March 2011: Attendance best mark at the start of the US League

Major League Soccer kicked off its 16th season with a full slate of games over the weekend and an average attendance of 21,046 per game, an increase of more than 3,000 from last year's opening week. With 26 goals in nine games for an average of nearly 2.9 goals per game, there was plenty for those fans to cheer about. However that was not the case for the Seattle Sounders supporters, who sold out their 33rd consecutive home game in last Tuesday's season opener only to see their side lose 0-1 to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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It didn't get any better on Saturday, when the Sounders traveled across the country to lose by the same score line to the New York Red Bulls. Former Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who announced that he will retire at the end of the season, saved a penalty kick from New York’s Thierry Henry, but couldn't stop eighteen-year-old sensation Juan Agudelo from netting his first goal for the Red Bulls.

Losing two games against the favorite teams to contest for the MLS title isn’t cause for panic, but the Sounders had best figure out how to score goals in the aftermath of the termination of their designated player deal with Swiss forward Blaise Nkufo just days before the season start.

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Kasey Keller, former Mönchengladbach goalkeeper, suffered two defeats with Seattle Sounders by LA Galaxy and Red Bull New York at the start of the season. (Photo: GettyImages)

The Red Bulls also let one of their designated players go with the release of Juan Pablo Angel, who was quickly snapped up by the Galaxy. The veteran Colombian striker missed the season opener in Seattle due to illness, but did get play 63 minutes in Sunday's 1-1 draw at home against the New England Revolution. Juninho, the 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder on loan from São Paulo, scored both Los Angeles goals so far this season, but look for Angel to add to his tally once he starts to gel with the Galaxy's other designated players - Landon Donovan and David Beckham, who is hoping to finish out his $250 million 5-year contract by lifting the MLS Cup trophy this November.

Juninho, the Brazilian on loan by Sao Paulo, scored two goals for Los Angeles Galaxy against Seattle (1-0) and New England Revolution (1-1). (Photo: GettyImages)

American Football Star wants to play in the MLS

One new designated player who jumped into the spotlight this weekend is Sporting Kansas City's Mexican National Team striker Omar Bravo, who won MLS Player-of-the-Week honors after scoring twice in his MLS debut to lead the team to a 3-2 victory at Chivas USA. Kansas City will start the season with an 11-game road trip until the opening of their new soccer-specific Livestrong Sporting Park stadium, the league's 13th club-owned facility, on June 9. 

Making even bigger headlines than Bravo or the new stadium is this week's team tryout of Chad Ochocinco. The NFL superstar wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals is hoping to fulfill his childhood dream of playing professional soccer if the possible NFL lockout is mandated by the league. Although Ochocinco is undoubtedly a top athlete, it remains to be seen how well his youth soccer skills will hold up in a professional league. “He probably has a chance of getting behind defenses, but I'll say this: Once he gets behind, what can he do with the ball? Can he finish it? Can he make the final pass? Or is just going to be no way?”, said Kansas City coach Peter Vermes before Tuesday's tryout.

Omar Bravo, the Mexican international with Sporting Kansas City, netted twice at the 3-2 against Chivas USA and was elected “Player of the Week”. (Photo: GettyImages)

Charlie Davies, the young American midfield sensation that suffered multiple injuries in a car crash prior to the 2010 World Cup, also scored twice in his MLS debut to give DC United a 3-1 win over struggling Columbus Crew. Davies, who is on loan from Sochaux, came on as a 52nd minute substitute and 10 minutes later converted a penalty kick before netting the game winner 13 minutes from full time.

Former 1. FC Köln goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon recorded his first shutout in his MLS debut for the Philadelphia Union in their 1-0 victory in Houston, but that came as little surprise since the Dynamo was missing injured US National Team striker Brian Ching and only had three weak shots on goal. 

The big game north-of-the-border was Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4-2 win over Toronto FC in the first all Canadian MLS clash. Eric Hassli, the French forward who spent most of his career playing for various Swiss clubs, scored twice, including the first goal in club history. Vancouver joined the league this year along with the Portland Timbers, which creates a Northwest rivalry with Seattle similar to the one the league has in the Northeast with New England, New York, Philadelphia and DC United. Next year the Montreal Impact will also join MLS to expand the game in Canada and create a further rivalry to help push attendance figures even higher.

Portland didn't fare as well in their debut, falling to the defending MLS Champion Colorado Rapids 3-1 in Denver on Saturday. The Rapids championship win last season is still widely considered a fluke and they are not expected to defend their title, but they could not have asked for a better start.
In Saturday's other two clashes, FC Dallas drew at home against the Chicago Fire 1-1 and the San Jose Earthquakes lost at home against
RealSalt Lake 1-0.