terrible defensive showing for the away team, the teenager looked... more or less okay playing in a tough environment. His defense wasn’t stellar and he seemed to fade in the second half, but earning the right to start in a game like this is a promising sign to begin the year for him under new manager Frank de Boer. Elsewhere, Darlington Nagbe started on the bench following his reported contract dispute with the team and missing most of the preseason. Once he came on the field for the last 30 minutes Atlanta seemed to do more with the possession they had but by then they were also already down 3-1. Meanwhile, Andrew Carleton did not make the 18.
New York Red Bulls
It will be a year of transition for the Red Bulls with Tyler Adams no longer being the midfield engine that brought the best out of the press for the team last year. Still, they seem to have picked up where they left off, in the regular season at least, with a 2-0 win away to Atletico Pantoja. Sean Davis started in central midfield next to Marc Rzatkowski to help keep possession for 60% of the match. The defense, anchored by 2018 MLS Defender of the Year Aaron Long, kept their opponents to zero shots on target giving Luis Robles a night of light work in Central America.
The Texas team is... well a little lacking in the Americans at home department. The last American left back to reliably start for the USMNT, DaMarcus Beasley had a big night though helping to keep a clean sheet along with scoring the lone goal in the match to prevail in Guatemala City against Guastatoya. Marlon Hairston and Tommy McNamara both came off of the bench for about 30 minutes as Houston will take their away goal and opening leg victory ahead of the second match in the series on US soil tonight.
Elsewhere in the league...
A new crest for a new team
Nashville SC unveiled their MLS crest - I’m not sure if the league is punishing the team for trying to take a player the Chicago Fire couldn’t sign on loan or if the team just thought they could pull of something similar to Juventus, but without the gravitas, history, success, or legendary status, but one thing is sure - the team will have a new crest when they join MLS in MMXX.
An Atlanta United supporters’ group also had a reaction to the change.
A new team for a familiar face
The Chicago Fire continued their annual tradition of rebuilding their roster by welcoming CJ Sapong from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for what might be $450,000 in allocation money depending on Sapong’s performance this year. After a good showing in 2017 when Sapong got into double digits for goals for the first time in his MLS career by finding the net 16 times, 2018 was a step back for the striker. A four goal showing in 29 starts seemed to mark him as surplus to requirements in Philly and he’ll look to get into the mix with the Fire this year.
First Juventus, then Sunderland, and now LAFC...
The newest soccer team documentary features Bob Bradley with some advice for Carlos Vela about how he wants him to play like Messi:
Bob Bradley was tasked with building @LAFC from the ground up in 2018. That didn't mean he compromised his expectations.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) February 25, 2019
Watch the entire season of "We Are LAFC" on ESPN+ now: https://t.co/HMMFl2WgVX pic.twitter.com/2wUUcVZZtv
Apparently there’s an entire 10 episode season of this historic franchise if you subscribe, no word on if Carlos Vela asked Bob Bradley if he had heard of Marcelo Bielsa.