We are finally back to the normal weekly posts here. It is Thursday which means it is time to take a dip into the stories I’ll be focusing in on this weekend as Major League Soccer kicks off their 17th season.
We got things off to a bit of a bang last night in the CONCACAF Champions League, with Seattle downing Santos 2-1 and Toronto and LA playing to a 2-2 draw in front of a rocking crowd at the Rogers Centre.
The First Kick schedule this weekend last three days, spanning Saturday through Monday. The unbalanced schedule however means that there will be a team or two off each week. Both Seattle and Toronto will be off this weekend, thanks to their involvement in the CCL.
Let’s get started shall we?
1. Great White North. The first game being mentioned to start the season off is in fact a game pitting two Canadian teams against one another. Last year it was the Vancouver Whitecaps hosting Toronto FC, but this year the Caps will host the newest club to MLS, the Montreal Impact. Vancouver went out and snagged nearly every available striker that they could get their hands on in the offseason including a trade with Philadelphia for Sebastien Le Toux. The Caps looks strong in the preseason, winning the annual Disney Pro Soccer Class in Orlando. They scored a ton of goals and their defense proved to be up for the challenge. If Vancouver’s defense can be as tough as some think they can be, then I’d expect them to steam roll over the expansion Impact here.
I like what Jesse Marsch has done with his expansion club though. The big thing will be getting the chemistry right early. Once guys get on the same page with one another they could do well but it will take some time.
2. DeRo and Salihi. The two big names lead D.C. United into what could be a big make or break season for Ben Olsen. His team is young but talented. The big thing however is getting Dwayne De Rosario, the 2011 MLS MVP, on the same page as newly acquired Designated Player Hamdi Salihi. The two didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time in the preseason together. But one thing is clear, both know how to put the ball in the back of the net. Salihi showed in Charleston, SC last week that it won’t take much for him to find the back of the net.
3. New boss in Denver. I’ve always been a big backer and fan of Oscar Pareja and I knew it was only a matter of time before some MLS team took him from FC Dallas (truth be told most FCD fans were hoping he’d stick around long enough to take over for Schellas Hyndman when he retired). Pareja now has a team to call his own in Colorado and will be employing a new formation for the Rapids, a 4-3-3 set up. I like the idea of this club in that kind of formation but they do have some issues on the flanks and in the defense that could make this a challenging transition. Anthony Wallace is out for several months now, which means the full back spot is going to be up for grabs. Also, the midfield isn’t getting any young with Pablo Mastroeni and Brian Mullan.
The bigger question will be who scores for this team until Conor Casey returns. To answer that you have to look no further than to Omar Cummings and newcomer Jamie Castrillon. Pareja went south and picked up a few Colombians and Castrillon could be one of the better ones to come to MLS in some time.
4. CCL fatigue for LA? Its certainly possible to expect some sort of let down for LA as they travel back across the country to host a very talent and dangerous Real Salt Lake team this Saturday. LA showed last night that they can be beaten pretty easily in defense without Omar Gonzalez on set pieces. Look for Javier Morales and company to exploit that issue in LA’s defense.
But saying all of that also means that LA does have the ability to come back from any score. We saw last night that a two goals lead against LA means nothing with the likes of David Beckham, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane in the line up. I really feel that once those four are on the same page that no one, and I mean no one will be able to contend with them. Salt Lake is pretty close to LA’s level so this one should be a fantastic season opener.
5. Quakes and Revs bring intrigue into new season. One thing is certain, not too many people outside of Boston or San Jose really know what to make of the San Jose Earthquakes or the New England Revolution going into this new season. The Revs have a new manager in Jay Heaps and he has some talent on his roster. The big question boils down to who will score for this bunch. That won’t be the question for Quake fans as we know Chris Wondolowski is already looking good going into the new season. As long as someone steps up with him the Quakes could be a dark horse contender out West this season.
While this game doesn’t have the big story lines to it, I wouldn’t be shocked if it is one of the more interesting games this weekend.
6. NBC and MLS. We get our first real look at what NBC will bring to the table for MLS broadcasts. We know of the booth set up with Arlo White and his color commentator on the field (yes on the field, not in the booth) Kyle Martino. I’m pumped for this one merely because it is here in Dallas and I’ll be attending this one. Dallas is expecting a sellout or at least something very close to one for this game against Thierry Henry and New York. FC Dallas CEO Doug Quinn stated yesterday to the press that less than 2000 tickets are left for this season opener and more than likely they’ll get to the sellout.
Having NBC do this game is obviously huge for both teams and the league though. I do believe the league and NBC picked a good opener with New York and Dallas. Plenty of stars to showcase between Brek Shea and Henry. Too bad Rafa Marquez is suspended for this one though.
7. Year of the Timbers? Monday’s lone game should be a fun one. Portland hosting Philadelphia in prime-time on ESPN2 is exactly how the league needed to close out it’s first week of the season. Two up and coming teams, in front of a rocking JELD-WEN Field crowd. That makes for good soccer and good TV in my book. (Note for Dallas folks, I’ll be hanging out at the Big D Soccer Pub Night, come join if you are in town)
Both the Union and the Timbers made plenty of interesting moves in the offseason. Portland added Kris Boyd to their attack and he will certainly be tasked with being the difference maker in this one. But keep an eye out for second year stud Darlington Nagbe. I think we’ll see him infused into the offense a little more this season.
Philly will certainly be interesting to watch this season as they move on from having Le Toux and will rely more on Danny Mwanga and Freddy Adu. Both are young but I have a good feeling about Mwanga being a dark horse Golden Boot contender this season.