From Almada's Messi impression to Insigne's injury woe! Winners and losers from MLS' opening weekend

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Thiago Almada Atlanta San Jose Earthquakes MLS 2023
The Argentine scored twice in injury time, including a free-kick that his compatriot would have been proud of, in Atlanta's 2-1 win over San Jose

If you thought it would take some time for the 2023 MLS season to warm up, think again.

It took just a few hours for the league to descend into its typical chaos with the league's first weekend providing its fair share of highlight moments. Several late winners, a few goal of the year candidates, some massive results and some big stars stepping up to the plate... What else could you ask for?

Saturday, the first day of the season, saw two game winners scored in the 98th minute. One of those came off the foot of the league's brightest young star who, moments earlier, had scored a stoppage-time equalizer that had stunned anyone watching on. It proved to be just an appetizer, much like this wild Week One might be for this MLS season.

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There's plenty to discuss and break down so, without further ado, here are the winners and losers of MLS' opening weekend...

  1. WINNER: Thiago Almada

    WINNER: Thiago Almada

    What more can you say about Thiago Almada?

    MLS' first World Cup winner entered the 2023 season with increased expectations. He was good in 2022, perhaps even very good, but after lifting the trophy alongside Lionel Messi in Qatar, the 21-year-old is now expected to be great.

    And great he was in the first game of the season, doing his best Messi impression as he single handedly lifted Atlanta to three points through sheer force of will.

    His first goal, a 93rd-minute equalizer, was dazzling, a long-range stunner to level the score at one apiece against the San Jose Earthquakes. His second, though, had all the flair of a Messi winner as he buried a free kick that, in hindsight, you have to say you always knew was going in.

    Almada is special, there is no doubt. Enjoy him while you can, Atlanta United fans. He won't be here for long, especially with magic like this.



    In their 2-0 loss against Nashville, NYCFC looked like a team that is shorthanded. Coincidentally, they are a team that is very, very shorthanded.

    The club lost much of its heart and soul during the offseason, with veterans like Sean Johnson, Maxi Moralez, Alexander Callens and Anton Tinnerholm departing. All four were key starters for their MLS Cup run, and all left this winter after previously seeing star forward Valentin Castellanos move to Europe last summer.

    The club never really replaced Castellanos, instead jamming Brazilian starlet Talles Magno at striker. At some point, hopefully, the club will get its number nine. It's desperately needed.

    And that won't be the only addition they need. This team needs a bit of help all the way up its spine if they are to compete at the top level.

  3. WINNER: St. Louis SC

    Heading into their debut season, expectations weren't exactly high for St. Louis SC. And, to be fair, they probably still aren't high, even after a stunning season-opening win at Austin FC?

    But, hey, you always remember your first, right?

    St. Louis will remember this one for quite some time as one of America's great soccer cities has arrived in MLS.
    St. Louis SC went to Austin to face a legitimate MLS Cup contender, and they left with a 3-2 win thanks to goals from Jared Stroud and Joao Klauss after falling behind 2-1.

    There are still plenty of questions about this team, as there are about any expansion team, and, over the course of a grueling MLS season, we'll find out the answers to those questions.

    But, at least this weekend, St. Louis has a big reason to celebrate after making a perfect first impression in their debut match.

    "I said to the group before the game, there's 34 chapters to this book that we are writing," said head coach Bradley Carnell. "Today was No. 1 of 34 in the regular season, right?

    "So, do we get to 40 games this season, 45, I don't know. But today we started the story off in the right way. We started off a story to reward ourselves."

  4. LOSER: Lorenzo Insigne

    LOSER: Lorenzo Insigne

    That wasn't the start anyone in Toronto would have wanted.

    The sight of Insigne limping off will be a backbreaker for Toronto FC, who may now need to continue on without the league's highest-paid player. Head coach Bob Bradley said the Italian "felt something in the lower leg [and] couldn’t continue," and it remains to be seen how long TFC will be without the former Napoli winger.

    Expectations are high for Insigne this season as he begins his first full campaign in MLS. He had six goals and two assists in 11 appearances last season, a solid haul, but the expectation is that he'll be an MVP candidate this year. This injury complicates that, at least for now.

    Making matters worse, though, was the result of the actual game itself: a 3-2 loss to D.C. United that saw TFC throw away a win. Up a goal in the 90th minute, D.C. came all the way back thanks to goals from Christian Benteke and Theodore Ku-DiPietro, who played the hero with a 98th-minute finish.

    TFC will likely be fine, even without Insigne for a bit. They have too much talent to not be in the mix. This will most likely be forgotten at some point soon.

    Even so, it isn't the start they would have expected as a loss to last season's last-place team got TFC's season off on the wrong foot.

  5. WINNER: Philadelphia Union

    WINNER: Philadelphia Union

    Frightening, absolutely frightening.

    That's the best way to describe what the Union looked like in their opener as they look absolutely determined to avenge their MLS Cup defeat last season. They entered the 2023 season as favorites, and it's easy to see why.

    After spotting the Crew a goal, the Union absolutely dismantled them. Daniel Gazdag, an MVP candidate last year, dominated, scoring twice from the penalty spot while adding an assist. Julian Carranza, a revelation last season after being essentially discarded by Inter Miami, added two goals of his own. And, in the end, the Union left Subaru Park with a 4-1 win and a massive statement made.

    In a league where continuity is hard to come by, the Union brought back nearly their entire roster. This team is deep, talented and perhaps a little bit angry about how last season ended.

    They'll have their sights set on a few more statement wins and a few more trophies. And, if this weekend was anything to go by, there won't be many teams in MLS that will be able to stop them from taking them by force.

  6. LOSER: Los Angeles soccer

    LOSER: Los Angeles soccer

    This weekend, Los Angeles should have been the site of a spectacle. A heavyweight collision, a rivalry unlike any other in MLS, and 75,000 fans in attendance at the Rose Bowl to see who lands the first blow. Carlos Vela, Chicharito, the MLS Cup winners and the league's most famous club.

    Instead, the 2023 season's first iteration of El Trafico was postponed, pushed back to July 4. A storm ended up being the game's undoing, as Los Angeles will now have to wait a few months for their marquee clash on the biggest stage.

    It wasn't the only game delayed this weekend, as Sporting KC's meeting with the Portland Timbers was also pushed back to Monday. However, El Trafico was supposed to be the league's season-opening bonanza, the first big game broadcast on Apple TV to the masses with an incredible crowd, big stars and a massive matchup.

    It'll all have to wait, sadly. What a show it could have been...