Kick Off: Spotlight on new coaches as MLS returns

MLS is fully back in business this weekend.

After a two-week international break that featured only two MLS regular-season matches, this weekend brings a return to action with a full slate. A lot of eyes will be on the new men in charge in Toronto and Philadelphia, Paul Mariner and John Hackworth, respectively.

Mariner, who took over from Aron Winter last week, will lead last-place TFC against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and is expected to shift the formation to a 4-4-2. “Is it possible to get into the playoffs?" he said. "Yes.”

Hackworth, meanwhile, has big shoes to fill in Philly, following the dismissal of Peter Nowak, but has a word of caution for anyone thinking of comparing the two: “I can tell you that I’m not Peter Nowak. I’m John Hackworth.” Expect changes when they host red-hot, but under-pressure D.C. United on Saturday (7 pm ET, Galavision).

Of Nowak’s dismissal, there are still many questions. Did he know it was coming? Did he apply for the open Hearts job? Was the club brass involved in player decisions or not? Here’s a good take on it all.

The third featured event on Saturday is the grand re-opening of Stade Saputo in Montreal, where the Impact will face the Seattle Sounders (7:30 pm ET, TSN2/MLS LIVE). Take a tour of the new digs.

The ExtraTime Radio podcast crew is also up in Montreal, and they spoke to Impact head coach Jesse Marsch and owner Joey Saputo — who came to the taping wearing a hard hat — about the new stadium and the club’s impressive ambitions.

An important part of the Impact’s present, leading scorer Bernardo Corradi, decided on Thursday to stick around a little longer.

Down in Texas, the Houston Dynamo are pumped up for Saturday’s intrastate duel with FC Dallas at BBVA Compass Stadium (7:30 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). On Thursday, while his players were destroying a certain orange fruit, FCD coach Schellas Hyndman revealed a little history about his relationship with Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear.

League leaders Real Salt Lake get back to work on Saturday against Chivas USA (10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), and they are hoping to have Javier Morales back in uniform.

The San Jose Earthquakes have this weekend off, but they’re still training, and there are a couple of new faces on trial.

When speaking of acquiring players, the Red Bulls seem always in the conversation. GM Erik Soler says the club — who face the Chicago Fire on Sunday (5 pm ET, NBCSN) — is considering signing a third DP, but it won’t be Bayer Leverkusen midfielder and ESPN analyst Michael Ballack. Could it be Aston Villa playmaker Stephen Ireland, a long-rumored target?

What about the suddenly hot-again rumors about Andriy Shevchenko? He spoke very bluntly with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl: "I'm very interested in playing there. … I've seen the level of the football every year is getting better and better. … In a few years, football can reach the same level as maybe baseball or basketball there.” The length of the contract would probably be the major talking point during any possible negotiations.


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