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5 biggest takeaways from MLS Week 1, including Thiago Almada's brilliance

CHESTER, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 25: Julián Carranza #9 and Déniel Gazdag #10 of Philadelphia Union celebrate the team's fourth goal by Gazdag at Subaru Park on February 25, 2023 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Julián Carranza and Daniel Gazdag of the Philadelphia Union celebrate the team's fourth goal by Gazdag at Subaru Park on Feb. 25, 2023 in Chester, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Despite Mother Nature trying to complicate things, Major League Soccer kicked off season No. 28 in a major way. If Week 1 was any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a lot of goals, big performances and pure chaos — so basically MLS at its best.

Philly, Seattle already flexing

The Philadelphia Union were a tiebreaker away from winning the Supporters’ Shield last year, and a last-gasp Gareth Bale goal from hoisting MLS Cup. Instead, they were left with a few individual awards but empty-handed as a group.

Philly retained its squad and got even better by adding Joaquin Torres to the attack, so it’s no surprise why the Union are a favorite this season. The opening minutes of their match against the Columbus Crew was a bit of a rude awakening as they struggled to get going and conceded an own goal. But when this team gets going, look out. The core they have knows exactly how to adapt and take over because they’ve been together long enough. That’s what makes the Union dangerous, which was reflected in the final 4-1 scoreline. Two goals apiece for Daniel Gazdag and Julian Carranza with assists from Alejandro Bedoya and the newcomer Torres is as good as it gets for reigning Coach of the Year Jim Curtain.

It seemed like the Seattle Sounders sacrificed everything they could last year to win CONCACAF Champions League. Their MLS season suffered tremendously due to various injuries, and even Brian Schmetzer wasn’t able to work his magic and push his banged-up team into the playoffs. On Sunday, however, they let the league know they are very much so back.

Shutting out the Rapids 4-0 was a necessary statement for a franchise used to success in MLS. If you watched their Club World Cup loss to Al Ahly in early February you could already tell the squad was in good form as they controlled the majority of that game before falling due to an unfortunate deflection. But the Sounders showed against the Rapids that they’re still in the league’s top-tier.

João Paulo being back is massive, Nouhou Tolo remains a beast and that line of Cristian Roldan, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris is too overpowering for some defenses. Even with star striker Raul Ruidiaz being out due to a nagging hamstring, having someone like Heber slot in and make an immediate impact almost seems unfair.

Same ol’ Sounders.

St. Louis on the board

Winning as an expansion team isn’t easy, nevertheless on the road in one of the best and most energetic stadiums in the league. Playing its inaugural match in Austin was not one St. Louis City SC was supposed to take 3 points from.

Bradley Carnell and Co. simply do not care about what expectations have been placed on this franchise, though.

Tim Parker etched his name in franchise history by heading home the first goal just 24 minutes in. Despite a ridiculous Sebastian Driussi equalizer and falling behind with just 20 minutes left, City never quit. The new kids on the block were gifted a goal after a brutal, errant pass by Austin FC defender Kipp Keller, who was in as an injury sub for Julio Cascante. And after that equalizer, they showed even more ambition as they pressured in pursuit of the winner instead of just sitting back and settling for the draw. Designated player João Klauss came through with that moment after a clinical 1v1 move and finish versus Keller, dropping to his back in exhaustion after the goal. It took a lot of energy and it wasn’t the prettiest, but it was a well deserved moment.

“Starting with a win and a goal was perfect,” Klauss said after the game. "What we did today was unbelievable.”

Believe it, St. Louis. The anticipated home-opener is now on the horizon.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - FEBRUARY 25:  Thiago Almada #23 of Atlanta United reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal on a free kick in stoppage time against the San Jose Earthquakes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 25, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Thiago Almada lifted Atlanta United to victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday with two stoppage-time golazos. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

World-class goals from Thiago Almada

This offseason was different than others as some players headed over to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Many represented MLS throughout different countries, but only one was there until the very end and is able to call himself a World Cup champion.

Thiago Almada was able to soak it all in and gain confidence with Argentina before returning to Atlanta United. The 21-year-old carries a heavy task now as everyone already expects him to be the anchor to coveted success for the Five Stripes. And it seemed like they were heading for a rough loss to San Jose in front of 67,538 fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium until Almada’s skill and brilliance stepped up to the forefront. It’s hard to choose whether the equalizer or winner was the better goal, but they were both a reminder of what Almada can do. Two absolute golazos six minutes apart in stoppage time to win it for Atlanta.

Enjoy him being in MLS and providing these highlights while he’s here.

Texas, New York teams go 0-5

Texas has three teams in MLS — two are expected to be very good this season and one is Houston. The Dynamo got an assist from Hector Herrera on a corner kick but didn’t have much else to celebrate in a 2-1 loss in Cincinnati. FC Dallas was held scoreless at home against a Minnesota team that has no clue what’s going on with their star player Emanuel Reynoso and if he’s coming back. And Austin fell to a team playing their first game ever. Not a great day for the Lone Star State.

Let’s check in on New York.

NYCFC seems stuck in the mud and in for a long rebuild unless they are able to get a game-changing striker to replace even just a little of the production of Taty Castellanos. Their attack was nonexistent and they looked flat-out bad in a 2-0 loss at Nashville. The Red Bulls’ 1-0 loss in Orlando was a little less disappointing as they controlled the game and created chances but just couldn’t find the back of the net. And the Orlando goal came from a controversial handball that resulted in a penalty kick.

Three of these five teams should make the playoffs without a problem. One might struggle but can potentially sneak in. And the other one is Houston. Either way, rough start.

Uh, Toronto?

Don’t panic or overreact to Week 1 losses … unless your star player comes off injured 34 minutes into the season and then you just completely turn into a mess in the closing moments of the game.

Mark-Anthony Kaye’s go-ahead goal in the 83rd seemed like enough to give Bob Bradley’s team that first win regardless of the early Lorenzo Insigne sub. But D.C. United got an equalizer from designated player Christian Benteke and minutes later a winner from 21-year-old homegrown Ted Ku-DiPietro. Head coach Wayne Rooney also started 16-year-old center back Matai Akinmboni against players that have won European championships and got away with it.

Not many people expect United to be very good, but this result is colossal. If you’re trying to figure out whether it’s more about D.C. winning or alarms already going off in Toronto, the correct answer is indeed both.