Ah…we’re back. The MLS season is here after what felt like a really short break. Like I’ve discussed with several folks around the league, the offseason really isn’t nearly as long as it use to be or feel. Before it seemed to take ages to get from November to March but now, it only seems like a blink of an eye.
Just as in seasons before, Thursdays usually mark the start of the week’s previews around these parts. I like to spread my posts out a bit by doing a longer preview on Thursday followed by game predictions on Friday. Two posts, two days, and hopefully enough information for you all to take into the weekend.
I still have my bold season predictions for tomorrow to write but so be on the look out for those.
Just like I have linked in several posts this week, to find all of my season preview material, look no further than to this link right here.
Kicking things off in Philly
The Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City get us started this season with the league’s first regular season game. The Union welcome back Sebastien Le Toux to the lineup and local defender Jeff Parke. They hope to slow down the attack of Sporting KC in the opener. SKC has gone through some changes this offseason but in my book they are the favorite to win the Eastern Conference yet again this season.
The Union need to control the game from the start. John Hackworth still has some work to do with his roster in my mind which could cause some issues on Saturday with a SKC team that looks fairly set from top to bottom. The big driving force in this game will be the defense of the two clubs. Both are very good. But can Philadelphia slow down the likes of Graham Zusi, Claudio Beiler, and CJ Sapong? I’m not totally convinced that they can right off the bat but this will certainly be an interesting game to watch on Saturday afternoon.
Canadian Cup preview
It seems as though the annual matchup with Toronto FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps is going to be an early season one. But really this one should be worth a few minutes of your time this weekend just because of how much of a train wreck Toronto could still be to start the season. Vancouver comes into this game with some fresh faces and a guy up front in Darren Mattocks that could really take control over this game from the start.
Speaking of Mattocks, can he really lead this club on offense this season? I’ve had that question for a while about him but the key for him will be maturing on and off the field. If he can get a little more mature and stay out of the red card trouble that hurt his Rookie of the Year chances in 2012, then I’d expect double digit goal numbers from him this season. As for this game, he should get on the board with a Toronto defense that is still a work in progress.
New Look Dallas against a new look Rapids
The Colorado Rapids head to Frisco to face FC Dallas in some what will likely call a rematch of the 2010 MLS Cup. Don’t call it that. These two teams are so much different from that 2010 Cup that only a few players even remain on both sides from that game.
Still, this will be a fun one to gander at on Saturday evening. Dallas has a new look with a 4-4-2 formation that will pit former MLS MVP David Ferreira on the wing, yes the wing. Schellas Hyndman hopes that a brute central midfield pairing of Bobby Warshaw and Andrew Jacobson will be enough to handle Colorado’s young and quick attack. Dallas will also be welcoming back Kenny Cooper, who has bounced around MLS a bit in the last couple of years after leaving Dallas for Germany in 2009.
Dallas has all the makings of being a good team this year IF a lot of things happen. Colorado on the other hand has plenty of injury issues to deal with from the start of the season. If their defense doesn’t step up to the challenge this weekend, this could be a potential blowout.
Chelis makes his debut with Chivas USA
Again I will say it, Chivas USA will at least be one thing this season: interesting. Jose Luis Sanchez Sola or Chelis may not be getting a ton of respect for what he has done this preseason but that is mainly because this club wasn’t good at all last year and not many are counting on the sudden change to a Mexican-American team will be good enough to start the season.
The Goats welcome the Columbus Crew into the Home Depot Center on Saturday night. The Crew have a few new faces of their own and hope to be a contender in the Eastern Conference this season. As long as their front duo of Jairo Arreita and Federico Higuain stay healthy and continue to produce in the manner that they did briefly in 2012, this could be a dangerous team out of Ohio.
But for me the story here is Chelis and how he handles his roster. He has a huge influx of talent from the Chivas mothership in Mexico and a few other faces that some will recall from other MLS squads (Josue Soto anyone?).
Rare double coaching debut in Portland
Typically when a coach debuts it is just him. One coach debuting at a time. But as luck would have it we’ll get a rare double debut on Sunday when Mike Pekte and Caleb Porter debut for their respective teams. The New York Red Bulls hope to get off to a good start on the road against Porter and his Timbers’ squad.
Both teams went through a bunch of change over the offseason, including their coaching change. Porter and the Timbers dumped a bunch of players and picked up few good MLS starters and one new DP in Diego Valeri. If Valeri can get the Timbers attack off to a good start on Sunday, it will open up some doors for what Porter wants to do with his club. Getting the most out of guys like Darlington Nagbe up front will also be key.
New York on the other hand will hope that the pressure doesn’t fall too much on their midfield. Juninho was a clever signing this offseason but how he handles the fake grass at JELD-WEN will be interesting to watch. Same goes for Thierry Henry, who has been known to skip away games due to the field turf.
Quick hits on the other games:
D.C. United at Houston Dynamo – A nice rematch of the Eastern Conference finals. D.C. may be without Dwayne De Rosario for the opener due to a possible suspension.
Montreal Impact at Seattle Sounders – Could this be the year for Sigi Schmid and the Sounders? A big test to start out with Montreal, a team that will either be really good this season or very mediocre.
Chicago Fire at LA Galaxy – Two big clubs squaring off in the opener. LA hangs their forth MLS Cup banner but the eyes will be on Robbie Keane leading this squad. Chicago made plenty of good moves in the offseason but were they enough?
Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes – Can the Goonies rise again? More importantly can their defense hold up for 90 minutes so they don’t have to score so many goals late? Also, with RSL, how will they be with their new look roster? Big year for both squads.