Monday Postgame: Fresh starts define return of MLS action

MLS returns to a full weekend of action in Week 15

Appropriately enough for the first full round of action in 21 days, Week 15 was all about new beginnings in MLS. They didn’t all go as planned, but fresh starts were the order of the day.

The league’s newest team opened their refurbished home in style, while two other clubs introduced new coaches in hopes of breathing fresh life into flat-lining seasons.

One club’s latest acquisition began his second act with the team by scoring a game-clinching goal, and the slumping defending champs welcomed their first-choice goalkeeper back from personal leave, as they began the charge to get their season back on track.

There were also two recently swapped forwards making their first appearances with their new clubs, the seventh edition of the Texas Derby, and three game-changing red cards.

Let’s hit reset.

Grand Opening

WATCH: Wrapping up the action from Stade Saputo

The seven-month, $23-million renovation of Montreal’s Stade Saputo may have been only 99 per cent complete - there was one unfinished section of grandstand - but the Impact players were 100-per cent prepared to unveil their new home on Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC. 

In a smash-hit of an opening night, they got three assists from Montreal native Patrice Bernier and one goal each from Felipe Martins, Justin Mapp, Andrew Wenger, and former Sounders FC man Lamar Neagle en route to a 4-1 romp.

Felipe’s 18th-minute curler inside the far post was the first goal in the history of the new venue, and Mapp made it 2-0 with a long solo run just after halftime. When Seattle defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado was red-carded in the 56th minute, the rout was on.

The lopsided result broke a three-game winless streak for Montreal, while extending Sounders FC's surprising winless skid to five games. 

READ: Impact repay Montreal fans' passion at Saputo opener

Meet the New Bosses…

Two teams that know all about winless streaks introduced new coaches this week, as Paul Mariner made his debut for Toronto FC and John Hackworth took the reins in Philadelphia.

WATCH: Julio Cesar volley from corner kick

Mariner, who moved down from his front office role after Aron Winter’s departure, quickly found out that turning over a new (Maple) leaf in Toronto will be easier said than done. The Reds were on their heels almost immediately at Sporting Kansas City, and they went down 1-0 in the 18th minute when C.J. Sapong turned in Jacob Peterson’s cross.

In the 30th minute, TFC attacker Eric Avila’s bid to tie the game hit the left post, teetered the length of the goal line, hit the right post, and then caromed off Kansas City defender Aurélien Collin and out of bounds.

Yes, the soccer gods are no longer content to simply punish TFC with losses; they are now toying with the Reds.

Naturally, five minutes after Avila’s physics-defying miss, Júlio César stung a volley from a Graham Zusi corner kick to put Kansas City up 2-0. That’s how it ended, running Toronto’s record to 1W-10L-0D.

READ: Frustration continues for TFC in 2-0 loss to Sporting KC

In Philadelphia, former assistant coach Hackworth made his debut for the Union, who parted ways with the embattled Peter Nowak on Wednesday. While Hackworth did spur a change -  a rejuvenated Philly dominated D.C. United for most of the game - he got a familiar result, as the Union lost 1-0 to fall to 2W-8L-2D.

Chris Pontius scored D.C.’s goal, latching onto Branko Boskovic’s 78th-minute free kick to nail down a fourth straight win for United.

Western Peaks

Real Salt Lake are also rolling along - they got two goals from Fabián Espíndola to blank Chivas USA 3-0 on Saturday night - and there’s a sense of rebirth about Jason Kreis’ club as well.

WATCH: Espindola completes his brace

At 10W-3L-2D and with all of their first-choice players rounding into form and fitness, they’re finally shaking the hangover from their exhausting run to the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League final. They’re riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, sitting on top of the Western Conference standings - and awaiting a visit from the reigning champions LA Galaxy on Wednesday.

READ: Espíndola's month gets even better with brace at Chivas

Also cresting are Vancouver Whitecaps FC, who nipped Colorado Rapids 1-0 on Saturday night, despite losing striker Darren Mattocks to a second yellow in the 61st minute. Vancouver turned up the energy and the style after going down to 10 men, taking the play to the Rapids and getting the game’s only goal in the 80th minute when Sébastien Le Toux stabbed home Davide Chiumiento’s cross.

The Rapids came dramatically close to tying the game three times in the late stages, but it was a deserved three points for the 'Caps, who continue to be one of the more entertaining sides in the league.

They’re unbeaten in four games and have moved past Cascadia rivals Seattle into third place in the Western Conference standings. At 7W-3L-4D, they’ve also surpassed their win total from last season - with 20 games to play. Talk about a new beginning.

READ: 'Caps dig deep, seal dramatic late win against all odds

Down-Home Derby

From the 'Caps to El Capitán, the season’s first and only meeting between Texas rivals Houston and FC Dallas took place on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium, and Houston took the derby for the second straight year with a 2-1 win.

WATCH: Moffat drives winner past Hartman

Dynamo midfielder Adam Moffat blazed home the winning goal after Brad Davis’ corner kick found him in space on the left side of the box in the 76th minute.

The Hoops, who lost Jair Benítez to a red card in the 63rd minute, are 0W-7L-3D in their last 10 games.

READ: Dynamo keep their temper and take 3 points as reward

Restarts

While Dallas were unable to break out of their funk, the LA Galaxy snapped a seven-game winless streak with a 1-0 win over Portland Timbers on Sunday.

Todd Dunivant headed in a David Beckham corner kick in the 61st minute, and LA celebrated over the protests of Timbers goalkeeper Troy Perkins, who claimed he’d been obstructed by Landon Donovan on the play. (The loss spoiled the Portland debut of former Philadelphia striker Danny Mwanga, who went to high school and college in Oregon.)

Chicago Fire also had a bone to pick with the officials in their match against New York Red Bulls on Sunday, as replays showed that Dominic Oduro’s 64th-minute effort should have been ruled a goal before being cleared by a sliding Wilman Conde.

In the end, the goal that should have been didn’t matter. Motivated by the blown call, the Fire came roaring back with goals from Gonzalo Segares and Chris Rolfe to win 3-1. Rolfe was making his first Fire appearance since returning to the club after a three-year stint in Denmark.

Finally, Andy Gruenebaum was at it again for Columbus, stopping six shots to preserve the Crew’s 0-0 draw at New England Revolution.