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  • A lovely appetizer



    I absolutely loved what I saw coming through my computer screen from Seattle last night.

    MLS First Kick, the home-town Sounders getting great fan support – but not quite enough finish – in a spirited 0-1 loss to the sharp, impressive Los Angeles Galaxy.

    Speed, ideas, passion, technical problems being set – and solved. It was a very enjoyable – and frequently thrilling – game of soccer. It’s the first MLS footie I’ve seen since last November’s MLS Cup, and this first game of oh-eleven was significantly more fun than that crowing moment of oh-ten.

    First I’ve seen? Allow me to explain:


    Now that I’m in a joint blogging effort with some very hard-charging fellow journos, I decided to take a novel approach to the MLS pre-season.

    I ignored it.

    Not that I wasn’t working. There’s still lots going on behind the scenes in Canadian soccer governance, and that’s where my main focus has obviously been for awhile.

    But somewhere along the way it occurred to me that endless, capable minds were focused on analyzing each roster move, injury or setback, trying to get a definitive sense of what’s about to happen in Our Little League.

    And the more it went on, the less motivated I became.

    Take Toronto FC, for example. New Dutch general Aron Winter shows up with a world of experience and a shiny 4-3-3 formation, saying he wants to own the ball and press, press, press. Love it – but he’s inheriting a deeply flawed Mo Johnston roster, and a captain who – frankly – needs a real captain to tell him to cool it.

    Does Nick LaBrocca fit in? Apparently not. Dealt to Chivas for Alan Gordon. Is Gordon enough striker? We won’t know until the real games start.

    And that became the rub for me. Winter has a system and the roster certainly looks decent up the middle. Depth is an issue, but how big? At least one expert called Toronto to finish dead last in the east because of depth. But coaches and systems win in this league. If Winter’s 4-3-3 is righteous, depth may not be as desperate as it sometimes seems.

    I was utterly incapable, in other words, of forming a useful opinion of where Toronto stands. And the more I knew that, the less interested I became in the Carolina Cup or kick-arounds in Turkey.

    I want to see this team fresh, on opening night, and start forming my opinions then. So I let the previews go. At this exact moment, I likely know less about Your Revved-Up Reds than any other writer on this site.

    That won’t last. The curtain goes up Saturday, with the home opener a week after that. Then, you’ll get commentary based purely on how they look, and not so much on how we got here.

    It’s a subtle distinction, but it will be one a lot of TFC fans share. It will be interesting to see what an “outside insider’s” view looks like.

    It was certainly thrilling last night, when the Galaxy and Sounders ran hard at each other for most of the game.

    To me, this looks and feels significantly different from MLS seasons past. With new teams in Vancouver and Portland, the league has gained in significance. With more DPs, the marquee value is on the rise. At the core, though, it’s still the same careful, stingy league, where parity will still do its best to float all boats – even if the Chivas USA boat looks hopelessly holed below the waterline.

    What was really interesting for me last night was seeing David Beckham show up and work like he’s just another player. Not a lot of distractions for Lad Becks right now. He’s not in Europe, England isn’t up to anything, and he’s unlikely to be involved when they are. Well, he always was a footballer first, and here’s a game to play.

    Coupled with the huge, happy, excited, thrilling green-and-blue crowd and the pleasing overall pace of the match, there was real substance on the field last night.

    Evolution is a slow process. It’s hard to spot the exact moment one thing turns into another. But coming at MLS cold last night, after a few months completely off, I frankly loved what I saw. I see a league ready to be taken far more seriously – and not because of the new teams or gimmicks or whatever.

    I believe I’m seeing a league that actually belongs it the role it set for itself – the top level of professional men’s soccer north of Mexico. It feels like it’s aged a bit. Gotten more seasoned. The opening match felt like it was time for two well-known sides to challenge each other, as opposed to some soccer business deciding to stage a game in some city Stateside.

    This is the first time I’ve truly felt that Major League Soccer really belongs – that it has tradition enough of its own creation, that it’s really interesting to try to guess what happens next.

    Maybe I’m late to the party, but that wasn’t just another MLS game last night.

    The perfect palate-cleanser, if you will.

    And now – I’m ready for The Reds.


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