Thanks to some generous schedule making, Toronto FC weren't involved, but 16 of 19 clubs had their 'first kick' this weekend, and all those predictions of the West being dominant came true early on as out of the 6 games featuring East v West, 5 were won by Western teams.
That dominance started early on in the first game, the all Canadian affair between Vancouver and Montreal, a game that almost 2.5m (yes, m) Canadians watched at least part of. It was a predictably tough start to life in MLS for the Impact, a goal down within 4 minutes, and never really looking like they'd pull level, before eventually going down to the 2-0 defeat. It certainly wasn't all terrible for them, as they did more or less match Vancouver except for one particular department, the sadly rather crucial one of attacking talent and creativity.
The big question for the Whitecaps coming in was how exactly they'd fit all their forwards into the team. For this match at least, Sebastian Le Toux was up front with Eric Hassli, with Camilo wide right in midfield and Davide Chiumiento out right. It worked out very early, Hassli springing Le Toux behind the defence and Le Toux knocking it past a less than impressive Donovan Ricketts. The second goal, early in the second half really was a thing of beauty, Hassli and Le Toux combining fantastically to put Camilo into the box. He still had plenty of work to do, and with a little help from sloppy defending from Matteo Ferrari he jinked his way into the middle of the box and knocked it past Ricketts. A great advertisement for the Whitecaps new forward line, as they didn't play great, but had the quality to make chances and take them. There'll be plenty of goals for them this year.
For Montreal? Well, probably not. They didn't look vastly inferior to the Whitecaps, the defence and midfield looks solid-ish, Ricketts is a good goalie, though I imagine he'll soon be pining for his old team in L.A if he isn't already (though maybe not, 5 goals in 2 games doesn't say good things about their defence either). However Davy Arnaud's long shot was the closest they came to scoring, and while there's a good chance Arnaud can keep that sort of effort coming, there doesn't seem to be that much quality up front to generate chances. Let's hope for their sake that one of the big name DP player rumours actually comes true, as right now, solid and organised with little flash, it's all very NASL.
Saturday's other big game was Real Salt lake at La Galaxy, and this one had what became another trend over the weekend, late goals. After taking a 1-0 lead, the Galaxy let in 3 late goals to lose, with Javier Morales getting back into the swing of things for RSL after missing most of last year with an injury. That may be a fitness thing, after having played on the skydome carpet then taken a transcontinental flight back home in the few days before. Bruce Arena certainly decided to use that as an excuse, so it should be interesting to see if he runs the same lineup out against TFC on Wednesday. Both Seattle and TFC got this weekend off, whereas LA (co-incidentally? I doubt it) have the weekend off that falls between when the semi final rounds are scheduled.
Getting back to the East v West showdowns, Colorado beat Columbus 2-0, and San Jose beat New England 1-0, and the other match on Saturday finally saw the East get some points on the board, mainly due to two Eastern teams playing each other. Kansas City got the 1-0 win at D.C thanks to a CJ Sapong goal, a result that does nothing to calm talk of Kansas City being the quality of the east this year.
On to Sunday, and finally the East took some points from the West, though this wasn't really a surprise as it was Houston, imposters from the West, and more importantly MLS Cup runners up, against the perennially awful Chivas USA. It was another game with late drama, as Chivas goalie Dan Kennedy made plenty of good saves before finally being beaten in injury time, Andre Hainault not letting Chivas dream it was over as he got the winner.
In what was probably the most closely balanced East/West battle, New York went to Dallas, and it looked like it would be a comfortable victory for Dallas as they were 2-0 up and cruising, until Kenny Cooper came on. He struggled last year with Portland, but in what must be a very encouraging sign for New York, he looked very very dangerous, linking up well with Thierry Henry who just kept dropping deeper and deeper to pick up the ball. Cooper scored one, could have had more, but in the end it stayed 2-1, and Henry got thoroughly mopey in post game interviews. I'm still not decided if the overall impression he gives is just that he hates losing, or that he hates that he had to leave Arsenal to come back to MLS. I think New York could be a bit of a shitshow this year, and if they are, I can see Henry getting more and more petulant and pissed off. I hope it happens.
Finally on Monday, there was Portland against Philadelphia. The night-time game, in the rain, with the Timbers Army in spectacularly full voice (the game closing "I can't help falling in love with you" was as impressive as the a capella national anthem to kick things off) made for a great atmosphere, and predictably enough, Portland came out winners. An OG and a goalie blunder, both scored by Andrew Jean Baptiste left it at 1-1, before Portland's new DP striker Kris Boyd got a very good header from a cross just inside the far post to make it 2-1, and Kalif Alhassan got the third with a delicate chip/accidental cross gone wrong but fortuitously right over the goalie. Highlights, stats, chalkboards and all sorts of analysis on this game and all the others can be found on the ever improving MLSsoccer.com
So 8 games, 8 wins, which might actually be the most surprising stat of the weekend given how many ties MLS usually enjoys, and 18 points to the West, 6 to the East. It might be misleading to read too much into that given all the Western teams were at home, which has always been a huge historical advantage in MLS, especially when timezone crossing is involved, but for now it looks like the East is a much easier place to be. Great news for TFC as they now sit tied for 3rd in the conference with Chicago due to their even goal difference, undefeated and with a game in hand on most of their rivals, it's all so much easier when you don't have to actually play the games.