By Benson Petit-Clair
After a busy off-season filled with eye-popping signings and trades, the opening week of the MLS 2014 campaign is finally set to begin this weekend with some marquee matchups on deck. The European-based US players have been shaky lately, now it’s the turn of the MLS players to quench fans’ thirst for beautiful soccer with the FIFA World Cup less than 100 days away. Haititempo.com looks ahead to the forthcoming actions within the United States’ biggest soccer tournament.
Sporting Kansas vs. Seattle Sounders: Frontrunners opening the show
After winning the MLS cup for the second time in team history last year, Sporting KC opens the show on Saturday with the hope of defending their title. Jerome Mechack and his team-mates face stiff challenges right out of the gate as they travel to Seattle to face the USMNT captain Clint Dempsey and Seattle Sounders what could be a preview of the MLS Cup final. The Sounders are riding a 7 game unbeaten streak against KC and they will look to add one more to that number to begin their own championship quest. Sporting Kansas had a relatively quiet off-season in terms of acquisition, but the champs have a steady group of veterans to carry the load for the season even after losing veteran goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to retirement and Striker Teal Bundury via a trade with New England. In Seattle’s case they lost Eddie Johnson, Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Gspurning. And they added Chad Marshall, Marco Pappa, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen and Stefan Frei.
D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew
Columbus was in last year’s Eastern Conference picture until the bitter end. Opening against D.C. should be a moral boost for the club if they are planning on advancing in what is expected to be a very competitive conference. After all, they swept D.C. last year in their two meetings, winning 2-1 at RFK Stadium on March 23, and 3-0 at Crew Stadium on April 27. Columbus is coming to the season as winners of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic where they defeated Sporting KC 4-1 in the final to cap-off an undefeated journey. A 2-0 victory over the Dynamo was one of the rare bright spots for D.C. United in the pre-season. Though, the Black and Red were able to acquire US international forward Eddie Johnson two days before the match to bolster their lineup, but we expect the Crew to come out on top.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC vs. New York Red Bulls
Thierry Henry and his teammates travel to Vancouver to take on the Whitecaps on Saturday in search for their first win against the Canadian-based team. Prior to Saturday’s opener between, the two teams met only three times before with Vancouver claiming one victory and the other two resulted in a pair of 1-1 draws. On top of the fact that they never lost a MLS match to the Red Bulls, the Whitecaps never lost a home opener since joining the league. Carl Robinson’s squad will be coming to the match after an impressive preseason sparked by some youngsters in the attack. The Whitecaps will be looking completely different than the team that ended the regular season last year when they welcome the Red Bulls to BC Place. Meanwhile, following their less eventful pre-season, the Red Bulls will not only be seeking their first win against the Whitecaps, but they will also be looking to kick-start their first MLS Cup run.
FC Dallas vs. Montreal Impact
While the Red Bulls have yet to defeat Canadian side Vancouver, the Red Stripes have never lost to Canadian side Montreal Impact. Both clubs had a decent showing during the pre-season and are expected to be in the running for a spot in the playoffs in their respective conference. The two clubs are armed with new coaching staff. While FC Toronto had a busy off-season acquiring some world-class players, Montreal had a very quiet offseason save for a last minute signing of ex Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce and a couple other unheralded others. FC Dallas, in the meantime, is expecting a very promising start to their new era.
Houston Dynamo vs. New England Revolution
Two Eastern Conference foes will be looking to add points early on as the conference becomes more competitive with non-playoff teams from last year making serious push to become contenders. Read a complete preview for this match right here.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake
This showdown will feature two teams who met in last year’s Western Conference semifinal. With Real Salt Lake besting LA Galaxy, the 2012 MLS Cup winners will be looking to avenge the loss and start a brand new title run after missing out the chance for a third consecutive trophy. Both teams look poised to duplicate their 2013 with their top contributors returning to action. LA Galaxy, however, added a major piece in Swedish veteran Ishizaki to their squad in the offseason to offset the potential loss of Robbie Kean and Landon Donovan to injury and the upcoming World Cup. LA also added Brazil’s Samuel and Canada’s Rob Friend; both could see action against Salt Lake. Outside of promoting assistant jeff Cassar to replace Jason Kreis, who stepped down, Real did not see any major changes.
Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union
A win by the visiting Philadelphia in Saturday’s opener will their first win ever over the Portland. In the four previous meetings between the two, the Timbers have never lost to Philadelphia. In addition to the two scoreless draws they played, the Timbers won the two other matchups convincingly. Both Clubs enjoyed their fair share of highlights prior to the opener. The Union acquired US international Maurice Edu during the offseason, and they also had a decent showing during the pre-season. Meanwhile, the Timbers, who finished atop the Western Conference table in the past season, added a pair of veteran Argentine players, striker Gastón Fernández from Estudiantes LP, and defender Norberto Paparatto. The latest additions will be joining competitive roster that includes Argentines Diego Valeri and striker Maximilliano Urruti.
Chivas USA vs. Chicago Fire
League-owned Chivas USA will be looking for a fresh start when they host the Chicago Fire on Sunday evening. The disgruntled franchise has gone through a major turnaround this off-season. From new owners to new coaching staff to new players, the team’s front office and its fan-base are hoping that the turnaround will pay dividends sooner rather than later. The backline of the Chivas is believed to be its strongest with players like Haitian-American Andrew Jean-Baptiste, Carlos Bocanegra and goalkeeper Dan Kennedy securing the last line. For the past 4 games between the two, he road team has won each of the last two meetings in the all-time series; the visiting Fire will hope to see the recent trend between the two continue. After barely missing the playoffs last year, the Fire enjoyed an encouraging pre-season by winning the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz. They hope to build on that momentum on Sunday against the league’s worst-performing franchise.
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