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Things we learned from MLS Week 1

Can you learn anything from the very first round of games of the MLS season? Sure you can. They may need to be unlearned, but here are some thoughts inspired by Week 1...

Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jozy Altidore can score goals (aka Toronto FC is not Sunderland, MLS is not EPL)

It ought not to have been a lesson anyone needed to learn: Jozy Altidore is the fifth highest goal-scorer in the history of the US Men's National Team (26 goals in 78 appearances), and should end his career - at minimum - third on the USMNT all-time scoring list (he's nine goals shy of easing past Eric Wynalda's career tally, 34). He is a proven and consistent goalscorer - for his country.

Unfortunately, Jozy Altidore has combined being an elite scorer for the US with being a not-so-elite scorer at club level. He scored 16 goals in 43 appearances for the New York Red Bulls: solid but not exceptional numbers. However, he achieved that as a teenager, which spoke to his potential, and it was that potential which carried him through a succession of statistically underwhelming stints at European clubs: three goals in 17 appearances for Villareal; two goals in 30 appearances for Hull City; one goal in 12 appearances for Bursaspor.

And then he landed at AZ Alkmaar for the 2011-12 season, and his potential appeared finally realized: 20 goals in 52 games in 2011-12; 31 in 41 games in 2012-13. His time terrorizing the top flight of Dutch domestic soccer coincided with his worst year as a goal scorer for USMNT: seven appearance and no goals in 2012. But few seemed to mind: here was an American star in Europe. Altidore was ready for the big time.

And then he wasn't. At least, not the big time offered by Sunderland. Three goals in one-and-a-half seasons is not impressive. So Altidore, despite having scored 13 goals in his last 25 appearances for his country, arrived in MLS with a point to prove.

It seemed tremendously unlikely that he would suffer the same dismal form that afflicted him at Sunderland. For a start, it is fair to suspect MLS defenses are not quite so hard to crack as those of the Premier League. Also, his form for USMNT suggested he is still very much capable of putting the ball in the net, just not so much in EPL, or at the very least for Sunderland. Finally, at Toronto he seems likely to benefit from a team set up that wants to get him the ball in situations uited to his strengths.

He scored twice this week in first game of league play for TFC - that's twice as many league goals as he managed for Sunderland. He had good chances while he was in England, but they became increasingly few and far between as he missed them and became ever more frustrated and demoralized. This week, however, he got a quite brilliant through-ball from Sebastian Giovinco which put him one-on-one with the 'keeper, and a last-minute lob over the top that put him one-on-one with Whitecaps' defender Pa Modou Kah. The former brought a goal, the latter a penalty - which Altidore converted in a manner that revealed his confidence.

He can score goals. We ought to have known this already, but if we needed to be reminded or convinced - Jozy has provided the necessary evidence.

Now we can focus on the important question: how many goals will he score for TFC this year? We know it will be at least two.

2. It's still preseason for most teams

The first game of this week's round - LA Galaxy vs Chicago Fire - set the tone for the rest: two out-of-sync teams traded mistakes (the Fire's being mostly defensive; the Galaxy's mostly in the final third) until one finally made an error too egregious to be overlooked.

Jeff Larentowicz, who played quite well for most of the game, took an awkward swipe at a cross and merely passed the ball to an unmarked Jose Villareal. 1-0. The Galaxy padded the score with another fortuitous goal: Baggio Husidic mistimed a jump for a knockdown header in the box, but the ball glanced off the back of his head to Robbie Keane. 2-0.

Thereafter, most of what we saw this weekend was mostly a succession of team's fumbling for form and fluidity. DC squeaked by Montreal, 1-0; Philadelphia Union would have thrashed Colorado on any day that it had goal scorers in form, but it didn't on Saturday and the match ended 0-0; Columbus couldn't get past a magnificent Tyler Deric, who almost singlehandedly guided an overmatched Houston to a 1-0 win; Dallas and San Jose traded misses until Blas Perez nicked a winner in injury time; Portland battered Real Salt Lake, but couldn't find the net.

On Sunday, it was much the same: Orlando and NYC FC followed by Sporting Kansas City and RBNY exchanged awful passes, lead-footed control, mistimed passes and shanked shots. Both games ended 1-1, fair results on balance for teams that were some distance below what they hope to consider their best.

Scorelines don't communicate quality of play, but in this week, the string of binary code comprising the majority of MLS results was a function of a mass of rusty teams failing to find their respective higher gears.

