MLS announces First Kick national TV schedule

NEW YORK — Time to get that new super-duper flat-screen HD television. Because the stars will take the nationally televised spotlight during the first weekend of MLS action in 2012.

On Tuesday, MLS announced the national TV schedule for First Kick presented by Dick's Sporting Goods, which includes the first match of the new NBC deal, the Montreal Impact’s debut, and a visit to the noisy cauldron that is JELD-WEN Field.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Montreal Impact

WATCH: VAN-MTL Preview
  • When: 6 pm ET, Saturday, March 10
  • Where: BC Place, Vancouver, B.C.
  • TV: TSN | RDS (French)

The expansion Impact will begin their MLS adventure with a trip across Canada to the Vancouver Whitecaps. The two sides have done battle for decades in the lower divisions, and now they will take their east-west rivalry to the highest level ever.

The Whitecaps, who are in their second MLS season, will not be easy to beat. They have not lost a home opener since 2001. Last year, they thumped Toronto FC, 4-2.

The Impact? Hard to know at this point. But if the Brian Ching controversy is any indication, rookie manager Jesse Marsch will have his team ready to compete.

FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls

WATCH: DAL-NY Preview
  • When: 3 pm ET, Sunday, March 11
  • Where: Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas
  • TV: NBC Sports Network

In recent years, FCD and New York have become accidental rivals. First, there was the Thierry Henry-Kevin Hartman incident in 2010. Then there were three energetic battles in 2011, including the Red Bulls’ upset Dallas in the Wild Card match in October.

There is plenty of attacking firepower on both sides, including young Dallas talents Brek Shea and Jackson, and New York’s Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Juan Agudelo.

All of which should make for a feisty affair for the launch of the new, three-year partnership between MLS and NBC.

Chivas USA vs. Houston Dynamo

WATCH: CHV-HOU Preview
  • When: 7 pm ET, Sunday, March 11
  • Where: The Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
  • TV: Galavisión

MLS Cup finalists, the Dynamo return to the same stadium where they fell at the final step. This time, though, they face their vanquishers’ crosstown rivals, Chivas USA.

The Goats showed signs of progress in 2011, with the likes of Nick LaBrocca and Juan Pablo Ángel shining. In the offseason, coach Robin Fraser has continued to revamp the side, picking up several players, including Arturo Alvarez and Ryan Smith.

But is it enough to top a steady, organized side that knows how to win? We still don’t know how the Brian Ching episode is going to end up, but we do know that Dominic Kinnear’s side will be prepared to avenge a 3-0 away loss to the Goats in 2011.

Portland Timbers vs. Philadelphia Union

WATCH: POR-PHI Preview
  • When: 9:30 pm ET, Monday, March 12
  • Where: JELD-WEN Field, Portland, Ore.
  • TV: ESPN2 | ESPN Deportes | ESPN3

A little Monday night football anyone? The Timbers Army and the JELD-WEN crazies will certainly be ready.

Will the Timbers themselves? Manager Jon Spencer nearly got the club into the playoffs in their inaugural MLS season, and he will have nearly everyone back in 2012, including Darlington Nagbe, who’s juggling volley won the AT&T Goal of the Year in 2011. Plus, owner Merritt Paulson has hinted that the club would add another DP before the season kicks off.

The Union are no pushovers, of course. They reached the playoffs, where they were upset by the Dynamo, and showed great progress over their first MLS season in 2010. But they lost the season series to the Timbers, including a 1-0 loss at JELD-WEN. Can Sébastien Le Toux, Freddy Adu, and Michael Farfan reverse that result this time?