MLS Year 18 Kicks Off Tomorrow

 

The shortest offseason in league history ends tonight, and the 18th Major League Soccer season kicks off tomorrow, with six games scattered across North America. (Gotta love Black Flag being used in the above promo. Won’t hear that in the NFL … or NBA or MLB.)

The Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City get the ball rolling, literally and figuratively, at 4:00 at PPL Park in Chester, PA (MLS Live), and then Canadian rivals Vancouver and Toronto FC do battle at BC Place, starting at 6:30 ET (TSN, MLS Live).

In prime time, Houston will host DC United in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference championship (8:00 pm, NBCSN), revamped sides FC Dallas and Colorado will meet in Frisco, Texas (8:30, MLS Live), title contenders Seattle will host second-year Montreal (10:30, MLS Live), and new-era Chivas USA welcomes a talented Columbus side to the Home Depot Center (10:30, MLS Live).

On Sunday, New York travels to Portland for a meeting between two teams with new head coaches and loads of new players (12 for New York; 13 for Portland, to be exact). That one’s on ESPN2 at 7:30.

Earlier that day, the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy will host another revamped team, Chicago (5:00, UniMas), and on Sunday night, San Jose and Real Salt Lake will close out opening weekend with a 10:00 pm match at Buck Shaw Stadium (MLS Live).

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For the first time since 2006, there are no new teams this season, and for the first time since 2007, there is no David Beckham.

But there are plenty of interesting teams and intriguing storylines for 2013. Here four questions to start us off:

1. How will Los Angeles fare without Beckham, currently starring for Paris St. Germain, and Landon Donovan, currently headed upriver in Cambodia?

Answer: Just fine. They have arguably the league’s best player in Robbie Keane, and they’ll have Omar Gonzalez from the get-go this year, playing in front of new keeper Carlo Cudicini. Also: Juninho, Mike Magee, and rising offensive star Jose Villareal. Donovan will be back on the field before the end of April and the team will be poised for another MLS Cup run.

2. Will Mexico-centric Chivas USA and their iconoclastic new coach, Chelis, top last year’s win total of seven?

Taking a cue from its parent club, C.D. Guadalajara, which fields exclusively Mexican players, Chivas USA let go of Shalrie Joseph, Peter Vagenas, Danny Califf, Ben Zemanski, Nick LaBrocca, Casey Townsend, James Riley, and Ryan Smith, getting pennies on the dollar for several of them.

Then, as if suddenly realizing they had a threadbare roster and the regular season was bearing down upon them, they made a flurry of moves this past week, bringing in 37-year-old Mexican center back Joaquin Velazquez, 31-year-old Peruvian left back Walter Vilchez, and young Mexican-American midfielders Josue Soto, 24, and Emilio Orozco, 20.

It’s going to be an interesting season for the Galaxy’s co-tenants—sure to be filled to the brim with salty soundbites from Chelis—and we say no, they will not eclipse last season’s win total.

3. They’ve been an entertaining contender the past two seasons, so is this the year Sporting Kansas City breaks through and wins MLS Cup?

They lost midfield engine Roger Espinoza (now shining for Wigan in the Premier League) and they’ll play the first part of the season (at least) without striker Kei Kamara (already legendary in his Norwich City loan spell!), but KC added productive Argentine striker Claudio Bieler and U.S. playmaker Benny Feilhaber, and they have a supposedly fit and raring to go Bobby Convey back in the fold.

This is the year they win the East—with their customary style and flair—and reach MLS Cup.

4. Will Portland reward their world-class fans with a playoff berth this season?

The product on the field hasn’t quite matched the spirit in the stands in Portland’s two seasons as an MLS franchise, and this year they’ve made drastic changes to try to remedy that.

Former University of Akron and U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter took the reins this offseason and has set about remaking the team, adding some of his former college players (Michael Nanchoff, Ben Zemanski) to the one already on Portland’s roster (Darlington Nagbe), and acquiring much hyped Argentine playmaker Diego Valeri, ex-Manchester United stalwart Mikael Silvestre, and former West Ham striker Frederic Piquionne.

Before that burst of acquisitions, Porter and the Timbers’ front office nabbed solid midfielder Will Johnson from Real Salt Lake and Jamaican international striker Ryan Johnson from Toronto FC.

They might be the most improved team in the league, and yes, we’re calling a postseason berth for them.

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