No more weekends without games. No more preseason predictions. No more waiting. MLS is Back!

The 2022 Major League Soccer is mere hours away. If you thought the offseason felt like a helter-skelter game of one-upmanship, prepare yourself for a 28-team MLS in a compressed World Cup year. The entire league is going to be at a dead sprint all the way through MLS Cup on Nov. 5. Oh yeah, then there’s a World Cup in Qatar.

We’ve spent the past three months building toward this moment. If you listen to or watch Extratime and The Call Up, read the thousands upon thousands of words Matt Doyle churns out and follow Tom Bogert on Twitter for the latest and greatest transfer news, you are primed and ready. You’ve got all the storylines memorized. You’ll either be in the stadium or on your couch watching when the first balls are kicked. You might even be able to recite the national television slate for Week 1 (or just click here for the full rundown).

As Chicharito said on Wednesday, “It’s showtime.”

Not everyone who loves the beautiful game in this country is as up to speed. We all want this sport and our league to feel as big as possible, and I invite you to do a little community building this weekend (and this year). Invite someone to watch a game with you. Offer a soccer fan who isn’t yet into MLS the opportunity to attend a game. Ask your local bar to turn on the FOX/FS1, ABC/ESPN, Univision/TUDN or TSN/TVA Sports broadcasts. This is our league, and it will be what we make it.

Same goes for all 28 clubs. This season will be what they make it. Here are 11 stories from Week 1 that get my spine tingling…

Can Julian Carranza level up the Union?
Philadelphia Union vs. Minnesota United FC

WHEN: Saturday, 1:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Philadelphia -125, Draw +260, Minnesota +310

We’re still waiting for Philadelphia’s record transfer to get to Chester. Visa issues mean Mikael Uhre, Danish golden boot winner with Brondby and a reported $2.8 million transfer, has yet to arrive in the United States. Big bummer, that. Uhre’s knack for consistent goalscoring could take the Union from almost finalists to champions.

No matter, Ernst Tanner managed to pluck an even more expensive striker on loan from Inter Miami CF. Julian Carranza reportedly cost double what Uhre did a few years back, but he was stuck behind Gonzalo Higuain on the Miami depth chart. For now, it’s his job with the Union, who have big aspirations in 2022. As you might imagine, Carranza is delighted to be in Philly.

"In Argentina, I was playing almost the same as here," Carranza said this week. "I like how [Jim Curtin] plays. I like how this team we press high, try to recover the ball close to the goal. I love how we play, press and move. I feel so good with this formation with this team. I think we're going to have a really good season."

For the Union, a “really good season” is no longer just an Audi MLS Cup Playoffs appearance. They’re chasing silverware, and Philly need a more dependable goalscorer (and ideally two) to add to their 2020 Supporters’ Shield. Perhaps Carranza will be that guy. No better time to prove it than Week 1 at home against Minnesota United FC.

Is this Carlos Vela’s last shot at glory in LA?
LAFC vs. Colorado Rapids

WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: Univision, TUDN, Twitter
BetMGM ODDS: LAFC -145, Draw +300, Colorado +333

Have you made MLS Today part of your daily routine yet? You can listen to David Gass and special guests bounce around the league at 11 am ET every day on Twitter Spaces. Here’s a taste of what you’re missing…

On Thursday, Vela gave us a little more insight into the situation. His contract doesn’t even run through the entire 2022 season.

Vela may not have been at his 2019 best the past two years, but this is a critical year in his career, no matter where it takes him. If he’s healthy – and in Los Angeles for a full season – he’ll be a Landon Donovan MLS MVP candidate. As new LAFC manager Steve Cherundolo aptly put it this preseason, “Carlos Vela will never lose his quality. … As long as he is in good physical condition, he will have a high level.”

So can Vela stay healthy? Can he sustain the level we know he is capable of in 2022? What will that mean for an LAFC team that reloaded in the offseason in search of their first MLS Cup? Regardless of what happens, where will Vela play in July 2022, let alone in 2023? Every game is a chance to answer those very pertinent and pressing questions, bit by bit.

That the first one of the year comes at home against the Colorado Rapids, who finished atop the West without a Vela-esque star? That it also pits Mark-Anthony Kaye and Kellyn Acosta, who flip-flopped between the clubs, against each other in midfield? Well done, schedule makers.

Can Jesus and Paul ball? How good/ready is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty?
FC Dallas vs. Toronto FC

WHEN: Saturday, 5:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Dallas -110, Draw +270, Toronto +260

Ricardo Pepi was like a shooting star in MLS. He burned brightly, then he was gone. In previous years, that might mean FC Dallas’ ambitions were gone with him. Not so this time around.

Jesus Ferreira is a Young Designated Player now, with the expectations to match. Argentine starlet Alan Velasco is the club’s record signing. Paul Arriola set the MLS trade record. Paxton Pomykal appears to be healthy – knock on every available piece of wood – and we know where his talent can take him. They can win now, and new manager Nico Estevez is hungry to prove himself.