3. Greg Vanney deserves some credit

One early result stood out from the crowd this week: Toronto's 3-1 win on the road in Vancouver. TFC has seven straight road games to start its season. The conventional arithmetic of MLS recommends teams win their home games and draw on the road. No team expects to go through the season unbeaten, but 17 wins and 17 draws adds up to 68 points - which can be achieved with a few losses here and there, and would be expected to win the Shield most years.

As such, Toronto's target for this tricky opening sequence of matches should be about seven points: the equivalent of drawing every one of those seven games. And every point gained above seven is one less that needs to be won at home without straying from the path to 68 points.

MLS moved to 34-game seasons in 2011, and no team has hit 68 points in that time. But those that have come closest - LA in 2011 (67), San Jose in 2012 (66) and Seattle in 2014 (64) have won the Shield. No club should quit the race for 68 until it's mathematically impossible.

This is not to say TFC is going to win the Supporters' Shield or even challenge for it. The club's early target is modest: get through its opening seven matches with a creditable number of points. Three points on the road at the first attempt is a big deal. Three points gained after falling behind - and being spared a two goal deficit essentially by a scuffed shot that hits the back of the net 99 times out of 100 - is an even bigger deal.

And for that, some credit is due head coach Greg Vanney. The failings of MLS's preseason were all too apparent in the generally lackluster displays this weekend. TFC finished its preseason with a tournament in Florida: the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic. It comprised three group stage matches followed by a final, or a consolation game for those teams not in the final. In his team's decisive group game, against RBNY, Vanney put out a reserve team. His reason: he was getting his first-choice players on to the rhythm they would need to be in for the regular season, which meant training to peak for the weekend (the game against RBNY was midweek).

So TFC tanked a preseason game, and didn't get a chance to win a trophy nobody particularly cared about anyway. The point of preseason is not to win exhibition tournaments, it is to be as close to peak condition for opening day as possible. On its opening day, TFC fought back from a goal down, scored three goals, and got three points to help the team start a brutal seven-game road trip in the best possible way.

Well done, Greg Vanney. That was a well executed preseason plan.

4. The Sounders are still good

Seattle kicked off much as it finished last season: looking better than most teams in MLS.

The sequence leading to the Sounders third goal of their 3-0 trouncing of New England this weekend illustrated the benefits of keeping a good squad in tact for another year. Handed possession by the sort of rusty first touch we saw all over the league, all weekend, Marco Pappa took the ball into a three-man game of keep-away involving himself, Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey. And once the defense had been suitably disrupted, Martins and Dempsey took for goal, while Pappa fed them with a pass into the space the Revs might have been covering had they not been sucked into chasing the ball.

It as the work of payers who know each other, their tendencies, and the game plan very well. And it was a level of understanding few teams were able to reach this week, and many will not achieve all season.

5. It's way too early to read too much into anything

Early season results don't mean a great deal in any league, but they are particularly unhelpful predictors in MLS.

Last year, the best team in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, D.C. United, lost its opening game 3-0. At home. It didn't score a goal until its third game of the year, and didn't win until its fourth match - when it beat New England Revolution, the East's representative in the MLS Cup final.

New England finished 2014 as the hottest team in the East, but it lost three of its first five games and only scored twice (both in a win over San Jose) during that spell. The team the Revs beat to get to MLS Cup, the New York Red Bulls, was winless in its opening six matches of the season.

The best team in the league, Seattle Sounders, was a so-so, win-one-lose-one team for the first month of its schedule. And the MLS Cup champion, LA Galaxy drifted through its opening eight games with just two wins. LA contrived to lose three of those first eight, but would only lose four times for the rest of the year.

In 2013, RBNY won the Supporters' Shield after winning none of its opening four games. Portland Timbers won the Western Conference after an equally barren start. MLS Cup winner Sporting Kansas City and runner-up Real Salt Lake each won just one of their first four matches of the season.

It's a long season and MLS clubs are traditionally slow starters. The teams that were good this week may not be so good next week. And those that dominate this month could be slumping in April.

Or not. In 2012, regular season Eastern Conference winner Sporting Kansas City won seven straight to start the year. San Jose Earthquakes won seven of their first nine games and won the Shield. So sometimes a hot start really is a sign of good things ahead. Though that year's MLS Cup winner (LA) and runner-up (Houston) had relatively mediocre starts to the season.

It's always better to be winning than losing, but Week 1 results predict little other than which teams will be under just a touch more pressure to perform well in Week 2.