Not to start off on too hyperbolic a note, but has MLS ever opened with a better week of soccer than it did this week? It started with a record crowd watching the LA Galaxy beat the Seattle Sounders, continued with the Vancouver Whitecaps thumping their Canadian rivals in front of their own large home crowd, featured several impressive debut performances and was undoubtedly highlighted by Charlie Davies' goose-bump inducing comeback performance.
The 10 matches featured 26 goals, but more than that showcased attractive soccer that has too long been missing. Those matches were played in front of average announced crowds that eclipsed 21,000, probably better than every opening week except perhaps the inaugural season's.
Of course, one week of impressive performances does not guarantee a successful season, but getting off on the right foot is never a bad thing. Considering the weather wasn't exactly cooperative, these results are even more encouraging.
There were more than a few people openly questioned the intelligence of the Whitecaps' signing of little-known French forward Eric Hassli to a Designated Player contract just a few weeks before the start of the season. The thinking wasn't so much that people thought Hassli would be bad, it was that they didn't really know anything about him that seemed to be the big problem. One game into his MLS career, what we know is that he should be just fine. The big man scored a pair of goals and had a third goal waved off, as he looked perfectly comfortable after only practicing with his teammates for about two weeks. Neither of the goals were exactly spectacular, but they displayed calm in front of the net that is often lacking.
More important than Hassli's individual performance was the Whitecaps'. With 22,592 packed into Empire Field and playing Canada's only other top-division side, a more perfect welcome to MLS would be hard to imagine. Davide Chiumiento showed why some have called him the Swiss Ronaldinho, the Vancouver defense looked competent and they even got a goal from local boy Terry Dunfield.
Not to be outdone, another new Designated Player also quickly went about proving his worth. Omar Bravo, who has scored more than 100 goals in the Mexican Primera, looks like he'll have no problem adjusting to MLS, either, scoring two goals in his Sporting Kansas City debut. Both goals were excellently taken and showcased some impressive awareness. The first was a chip from the edge of the penalty area to beat Zach Thornton, who had come off his line. On the second, he deftly slipped it passed Thornton with the outside of his foot.
As good as Bravo and Hassli were, though, nothing could really hold a candle to Davies' first professional match since his horrific car accident that nearly cost him his life. Davies entered the game as a 52nd minute substitute and shortly after found himself at the penalty spot. He calmly buried that shot, and then completed the double in much more impressive fashion. First, he beat Chad Marshall to a long pass, kept his footing as Marshall slipped and calmly dribbled around Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer before scoring the goal.
Davies had not played a competitive match since Oct. 13, 2009 when a car in which he was a passenger crashed and killed one of the other passengers. Davies suffered numerous injuries that cost him a spot on the 2010 U.S. World Cup team and ultimately led him to MLS.
It's hard to remember a week in which there were more well-taken goals than this one, two of them coming off the foot of Galaxy midfielder Juninho. His first came during Tuesday's First Kick when he let rip from about 25 yards out and beat Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller on the near post. He followed that up with a similar strike from the opposite side of the field, taking an errant pass about 35 yards out, making one touch and firing a thunderbolt from about 22 yards.
Keller was again victimized on Saturday, this time by New York Red Bulls teenager Juan Agudelo. The 18-year-old first beat Sounders defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado to the ball, then outmuscled Leo Gonzalez to retain possession, took a couple quick touches and then beat Keller while running at full speed from about 15 yards out.
While all three of those were just wonderfully struck goals, the goal scored by FC Dallas' Milton Rodriguez was perhaps even better. Just a minute after the Chicago Fire had taken the lead in their game against the run of play, Zach Loyd was able to find Rodriguez at the edge of the six-yard box. With a defender closely marking him, Rodriguez was able to back-heel the ball past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the equalizer.
More than 36,000 filled Qwest Field on Tuesday, a Seattle MLS record. The LA Galaxy reported 27,000 tickets sold for their match on Sunday. But those shouldn't be surprising.
The more impressive attendance figures were turned in by some teams that have struggled to draw, especially lately. FC Dallas nearly sold out with 20,145 at Pizza Hut Park. The Colorado Rapids reported 17,139 at Dick's Sporting Good Park, more than all but two regular-season games in 2010 and nearly 6,000 more than their home opener that year. Chivas USA and DC United reported crowds of more than 18,000. Even the San Jose Earthquakes sold out their opener, albeit with just 10,525 and many of whom obviously were did not brave the elements to actually show up. All of this despite the fact that the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament was competing for attention, many times in these same markets.
Taken all together, it's hard not to feel good about where MLS is going. Obviously, the league has a long ways to go before really being respected, but weeks like this make you think that time is perhaps not so far off.