I’ll be closely monitoring the on-field understanding between Arriola and Ferreira. Remember that 7-0 friendly win by the USMNT against Trinidad & Tobago a year ago? I can’t blame you if you browned that one out. Ferreira had two goals, one assisted by Arriola. Arriola had two goals, both assisted by Ferreira. Estevez was, of course, an assistant on that bench and saw the two in camp for a month. There’s big-time potential chemistry to explore here.

Bob Bradley, meanwhile, has nothing to prove, though you’d never know it. He’s in building mode in Toronto. He has stars – a former MVP in Alejandro Pozuelo, top-level Concacaf internationals in Carlos Salcedo and Jonathan Osorio, a second brain on the field in his son, Michael, and Lorenzo Insigne on the way – but this is also going to be a season for the kids, too.

The kid to watch closest is Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty. The 17-year-old might be the best prospect in the entire league. It’ll be his first year as a starter, assuming he holds onto the right back spot he’s occupied in preseason. He trained at Liverpool, Arsenal and Club Brugge this winter, and his agent told TSN that TFC value him at $20 million.

In the old days, that number might have seemed outlandish. Now? Not so much. If this offseason taught us anything, it’s that you can’t put off enjoying this league’s best prospects. Watch Marshall-Rutty while you can.

Which bottom-table team has made the biggest jump?
Austin FC vs. FC Cincinnati | Inter Miami CF vs. Chicago Fire FC

Austin vs. Cincinnati

WHEN: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Austin -160, Draw +310, Cincinnati +375

Miami vs. Chicago

WHEN: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Miami -115, Draw +270, Chicago +280

Last year didn’t go as planned for any of these clubs. All will be looking across the aisle on opening day thinking, “Hmmmm, we gotta beat these guys to prove we’re not in for more of the same.” Every second on the field is a barometer of whether the front offices and coaching staffs have done enough to sniff the playoff line or, ideally, even jump it.

Below is how I had them finishing in the Supporters’ Shield standings. I only had Chicago making the playoffs, and that by the hair on Gaga Slonina’s chin.

  1. Chicago
  2. Austin
  3. Miami
  4. Cincy

Just to remind you where MLS is these days. Four teams with middling to “please God, help us out” playoff expectations are going to run out Xherdan Shaqiri, Sebastian Driussi, Gonzalo Higuain and Luciano Acosta on opening day. Those four are reason enough to watch, let alone the whiffs of “What will a bad loss on opening day say about us?” desperation.

Are Charlotte FC actually screwed?
D.C. United vs. Charlotte FC

WHEN: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: D.C. -165, Draw +300, Charlotte +425

Nobody has had more fun with “We are [expletived]” quote than I have, but talk is cheap. Miguel Angel Ramirez’s off-the-cuff remarks in a moment of transfer frustration won’t define Charlotte’s expansion season.

Unless he’s right, of course. Time for all of us to find out together!

This game low-key has some fun mystery box players. Michael Estrada starts for Ecuador in World Cup qualifiers and could be very good in MLS! Same for Karol Swiderski, who might be wondering about where service is coming from right about now. Edison Flores is good for Peru … now can he be consistently good for D.C. United, too? Can I interest you in Julian Gressel and Brad Smith as marauding wingbacks? Andy Najar cutting people up as a hybrid center back?

This one could be a whole lot of fun, and it’s always fascinating to see what an expansion team does in their first moment in the spotlight.

Who will win the Chaos Derby?
San Jose Earthquakes vs. New York Red Bulls

WHEN: Saturday, 6:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: San Jose +160, Draw +230, New York +160

Which manager do you think was more disappointed by their front office’s offseason moves?

First up, Matias Almeyda!

What say you, Gerhard Struber, in your first media availability of the preseason?

Sooooooooooo Struber and Almeyda are going to do the best with what they have, but don’t go expecting too much. To both manager’s credit, the “I don’t have the players I need” strategy worked prettayyyy pretttttayyyyyyyy well for Ronny Deila with NYCFC last year.

This game has 5-4 ultimate chaos written all over it. I’d watch for Cade Cowell alone.

Will the Revs pick up where they left off?
Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution

WHEN: Saturday, 7:30 pm ET
WATCH ON: FOX, FOX Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: Portland +135, Draw +240, New England +180

Short answer, no.

I say that solely because the Supporters’ Shield means almost nothing to this group. It’s a wonderful trophy, but it doesn’t have much utility to New England. They already won it, and in record-breaking style. If they win it again and nothing else, would that season be a “success”?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

This is a CCL and MLS Cup year for the Revs. Period. Nothing else matters. They have the talent and, with Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Lletget and Omar Gonzalez now in the fold, the MLS experience to win both.

