Before MLS is officially back, Concacaf is back! The Concacaf Champions League kicked off with a round of ubiquitous “tricky fixtures” as pundits who have never watched more than a minute of soccer from El Salvador or wherever will tell MLS fans thirsty for that sweet, sweet, CCL nectar. No, I’m sure they know what they’re talking about.
Anyway, for Portland, Atlanta, Toronto, and Columbus, it was a chance to get some competitive action and ask the question if this is the year we can finally say that MLS is as good as LigaMX, or better than LigaMX, or as good as LigaMX other than the four best teams in LigaMX, or not as good as LigaMX, or that it doesn’t matter because of Christian Pulisic for some reason. Let’s get to it.
Portland doesn’t go the distance against Marathon
The Timbers managed a 2-2 draw against Marathon. Quick, without looking tell me where the titanic club Marathon is from. I’ll give you a hint, they play at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, a stadium name that isn’t shared by any other stadium in this hemisphere I bet. Honduras, they’re from Honduras. Anyway, Portland took a 2-1 lead but lost it in Caleb Porter time when Marathon tied things up in the 68th minute. Two away goals are pretty good in CCL though. For Americans in the match, Eryk Williamson got the start and went 88 minutes with 75% of his passes completed and a yellow card.
American heroes seal a win for Atlanta United
Sadly for angry USMNT fans who know a lot about being sad and angry about the USMNT, Atlanta United did not lose its CCL match in Costa Rica despite single handedly causing the team not to make the Olympics. But it was close. The team played well for its first match under a new manager and seemed to be on the front foot as the half drew to a close. That’s until Brad Guzan got a red card because the team plays a little YOLO on attack and hasn’t worked out closing the distance between the backline and keeper when they lose the ball.
Luckily, some real life American heroes emerged and after Ezequiel Barco got a dodgy penalty call and converted his try, the team took a 1-0 lead. In just a half of soccer, Argentine-American keeper Rocco Rios Novo made six saves and despite maybe only being five feet tall looked like the next Nick Rimando in goal. He’s been in the Argentina youth set up so maybe Bello and Robinson can influence him to choose the USA. Speaking of the defenders, Bello looked a little shaky on defense but was very effective going forward and made a key interception of the referee getting between the official and Alajuelense players during the PK call and subsequent discussion. Miles Robinson though made some game saving plays and kept the score 1-0 with a stellar game on the road to start the season.
A tricky goal in a not so tricky fixture
Gyasi Zardes scored two goals including using a nice touch to dispossess the Real Esteli defense and nutmegging the last defender for the first Crew goal of it’s 4-0 mauling of the team from (can you guess where, I’ll wait) ..... Nicaragua.
Aiden Morris would also start the game and go 60 minutes in the win.
An actual tricky fixture and an OK result
Toronto FC goes into 2021 without Greg Vanney and with an aging core of Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Omar Gonzalez. They’ll be relying on Marky Delgado, Patrick Mullins, and MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo to lead the team this year. Worse yet, they’re managed by Chris Armas. Good luck TFC. Things got off to a decent start for them with a 1-1 draw away to Leon in CCL action thanks to an own goal by the home side. We’ll probably see some highlights from Jozy this year and maybe a testimonial match for MB4 in 2021 with the occasional Ayo Akinola highlight until he’s capped by Canada, but TFC isn’t offering a ton to this post this season it seems.
Thanks to everyone for your input in the Americans at Home comments last week, they’re certainly useful and as the regular season kicks off will be seen here. Someone did suggest that I not provide biased analysis of players and... well this is a blog and I’m a blogger so I’ll see you in the comments if you think any of my biased analysis is wrong.