Major League Soccer opens on Saturday
Weekend action includes all but one Desert Diamond Cup team
We got the “soft opening” here in Tucson in the last few weeks, but Major League Soccer has its opening day this weekend and all but one team (the New England Revolution gets a bye) will be starting their seasons. Here are the matchups for the official 2013 debut, all times are MST:
Sporting Kansas City at Philadelphia Union, 2 p.m.
Kansas City will have a bit of a new look without last year’s standouts Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara. The team has plenty of forwards to replace Kamara, but new acquisition Benny Feilhaber is a different sort of player than Espinoza. Philadelphia hoped to strengthen their underperforming team when they brought in Jeff Parke and former Colorado striker Conor Casey back in December, and this year will also mark the return of Sébastien Le Toux to the Union.
Arizona angle: Danny Cruz, a graduate of Glendale’s Ironwood High School, will be on Philadelphia’s roster. Cruz was involved in an on field incident with former teammate Dwayne De Rosario during preseason.
Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 4:30 p.m.
The Whitecaps had a good preseason. The team went 5-0 in a run that included a Darren Mattocks hat trick powered walloping of the New England Revolution in Casa Grande. The story of this game, however, will be whether newly installed coach Ryan Nielsen can finally give fans in Toronto a team worthy of their support. Nielsen comes with quite a playing pedigree (Blackburn, Tottenham, Bext XI pick at the 2010 World Cup), but this season is his first test as a coach.
DC United at Houston Dynamo, 6 p.m., NBC Sports Network
This is Ben Olsen’s third year as coach for DC United. Although they’ve improved under his reign, the team that still has the domain name wewintrophies.com hasn’t brought one home since Total Request Live went off the air. To further wear out the cliché: is it make or break this season? Houston, on the other hand, has come tantalizingly close to winning the MLS Cup in two consecutive years. Their roster includes veterans Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis and Brian “I’m hanging for one more year” Ching. They bring experience, but has this line-up passed its sell-by date?
Arizona angle: Last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year runner up was DC United’s Nick De Leon, a native of Phoenix.
Colorado Rapids at FC Dallas, 6:30 p.m.
There is probably good reason that this was not picked as a game of the week by any national broadcaster. Both of these teams have struggled in the last couple of seasons, an odd circumstance given they faced each other for the MLS Cup in 2010. The game could be a return for former U.S. national team member Pablo Mastroeni, who nearly had to retire from the game due to concussion. He played several matches in Tucson during preseason wearing a special cap.
Arizona angle: Mastroeni grew up in Phoenix and played a season with the Tucson Amigos.
Montreal Impact at Seattle Sounders FC, 8:30 p.m.
Sounders coach Siggi Schmid may bench several of his starters as he looks forward to traveling to Mexico to continue the team’s run in the CONCACAF Champions League. It may provide an opening for Montreal, but Seattle’s performance in preseason showed what sort of depth the Sounders have. Montreal brought in few new faces to replace the players that have left, but they managed a win in the preseason Disney Soccer Classic. With Marco Schällibaum, a veteran leader of teams in his native Switzerland, you can at least say they’ll be well coached.
Arizona angle: Phoenix native Brad Evans is a regular starter for the Sounders.
Columbus Crew at CD Chivas USA, 8:30 p.m.
Whatever Columbus does in the match, the talk of the game will likely be their opponents. The new coach for the Goats José Luis Sánchez Solá, also known as Chelis, controversially cleaned house and made a series of player moves that, depending on who you talk to, are either unmitigated disasters or exciting and unique (a minority opinion). Chelis compiled an undefeated record in the preseason, albeit with only two MLS opponents, so the yaysayers may have something.
Los Angeles Galaxy at Chicago Fire SC, 3 p.m., UniMás
The Chicago Fire built up their line-up with some interesting cast-offs from other teams: midfielders Joel Lindpere, formerly of New York, and Jeff Larentowicz, formerly of Colorado. The “Beckham Experiment” is over in Los Angeles with the Spice Boy moving on to France, but the big loss for them is Landon Donovan. The US national teamer is on a self-imposed sabbatical. Even though he is expected to return, it may be months before he is back to the old Landon. Don’t expect LA to totally fold. Junihno, Mike Magee and newly appointed captain Robbie Keane will still be there to give defenses fits.
New York Red Bulls at Portland Timbers FC, 5:30 pm, ESPN 2
Both teams have brand new coaches, two that played against each other in the early years of MLS. Expectations are particularly high for new Timbers coach Caleb Porter, who coached the University of Akron Zips to six Final Four appearances in seven seasons. Red Bulls coach Mike Petke got elevated from assistant and faces the challenge of finally bringing a trophy home for a notoriously under performing side.
Arizona angle: Cochise County born Luis Robles has emerged as the starting keeper for the Red Bulls.
Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes, 8 p.m.
Real Salt Lake clearly needs to be seen as a contender, despite its middling performance in the preseason. The Salt Lakers are still one of the more talented teams in the league, but coach Jason Kreis was clearly still looking for a way to replace the dynamism of Jámison Olave and Fabián Espíndola during their preseason run. On the San Jose side, will this be the game where Chris Wondolowski scores his first of a ridiculous number of goals this season?
Arizona angle: Earthquake Alan Gordon grew up in Glendale. RSL features Tucson-born Nat Borchers and Phoenix-born Robbie Findley (Findley is also a distant cousin of U of A basketball player Mike Bibby). Two players that came through RSL's Casa Grande based academy, Eduardo "Lalo" Fernandez and Carlos Salcedo, are on the roster for the club.