In so many ways the Cavaly AS forfeit in CCL was a shame. For the Haitians and the competition itself, but also for the Revs, who missed out on 180 competitive minutes to integrate the new pieces. They’ll get their first 90 of the season in Portland. The Shield may not be a target, but every game is an opportunity to prepare for Liga MX’s Pumas in the CCL quarterfinals in a few weeks.

For the neutrals, we’ve got a rare cross-conference match on opening day featuring the reigning MVP and some of the biggest stars in the league – and being played in one of the country’s best and most historic soccer-specific stadiums on antenna TV. That’s a game you don’t miss.

The Crow has arrived in Orlando
Orlando City SC vs. CF Montréal

WHEN: Sunday, 1:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Orlando -110, Draw +260, Montréal +270

In my estimation, Facundo Torres’ arrival has gone way under the radar. I doubt Oscar Pareja is too upset by that. Better to let El Cuervo – God, what a nickname – have a little time to fly without any weight on his wings.

And it sure seems like he’s liable to fly. This is not some 18-year-old prospect whose game is still a big-time work in progress. Torres is about to turn 22. He’s a blossoming Uruguay international. He’s got almost 6,000 minutes as a pro. He led Penarol to a league title. He chose to come to Orlando in the beginning of what should be his prime.

If you’re going to expect big things from one young South American import this season, it might just be Torres.

Is Josef Martinez “back”? Will Daniel Salloi and Johnny Russell be the same?
Atlanta United vs. Sporting Kansas City

WHEN: Sunday, 3:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: FS1, FOX Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: Atlanta -145, Draw +300, Kansas City +320

That’s it. That’s why I am watching. The answers to those questions could literally change the landscape of MLS. They could decide the Supporters’ Shield. They could fuel a double.

We’re talking about three potential MVP candidates just in the headline alone. Gonzalo Pineda told me on Extratime that Luiz Araujo has that potential, too. Thiago Almada ought to at some point in his MLS career given his pedigree and reported league record-setting price tag of $16 million from Velez Sarsfield.

I don’t need much more reason to watch any game than five Best XI-caliber players, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Atlanta and Sporting KC are two of the best teams in MLS. They haven’t played against each other since 2019. We get one of the best soccer matchups in the entire league on opening day. Rejoice.

Can Chicharito stay healthy enough to inspire the Galaxy?
LA Galaxy vs. New York City FC

WHEN: Sunday, 5:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
BetMGM ODDS: LA +145, Draw +250, New York City +165

LA with Chicharito on the field (9-6-6): 1.5 goals scored/90 – 1.3 goals conceded/90.

LA without Chicharito on the field (4-3-6): 1.2 goals scored/90 – 1.7 goals conceded/90.

It stands to reason that, though the back seven need to start pulling their weight, the Galaxy would have absolutely been a playoff team in 2021 if Chicharito would have played 2,500 minutes. Just for reference, Taty Castellanos played 2,760 minutes for NYCFC last year. He scored 19 goals. Chicharito had two fewer in 1,736.

As for the Galaxy overall, we’re going to find out what they’re about immediately. NYCFC are a problem. They seem capable of dropping four on just about anyone, let alone Santos de Guapiles in CCL.

We’re also going to be on Douglas Costa watch. I doubt he starts, which isn’t really a problem for the Galaxy. They’ve got quality to burn in Kevin Cabral, Samuel Grandsir and Efra Alvarez. Speaking of, I’d love to see Alvarez make the leap this year. If he’s not starting at the 10 on opening day, let’s hope that day is coming soon.

How will Nashville SC adapt to the West?
Seattle Sounders FC vs. Nashville SC

WHEN: Sunday, 8:00 pm ET
WATCH ON: MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada
BetMGM ODDS: Seattle -115, Draw +250, Nashville +290

In an ideal world, Nashville would ease into their lone year in the Western Conference with a trip to Texas. Nope, straight to Seattle they go. It helps to get the Sounders on a couple days rest following their CCL ouster of Honduras’ FC Motagua, but there’s no delaying the litmus test.

Here’s Nashville’s history (4-3-4 all-time) against the Western Conference…

2021

  • D at RSL
  • W vs. ATX

2020

  • L at POR
  • W at DAL
  • D at DAL
  • D vs. HOU
  • D vs. MIN
  • L at SKC
  • W at HOU
  • W vs. DAL
  • L vs. DAL

They enter 2022 as a better team on paper than they were in 2020 or 2021. A fit, in-form, integrated Ake Loba ought to elevate the ceiling of Gary Smith’s team, but just as importantly the best-in-class defensive setup raises Nashville’s floor in the West. I think this is absolutely a playoff team, and more than likely going to host a game or two, regardless of their season-opening eight-game road trip (new stadium opens May 1!).

Sunday will be the first peek at how they adapt, against the best team (on paper) in the league. It’s the perfect way to end Week 1. Come hang with Charlie Davies and me on Twitter Spaces during the second half and we’ll re-live Week 1 together.