MLS Kicks Off 17th Season: With all of the build-up to the league’s 2012 campaign, it has been quite a week. Two thrilling CONCACAF Champions League contests Wednesday proved to be a nice preview of what was in store on Opening Day in league play. Three items stood out for me on the day.
- Vancouver off to another highlight start. Sure, last year’s fantastic start was followed by a difficult debut campaign. This year’s start was monumental because of the ‘new beginnings’ theme. The club, in just its second MLS season, is starting over with new coach Martin Rennie, who has worked his way up the lower divisions, and a lot of new players, many whom he has brought in from coaching at the second division flight. Also making a new start was Sebastien Le Toux, who was pleased to depart Philadelphia to return to the Northwest, where he tormented the second division and MLS while playing for Whitecaps rival Seattle Sounders. It was perhaps a perfect storyline that Le Toux scored the opening tally, setting a league record for fastest season opening goal, as the team won, 2-0, against another former second division rival, the Montreal Impact, as they make their MLS debut.
- Quite the dramatic finish in DC. Just when it looked like the contest was going to be a scoreless draw after a pair of earlier 2-0 contests, Sporting Kansas City’s CJ Sapong found himself open in the middle of the box on a corner, heading home the thrilling header for the win three minutes into stoppage time.
- In a great nightcap to Opening Day, Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy, picked by virtually all in the NASR Preseason Poll to finish in the top 3 in the West, played an exciting contest. A back-and-forth stalemate gave way to a barn-burner with 20 minutes left. David Beckham delivered a perfect, long cross to Edson Buddle for the opening goal in the 71st. Two minutes later it was level again on a disastrous Sean Franklin own goal off a Sebastien Velasquez cross. Javier Morales then stunned the home fans in the 80th and Fabian Espindola made it 3-1 in the 85th with plenty more action on both ends as the clock wound down to the final whistle.
Joe Warren finally retires… again: Often overlooked in the storied history of the Minnesota Thunder, Joe Warren has consistently been one of the top netminders of the second division. It appears he has absolutely played his final match in Minnesota. The standout keeper has thrived in the shadows of his predecessor John Swallen, who retired in 2001, and the notoriety of Thunder players like Tony Sanneh, Amos Magee, Johnny Menyongar, Marco Ferruzzi and the Lagos brothers Manny and Gerard. He joined the club in 1996, but toiled as a reserve until Swallen’s retirement. He then became one of the top keepers in USL-1 before retiring in 200 as the longest tenured player in club history. Four years later he was lured back between the posts for the newly forged NSC Minnesota Stars, where he has played the last two seasons and won the inaugural NASL championship last season despite another retirement. He made the announcement in January only to lace ‘em up yet again six weeks later. In addition to the NASL title, his other highlight moment is likely the 2005 campaign in which he helped lead the Thunder on one of the best lower division runs in the US Open Cup. The club opened with a 2-1 win over the PDL Chicago Fire Premier before knocking off three consecutive MLS teams. The first was a 6-4 thriller versus Real Salt Lake. They then shocked the Colorado Rapids, 4-1, and Sporting Kansas City, 3-1, before falling to the eventual champion LA Galaxy, 5-2, in the semifinals.