Starting XI: Are you ready to kick off the biggest, busiest MLS season yet?
The top 11 questions heading into the weekend...
11) Are you ready for the next nine months?
Saturday doesn't just mark the first gameday of the 2014 MLS season. It's the start of one of the busiest years in North American soccer history – a breakneck race across an enormous continent that will feature two domestic cup tournaments, another few doses of CONCACAF Champions League drama and a relentless push for the increasingly elusive MLS Cup. And right in the middle of it all awaits the mother of all footy adventures: the first World Cup in Brazil since 1950.
10) Can Seattle make a statement against the champs?
A large, loud crowd on opening day at CenturyLink Field has rapidly become an MLS tradition since the Sounders arrived on the scene in 2009. Of course the fans will roar, and their team will respond, but that alone won't be enough to beat a rugged Sporting Kansas City side who enter with a reigning league champion's swagger (3 pm ET, NBCSN).
9) But can Sporting handle five in 15?
It remains a persistent punishment for success: MLS teams that earn spots in CCL, kick on and book spots in that tournament's knockout stages, then follow that up with deep playoff runs, are usually sentenced to fast, grinding starts the following year. Over the next two weeks, SKC must pay three league matches and two huge CCL clashes against Mexican frontrunners Cruz Azul. Manager Peter Vermes has precious little margin for error with his platooning decisions.
8) So ... what are the Rapids going to do with their bye week?
Colorado remain the only team in MLS without a head coach. Freshly retired club icon Pablo Mastroeni, who The Denver Post this week called a “shadow coach,” holds the caretaker's reigns and is reportedly one of at least four candidates under consideration by the TD, Paul Bravo. Or perhaps the Mile High Club is pioneering a new form of horizontal management? Club president Tim Hinchey says it's a team effort on an experienced staff which includes Steve Cooke, Brian Crookham, John Metgod and Mitch Murray.
“There are no doors in my office,” Mastroeni told Soccer America. "I'm in the same room with these guys. There are no levels between the staff and players."
7) Will EJ mark his DP deal in style?
Eddie Johnson consistently showed that he was one of the league's elite goalscorers over the past two seasons in Seattle. But his quest for a contract that reflected as much led him to the nation's capital over the winter, with D.C. United acquiring the US national team striker, then this week inking him to a lucrative new Designated Player deal that confirms his star status. He should be eager to start on the right foot when the Columbus Crew visit RFK Stadium on Saturday (7 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
6) Can Philadelphia hold back the Timber Green tide at Providence Park?
Perhaps driven by the pent-up fervor of their fans at the end of a long, gray winter, Portland really, really like to score goals in their home openers: They've netted 10 times in their three MLS curtain-raisers in PDX. This year's team looks as attack-minded as ever and will likely ask plenty of questions of Maurice Edu and the Union's new-look defense on Saturday night (10:30 pm, MLS LIVE).
5) Can revamped Vancouver take advantage of an injury-nagged Red Bulls side?
New Whitecaps FC gaffer Carl Robinson's markedly different midfield gets an early test as the defending Supporters' Shield champions the New York Red Bulls hit town Saturday (7:30 pm ET, TSN/MLS LIVE). Thankfully for the 'Caps, RBNY look set to rest talismanic veterans Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave to spare them the wear and tear of artificial turf, while Tim Cahill's status is uncertain as he recovers from a midweek outing for Australia.
4) Are the Impact too old?
No point in beating around the bush on this one: It's the single biggest question mark hanging over one of last season's surprise packages, who are still personified by a wizardly but wizened (by soccer standards) 37-year-old striker named Marco Di Vaio. And while that query probably won't be answerable until at least midsummer, new coach Frank Klopas could use a belief-building victory when Montreal drop in on FC Dallas on Matchday 1 (Saturday, 8:30 pm, MLS LIVE).
3) Will Mauro be El Mero Mero in Chivaland?
Chivas USA (or CSKA Chivas, as the Armchair Analyst dubbed them) addressed their barren attack with the arrival of elegant playmaker and former Sounder Mauro Rosales, and duly built their midfield around him. With the club in a major state of transition on and off the pitch, entertainment will be most welcome, starting with Chicago's national-TV visit on Sunday afternoon (3 pm ET, UniMas).
2) Are these Revs for real?
In terms of both results and aesthetics, the New England Revolution thoroughly rehabilitated their stodgy reputation last season, so much so that some are quietly tipping them as MLS Cup contenders. A great deal must still be proven on the second go-round and that journey starts on Saturday at Houston's BBVA Compass Stadium against the dangerous Dynamo side (8:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
1) Who will take the latest battle of Los Angeles?
Real Salt Lake and the LA Galaxy built their rivalry the hard way: year after year of big games befitting the Western Conference's best teams. Last fall, RSL edged past the four-time champs in a heart-stopping playoff series and now the West winners visit StubHub Center for another SoCal slugfest, this time with longtime assistant Jeff Cassar at the helm following Jason Kreis' departure (Saturday, 10:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).