NOTE: Welcome to the High Five! - A new weekly feature on FCDallas.com from long-time Dallas resident, MLS journalist and radio voice of FC Dallas, Steve Davis. Each Wednesday, Steve will bring us five things he's kicking around in his head from the week that was in American soccer. Tune in to Steve for every FC Dallas match on 100.7FM as well as Sunday mornings on 103.3FM as half of ESPN Soccer Today.
Orlando City rock star Kaká gets us started. He was the caped Super Hero who rescued the historic day for the home fans.
“We are building something very special. The result is OK. We have a lot to improve. But I want to thank everybody who participated in this very special day for us." – Kaká.
While we ponder how far Kaká can take his new club, here are five “story snow globes” to shake up, look at and talk about:
1. Why Kaka is going to be great in MLS
Orlando City’s Kaká did rescue the memorable day in the Florida club's inaugural match. They fought to “fill the bowl” and congrats on doing just that; Sunday’s crowd of 62,510 was the second-largest ever to watch an inaugural MLS match. And what a site they saw, a brilliantly purple-splashed mosaic of sound, excitement, anticipation and (ultimately) a crowd-pleasing result.
WATCH: Kaka's pregame speech
So much of that came down to Kaká. No one ever doubted the man’s talent, which showed in his passing, in his midfield drive when the team needed him to drop back further and, of course, in the late equalizer in a 1-1 draw. We suspected we’d get all that … but you never know until you know.
We have certainly seen talented figures join MLS from abroad, but just never quite get their hearts into it.
Clearly, that won’t be Kaka. Only time will tell how he holds up, given a bulk of games on artificial turf, extensive travel, heat and unavoidable rough stuff from opposition ahead.
But know this: if Kaka doesn’t make some serious headway in MLS or challenge to be in MVP considerations, it won’t be because his heart isn’t in it. He’s already shown that he is 100 percent, passionately dedicated.
In a pre-game interview Sunday, he told ESPN’s Monica Gonzalez that among his pre-season targets was getting acquainted with teammates at the deepest level possible. He is the biggest figure in that locker room, and by a long way. It would be easy for him to let the others “come to him,” to just go about his business. By embracing the challenge of engaging with all his teammates, he demonstrates a commendable, higher level of commitment.
And then this: Kaka has scored important goals at the San Siro for Italy’s mighty AC Milan. He has banged in big ones for Real Madrid at the famed Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. He has scored or assisted in two World Cups (2006 and 2010). And yet, he was clearly alight with delight over scoring the first goal for his new club.
“I've scored a lot of goals in my career,” the celebrated Brazilian attacker said. “I have to say this is one of the most emotional."
And that is why he’ll continue to be a big star in MLS.
2. Of course New York City scored first. It was practically fate
There is something about Jason Kreis and inaugural goals.
Major League Soccer could be around a long, long, long time and still not have somebody do what Kreis did as a player: score the inaugural goal for two clubs.
Little known fact: Kreis is the only player to record the historic first goal for two franchises. He smashed in the old Dallas Burn’s first goal in 1996 and in 2005, Kreis broke the seal for Real Salt Lake.
Today Kreis manages New York City FC; the well-heeled club snatched him away from Real Salt Lake’s managerial seat. So he was in charge as Mix Diskerud scored NYC FC’s inaugural goal, the first in a match of two debuting MLS franchises. How could it have been any other way?
Best bet to score the first goal for NYC FC as it debuts at home this week at Yankee Stadium? Let’s go with David Villa, the Spanish international, who will surely see more of the ball and more opportunities than he did last week on the road.
3. Home team blues in opening week
Season openers are rarely lovely affairs. What’s more, they frequently fall into the “bummer zone” for the home fans.
Clubs tend to be tentative in opening week. All through the season we see road teams approach with caution, of course. But when the home team matches that wary approach, we tend to get … well, we get Week 1 in MLS.
Home teams won in just half the MLS season openers. And even then, only a couple of teams actually looked good in claiming all three points.
D.C. United managed only one goal in a sloppy match at RFK (a 1-0 win over Montreal.) Houston managed to put just one past Columbus, and needed bailing out by heroic Tyler Deric goalkeeping in a 1-0 win in Owen Coyle’s managerial debut. Dallas controlled the second half against refurbished San Jose, but needed stoppage time to finally push through with the game-winner.
In Philadelphia, the Union had a man advantage for more than 20 minutes but never scored against Colorado (0-0 draw). Real Salt Lake and Nick Rimando kept Portland off the board in another scoreless draw, in Oregon.
Home teams bucked the trend last year in season openers by going a healthy 5-2-1. But in years before that, home team records were typically “meh.” The home sides went 4-4-1 in 2013 opening week, 5-3 in 2012 and a wholly unimpressive 4-4-2 in 2011.
Overall, 10 games last weekend netted just 16 goals (1.6 per game). Don’t worry; it will rise. Goals per game in MLS has hovered reliably just north of 2.5 per game for more than a decade, and no reason to think a big drop is coming in 2015.
4. The predictable rush to early conclusions
Here’s hoping none of you were trampled in the rush to early judgments after one week. One week!
Do the quick math, that’s one down and 33 to go (games to go in MLS, that is). Add U.S. Open Cup matches and any CONCACAF Champions League games, and most clubs are 90 minutes into about 3,000-plus minutes of soccer in 2015. There’s ample time to sort out which teams are tight and right, which players are doing the business, which coaches have the right stuff, etc.
But then again, that’s not who we are. As passionate fans and supporters, we want to know now! Hence the rush to judgment – and, boy, did we rush after Week 1 in Major League Soccer.
I love the ever increasing volume of analysis. What is sometimes missing is better perspective in all the Monday morning quarterbacking of media accounts, blog posts, podcasts, etc.
Case in point: I am seeing some tales of woe for New England. But, honestly, opening on the road at salty Seattle, minus their two best players (Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen), what did anybody expect?
I saw some grumbling over Columbus’ 1-0 loss to Houston. But the Crew looked pretty good all things considered. Take away a couple of stunning saves from Tyler Deric and the men in yellow probably take a point out of South Texas. Do you remember last year when Houston defeated New England 4-0 in the first match of 2014? You probably don't, but you do remember New England nearly winning MLS Cup.
I saw WAY too much analysis of NYC FC. You can pretty much forget any “lessons” learned from an inaugural match, on the road, on unfamiliar (artificial) turf, with important pieces still missing (Frank Lampard), etc. I even saw some complaints over Mix Diskerud’s day, how he failed to sufficiently influence the attack.
Well, he completed 96 percent of his passes, and scored the team’s only goal in a road draw!
The other missing piece of the context puzzle is always this: what is a player being asked to do? Perhaps Kreis instructed Diskerud to be conservative, to play simple, to be the guy who helps his new team retain possession on a day when nerves and newness could possibly combine to do bad things.
The upshot is this: It is way too early to draw any conclusions. Fans for every club, from Timbers Army out West to the Sons of Ben in the East and all points in between, know this, and live it: It will be several games before you truly know what you have.
What are the team’s ideal combinations? Who combines better with whom? How does one player’s entrance or loss impact the guy’s role beside him? Which formation truly best fits this year’s personnel?
Mostly though, how clubs, players and coaches handle the injuries to key players and the tough stretches ahead? Because it’s a long season, and the inevitable slump is out there.
5. Crackdown on dissent, persistent infringement
Just like overall quality in Major League Soccer, the level of officiating is moving in the right direction. And faster than some people think.
Every year, new fans join up with MLS, which is great. The trouble is, they become understandably frustrated when they watch and MLS referees err here and there, or they watch an official struggle to maintain match control in some contests. What they may not understand is the history, that the performance from the man in the middle today is appreciably sharper and improved over the level of officiating just a few years ago.
Believe me, it isn’t really even close.
I spoke over the weekend to Peter Walton, head of Professional Referee Organization and sometimes referred to as North America's “refereeing Czar.” We talked about this year’s emphasis to officials: in short, it is cracking down on dissent and persistent infringement.
We need a larger sample of games (just 10 so far) to see if it “takes.” But so far, so good.
Matches seemed to come and go with far less grousing and griping. That’s a good thing, because eliminating some of the barking at referees generally serves to help moderate the overall match temperature. Keep the players’ minds on the match (and not on frustration over decisions) and you’ll get a little better game – one with more actual soccer and less of the physical business.
The second initiative is one that should improve overall match quality even more. Persistent infringement – or the lack of control over it, to be more precise – has long been a problem. That means for individuals and for teams adept at tactical fouling.
Two quick examples: Matt Besler took a second yellow in Kansas City on a foul that might not have been called a year ago. That was heavily impactful in a match that finished 1-1. And in Dallas, referee Ted Unkel cautioned Atiba Harris after three fouls; last year we might have seen four or five fouls before a caution was issued for persistent infringement, if even then.
Reduce the tactical fouling (mostly in the midfield, where teams most often get away with it), and discourage repeated individual fouling and the game will flow that much more.
Walton told me if that means a small surge in cards early in 2015, so be it. The players will adjust accordingly – at least that’s what we all hope.
Steve Davis has covered Major League Soccer since is first kick in 1996. He writes on-line for World Soccer Talk and Fusion TV’s Soccergods, and co-hosts the weekly radio show/podcast ESPN Soccer Today on 103.3 FM in Dallas. Davis is also the radio play-by-play voice for FC Dallas on 100.7 FM.